Inviting the reader to imagine a time traveler going back to early America, Ick! Yuck! Eew!: Our Gross American History by Lois Miner Huey makes history come alive. Describing American history in all its gross, minute detail, Huey focuses mainly on the odors and insects. She describes the inevitable aroma of the streets of New York City in the 1700s as pigs and cows roam the street freely. Did you know in South Carolina it was once illegal to kill a buzzard because they served to clean up the rotten meat from the marketplaces? The smells weren’t limited to the outdoors either. The smell of rotting food, forgotten chamber pots and the people themselves added to the overwhelming stench of the day. If the description of odors doesn’t fully engage the reader, the author moves on to describe the numerous flies, bedbugs, lice and parasites that Americans lived with in the 1700s. Describing the tremendous number of dead flies, Huey quotes the fictional time traveler as saying “they are gathered by the bushels” four times a day. Designed to pique the interest of children who may be bored to tears of traditional history lessons, Ick! Yuck! Eew! takes learning history to a whole new level.
For students of world history, try Oh, Yikes!: History’s Grossest, Wackiest Moments by Joy Masoff. Spanning the course of human history the book includes fascinating trivia from all elements of world including the history of clowns, diapers, plagues and underwear. Masoff includes wacky history like “idiotic inventions” (chicken eye glasses!), “humongous hoaxes” and “heinous hair,” as well as some informative timelines of history.
Fans of the You Wouldn’t Want to Be… series will love Ick! Yuck! Eew! and Oh, Yikes!
The most prestigious annual awards for teen and children's literature were announced by the American Library Association in Philadelphia today. Awards were given in a wide range of categories that covered all formats and age levels. A complete list of awards, winners and honorees can be found here.
The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. This year’s winner is Locomotive by Brian Floca, an exploration of America’s early railroads. Stunning, detailed illustrations and vibrant text bring the sounds, smells and strength of these mighty vehicles alive on the page.
The oldest of the medals awarded, the John Newbery Medal, is awarded to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. This year’s medal recipient is Kate DiCamillo for Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, the story of a cynical girl and an ordinary squirrel. DiCamillo, a previous Newbery Medal winner, was recently inaugurated to serve a two year term as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.
The Michael L. Printz Award annually honors the best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit. This year’s winner is Midwinter Blood by Marcus Sedgwick. Readers will be hooked by the masterful storytelling that links seven stories of passion and love separated by centuries but mysteriously intertwined.
The Coretta Scott King Awards are given to outstanding African-American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African-American culture and universal human values. Bryan Collier received the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for his magnificent watercolor and collage art in Knock, Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me, written by Daniel Beaty. Rita Williams-Garcia was awarded the Coretta Scott King Author Award for P.S. Be Eleven, the continuing coming-of-age stories of the Gaither sisters, first introduced in One Crazy Summer.
Harrowing and piercingly realistic, Carrie Mesrobian’s Sex & Violence is a tour de force of contemporary teen fiction. Nominated for a 2014 William C. Morris Award for best debut of a book for young adults, this is the story of Evan, a disaffected 17-year-old who has been raised solely by his workaholic father since his mother’s death years earlier. Though clever and handsome, Evan and his father have moved so often that his connection to peers is limited. Evan uses his perpetual new-guy status to bed “left-of-normal” girls, including Collette, a teen who used to date one of Evan’s classmates at the boarding school they attend. When their relationship is discovered, Evan and Collette are brutally assaulted, and his father (at last realizing the seriousness of the situation) moves them to a cottage on a lake in Minnesota, near where Evan’s parents grew up.
After a long physical recuperation, Evan works to pick up the pieces of his shattered psyche. Through a therapist’s help, he slowly confronts the PTSD that he has been experiencing. He meets a group of teens, many of whom are spending their last summer at the lake before heading off to college, and they quickly add him to their group. The summer brings romance, friendship and unexpected turns for Evan, growing into a person his pre-assault version never knew had been inside him. Mesrobian deftly handles a number of themes, among them, the uneasy manner in which Evan approaches sex, the eventual fallout between Evan and his father, the highs and lows of casual drug use and how delicately trust can be won and lost. She weaves these into a concise package that is dark, with no easy answers, but is also not hopeless.
The author does a phenomenal job getting the voices right, most remarkably that of Evan. The teens, all of whom are well-drawn, are written with pitch-perfect dialogue, and there are few wasted words. Mesrobian’s well-crafted debut novel is a brutally honest work for older teens from an author with loads of potential.
