Sunday, November 15, 2009

Top Ten Books for Young Adults and Adults that Promote Peace

This list ends the series on Top Books for Young Readers that Promote Peace. All of these books are still readily available for purchase in bookstores and/or you should be able to find them in your local library.

Ender's Game
by Orson Scott Card

Young Ender Wiggin may prove to be the military genius Earth needs to fight a desperate battle against a deadly alien race that will determine the future of the human race.

Fallen Angels
by Walter Dean Myers
originally published in 1988

Seventeen-year-old Richie Perry, just out of his Harlem high school, enlists in the Army in the summer of 1967 and spends a devastating year on active duty in Vietnam.

I Had Seen Castles
by Cynthia Rylant

Now an old man, John is haunted by memories of enlisting to fight in World War Ii, a decision which forced him to face the horrors of war and changed his life forever.

Lord of the Flies
by William Golding
Originally published in 1959

After a plane crash strands them on a tropical island while the rest of the world is ravaged by war, a group of British schoolboys attempts to form a civilized society but descends into brutal anarchy.

The Red Badge of Courage
by Stephen Crane

During his service in the Civil War a young Union soldier matures to manhood and finds peace of mind as he comes to grips with his conflicting emotions about war.

Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life In Sarajevo
by Zlata Filip

The diary of a thirteen-year-old girl living in Sarajevo, begun just before her eleventh birthday when there was still peace in her homeland.

Books Written for Adults (appropriate for grades 9 up):

All Quiet on the Western Front
by Erich Maria Remarque

Depicts the experiences of a group of young German soldiers fighting and suffering during the last days of World War I.

by Joseph Heller

A bombardier, based in Italy during World War Ii, repeatedly tries to avoid flying bombing missions while his colonel tries to get him killed by demanding that he fly more and more missions.

Cat's Cradle
by Kurt Vonnegut

In the year 2000, a young man discovers ice-nine, which can set off a chain reaction more deadly than a nuclear bomb, and a new prophet whose teachings sweep the world.

(Annotations courtesy of BWI unless otherwise noted.)

For further reading:
Top Ten Picture Books that Promote Peace
Top Ten Books for Early Readers that Promote Peace
Top Ten Books for Middle Grades that Promote Peace

If you counted my entries, I posted only NINE. Can you think of another, to round out the list?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Top Ten Books for Middle Grades that Promote Peace

A Special Fate: Chiune Sugihara: Hero of the Holocaust
by Alison Leslie Gold

It's one of the great Holocaust rescue stories. Chiune Sugihara, Japanese consul in Lithuania, defied his government and personally wrote transit visas for about 6,000 desperate Jewish refugees, visas that allowed them to travel across Russia and escape the Nazis ... A moving epilogue describes how, after years of grief and disgrace, Sugihara was finally honored in his own country and in Israel. (Partial book review from Hazel Rochman, Booklist.)

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Fourteen-year-old Liyana Abboud, her younger brother, and her parents move from St. Louis to a new home between Jerusalem and the Palestinian village where her father was born, where they face many changes and must deal with the tensions between Jews and Palestinians.

The Breadwinner
by Deborah Ellis

Conscious of the strict limitations imposed by the Taliban rulers of Kabul, Afghanistan, on women's freedom and behavior, eleven-year-old Parvana disguises herself as a boy in order to earn money so that her family can survive after her father's arrest.

Parvana's Journey
by Deborah Ellis

Sequel to The Breadwinner. With Kabul in ruins from the Taliban's control, Parvana dresses as a boy and sets out to leave Afghanistan in search of her family.

Swiftly Tilting Planet
by Madeleine L'Engle
Square Fish
Originally published in 1978

The youngest of the Murry children must travel through time and space in a battle against an evil dictator who would destroy the entire universe.

