Childrens book reviews by StorySnoops, judge a book by more than its cover, serving fresh scoops of new books for you every day
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Archive for the ‘Eden – StorySnoop’ Category

It’s Banned Books Week–Let’s talk sex in YA Lit!

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

There is something in the air tonight!  No idea if it’s a coincidence, but in my blog browsing this week, I came across three posts on the topic of sex in YA literature.  Yowsa!  Great topic on the heels of Banned Books Week since, as I’m sure nobody would be surprised to know, sexual content is the number one reason books are challenged.  This is a tricky one for me because I have a soon-to-be thirteen year old daughter who loves to read, and is just about to jump in to the world of YA literature with both feet.  Needless to say, the thought of explicit sex scenes (okay, sorry, let’s be real—right now, ANY sex scenes) in the books she reads makes me cringe and get all jittery.  But that is my own issue!

Sex is a reality for teens and young adults; whether they are doing it, wondering about it, or being forbidden from engaging in it—sex is there, like a big giant elephant in the room, and I cannot pretend it isn’t.  While it is not an author’s job to parent my children, it IS the job of an author to write the most honest version of their story that they can, with authentic and relatable characters. This authenticity, the fabric of good YA literature, has its origin in real teens all around us.  They come from every different value system imaginable, and their sexual experiences range from none at all to the full kit and kaboodle.  As such, all of these teens are fair game as inspiration for writers, as are their variety of experiences.  So whether I like it or not, sex has a place in YA books because it has a place (of some sort or other) in teenagers’ lives.

That being said, it is a fact for authors that adding sexual authenticity to their work is controversial.  If they choose to include such content, the marketability of their books becomes more limited. Book fairs, school libraries, book clubs, etc., may opt not to purchase their work.  Teachers may opt not to teach the book in class.  Judy Blume gave a talk recently about the difficult decision she had to make about including controversial material in Here’s To You, Rachel Robinson (to be fair, her dilemma was regarding language, not sex, but the same concept applies).  She was forced to choose between what she felt was the most honest portrayal of her character, and the various marketing outlets that she might be sacrificing by including something that a mainstream audience might find offensive. She is Judy Blume—we know which way she chose!

If I accept the fact that sex in YA books is inevitable (grumble) and honest, can I go one step further and just throw out a few thoughts about how I’d like to see it portrayed? Teens are looking for characters they can relate to or experiences they can learn from.  How about letting them know that it’s not always “romance novel” perfect and can frankly be quite awkward! Perhaps the author could also make sure to touch on the social and emotional issues and consequences that surround sex.  And above all, don’t make it gratuitous or use it as a vehicle to sell more books to my kid!  We are surrounded by enough of that already. I read a great book this week where the father and son had an embarrassing and cringe-worthy “talk”, but the father managed to get his message across about birth control, disease protection and the fact that “no” always means “no”.  Now THAT was some good reality!

As always, book selection comes down to choice. Some authors will write about sex, some will not.  Some publishers will publish books with sexual content and some will not. Some kids will read books that touch on this topic, and some will not.   As long as there are options and variety out there, I am happy.  And while I’m quite certain the amount of sex in the books my daughter will read will always be pushing the limits of my comfort zone (because part of the mom in me wants to deny that she is getting older!), I hope that I can continue to maintain an open dialog with her on the topic.  I hope that will influence her choices far more than what she reads.

Then again, I’ve never parented a teen before.  What do you think?

-Eden, StorySnoop

Summer Reading: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Friday, September 13th, 2013

My daughter is a great reader. She’s been bitten by the book-love bug, shot by Cupid’s literary arrow, fallen head-over-heels for fiction–you get the idea, this girl loves to lose herself in a good book. It was always my dream as a parent to have that horrible (ha!) problem where a child won’t (fill in the blank here), because their nose is buried in a book. Yes, it’s bad that they aren’t doing whatever you filled in the blank with, but the fact that they aren’t doing it because they love their book so much isn’t really the worst problem in the world to have. So, I got my wish, I have that kind of kid.

Up into middle school, she was mostly able to satisfy her fetish with whatever she felt like reading. Yes, there would need to be a mix in terms of quality so that she could write occasional book reports on her outside reading, without having to try to pull literary greatness out of something like…say, oh, Pretty Little Liars for example. Bottom line, lots of variety interspersed with fun garbage here and there made for one happy, carefree reader. By eighth grade she got pretty busy with homework and other activities, and towards the end, the pleasure reading had to be gently moved aside to make room for the assigned reading in English class. That was okay though, because on the weekends and over breaks she would have time to read her own stuff (ie, those self-chosen gems that truly fan the reading flame).

