Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Fall of Saigon: Books About the Vietnam War

On April 30th, 1975, Saigon was overrun by North Vietnamese forces, ending the Vietnam War. To mark the day, here's a list of books about the war.


Rock 'n' Roll Soldier: A Memoir by Dean Ellis Kohler with Susan VanHecke. After graduating from high school in 1965 Dean Kohler's rock band landed a record deal and then he was drafted into the US Army. Despite the fear and death and shooting, Kohler knows how lucky he is to not be on the front lines in the jungle, to not be in the Deep Serious. Things also take a better turn when his commanding officer orders him to form a rock band. Kohler has to balance the two sides of himself, is he a musician? Or a soldier? This is an excellent look at the first part of the war. (Kohler is home before the Tet offensive.)

Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam edited by Bernard Edelman. This collection of letters home, written by American service personel in Vietnam, blew me away in high school and continues to move me today. It's a powerful collection.

Vietnam #1: I Pledge Allegiance by Chris Lynch. Beck, Morris, Ivan, and Rudi are best friends that make a pledge-- if one of them is drafted, they'll all join up to keep each other safe. When Rudi is drafted, his friends keep their pledge, each joining a different branch of the service. The first book in the series follows Morris, who joined the Navy. Each character has his own book. The second, Sharpshooter follows Ivan, who joins the army and becomes a sharpshooter. The entire series is currently available.


Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers. Richie Perry can't afford college. He's stuck in Harlem with few prospects, so he enlists and goes off the Vietnam. There are the basics of a war story-- fear, fighting, death, trying to make sense of it all, trying to stay alive. But there's more to this one-- Perry and most of his unit enlisted for their own reasons, which goes against the standard Vietnam story we tell of draftees. Perry and many in his unit are black. While race isn't a major factor of Myers's story, it's there and sometimes it's an issue. Follow it with Sunrise Over Fallujah, about Richie's nephew's experiences in Afghanistan.

When Heaven and Earth Changed Places by Le Ly Hayslip. When Hayslip was 12, the war came her village. Both sides recruited children into the war effort, including the author who worked for the Viet Cong. After surviving horror and escaping to the US, she can't escape the war and returns to her country to try to make sense of it all. Published for adults, this was assigned reading in college. I do think it's one that older teens will get into.

Battle Fatigue by Mark Kurlansky. Growing up surrounded by WWII vets, Joel has always assumed that one day, he'll also go to war. But Joel's war is Vietnam and when the time comes, he can't bring himself to fight in a war he doesn't agree with, and must find a way to escape the draft-- either by becoming a conscientious objector or by going to Canada.


10,000 Days of Thunder: A History of the Vietnam War by Philip Caputo. Starting with French colonialism, before Dien Bien Phu, and going through the Fall of Saigon all the way to normalization of diplomatic relations between the US and Vietnam in the mid-90s, Caputo gives an amazing overview of the war. In addition to covering the battles and military action, he also covers the war on the homefront in this lavishly designed book full with photographs. It's a great introduction to the war for those who don't know its history, but is not to be missed by those that do.

Summer's End by Audrey Couloumbis. Grace's brother has burned his draft card, getting him kicked out of the house. To escape the tension Grace spends them summer with her grandmother, where she and her cousins all grapple with the effects of the war on their older brothers and in the community.

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. The main character in this collection of short stories is named Tim O'Brien, but these are works of fiction, although largely influenced by O'Brien's service during the war. Through these stories he examines different aspects of life before, during, and after, although largely focusing on the during and the experiences of Tim and his fellow members of Alpha company. Published for adults and often taught in school, this is good enough and accessible enough that teens that don't read it in class should (and will enjoy) picking it up by themselves.

What books about the Vietnam War would you add? Any other good ones from the prospective of the Vietnamese?

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Monday, April 29, 2013

National Poetry Month-- More Verse Novels

April is National Poetry Month. We've had a few posts with novels in verse already this month (see here and here). Here's one more!


The Realm of Possibility by David Leviathan. This one isn't really a novel, but rather a collection of poems, in twenty different voices, by twenty different high school classmates. It doesn't focus on a single event, but just slice-of-life looks at a high school.

Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams. Hope and Lizzie have always looked out for each other after their mother turned to the world's oldest professional after the death of their father. When Lizzie becomes an elective mute and is institutionalized after a suicide attempt, Hope must discover what happened, and how she can save her sister.

The Geography of Girlhood by Kirstin Smith. Penny has been trying to find her way other since her mother walked out on their family when she was very small. Now in high school, she navigates friendship, love, sibling relationships, and more.


