Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tom Sawyer (All-Action Classics #2) adapted by Tim Mucci, illustrated by Rad Sechrist

With simple, expressive art and judicious text, this graphic novel adaptation brings the mischief and imagination of Tom Sawyer’s world to vivid life.  Though the format necessitates abridgement, the author and artist manage to include plenty of Tom’s famous adventures - from tricking his friends into whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence to clearing Muff Potter of murder charges.  This volume is an engaging and accessible introduction to the classic novel and has brought more than one comics-loving student into the library asking, “Do you have any more books like this?”  Backmatter includes a brief and informative biography of Mark Twain, as well as a selected bibliography of his works.  Recommended for avid readers of graphic novels, ready for a new challenge, and for classroom use, as an introduction to Tom Sawyer, or a comparative counterpoint. --Regan Schwartz

Mucci, Tim. All-Action Classics #2: Tom Sawyer. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2008. Print.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

He Said, She Said by Kwame Alexander

Omar has just been named Mr. Football of South Carolina and can’t wait to announce his plans to play for Miami when he crosses paths with Claudia, a.k.a. Beyonce, the hottest Harvard-bound senior in his high school.  Omar bets his friends that he can win over Claudia, who has declared her absolute disinterest in high school boys, especially anyone with a reputation as a “panty-dropper.”  This novel, narrated by Omar and Claudia in alternating chapters, includes text messages and Facebook posts to tell a story of teenage romance intertwined with an activist-themed plot involving a fight against budget cuts to arts and library funding.  Recommended independent reading for high school students looking for a love story like Dana Davidson’s sadly out-of-print Played. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Alexander, Kwame.  He Said, She Said.  New York: Amistad, 2013.  Print.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Runaway Girl: Escaping Life on the Streets, One Helping Hand at a Time by Carissa Phelps

When Carissa Phelps was just twelve years old, she was kidnapped by a pimp. This is the introduction she gives herself, later on, each time she finds herself telling her story to a new group of people. Carissa, who is now an attorney and a youth advocate, has written down her story in this memoir and it’s an inspirational ride. Her teen years were turbulent; she spent most of them running from one dangerous situation to the next. Placed in group home after group home, spending time in juvenile hall and alternative school programs, the author reflects often on the adults she met along the way who believed in her and gave her courage. Students might relate to her history of emotional and sexual abuse, but they will absolutely be able to connect with her time spent in and out of group homes and juvenile hall. I am often asked by students for books about “real people who had it rough, but made it out in the end,” and this book fits that description perfectly. Carissa’s story demonstrates that anything is possible with the support of a few caring individuals and a lot of determination. --Anja Kennedy

Phelps, Carissa, with Larkin Warren.  Runaway Girl: Escaping Life on the Streets, One Helping Hand at a Time.  New York: Viking-Penguin, 2012.  Print.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

High school student Hannah Baker has committed suicide, and protagonist Clay is trying to discover why via thirteen cassette tapes Hannah recorded prior to her death.  Each tape incriminates another person at the school, explaining how that person played a part in Hannah’s suicide.  Hannah makes it clear from the first tape that if you received the tapes, it means there is one about you—and Clay has no idea why he received them. Inspired by museum audio-tours, one unique feature of the novel is the inclusion of a map that goes along with the tapes, marking the locations where Hannah’s stories occurred.  Another unique and impressive component is the structure of the novel: Hannah and Clay’s point of views are woven together throughout the storyline, so that the reader has access to Clay’s immediate reactions after hearing Hannah’s stories.  Exploring themes of sexual abuse, bullying, and teen relationships, this novel is recommended for high school students, specifically females as Hannah focuses on many painful situations that young women may face.--Mackenzie Magee

Asher, Jay. Thirteen Reasons Why. New York: Penguin Group, 2007.  Print.

Mackenzie Magee is a first year ELA teacher at Passages Academy-Belmont. She grew up in Portland, Oregon and enjoys writing, running, and reading. Her favorite books include The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy

Eighteen-year-old Nikki is in love with her twenty-year-old boyfriend, Dee. She had no idea when he took her on a ride over the weekend that he would point a gun, pull a trigger, and leave a man dead.  She loves him so much she would do anything for him.  When the police call Dee in for questioning in conjunction with the murder of a retired police officer over the weekend, Nikki doesn’t question Dee’s directions to lie, to provide an alibi, and to attest to his innocence.  But what Nikki can’t do is tolerate Dee’s order not to speak with him.   When the police seem to be closing in on the killer, will she tell the truth or take responsibility for what she didn’t do?  Recommended independent reading for older high school students who enjoy suspense and characters in trouble with the law.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

McVoy, Terra Elan.  Criminal.  New York: Simon Pulse, 2013.  Print.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Predator: Life and Death in the African Bush by Mark C. Ross and David Reesor

“Who would win in a fight? A lion or a tiger?” I can’t tell you how many times students have asked me some variant of that question - cheetah and lion, hyena and leopard, anything and a crocodile - the pairings are endless and the discussion endlessly fascinating.  Predator is a natural companion to these conversations - its full color photographs with informative captions invite further investigation.  But Predator is not all style and no substance.  Written by a wildlife biologist, the book is split into five main sections, each covering one large African predator.  The prose covers each animal’s biology, behavior, development, and habitat and is engaging and informative without being overly scientific.  Still, Predator is a text for confident readers.  Backmatter includes a bibliography and index.  Predator is a compelling book for browsing and is well-suited for inquiry, though some pictures are not for the faint of heart. --Regan Schwartz

Ross, Mark and David Reesor. Predator: Life and Death in the African Bush. New York: Abrams, 2007. Print.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

What Night Brings by Carla Trujillo

Marci Cruz, 11, is determined, sincere, and funny without meaning to be.  She speaks Spanglish sometimes and makes up her own terms for sex stuff.  Like many kids, she notices how the community treats people who are different and people who ask questions that no one wants to answer.   

Marci and her younger sister, Corin, get frequent beatings from their father.  Their mother is aware, but is blind to his faults.  Marci prays to god to get her father out of her life forever.  She doesn’t go as far as wanting her dad to be dead because she doesn’t want god to think badly of her.  She needs god's help to change her into a boy, which she believes will allow her to live out her attraction to girls.
Although the well-described beatings continue and helpful adults seem to be missing, all is not hopeless. The two girls, Marci and Corin, work together on inventive ways to help their mother come to her senses about their dad.   Marci also manages to get to the library, make a garden, and have a crush.--Joy Ferguson

Joy Ferguson has worked with detained youth as both an outreach librarian and a facility staff member.  She currently serves students as a school librarian  at PS 261 Phillip Livingston School.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Ender’s Game (Graphic novel adaptation)

After having repelled an alien invasion, the International Fleet creates Battle School, a program to train children who show great tactical prowess into becoming military leaders.  The fleet hopes that one trainee can rise above all others and lead the future space armada on a preemptive mission to destroy the invading alien race before they try to invade Earth again. Enter Andrew “Ender” Wiggin who was the third child birthed by the Wiggin family upon request from the government.  Ender is selected to attend Battle School at the age of six. Here he will climb the ranks and become one of the youngest battle commanders in battle school history.  But that is only the beginning. With humanity’s hope resting on Ender’s young shoulders, battle school has to make sure Ender is ready for anything.  They toss the rules and place Ender in every impossible-to-win situation they can. Is Ender the tactical prodigy the fleet has been looking for? Can the fleet finish the training before the aliens invade again? If the human race is to survive, they will have to.

The graphic novel is a stripped down version of the book.  Some of the subplots are missing and character development is limited. The art is very sleek and colorful.  It all adds a nice touch that complements the sci-fi aspects of the book, especially the battle-room combat scenes. I recommend reading the graphic novel along with the book.  Comic book readers should enjoy Ender’s Game. --Claudio Leon

Yost, Christopher, Pasqual Ferry, and Orson S. Card. Ender's Game. New York: Marvel, 2013. Print.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Aphrodite: Goddess of Love by George O'Connor

Hey, my name is George O’Connor, and I’m making a blog tour of the greatest book blogs in the universe to promote my newest book Aphrodite: Goddess of Love, the sixth volume of my ongoing series Olympians, which retells classic Greek myth in graphic novel form. The good folks at What's Good in the Library have forwarded me five interview questions from Belmont library patron Daniel, 15.  As any writer will tell you, there is nothing more intimidating than a big blank page, except for maybe an armored grizzly bear with a grumpy disposition. That’s pretty intimidating, yo.

Daniel: What gave you the idea or made you interested in re-telling the stories of the Olympians?

