We want to help create motivated and engaged young readers. This blog is about children's and YA literature (especially New Zealand), literacy research, and ways to get, and keep, kids reading.
Samuel is a boy growing up in Apartheid South Africa. He knows the memory of the massacre of his parents and sister will never leave him. However his life changing experience begins when his Uncle Sabata recognises his talent for running. His uncle fills his mind with inspirational stories of other people, who like himself have gone on to win laurels at the Olympics in spite of encountering racial prejudice. This motivates him to achieve even higher goals.
Blood Runner is the story of Samuel who makes a decision to fight racial prejudice as a runner even though, at that very time his brothers join the anti-Apartheid movement. James Riordan’s historical novel very cleverly encapsulates Samuel’s endeavour to physically and mentally prepare for his marathon, which in his mind he is running for the freedom of his people. The brief note on Apartheid at the end of the book provides an adequate amount of background for the novel.
I would highly recommend Rebel Cargo and The Sniper also written by James Riordan.
review by Janice
Image by JP-Flanigan
Dom has just finished school and is engaged in a painting job at his father’s advertising agency before he starts university. One morning he walks into his father’s office to ask for the keys to his car. Here he gets drawn into a conversation on the benefits of advertising and next thing he knows he’s being thrown a challenge to come up with a pitch to sell toothpaste. Dom’s philosophy it that it is easy enough to write an advertisement and that any ‘monkey’ could do it.
What follows is Dom’s process of due diligence on the campaign. The question raised is why does Dom really want to beat his dad at his own game? The story deals with the serious and humorous side of advertising, a father son relationship and Dom’s learning curve of where he wants to be in terms of a career.
Leonie Thorpe has done a brilliant job of keeping the story light, youthful and purposeful. Also noteworthy is the exposure to the world of advertising which is insightful for anyone wanting to pursue this line of a career.
review by Janice
Image by owly9
Poor Jack, he’s in conflict over wanting to keep something not his own and searching for the correct owner.
I enjoyed this true to life look at a boy who desperately wants to own a puppy. It’s a great read for juniors who are ready to leap into short chapter-books or for a shared read-aloud. The book is also stong on positive themes like honesty, caring, responsibility and family life.
The large print and double-spaced lines combined with words to stretch a reader’s vocabulary, while the happy ending presents readers with a satisfying conclusion. Stephanie Spartel’s expressive black and white illustrations also enhance this Hey Jack! series.
review by Fiona
Image by photos_martha
Readers of Twilight will find many familiar features in Telesa- a strong supernatural element, beautiful young people, school romance, students with cars – and potential for a lot of chaos. But with a difference: here the mythology and school are Samoan. Telesā are powerful women who manipulate elemental forces, sometimes for good, but often not. Males are expendable.
When Leila Folger’s American father dies, the 18-year old insists on going to Samoa to learn something of her mother who, she believes, died when she was an infant. She is puzzled by her aunt’s cool welcome. At school she is drawn to head prefect Daniel but sparks fly. And a fiery response to a hostile youth at an interschool rugby match brawl leaves him with burns and her in confusion.
Then a beautiful woman introduces Leila to the fractious and ruthless sisterhood of telesā. Life itself is at stake. But Leila is strong, has loyal friends and elemental support, and gives a good account of herself. These are great stories and The bone bearer, due in 2013, will complete the series. The author has written other books, including one on the 2009 Samoa-Tongan tsunami.
review by Rob
Image used with permission
I’m a real Sally Sutton fan – I love her latest picture book Farmer John’s tractor, and her Diary of a pukeko had me chuckling, so I was delighted to find this simple but lively new title on our shelves.
Diary of a bat sucks you in right from the first page, printed upside-down just as if a hanging bat was reading it, and pushing us straight into the life of this young bat – worried about the things that young people everywhere worry about, particularly at the beginning of a new school year. Who will his new teacher be? Will he have any friends? Will he be teased about his size – again? Why does his mother seem so distracted? And why won’t she answer his questions? And our young friend has a lot of questions….
Children intrigued by bats will find plenty of information about the New Zealand long-tailed variety woven carefully into the story (which would make a great read-aloud for younger children, but will be enjoyed by older ones too), and the text is well supported by Gave Gunson’s pen and ink illustrations.
Teacher notes are available (PDF).
review by Jan
Image used with permission
My first question when reading this novel for young adults was: is this fact or fiction? It was written in such a compelling real way. Ruta Sepetys has been diligent in her research, visiting Lithuania and basing this fictional book on an extremely dark point in world history. It is set in the 1940s when the Baltic region was devastated by double genocide. First by Nazi Germany, then by Soviet Russia, Its basis in historical fact makes for compelling reading. But as harrowing as the hardships endured are, the story is of love and survival, written with grace and heart. It made me cry, but it gave me hope. The endurance of the human spirit is just so uplifting.
16 year old Lina is typical teenager living with her family in Lithuania. Her life is suddenly changed forever when the Soviet secret police invade her home and forcibly abduct her family…. ”they took me in my nightgown”.
Her mother, brother and Lina are transported in horrific conditions in cattle trucks to remote Siberia. Here they are forced to work in labour camps under appalling conditions.
Lina sustains her hope through her artwork—she secretly draws pictures which she believes will somehow reach her father, who was also arrested by the secret police.
