March 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Tough Choices for Tough Boys: New Titles Explore “Manhood” | JLG’s On the Radar

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What does being a man mean? Does it mean making hard decisions? Sacrificing yourself? David Almond’s protagonist walks fearlessly into his dangerous fate. David Fleming features a boy whose father is fighting in Afghanistan. Vince Vawter draws from his own life experience as a stutterer to focus on how a 1950s boy faces challenges one eventful summer. Check out the following new releases selected by the editors at Junior Library Guild about boys who make tough, life-altering decisions.

PiranhasALMOND, David. The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas. illus. by Oliver Jeffers. Candlewick. 2013. ISBN 9780763661694. JLG Level: A : Intermediate Readers (Grades 3–5).

Stanley’s uncle Ernie becomes obsessed with canning fish. After a shocking demise to twelve of his pet goldfish, Stanley takes the last surviving one and goes for a walk that leads him to run away with the fair. His new family comes with an encouraging father-figure and an angry young girl. Putting his good heart to use, the orphan finds a way to protect the fish at his Hook-a-Duck booth, quiet the heart of his companion, and accept his dangerous destiny. Not every child could be a boy who swims with piranhas. Add a prejudiced policeman, a madcap group of “DAFT envistigators,” with a loving couple who miss their precious nephew and you have a charming novel about a boy who blossoms while changing everyone around him.

Saturday BoyFLEMING, David. The Saturday Boy. Viking. 2013. ISBN 9780670785513. JLG Level: B+ : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5–7).

Life without your dad is difficult for Derek, a fifth grade boy, whose father is stationed in Afghanistan. He has letters and comic books for support, but those things don’t prevent him from getting in trouble at school. His former friend Budgie bullies him, and he’s frequently caught when his anger gets the best of him. Getting a part in a school play gives Derek a creative outlet. Being the “bigger person,” as his mom advises, is so hard. When his mom withdraws into grief, he doesn’t understand why, and his cool aunt moves in to help out. Derek accidentally learns the source of his mother’s depression. Sending letters to his dad won’t help him this time. Fleming’s first novel keeps readers tense with anticipation, while drawing them close to a boy who just can’t seem to get a break.

PaperboyVAWTER, Vince. Paperboy. Delacorte. 2013. ISBN9780375990588. JLG Level:  C+ : Advanced Readers (Grades 6–9).

In the late 1950s, a stuttering eleven-year-old boy has life-changing experiences while substituting on a paper route for his best friend. Mam, his nanny, warns him to stay away from Ara T, the neighborhood junkman, but he gives him his knife to sharpen anyway. He’ll need it to cut the string on the paper bundle. Collecting subscription money will also be a problem when Little Man will have to say words that he finds difficult to say, even if he uses his therapist’s speaking tricks. Miss Worthington’s beauty makes him want to try. The Boy Who Sits in Front of the TV just makes him angry. Mr. Spiro is one of two adults who speak to him like a grown-up. Little Man could learn a great deal from him and his books. A month of delivering papers gives him an opportunity to think beyond his problems and try to find ways to help these new people, even if it’s outside of his comfort zone. Vawter’s unforgettable first novel is more memoir than fiction, illustrating that though you may not be able to cure a stutter, you can certainly overcome it.

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Junior Library Guild is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at

Deborah B. Ford About Deborah B. Ford

Deborah is the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. She is an award-winning teacher librarian with almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools.