Yes, women voting – mad & wicked!!

A Mad Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller   Audio by Katharine McEwan
Published by Viking Children’s 1/23/2014              Published by Listening Library

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Vicky attends a “Finishing School” in France with only the art classes she sneaks off to keeping her sane. Unfortunately, someone discovers her extracurricular activities the day she poses undraped – in the nude. Her punishment: return to England, no more art classes, and an engagement to a wealthy gentleman to rehabilitate her reputation. She arrives home in the midst of the England’s Suffrage Movement which becomes a catalyst for life altering events. One afternoon as she slips away from home to draw people at the protest, she encounters a police constable, PC Fletcher, and a suffragette, Lucy. Both of them as well as her lady’s maid, Sophie Cumberbunch (who has been charged with Vicky’s refinement), introduce her to the movement, the Pankhursts and then encourage her to examine her own beliefs and how she lives her life.

Sharon Biggs Waller’s first YA novel is an exquisite look into 1908 England and the Suffrage movement as well as into the heart and mind of Vicky. Ms Waller’s compelling prose wraps us up in the beauty of the art Vicky sees and the power and beauty of the undraped figure. We are drawn into every one of Vicky’s emotions: her hopes, her despair, her passion, and her hatred (of corsets). And we are moved as Vicky opens her mind to a different world, a world beyond her family’s expectations, a world where women vote. With Vicky, Ms Waller creates a fascinating and powerful character whose growth finally gives her the ability to pursue her own dreams, her own desires. After all, isn’t that we all hope for?

In addition, Ms Waller provides extensive historical back matter which includes information about Edwardian life & clothing, Tuppenny Novelettes, the Suffrage Movement, the Pankhursts, hunger strikes & force feedings, and various artists that are mentioned. A thorough bibliography links readers to more information on England and the Suffrage Movement. BTW – if the name Pankhurst rings a bell you might want to thank the movie Mary Poppins for Mrs. Banks sings about Mrs. Pankhurst being “clapped in irons again!”

The Audio Book is just as compelling if not more so than the book for the English accents put us smack dap in the heart of 1908 England. I really know it’s good when my teen daughter tells me to turn it on rather than turn it off! Thank you Katharine McEwan!

A Mad Wicked Folly is a wonderful historical fiction novel that will not only engage students, but get them talking as well.


How should a crush feel? Exciting/fun – so steer clear of anything vicious!

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
Published by Algonquin Young Readers 10/7/2014

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Leila is an Iranian-American teen who’s into Zombie Killers movies and perfect hiding places (in order to avoid running during soccer). Not really in any clique, she’s surviving high school alongside her friends Tess and Greg. Even though she’s dated and kissed boys over the years (including Greg), Leila never crushed on anyone. That is until this summer when she was kissed by a girl – whoa! Now its fall and Leila’s back in school. Worried that her classmates will discover her secret, she works tirelessly to hide it from her friends, from the other students and from her Iranian-American family. However, once she starts crushing on the new girl Saskia all the lies and half-truths come crashing down.

Sara Farizan writes a powerful coming-of-age story where Leila doesn’t struggle with her own feelings towards girls so much as how her family, friends and fellow students will feel about her. The evocative prose pulls us into the high school milieu where the vagaries of students push and pull Leila in one direction or another, where mean girls exist regardless of whether they kiss boys, girls or both, and where one finds true friends by being true to themselves. Ms Farizan – a lesbian of Iranian ancestry herself – will have readers laughing as ethnic and sexual stereotypes are upended and worrying about Leila as Saskia’s behavior gets out-of-control. Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel is an excellent read that teens, both gay and straight, will find engaging and thought-provoking.

Side Note: For further reading on Iran and homosexuality, Deborah Ellis’ Moon at Nine is a fascinating historical fiction about lesbian teens and their life and death struggles in 1988 Iran.


The Greenglass House for Smugglers

Greenglass House by Kate Milford
Published by Clarion Books 8/26/2014

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In the rambling old Greenglass House where smugglers come to stay, Milo Pine and his adopted family, proprietors of the House, are settling in for a snowy winter vacation. Milo’s plan: get homework done right away so the rest of vacation is vacation. Unfortunately, his plans go awry when mysterious guests show up – completely unheard of for winter vacation is NOT the season of smugglers. In a strange turn of events, the guests all have connections to the Greenglass House. When lost objects are found and others disappear, Milo and Meddie, the younger daughter of the Inn’s chef whom he just met, use an old role playing game (RPG) to get to the bottom of the mysteries shrouded within the Greenglass House.

Kate Mildford superbly crafts the wonderful and fantastical world of Nagspeake and the Greenglass House. A world where smugglers are the good guys and the customs agents are the bad guys, where ghosts quietly reside unless provoked, and where the beauty of the stain glass permeates the entire story. Readers will find stories within stories which draw us further into this fantastical world. As for the main characters, Ms Milford realistically depicts Milo as a thoughtful and caring boy who nonetheless wonders about his birth parents, yet feels guilty at the same time. Ms Milford’s use of the RPG not only allows mysteries to be solved, but allows Milo the freedom to wonder what his life might have been, to wonder about a different family. Meddie is his outspoken sidekick which is the perfect foil and which helps Milo work through the mysteries. Greenglass House is beautifully written and is story-telling at its finest which deservedly belongs on the National Book Award’s Longlist.