Samir and Yonatan
by Daniella Carmi
Arthur A. Levine

Samir, a Palestinian boy, is sent for surgery to an Israeli hospital where he has two otherworldly experiences: making friends with an Israeli boy, and traveling with him to Mars, where Samir finds peace after his brother's death.Palestinian, Jewish

Shattered: Stories of Children and War
by Jennifer Armstrong, editor

Presents twelve short stories about the experiences of young children and teenagers in war, showing a variety of perspectives, and provides factual notes on each conflict dramatized.

The Fighting Ground
by Avi
originally published in 1984

Thirteen-year-old Jonathan goes off to fight in the Revolutionary War and discovers the real war is being fought within himself.

The Flag of Childhood: Poems from the Middle East
Naomi Shihab Nye

Provides English translations of sixty poems from the Middle East

Torn Thread
by Anne Isaacs
Blue Sky Press

Based on true experiences in a Nazi prison camp. “Eva Buchbinder, 12 years old in 1943, has recently been forced into the Jewish ghetto in Bedzin, Poland, along with her father and sickly older sister, Rachel. … Given its precise detail and sensitivity to unimaginable suffering, this gripping novel reads like the strongest of Holocaust memoirs. (Abridged from Publishers Weekly review)

For Further Reading:
Top Ten Picture Books that Promote Peace
Top Ten Books for Early Readers that Promote Peace
Top Ten Books for Young Adults and Adults that Promote Peace

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Top Ten Picture Books that Promote Peace

It's fitting on Veteran's Day to honor the patriotic Americans who fought and died for the freedoms that we love, but are so apt to take for granted. It's also appropriate to read books that shine a light on the concept of peace. Here are Ten Picture Books that Promote Peace, appropriate for the youngest readers.

This list is not exhaustive. My criteria was a simple one: The books are still widely available, either for purchase, or to check out from your local library.

Dear Ichiro
by Jean Okimoto
Illustrated by Doug Keith

After fighting with his best friend and vowing to hate him forever, eight-year-old Henry attends a Seattle Mariners baseball game, where his great-grandfather explains that enemies can sometimes become friends again.

Mole Music
Written and illustrated by David McPhail
Henry Holt

Feeling that something is missing in his simple life, Mole acquires a violin and learns to make beautiful, joyful music.

Rainbow Fish and the Big Blue Whale
written and illustrated by Marcus Pfister
North-South Books

A big blue whale comes to live near their reef creating a misunderstanding between him and Rainbow Fish and his friends that leaves everyone very unhappy and hungry.

The Butter Battle Book
written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss
Random House

Engaged in a long-running battle, the Yooks and the Zooks develop more and more sophisticated weaponry as they attempt to outdo each other.

The Story of Ferdinand
Written and illustrated by Munro Leaf

In Spain, a young bull named Ferdinand who would rather sit peacefully under a tree and smell the flowers than butt heads with the others is chosen for the bullfights in Madrid when a sting from a bee makes him stomp and snort like the fiercest bull of all.

Home of the Brave
Written and illustrated by Allen Say
Walter Lorraine Books
Following a kayaking accident, a man experiences the feelings of children interned during World War Ii and children on Indian reservations.

Peace Begins with You
by Katherine Scholes
Illustrated by Robert Inkpen
Little, Brown

Explains, in simple terms, the concept of peace, why conflicts occur, how they can be resolved in positive ways, and how to protect peace.

Somewhere Today
by Shelley Thomas
Illustrated by Eric Futran
Albert Whitman

Poetic verse gives examples of ways in which people bring about peace by doing things to help and care for one another and their world.

Written and illustrated by Leo Lionni

Swimmy, a small black fish, finds a way to protect a school of small red fish from their natural enemies. (Caldecott Honor 1964)

Island of the Skog
Written and illustrated by Stephen Kellogg

Jenny and her mouse friends, in search of a peaceful place to live, come to the island of the Skog, who seems a more terrible threat than city cats and dogs.

For further reading (I'll be posting these over the next three days):
Top Ten Books for Early Readers that Promote Peace
Top Ten Books for Middle Grades that Promote Peace
Top Ten Books for Young Adults and Adults that Promote Peace

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Candyfloss by Jacqueline Wilson

by Jacqueline Wilson
Roaring Brook
1596432411 / 9781596432413
September 2007
Juvenile or Middle grade (grades 4-8)

This book would work well for both juvenile and middle grade readers. Written by Jacqueline Wilson, who was already enormously popular in Great Britain, this marked her debut in the United States.

