New Releases

We’ve found four books coming out this week that look like they are full of action and suspense. I am hoping to start Kat Zhang’s series soon. Jessica reviewed the first book in the series earlier this year and they both look intriguing. Are any of these catching your eye?
Frozen

Frozen (Heart of Dread #1)
By Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston

Putnam Juvenile

Summary: Set in 111 C.D., one hundred and eleven years after a Catastrophic Disaster has wiped out 99% of humanity and left the earth covered in ice, this new series introduces readers to a ragtag group of friends and the dawning of a new time. The world of reason, of mathematics and science, is ending, and a new civilization is being born from the ice: a world of magic and mayhem, sorcerers and spellcraft. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

 

 

 

once

Once We Were by Kat Zhang
HarperCollins

Summary: “I’m lucky just to be alive.”

Eva was never supposed to have survived this long. As the recessive soul, she should have faded away years ago. Instead, she lingers in the body she shares with her sister soul, Addie. When the government discovered the truth, they tried to “cure” the girls, but Eva and Addie escaped before the doctors could strip Eva’s soul away.

Now fugitives, Eva and Addie find shelter with a group of hybrids who run an underground resistance. Surrounded by others like them, the girls learn how to temporarily disappear to give each soul some much-needed privacy. Eva is thrilled at the chance to be alone with Ryan, the boy she’s falling for, but troubled by the growing chasm between her and Addie. Despite clashes over their shared body, both girls are eager to join the rebellion.

Yet as they are drawn deeper into the escalating violence, they start to wonder: How far are they willing to go to fight for hybrid freedom? Faced with uncertainty and incredible danger, their answers may tear them apart forever. — image and summary via Goodreads

Dead

Dead Girls Don’t Lie by Jennifer Shaw Wolf
Walker Children’s

Summary: Rachel died at two a.m . . . Three hours after Skyler kissed me for the first time. Forty-five minutes after she sent me her last text. 

Jaycee and Rachel were best friends. But that was before. . .before that terrible night at the old house. Before Rachel shut Jaycee out. Before Jaycee chose Skyler over Rachel. Then Rachel is found dead. The police blame a growing gang problem in their small town, but Jaycee is sure it has to do with that night at the old house. Rachel’s text is the first clue—starting Jaycee on a search that leads to a shocking secret. Rachel’s death was no random crime, and Jaycee must figure out who to trust before she can expose the truth.

In the follow-up to her powerful debut, Jennifer Shaw Wolf keeps readers on their toes in another dark, romantic story of murder and secrets. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

 

Kinslayer

Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff
Thomas Dunne Books

A SHATTERED EMPIRE

The mad Shōgun Yoritomo has been assassinated by the Stormdancer Yukiko, and the threat of civil war looms over the Shima Imperium. The Lotus Guild conspires to renew the nation’s broken dynasty and crush the growing rebellion simultaneously – by endorsing a new Shōgun who desires nothing more than to see Yukiko dead.

A DARK LEGACY
Yukiko and the mighty thunder tiger Buruu have been cast in the role of heroes by the Kagé rebellion. But Yukiko herself is blinded by rage over her father’s death, and her ability to hear the thoughts of beasts is swelling beyond her power to control. Along with Buruu, Yukiko’s anchor is Kin, the rebel Guildsman who helped her escape from Yoritomo’s clutches. But Kin has his own secrets, and is haunted by visions of a future he’d rather die than see realized.

A GATHERING STORM
Kagé assassins lurk within the Shōgun’s palace, plotting to end the new dynasty before it begins. A waif from Kigen’s gutters begins a friendship that could undo the entire empire. A new enemy gathers its strength, readying to push the fracturing Shima imperium into a war it cannot hope to survive. And across raging oceans, amongst islands of black glass, Yukiko and Buruu will face foes no katana or talon can defeat.

The ghosts of a blood-stained past. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

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Review: Boxers and Saints

From IndieBound: “Boxers & Saints is an innovative new graphic novel in two volumes – the parallel stories of two young people caught up on opposite sides of a violent rift. American Born Chinese author Gene Luen Yang brings his clear-eyed storytelling and trademark magical realism to the complexities of the Boxer Rebellion and lays bare the foundations of extremism, rebellion, and faith.”

boxerssaints

Title: Boxers (336pp.)
Title: Saints (176pp.)
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Genres: History, Fantasy, Graphic Novel
Publisher: First Second
Review Copy: NetGalley
Availability: September 10, 2013

Boxers Summary: China,1898. Bands of foreign missionaries and soldiers roam the countryside, bullying and robbing Chinese peasants.

