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Paperback: 176 pages
Book: ttyl by Lauren Myracle
Genre(s): Realistic Contemporary Fiction, Series
Publisher: Lee and Low Books
Publication date: 2004
Hardcover: 224 pages
Other: first of the Internet Girls series
Summary: Told entirely via instant messages, this is the story of the trials and tribulations of three high school sophomore girls who are best friends — they call themselves the “Winsome Threesome.” Myracle uses “texting spelling” and internet slang (“ttyl” for “talk to you later,” “u r” for “you are,” “g2g” for “got to go,” “laffing” for “laughing,” “byeas” for “bye-bye,” for example) to recreate the way contemporary teens actually communicate. The story unfolds via these chat messages, and through their online dialogue we learn that each of the girls has challenges to overcome as they navigate the social perils of high school life. Angela is a bit boy crazy and has trouble keeping her crushes in perspective. Maddie is moody and can at times not be the best judge of how to act. Zoe is quiet and shy, the “good girl” who nevertheless (literally) lands in hot water. It is a pleasure to read over their shoulders as these loyal friends cheer each other on, providing solid advice to each other, without sounding like they are the puppets of an adult agenda. Their genuine voices and the ways they deal with their problems will be inspiring to many a teen or tween girl who is dealing with similar issues.
To whom will this appeal?: First and foremost, the potential reader of this book will want to be familiar with (or patient enough to look up) internet slang. Combine the slang with the computer-screen style layout, and you have a particular format that will be highly appreciated by many teens and tweens who are excited to see their daily life reflected in their reading matter. The tone of the book is conversational, and the characters are well-developed, but one must be able and willing to extrapolate a lot from the conversations, as all of the action is only described via chat conversation. This may be disconcerting to the reader seeking continuity, but will be a boon for those who revel in unusual and innovative formats. While serious issues (as well as mundane high school angst) are discussed, and problems must be overcome, overall the tone is upbeat and positive and sends the message that strong friendships can help you overcome anything life throws at you.
Ms. Olga Nesi is a dynamic middle school librarian who speaks of appeal terms and book hooks with a gleam in her eye. Not only is her library well-loved and her books constantly in demand, not only does she seem to know every child in her school by name, but she has found the Holy Grail of librarianship — she has devised an active way to put Readers’ Advisory principles into practice to help her kids find books they will love. Of course after I heard about her (and read her stellar article on the topic in School Library Journal) I just had to meet her!
So, this past Wednesday found me on a Brooklyn bus, very early in the morning, clutching my rapidly cooling coffee and on my way to Cavallaro Middle School. Upon arrival, Ms. Nesi woke me up in a way that coffee could not: we immediately got down to talking about how she conducts Readers’ Advisory in a busy school of 1400+ kids who often barely have 20 minutes to spend browsing for books.
Here’s what she does. When you first walk into the library, your attention is arrested by two huge posters on which she has blown up simple lists of appeal terms from Joyce Saricks‘ book, Readers’ Advisory Service in the Public Library. Listed under headings like Tone, Pacing, and Story-line are lists of adjectives that describe a myriad different types of tastes. Words and phrases such as “dark,” “bittersweet,” “humorous,” “action oriented,” “engrossing,” “magical,” and “lesiurely” catch the reader’s eye. When I remarked on the posters, Ms. Nesi explained that they serve several purposes. First, they are there to remind students of terms that they have already learned — from Ms. Nesi and in their English classes. They silently reinforce previously learned knowledge in a way that no long-winded lecture can. Secondly, when students come to Ms. Nesi for reading recommendations, she can stand with them in front of the posters and, with the appeal terms right there, can have a conversation about what they are in the mood to read. In fact, she also has printed them on bookmarks, so that kids can check off what about their reading material appeals to them, making explicit what is often a mute, internal proces. Simple, but genius.
Here’s another thing she does. She reads. Avidly. Widely. Incessantly. And for each book, she writes what she calls Read the rest of this entry »
Book: Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Genre(s): Realistic Fiction
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication date: 2007
Hardcover: 224 pages
Other: was made into a film in 2010
Summary: Greg Heffley is an average middle school kid who is not as popular or strong as he’d like to be, and yet he seems to enjoy life. He has his video games, his sweet but odd friend Rowley, and parents who care (perhaps a bit too much for his liking, as it makes it hard to get away with stuff). Told in journal format, with humorous illustrations on each page, we learn about Greg’s life in his own words. As the title implies, Greg is indeed a wimpy kid, in more ways than one. Kids will appreciate that Greg is not a perfect role model and struggles with making decisions when it’s between what he knows is right and what would be more fun.
To whom will this appeal?: This humorous book will appeal to lovers of contemporary humorous realistic fiction, and especially to reluctant readers. The age level intended for this book ranges from the elementary grades through middle school. However, adults have also been observed giggling with recognition as they eagerly leaf through the pages for a relatively painless trip back in time to the awkwardness of junior high.
It’s a quick read and the first of a whole series (with movie tie-ins) and so it’s become somewhat of an institution, which might lead some skeptics to wonder what the hoopla isall about. And yet, mixed in with the humor and the easy-to-digest prose is a brilliantly sketched exposure of what life is like for contemporary middle school boys. Readers of all ages will appreciate both the humor and the pain — and the brilliant and minimalist illustrations round out the reading experience by adding sly details which will make the avid reader want to flip back again and again.