This dramatic and moving story covers her long and harrowing journey of 6,500 mile and spans years. Lina fights for survival for herself and those around her while maintaining human dignity and learning heartfelt compassion from her mother. In spite of seeing the horrifying ordeals through which they suffered, it is her incredible strength, love, and hope that stayed with me well after I had turned the last page. I was left wanting to know more……
This book is truly a must read and not just for a young adult audience.
review by Glenda
Image by M1K3Y
Twinship… what a fascinating concept. Jerry Spinelli explores the reality behind the concept through the eyes of 12 year old twins Jake and Lily as they grow through the physical and emotional changes of puberty and struggle to establish their own identities.
This book would have equal appeal to boys and girls as there is equal page space given to the voices of both Jake and Lily. I can imagine it being read aloud on a boy/girl shared basis. They speak in alternating short chapters. There is enough action, intrigue and emotional involvement to sustain the interest of a class of students (8 – 12 years).
On their sixth birthday, Jake and Lily both awaken to find themselves holding hands at the train station, surrounded by the smell of pickles. This happens every birthday thereafter and this marks both their significant railway birth and the development of a special sixth-sense that the siblings refer to as goombla. This is their term for a twin communication that either of them can explain. They know when the other is hurt, where they are hiding and how the other is feeling. Having goombla means that they are never truly alone because they always have each other.
Lily defines herself as a twin first and foremost and struggles to see herself as an individual girl in her own right. Therefore she is particularly devastated when her parents make her sleep in a separate room when she turns 12, and when Jake prefers to spend his time bike riding with a group of boys. Not only this, but the boys “gang” is lead by Bump Stubbins, Lily’s nemesis. He invents the pastime of following goobers and supergoobers and Jake is more than happy to tag along.
Many sub stories keep the intrigue, underpinning the main plot of Jake and Lily’s relationship. Each character is well drawn and totally believable. Highly recommended.
review by Glenda
Image by bambibabe48
There will be few teachers or library staff who are not familiar with Chris Van Allsburg’s work – Jumanji; The Polar Express; Z was zapped; The widow’s broom; and others. My favourite amongst his work is The mysteries of Harris Burdick (1984), which I have used in the classroom numerous times. The introduction alone is a great read-aloud (especially if you read it with a bit of sombre mysteriousness…) and the starter for the many journeys of the imagination on the following pages.
His wonderfully atmospheric drawings with their deceptively simple titles and accompanying quotes have jump-started some very productive classroom writing sessions, and the same drawings have now been submitted to some well-known authors for their interpretation. Louis Sachar; Stephen King; Walter Dean Myers; Lois Lowry; Jon Scieszka; Kate DiCamillo are just some of the famous names telling their version in The chronicles of Harris Burdick (2011).
Last word to Lemony Snicket, who writes the introduction to this volume:
“…the mysteries of Harris Burdick continue, and if you open this book, you will likely be mystified yourself. As you reread the stories, stare at the images, and ponder the mysteries of Harris Burdick, you will find yourself in a mystery that joins so many authors and readers together in breathless wonder.”
A must-buy for all school library collections.
review by Linda
Image by gruntzooki
Looking for a title to create a genre jumper, well Shadow and Bone is a great place to start.
Orphaned by war, Alina and Mal grow up with nothing but each other. As adults they join the army and are sent on a perilous mission into the Shadow Fold, a cloud of darkness populated by hideous monsters. When they are attacked, Alina surprises everyone (including herself) by discovering a powerful ability that saves their lives. She may even be able to save the entire kingdom, but only if she can figure out how to control her power and work out who to trust.
This is a great book to give to students who are stuck in a genre rut. The story and setting will appeal to fantasy lovers, but Alina’s voice is very modern (and a little bit snarky) and will pull in students who generally shy away from books set in other worlds. There is something here for every reader: a quest to hunt a mythical stag, flesh-eating monsters, a magical make-up artist, gruelling martial arts training and a dramatic love triangle.
Set in Ravka, a mythical land inspired by Russian history and folktales, the book has inspired a new genre: Tsarpunk! Bardugo defines this as “fantasy that takes its inspiration from the aesthetics, culture, politics, and social structure of early 19th century Russia.” To learn more check out this interview or go to the author’s website.
A sequel is coming out in 2013, but in the meantime you can direct your students to The Witch of Duva, a Ravkan folktale that they can read for free online.
review by Caroline
Image by Badly Drawn Dad
Every once in a while a classic piece of literature gets written and this is one of them. The novel has recently won the Michael L Printz Award. The book is one you will want to visit again for its rich and accomplished phrasing and deep introspection reflected by the two main characters.
Handsome, shy Karl is a young boy in love with intelligent, beautiful Fiorella. Unfortunately for Karl, Fiorella would like for Karl to express his love for her and other matters of contemplation in written letters. In desperation Karl turns to Fiorella’s favourite novelist (who remains unnamed) to help him with his profession in prose.
What follows is a build up a special relationship between eighteen year old Karl and the seventy-five year old novelist. In successive meetings the novelist is able to delve beneath Karl’s teenage awkwardness in a very non-intrusive way to help him on his journey. Such is the mastery and craftsmanship of Chambers that one is able to identify with both protagonists, even if you are not as young as Karl or as old as the author. The story also focuses on many similarities between the two and at some point you realise that in helping Karl through his crisis the novelist is forced to face and overcome his own.
Aidan Chambers is a wordsmith and reading this novel I can see why he has been called ‘one of young-adult literature’s greatest living writers’.
review by Janice
Image by catusbeetroot
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