Little Bao has had enough. Harnessing the powers of ancient Chinese gods, he recruits an army of Boxers – commoners trained in kung fu who fight to free China from “foreign devils.” Against all odds, this grass-roots rebellion is violently successful. But nothing is simple. Little Bao is fighting for the glory of China, but at what cost? So many are dying, including thousands of “secondary devils” – Chinese citizens who have converted to Christianity.

Saints Summary: China, 1898. An unwanted fourth daughter, Four-Girl isn’t even given a proper name by her family. She finds friendship—and a name, Vibiana—in the most unlikely of places: Christianity. But China is a dangerous place for Christians. The Boxer Rebellion is murdering Westerners and Chinese Christians alike. Torn between her nation and her Christian friends, Vibiana will have to decide where her true loyalties lie . . . and whether she is willing to die for her faith.

Review: Gene Luen Yang brings the Boxer Rebellion to life in Boxers and Saints. Presenting the differing perspectives allows the reader to have a better understanding of the causes and motivations of the characters. These novels depict many atrocities towards men, women and children. Some of those actions are hard to take, but they do make a certain kind of sense when you see everything that led up to them including the misperceptions they have of the other culture. For the main character, Little Bao, the foreign devils are completely evil. They have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. As a result of a run in with the foreigners, his village and family have suffered greatly and the horrifying tales he hears only add to his negative opinion, so it is no surprise that he takes up arms against them. What may be harder to understand is his anger and hatred of the Chinese that follow the Christian ways. Using the multiple perspectives Yang manages to show the gray areas of this conflict. The characters themselves see everything as black and white, but the readers are given enough information to realize that the water is exceedingly muddy and many emotions and events lead others along their paths.

Boxers and Saints dealt with much more serious matters than I had expected from the opening. We are treated to scenes of fairs, Chinese opera, and see a young boy’s eagerness to learn martial arts. The art around the Chinese opera characters is stunning. The colors are vivid and the artwork is carefully detailed. Boxers soon becomes a battlefield though and much blood is spilled. In the midst of all the death and destruction, Little Bao is learning about himself and trying to align his philosophy with what he thinks he is “supposed” to believe. In addition, Four Girl, the main character in Saints, is trying to find her place in the world. She doesn’t want to just accept the place she has though. She wants to make the place that is right for her. These two young people have the same kinds of wishes that any teen might have, but their circumstances are extraordinary.

I found Boxers and Saints emotionally challenging. Witnessing man’s inhumanity to man is always draining for me. The characters feel so real that it is hard not to become involved and the scenes are intense. For readers looking for action, there is plenty of that. They may be surprised by the amount of thinking required though. I believe readers will follow the story even if they don’t have background knowledge of the Boxer rebellion, but I would imagine they will want to find out more by the time they are through. I went on a hunt for more information. Yang provides a nice bibliography at the end so readers can easily do that.

Recommendation: Buy it now – or at least get it as soon as you can. This is a beautifully illustrated and well told tale that you won’t want to miss.

Extras:
Essay by the author “The Boxer Rebellion and Pop Culture”

Book Trailer

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Mini-Review: If You Could Be Mine

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Title: If You Could Be Mine By Author: Sara Farizan
Pages: 256
Genre: contemporary, romance, LGBTQ
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Review Copy: Netgalley
Availability: August 20, 2013

Summary: In this stunning debut, a young Iranian American writer pulls back the curtain on one of the most hidden corners of a much-talked-about culture.

Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.

So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they have been, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.

Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants, in the body she wants to be loved in, without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self? — Cover image and summary from Goodreads

My Thoughts: Sahar speaks from the heart and won my own heart in the process. Sahar and Nasrin are in such a difficult position, but Sahar refuses to give up without even trying. She looks for ways to change her situation with courage and hope.

I appreciated reading a book set in Iran. Sadly, I did not know many details about life in Iran. Readers certainly won’t become experts, but will at least have a picture in their head of Iranian people beyond what they may have seen on the news.

If You Could Be Mine presents a complicated romance and the coming of age of two young women.

Recommendation: Get it soon. Take advantage of this chance to meet Sahar and the people she loves.

Extras:
Interview with Sara Farizan

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New Release

I just finished reading this unique romance. I’ll be reviewing it on August 28th so check back for more feedback then.

