Posted in Historical Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

The Good Son tells a tale in miniature

The Good Son: A Story from the First World War Told in Miniature, by Pierre-Jacques Ober/Illustrated by Jules Ober & Felicity Coonan, (May 2019, Candlewick Studio), $22, ISBN: 9781536204827

Ages 10-14

“About one hundred years ago, the whole world went to war. The war was supposed to last months. It lasted years.” This story about Pierre, a World War I French soldier, is told with spare narrative and is illustrated using antique military miniatures, photographed to create stunning moments.

Pierre is a young French soldier who quietly left his regiment for two days to celebrate Christmas with his mother. Upon his return, he is imprisoned for desertion and awaits execution. As he waits, he looks back on his life as a soldier: his choice to sign up, his dreams of glory, and the horrific truth of the battlefield. He remembers sharing coffee with German soldiers who were tired of fighting, and of spending what would be his final Christmas with his mother. His friend, Gilbert, comes by to bring him food and wine, and makes a promise to carry Pierre’s letter to his mother.

The Good Son is not a picture book for young children; it’s for middle schoolers and up. The use of miniatures brings home the scale of war: seeing the lines and lines of soldiers going into battle looks impressive, but turned becomes chilling when you understand that young men, not toys, headed to battle. There are beautiful and horrifying shots of battlefield explosions and war machines; pensive portraits by firelight as Pierre waits for word from the colonel. The text is heart aching, as we read about a young man’s struggle to understand how to be a good son and a good soldier. An author’s note and a note on the photography process provide a deeper look into the creation of the book and offers some further insight into Pierre’s story.

Beautifully written and photographed, this is a story that will provoke thought and discussion. A good book group choice.

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen

Garrison Girl: YA in the Attack on Titan universe!

Garrison Girl: An Attack on Titan novel, by Rachel Aaron, (Aug. 2018, Quirk Books), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-68369-061-0

Ages 12+

Humanity lives in walled cities while giant titans roam the earth. They’re without sense, without intelligence, motivated by a ravenous hunger for human flesh. The military guards the walls, always watching, always waiting. Rosalie Dumarque is the daughter of a wealthy, prominent general; her only purpose in life is to marry well and bring honor to her family, but that’s not going to work for Rosalie. She graduated from military school with honors, and she wants to fight titans, not get married. She convinces her father to let her serve for the six months before her wedding; he sends her to the Wall Rose Garrison in the hopes that she’ll be scared off. With titans wandering too close to the wall, death is always a possibility; under the command of Jax Cunningham, it’s more of a certainty. But Rosalie, along with new friends Willow and Emmett, are determined to stick it out and improve. At first, Rosalie is looked down on as the rich girl, but her commitment to the wall and Rose Garrison quickly makes her part of the team. She even manages to get through to Jax, who starts seeing her as more than a spoiled rich girl. The specter of her engagement looms as a romance blooms between the two, and when Rosalie decides that six months isn’t enough for her, she risks losing her father’s respect and her family’s support. BUT WHO CARES? THERE ARE TITANS, MAN!

Garrison Girl is a YA novel set in the Attack on Titan universe. Look, I’d never seen an episode or cracked open an Attack on Titan manga in my life before Ivy at Quirk sent me this book; I had a vague notion of what the story is about, so that was good enough for me. I finished the book in a day and a half. I refused to put it down, it was so good. These are original characters in a familiar universe, but if you’ve never set foot in that universe before, fear not! The book gets you up to speed pretty quickly with everything you need to know, and the action hits fast, hard, and brutally. I turned to my 14 year-old, who watches anime and reads manga, and said, “HE ATE A GUY!” My son sagely nodded and said, “Yup. Like a carrot.” I threw the book down on the couch in the break room at work and yelled at the end, and had a coworker comment, “You read books like people watch movies”. Well, yes, I do, and if you read this book, you will too. There are characters you will love and want to shield with your own body, and there are characters you will want to punch until a titan walks by and munches on them like potato chips. The book moves fast, the characters are well-thought out and written, and the action and tension are equally high. Fantasy fans, add this to your TBR. Put this on your Attack on Titan displays.

