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.
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
Image by inside my shell
Ray Bradbury works with artist Tim Hamilton to create this graphic novel. The novel is set in the future when “firemen” burn books (Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which book paper burns) forbidden by a totalitarian regime. The main character Montag is a fireman. When walking home one night a chance meeting with a neighbour challenges his thinking about his work. After his wife’s repeated suicide attempts Montag also questions the government’s policy of burning books. When the fire chief discovers his hidden books, he is forced to choose between personal safety and intellectual freedom.
The graphics full of dark, heavy black shadows effectively portray Montag’s bleak, oppressive world of censorship. They are an effective contrast with the vivid orange, red and yellow of the fires burning forbidden books.
This is a great crossover graphic novel for students who are reluctant to read a novel. It would also appeal to sci/fi readers.
review by Anthea
image by learning lark
Albeit being dystopian and futuristic, The Nature of Ash draws many contemporary parallels because scenarios from this book are being played out on the current political stage, both nationally and internationally.
Ash McCarthy receives the devastating news that his father the President of the Combined Trade Unions has been killed when a bomb goes off in Wellington. The explosion is rumoured to be the mastermind of the UPR (United People’s Republic). Ash is forced to leave town when things get dangerous from forces offshore. He takes with him Mikey, his little brother who has Downs Syndrome, Travis the son of a cop and Jiao who appears to be part of the UPR. Soon their mission to stay away from trouble becomes murky and treacherous as they try to locate their lost mother and attempt to rescue Jiao’s parents.
It’s very heartening to read about the unconditional love and protection that Ash has for Mikey. The book is full of action and offers huge potential for discussion on government ideology, stereotypes and family. A lot of thought has gone into this very clever book.
review by Janice
cover image used with permission
Blink was only looking for breakfast – not a dangerous adventure - but while cruising hotel corridors for leftovers he stumbles upon the fake kidnapping of Jack Niven, a mining executive, and is drawn in by messages left on Niven’s smartphone, which he steals from the ransacked room.
Caution, on the run from her drug dealing boyfriend and a terrible tragedy, isn’t looking for a crazy extortion scheme like the one Blink cooks up but something about him touches her. So she joins him in his plan to wring some money out of Niven and his cronies.
Written from alternating perspectives, the story races along as the two teenagers try to survive life on the street, put their doubtful scheme into action, and slowly come to trust each other in spite of the impact of their former lives.
For a short interview with the author (and for the reasons behind his use of the second person narrative for Blink – have you ever come across another story employing this technique?) go here (PDF).
review by Lisa A
image by Eldave
Luke, Casey and Bongo are friends, completing their last years of high school, wondering how to find their way in the world, and testing all the boundaries in the process. All three are trying to escape something in their family life – ranging from Casey’s controlling and resentful father to Bongo’s abusive stepfather and drug-addled mother. Luke doesn’t feel like he ‘fits’ with his family and wishes above all else that he could make things right for Casey, whom he worships, and for Bongo, who uses drugs himself to block out his dysfunctional past and the hurt he feels at being away from his baby brother – removed by social services and adopted out.
As they move out into the adult world, they find that freedom brings its own problems and responsibilities, and that you have to find peace in yourself before you can make things right with others.
It’s a story of authentic-feeling friendships, and Emma Cameron’s verse format uses a light touch in drawing these genuine teenage characters.
review by Linda
image by Looking Glass
Aaron has just left school, is starting his first job – as an undertaker’s assistant – in the small town where he lives in a caravan with his aunt. He has nightmares and embarrassing sleepwalking incidents, linked with
having witnessed his parents’ murder/suicides. The daughter of the undertaker has had a similar traumatic childhood and with her friendship Aaron eventually comes to terms with his troubled background. His aunt’s rapidly deteriorating dementia and the undertaker’s work makes for rather grim reading but the story flows well and is sensitively written.
