Friday, 7 October 2016

Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls [Junior/Intermediate fiction]

Ways to Live Forever
By Sally Nicholls
Marion Lloyd Books | Scholastic, 2008
ISBN 9781407104997

This debut novel is about 11-year-old Sam who has leukaemia. It is written in the form of a journal over a period of nearly four months, full of lists, stories, pictures and interesting facts.

Sam knows he is going to die and spends a lot of time finding out about what this is going to entail. He asks great questions, getting right down to the facts of what is going to happen to him and what might happen afterwards. His final list is 'Things I want to happen after I am dead'.

He has a friend he made in hospital, Felix, who is also sick. They have lessons together from a tutor who helps them learn new things, like the answers to some of Sam's questions, and encourages Sam in writing this book.

There is a marvellous family, sister Ella, Mum, Dad and Grannie, who all have roles to play in the story as Sam thinks about what affect his illness has on those around him.

There are things he wants to do before the end (another list) and Felix is the main instigator of insisting that they can be done, with his Dad coming on board for the biggest thrill of them all.

Obviously a book that needs a box of tissues, but also is full of bravery, honesty, and a lot of love.

This was Sally Nicholls debut novel at the age of 23, and gained her a stash of awards:
2008 Waterstone's Children's Book Prize
2008 Glen Dimplex (Irish) New Writers Award, 
2008 German Luchs des Jahres
2009 Concorde Children's Book Award
Shortlisted for the 2009 Manchester Book Award

In 2010 it was made into a movie which I hope I can track down and watch.

Undercover: one of these things is almost like the others by Bastien Contraire [wordless picture book]

Undercover: one of these things is almost like the others
By Bastien Contraire
Phaidon, 2016
ISBN 978071487250

This wordless picture looks deceptively simple, but is curiously absorbing. As the title indicates, it's not just about finding the odd one out, but of noticing all the things that are the same about the objects on each spread.

Simply stencilled duo-tone illustrations in pink, green, and the brown that results when those two intersect reduce the subjects to their simple shapes, and yet there can be so much diversity in the images. It would be interesting to go from this to making some critters or objects yourself from simple shapes and limited colours.

This book was originally published in French, under the title Les Intrus which translates as 'The Intruders' which gives another angle on how the book works - are we looking for what is different, or what is the same, or what is disguised to appear part of the group? The wordless nature of the book also made me consider that they were maintaining their silence so as not to be discovered - just the kind of interesting thoughts that can come to mind when your brain has a chance to operate in the quiet.

Monday, 3 October 2016

I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel & Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas [Non-fiction picture book]

I am Jazz 
Written by Jessica Herthel & Jazz Jennings
Illustrations by Shelagh McNicholas
Dial / Penguin, 2014
ISBN 9780903741072

This picture book is the true story of Jazz Jennings (credited as co-author) who knew from when she was very young that she was a girl in a boy's body - she is transgender. "I have a girl brain in a boy body."

The picture book introduces Jazz through all the things she loves to do and wear, before revealing that she was born a boy. Her parents take her to see a doctor who explained to her parents that Jazz was transgender, after which they let her be who she really is, which is followed by school also being accepting, with some teasing along the way. 

I'm sure the actual process was nowhere near as smooth as the simple and clear picture book text indicates, but this story is going to enable people to discuss LGBTQ issues with young and older children, and for children who feel that they are different to others, to understand that they are not alone and there is a way to be able to feel like your real self. 

"Mom said that being Jazz would make me different from the other kids at school, but that being different is okay. What's important, she said, is that I'm happy with who I am."

The only quandary I have with this is the depiction of girls as frilly, pink, playing with dolls, dancing princesses, high heels etc, although thank goodness they are also attributed with liking soccer, swimming and doing back flips. 

I love that this is the story of a real person, someone who's making a big difference for others by sharing this story. 

You can see a video clip of Jazz talking about being transgender, and her book on the Transkids Purple Rainbow Foundation website where you can also find other useful resources.

Check out this excellent article about Jazz from the Daily Mail.

I anticipate that this book won't escape accusations of being inappropriate for some schools like the one mentioned in this article where they've cancelled a reading of the book after threats. No doubt it will end up on the 'banned books' list like some other excellent titles.

Jazz was named one of Time Magazine's 25 most influential teens in 2014.

I borrowed this book from Auckland Libraries  where you will also find another title from Jazz Jennings, Being Jazz in ebook form. It includes the years following those covered in I am Jazz.

Tomboy: a graphic memoir by Liz Prince [Graphic memoir]

Tomboy: a graphic memoir
By Liz Prince
Zest Books, 2014
ISBN 9781936976553

Graphic format seems to be a great way for young people to share their life stories if the number that have been attracting my attention is anything to go by. (See my posts on Dare to disappoint - growing up in Turkey, by Ozge Samanci  Drama by Raina Telgemeier and Little Fish by Ramsey Beyer).

Gender issues abound and Liz Prince tells the story of growing up as a tomboy, and what that meant to her, and how it reflects our society and what the social pressure to appear a certain way has to say about us. Liz didn't want to be a boy, she isn't gay, she just wanted to be herself, but she didn't want to follow the rules that society expected of her as a girl, regarding the clothes she wears, the games she plays, who her friends are and how she behaves.

Fortunately she was a determined young girl who knew what she wanted and kicked up a stink when others tried to make her fit/wear the right clothes/behave the 'right' way.

I particularly admired her when she persuaded school authorities to let her wear a jacket and tie for 'formal day' instead of the very unsuccessful dress the rules said she had to wear. I love the way Liz found her style when she was very young, and has stuck with it. This is what she is happy with. 

I'm going to be boosting the stock in my intermediate school library with books like this where I know some of my students will find not only people to identify with and examples of standing up for yourself, but also a way of sharing their own stories. Graphic storytelling is going to be part of what we do in our Book Week this term.

Read what Liz Prince has to say about writing/drawing Tomboy
Tomboy was a Kirkus Best Books of 2014
You can find a useful Study Guide here if you'd like to use this book in the classroom.
ALA Rainbow Book List
YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens (These lists are a huge resource if you are looking for more great graphic novels.)
YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (Also an abundant source of great book titles)

I borrowed this book from Auckland Libraries where they also have it as an e-book

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Flight by Nadia Wheatley, illustrated by Armin Greder [Picture book]

By Nadia Wheatley
Illustrated by Armin Greder
A Helen Chamberlain Book
Windy Hollow Books, 2015

I listened to Nadia Wheatley talking about this book when she was in Auckland for the IBBY Congress recently, when she'd just had news that it had won the CBCA Picture Book of the Year for 2016. 

The book is sombre in image and message, and urgent too. A man, woman and baby are fleeing across the desert, at first bringing to mind the Nativity story, but then a rumbling invasion of tanks transported me to more modern times, to the many refugees in our modern world; this could be the story of any of those families desperately searching for safety. 

The narrative is simply told, making the seriousness of the story all the more stark. The grainy illustrations, I think done in charcoal and oil pastels, in greys, browns and a gentle yellow and one brief flare of red, emphasise the seriousness of their situation, and the need for the trio to hide away. In a final scene they are at a camp and we know there is no happy ending here. 

Click here to read a piece by Armin Greder about his illustrating of the book, where I was interested to read that he initially turned the manuscript down for this book, because he didn't think the text left enough room for him to be creative. Nadia obviously knew he was the perfect person to illustrate Flight and revised her text, when he then agreed to take on. 

Find out more about Nadia Wheatley on her website.
Armin Greder doesn't have a website, but there is some excellent background and information about other books he has illustrated, some of which he's also written, on the fabulous Playing by the Book blog.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Walter Dean MYERS - Darius & Twig, Hoops, Monster

Walter Dean MYERS (1937-2014)
I've been catching up on this influential author who I've heard a lot about over the years, but had never quite got around to reading his books. He won the Coretta Scott King Award for African-American authors five times and was the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature in the U.S.A. in 2012/13 (equivalent to the Children's Laureate role in other countries).