Flossie's mom has remarried and is living prosperously with a new husband and baby. But Flossie's dad, though close to 40, just hasn't gotten his life together. Overweight, depressed, and hanging on by a thread, he's his own worst enemy.

When Flossie's mom and stepdad have the chance to move to Sydney for six months, they expect Flossie to go with them. Except that's not what Flossie wants. After a lot of pleading, she finally convinces her mom to allow her to stay with her father in London.

Whereas Flossie had been popular and well-groomed before, she's soon going to school looking unkempt and smelling of her father's greasy-spoon cafe. She loses her status-conscious friends, but later makes friends with Susan, who is a better, truer friend. After numerous trials that end with Flossie and her dad being destitute and all but homeless, he is finally jolted into seeing how far he's sunk, and begins to repair his broken life. He meets Rose, his true match, who is a fortune-teller and cotton-candy maker with a traveling carnival. Flossie, a likable character, suffers all this hardship with aplomb, and learns some important lessons along the way. Readers will cheer when she finally sees her ex-best friend for the bully and snob that she really is.

Many readers will identify with Flossie. I certainly would've, when I was that age. My strata of society wasn't about boarding school, designer clothes or European vacations, which is what trendy MG and YA fiction is about today, but rather working class people who lived from paycheck to paycheck and did the best they could with the cards they were dealt--just like Flossie and her father.

If you read this book, did you enjoy it?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Truly Terribly Horrible Sweater that Grandma Knit: Picture Book Tuesday Review

The Truly Terribly Horrible Sweater That Grandma Knit

by Debbie Macomber and Mary Lou Carney
Illustrated by Vincent Nguyen
Katherine Tegen Books
0061650935 / 9780061650932
32 pgs
Ages 3-7

Cameron is excited to open the birthday present from his grandma. He hopes it will be a video game, a remote control car, or a blinking light for his bicycle. Grandma Susan always gives him the best gifts. And so, excitedly, he opens the gift to find … a truly terrible horrible sweater. Cameron doesn’t want a sweater, even if his grandma did knit it especially for him. Especially not a sweater with red, green, yellow, orange and blue stripes. Determined never to wear it, he puts it on his dog and plans to send the dog outside into the mud, but that plan gets foiled. Next, he tries to hide it in a bundle that’s going to a rummage sale, but that doesn’t work either. He then squeezes mustard and catsup on it, but Mom washes it, and it’s as good as new. Cameron feels bad, because he never intended to hurt his grandma’s feelings by not wearing it. Still, he just can’t. Until Grandma comes for Christmas. The family meets her at the station and she compliments Cameron about how nice he looks, but he’s still not convinced. After all, it has huge buttons and terrible stripes in awful colors.

Then she begins to tell him that each colored stripe has a meaning. One is connected to him kicking the winning goal in a soccer match. Another corresponds to the first time he rode his bike without training wheels. The orange stripe is for his love of oranges. Yellow corresponds to how happy his parents were when he was born. Finally, Cameron realizes that the sweater is special after all. He’s now proud to wear it, and plans to keep wearing it for a very long time.

This heartwarming tale ends with a simple knitting lesson aimed for young children as well as a sweater pattern for a more experienced knitter. The pictures are charming, with luminous people and, on many pages, a cheerful yellow background. For grandparents who warm to this type of story, it’d be a terrific gift to give their grandchild.

Monday, October 26, 2009

On Volcanic Eruptions and Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer: Young Adult Book Review

Life as We Knew It
Susan Beth Pfeffer
0152058265 / 9780152058265
337 p.

This was one of the scariest books I’ve ever read. Sixteen-year-old Miranda is a typical teen living a usual life in a small town … until an asteroid hits the moon and knocks it off its orbit. Within days, earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis have killed millions. Soon after, volcanic ash permeates the atmosphere, ushering in an early, exceptionally cold, and exceedingly long winter.