Caveat: While some of Greg’s less-than-noble actions get him a deserved comeuppance, there is no overt moralizing in this book. The good are not always rewarded, nor are the guilty always brought to justice. This quality is often simultaneously perceived as refreshing by tweens and troublesome by some adult readers.
Book: Yummy: The Last Days of A Southside Shorty by G. Neri & Randy Duburke
Genre(s): Realistic Historical Fiction, Graphic Novel
Publisher: Lee and Low Books
Publication date: 2010
Paperback: 96 pages
Other: has been selected for several Mock Printz lists
Summary: Based on the life of a real boy whose short, tragic life and death horrified the nation in 1994, the story of eleven year old Robert “Yummy” Sandifer is told through stark, arresting black and white drawings, and from the POV of another neighborhood kid, Roger. Yummy is a short, cute kid who loves candy, his teddy bear, and his grandma. Mischievous and energetic, he is irresistibly drawn to join the local gang and in a tragic accident, ends up shooting a 14 year old girl by the name of Shavon. The book explores the reasons such a young child could commit such violence, even inadvertently… Could it be his search for sense of security? (His parents are in jail and his grandma’s place is crowded with too many children and responsibilities for her to keep tabs on him.)
The narrator, Roger, explores these and more questions as he sees his older brother being drawn further into the gang culture and wonders if his own family will end up as devastated as Yummy’s and Shavon’s.
To whom will this appeal?: This book will appeal as much to the lover of historical fiction as to the graphic novel aficionado. The combination of the stark black and white drawings and the simple and searing prose will appeal to many adults, teens and children, regardless of their genre preferences. And, at 96 pages, this is a quick, stunning, and, perhaps, depressing read–that will probably stir the reading interest of many a reluctant reader who may be initially drawn in by the short length. But one which will appeal to those who want to see gritty realism reflected in their reading.
Book: Harlem Summer by Walter Dean Myers
Genre(s): Historical Fiction
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication date: 2007
Hardcover: 165 pages
Summary: The year is 1925 and 16 year old Mark Purvis is a saxophonist who wants to break into the big time so badly, he can taste it. What he most wants is to play jazz and he thinks that famous musician Fats Waller is the example to follow. So when Fats offers him a somewhat shady opportunity to earn five dollars helping with a moving operation in Jersey, Mark decides that he can’t let go this chance to get to know Fats and hopefully get his foot in the door to fame through music.
What he doesn’t realize is the world of trouble he’ll land in, when Fats’s friend disappears with the moving truck–which belonged to none other than gangster Dutch Schultz. Soon Mark is worrying more about staying alive than about his music career, leading to a hilarious comedy of errors. On top of it all, his Mama made him get a job at The Crisis, a magazine founded by activist and scholar W.E.B. Dubois. There he learns all about the “New Negro” and gets to meet Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. Miss Jessie Redmon Fauset, his boss and editor of the magazine, asks Mark questions that make him question where he fits in the happening world of the Harlem Renaissance.
To whom will this appeal?: Hilarious as well as educational, (most of the characters are well-known historical figures from 1920s Harlem), this book will appeal to those seeking a fast-paced story with excellent characterization and humor mixed in with historically accurate detail. A rare type of book — one which blends learning about African American history with the foibles of a funny sweet 16 year old who is coming of age. This book will appeal not only to teens but also to middle grade students as well as adults.
Book: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Genre(s): Very difficult to categorize, but here goes: Mystery, Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction (in some ways)
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Publication date: 2009
Hardcover: 208 pages
Other: Newbery Award Winner, 2010
Summary: Sixth-grader Miranda is having, well, a sort of weird time lately. Her best friend Sal has suddenly stopped talking to her, and won’t say why. There’s a bum who’s recently taken up residence on the corner near her apartment building (located in 1970s Upper West Side Manhattan), and who creeps her out with his sudden laughing episodes. And then there are the cryptic notes that start appearing in odd places where no one could have access.
What does it all mean? Figuring out what is going on is half the fun of this literary sci fi realistic mystery. (Yes, this book does indeed defy categorization!)
To whom will this appeal?: When You Reach Me is a literary novel written for the “middle grades” (and as such has extremely well-observed and realistic middle grade characters) but will appeal to a number of different “constituencies.” Fans of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (which, incidentally, won the Newbery Award in 1963) will appreciate the literary (and timeless) quality of Stead’s writing. Stead herself is a fan of A Wrinkle in Time, as evidenced by the ubiquitous AWIT references in WYRM. In fact, one could go so far as to say that reading (or re-reading) A Wrinkle in Time is a necessary prerequisite to properly enjoying When You Reach Me.
It is a pity that many libraries will only carry this in their children’s section, as this book has an appeal for all ages, especially the teen or adult who enjoys the challenge of solving a tantalizing esoteric mystery that is zillions of miles away from (and more sophisticated than) the average juvenile mystery. Any child/teen/adult who has enjoyed the books of E. L. Konigsburg (especially From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The View from Saturday) will be very likely enjoy WYRM.
Another audience to whom the book will appeal is adults who may have grown up in, or relish the description of, 1970s New York. The description of late 70s era NYC — the freedom the kids had, the vague feeling of danger and yet innocence, the falling-apart-ness of buildings, the ethos of the time — is extremely well-done. While tweens or teens may also appreciate this description, I suspect that the draw of this type of historical detail is especially strong for those who have lived through the era and in the place. (Having myself lived in 1979 NYC, this observation may well be colored by my personal experience!)