Middle grades screwball comedy, YA Victorian steampunk mysteries, and a little historical fiction were highlights of this week’s reading list.
A charming middle grades mystery and a gender-bending take on Oliver Twist are highlights in this month's new releases.
It's flu season, and we've got a reading list of historical fiction and nonfiction to help you explore epidemics past.
Suzanne picks the best 10 children's and young adult books she crossed off her TBR list in 2017 in this Library Chicken roundup.
What happens to the people who come back from fantasy worlds? This dark mystery considers the question through a school for Wayward Children.
Book or movie? With so many Christie adaptations and books to choose from, we’ve rounded up the cinematic cream of the crop and the stories that give the most mystery mileage.
Welcome to Summer Reading 2017! This year we’re taking advantage of the long summer days to read our way through some of our favorite series for children and young people.
In an alternate steampunk Europe on the brink of World War I, a young woman disguises herself as a boy so she can join the British Air Service and serve on their fleet of giant genetically-modified air beasts. Meanwhile, the Central Powers (or Clankers) are building up their army of steam-powered many-legged machines as the inevitable conflict approaches. You want to read these books already, don’t you? But wait, there’s more! All three books (pick up the hardback editions, if you can) have wonderful full-page illustrations by Keith Thompson, including some of the most gorgeous endpapers I’ve ever seen.
Many people are familiar with Scott Westerfeld’s YA science fiction series beginning with Uglies, but it seems that fewer have heard of this steampunk/biopunk alternate history. Marketed as YA, I’ve been recommending it for middle schoolers and up (including adults) ever since it first came out. It’s got adventure, flying whale-beasts, and a brave and resourceful heroine. The series also makes a great side-read for anyone studying World War I, since Westerfeld uses actual history as his jumping-off point and includes historical figures ranging from Archduke Franz Ferdinand to Nikola Tesla. As a bonus, after you’ve read the trilogy (including an extra final chapter and illustration on Westerfeld’s website) you can check out The Manual of Aeronautics, an illustrated guide (by the fabulous Keith Thompson) to the world and technology of Leviathan. What are you waiting for?
Young Scotswoman Deryn Sharp rejects the dresses that a “proper lady” should wear to disguise herself as a boy and study to be a midshipman on one of the great British air-beasts. Meanwhile, Prince Aleksander, son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, must go on the run after his parents are killed. Will their paths cross when the ship Leviathan crash-lands in Switzerland? (SPOILER: Yes.)
War has broken out, though Alek (an Austrian Clanker) and Deryn (a British Darwinist) still want to work together for peace. After their mission goes awry, however, the friends are separated and their friendship will be tested as they end up on opposite sides of the conflict.
SUZANNE REZELMAN is home | school | life magazine’s Book Nerd. Subscribe to home/school/life to read her brilliant book recommendations and literary musings every issue. Your library list will thank you.
Love and life get complicated in these young adult novels. Bring your own tissues.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Misfits Park and Eleanor fall in love in high school, but both of them are smart enough to know that first love never lasts forever.
Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts
Stoic Zac meets fiery Mia in the hospital, where they’re both undergoing treatment for leukemia.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
A suicide attempts lands anxiety-ridden Craig in an institution, where he meets a motley crew of residents who help him face his fears.
The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
Ponyboy isn’t sure where he fits into the sharply divided social castes of his 1960s Oklahoma town, but when trouble strikes, he’s forced to choose sides.
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
It doesn’t pay to be different in Standish Treadwell’s world, where a Nazi-like government keeps everyone living in fear and hope is hard to find.
My Life After Now by Jessica Verdi
One bad decision changes Lucy’s life forever. Now she—and her friends and family—must deal with the fallout.
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher
Social outcasts Sarah and Eric forge a deep friendship, but when Eric’s life takes a different turn and Sarah ends up in a mental hospital, refusing to speak, everything they think they know about each other will be challenged.
The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Grieving the loss of her universally beloved older sister, Lennie finds herself in an unexpected love triangle: drawn to one boy who shares her grief and one boy who pulls her toward joy.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
When the world’s population is decimated by a global pandemic, a small troupe of Shakespearean actors travels between far-flung communities, bringing art and music with them.
Waugh's surprisingly tender novel explores English life between the two World Wars through the eyes of a young man captivated by an aristocratic family. Waugh muses on privilege and ambition, class and religion, politics and faith in this classic book.
(Hey, are you a fan of the daily book deal? Leave a comment—we've been doing them for a couple of weeks and want to be sure we're not cluttering up the blog with stuff you don't want to see!)
Come to this wild and weird YA historical fantasy expected a rollicking tale and lots of laughs, not historical accuracy, and you’re pretty much guaranteed an enjoyable read. Almost everyone knows the sad story of England’s nine-day queen, but this book gives her a shot an actual happy ending—if Monty Python decided to write an alternate Tudor history, this might just be the result. Fun and frothy in all the best ways.
The question that always comes up when we’re talking about people like the Founding Fathers is this one: How could the people whose legacy is the freedom and democracy established by the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution keep slaves? This book doesn’t attempt to answer that unanswerable question. Instead, it shines a spotlight on some of the people enslaved by these heroes of early U.S. history—which, in the case of this well-researched and utterly compelling collection of mini biographies, feels like the only reasonable way to approach this not-so-beautiful piece of our history.
Davis focuses on the lives of five enslaved people (he specifically avoids calling them slaves because of the way that word can dehumanize people by reducing them to property): Billy Lee, who was George Washington’s valet; Ona Judge, another enslaved member of Washington’s household who the family pursued aggressively when she escaped to freedom; Isaac Granger, a skilled metal worked owned by Thomas Jefferson and given by him, along with the rest of the Granger family, to his daughter as a wedding present; Paul Jennings, who served as James Madison’s valet, and Alfred Jackson, who was an enslaved person owned by Andrew Jackson’s family. At first, these may seem like stories of ordinary, everyday people, but that’s the point: For every person like Billy Lee who left more than a bill of purchase in the annals of history, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, whose stories we just don’t know. Davis does a great job piecing together the scraps of available history into narratives that capture the experience of being a slave in the early days of the United States. Some of it is really hard to read—Washington’s dogged pursuit of his escaped slave stood out for me—but these feel like stories that need to be told. I also appreciated that Davis addresses upfront the problem of history and enslaved people—namely, that slaves are not likely to speak ill of masters with the power of life and death over them and that chroniclers of enslaved people might have had a tendency to pick and choose what they included in their narratives, often biasing their work toward positive comments.
This book isn’t a hatchet job on our Founding Fathers, but it does point out the inherent contradictions between their ideal of democracy and their pragmatic approach to slavery in their own lives. I think this should be on every middle grades and high school U.S. history reading list. I had a few problems with the book—the author has a tendency to talk down to his audience and overexplain, which got in the way for me sometimes—but on the whole, it’s an excellent read on an important subject and well worth adding to your library hold list, stat.
AMY SHARONY is the founder and editor-in-chief of home | school | life magazine. She's a pretty nice person until someone starts pluralizing things with apostrophes, but then all bets are off.
Huxley's dystopian future has always seemed more eerily possible to me than Orwell's darker totalitarian take: No one who's consumed reality television can doubt the power of pleasure and social pressure when it comes to making people do what you want. Just in time for your summer road trip listening, this audiobook version (read by Michael York) is bargain-priced.
Wow, wow, wow. OK, all on its own, Kindred—Butler's time-traveling novel in which a black woman in 1970s California is transported through time and space to antebellum Maryland, where she connects with her family's enslaved history, is dark and complicated and brilliant, but this graphic novel adaptation truly does the book justice. This is not an easy book to read—it asks hard questions about slavery, racism, and violence (especially violence against women), and it does not offer easy answers. It should be on your teenager's reading list for sure.
If you set out to create a totally fictional early Renaissance monarch, you would be hard-pressed to come up with a more interesting character than the real-life Henry VIII. Mantel's research bears this out in this fascinating historical fiction from the point-of-view of Thomas Cromwell, the complicated commoner who rose to power during the King's Great Matter—his efforts to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon—and fell from grace after the King's fourth marriage to Protestant Anne of Cleves proved unsatisfactory to his majesty. Wolf Hall focuses on Cromwell's ascent in the Tudor court and is a complicated, fascinating read rich in historical detail. Highly recommended.
Terry Pratchett takes a totally different tone in this definitely-not-Discworld novel set in Victorian London. When a teenage street kid who survives by scrounging sewers rescues a damsel in distress on a rainy night, he has no idea that his entire life is about to change. The quick-witted, not-always-totally-scrupulous hero is equal to whatever adventures his curiosity puts in his way as he deals with unexpected challenges and a motley crew of invented and historical Victorians. It's a delightfully Dickensian romp, and if that's your thing, you'll want to put this one on your summer reading list.
The suspense builds over the course of this mystery classic as ten people with spotted pasts realize that they've been lured to a posh but deserted island to be murdered, one by one, by a vigilante who wants them to pay for their crimes and who—they slowly realize—must be one of their number. It's both tense and intense, and don't start it unless you're ready to read it through to the end. (The recent BBC adaptation does a great job capturing the book's atmospheric suspense.) A great book for your high school summer reading list.
Captured by Germans after her plane crashes in World War II France, a British agent slowly weaves her confession to her captors to put off a grisly execution. This is the best kind of historical fiction—it pulls you right in to the complicated landscape of 1943 politics, and through flashbacks, brings World War II England to life. With its bonus beautiful friendship story and pleasantly feminist voice, this is a great book to have on your World War II reading list. Be warned: It's definitely a tear-jerker. (Shelved as a young adult/high school novel.)