Through daily entries in her diary, Miranda tells the story of how her family nearly freezes and starves to death. Day by day, over the course of 10 months, the reader experiences the grim dwindling of resources, the infrequent reasons for optimism, and the inescapable death of hope. For me, the end of communication with anyone other than those who lived within a mile or two of Miranda’s family was one of the most frightening aspects of the book. It made me realize how much I rely on television, radio and the internet to inform me about what’s happening in the world.

Fortunately, Miranda’s mother had the sense to stock up on food before things got too dire, and the subsequent, to-be-expected mass looting of provisions. Day by day, Miranda records the food her mother allows them to eat, and the too frequent times when they eat nothing at all. The book goes on and on, with Miranda recording also the struggle to stay warm, the minor irritations between her family members who are confined to one room of the house, and the disease and death that settles over her small town.

Toward the end, I seriously doubted that anyone would survive. But in the end, there is a small glimmer of hope. Had this been a real occurrence, it’s still doubtful to me that anyone would survive, but I'm glad that Ms. Pfeffer chose to come down on the side of hope. That's what novels are for.

Mt. St. Helens Volcanic Eruption

On a personal note, my family experienced the Mt. St. Helens volcanic eruption on May 18, 1980. For days, weeks and months afterwards, this created varying amounts of havoc in the surrounding area. The most frightening aspect to me, once I knew what was happening, was to watch the sky growing ever darker with ash. We heard the explosion at around 8:30 am. (Mt. St. Helens is over 300 miles away from where we live.) My husband and I were outside planting shrubs at our new house. We spent the morning watching a dark cloud moving closer and closer to us. We thought it was a thunderstorm, but it wasn't getting any cooler or windier. At lunchtime, we went inside and turned on the radio. That's when we found out that Mt. St. Helens had erupted. Scientists had been predicting it for months.

By 2:00 pm, you couldn’t see your hand stretched out in front of you. Throughout the day and evening, birds, blind in flight, kept smacking against our windows, which was eerie and unnerving. When I went to bed that night, it was with dread: Would we see the sun in the morning?

Fortunately, we did.

These are our kids outside in the ash the next day. It may've looked like snow, but it smelled acrid, like ashes from a fire.

This picture was taken on July 27. I was in the hospital after having our third baby, on the 26th. The morning of the 27th, my husband and his dad decided to go see the mountain that'd blown its top off. There were restrictions about how close you could fly near it. This was as close as you could get at that time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Top Dystopian Movies and Links to Dystopian Booklists

Teen Read Week's theme, Read Beyond Reality, can be interpreted in any number of ways, but the most popular books for teens today are definitely not of this world, thus it's a great theme choice for 2009. The books that teens are flocking to are, in fact, dystopian in genre.

What is a dystopia? Simply put, a dystopia is the opposite of a utopia. According to Wikipedia, it is a "culture where the condition of life suffers from deprivation, oppression, or terror." For a very thorough, enlightening definition and analysis of dystopian fiction, see Wikipedia.

Over the next couple of days, I plan to review three of my favorite dystopian novels, but first ... some exciting booklists and a movie list. Should you become interested in dystopian fiction, these are a wonderful resource, a great place to start. Or if you're already a big fan, they're a great place to fill in the gaps.  

Bart's Bookshelf has a relatively complete list of Adult and Young Adult novels that are dystopian in theme. Plus, if you're interested in joining a dystopian reading challenge, this is the place to sign up. 

Booklist Online also has a core collection list. This one is made up of exclusively Young Adult titles. It lists  titles that Bart left out, so don't overlook this one.

As you are probably well aware, Dystopian is also a popular movie genre. For a very exciting list of movies you might want to view (or review), see the Top 50 Dystopian Movies of all time. Some are definitely not for young children, but most would be appropriate for high schoolers.

