Everybody Else Is Doing It – So Why Can’t I?

If that was a reason to do anything – man would our society be in trouble. It seems that, recently, best book lists have been springing up left and right. From ALA/YALSA to note-worthy blogs *, everyone is grabbing a piece of the pie. Can I be honest? I want some pie too!! That’s why I, one day too hastily thought “if everybody else is doing it, why can’t I?” 

Let’s weigh the facts: the “everybody else’s” have read extensively (probably more than I have), they are authority figures that have a great wealth of understanding of the books, they have composed this book list with thought and detailed attention, and truthfully (probably) they have had more experience than myself in creating a list.  My rationale on the whole thing: It seemed fun…and simple. It was one of those moments that I said “Self – how hard could this be?!?” 

Self quickly realized it was a lot harder than it looked – it’s not just choosing at least 100 books, its choosing at least 100 Young Adult Books. It’s not just about listing all of my favorite YA books, but it’s about coming up with my own set of guidelines that constitutes what I think makes up a great YA book. Let’s just say: it’s a lot more than what I had originally thought. 

I went through my memory banks and realized that, even though I’ve read a lot of YA material – there were books I loved but just don’t feel they were worthy enough to put on a list. There were others that I felt screamed best YA book! 

The following is a list of books that I feel could possibly be contenders to go on the list. Loud and clear: THESE BOOKS ARE IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER! They are listed on a first come first serve basis, or the titles I remembered from the top of my head. 

Bliss by Lauren Myracle
Looking For Alaska by John Green
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart
The Absolute True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexi
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
Alive and Well in Prague, NY by Daphne Grab
Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson
Jinx by Meg Cabot
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford
City of Ember Jeanne DuPrau
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Madapple by Christina Meldrum
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
Flowers for Algenon by Daniel Keys
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
 

I am looking for three to four partners in crime – people who can lend a hand to create a totally rocking 100 Best Young Adult Book list. 

* For your added enjoyment here’s some other best YA book lists I found:

 NPR, Library Journal, Yannabe.com, and Semicolon Blog   .

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The Good, The Bad, The Parents of YA

Let it be known, when offered a challenge, most of the time I’m game – and ready to accept whatever is asked of me. Especially so if the said challenge involves book and/or reading books. In 2009 I challenged myself to read 100 books (a challenge I found on goodreads.com), and this year I have decided to take the 100 book challenge again, however my goal is to read 150 books instead of 100.

Recently, a friend and fellow blogger, Miss Print,  offered an enticing challenge – to find good parents within young adult books. After reading her blog, and the article which sparked the challenge, many thoughts and feelings within me were stirred in regards to this subject.

I’m going on record and saying: I do not agree with what the author wrote in her article. After much thought I’ve come to the conclusions of why I do not agree with her.

First: Judging from the titles mentioned within her article, I feel that she is not making a fair judgement. I think it is safe to say that she has not read every young adult book that has been published. Therefore she does not fully know the kinds of parents that are featured and/or characterized within young adult books. Yes, it is true there are YA books that feature ‘bad parents’ but it’s a generalization to say that all parents within the genre are bad.

Second: Again, judging from the titles mentioned in her article, I feel that she has chosen to criticize books, where the parents, or parental figures may not be central to the main plot. Most YA books I have read I’ve found that they are character driven, and focus mainly on the central character. My opinion: maybe parents or parental figures aren’t mentioned or are misrepresented because they just aren’t crucial to the story.

Third: Still judging from the article and from the books mentioned in it, maybe journalist Just does not realize that many young adult books are realistic, and reality is: not every parent is a good parent, and not every child or teenager has a good relationship with his/her parents. Many problems within the lives of teenagers have to do with their parents – if that’s the case – should parents always be represented in a good light?

Take “Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank for example – it is known through many diary entries that Anne does not have a strong relationship with her mother, in fact she goes as far as to say that her mother isn’t a “motherly” mother, and she knows from her the kind of mother she does not want to be. Does that make Mrs. Frank a bad parent? Not at all – reality is, they didn’t have a close relationship or bond with one another.

Fourth: An aspect, I do not think the article considered is the fact that parents are busy – not just raising their family, but also working to support that family, being there emotionally as well as physically for family members, and trying their hardest to spread themselves out evenly. With all of those facts taken into consideration parents, in reality, do ask their children to “leave them alone” or to “go away.” I’m not at all saying that it’s right, and it’s justified, I’m saying it’s human.

Just criticizes Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline” for having bad parents. I do fully understand why this book was criticized – because both of Coraline’s parents ask her to leave them alone. However, Just did not mentioned the reason of why they wanted Coraline to leave them alone – they were working – trying to support Coraline by earning a living that will keep a roof over her head, food in her stomach, and even will be able to buy her those funky gloves she’s wanted.  I don’t think parents in Gaiman’s “Coraline” were bad parents – preoccupied yes, but not bad.