George: This is a two part question, or rather a two part answer. I was first introduced to Greek mythology when I was in the fourth grade. It made a huge impression on my young mind, as I was suddenly allowed to draw musclemen fighting monsters in school, which is pretty much what I wanted to do anyway and at least now I wouldn’t get yelled at for doing it. From that point on I was obsessed with drawing the gods and monsters of mythology, and did so for years and years. That’s what made me want to retell the stories of the Olympians. As for what gave me the idea to actually retell the stories of the Olympians, my editor Neal Porter  referred to a mutual acquaintance of ours as slobbering like Cerberus the three-headed dog of Hades. I said, something equally geeky back to him about a Cyclops or something and he fixed me with a steely gaze and pulled a book off of his shelf and said “,what if you do a graphic novel retelling the Greek myths, about this big?” In retrospect, it was the sort of thing I should have come up with by myself, but I needed that kernel of inspiration. I went home, wrote Zeus and came back with it and plans for eleven more.

Daniel: Which of the Olympians is your favorite and why?

George: Another two part answer. Hermes is my favorite god, and has been since I was a little kid. I’ve always liked fast characters, like the Flash or Quicksilver from the Avengers, and I always liked the trickster characters who are the smartest guys in the room but always play it for laughs. Hermes was both of those in one. My favorite goddess is Hera, which surprises a lot of people who think of her as a bad guy, but I think that’s such a narrow viewing of her character. Yeah, she persecutes a lot of Zeus’s girlfriends and illegitimate children, but that’s because Zeus is the worst husband in the universe. In my studies I uncovered how she was such a remarkably important divinity to the ancient Greeks that it bums me out how much of that gets lost in modern retellings.

Daniel: Do you believe that all gods and goddesses are equal, or are some of more importance than others?

George: There’s a definite hierarchy at play in the Olympian order. The idea of a big three encompassing Zeus, Hades and Poseidon has been popularized by Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books, but I think you need to add the other three children of Kronos, Hera, Demeter and Hestia to that upper echelon as well (even though Demeter and Hestia tend to be the ‘forgotten’ Olympians). The second generation, like Ares, Apollo, Hermes, and the rest tend to comprise the second tier of Olympians, though sometimes some second generation gods like Athena seem to be jostling for a position at the top. I would also place Aphrodite, the only Olympian not directly related to Zeus, who essentially married into this family of super-powered lunatics, as a top tier diety. With her control of the powers of love, in her own way, she is the most powerful god on Olympus.

Daniel: Did you always love to write books or was it something you grew to like?

George: I always have loved, and continue to love, to write, but I will say writing is much harder for me than drawing.  Writing has given me a lot more headaches and misery, but  I also get more satisfaction out of a piece of writing that turned out well than anything else I can do.

Daniel: What other books are you planning in publishing? A book on more Olympians? Or on different subjects, like urban, fantasy and biographies?

George: Hopefully, if all goes well, there will be six more books on Olympians. I just turned in the seventh book, Ares: God of War, and that will be followed up by Apollo. I have some picture boos, another love of mine coming out from Candlewick Press. My first one, If I Had a Raptor, drops in May. Finally, since writing is so rewarding (yet difficult! So difficult!) I want to write a young reader novel—something that stands more or less entirely on the merit of my words. I’m working on a couple of comedic adventure ideas along those lines, but it’s too early to announce anything else about them.

Thank you, George, thank you Daniel!  --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Suckerpunch by David Hernandez

“At the funeral for Oliver’s father, I daydreamed about killing my own.”  So begins Marcus’ narrative of his summer before senior year.  Marcus’ father has abandoned his family and his best friend’s father just committed suicide, setting the stage for Marcus and Oliver’s illicit drug use and desire to escape.  Set in contemporary Cerritos, California, this novel features an attention-grabbing start and gathers steam as Marcus, his brother, and Oliver plan to find and confront Marcus’ dad.  Hernandez’s  use of  fresher imagery and dialogue remain consistent, but the story’s momentum peters out in the last third. This book may appeal to teen male readers ready for conversations about author’s craft.  Suckerpunch pairs interestingly with Last Night I Sang to the Monster on the themes of brotherhood and teen substance abuse, or Fitz on the theme of confronting absent fathers.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Hernandez, David.  Suckerpunch.  New York: HarperTeen, 2008.