(Picture is of Mel Gibson in 1979, starring as Max Rockatansky in Mad Max.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

North of Beautiful

By Justina Chen Headley
Little Brown
February 2009
Young Adult
384 pages

Terra’s an artistic high school senior who was born with a facial port-wine stain and a cruel father who regularly belittles both her and her overweight, subservient mother. He’d done the same to Terra’s brothers, but they’re grown and gone—as far away from their father as they could go. Feeling ugly, Terra escapes into art. Collage art, built layer upon layer, until a thing of beauty emerges. Kinda like the layers upon layers of makeup she applies to her face, to hide the ugly birthmark beneath. To make up for her “ugly” face, Terra exercises like mad and has an amazing body—which is the only thing her meathead of a boyfriend seems able to appreciate about her.

I like that Terra, unlike her mother, never succumbed to her father’s repeated attempts to beat her down. Instead, Terra copes by being an achiever. She’s athletic and in terrific shape. She gets good grades and has applied to an art school across the country, partly for its prestige, but more to get away from her father. She’s accepted, but her father doesn’t see any value in it.

Then one day, Terra and her mother have a minor car accident with Jacob, an Asian Goth classmate, and his mother who adopted him. It’s easy for Jacob to accept Terra; he has the scars left from a cleft palate.

Eventually the four of them travel to China, and everything begins to change for Terra and even her mother. Both acquire the confidence to be who they are, and who they will be, apart from who their father and husband had defined them to be.

Ms. Headley uses map metaphors and geocaching to illustrate Terra’s journey from Washington state to China and back again; from believing she is ugly to knowing that true beauty is on the inside; from not knowing to knowing who she is, who she loves, and what she wants to do and be.

Should you read this book? Yes! It's wonderful.
Justina Chen Headley's website.

For another book about a girl with a defect, even a port wine birthmark, read Every Crooked Pot by Renee Rosen. Every Crooked Pot Review.

For a fantasy about a boy with a defect, read Defect by Will Weaver. Defect Review.

Every Crooked Pot by Renee Rosen

Every Crooked Pot
by Renee Rosen
St. Martin's Griffin
June 2007
ISBN: 0312365438 / 9780312365431
Young Adult

Nina Goldman was born with a disfiguring birthmark above her left eye. Along with an older sister and brother, she is raised by loving and prosperous Jewish parents. Beginning when Nina is seven years old, the story chronicles her life for the next 13 years. As readers would expect, she feels ugly and unlovable. Fortunately, her parents do everything in their power to get her to the best doctors. Eventually there's not much left of the birthmark, though a few more years pass before the internal scars are healed. The story follows Nina through childhood insecurities, including teasing by her classmates, to her first sexual experience, through first love and self-acceptance. The lives of the entire family revolve around Nina's good-hearted and loving but often exasperating, narcissistic father. In addition to making peace with her birthmark, Nina must forgive him for his failures-real and imagined-and forgive herself for sometimes hating him more than loving him. In the end, she comes to terms with those feelings as well. Beautifully written, and with larger-than-life characters, this book will remain in readers' hearts for a long time to come.

Visit Renee Rosen's website.

For another book about a girl with a birth defect, even a port-wine birthmark, read North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley. North of Beautiful Review.

For a fantasy about a boy with a birth defect, read Defect by Will Weaver. Defect Review.

Defect by Will Weaver

by Will Weaver
ISBN: 0374317259 / 9780374317256
Young Adult

I’m not a big fan of fantasy, but this one about a boy whose birth defect gives him arms that are like a bat's wings is one of my favorite books of all time. The cover gives me a rush as well.

David is ugly: He was born with a small face, bug eyes, a stooped back, poor hearing, and a strange body odor. There is also something else that he’s kept secret from everyone: He has collapsible wings. He can fly.

After being the target of continual bullying, and moving from school to school, foster family to foster family, David finally moves to an alternative school in another state. A childless farm couple who’s seen birth defects in animals compassionately takes him into foster care. He meets Cheetah, a girl whose epilepsy makes her as much of an outcast as David is. Only, Cheetah isn’t shy like David. Cheetah fiercely champions David to the limit. They strike up a friendship, and then a romance.