Audition by Stasia Ward Kehoe. Sara's excited to get a scholarship to study with a professional ballet company, but the reality is different. She has to move and start at a new school. Used to being the best dancer, she finds herself technically less profient than her classmates, many of whom have been studying with the company for years. Lost and lonely, she finds romance in the arms of an older and unsuitable boy.

Seeing Emily by Joyce Lee Wong. Emily falls in love with the new boy at school, but he has a thing for Asian chicks and wants her to be his geisha (but claims to be racially sensitive.) Meanwhile her mother tries to own the art Emily creates, the art Emily uses to create an identity outside of her parents.

Psyche in a Dress by Francesca Lia Block. Block takes the Greek gods and puts them in modern Southern California. Here is where they act out their myths. This was a book that came out too early--it requires a pretty solid grounding in Greek mythology, something teen readers currently have (thanks Percy Jackson et. al.).


Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?: A Mystery in Poems by Mel Glenn. When popular English teacher Mr. Chippendale is shot, everyone's a suspect. Told in multiple voices, the reader gets to know Mr. C., his students, and his life, all while seeing how they deal with his death. The whodunit nature of the story will keep the pages turning.

A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl by Tanya Lee Stone. The Jock (we never learn his name) is hot and charismatic, and three girls fall for his charms, and are then abruptly dumped. The reader follows the girls through their relationships and the comments each of them finds in the back of the library's copy of Forever by Judy Blume.

Jinx by Margaret Wild. Jinx used to be Jen-- then her boyfriend dies. Then her next boyfriend dies. And now she's Jinx and she's trying a whole new life. Told in multiple voices, including Jen's we get a mutli-layered look at Jinx's pain and grief and eventual healing.

What are your favorite verse novels?

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

St. George's Day: Fantasy, Paranormal and Science Fiction

We're wrapping up our celebration of St. George's Day and all things English looking at a super-rich history of English fantasy...


The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them... This is not on the granddaddy of English fantasy, but the granddaddy of all fantasy. This omnibus edition has the entire trilogy plus The Hobbit.

The Wee Free Men by Terry Prachett. When the Queen of Fairies kidnaps her brother, Tiffany (along with the Nac Mac Feegles and a talking toad) venture into the darkness and nightmares of Fairie to get him back. This is the first in the Tiffany Aching arc of Prachett's Discworld series.

Clubbing by Andi Watson, illustrated by Josh Howard. Exiled to her grandparent's Lake District golf resort after a minor incident involving a club, a fake ID, the cops, and a school night, Charlotte is set for a summer of drudgery. But then, a woman trying to tell her something is found murdered and drained of blood, with some weird symbol carved into her arm. The police rule it as suicide, but Charlotte and her friend Howard think differently.


Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney. Tom Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son and has just been apprenticed to the County Spook-- the man you call to deal with witches, ghosts, and other agents of the dark. The Spook has had many apprentices and Tom Ward will be his last. The first in one of my favorite series, follow it with Curse of the Bane.

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Ford Prefect is a writer for the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy-- a handbook every space adventurer needs. He rescues hapless earthling Arthur Dent moments before the Earth is demolished to build a highway. This omnibus edition contains all 5 volumes of the trilogy. Remember to pack your towel.

His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon are caught in an epic adventure to save the universe and stop the Magistrium from destroying the Dust. Ok, it's more complicated than that, but hard to explain in a few sentences. This omnibus edition contains all three books.


The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. This is a now-classic retelling of King Arthur, focusing on the role of the women and how they pull the strings of the throne. It's also a look at English life as Christianity starts to spread to the island, drastically changing life and society. Follow it with The Forest House.

Etiquette & Espionage b Gail Carriger. Taking place in the same Victorian steampunk world as her adult series, The Parasol Protectorate (which I also highly recommend for teen readers), Sophornia is horrified that she's being sent to finishing school. It gets better though when she realizes this is no ordinary school-- she's being trained as a spy. She and her new friends will need these skills as already there's a great mystery afoot. The first in the Finishing School series, the second, Curtsies & Conspiracies will be out in November.

God Save the Queen by Kate Locke. In the steampunk paranormal present, Queen Victoria still reigns and all of the aristocracy is undead (either vamped or wolved.) They have an uneasy relationship with human commoners and standing in the middle are the halvies-- people that Xandra and her siblings who are very much alive, but have heightened powers and mostly service as aristo protection details. But when Xandra's sister Dede kills herself, Xandra finds herself drawn into a rebellion plot and the knowledge that the world she loves and adores has a very, very dark underbelly. Published for adults, this has high teen appeal. Follow it with The Queen Is Dead.