You can get the full deal on his website or hear him tell his own story in this excellent Youtube video:

"I want to make poor people human beings in my books, so they can look at my books and say "That could be me, and this guy understands who I am as a full person."

First I read Hoops, which focuses on 17-year-old basketball player Lonnie Jackson, who's training with his team for the city-wide Tournament of Champions.

Coach Cal is thought to be a bit of a down-and-outer but proves to have been a pro basketballer when he was young, and made a lot of bad choices which still affect his life today. 

Cal sees Lonnie's potential and wants him to do his best, but warns against giving in to pressure, which comes from so many different sides - his girlfriend, team-mates, family, school, basketball, school and college administration. Full of tension and realistic characters who so often make the wrong choices.

While looking for my cover image I discovered the work of artist Thomas Allen, who created some art works for The Johns Hopkins Hospital based on great children's books. You can see all the info about what he made, and how he did it here. Basically he's taken the books and done clever things with the covers, which he's then photographed. He included Hoops and created silhouettes of the main characters, with a quote from each written on them, then beautifully photographed.

Next to turn up from the library was Darius & Twig, about an African-American and a Dominican boy trying to work out their paths in life, whilst surrounded by violence, drugs, and many, many losers. 

They each have a talent - Twig is a great runner, Darius is a writer and they both have challenges to face, which they take the course of the book to work their way through, to find a mindset that lets them see that they can succeed, even though success often brings unwelcome attention.

Myers has won a slew of awards for many of his more than 100 books, as just a sample here's the list for Darius & Twig:

  • Named a Kirkus Best Book of the Year for 2013
  • Named a Booklist Top Ten Book for 2013 in the category of Black History Books for Youth
  • Named a Booklist Editors’ Choice for 2013
  • Featured in the Chicago Tribune’s “Best Children’s Books to Give as Gifts” for 2013
  • Featured in BCCB’s 2013 Guide Book to Gift Books
  • Newsday Summer 2013 Reading List selection
  • Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor Book, 2014
  • Named a 2014 ALA Notable Children’s Book
  • Named a 2014 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers

For the full list of all his awards and nominations have a look here.
Now I've moved on to (but not finished yet) Monster. The version I'm reading is not the original Michael L Printz Award-winning novel, but a graphic novel adaptation (adapted by Guy Sims and illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile) of the diary of 16-year-old Steve Harmon who is under trial for murder, the title being what the state prosecutor refers to him, and the three others involved in the crime. I'll add to this once I get to the end.

What an incredible list of awards there are for Monster:
  • Michael L. Printz Award (First)
  • Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award Honor Book
  • National Book Award Honor for Young People’s Literature
  • New York Times Bestseller
  • American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults
  • American Library Association Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
  • American Library Association Teen Best Books for Young Adults
  • Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book
  • Top Ten Teen Books
  • Book Sense 76 Pick
  • Booklist Editor’s Choice Selection
  • Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon Book
  • Edgar Allan Poe Award Nominee
  • Heartland Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature Finalist
  • Horn Book Fanfare Honor List
  • International Board on Books for Young People Honor List
  • Kentucky Bluegrass Book Award Finalist
  • Los Angeles Times Book Award Finalist
  • Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Book Award in High School Category Nominee
  • New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
  • New York Times Notable Children's Book
  • Ohio Buckeye Children’s Book Award Nominee
  • Parents’ Guide to Children's Media Outstanding Achievement in Books Honor
  • Publishers Weekly 100 Best Books of the Year
  • Riverbank Review Children’s Book of Distinction
  • Texas Tayshas Reading List
  • Wyoming Soaring Eagle Award Nominee

I'm going to be recommending this author to the many kids I know who have so much potential, but are so easily diverted from their path to success, and also the many able readers who want to see what life is like from the point of view of someone quite different to themselves.