As usual in a book where the protagonist has a birth defect, David is faced with a decision. Shall he live with the defect? Or shall he undergo surgery at the hands of a doctor who claims he can make David “normal”? Only, in this book, David’s decision isn’t so easy as to choose whether to become more conventionally handsome, or to live with the defect. It’s not as simple as coming to realize that true beauty lies within. That’s not to say that this type of realization is easy. But David also has an incredible gift: he can fly. It makes his decision all the more difficult, and his choice in the end is genuinely thrilling.

Visit Will Weaver's website.

For a book about a girl with a birth defect, read North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley. North of Beautiful Review.

For another book about a girl with a birth defect, read Every Crooked Pot by Renee Rosen. Every Crooked Pot Review.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Jumping off Swings by Jo Knowles: Book Review

Jumping off Swings

By Jo Knowles
Young Adult
230 pgs

Told in four alternating viewpoints, Jumping off Swings by Jo Knowles moves the teens, who are caught in an unexpected situation, through various feeling states to a conclusion—and does so with incredible deftness and reading speed.

Sixteen-year-old Ellie, who comes from a perfect but judgmental family, wants only to feel loved. Hoping to find it with someone, she has one-night stands with several boys. Before long she’s pregnant with Joshua’s baby, after Joshua loses his virginity with her.

From there, the story advances a step at a time, with each of the viewpoint character’s reactions to each new development. Though Ellie isn’t “bad,” she’s branded by her classmates as a slut. She takes it to heart, believing the pregnancy is her punishment. But she does have some friends: Caleb, who’d had a secret crush on her since forever, and her best friend Corrine, who doesn’t abandon her. The baby’s dad, Joshua, isn’t a villain, but is as confused about the situation as Ellie is.

The strength of this novel lies in the alternating viewpoints. Over the course of each teen’s short sections, the reader gains access to that person’s thoughts about the pregnancy as well as his or her current family situation, and how that family came to be—which multiplies the viewpoints to about a dozen. The attitudes and beliefs about what could be done are shown through so many different angles that the reader comes away with a comprehensive view.

In the end Ellie makes a tough and, for our times, unusual decision. Lest society has forgotten, it’s what most girls did a generation or two ago, if they didn’t marry the father. But attitudes slowly shifted and our government’s entitlement programs grew, making it easier to keep one’s baby. In the course of a generation, what’d once been acceptable became mostly unacceptable in the eyes of our society.

With our economy being what it now is, it’s possible that entitlement programs will begin to shrink, and we’ll see attitudes slowly shifting once again. Ellie’s decision will shed light on yet another option for teens who find themselves in the difficult situation of an unplanned pregnancy, and will give everyone, pregnant or not, food for thought.

If you read this book, what do you think about Ellie’s choice?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Book Review: The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins -- October is International Dinosaur Month

October is International Dinosaur Month, to the delight of children and adults alike. You might want to make plans to sit down as a family and watch (again!) Jurassic Park and Ice Age, but there are plenty of great picture books to read as well.

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins
By Barbara Kerley; Illustrated by Brian Selznick
Arthur A. Levine Books
48 pgs
Grades 2-5

This book came out eight years ago, but it feels every bit as fresh and innovative now as it did then. The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins is the true story of Victorian artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, a painter and sculptor who was commissioned by Queen Victoria to recreate life-sized dinosaurs based on fossil remains, thereby educating people who’d never even heard of dinosaurs about their pre-historic existence. Using clay models, Hawkins then erected skeletons made of iron, covering them with cement casts to create his public displays. In addition to the sculptures in England, Hawkins made two for Central Park in New York City. Unfortunately, he antagonized the wrong person and the sculptures were smashed to pieces and then buried beneath the park, where they remain today. Though many of Hawkins’ models have been found to be inaccurate, the true subject of this book is his passion for the ancient creatures. Selznick’s artwork contributes as much to the story's exuberance as the words do. Independent readers grades 2-5.
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