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Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose

With clear, compelling text and a nice complement of photos and newspaper clippings, this is a stand-out piece of non-fiction. It focuses on Colvin’s part of the story of civil rights, but also gives a sense of the larger picture. The text features extensive quotes from interviews with Colvin, which blend fairly seamlessly with Hoose’s narrative. Great for elementary and middle school readers, there’s plenty of explanation of things like Jim Crow, but these bits of information never bog down the story. Because so little has been written about Colvin, there’s a great element of suspense as you read the story. Extensive notes and bibliography.

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Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

A surprisingly fascinating portrait of Charles and Emma Darwin, from the time Charles made up his mind to marry, until Emma’s death. They come to life vividly – their marriage, Charles’ work and his feelings about publishing a controversial theory, their children and home life, their illnesses and tragedies. Recommended if you want to know more about the Darwins or are looking for satisfying but not overwhelmingly long biography. This might appeal best to high schoolers and up, with the focus on relationships and family.

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Lips Touch Lips Touch by Laini Taylor

I can’t argue with the National Book Award nomination for this one. Taylor’s fantasy never feels derivative, even though she acknowledges various sources of inspiration for each story. Each fantastical premise is alluring and disturbing and fascinating in its own right, creating a sense that anything could happen. The illustrations are a great match to the stories, giving a sort of preview of each story, but they’re also great to turn back to once you get into the stories. Both the world building and character building are accomplished, and the sentence-level writing is often exquisite and evocative.

While I recognized certain similarities – particularly the quality of imagination, more than specific elements – to Faeries of Dreamdark Blackbringer, these stories are pitched more to a young adult audience. The combination of romance and darkness brings to mind the recent crop of stories about fairies, I can’t think of anything else as finely done as this one. Which isn’t to say that it’s difficult or inaccessible – readers looking for pure plot and fantasy world-building will find plenty here to keep them enthralled.

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The nominees for the National Book Award were announced this week, and most of the discussion I’ve seen has centered around Stitches, David Small’s graphic novel memoir, and whether or not it belongs in the Young People’s Literature category.  Which is an interesting debate, but I’m not hugely opinionated about it, so I won’t get into that.  Instead, let’s skip on to a more interesting question to me, which is whether or not I’ll discover any new favorites in this year’s nominations.  As far as the NBAs go, I really only look at the YPL category.  This year it includes:

Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith
(Henry Holt)
Phillip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
David Small, Stitches (W. W. Norton & Co.)
Laini Taylor, Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)
Rita Williams-Garcia, Jumped (HarperTeen/HarperCollins)

I haven’t read a single one.  I was planning on reading Laini Taylor’s book, and I’d seen both Charles and Emma and Claudette Colvin mentioned as Newbery-worthy.

Last year’s nominees were What I Saw and How I Lied (the winner), The Underneath, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, Chains, and The Spectacular Now (the only one I didn’t read).  The Underneath was the only one of that bunch to also show up on the Newbery list, while Frankie was the only one on the Printz list (gosh, last year was a good Printz year, wasn’t it?)  (And keep in mind that the 2008 NBA corresponds to the 2009 Printz, Newbery, Caldecott, etc., since the NBA is given at the end of one year and the ALA awards at the beginning of the next.)

In 2007, the nominee list included The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (winner), Skin Hunger, Touching Snow, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and Story of a Girl. The only overlap with the ALA awards was Hugo Cabret, which won the Caldecott.  Perhaps the only time the NBA and Caldecott have overlapped?  I read all of the nominees that year, although I probably would have picked up Hugo and Part-Time Indian anyway.  But I don’t think I’d even heard of Skin Hunger before the award, and boy is that a book that’s stuck with me!  What oomph.

I could keep going –  and I think I will.  2006 brought us the first volume of Octavian Nothing as the winner (huzzah!) and Keturah and Lord Death, Sold, The Rules of Survival and American Born Chinese as the runners-up.  I read all of those, too, and I think quite a few ended up on the Mock Printz list that year – definitely a YA year, not much for the younger end.  American Born Chinese was of course the Printz medalist that year, and Octavian was an honor book.

That brings us to 2005, the first year that I paid any attention to the NBA, probably because I remember discussion at work about whether or not The Penderwicks really deserved that win.  The other nominees were Where I Want to Be, Inexcusable, Autobiography of My Dead Brother, and Each Little Bird That Sings (the only one besides The Penderwicks that I read).  Of course, that was the year that Criss Cross won the Newbery – in other words, one of my least favorite Newbery years.  No overlap with the Newbery or Printz that year, but still a good year for the middle grade titles.

And now I’m back to thinking about this year and if I’ll have a chance to read through the list.  I’m going to a Mock Newbery and a Mock Printz this January, so I’ve got quite a reading list at the moment (I’ll post them later – I forgot to forward them to my home email).  The NBA winners are announced November 18, so I’d better get cracking if I want to have an opinion when the time rolls around.

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