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If You Could Be Mine By Sara Farizan

(Algonquin Young Readers)

Summary: In this stunning debut, a young Iranian American writer pulls back the curtain on one of the most hidden corners of a much-talked-about culture.

Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.

So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they have been, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.

Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants, in the body she wants to be loved in, without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self? — Cover image and summary from Goodreads

Author Interview:

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Review: The Bitter Kingdom

Bitter
Title: Bitter Kingdom
Author: Rae Carson
Genre: Epic/Heroic Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 433
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Review Copy: Edelweiss Digital ARC
Availability: August 27, 2013

Summary: The epic conclusion to Rae Carson’s Fire and Thorns trilogy. The seventeen-year-old sorcerer-queen will travel into the unknown realm of the enemy to win back her true love, save her country, and uncover the final secrets of her destiny.

Elisa is a fugitive in her own country. Her enemies have stolen the man she loves in order to lure her to the gate of darkness. As she and her daring companions take one last quest into unknown enemy territory to save Hector, Elisa will face hardships she’s never imagined. And she will discover secrets about herself and her world that could change the course of history. She must rise up as champion-a champion to those who have hated her most. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads.

Background Info: If you haven’t started this series, here is a video that will give you an overview of the first book and the general direction of the series.

Review: In the first book, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Elisa is a tentative sixteen year old trying to figure out how to be “the chosen one” for her people and wondering if she’s up to the task. There is also a significant amount of romance involved. In The Crown of Embers, Elisa’s confidence increases as she takes on more leadership and continues to grow into her responsibilities, her abilities and her relationships. Finally, in The Bitter Kingdom, Elisa’s country has been brought to the brink of a civil war. Within the conflict, Elisa has the opportunity to show her many facets: Queen, Godstone bearer, the chosen one, sorcerer, woman, friend, lover, and horse thief. By the way, that last one is not really something Elisa enjoys since horses are one of her fears, but she will do whatever it takes to achieve her goals.

Elisa has many talents, but she is not perfect by any means. She makes plenty of mistakes along the way – typically due to her impatience. Fortunately, she loves to learn and most importantly she has a close circle of companions who watch out for her and help keep her on track. What really stands out in all three books is the relationships both romantic and otherwise. Elisa and her travel companions trust each other to the point that they have meaningful conversations that are open and painfully honest at times. Over time, Mara, Elisa’s handmaiden, becomes much more than a servant. They become confidants. This is a tight-knit group, but they are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of those around them and they don’t just ignore a misstep. Hector, the man Elisa loves, is not above questioning Elisa when he fears her impulses are in control. They also show their faith in each other, pointing out and applauding strengths.

Though the adventures and discussions are often serious, Carson also allows room for humor. Elisa does sarcasm well and there are even some awkward and funny moments amid the romance. Speaking of romance…wow! I can’t tell much for fear of spoiling things, but if you have read the first two, you know that Carson writes romance beautifully. She balances very realistic situations and concerns with a healthy dose of sensuality. What sets her apart is how she manages to do this without making it all about sex. The focus remains firmly on developing the whole relationship. The physical aspect of the relationship is certainly significant, but it does not overwhelm the other parts.

Unlike some trilogies, this series started out very good and then each book was better than the last. The Bitter Kingdom is a fast paced adventure with chases, fights, sorcery, erupting volcanos, and much more. Rae Carson shared intriguing characters that draw readers into the story and keep them wanting more.

Recommendation: If you have already read the first two books, you will want to get this as soon as it is available on August 27th. If you haven’t, you need to grab The Girl of Fire and Thorns to go ahead and get started. Probably you should just get all three because you are likely to want to read them in quick succession. For fantasy lovers, this is a must read.

 

 

 

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Why We Need Diverse Literature and How to Find It

Why do we need diverse literature?
First, we need to know and understand ourselves. People need literature that helps them see others like them – to know they are not alone. We need literature that reflects many ways of being and ways of living in our world so we all have a chance to see someone like us. Second, to interact respectfully with others in society, it’s helpful to realize that there are people in the world who have another perspective. We can explore our differences and similarities through literature. There is a quote on the Lee & Low website attributed to both Rudine Sims Bishop & Ginny Moore Kruse “A single book can be a mirror for some people and a window for others.” Those mirrors and windows help us understand and connect with people in the world around us, but we need more than just one story. We need a multitude of stories.