What books would you add to the list?

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

St. George's Day: Historical Books

We continue our celebration of all things English with a list of historical books. Historical fiction is fiction written when the events in question are history (how much history is the discussion of many a library listserv.) Historical books are books that are just really old. England has a ton of old books that are still enjoyed by teens today.


Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. 1984 may as well be the stone age for many of today's teens, but they'll still enjoy this chilling dystopia that first gave name to Big Brother. (Plus, it's shorter than many of the current ones on the market and isn't a series!)

Thank You, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse. This is the first Jeeves and Wooster novel, and Jeeves has left because Wooster won't stop playing the banjolele. So Wooster moves to Chuffy's, where his friend is is in a bind relating to money and girls. Hijinks and complications ensure. This hilarious series has high teen appeal, but it is a product of its time, mostly in this book which does contain blackface.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. Jane is beautiful and nice, Lizzy is independent and feisty, Mary is bookish and sanctimonious, Kitty goes along with her youngest sister and Lydia is trouble. And then there are the boys. Do I really have to sell this one? The cover shown is an edition that won't be available until this fall, but I couldn't resist.


Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Lonely and poor Jane is a governess to the daughter of secretive and aloof Rochester. Rochester's house has dark secrets that Jane must discover, or flee from. (What is Grace Poole doing in the forbidden attic?)

Henry VI Part I by William Shakespeare. Obviously I had to put Shakespeare on my list of ye olde English writers. Henry VI is not the obvious choice, but I'm adding it because the Middle School students I work with for TAB just did a steampunk version for their school play. There's a Part 2 and Part 3, too.

Kim by Rudyard Kipling. Kim is a young boy born and raised in India, but of Irish descent. He's torn between the Indian life he knows and the British imperialism he aspires to.


Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Ah Pip, always a pawn in a game he doesn't understand, but when some mysterious benefactor pays for him to go to London for education and society, life is forever changed. But who is the benefactor and will his new life finally let him have a chance with the beautiful Stella? Plus, you know, creepy ladies with old wedding cake.

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, translated from the Middle English by Burton Raffel. These tales told by pilgrims are hilarious and bawdy, but require a dedicated reader. The Raffel translation retains the poetry and is good mix of modern English while keeping much of the feel and tone of the original. The Nevill Coghill is in prose and a bit easier to understand, but some of the flavor is lost. The truly adventurous/nerdy will want to try the original Middle English.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Catherine and Heathcliff's love is passionate and savage and will not only destroy them, but the lives of everyone around them.

What are you favorite English classics for teens?

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Friday, April 26, 2013

St. George's Day: Historical Fiction

We're still on our St. George's day celebrations.

I don't know if you know this, but England has lots of YE OLDEN TIMES. Lots and lots of YE OLDEN TIMES. Here are some awesome books that cover some of these YE OLDEN TIMES.


Gilt by Katherine Longshore. This is the story of Catherine Howard, Henry VIII's doomed 5th wife. Narrated by Cat's best friend Kitty, it starts in the Dowager's house and largely focuses on life at court. This is also one of my favorite looks at Lady Rochford. I'm super-excited about Tarnish, Longshore's look at Anne Boleyn that comes out in June.

London Calling by Edward Bloor. Martin's wondering where he belongs in a difficult family and an even more difficult school situation. But then a radio lets him travel through time to relive the London Blitz. What he discovers will blow the lid off several family secrets. The time travel sounds hooky, but it's not in this dense and layered novel.

The Season by Sarah Maclean. Alex and her friends are not overly excited about the prospect of their first season. Sure, they are beautiful and come from excellent families but they aren't the type of girls who are delicate flowers, waiting to be courted by boring men old enough to be their fathers. Add in a mystery of a murdered Earl, and the boy (well, Earl) next store suddenly becoming more than your brothers' good friend, maybe and you've got yourself a winner.


A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee. Sentenced to hang at the age of 12, Mary is rescued by Miss Scrimshaw's school for girls. Upon graduation, she's recruited into their secret-- a spy ring made of women, because in Victorian London, a woman who knows her place is in the perfect place to learn everything. Lee's a master at working in the details of daily life and the city, without it ever overwhelming the story. The first in a series, follow it with The Body at the Tower.

Dodger by Terry Prachett. After rescuing a beaten girl, Dodger ends up befriend Charles Dickens and being drawn into Lodon society and an international mystery that only someone with his street knowledge can solve.