With the transition to high school however, I am horrified to see that her reading joy-flame is being slowly but surely snuffed out. And the sad truth is that assigned summer reading is the culprit. We have long since accepted that because of schoolwork and activities, pleasure reading is now a luxury set aside for breaks from school. But my daughter has a stack of pleasure reading books gathering dust on her nightstand that she has been trying to get to for well over a year now: final books from a couple of trilogies she’d started, a fabulous historical fiction book that tied in with her history class (from LAST YEAR!), a couple of “must read” stand-alones that she’s long forgotten who loaned her. She had assigned reading last summer, but managed to get a couple of books off the top of her pile read. She was really looking forward to this summer, even knowing she would have to carefully prioritize which of her books she could get to. But alas, as classes advance, summer reading requirements expand too. She read several books this summer, but did she read a single book of her choosing? Not a one.

Gah! I’m conflicted. On the one hand, yes, she read all summer. On the other hand, did she get even one little iota of joy out of it? No. She spent beautiful summer days slogging through meaty books that she will eventually learn to appreciate, and maybe even love, when she analyzes them later in the year. There is immense value in this type of reading, to be sure. But this type of reading is also a chore. And nothing sucks the sheer joy out of something more than turning it into a chore. Kids need down time to get back to their reading roots and truly lose themselves in something they love again–be it a graphic novel, the latest PLL, or a dystopian trilogy. It makes me sad that my daughter’s passion for reading is dying on the vine, killed by the very class that is supposed to encourage and nurture that love. How ironic is that?

-Eden, StorySnoop

Earth Day and Books

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Am I mistaken, or was Earth Day even a thing back when I was a kid?  I kind of think not.  I guess I was a kid a really long time ago though :-) I did a little checking on it, and it turns out that it was first celebrated in San Francisco (named after St. Francis, the patron saint of ecology) on March 21st, 1970. It is now celebrated in over 175 countries around the world, with the intention of increasing awareness and appreciation of the Earth’s natural environment and resources. I give a big thumbs up for anything that gives our younger generation an opportunity to think about what the Earth has to offer, and how to make it last for generations yet-to-come. So in the spirit of Earth Day this week, StorySnoops has created a list of books for teens and tweens that have environmental themes or environmentally conscious characters—just a little something to reinforce what they’ll be hearing about in school this week. Enjoy!

-Eden, StorySnoop

Super Scoop: 33 Minutes (…Until Morgan Sturtz kicks my butt) by Todd Hasak-Lowy

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

Friendship is a common theme in children’s literature, and why wouldn’t it be, since it is a huge part of what kids are experiencing in their lives. And I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most friend-drama books are about girls (mirrors real life, eh?). Boys have friend troubles too though, and I just finished a wonderfully funny and poignant book on the topic.

33 Minutes (…Until Morgan Sturtz kicks my butt) is about two boys who used to be best buds in elementary school, Sam and Morgan. They were different even then, but those differences were fine and made things interesting. Sam has always been crazy smart (and now in seventh grade, he heads up the ArithmeTitans math team), and Morgan has always been athletic (he is now the star of the middle school football team). If asked, Sam might say that he and Morgan hadn’t been as close since middle school started, and since a new kid, who has more in common with Morgan than with Sam, moved in to their neighborhood. BUT, Sam knows they are still friends because it’s only been a couple of months since their TAMADE (The Absolutely Most Amazing Day Ever)—where they played their favorite old video game for nine hours straight, and worked together as a team like never before.  And this is why he is so confused about why Morgan so very clearly wants to kick his butt now.

The story flips back and forth between past and present, so the thirty-three minutes of same-day suspense are stretched out over snippets of what has led Sam and Morgan to this point. The reader can see Sam clinging to hope beyond unreasonable hope that there is some magical way that his friendship with Morgan can go back to what it used to be.

I won’t reveal any more about the plot except to say that this book does not have a neat and tidy, “wrapped up with a bow” kind of ending. It has a very real and poignant ending, which will be appreciated by anyone who is old enough to have grown apart from a former special friend. As adults we intellectually know that these transitions are a part of life, but as a kid, sometimes there is nothing more painful than losing a friend you weren’t ready to move on from.