In the following TED Talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks about the “Danger of the Single Story.” Adichie explains that many individuals only know one story about a people and that may lead to stereotyping. When we know only one story about a culture, the risk is that we assign that story to all the people we believe are part of that group. Adichie provides an amazing and at times amusing presentation that speaks to the need for more stories about each other. This video is from 2009, but even if you have viewed it previously, it’s worth a second or even third look. Photographer Matika Wilbur also touches on this idea in her TED Talk. She’s concerned about the single picture that many people may have in their minds about Native Americans due to media exposure. Her current project is photographing individuals from 562 federally recognized Tribal Nations with a goal to “unveil the true essence of contemporary Native issues, the beauty of Native culture, the magnitude of tradition, and expose her vitality” (quoted from her blog). She is not only creating portraits, but is collecting their many and varied stories to share. This video is also well worth the few minutes it takes to watch.


Wondering where to find a multitude of stories?
It’s no secret that there is a serious lack of diversity in Young Adult and Children’s Literature. There have been a large number of blog posts and articles recently to that effect. But there are some diverse books being published. They are not in the numbers I would like to see, but they do exist. They can be hard to find, so we have some resources on our blog to help make it easier. In the tabs at the top of this page, we provide a release calendar that displays titles scheduled to be published in the coming months. In addition, we have a resource page with links to many excellent websites/blogs that review and share diverse literature along with links to publishers focusing on diverse materials. We created a Goodreads profile with a growing list of titles and there are also blogs in our blog roll on the right-hand side of the page that focus on diversity.

But how can we know which stories are accurate representations?
Matika Wilbur noted in her TED Talk that some Native American images and stories from the media have been damaging to Native people. As a school librarian, I want to provide many diverse stories for my students, but not all stories are helpful. Just look at some of the early Newbery Award winners. There were a few books with cultural diversity, but several fed into stereotypes (one I highlight below). As an educator, I have to evaluate the resources I am providing to our staff and students. I am clearly not an expert on every culture in the world, but here are a few questions* that help guide me in my selection process for school and also as a reader:

  • Who is the author and what experience or knowledge do they have as they write from this cultural perspective? (This helps me understand the lens the reader will be looking through)
  • If they are not a native of that culture, is it published by a publisher from that culture and/or has it been favorably reviewed by someone from that culture?
  • Are the characters distinct, fully developed and free of bias and/or stereotypes?
  • If there are illustrations, are they free of bias and/or stereotypes?
  • Is it a well developed and engaging story?

It can be helpful to know the lens of the author. In the case of Shen of the Sea: Chinese Stories for Children (1926 Newbery winner), the stories were filled with broken English, verbal caricatures and misinformation. I read Shen last year and was horrified. As I investigated his knowledge base of Chinese culture, I found a post from a blogger named Amanda. She pointed to the April 1, 1994 issue of School Library Journal. In it Margaret Chang wrote, “Chrisman had never been to China, did not read Chinese, and claimed to be aided by two Chinese speakers, but gave no sources for the stories in his book” (p 42). According to the book’s description Shen is comprised of “Sixteen stories reflecting the spirit of Chinese life and thought.” Chrisman appears to have taken what he knew about Chinese culture, consulted a Chinese shopkeeper or two in California about some of the details and proceeded to create original stories. He may have even been doing this in some way to “honor” Chinese culture, but this is not a book I will be purchasing or sharing with my students.

I tend to specifically seek out books that are written from an insider’s perspective like No Crystal StairYaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, and Since You Asked, but there are also people born outside a culture who have provided authentic representation. Debby Dahl Edwardson is not Inupiaq (Eskimo) by birth, but she’s been a part of that culture for many years. She has written powerful stories with fully developed, realistic characters in her YA historical novels, My Name is Not Easy and Blessing’s Bead. My Name is Not Easy is a look into the effect of the residential schools on Native students and their families. She did not rely on stereotypes, but created complex and unique characters. On her blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, Debbie Rees shared Beverly Slapin’s very favorable reviewI would recommend Edwardson’s books without hesitation and there are many other talented authors that learn about a culture and successfully represent it in their novels.

We may not have balanced representation in publishing yet, but there are some fabulous pieces of literature that can be our mirrors and windows. Let’s seek them out and share them.

Chang, M. A. (1994). Chinoiserie in American picture books: Excursions to Cathay. School Library Journal40(4), 42.

*Some of my questions were developed with influence from Full Circle’s Criteria for Authentic Native American Books & Oyate’s comprehensive evaluation criteria

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