Cinders & Sapphires by Leila Rasheed. It's 1910. After many years in India, the Averlys are back at Somerton, but whispers of the scandal that caused Lord Westlake his job have followed them. Ada needs to marry well to save the family, but she wants to study at Oxford and the boy who's caught her eye is most unsuitable. A large cast of characters and super gossipy, this is definitely the first in a series, but the second hasn't been announced yet.


Mary, Bloody Mary by Carolyn Meyer. This novelization of Mary Tudor's life-- a princess who's mother is horribly treated and then Mary loses her position and title and forced to serve her younger half-sibling. The first in Meyer's Young Royals series, follow it with Beware, Princess Elizabeth.

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks. In the seventeenth century, when the Plague hits a small English village, they voluntarily seal themselves off, so they don't spread the disease further. Anna is an 18-year-old widow who watches as the disease takes her friends and family and tries to offer comfort and help to the dying. Published for adults, teens who enjoy literary fiction will like this one.

Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet. The Cuban Missile Crisis took place in the US, but this book shows how it held the entire world in fear. Clem was born when German bombs hit his house during WWII. He's in love with the local rich girl and when bombs may start falling again, what better time than now?

What are your favorite historical fiction novels taking place in England?

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

St. George's Day: English Drama

In our week long Anglophile celebration of St. George's day, today is for drama. Not in the play-sense, but in the sense of "not the funny stuff we did yesterday."


White Teeth: A Novel by Zadie Smith. Archie and Samal are friends from WWII with much younger wives and teenage children. Following everyone's stories, this should be a sprawling multi-ethnic epic about modern London, but it moves at a good clip and features many young characters. It's an enjoyable modern classic.

Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith. The Furnace is underground and run by the black suits. They have skinless dogs that eat kids. At night, the Wheezers come. The wheezers have gas masks for faces and take kids away in the night, never to be seen again. At 18, you're transferred out of the Furnace, but no one ever lives that long. Alex needs out. No one's ever escaped before, but Alex is going to try. He'll die if he's caught, but he'll die if he stays. The first in the extremely popular Escape from Furnace series, follow it with Solitary.

Now is Good by Jenny Downham. We're all going to die, but for Tessa Scott, it's going to happen sooner rather than later. She has cancer and has only a few months left. Before she dies, she has a list of the things she wants to accomplish. Travel. Fame. Love. And because she'll never see her seventeenth birthday, Sex. Drugs. A little law-breaking. A day where she has to says "yes" to everything. A day of living before her body fails her for good.


Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz. After his uncle, his only living relative, is killed under suspicious circumstances, Alex Rider discovers that he was really a spy for M-16, and killed shortly before stopping something big. M-16 decides to press Alex into service to finish the job. The first in the wonderful Alex Rider series, the second is Point Blank.

Boy vs. Girl by Na'ima B. Robert. Farhana and Faraz are twins, trying to balance the strict ways of their parents with the lives of their classmates and friends. Farhana struggles with the hajib and cute boys, but Faraz's struggles are gang-related and threaten to bring everything down.

Saffy's Angel by Hilary McKay. When her grandfather dies, he leaves Saffy her angel. Caddy and Indigo get the car and the cottage (never mind the car hasn't run in years and the cottage is falling into the sea.) But Saffy's angel may be the clue to who her father is. But the true magic is in the family and their relationships. And Caddy's driving lessons. The first in one of my favorite series ever, be sure to have Indigo's Star on hand.


Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah. Alem is half Ethiopian, half Eritrean. No matter where he is, he's the enemy. His dad takes him on a vacation to England and then leaves in the middle of the night, with a note saying that he must seek asylum. Alem is left adrift in a cold, foreign land and has to navigate the insane system of asylum seeking and immigration.

The Recruit by Robert Muchamore. James can't catch a break. His mother is awful and his sister's father isn't any better. Then he gets suspended for fighting in school and his mom dies. Enter CHERUB. Founded over 50 years ago, CHERUB is a division of MI5--British Intelligence. No one ever suspects a kid, so that's who they send--kids. James will be a spy and receive a top-notch education, but only if he can survive the training period. The first of the CHERUB series, the second is The Dealer.

Where I Belong by Gillian Cross. In Somalia, Mahmoud is kidnapped and held for a massive ransom. In London, his sister Khadija is the only one who can raise the money, because she's the face of a major fashion campaign. Abdi lives with his Dutch mother in London and refuses to believe that his missing Somali father is dead. Freya struggles with the fact that her mother's career as a fashion designer will always come first. Told in their voices, their lives intersect in surprising ways.

What are your favorite contemporary English books?

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