This story is smart and funny and sad and hopeful all at the same time. It will work for upper elementary or middle school boys who are mature enough to understand Sam’s somewhat complicated emotions around his friendship with Morgan, as well as the bit of complexity added by the plot flipping back and forth, and the author’s sly sense of humor.  All told? Two thumbs up from this StorySnoop :-)

Happy Reading!

-Eden, StorySnoop

Is it the hormones, or what?

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Okay, so I’m happily reading along in a nice little tween book, and I’ve read quite a few of these now, so the general direction of the plot is usually not a surprise.  But before long, when the cute little troubled girl protagonist finally gets adopted by her former step dad, who, as it has been made abundantly clear, can offer her a better life than her unstable mother, I find myself sitting in my car with the book in my lap, sobbing—complete monster tears dripping down the face, nose running…sobbing!  At this point, I am really, really hoping that I don’t see anyone else I know in the school parking lot who might notice that I look like a puffy-eyed crazy woman!  And do I carry Kleenex in my car for just this sort of occasion?  Of course not.

Anyway, once I was able to collect myself, it occurred to me that I was completely losing myself over a book for a ten year old.  Yikes!  I am a forty-something gal, to whom these plot twists are rather predictable.  Books in the 9-12 year old category rarely have a truly sad ending (consider the audience—plenty of time for those books later), and yet, here I am crying my eyes out (and it’s really not the first time, actually).  Why???  In the interest of full disclosure, I do have a tendency to get a bit weepy sometimes in a nice coffee commercial, and I do love a good, trashy teen movie now and again, but I digress.

Maybe, to make myself feel better, I think that I’m crying because with my older, wiser view of the world, I can cry for the happy life that little girl will get a chance to have.  I can cry for the beauty of the step-parent who went above and beyond for a child who was no longer his.  I can cry for that poor mother, who even though she made a lot of mistakes, was still going to lose her daughter to another family.  None of these are thoughts the intended audience of ten year olds is likely to have, so maybe I have some adult insight that makes me cry.  Or maybe I’m just a sap.

-Eden, StorySnoop

Is it just me, or would you cry too? Waiting for Normal

Yahoo! It’s here! YALSA 2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults!

Friday, February 1st, 2013

Oh happy day! The ALA Midwinter conference in Seattle just ended, and as is traditional, several awards were announced. That’s all well and good, but really, the announcement I like best is the annual list of Best Fiction for Young Adults. I love to see how many of the 100+ books my Snoops gang has read, and I find it extremely validating when such an esteemed group of judges also likes something that I really enjoyed :-) (sometimes we all need a little reminder that we aren’t crazy, right?!)  Of course, if I am placing so much weight on external opinions, maybe there are a couple of books that I need to go back and revisit with different eyes, since I personally might not have put them on this list–ha! Check out the 2013 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults (the asterisks are for the Top 10) and add a few to your to-be-read pile. Here are a few of our particular faves off the 2013 list:

Which ones did you like the best?

Happy Reading,

-Eden, StorySnoop

If the Cybils judges are listening…

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

It’s that time of the year when lots of book awards are about to be announced. One set that we get particularly excited about over here at StorySnoops is the Cybils, because they are given out by book bloggers and we like book bloggers a lot :-) In case you aren’t familiar with this award, it is given out for books that have both literary merit and kid appeal. Nothing more. Well-written books that kids will like to read. Go figure. Now that is my kind of award!

The nominations were open to the public in the fall, and the short lists of finalists were announced on Jan 1. Winners will be announced on Valentine’s Day. Bloggers who are members of the Cybils committee are reading furiously this month, and just in case any of those good people (who must surely be a bit cross-eyed right about now!) are looking for some outside advice on the books in question, we here at StorySnoops have a few opinions we’d be delighted to share :-) We don’t read books in all of categories in which Cybils are awarded, but for those in which we do, here are our votes:

Fantasy and Science Fiction (Teen/Young Adult):

Dark, powerful and suspenseful!
Well-written, thought-provoking!

Fantasy and Science Fiction (Elementary/Middle Grade):

Truly a heartfelt gem!

Middle Grade Fiction: (one of our favorite categories!)

Indomitable spirit!
Tremendous!
Just a great read!
Compelling, important!

Young Adult Fiction:

Discussion-worthy and different!
Intelligent, rich, extraordinary!

So there you have it. Just in case those judges need our help ;-) See the complete list of finalists here, and check back on Valentine’s Day to see if they took our advice…

Happy Reading!

