Last weekend I attended the ALA Midwinter Confence and returned with a suitcase full of books, an iPhone full of cover shots, and an earful about the fabulous books being released in 2013. It was really difficult to limit it to just a few, so I decided to focus specifically on books for boys.
Since Ms. Ying Ling mentioned it in her comment last time, I thought I would talk about Prisoner 88, which was recommended to me when I said the middle school group I’m working with was predominantly boys.
This debut novel is “inspired” by the true story of a 10 year old boy (James Oscar Baker), the youngest prisoner in the history of the Idaho Territorial Penitentiary. From the back cover of the ARC:
Convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 5 years, Jake is taken under the wing of a young guard and the kindly warden, as well as a few fellow prisoners. He is taught to read and given a job tending hogs at a nearby farm. In prison, Jake finds a home he has never had in a place most people are desperate to leave. But when he has to make a choice about right and wrong during an explosive escape attempt, Jake jeopardizes his friendships and his security.
It’s historical fiction and not the true story of what happened to the real “Jake,” although the author does provide some information about that at the end of the book. For those looking for books for reluctant boy readers, this might do the trick. At 136 pages, it will be a quick read. (But apparently not quick enough for Danika to do an actual review. Hey, I’ve got a lot of books going on right now!)
I also thought this would make for excellent class discussion on any number of topics: How old does someone have to be to know the difference between right and wrong (they key in the real boy being tried for manslaughter)? How old does someone need to be in order to be sent to jail? What was the penitentiary system like back in the 1800’s and how was it improved?
Another “boy book” inspired by real life (this time the author’s own experiences growing up in 1960s Queens,) that came highly recommended was Mark Goldblatt’s Twerp. Goldblatt is mostly known as a political commentator. This is his first novel for younger readers.
Twerp by Mark Goldblatt
Random House, May 2013
It is a “humorous and heartfelt” story of male friendship and bullying:
Julian Twerski isn’t a bully. He’s just made a big mistake. So when he returns to school after a weeklong suspension, his English teacher offers him a deal: if he keeps a journal and writes about the terrible incident that got him and his friends suspended, he can get out of writing a report on Shakespeare. Julian jumps at the chance. And so begins his account of life in sixth grade–blowing up homemade fireworks, writing a love letter for his best friend (with disastrous results), and worrying whether he’s still the fastest kid in school. Lurking in the background, though, is the one story he can’t bring himself to tell, the one story his teacher most wants to hear.
There is seriously a lot of buzz about this one on the Interwebs. I’m bummed I did not get an ARC of this one and will be on a mission to find it when it comes out. I’ve been stressing the need for more humour in contemporary MG/YA books.
NOTE – I was told this is not the final cover.
Paradox by A.J. Paquette
Random House, July 2013
Billed as a book for fans of James Dashner’s Maze Runner (also listed as a 12+ book, though that seems a bit young for the violence if you ask me), the rep was pretty ga-ga over this one. She said she really liked the strong female protagonist, the real-life issues that the characters deal with (even though it’s a sci fi), and the plot twist (which she revealed to me, but I won’t spoil a book before it’s even released):
Ana only knows her name because of the tag she finds pinned to her jumpsuit. Waking in the featureless compartment of a rocket ship, she opens the hatch to discover that she has landed on a barren alien world. Instructions in her pocket tell her to observe and to survive, no doubt with help from the wicked-looking knives she carries on her belt. But to what purpose?
Meeting up with three other teens–one boy seems strangely familiar–Ana treks across the inhospitable landscape, occasionally encountering odd twists of light that carry glimpses of people back on Earth. They’re working on some sort of problem, and the situation is critical. What is the connection between Ana’s mission on this planet and the crisis back on Earth, and how is she supposed to figure out the answer when she can’t remember anything?
On a side note, Paquette is also author of a book for slightly younger MG readers called Nowhere Girl, which looks like it’s definitly worth picking up. Has anyone read it?
Luchi Ann only knows a few things about herself: she was born in a prison in Thailand. Her American mother was an inmate there. And now that her mother has died, Luchi must leave the only place she’s ever known and set out into the world. Neither at home as a Thai, because of her fair skin and blond hair, nor as a foreigner, because of her knowledge of Thai life and traditions, Luchi feels as though she belongs nowhere. But as she embarks on an amazing adventure-a journey spanning continents and customs, harrowing danger and exhilarating experiences-she will find the family, and the home, she’s always dreamed of. Weaving intricate elements of traditional Thailand into a modern-day fairy tale unique unto itself, Nowhere Girl is a beautifully rendered story of courage, resilience, and finding the one place where you truly belong.
There are an overwhelming amount of books I’ve left out for sure. One of the things I really enjoyed about the conference was the pure authentic enthusiasm each publisher’s rep had about particular books. They would get starry eyed, some even teary-eyed, when they spoke of their favorites. A few, yes, even hugged the books while they described them to me.
For more Middle Grade mayhem, visit Shannon Messenger’s blog. And have a great week. Happy reading.