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.
George Larson is an 18 year old school boy from Otago, with aspiring dreams of becoming a musician. But everything changes when George notices a spider crawling over his homework book in a repeating pattern - spelling out the word “soul”. His dead granddad starts turning up at night with strange messages that someone is after him, and to try not to get killed! And that George is apparently the only one who can save the world by turning off the “lighthouse”. A Tibetan monk (who likes to “high five”) turns up at George’s house wanting to go on a journey with him. George has so many questions. What is this lighthouse? Why does his dead Granddad keep turning up? Who are the people after him? Where are they going? Why does the Tibetan monk say he has known George for a long time? Can George and Kaisa become more than friends?…
The author, Fredrik Brouneus, was born in Stockholm, but now lives in Dunedin with his family. The Prince of Soul and the lighthouse is his first book in English.
review by Michelle
Image by alijava
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
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
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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
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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
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The water horses (capall uisce) come out of the sea every year to the island of Thisby, the finest mounts imaginable, and every year, in November, the Scorpio races are run. But thesse horses are wild and dangerous and every year, along with excitement and victory, the races bring death to some of the riders.
19 yr old Sean Kendrick, who watched his father die in the jaws of a water horse, is now the most experienced and successful rider – quiet, enigmatic and devoted to Corr, his winning stallion - he returns to the race for his own secret purpose.
Puck Connolly, orphaned with her brothers by a water horse, struggles to keep her family together, but when her older brother leaves for the mainland she comes to a dangerous decision – she must ride her beloved pony Dove in the races and not only try to get them both out alive - she must win against terrible odds.
Maggie Steifvater has crafted a compelling story with well drawn characters, a wonderfully evocative sense of life on an isolated island and an ever present sense of danger.
review by Lisa
Image by Dmitry Shakin
Words in the Dust is not just about the conflict in Afghanistan but also comprehensively brings to the forefront the plight of women and their confinement to a social structure where women are subservient and insignificant.
Zulaikha is a young girl with a facial deformity. She secretly hopes for an education and an opportunity to have surgery so that the name calling and pitying stops. In sharp contrast the women around her are obsessed with their one goal in life and that is to marry a rich man and then to concentrate their efforts on how best to please their husbands. Zulaikha meets Meena who offers her some hope of an education but she soon learns that life rarely goes according to plan.
The book is based on first hand experience that Trent Reedy had in Afghanistan as a soldier. He, like many others blamed all of Afghanistan for 9/11. However his involvement there taught him the difference between the Taliban and the warm, friendly and peace-loving Afghan people.
I recall other great books like A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini and the Parvana series by Deborah Ellis that deal with similar themes of war, injustice and the oppression of women.
review by Janice
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Zara is lying in a coma, critically injured in the motor cycle accident that killed her brother Jem. In her subconscious state she constantly replays parts of her life. She can hear what those around her are saying, but is unable to respond.
The plot has three aspects – the accident and resulting trauma, Zara’s subconscious search for her dead brother in the blurry world of his favourite comic, and the hidden secret of what happened when she was kidnapped when a young child.
Elizabeth Pulford varies the font according to whether we are listening to the voices of family and friends or to Zara in flashback mode or to her scary adventures as she tries to find her brother, and Angus Gomes’ graphic novel style illustrations support the narrative perfectly.
review by Jan
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Harrison is a ten year old boy originally from Ghana, who now lives with his mother and sister in a run down housing estate in London. His is the voice of an innocent in a community riddled with corruption, violence, poverty and drugs. Written in vernacular language, Harrison’s positive take on life and innocent interpretation of events in his world are simultaneously both humorous and unwittingly dangerous.
He and a friend decide to play amateur detectives to solve the murder of a school mate. With childish enthusiasm they pursue their quarry with plastic binoculars, take fingerprints with Sellotape and manage to get a lot closer than they realise to resolving the crime.
This book was shortlisted for the 2011 Booker Prize and would be suitable for senior secondary readers due to the adult content of the book. Highly recommended.
review by Suzanne
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Prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction, Walter Dean Myers has won the Coretta Scott King Award for African American authors five times. His novel ‘Monster’ that won the Michael L. Printz Award is a draw card for readers who want a variation in format.
Steve’s trial for murder is so surreal it feels as if he has walked into a movie. His passion is movie making. Steve records his ordeal that he calls ‘Monster!’ with the dramatic precision of a cameraman capturing every significant scene, dialogue and emotion.
The story however begins with a journal entry on Steve’s thoughts about the situation he is in. These journal entries form an integral part of the book by providing insights into Steve’s mind, his life before the crime and his fear of being in jail.
This riveting story is another credit to the author’s powerful and realistic style of writing. The character of Steve is believable and multidimensional and readers will be waiting to see if Steve is acquitted.
There are a few extras at the end of the book that supplement to make this book a valuable resource for secondary classrooms.
review by Janice
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