And, Rachel and Ivy? We’re getting more of this, right? RIGHT?

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Tween Reads

Newsprints blends steampunk with Newsies

newsprintsNewsprints, by Ru Xu, (Jan. 2017, Scholastic Graphix), $12.99, ISBN: 978-0-545-80312-2

Recommended for ages 8-12

In an alternate universe, a young orphan named Blue is a girl, disguised as a newboy. With seemingly constant war going on, girls are expected to help the struggling economy by baking cookies, but Blue has no interest in that. She loves She lives with her guardians, the father figure of whom happens to be the town Mayor, and she loves working as a newsie for The Bugle, the one newspaper that tells the truth in an environment of “fake news” (flashing light for extra relevancy alert, folks). It’s not always easy to keep her secret, but Blue lives in fear of being found out and losing everything she loves: her family, her job, her lifestyle. When she meets a strange kid named Crow, she brings him into the fold; Crow has secrets of his own, which Blue can respect. When government officials appear on the scene, in search of missing military technology, there are more questions than answers, and Blue’s determined to stick by her friend, no matter what his secrets may be.

Inspired by manga, Newsprints tells a relevant story on so many levels: we have truth in the media, gender identity, and the power of friendship. Blue is a girl who doesn’t wants to do what she wants to do, not what society is telling her that her gender should be doing. She enjoys the freedom afforded to newsies, and embraces the dangers that come with a life on the streets. She gets the Crow has secrets he wants to keep, motivated only by a desire to help a kindred spirit survive and be safe.

My biggest issue with Newsprint was what I saw as disjointed storytelling, but that is entirely my issue. I’m not a regular manga reader, and Newsprints seems to follow manga-type storytelling, which isn’t always linear. The kids in my library love this book – my two copies have been out since I put them out on the shelves – and the emerging themes in the story make this a strong selection for booktalking.

Scholastic has a 34-page excerpt available for free, if you want to take a look and decide whether Newsprints is for you. Ru Xu has a Tumblr with an author calendar and links to her webcomic, Saint for Rent, which updates three times weekly.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Soldier Sister, Fly Home is quietly powerful

soldier sister_1Soldier Sister, Fly Home, by Nancy Bo Flood/Illustrated by Shonto Begay, (Aug. 2016, Charlesbridge), $16.95, ISBN: 9781580897020

Recommended for ages 10+

Thirteen year-old Tess is struggling with her identity. As someone who’s part white and part Navajo, she feels too white when she’s on the rez, but she’s called “Pokey-hontas” and “squaw” at the white school she attends in Flagstaff. Her older sister, Gaby, whom she adores, has joined the military in order to get money for college; when she comes home to tell Tess that she’s being deployed – shortly after Tess and her family have attended a memorial service for Lori Piestewa, a member of their community and the first Native American woman to fall in combat – Tess is devastated. Gaby asks Tess to take care of her stallion, Blue, while she’s gone; it’s a challenge, to be sure, as Blue is semi-wild and doesn’t gel with Tess, but over the course of the summer, Tess learns more about herself from Blue than she could have imagined.

Soldier Sister, Fly Home is a quietly tender novel about family, identity, and loss. Lori Piestewa, whose memorial service opens the story, was a real-life soldier who was killed in Iraq and was a member of the Hopi tribe. From Lori’s tale, Ms. Flood spins the story of Tess and Gaby and Native American identity. Their grandfather is a veteran, a World War II Code Talker; they live in a community of proud warriors, descended from warriors. Tess is frustrated as she tries to embrace a cultural identity: but which culture to identify with? Her grandmother is a guiding force here, as is Gaby, who loves and reassures her younger sister, even from a world away. Blue, the stubborn and half-wild horse, teaches Tess patience and helps her recognize her own inner strength throughout the book.

The book includes notes and a glossary on the Navajo language, a note honoring Lori Piestewa and her service, and a reader’s group guide. Writing prompts are available through the publisher’s website, as is a link to a seven-page excerpt.

Soldier Sister, Fly Home has received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. It is a beautiful story and an important addition to all bookshelves.