I’m not a parent, but I have heard parents tell their children to leave them alone, or suggest activities that will force the child to leave them alone – again, not right, but realistic.

After some research I have decided that I will, for the month of April, list two to three titles that have examples of “good parents” and my reasoning of why those parents are “good.”

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

What makes Atticus Finch a good parent? There are many components that make up the answer to this question. Atticus, father to Jem and Scout, works hard to provide for his family, showing them that work is, not only necessary, but meaningful. He not only provides financially, but he provides his family with love, respect, and honesty. Atticus, takes the time to not only tuck his children in bed at night, but also to talk to them, and listens to what they have to say. He’s never too busy, or preoccupied for them. In taking a case to prove the integrity of a black man, Atticus show’s his children to stand up for what they believe it, and for what is right. Through his actions, his respect for all – no matter of skin color – Atticus teaches his children that they shouldn’t judge a person without knowing them or knowing where they’ve come from. Sure, Atticus reprimands his children when they’ve done something wrong, but  what parent doesn’t? What parent wouldn’t care so much about their children to help them grow into wise, strong adults?

Atticus Finch is a good parent because he has given his children a foundation to stand upon, he has given them a set of morals to guide them through life, and he loves them unconditionally – even when they do something wrong.

 – Hoot by Carl Hiaasan

Mr. and Mrs. Eberhardt are good parents and it is shown through, not just words, but by the actions represented in the pages of Hoot. Sure they are upset when son, Roy,  gets thrown off the bus, and sure they are upset when he is brought home by a police officer, but they are understanding enough to hear Roy’s side of the story, to drive him to and from school, and to stick up for their son. They believe in Roy, and encourage him to always do the right thing. Because of this Roy has a great relationship with his parents. He loves and respects them, just as they do Roy. They are the kinds of parents that aren’t only proud, but the kind of parents that let their child have their moment to shine.

The Eberhardt’s give Roy the best gift a parent could give – independence and freedom. They let him make decisions for himself, they let him figure out what’s right and wrong for his own life. Roy return’s that gift by being as open and honest with his parents, and because of that they are all closer to one another.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

After reading this reading this book readers may view Jenna Fox’s parents as the enemy – the people who changed her life, and took it away from her at the same time. However, after reading this, I felt differently. 

I don’t know how you could fault two parents for doing whatever it takes to save their one and only child, and give her a second chance at life and a chance to start over new. Was it right for them to lie and to keep what really happened from Jenna, not at all. But in their defense it was a protective mechanism. Parents often lie or not tell their children everything honestly because they want to protect them, and because they love them enough to protect them.

The Foxs’ love their daughter, they try their hardest to keep her spirits up when she is feeling down, they protect her even though she feels she doesn’t need the protection, and above all they give her the chance and the freedom to live a life that was taken away from her once. 

One a final note – there is more where this came from. Please stay tuned!

Franny K. Stein: Lunch Walks Among Us

Franny K. Stein: Lunch Walks Among Us by Jim Benton

Franny K. Stein is different from all the girls and boys. Instead of playing dolls and softball she plays  with Chompolina – a doll with razor-sharp teeth and she thinks softball would be better if played with real bats, not wooden sticks.

Franny knows she’s different – she’s not just a little girl, she’s a mad scientist. Kids her age don’t understand her, and because of it they don’t want to be her friend.

Alone and outcast, Ms. Shelly, Franny’s teacher realizes it, talks to Franny and plants the seed of doing a science experiment. Suggesting a science experiment to Franny is like letting a child loose in a candy store. From there on she sets out to become someone her fellow classmates will like.

After mixing test tubes and beakers, she drinks up and is scientifically transformed. And to her surprise all the kids like her – love her in fact. But when, after lunch, an atomic pumpkin headed monster emerges from the garbage, will the new and improved Franny shine, or will the mad scientist?

Jim Benton’s Franny K. Stein: Lunch Walks Among Us has a plot that is very formulaic and predictable, however that does not hinder the book in any way. In fact it helps make the book approachable to reluctant readers, and makes it an easier read for the intended young audience.

Benton has not only created a funny and loveable mad scientist – as opposed to other mad scientists creations featured in other books. Franny K. Stein is a character that every young child could relate to, and a story for all children who walk on the cusp of being different. What is so great about Franny K. Stein is that through her Benton has broken stereotypes when thought about most mad scientists are men, and they rarely save the day. Franny is the exact opposite, and a breath of fresh air.

