Classics I’ve Never Read (or, My Shame Revealed)

Here is my confession: I am a children’s librarian who has not read a (shameful) number of classic children’s books.  There are books that I’ve purposefully avoided, others that I’ve always meant to read (but Time, time, who has the time?), and yet others that send a a cold jolt of fear straight into my heart.  These are the books that haunt me.

Clearly, it’s time to fess up.

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Hardcover vs. Paperback: Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love

One of my favorite (dorky) pastimes is awaiting the paperback releases of books I love.  Sometimes I read a book and think, Wow, what a terrific book with a slightly unfortunate or odd or confusing cover. Paperback reissues to the rescue!  Occasionally, if a children’s book is lucky enough to be reissued as a paperback, new cover art can give it new life.  I found this to be true in the case of Jacqueline Wilson’s Candyfloss.

Let’s do a side-by-side of the cover art for the hardcover and paperback release of  Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love: Continue reading

Book Review: In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco

inourmothershouseAs the child of a gay parent, I am always excited to discover new children’s books about same-sex families.  Growing up, there was very, very little in the way of literature that reflected my own experiences.  I do remember my mom giving me a collection of short stories written by kids whose parents had “come out” later in life, which is what had happened in my family.  I found these stories incredibly helpful- they made me feel that there were other kids just like me- with families as diverse and different as my own.  But fiction in which positive and authentic gay characters appeared were (and still are) sorely lacking.

While looking through the new arrivals cart this week I was surprised to discover that Patricia Polacco’s latest book is about a lesbian couple raising three children.  I’m usually on the lookout for children’s books about gay issues, so I was happy to see such a well-known author tackle a subject that is so rarely depicted in children’s literature.   Continue reading

Book Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

mazerunner

Due out October 13, 2009 (Delacorte Press)

While attending the Random House Children’s Books Fall Preview a couple weeks ago, I heard this book described as “Lord of the Flies meets The Hunger Games.”  Sweet Jimminy! That pretty much bumped the ARC right on up to the top of my to-be-read pile.  After plowing through the 374 page sci-fi/adventure/thriller in less than two days, I was not disappointed.

It begins with a boy waking up in the darkness.  He is in some sort of metal lift, ascending slowly towards- well, he has no idea.  In fact, he knows almost nothing about himself; where he comes from, how he got into the lift, where it is taking him.  The only thing he knows for sure is his name, Thomas.

After what seems like a half-hour or so, the lift shudders to a stop and opens to bright sunlight.  Thomas is pulled up out of the metal box into what he learns is the Glade; a large square courtyard surrounded on all sides by impossibly high rock walls.  Gawking at him are about fifty boys, between the ages of 11 and 19.  They each came to the Glade in the same manner as Thomas.  And they have been waiting for him.

The boys of the Glade, like Thomas, have no memory of their former lives.  What they do know is that the walls surrounding the Glade move every night at sunset to seal up the giant openings on every side.  And every morning, at first light, the walls move again, opening onto pathways to what exists beyond:  the Maze.  Thomas quickly learns that the Maze is a dangerous place, harboring terrifying creatures called the Grievers.  In the hierarchy of the Glade, specially chosen boys, the Maze Runners,  risk the dangers outside the Glade by exploring the Maze each day and running back before the walls close for the night.

By the time Thomas arrives on the scene, the boys have been living this life for about two years.  They believe that some one, or some group of people (“the Creators”) have sent them here and that their only hope of escape is to solve the Maze.  The boys have since setup a crude but orderly government whereby the major tasks (cooking, farming, cleaning, building, etc.) have been divvied up.  An elder boy serves as an overseer for each group and sits on a governing council.  Supplies and food are mysteriously delivered via the metal lift in the center of the Glade every two weeks and every thirty days a new boy, or Greenie, is sent up to join them.

While the boys of the Glade had expected Thomas’ arrival, what happens the very next day is unprecendented.  The lift brings up another newbie.  Not only is the timing off, but this newbie is girl.  The message she delivers before collaspsing disturbs all the Gladers and casts a suspicious light on Thomas.  From this point on, The Maze Runner is off and running- almost impossible to put down-  as we follow Thomas on his journey to figure out who he is, why the boys are in this place, and where the horrifying creatures that dwell in the Maze originate.

Although primarily plot-driven, the characters are well-drawn and their makeshift society carefully wrought.  From Newt, the tough second-in-command with a soft-heart, to the sweet, childlike Chuck who befriends Thomas almost immediately, you come to care about these boys and their complex relationships with eachother.  The tender moments between the boys are so real- with manly punches and sarcasm used to mask an errant tear or puffed up bravado laid thin over fear of spending a night locked outside the safety of the Glade walls.  The action moves quickly, and like The Hunger Games, you get absorbed into this rollercoaster of a story, on the edge of your seat (or armchair, as it was in my case), rooting for Thomas and his friends, holding your breath as they delve deeper into the dark corners of the Maze.

I would venture to guess that this may be the first book in a series.  I was left breathless by the last page and look forward to more.

A note on the audience:  Even though there is some faux-swearing (a la Battlestar Gallactica’s “Frac,” the boys in The Maze Runner use made up swears like “shank”), I think Dashner’s book would be appropriate for middleschoolers (grades 6, 7, 8 ) as well as highschoolers.  A nice crossover novel that I’d recommend to fans of Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion and fans of Pete Hautman books.