Betty Dean is 10 when she moves to the island of Guernsey to live with Arlette, her mother’s boyfriend’s mother in Lisa Jewell’s Before I Met You. Arlette is in her mid-80s, but still independent, stylish and intimidating. Despite the decades that separate the elderly spitfire and the little girl, they become fast friends. When Arlette’s health deteriorates, it is Betty who remains with her, providing loving care while forgoing college, boyfriends and jobs. Following Arlette’s death, Betty is provided with a small amount of money, a fabulous collection of vintage clothes and a chance to finally start living. A bequest to an unknown and unfound woman named Clara Pickle leaves the family puzzled and Betty determined to track her down. Betty quickly moves to SoHo determined to find the mysterious Ms. Pickle and kick start her life in the process.
In searching for Clara, Betty also uncovers truths about Arlette and herself. Jewell simultaneously shares the stories of two young women coming of age in two very different Londons. Arlette is a beautiful and charismatic shop girl in a post-World War I London awash with artists and free thinkers. She is swept up in the bohemian movement and her friends include an impoverished artist and a jazz musician. In Betty’s London, it is 1995 where jobs are scarce and rent is high. She secures employment at Wendy’s and also becomes nanny to the children of notorious rocker Dom Jones. Both young women are balancing independence and good times with work, others’ expectations and romantic entanglements.
As the story glides between the two women, readers will be absorbed by the intrigue of Clara Pickle and embrace the fun and feisty Arlette and Betty. Jewell masterfully paints the portraits of two appealing young women struggling with genuine problems that transcend time. Forbidden romance, family dynamics and finding one’s self are at the core of this engaging and unforgettable novel of two inspirational women connected by fate.
Nora de Jong is a successful brain surgeon and single mother of a beautiful 6-month-old girl. She lives a quiet and happy life in Texas where she shares a home with her widowed mother. Upon returning from work one afternoon she is horrified to discover that her mother has been murdered and her daughter stolen. Frantic to discover a clue to explain this tragedy and locate her baby, she unearths a small box which has been hidden in the attic. The contents are unfathomable, indicating that her mother was a member of the Nazi party in Holland during World War II and that her father had been wanted for murder. Nora is convinced that the answers to who took her daughter are tied to her parents’ past. The Tulip Eaters by Antoinette van Heugten is an intense, fast-paced novel combined with an intriguing work of historical fiction. Through journal entries and recounted memories, the reader is transported to Nazi-occupied Holland. The insidious isolation of the Jews and the heroic actions taken by the members of the Dutch resistance come to life through the author’s insightful writing.
Ms. Van Heugten’s fascination with this time period started close to home. Both of her parents grew up in Holland during the occupation and were members of the resistance. Typical of that generation, they were hesitant to describe their experiences; however, their activities inspired the author to learn more. She spent time in Amsterdam researching at the Dutch War Institute where she was immersed in the daily life and hardships of the war, as told through letters and diaries. The end result is The Tulip Eaters, a thoroughly investigated, action-packed adventure.
A dizzying amount of wealth permeates the stone fortifications in Anthony Russell’s entertaining new memoir, Outrageous Fortune: Growing Up at Leeds Castle. What seems most important is what the wealth symbolizes and how it shapes the lives of those it cradles. Yes, the tweedy set flaunts its well-placed connections. There are pheasant-shoots, duck launches and tea-sipping beneath museum-bound tapestries. Not surprisingly, Russell admits there are also consequences to being reared in a "gilded bubble,” where everything material is handed to you. Russell aims to satisfy our curiosity.
For those not familiar with medieval fortresses, Leeds Castle is about as splendid as they come. Located in Kent, England, the former Norman stronghold with ties to six queens of England is among the most visited historic buildings in Britain. Its 900-year history is the stuff of fairy tales. Readers will appreciate the complement of black and white photographs.
The writer-musician Russell, who grew up in this milieu, was exposed to the stuff of kings at an early age thanks to his maternal grandmother and chatelaine, the bold, indomitable Lady Baillie. "Granny B" purchased Leeds Castle in 1926 for the American sum of $874,000. It is here that Russell spent his childhood in the 1950s, absorbing "the castle way." This included eccentric "ceremonies" like fussing over baby ducks and enduring family gatherings where no one paid him much mind. With such a privileged start, gearing up for adulthood beyond the castle gate would have its challenges.
Writing with wry humor, Russell alternates between being sardonic and wistful. He points out unapologetically some of the silliness while poignantly recalling the shear splendor of it all and gratitude for being a part of it. We get to know some of the uniquely British personalities (with names like Morg, Guysy-Wee and Mr. Elves) who help add the color that make this frank, behind-the-scenes look a delightful jaunt, just in time for the return of another extravagant household in Downton Abbey.
It all began with a vacuum cleaner. Popular children’s author Kate DiCamillo returns with a tale of a cynical young girl and an ordinary backyard squirrel turned superhero in Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures. The inciting incident occurs in the first few pages (presented in a comic book style by illustrator K.G. Campbell) when Donald Tickman presents his wife with the ultimate birthday present – a Ulysses Super-Suction, Multi-Terrain 2000X. Neighbor Flora happens to be peering out the window just as the out-of-control vacuum propels into the Tickmans’ yard, sucking up a hapless squirrel. A fan of comics and survival literature (but not the sappy novels penned by her romance-writer mother), Flora turns out to be the perfect person to revive the fur-stripped mammal.
