Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Twilight, Breaking Dawn A Fine Day for a Good Book

A while ago I wrote up a list of alternative titles for teen and tween girls who got stuck in the Myers' mire. Elaine, one of my readers, has asked me to repost it here. I've updated it a bit too with even more great reads.

Books for older teens (i.e. they feature sex, sexual assault, pregnancy or drugs or they're simply sophisticated from a narrative standpoint)

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith: let's start with first principles, here, folks. Published in 1948, this book pretty much invented the YA genre. It's still crackles with sexual energy and naive despair after all these years. The 2003 film version wasn't bad either.

Before Wings by Beth Goobie: A 15-yr-old girl who has an aneurysm in her heart goes to summer camp where she engages with spirits who haunt the lake at night. Goobie is one of the most insightful and lyrical YA writers out there. She should be giving writing lessons to every aspiring novelist.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: Melinda is raped at a party during the summer before high school and spends her freshman year as a social outcast. What might otherwise be yet-another-problem-novel is made rich by the depth of Melinda's character and the cutting authenticity of the high school environment.

Seven for a Secret by Mary C. Sheppard: Set in a Newfoundland outport in 1960, this book tells the stories of three teen cousins as they unearth the secrets of their pasts and face the sometimes harsh realities of their futures. The narrative voice of 15-yr-old Melinda is spot on with the warmth of the Newfoundland dialect. The book is part of an ongoing series based on the "One for Sorrow" nursery counting rhyme.

The Corner Garden by Lesley Krueger. I reviewed this novel a few years back and loved it. Toronto author, Krueger, stitches together the life of a troubled teen with that of her aged neighbour who has not yet come to terms with her own teen regrets as a Nazi sympathizer in 1940s Holland. This novel is a YA/Adult cross-over.

Feed by M.T. Andersen: A YA dystopia that actually has the courage to be a dystopia rather than carrying a saccharine message of hope. The characters in the novel receive everything they need through the feed that is implanted in their brains. They can order and buy any kind of experience they want. The only problem is the "they" gets lost in the "want."

Sights by Susanna Vance: How's this for a first sentence: "I was in the womb eleven and one half months, came out fat, durable and gorgeous." Baby Girl was born with the Sight but it doesn't let her see her own future. She and her Momma have fled her dad and now she's starting high school all sore-thumbish in a new town. Reading this book is ticklish, like drinking icy ginger ale on a hot day.

Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty: Jessica spends a year missing her best friend Hope. No, it's not quite an allegory. It is, however, a smart, sassy look at high school written by a writer for Cosmo Girl. Like the Twilight series, it also includes an irrational attraction to a bad boy, but this love interest is sorta-kinda ok in the end and, most importantly, he doesn't want to eat anybody or read their thoughts. Some may lump Sloppy Firsts with other teen fluff like L.B.D: It's a Girl Thing or Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging but I found it to be a cut above. So did ole Whatzernamenow, the Harvard freshman who infamously plagiarized it a few years ago. Second Helpings, the sequel isn't so bad either.

True Confessions of a Heartless Girl by Martha Brooks: This, from the epigraph attributed to John Gardner: "There are really only two plot lines: a stranger rides into town and a stranger rides out of town." In the book, a community nurtures a pregnant teen who lands in their midst. Sometimes the setting feels like a throw back to, uh, I dunno, a combination of Leacock's Mariposa and a the estrogen-laden bear-hug novels of Carol Shields. In the end, it proves twice over that it takes a village to raise a child ... and that it takes a child to bind a village unto itself.

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly: This historical murder mystery won the Printz Prize in 2004. It's engaging and literary and I am not quite done it yet, so I can't say more.

Saving Grace and Rules for Life are two exceptional YA titles written by Fredericton author, Darlene Ryan. Both are gritty works of realism and feature heroines struggling with major life events that have fractured their identity and have limited their choices.

Books for your 11 and 12 year old girls who are reading Twilight despite your admonishments
Before Wings by Beth Goobie: See above. I love this book so much I accidentally gave it to my niece two Christmases in a row.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt: It's short, simple and, oh-so, profound.

Everything on a Waffle, The Canning Season or just about anything written by Polly Horvath: Do you know the novels of Horvath? She's crackles with dark humour and creates some of the most memorable supporting characters out there.

The Emily Series by L.M. Montgomery (need I say more?)

Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie Tolan: A pro-(quirky) family, pro-creativity, pro-happiness book for emerging teens. Imagine. It's also great, whacky reading for the home-schoolers out there.

Howl's Moving Castle or Witch Week or just about anything by Diana Wynne Jones. Diana Wynne Jones is round about one of the best fantasy writers for children ever but let's not get into that now, shall we? We could alway save fantasy and sci-fi for another list, another day.

