Kids & YA

  • Brown Girl Dreaming

    Jacqueline Woodson

    Memoir in verse, telling the stories of Jacqueline Woodson’s childhood. The poems impart an impressionistic narrative, focused more on the small moments amidst the larger transitions — like the end of her parents’ relationship, moving with her mother and siblings to her grandparents’ home in Greenville, SC, then moving again to Brooklyn — and on the gradual development of Woodson’s path to becoming a writer. Since it’s written from her perspective as a child, it’s published as a middle reader book, but it’s a beautifully rich experience for grown-up readers too.

    Writing #1

    It’s easier to make up stories

    than it is to write them down. When I speak,

    the words come pouring out of me. The story

    wakes

    ...more
  • The Book Thief

    Markus Zusak

    Set during WWII in Germany, The Book Thief starts by following Liesel Meminger traveling with her mother and brother traveling by train to Munich. Her mother is a communist and has found a foster home for them to protection as political tensions rise under the Nazis. Along the way her brother dies, and Liesel crosses paths for the first time with the novel’s narrator, Death. At her brother’s funeral, she also steals her first book: a manual on grave digging, which she is unable to read. The use of Death as a near-omniscient narrator has the potential to come off as contrived, but this empathetic version of Death sets a softened tone for the various horrors to come. And...more

  • Americus

    MK Reed & Jonathan Hill

    I found this story centered around a fight to ban a series of fantasy books about witches to be rather black-and-white — and not just because it’s a graphic novel that is drawn that way. The characters are all clearly set into one camp or another, and there is no one in between. There is little sympathy to be found for those on the pro-ban camp, and the extent of their outrage is difficult to understand, especially as none of them admit to reading an entire book. But it’s not hard to be enamored of the various “good” characters, from the bookworm hero Neil to his kind, single mom to the defiant librarian, though they get a more nuanced portrayal. The Apatha...more

  • Wildwood

    Colin Meloy & Carson Ellis

    I first heard about Wildwood through a Design Sponge post focusing on Carson Ellis’s beautiful illustrations about a year ago. It suddenly popped into my head again recently and turned out to be a good countertwist after finishing the Lydia Davis stories. Many themes in this story are common to young adult literature: the stubbornly brave children; the secret, magical world existing in parallel to the one they live in; the impossibly hopeless parents — except in this one it’s typical, Portland-hipster parents.

    Protagonist Prue watches her baby brother get snatched by a murder of crows and taken over the Willamette River to the Impassable Wilderness or Wildwood — Portland’s Forest Park, reenvisioned as an isolated, magical world that “Outsiders”...more

  • Pretty Monsters

    Kelly Link

    It’s almost exactly four years since I read most of Link’s Stranger Things Happen, and I experienced similar hit-and-miss responses to these stories. Sometimes the concept of the story is more entertaining than the execution, and the writing is often too simplistic and almost juvenile, though I discovered after finishing the last story that this a YA book. I guess that’s why all the stories are focused on younger people!

    There’s a story centered around a mysterious TV show that airs irregularly and is set in “The Free People’s World-Tree Library,” a library that’s an entire world of its own with forests and oceans; another involving a handbag that contains an entire village or a vicious dog,...more

  • Tales from Outer Suburbia

    Shaun Tan

    The gorgeous art in this collection of stories would make this worth checking out on its own, but the stories are at times vaguely unsettling, examining the fantastically surreal edges of an otherwise banal world, while also remaining playful. In the end, it’s something kids would find entertaining, while adults may more appreciate the darker elements.

    When I was a kid, there was a big water buffalo living in the vacant lot at the end of our street, the one with the grass no one ever mowed. He slept most of the time, and ignored everybody who walked past, unless we happened to stop and ask him for advice. Then he would come up to us slowly, raise his left

    ...more
  • The Westing Game

    Ellen Raskin

    I never read this when I was younger, but I kind of wish I had. It’s a complicated mystery based around the occupants of an apartment building who discover they’ve all been named heirs to a $2 million estate, except they need to compete against each other (in pairs dictated by the bizarre will) on a strange riddle in order to win it.

    I can’t say I made much of an effort to figure out the clues myself, but it was the first time in a little while that I’ve completely lost myself in reading, so I was just riding along for the last hour. It was a nice break from plodding through Alice Munro’s Carried Away, which I’ve...more

  • Patrol : an American soldier in Vietnam

    Walter Dean Myers

    I often forget to post books like this that I read in passing, but I already know I’ll want to recall this one later, so luckily I remembered enough to find it easily. Though it probably wouldn’t be too hard to find, as there aren’t many other picture books about soldiers in Vietnam (if any). Unfolding measuredly like a poem, the story follows a soldier on patrol in the forest who comes across a soldier from the other side. Both hesitate.

    We stare across the distance. I know he wants me to lift my rifle, to be the enemy. I want him to lift his rifle. I want him to turn away. In a heartbeat, we have learned too much

    ...more
  • The Children of Green Knowe

    Lucy M. Boston

    Elissa sent me this book a while back and I finally cleaned all my piles and found it again. It’s a good Sunday afternoon read about a young boy Tolly who is at boarding school while his father and stepmother are in Burma. He usually spends his holidays at the school, but this year is sent to his great-grandmother, who lives in a castle-like house called Green Knowe. It reminds me of an old YA mystery I read several times when I was younger, about a girl who somehow goes back in time inside the same house (the title and author of which I can’t remember). There are similar themes about the history of a certain place and...more

  • Lyra’s Oxford

    Philip Pullman

    Mr Pullman may call this a “stepping-stone,” but I call it an all-out tease. It’s a short story and some objects and an intro that explains it all… well, a little bit. The story is just long enough to drum up some excitement and then it ends. At the very least it relieved any notion that continuing the story might lead down disappointing and uninteresting paths.

    I wasn’t intending on reading this so soon after finishing the series, but I noticed the nice, hardcover 10th anniversary editions of His Dark Materials and then spotted a hardcover version of this one for sale. It was impossible not to crack it open at the earliest opportunity....more

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