Top 10 Books for Reluctant MG and YA Readers by F.T. Bradley

Originally posted on Nerdy Book Club:

When I set out to write the Double Vision trilogy, I wasn’t all that knowledgeable on reluctant readers, what books appealed to them, and why. All I wanted to do was write a fun, fast-paced thriller. The kind of book I would like to read if I was still twelve (okay, if we’re honest: the kind of book I still like to read…)

But when I found myself the parent of a very reluctant tween reader, I got serious about understanding what makes kids turn away from books. More importantly: I wanted to figure out how to get those kids to pick up a book again. For fun.

I gathered all that I learned—from studies, books, and from talking to kids—and began giving presentations at school and library conventions. Rather than acting like I know everything (because I don’t), I asked teachers and librarians: what books work best to hook…

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Doll Bones by Holly Black

PUBLISHER: Margaret K. McElderry Books

LENGTH: 247 pages

SOURCE: library book

SUMMARY:  Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity.

BRIDGE: There are a multitude of ways one could use this to teach middle grade students about several anchor elements of literature. Black’s book has elements of Gothic literature and horror while following an adapted version of the hero’s quest. The inclusion of a male main character is refreshing in a book designed for middle grade readers. Zach is struggling with the transition from child to teen and the requisite longing and anger that accompanies it. Pairing this book with more traditional tales of boys coming of age could assist male and female readers alike in navigating such an emotionally charged change.

The story contains enough elements of mystery and ghostly elements to keep readers engaged. The modern elements of childhood merge nicely with the more antiquated elements of Gothic tales and provide a bridge to help readers understand the elements of story, mystery, and horror that are blended so well. While Poppy and Alice do seem somewhat interchangeable at times, the overall relationship between the children is one of a Three Musketeers bond that keeps the characters loyal to each other and to the story.

READERS: Doll Bones will appeal to fans of mystery and ghost stories. This type of magical realism appeals to readers who want to hold onto a little of the magic of childhood when ghosts are still very real in the dark and becoming a “grown up” seems the basest of betrayals. Male and female readers like will connect with the characters and the story.

OTHER TITLES: Readers who enjoy Black’s book might also enjoy Liesel and Po by Lauren Oliver, Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee, and A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz.

Part 3: The World of Gail Carriger

Of course, Victorian England being one of my favourite time periods, how could I not fall in love with Carriger’s stories. In making her world a Steampunk universe, Carriger is able to include more progressive ideas that better suit Alexia and Sophronia’s characters and their tendencies toward academia (gasp!) and tendency to create or be involved in mayhem.

Victorian England – Queen Victoria makes several appearances in the Parasol Protectorate books being  magisterially approving of Alexia’s participation in the dominantly male world of her domain. She employs Alexia as mujah with the efficiency of a monarch accustomed to  running a global empire and expecting results from those under her command. The strict societal structure of Victorian England lends itself well to the inclusion of the fantastical werewolves and vampires of Carriger’s imagination. The best thing about Carriger’s inclusion of these supernatural creatures is that they’re written without the usual cliches but are not so unique that they seem completely foreign. With all creatures of excess and negative soul interacting diplomatically, Carriger’s England is a believable, layered world that encourages the plotting and investigation necessary to the intricate plots of Alexia’s world.

Steampunk – Navigating the world of fighting werewolves and vampires requires some imagination and what better way to combat supernatural elements than to include eccentric scientific inventions. Madame Lafoux brings a rationally scientific element to the campaign to balance the powers of the English upper class and their supernatural counterparts. The Order of the Octopus satisfies the element of scientific invention one expects in a Steampunk world while the adaptation of the Templars’ role in this world brings in a religious element one would expect in such a morally superior society. Even if the superiority is only in the minds of those who wield those morals like weapons.  My favorite inclusions are the dirigibles, the idea of ghosts used as political informants, and, of course, Alexia’s parasol. Blending fashion, invention, and practicality is a hallmark of the Steampunk world that Carriger navigates beautifully. Her description of these clever steamwork/clockwork contraptions never bogs the reader down in boring mechanics. There is the right amount of whimsy in each explanation without being overly scientific.

