I have new books to read. The National Book Foundation just announced the longlist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Yeah!!! This list should be in the hands of every secondary English Language Arts (ELA) teacher. If you know one, please connect them to this blog. Make sure they have the list. If you know school librarians ask them if these books are on their purchasing list. Better yet, if you have a few bucks, ask them if you can run down to your local bookstore and buy copies to donate to the school. I am disappointed with the media coverage. With all of the negative comments about education in the media, you would think that occasionally there might be some positive discussion of what is available for young people to read. The Guardian carried a good article. I also found a nice peace in the Denver Post that indicates that the list of ten will be winnowed down to five on October 15, 2014 and the winner will announced on Nov. 19, 2014 in New York City. That announcement occurs just a couple of days before the ALAN Workshop.
The Miami Herald also carried a story, and well they should; one of their own columnist, Carl Hiaasen, has been nominated. Hiaasen has a very successful career as a columnist and an adult novelist. He has recently contributed several young adult novels that capitalize on his sense of humor and demonstrate his interest in the environment. I have followed Hiaasen’s move to writing for adolescent because of one of my specific academic interests is studying established adult authors who have turned, in part, to writing novels intentionally for adolescents. I have written about Hiaasen, as well as James Patterson, and Ridley Pearson, all of whom can easily be classified as writers of bestselling populist fiction. The second group I have written about are authors with significant literary acclaim in the hallowed halls of English departments, who have also written for younger readers--Joyce Carol Oates, Sherman Alexie, and Michael Chabon. All of the authors in both groups have written interesting novels and some of them have had significant financial and literary success. Joyce Carol Oates has, in my opinion, written the strongest body of work for adolescents. She is a fantastic writer and her adolescent novels deserve more attention. Of the populist group, I think Hiaasen has the most to offer.
If you don’t want to take my word for it, there are a significant number of middle grade readers that have enjoyed Scat, Hoot, Flush, and Chomp. Ask around a bit. His nominated offering, Skink no Surrender, continues his focus on environmental themes and features Clinton Tyree (Skink), a reoccurring character in his adult novels.
More importantly, the inclusion of Hiaasen in this list speaks to the diversity and range of finalist. The genres vary and include fiction, non-fiction, and memoirs. There are also books from established YA novelist and a sprinkling of a few authors who are fairly early in their careers. It is a great list of books. I have already read several of them and others have been on my must read list. I fell in love with Andrew Smith’s Wringer last year and I was looking forward to 100 Sideways Miles. Clearly, I need to get caught up in my reading.
· All of the nominated authors and the books titles are listed below with a link to an explanatory page on the National Book Foundation webpage. On that webpage are links to the authors’ other informational sources—webpages, twitter, and instagram. You can find out plenty about these authors by browsing around a bit. Below each entry I make brief editorial comments about novels I know or that I am eagerly anticipating. Laurie Halse Anderson, The Impossible Knife of Memory (Viking/ Penguin Group (USA)
I loved the gritty reality of The Impossible Knife of Memory, the post-traumatic stress exhibited by one of the novel’s characters echoes what we are just now learning about J. D. Salinger’s personal life and what Anderson revealed about her own father during the CEE luncheon at the NCTE Conference last November. Most ELA teachers with any familiarity with YA fiction know Speak. I also recommend Wintergirls and Prom.
· Gail Giles, Girls Like Us (Candlewick Press)
I obviously need to learn more about Giles. I recommend What Happened to Cass McBride, but I will be reading others as well.
· Carl Hiaasen, Skink—No Surrender (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers/ Random House)
See my comments on Hiaasen above.
· Kate Milford, Greenglass House (Clarion Books/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Kate’s work is new to me and after browsing around, I am very excited about this new discovery.
· Eliot Schrefer, Threatened (Scholastic Press)
I heard Eliot speak last year during the ALAN Workshop. It was very exciting. I already have an undergraduate student, Kayla Johnson, who highlighted his books in a presentation of how to include young adult fiction as a cross-curricular bridge to make science instruction more relevant and interesting to students. I think we can expect more great books from Schrefer. In addition, I think Kayla will be referencing him quite a bit as she develops into a scholar, researcher, and future teacher.
· Steve Sheinkin, The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights
(Roaring Brook Press/ Macmillan Publishers)
This is another great offering from the author of Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon (another book Kayla references), one of my favorite books in recent years. How can you live with yourself if you miss this one?
· Andrew Smith, 100 Sideways Miles (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/ Simon & Schuster)
As I noted above Wringer is one of my favorite reads in a long time. I just liked it. Above all who can deny the continual buzz around Grasshopper Jungle?
· John Corey Whaley, Noggin (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/ Simon & Schuster)
For about a year and half, one of my library science buddies just couldn't believe that I had not inhaled Whaley’s books. Robin Kurz you were obviously right and I am embarassed.
· Deborah Wiles, Revolution: The Sixties Trilogy, Book Two (Scholastic Press)
Wiles’ collection of work is another new find for me. What is wrong with me? I actually remember the sixties. Here is a perfect opportunity to see if I really noticed anything that was going on outside of my own bubble while I was in middle school.
· Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books/ Penguin Group (USA)
Well, if you don’t know her books you are missing out. Woodson was one of the first authors I began to read in earnest when I realized that I was drifting into young adult scholarship. Try Hush, Miracle’s Boys, Locomotion, After Tupac and D Foster, and, one of my personal favorites, From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun.
I wish all of these authors the best of luck. They are all winners in my estimation. Hopefully, the real winners will be adolescent readers. Please share this list of candidates for the National Book Award in the category of Young People’s Literature. Read widely, read for joy, read for knowledge, and read to live.
Until next week.
Steven T. Bickmore