-Eden, StorySnoop

Best of 2012–part 4

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Now that we are solidly (one week!) into 2013, it’s time to wrap up the “Best of 2012″ here at StorySnoops. Looking back on the books I read this year, I see a theme emerging with my favorites. A lot of different stuff came across my nightstand, but a disproportionate number were from the teen girl category. Sorry fellow Snoops–New Year’s Resolution #12–I will branch out in 2013! Within that category though, my faves range from angsty realistic fiction to dystopian romance, and historical mystery–not too bad. So here goes. In 2012 I really loved…

The Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George. In the interest of full disclosure, I knew this book would be high on my list before I even picked it up. I am a huge fan of Elizabeth George’s adult books, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE a good character-driven story that makes me sad to close at the end simply because I will miss the new friends I’ve made. The Edge of Nowhere did not disappoint, and I was delighted to find out that it is the beginning of a series. Whidby Island, Washington is the setting for this story about emotionally lost 14-year-old Becca, who has a psychic ability to hear “whispers” of other people’s thoughts. Can’t wait to see what is next for Becca and the residents of Whidby Island!

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley. The only thing better than a good love story is a tense, sometimes cringe-worthy, intelligently-written, page-turning love story. (How many hyphenated adjectives can fit in one sentence, I wonder?) If you plan to read this book, pick a day that is wide open, get comfy and settle in for a cover-to-cover read in one sitting. The story takes place over the course of one night in Melbourne, Australia, with a group of high schoolers looking for an “unforgettable” graduation night. Lucy wants to track down the secretive graffiti artist Shadow whose art speaks deeply to her, but she is stuck with Ed, a boy she has been trying to avoid for two years after the most embarrassing date of her life. Ed says he knows how to find Shadow though, so Lucy is on board for a single night that will change everything.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. Ooh boy, can’t say enough about this one. I don’t normally seek out historical fiction but this one found me anyway. Code Name Verity is part spy mystery (always a winner for me), part tale of inspiring friendship and girl power (go sister!), and part historical fiction (always educational). I admit I had to work a bit to connect in the first part of the book, but was I ever rewarded for my perseverance! Richly drawn characters, a complex villain, a taut thriller and an ending that made me want to go back and re-read for clues I was certain I had missed. Let it be noted that this is one of two books on this list that I bought as a Christmas gift–for my mom, who will never know it is a “young adult” book :-)

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi. Let’s just say that I have cleared my calendar for Tuesday, January 8th, the day the sequel to this one comes out. The dystopian/sci fi theme is interesting–the post-apocolyptic world in Under the Never Sky is divided between the Dwellers and the Outsiders. The Dwellers live in a controlled virtual reality world, while the Outsiders have scratched out an existence in what is left of the barren landscape. When Dweller Aria escapes the virtual realm, she is rescued by Perry, an Outsider who has been cast out of his tribe. Of course the two of them could not be more different, but they need each other in order to survive the harsh situation they find themselves in. This sci-fi romance is a page-turner and is the other Christmas gift I bought from this list (for my daughter–who will be banging down my door waiting for me to finish the sequel).

HONORABLE MENTION: A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Obviously, this one was far from being a new release in 2012, but I saw it on the high school English reading list and wanted to go back for a re-read from an adult perspective. Funny how much more I enjoyed it when there was no essay due at the end! It is a beautifully written classic about struggling against the enemy within–a theme which is relevant regardless of time or place. It’s a quick read and I can’t wait to discuss it with my daughter when her class reads it!

That wraps it up for the StorySnoops’ favorite reads of 2012. It was a good year in books! If you missed the other Snoops’ faves, you can find them here.

Wishing you a joyous 2013 and as always, happy reading!

-Eden, StorySnoop

A new holiday tradition

Monday, December 24th, 2012

I read a column in my local paper several days ago that has stuck with me long after the paper hit the recycling bin–which is significant because in this crazy week of final Christmas preparation, I have the attention span of a caffeinated gnat :-) When things get hectic, I try to remind myself to stop and take the time to be “in the moment” and remember what the holiday is truly about–family, tradition and the simple act of giving (and hopefully along the way providing the kids with special memories that will last longer than the latest electronic gadget). The column that I read resonated because it cut through the frantic, manic and frenzied whatever of that day, and reminded me that a “back to basics” approach to special holiday traditions might just be the best one.