15 September 2014

Mon Reading Button PB to YAIt’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…who knows, you might discover that next “must read” book!
The lovelies at thought this would be a fun meme to start up with a kidlit focus: anyone reading and reviewing books in children’s literature. It can be picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels – you name it in the world of kidlit and it’s in! I love being a part of this meme and hope you do, too! I encourage everyone participating to go and visit the other kidlit book bloggers that link up and to comment on as many posts as you can. We love talking books and believe in sharing and discussing what we’re reading. We hope you join us! Read more here:

Completed in the last week: I finished reading The Magicians by Lev Grossman and Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly.

Up Next: I have started Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige. When I finish listening to The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness, I’ll begin the second book in Grossman’s series

THUMBS UP to Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly

IMG_1126.JPGPUBLISHER: Disney Press

LENGTH: 340 pages

SOURCE: purchased

SUMMARY: The first in a series of four epic tales set in the depths of the ocean, where six mermaids seek to protect and save their hidden world.

Deep in the ocean, in a world not so different from our own, live the merpeople. Their communities are spread throughout the oceans, seas, and freshwaters all over the globe.

When Serafina, a mermaid of the Mediterranean Sea, awakens on the morning of her betrothal, her biggest worry should be winning the love of handsome Prince Mahdi. And yet Sera finds herself haunted by strange dreams that foretell the return of an ancient evil. Her dark premonitions are confirmed when an assassin’s arrow poisons Sera’s mother. Now, Serafina must embark on a quest to find the assassin’s master and prevent a war between the Mer nations. Led only by her shadowy dreams, Sera searches for five other mermaid heroines who are scattered across the six seas. Together, they will form an unbreakable bond of sisterhood and uncover a conspiracy that threatens their world’s very existence.

REVIEW: Someone told me a while back that mermaids would be the new vampires in YA publishing. I didn’t really believe them at the time but now books about mermaids seem to be making a splash?… popping to the surface?… surging ahead?… emerging on the shelves. (Sorry, I couldn’t help it.) So when I saw a new title with a delightfully blue-green cover adorned with a shimmery but mysterious looking mermaid that was also written by Jennifer Donnelly, I couldn’t resist.

Deep Blue is the first book in the Waterfire Saga and the world building is most impressive. Donnelly has created an underwater world reminiscent of Greek and Roman cultures. This world’s seas have their own mythology complete with gods, goddesses, and a set of witches similar to The Fates. The premise of the book is intriguing – subscribing the creation of the Mer world to the destruction of the lost city of Atlantis.

The characters and plot are somewhat predictable, but that doesn’t necessarily take away from the charm of the book. Serafina, the main character on whom the plot revolves, is a typical princess who suffers from the royal afflictions of privilege, pressure of position, and poutiness. Sera’s love interest Mahdi is appropriately princely with a tendency toward obliviousness. (Aren’t they all?) And halfway through the book she becomes enamored of the Mysterious and Dedicated Rebel. She goes through all the stereotypical stages of metamorphosis in becoming the steel-willed heroine at the end of the book who will lead readers on her quest through the rest of the saga. Sera conveniently finds her companions along the way (including the required surly/disbelieving member of the group), and they vow to save the Mer world or die trying.

The real treat of the book, though, is the consistent adaptation of land-going plot and description to fit the sea-going setting. Some of the modified cliches are a bit punny, but it is entertaining. They speak of money as “currensea” and talk of “beaching” as a possible parental consequence for misbehavior. While the teen characters have typical teen fears and worries, one is never allowed to forget that they are underwater creatures – a real feat. Hair floats, cuts sift instead of drip blood, and sea grass is a typical side dish at meals. It is these minor details that make the world seem tangible and save the story from being trite. I look forward to visiting Miromara again and seeing where Serafina’s quest will take her.

Overall an exciting, funny, and not-too-dark read for middle grades. It reminds me of Disney’s Kingdom Keepers series. Just enough action to keep you reading but not so scary as to make you keep the lights on at bedtime.


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