Stravaganza: City of Masks by Mary Hoffman. OK, so I have a thing for fantasy when it comes to my late, middle readers. I put this one on the list because of the love interest in it--you know, in order to appeal to the Twilight readers.

Speaking of fantasy, the novels of Tamora Pierce are fantastic reading for tween girls. I've read the Protector of Small quartet, but I have a young friend who can recommend all her novels. Another author of girl-centred fantasy is New Brunswick writer K.V. Johansen. Her Torrie Quests series will initiate the tween reader into her richly developed other world.


That's it for now. Care to share any Twilight tonics? That's what the comment box is for.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The newest chapter in my life

In addition to being the Curator of the Wallace Children's Literature Collection, I am also the mother of a 5-year-old girl. This past winter, the two of us made the leap from Potter, Milne and Lobel to add chapter books to our nightly reading ritual. He's a sampling of what we've read together so far.

My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
This book won the Newbery Medal in 1949 and remains a perfect first chapter book to read aloud with a child, boy or girl. The chapters are short, there are frequent illustrations, and the story is sharp and engaging.

Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry
The Gooney Bird Greene books (there's four of them now) are a delightful alternative to the more pedestrian Junie B (First Grader) series. Gooney Bird is a born storyteller who never, ever lies. Not only will she entertain both parent and child, she may even teach both a little something about the craft of writing.

Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little by E.B. White
I like the cut of Stuart's jib, but my daughter (well both of us, really) preferred Charlotte's Web by a long shot even though I feared it would be too mature for her. She loved it to pieces despite her attention wandering a bit in some of the descriptive bits. I, of course, bawled like a baby when Charlotte died (the chapter in which she dies is some of the best writing ever in a children’s book). My daughter wasn’t affected by Charlotte’s death per se, but she became frantic when Charlotte’s babies fly away and leave Wilbur.

Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows
The seventh book in this series of best-friend adventures will be out this fall. My daughter and I have read the first two together and, while we both like them a lot, I would prefer to have her wait until she is comfortably reading chapter books on her own to finish the series. In my opinion, their humour is more suited to the child as solitary reader than in the read-aloud context.

Daisy Meadows' Fairy books
There's what, a million of these books? My daughter got one for her 5th birthday which we read together. She has since insisted on reading three more with me. She loves them and I am all for her devouring them, but I will, however, happily consign the rest of the series to her independence as a reader. Life's too short for predictable, gender-typed series fiction that gives nothing back whatsoever to the adult reader.

Iggy and Me by Jenny Valentine
There's two books in this series about sisters, Iggy and Flo; a third one will be available this fall. Unlike the previous two series I mentioned, Valentine's books make excellent read-alouds. They're also wry, British and as funny as all get out. My daughter loved LOVED them. So did I.

Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart-Lovelace
These books were written in the 30s and are the historical precursors to best-friend books like Ivy and Bean. The first one begins at Betsy’s 5th birthday party when she meets her new neighbour, Tacy. By the time the series is done Betsy is married off and Tacy is starting a career. My daughter and I have read the first 2 books, Betsy-Tacy and Betsy-Tacy and Tib. We love them. They are smart and gentle and perfectly paced for 5-7 yr-olds.

Twig by Elizabeth Orton Jones
Another chapter book from the 30s. Twig is a little girl who befriends a little boy Elf in the garden of her tenement house. My daughter and I both liked it but not as much as we liked the Betsy-Tacy books.

My Naughty Little Sister Stories by Dorothy Edwards
Just as Ivy and Bean owes a debt to Betsy-Tacy, Iggy and Me is a modern retelling of the My Naughty Little Sister stories from the 1950s. The short-story format of these books makes them easy to read with a young child because you can easily pick them up and put them down: there is no need to sustain narrative continuity from one story to the next. They are definitely a hit in my house despite the sometimes stilted voice of the narrator. And you won't even believe what happens in "The Naughtiest Story of All." Suffice to say, my daughter let out an audible gasp that woke the neighbours when she learned the awful truth.

The End Of the Beginning: Being the Adventures Of a Small Snail (And an Even Smaller Ant) by Avi
Avi is a master of puns and wordplay and the humour that comes from multiple, unintended layers of meaning. While I acknowledge the craft of this book, its simple sophistication was beyond my daughter even if the plot-line wasn't. She found it a dull slog and I kept wishing it were just me reading it by myself.

What's in the pile by the bed?
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
The Hundred Dresses and The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes
The Borrowers by Mary Norton
The Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson
The Clementine books and Stuart Goes to School by Sara Pennypacker
The Doll People books by Ann Martin
All those wonderful Ramona and Henry books by Beverly Cleary
...and, of course, stacks and stacks of picture books because one format does not give way to another.

Anyone care to add to our reading list? What chapter books have you shared with your not-quite-reading-yet or recently-learned-to-read child?