Nancy Bo Flood was a research psychologist and studied brain development at the University of Minnesota and the University of London before writing books for children. Additional books include recognized and award-winning titles, such as Warriors in the Crossfire (Boyds Mills) and Cowboy Up! Ride the Navajo Rodeo (WordSong).

Posted in Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Riven Chronicles continue with The Fallen Prince

fallen princeThe Fallen Prince (Riven Chronicles #2), by Amalie Howard, (April 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1510701700

Recommended for ages 13+

The sequel to The Almost Girl starts out about a year after the first book ends. Caden has assumed the throne of Neospes, and Riven is  hunting for her father, to bring him to justice. But Caden’s new rule is threatened by Cale – the imposter prince – who’s joined forces with a deadly army. As Neospes tries to forge new alliances while fighting Cale’s forces, Riven finds herself called back to Neospes, where she needs to aid her people again – and this time, accept help from the very man she was hunting: her father.

The Fallen Prince is a good follow-up to The Almost Girl. I’ve enjoyed reading The Riven Chronicles, and feel sad that the series seems to be concluded. Maybe there will be more adventures down the line for Riven and Caden, but for now, The Fallen Prince provided more sci-fi action with a tough, smart heroine who experiences very human emotions for all her cyborg programming: she feels jealousy and pain at the realization that Caden may need to take a bride to seal an alliance; her rage toward her father demands an outlet, and she gets one, in a brutal and brilliant fight that leaves her companions very aware of who they’re dealing with. There are good supporting characters and a couple of nice plot twists that keep things moving and interesting. I’d also like to thank Amalie Howard for personally assuring that I’ll never look at a stretch of moss the same way ever again.

Great science fiction, just enough romance to keep the drama moving, and conflicted personal relationships everywhere you look. The Riven Chronicles is such a good sci-fi series, and you don’t need to be a teen to enjoy them – just love good writing.

Posted in Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

YA sci-fi must-read: The Almost Girl (The Riven Chronicles #1)

AlmostGirl_coverThe Almost Girl (The Riven Chronicles #1), by Amalie Howard (May 2016, Sky Pony Press), $9.99 ISBN: 978-1510701717

Recommended for ages 13+

Seventeen-year-old Riven isn’t your run of the mill high school student. She’s not even from our world; she’s a soldier from Neospes, a world in a parallel universe, devastated by war and catastrophe. It’s a world where children learn to kill as soon as they can walk, and Riven is one of the best. She’s a Legion General, sent to Earth by her best friend, the Prince Cale, to find his long-lost brother and bring him back to Neospes. After a long time searching, Riven’s found Cale and is getting ready to move him out when Vectors – the undead soldiers created by her father – attack, forcing Riven into an uneasy alliance with her sister Shea, who she’s been at odds with. Riven will discover family secrets and lies that have been hidden from her for most of her life as she and Shea work together to bring Cale back to Neospes – and Riven begins to doubt everything she thought she stood for.

The Almost Girl is a fast-paced, well-developed sci-fi adventure for teens. It’s got a bit of a Terminator 2 vibe, but it’s entirely its own story. Riven is a complex, thoughtful character at odds with what she’s been raised to believe versus what’s truth. She’s the cold-hearted soldier who runs far deeper than an ice-cold killer, and her journey through the book keeps the pages turning. Cale finds himself in the damsel in distress characterization, but he’s not completely helpless, so it makes for a solid, interesting story. There’s solid sci-fi elements: gadgetry, android-human hybrids, space travel using technology rather than vehicles; there’s also space-opera factors that bring the drama and thus, the story: betrayal, family secrets, several missions intertwined.

Give this to your teens that like a good sci-fi adventure with a touch of romance. The sequel, The Fallen Prince, is newly released, so keep an eye on this blog – I’ll be getting to it shortly!

Amalie Howard has a fantastic author webpage with updates, contests, and an event calendar with appearances.


Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Spotlight On: The Protector Project!