The illustrations featured in Lunch Walks Among Us are black and white, probably trying to lend an eerie feel to a child friendly “scary” story. All illustrations exemplify the text but can not stand-alone. This book is an instance where the illustrations do not drive the book, but the text does.

And as an aside: if you love Franny K. Stein – there’s plenty more of her in Benton’s Franny K. Stein Series.
 

Call Me Hope

 Call Me Hope by Gretchen Olson

Hope is your average twelve-year-old – or at least that’s what she appears to be on the outside. She should be free and careless, but instead she’s stressed and worrisome.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place – or – between being the person she wants to be and a verbally abusive mother, Hope is sick of being called stupid, of all the “shoulds” and “are you listenings,” and most of all being called “Hopeless” or “dumb sh**.”  
 
 But Hope soon finds peace and solace when she’s assigned to read “Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl” Through Anne’s diary she learns how to cope, how to be brave, and above all that she’s not the only person to have the feelings she holds so deep down inside. Hope even goes as far as making a secret annexe of her own in her closet.  

Hope finally comes full circle. With the help of Anne Frank, friends and family, she finds out she isn’t as hopeless as she thought. By the end of the book readers are taken on a journey through painful feelings, heartbreaking situations, and brutal honesty. As Hope will never forget Anne Frank and the struggles of all those during the Holocaust, readers will never forget Hope.  

 The core of Gretchen Olson’s Call Me Hope is verbal abuse. The subject matter, which is sensitive, is approached with grace, care, honesty, and above all, tact. It is a difficult task to present this to children in a way that is mature yet understandable, Olson does a great job at not dumbing down the text or not assuming that her target audience won’t “get” the books point.

Within the pages, Olson has done a fine job defining (not in the traditional sense but by way of emotion) of what verbal abuse is, the key signs to know if someone is verbally abused, and all of the feelings that are attached. She has also done a fine job in creating a character, Hope, that is strong, realistic, and one that is readers can sympathize with.  

Call Me Hope is a story of courage, of love, and of truth. It is well written and broken into short chapters – a key component to making this book what it is. Because of the short chapters, the book is understandable and relatable. It’s amazing how well Olson  blends to completely different life stories together and makes it work. There are even moments when readers may think they are reading about the feelings and struggles of Frank herself only to  realize they are Hope’s feelings. Olson has even managed to work in powerful quotes from Diary of a Young Girl blending fact with fiction.   

 

The Mozart Question

The Mozart Question by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Michael Foreman

 

Lesley is a new journalist waiting for her big break. In waiting, she quickly figures out that while misfortune strikes one, luck strikes another.

That’s how her big break came about. Meryl, Lesley’s superior has been a ski accident – nothing major or life threatning – but still an accident that will disrupt her duties of interviewing famed violinist Paolo Levi – the child prodigy who has played in every major concert hall from one end of the world to the other. Meryl asks Lesley to step in, and to fill her shoes. She also stresses not to ask the Mozart Question. 

Lesley knows all about Levi, but she doesn’t know what the Mozart Question is, and because of that she’s a bundle of nerves the whole flight to Venice. 
Slowly, but surely she arrives on his doorstep, is greeted warmly, and invited in. Mint tea is steaming, the beloved violin is on the sill overlooking the waters of Venice, and Lesley has started off her interview by asking the one doomed – or so she thought doomed – question. The Mozart Question. 

Levi, who she thinks is upset and won’t move further into the interview, surprises her by telling her the story of his childhood self, how he came to know and love music, and how music – Mozart – saved his parents in a Nazi concentration camp. 

Eloquently written Michael Morpurgo has taken a harsh subject and has turned it into a story specifically written for children. Full of beauty, wonder, and love The Mozart Question offers readers the realities of the Holocaust without the gruesome details. Touching on the unknown aspects of the Holocaust and those in concentration camps, the story is ultimately about how many Jewish people who lived within those said camps were selected to creat an orchestra to entertain, not only the German soldiers, but in cases the Führer himself. While, not dumbing the subject matter down, Morpurgo’s words ask children to think beyond their realm of knowledge, to step into the past, and to read with an understanding and sympathetic heart.

The book is extremely well written, and full of smart, developed characters which aren’t only moving, but believable. Told mostly through Levi’s perspective the story is simple yet dramatic and really hooks readers with the mystery that lies behind the Mozart question – what it is, why won’t it be answered, and why has Levi chose to open up to this unlikely writer? A great aspect of this book is that Morpurgo has treated this subject matter, not just with gentility and respect but also with grace, tact, and art.

As if the story wasn’t beautiful and compelling on its own terms, illustrator Michel Foreman has skillfully crafted pictures, that not only propel this story, but a sole reason to pick this book up. Even the most heartbreaking illustration – people being herded into the gates of a concentration camp – is the most thought-provoking and beautiful image.