Well aware that “impossible things happened all the time,” she soon recognizes that the squirrel’s run in with the vacuum has granted him amazing powers (among them, flying and typing poetry). Upon witnessing his super strength, Flora dubs him Ulysses and becomes his de facto sidekick. Of course, every superhero has an arch nemesis, and in this case it’s Flora’s own mother who has it in for the rodent.
Campbell’s appealing pencil illustrations are essential to the enjoyment of this engaging and exciting novel. DiCamillo is a master at creating the quirky characters that are the hallmark of her work, appealing to both young and older readers. The winner of the 2004 Newbery Medal for The Tale of Despereaux (and a Newbery Honor in 2001 for Because of Winn-Dixie), DiCamillo was inaugurated as The National Ambassador for Young People's Literature on Jan. 10. According to the Library of Congress, the National Ambassador “raises national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people.” DiCamillo's platform is "Stories Connect Us” and she will be serving in the position during 2014 and 2015.
In 1600’s England, politics and religion are inextricably intertwined. Times are dark and violent, and morality is judged by all. Those who defy the church or the government are branded as witches and killed. Many flee into the darkness to await better times, but one woman dares to remain in the light. Her story drives The Daylight Gate, the new novella by award-winning author Jeanette Winterson.
Alice Nutter is a youthful, strong and well-respected woman. She believes her wealth allows her freedom to live as she pleases, making friends and allies without political or moral consequences. Her choices are not beyond the notice of local officials, however, and they quietly start rumors about her competence. These rumors eventually force her to reveal her secrets and unleash her powers on those who would destroy her. Winterson is an intelligent storyteller, and her spare prose moves the story along at lightning speed. Graphic and violent, The Daylight Gate is a quick dip into a nightmare that just might keep you awake at night.
A.G. Howard creates a new twist on an old tale in her Splinte red trilogy. Unh inged is the newly released second installment of this gothic and modern rendition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Howard plays on the fact that Carroll based his novel off of a girl he knew, Alice Liddell. In Howard’s debut young adult novel Splintered, the reader is introduced to Alyssa Gardner who is a descendant of Alice Liddell.
When Alyssa was young she began to hear insects and plants talking to her, causing her to fear that she would go crazy like her mother and the other women in her family. The only way she can break the curse and free her mother from the binds of insanity is to jump down the rabbit hole and right the wrongs of Alice Liddell. Her adventures in Wonderland leave a lasting impression, and Alyssa becomes forever tied to the ethereal realm.
Unhinged picks up one year after Alyssa’s return to the mortal world, where she is doing her best to live a normal life. Because she is so consumed with preparations for prom, graduation, college and planning her future with her boyfriend Jeb, she tries to ignore the whisperings of trouble in Wonderland. When her wonderland mentor Morpheus comes to explain the dire situation, Alyssa is forced to acknowledge that there is a problem. Despite initially feeling like it’s not her problem, she quickly changes her tune when Wonderland begins to spill over into the mortal world.
Howard manages to weave together a rich combination of dark and gothic with colorful and creepy to create a unique world Tim Burton fans are sure to appreciate. This trilogy is one of those series that has the ability to cross over from young adult fiction to adult, so don’t hesitate to pick it up for a paranormal adventure.
It can be difficult raising a head-strong, impatient, stubborn and impulsive little girl. But what happens when that little girl is also a witch? That’s the challenge Salem’s parents face in The Misadventures of Salem Hyde: Spelling Trouble by Frank Cammuso.
When Salem’s spelling skills are questioned by a fellow student studying for the school’s spelling bee, she sets off to prove that she is a great speller. However, instead of spelling the word “dinosaur,” Salem turns Mrs. Fossil into a dinosaur. No one is supposed to know that Salem is a witch, and this mistake almost causes her to be expelled from school. What Salem needs is an animal companion, and Aunt Martha knows just the right one for the job: Lord Percival J. Whamsford, also known as Whammy, an 800-year-old talking cat who still has five of his nine lives left.
Will Whammy be able to instruct Salem in the fundamentals of being a witch? Can she really fly using a vacuum cleaner instead of the traditional witch’s broom? What will happen when Salem’s spell goes completely awry as she tries to ensure that she is crowned the new Miss Spelling Queen? And will all this be too much for Whammy to handle? Find out in the first installment of a delightful new graphic novel series. This fast-paced, humorous book is excellent for mid- to upper-elementary readers who will surely enjoy the simple green, black and white drawings reminiscent of Sunday morning comics.