Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Blog for a Blog

Well, this semester is coming to a close and I am heading back to my regular reading blog, www.swimminginbooks.blogspot.com, but I wanted to share another booklist blog with you, dear reader, before I sign off for the last time.  I have a difficult time keeping up with the amount of YA literature published every year.  I use multiple resources (GoodReads.com, Booksonthenightstand.com, etc) to help me form my To Be Read list.  I now can add, http://www.readingrants.org/.  This site is dedicated specifically to teens, but I have found the reviews to be wonderful indicators of quality literature.  Do not go to this site to find recommended books for your specific grade level!  This site simply summarizes a YA book and that's it.  You go read it and decide if it is a good novel for your grade or class.

So, without pomp, goodbye!

Note to Self: Use In Future


This resource is a wikispace designed for those interested in YA literature.  This page hosted YA resources, quality podcasts dedicated to YA literature, lesson plans, and much more.  Granted, like with all online material, you must research each link before you use it in class, but I have found the majority of links to be wonderful and of good quality.


I have been a member of this group for a few months.  It is a wonderful group to join if you are an English teacher or library media specialist.  Each month the group picks a new YA book to read and discuss.  There are also board discussions for some pivotal YA novels.  You are able to interact with YA, teachers, media specialists, and older persons who enjoy YA literature.  Hope to see you there!!

Contemporary v. Classic

Title: Hamlet
Author: William Shakespeare
Publisher: Signet Classic
Copyright: 1998
Recommended Grade Level: 9th-12th

Hamlet, prince of Denmark, is urged by the ghost of his father to avenge his death and seize the throne.

Title: Ophelia
Author: Lisa Klein
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Copyright: 2006
Recommended Grade Level: 9th-12th

In this re-imaging of Hamlet, Ophelia, ambitious and rowdy, catches the eye of Prince Hamlet while completing her duties as lady-in-waiting for Queen Gertrude.  Their love grows in secret, as well as their eventual marriage.  But, their happiness is soon spoilt when darkness descends on Denmark.  Ophelia must choose her future - a life with Hamlet or simply her life.  She devises a plan of escape taking along a very important secret.
Hamlet is hands down my favorite Shakespearean play, so when I saw Ophelia I simply had to purchase a copy.  Frankly, it did not live up to my expectations.  With Hamlet, readers are thrown into the chaos of Hamlet's mind.  The text is dark, gritty, and beautiful.  Ophelia captures a little of the intensity of the drama, but the last 1/4 falls completely flat.  Ophelia is my favorite female in all of Shakespeare.  Klein did flesh her character out considerably more, but that last fourth just kills the entire novel.  So, I would recommend teaching Hamlet in class and suggesting Ophelia for pleasure reading.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Non-Fiction Literature 1

Title: The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
Author: David Grann
Publisher: Vintage Departures
Copyright: 2009
Recommended Grade Level: 9th - 12th

Lately, I have been reading a lot of narrative non-fiction that has been recommended on a podcast, Books on the Nightstand, which I listen to quite regularly. I heard this book mentioned several times, and while shopping with a friend at Target I finally bought it. I could not put the book down! And, while it is not necessarily a "young adult" book, I find it fascinating and an easy and interesting biography and historical account of exploration.

The book accounts the exploits of Percy Fawcett, a legendary British explorer who vanished into the Amazon in 1925. Fawcett, a capable and intelligent explorer, had made many trips into the Amazon and faired extremely well. But, Fawcett, obsessed with discovering the ancient civilization of El Dorado (Z), on his final exploration, ventured into the most remote regions of the Amazon with his oldest son, Jack, and Jack's dear friend, Raleigh Rimell, and was never heard from again. David Grann physically explored the trail Fawcett took on his fateful trip in 1925. Grann also detailed the various rescue attempts that ended in madness and death.

I knew only the basics of the Fawcett story before reading this book, and I knew very little about the Amazon - just the tidbits we all learn in elementary and middle school. Like with any well-written non-fiction book, there is so much covered in 300 pages that a simple summary cannot do the book justice. I think this would be an excellent book for a history, geography, or science classroom. It is a great reminder of the bravery and stupidity of men in the age when there were still blank spaces on a map.

Realistic Literature 2 - Extremely Short

Title: Catalyst
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Speak
Copyright: 2002
Recommended Grade Level: 9th - 12th

Anderson takes readers back to Merryweather High, the setting of her powerful novel, Speak, and introduces Kate Malone, science and math super-geek, cross country runner, and preacher's daughter. As the paperback summary states, Kate, an "emotional avoidance champion," organizes her life as "logically as the periodic table." But, life soon becomes too illogical, and Kate must start to confront her emotions.
I love Anderson's writing. I have been able to connect with every protagonist she has ever created. Once again, Anderson writes with a brutal honesty that may alarm some parents but is embraced by her intended audience. Whereas, Deadline is a male driven book, Catalyst is definitely a book for the girls.

A Controversial Writer - Intellectual Freedom

Title: Deadline
Author: Chris Crutcher
Publisher: Harper Teen
Copyright: 2007
Recommended Grade Level: 9th - 12th

Ben Wolf, a smart-ass resident of Trout, Idaho, has learned that his senior year of high school will be his last year alive. He decides to keep his illness a secret from his family and friends. Instead of wallowing in his certain demise, Wolf embraces his remaining time and fully ponders his life, community, and several examples of social injustice. He makes life very difficult for a certain close-minded teacher, dates the girl of his dreams, has vivid conversations with Hey-Soos, and goes out for the football team. But, soon Ben discovers that he is not the only person in the small town keeping very large secrets.
For years I heard wonderful reviews of Crutcher's work, so I decided finally to try one of his novels. And, to be perfectly honest, it took awhile for me to get through this book. Crutcher uses a lot of football terminology that I just did not understand. But, once I devoted some time and effort into the book, I found that I could not put it down. I love to read, and I have gotten quite attached to some books that I've read throughout the years. But, this book is one of the few that actually made me cry. It haunted me for a few weeks. Yes, Crutcher is a controversial writer, and even I (a most mellow and even-tempered person, if I say so myself) found myself arguing with some of Wolf's (let's face it, Crutcher's) opinions. But, even if I did not agree with every opinion, I ended up admiring the bravery, intelligence, and kindness of the protagonist, Ben Wolf. I do believe that Crutcher has perfectly captured the reality of most young Americans.

 As previously stated, Crutcher is a controversial writer, so, unless one is ready to fight parents, administration, and community members (most notably those in the Tea Party movement) to the bloody end, one might want to steer clear of his works. I would most certainly house his books upon a classroom shelf. And, maybe some time in the near future, I will take one of his books down and create a novel study assignment, but I'm not there yet.