Side Note: Ms Milford became so invested in Nagspeake that she created a tourism website where readers can visit the town. http://www.nagspeake.com


I am the Mission, the Weapon, the Assassin

I am the Mission by Allen Zadoff
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 6/17/2014

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After his last mission Zack went off the grid to think, but “Father” managed to track him down. For his next assignment, his name is Daniel and he must complete a mission where another teen assassin failed. The target? A crazy ex-lieutenant colonel who runs a military camp for teens. It’s supposed to be an in-and-out mission – go to a recruiting event and get it done, no going into the camp. But when events take a turn for the worse, Daniel heads into camp against “Father’s” orders.

Allen Zadoff, a master of writing non-stop action & adventure stories, does it again with I Am the Mission. From his first words to the last sentence, readers are drawn into the assassin’s mission where everyone is a suspect and every snap of a twig sends our hearts racing. At one point, I had to put the book down just so my heart would stop pounding! The feints within feints and the fast-paced action will keep even the most reluctant readers hooked. Give this to any teen who likes spy novels or adventure stories; just be prepared for the question, “when is the next one coming out?”


When I Was the Greatest…

When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

WhenIWasTheGreatest On this Father’s Day, a story of family, friends and love…

Ali lives in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn. The neighborhood is falling apart and life is gritty, but Ali doesn’t mess with the bad stuff. Instead he sides with his sister (he wouldn’t trade her for a bother even if the brother was Jay-Z), he hangs with Noodles and Needles on the stoop, and he takes boxing lessons. They all manage to get by until a party shines a light on the flaws they’ve ignored.

Jason Reynolds’ writing draws readers in and allows us to hang on the stoop with Ali and his friends. On the stoop, we get a bird’s eye view of life in Bed-Stuy. We learn that for Ali “family is family, no matter what,” but he’s lucky ‘cause we know that’s not the way it is for everyone – especially not for his neighbors Noodles & Needles. We also learn about Ali’s hopes, his fears and his anger. Most importantly though, the story leaves us pondering what friendship is, what love looks like, how we forgive our self, and how we forgive others when they hurt people long after we put the book down. When I Was the Greatest is a profound story that students will gobble up. Thank you Mr. Reynolds.


Shackleton’s doomed odyssey!

Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey by Nick Bertozzi
Published by First Second 6/17/2014

ShackletonGraphic Full Disclosure: I am a Shackleton fanatic. I have read numerous books, watched PBS specials, and bought my father a 1st edition of South by Ernest Shackleton. Yep, fanatic!

Ernest Shackleton tried to reach the South Pole on numerous expeditions, but it wasn’t meant to be. Even though he missed the opportunity to get there first, he couldn’t let go of his desire to explore Antarctica. His next ambitious move – to lead the first expedition to cross Antarctica through the South Pole.

Nick Bertozzi takes the powerful story of Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic expedition of 1914 and does a superb job of bringing it to life in his graphic novel Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey. Through his drawings and text, Mr. Bertozzi skillfully weaves a story of facts about Shackleton’s past and his current expedition with the human face of Shackleton & crew and their struggle to survive. Needless to say some of the story is horrific and Mr. Bertozzi wisely throws in hints of humor to counteract the horror via penguins, the dogs, and potty humor. Shackleton’s story is one of perseverance even in the face of disaster, a story to admire, a story to share, a story to read again and again and we are lucky to have Mr. Bertozzi’s version. Teens and tweens who love adventure stories as well as those who love history will enjoy this nonfiction graphic novel. Librarians be forewarned – keep plenty on hand.


My Best Friend? Yes, no, maybe?

My Best Friend, Maybe by Caela Carter
Published by Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books 6/3/2014

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Once upon a time, before high school, Colette and Sadie were best friends, but Sadie quit talking to Colette the summer after 8th grade. Now at the end of 11th grade Sadie has invited Colette to Greece. When asked why, Sadie says “I need you” thereby invoking their promise from years ago. Colette doesn’t understand, but goes anyway – with the support of her father, but not her mother’s or her boyfriend’s – hoping to discover the truth about why they are no longer friends.

Caela Carter adroitly weaves the heart-breaking story of two friends, their broken friendship, and the unspoken cause of the rift with the exquisite beauty of Santorini. Told from Colette’s point-of-view, readers are left in the dark alongside Colette as she struggles to find the truth, as she struggles to understand what happened. While the reader catches on to a piece of the truth before Colette, our jaws drop when we learn of the final betrayal. Needless to say, the breath-taking descriptions of Santorini, swimming in the volcano, and watching the sunset leave the reader with the desire to hop the next plane to Santorini to reconnect with friends and find love. Ms Carter’s written a beautiful story about honestly, love, and giving people a second chance that teens will devour.