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The Protector Project by Jenna Lincoln

Release Date: 6/15/15 Boroughs Publishing Group

Summary from Goodreads:

Teen soldier Mara de la Luz is about to find out what makes her so special that some would kidnap and kill her—and others, willingly die for her.  ENDLESS CARNAGE. ENDLESS QUESTIONS.  Mara is a 16-year-old soldier who’s spent years fighting a war that’s lasted generations. Wide-eyed children, some just turned thirteen, rarely survive their first fights despite her best efforts to train and lead them.

What she thinks she wants is to uncover the root causes of the war between the Protectors and the masked Gaishan, maybe find a way to end it. But what she really wants is a future—for herself and the others—beyond the battlefield.  Then she’s injured in combat, and when an enemy fighter not only heals her wounds but reveals his face, she sees the promise of all she desires. This cunning teen Gaishan has answers to her questions, but first she must commit treason and travel beyond the boundaries of her world. She must brave a place where everything rests on the point of a blade: her loyalties, her friends, her heart.

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Jenna LincolnAbout the Author

Jenna Lincoln loves to read, write, and talk about reading and writing. She spent many happy years as a language arts teacher doing just those things. After dabbling in Firefly and Supernatural fan fiction,Jenna got serious about building her own imaginary world, big enough to get lost in for a long, long time.

When she comes back to reality, Jenna enjoys her home in beautiful Colorado with her husband and two daughters.

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Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Military Animals with Dog Tags – Because some heroes have more than two legs

military animalsMilitary Animals with Dog Tags, by Laurie Calkhoven (Aug. 2015, Scholastic), $7.99, ISBN: 9780545871594

Recommended for ages 7-11

You may know that horses were on the battlefield at war time, especially before vehicles like tanks and Jeeps came along. You may have even seen recent pictures of dogs aiding our soldiers overseas. But did you know that Poland had a bear that was a private? Or that honeybees have been used to sniff out bombs?


Military Animals tells the stories of different animals who have served in the military throughout time. You’ll learn about elephants, who have aided military operations from ancient history through to the VietNam War; how rats can find unexploded land mines (without getting blown up!), and how dolphins have helped with underwater surveillance. There are beautiful photos, stories that kids will love hearing about (great for read-alouds) and reading about, and a glossary and index at the end of the book. Get this one for your animal lovers and talk about the great things animals do to help us out. Then, brainstorm things that the animals in your own lives to do help you out – for instance, my cat helps cheer me up by cuddling with me when I don’t feel well, and my dog helps protect our home.

Author Laurie Calkhoven is all over my library. She’s written some great biographies for kids, and she’s written books for both the American Girl and Heroes of Olympus series, both of which see a lot of action in my public library. Her author website has links to her books and information about author visits.
Posted in Uncategorized

The Secret Mission of William Tuck – A Revolutionary Adventure!

william tuckThe Secret Mission of William Tuck, by Eric Pierpont (Sept. 2015, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $7.99, ISBN: 9781402281747

William Tuck is a young teen who watches helplessly as his older brother, a soldier in the Revolutionary War, is cut down by a firing squad. In his anger and desire for payback, he runs away to join the Revolutionary Army as a drummer boy and work his way up to fighter. After his first battle, a dying soldier gives him a watch and sends him on a mission that will take him straight to George Washington’s side – and make him a target for the British army.

I enjoyed this book. I’ve been a Revolutionary War buff since I was a kid, and there just aren’t many good middle grade fiction pieces about this era in history, with a younger character at the forefront. We’ve got the classics, My Brother Sam is Dead and Johnny Tremain, and another one of my favorites, Phoebe the Spy, but there hasn’t been much recently.

This should please the Common Core diehards out there – there is a lot of history packed into this book, with actual historical figures getting page time, including Peter Francisco, the Virginia Giant, who is brought to four-color, 3-D life here. Mr. Pierpont has put a lot of research into this book, make no mistake, but he also gives each character a vibrant personality to appeal to readers.

We’ve got an interesting female supporting lead character, a stint on one of the infamous prison ships, and a tremendous battle at Yorktown wrapped around a mission that has more layers to it than poor William ever counted on. Add this to your shelves, consider enhancing your social studies/American history unit by assigning it.

Sourcebooks has a great section for librarians and educators on their website, separated by imprint. Keep your eye on the Jabberwocky space for additional materials on William Tuck.