Syndicated advice columnist Amy Dickinson has partnered with the Family Reading Partnership to promote a lovely tradition called “A Book on Every Bed”. She came up with the idea after reading an interview with historian David McCullough, in which he described how every Christmas morning during his childhood, he and his siblings awoke to find that Santa had left a wrapped book at the foot of their beds. What an “aha!” moment for me when I read that! The timeless gift of reading, given to children first and foremost in that quiet moment before the start of the big day, before the gifts under the tree, before the stockings–what could be simpler and more precious and personal?

I usually give my kids a book or two for Christmas, but they have a tendency to get a bit lost in the madness of the morning. They aren’t the “glamour gifts”, but they are the one gift that we give every single year (along with Christmas jammies!). The books reflect where each child is that year, and what their interests are at the time. I don’t expect that my kids will remember every book I ever gifted them, but I do want them to remember the gift of reading. When they look back at our Christmas’s together or when somebody asks what our family traditions are, I hope they remember books as part of what we have always done in this house. “A Book on Every Bed” stuck me as a wonderful and memorable way to celebrate the tradition of reading, and I’m jumping on the bandwagon this very year. On Christmas morning my kids will probably wake up and think Santa had too much egg nog and left the gifts in the wrong place, but I think when they see those books on their beds again next year, they will start to look forward to their very first gift of the day. I know I will. It’s never too late to start a new tradition, right?

Merry Christmas and Happy Reading!

-Eden, StorySnoop

My YA Shopping List for the Entire Family

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Yep, pretty much everyone is completely immersed in their holiday shopping by now, and if you aren’t, well…get on it!  I’m deep into the shopping fray, and this week I’m looking forward to making my favorite purchases of the year. The vast majority of my extended family loves to read, and as such, books are a pretty safe gift choice for the people I spend the holidays with. I will be buying several this year–no different from years past except for the fact that I will have to drive a little farther to do it (ahem…still waiting for the rich tech titan to open an independent book store in my town…).

Anyway, 2012 has been a good year in YA lit for me. When my friends ask me if I enjoy reading for StorySnoops, what they are really saying is, “don’t you miss reading grown up books?”. I can honestly say that no, I don’t miss it (that much). I’m sure some I would have really enjoyed some of the books I hear my friends talking about, but I am finding some real gems in the YA genres too, and I am excited to share them with the people on my gift list this year (granted, a couple of these people are the folks for whom the books were intended, but not everyone).

Pretty sure my kids don’t hang out on this blog, so it is safe to say here what I intend to buy them for Christmas :-)

For my reluctant reader middle school son who always asks me which books I would recommend (even though he then completely disregards pretty much every suggestion I make), I need a no-brainer, sure-thing, go-to quick read that he will finish before he even has time to think about it. What could be better than Diary of a Wimpy Kid #7? There is a new release this holiday season, and it will for sure be under our tree.  

On the other end of the spectrum, I have a high school daughter who is a voracious reader, and reads most of what I suggest, when she has time outside of her assigned school reading. She enjoys many different genres, but her particular favorite is dystopian, for which I have a little hankering myself. So my choice for her is easy–my favorite dystopian read of the year, Under the Never Sky. This book will appeal to fans of sci-fi, dystopian, and romance–what more could you ask for? It’s a page-turner extraordinaire, and the best news for anyone who reads it in December is that the sequel, Through the Ever Night, is due out in early January!

For my mother, who loves an intelligent, well-crafted mystery as much as I do, there is no question–I’m going with Code Name Verity. This remarkable piece of smart historical fiction is one with an ending that will make you want to go back and read it again, just to figure out if you could have “seen it coming”. Based on the ages of the main characters (early 20′s) this one blurs the line between adult fiction and YA fiction, so if you want a book for someone who perhaps would be better off not knowing they are reading YA, this one is your pick!

For my husband with ride-ranging literary tastes, I am debating between two books (or maybe he’ll just get both). He and I have both loved Harlan Coban for years (along with fellow StorySnoop Tiffany), and needless to say, I was giddy when I found out Mr. Coban was starting a YA series based on a young relative of one of his recurring adult characters, Myron Bolitar. Tiffany drew the long straw and reviewed Shelter, so maybe this can do double-duty as a gift for my husband and for me :-) The other one I’m considering for him is more cerebral, but I have no doubt he will love it. He’s a true fan of the written word and the over-riding themes of an all-time favorite, The Book Thief, are the power of words and the power of reading. It is a must-read for anyone who loves literature simply for the beauty of the craft.

All told, the gift of reading is one of my favorites! Anything book-related on your shopping list this year?

Happy Holidays!

-Eden, StorySnoop