Thursday, July 10, 2014

What I'm Reading: Award-Winners

It works out well that my prior "What I'm Reading" topic fits nicely into the required blogging of my Lit course. Each week, we'll be looking at a different category of YA literature, searching for titles published in the last 10 years or so, and providing annotations of some of the books we find.

This week, it's Award-Winners. For any of you non-library/education folks, the Newbery has been the "king" of the awards, dating all the way back to 1922, and has included such classics as A Wrinkle in Time (1963), Bridge to Terabithia (1978), and Sarah, Plain and Tall (1986). Another award list that I discovered this week, where I found some quality books was the Michael L. Printz Award. Perhaps it's because the list is newer, and also solely focused on YA books (vs. the Newbery which includes children's titles as well), but I jotted down a ton of books I wanted to read from this list. A 3rd list I focused on this week were the National Book Awards (Young People's Literature category, abbreviated as NBA further in this post), where I also found some excellent titles.

The genre I nearly always gravitate towards is realistic fiction, so I made a conscious effort to mix up what I read this week (though as you'll see, I couldn't resist including at least one in my list!). In one of our class discussions a few weeks ago, we talked about the difficulty in drawing in teen male readers, so I also made an effort to include at least one title that would appeal to them. In no particular order, here are my award-winning choices for the week:

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things 
Carolyn Mackler, Candlewick Press, 2003

Found in the YA section of my local library, this Printz Honor Book tells a coming-of-age story of Virginia (named for Virginia Woolf, naturally), a self-proclaimed fish-out-of-water in an otherwise picture-perfect family. Virginia leaps off the page, and it's impossible to not get drawn into her life as she deals with boys, the popular girls at school, her place in her family, and ultimately, self-love and acceptance. Decidedly *not* out of my reading comfort zone, this is a book I would have loved as a teen, and in the vein of the adult books I choose to read for pleasure now. It tells a strong message of being true to one's self, without feeling preachy, messages which I feel are important for today's teenage readers.

American Born Chinese
Gene Luen Yang, First Second, 2006

A graphic novel, this book is definitely way out of my "typical" reading preferences, but I was intrigued when I saw it featured in the graphic novel section in my local public library. I read it quickly and daresay really enjoyed it. Three stories are captured in this Printz winner and NBA finalist - that of Jin-Wang, middle-school Chinese-American student trying to fit in at school, the Monkey King, an adaptation of an old Chinese fable, and Chin-Kee, the cousin of popular kid Danny, and embodiment of every negative Chinese stereotype there is - and woven together with a surprise ending. I'll be honest and say that graphic novels are never going to be my cup of tea, per se, but Yang did a masterful job with this one. With bright, detailed illustrations, the characters seem to jump off the page, and the accompanying text is laugh out loud funny at times. Touching on important topics such as tolerance, negative use of stereotype and self-acceptance, I feel this book would be a great conversation starter among teens (both boys and girls).

Nothing But the Truth
Avi, Scholastic, 1991

A little outside our 10-year window, but I saw this one on a table of "Required Reading" at my local Barnes & Noble and had already gotten it home and read half of it before I noticed the publication date. Despite being more than 20 years old, this "documentary novel" which won a Newbery Honor in 1992 does not feel dated. In short, the book follows ninth-grader Philip and the fall-out from a relatively benign disciplinary infraction. Told in sequence, but from differing perspectives and from different sources (Philip's diary, school memos, conversations, and letters), Nothing But the Truth is particularly relevant in today's climate of citizen journalism and underscoring the importance of not blindly accepting everything you read.

Honorable Mentions

Two books that I came across in my searching but didn't have time to get my hands on in order to fully vet them for this post. Hopefully I can add them to my (growing) reading list!
  • When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead 
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie

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