The Dead I Know would suit Year 10 boys. For more information on sleepwalking see here.
review by Phil
image by akav
Jake and his mates find an old wrecked car and decide to do it up so they can have fun driving it around the paddocks.
Buzz and Robbie both agree they all need to put some money towards the repairs, but Jake has no money and as that would mean getting a job, he resists.
As the scheme seems to be going ahead without him, Jake soon realizes he may need to find some money.
This story has a gentle building of tension and one thing I like about this book, is that there are no major dramas, or ridiculous outcomes – one keeps feeling there is bound to be trouble with three teenage boys and a car, but it’s all just really good fun!
Dirt Bomb, a finalist in the 2012 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards, is a brilliant action read for teenagers.
review by Rosemary
In this first book of an eight book series, Amanda Valentino, a teenage schoolgirl has disappeared. She had three friends, who had different strengths and personalities that she called her guides. As they investigate this mystery they discover enigmatic clues that only Amanda can have left.
The tension builds through the book and will keep readers engrossed.You realise as you read that unknown danger lurks in the background and not all is as simple as it seems. Two chapters of Book Two are included at the end of Book One to entice readers to explore the mystery further.
The website www.theamandaproject.com offers you access to the e-book to put on your i-phone or i-pod, a kit for teacher/librarians, and short video interviews with the authors and characters. You can write your own version and click on the QR code to discover the secret it holds.
Many of our social networking teenagers are going to love this so you may need to buy more than one copy of each book.
The question is, will the story sustain interest through eight books?
review by Jill Driver
image by LensENVY
This novel has it all. It starts with a bang and doesn’t let up until the last sentence. It is a tale of piracy and treasure hunting in the high airs (not seas). Sequel to Airborn, this novel still stands alone as a swashbuckling “good read”.
Matt Cruse, a trainee navigator is aboard a worn out, tumbledown cargo airship piloted by a reckless captain. Flying through a typhoon at dangerously high altitudes, they see a ghost ship, the Hyperion, that was presumed wrecked 40 years ago. On board are exceptional treasures and Matt is the only living soul who knows the coordinates for the ship’s location.
How can these treasures be retrieved? Does he even want to do it? Who can he trust?
Eventually he joins with Kate, his sweetheart, and Hal, the conceited pilot of a new airship capable of pushing to the limits of high altitude flying, to hunt for the Hyperion and its treasure. But hot on their trail are ruthless air pirates as well as dangerous sky monsters. Adventure parallels with the climbing of Mount Everest, literary parallels with 20,000 leagues under the sea and the myths of Icarus and Prometheus will fascinate any eclectic reader.
The emotional tension and suspense is heightened by Matt’s simultaneous attraction to his high class girlfriend Kate, and the mysterious gypsy girl Nadira, who holds the key to unlock the booby trapped treasure.
Highly recommended for those who enjoy a tale full of drama and action. See the book trailer on Kenneth Oppel’s website.
Review by Glenda
image by Syntax error on line null
This novel proves that Kathryn Erskine is a very versatile author. Her first book Quaking was about a Goth girl who goes to live with a Quaker family. Her second book Mockingbird won the National Book Award in 2011 was about a girl with Asperger’s syndrome trying to come to terms with the loss of her brother.
The Absolute Value of Mike is about fourteen year old Mike who despairs that he is not as smart as his math and engineering genius father. Mike who is trying to find his own way in life is sent to live in Pennsylvania for six weeks with his octogenarian great-aunt and great-uncle to help with an engineering project –the building an artesian screw. The story however takes a humorous turn when it is realised that the project has nothing to do with math or engineering.
The variety of characters Mike encounters in Pennsylvania and his ability to connect to them is in sharp contrast to his ability to connect to his father. Also Erskine is remarkable in the way she is able to change the tone and theme of her book. One moment she has you laughing out loud and the next moment she sets you thinking about the underlining seriousness of relationships and grief.
Review by Janice
image by Dougtone
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