April 26, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

SLJ Reviews of the 2014 National Book Award Finalists in Young People’s Literature

School Library Journal reviews of the National Book Award Finalists in the Young People’s Literature category, as well as some relevant pieces from our bloggers and interviews with the authors.


ThreatenedSchrefer, Eliot. Threatened. 288p. Scholastic. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545551434; ebk. $17.99. ISBN 9780545551441. LC 2013018599.

Gr 7 Up–After the death of his mother and sister, Luc is left in the hands of a moneylender, Monsieur Tatagani. One of many orphans forced to do Tatagani’s bidding, Luc has found a way to be useful and earn a few coins wiping glasses in a bar in Gabon. One night a man shows up with a monkey and a silver attaché case, claiming to be a researcher sent by the National Geographic Society to study the chimpanzees in the interior. The mysterious man, called “the Prof,” offers Luc a job as his helper. From this modest beginning comes a tale of survival and discovery for both humans and chimps. There are no easy answers here, but deep themes are explored. The plight of the endangered chimps is brought to the attention of readers, as are the challenges of socioeconomic status and geographic realities of Gabon. There are times when Luc’s voice as an uneducated orphan adolescent seems vivid and real, at other times less so. Still, the valor and soul of Luc is captivating. Fascinating and sure to lead to discussion.–Carol A. Edwards, Denver Public Library, CO

The Port Chicago 50RedReviewStar Our Bodies, Ourselves: A Transgender Teen Memoir, a Guide to Puberty, and Guys vs. Girls | Nonfiction Grades 5 & UpSheinkin, Steve. The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights. Roaring Book. 2014. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781596437968.

Gr 7 Up—In the summer of 1944, 50 sailors, all of them African American, were tried and convicted of mutiny by the U.S. Navy. They had refused to follow a direct order of loading dangerous rockets and munitions on ships bound for battle in the Pacific after an enormous explosion had killed more than 300 of their fellow sailors and other civilians working on the dock. At the heart of this story is the rampant racism that permeated the military at all levels, leaving minority sailors and soldiers to do the drudge work almost exclusively while their white counterparts served on the front lines. Through extensive research, Sheinkin effectively re-creates both the tense atmosphere at Port Chicago before and after the disaster as well as the events that led to the men’s refusal of this one particular order that they felt put them directly in harm’s way. Much of the tension in this account stems from the growing frustration that readers are meant to feel as bigotry and discrimination are encountered at every turn and at every level of the military. There is a wealth of primary-source material here, including interviews with the convicted sailors, court records, photographs, and other documents, all of which come together to tell a story that clearly had a huge impact on race relations in the military. This is a story that remains largely unknown to many Americans, and is one of the many from World War II about segregation and race that is important to explore with students. Abundant black-and-white photos, extensive source notes, and a thorough bibliography are included.–Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA

Courageous African American WWII Sailors Profiled in The Port Chicago 50 | Audio Pick



Whaley, John Corey. Noggin. 352p. S & S/Atheneum. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781442458727; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442458741. LC 2013020137.

Gr 9 Up–Travis Coates, 16, is dying of cancer, so he accepts an offer from a cryogenic group to have his head removed and frozen with the hope that it would be attached to another body in the future and he could be reanimated. Five years later, he  “wakes up” with a new body and is still 16. There are a few minor problems with his new life–he is a celebrity/freak and gets more attention than he wants, he has to get used to a body that has different abilities than his old one, and he has to go to school with kids he doesn’t know. The biggest problem is that Travis’s best friend and his girlfriend are now 21 years old and have moved on with their lives while he feels like he has simply taken a nap. Cate is engaged and not interested in in a relationship with a teenager. Travis is obsessed with the idea that he can win her back and won’t accept her repeated “no.” He tries various means to convince her that he’s still the one for her: some hilarious, some touching, some inappropriate, but all definitely sophomoric. The premise of the story is interesting although far-fetched. The author does a good job of describing the emotions and reactions of all of  the characters, but Travis’s fixation on Cate becomes tiresome and a plot twist at the end feels like it was thrown in just to make the story longer.–Nancy P. Reeder, Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, Columbia, SC

Though our reviewer didn’t much enjoy John Corey Whaley’s Noggin, our teen reviewers certainly did.

Teens Review 17 & Gone, Landry Park, and Whaley’s Latest

Teens Review Spring 2014 Releases, Second Take on Whaley’s Noggin


revolutionRedReviewStar Our Bodies, Ourselves: A Transgender Teen Memoir, a Guide to Puberty, and Guys vs. Girls | Nonfiction Grades 5 & UpWiles, Deborah. Revolution. 544p. (The Sixties Trilogy: Bk. 2). Scholastic. 2014. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780545106078.

Gr 5-8–In Wiles’s second installment of the trilogy, readers are offered two alternate viewpoints from very different worlds within the same Greenwood, Mississippi town during the tumultuous Freedom Summer of 1964. Sunny, a 12-year-old white girl, is worried about reports of “invaders” descending upon the sleepy Southern enclave and causing trouble. Meanwhile, Raymond, a black boy from Baptist Town (known among the white citizens as “Colored Town”), is becoming increasingly aware of all the places (especially the public pool and Leflore’s theater) he is barred from attending due to Jim Crow laws. As Sunny’s worldview is suddenly expanded as she begins to learn more about the sinister underbelly of her seemingly perfect town, her story intersects with Raymond’s. Among the cadre of brave young volunteers working to register black Mississippians to vote—a mix of white and black members of various civil rights associations—is Jo Ellen, the older sister from Countdown (Scholastic, 2010). As in the first book, song lyrics, biblical verses, photographs, speeches, essays, and other ephemera immerse readers in one of the most important—and dangerous—moments during the Civil Rights Movement. While Sunny’s experiences receive a slightly deeper focus than Raymond’s, readers are offered a window into each community and will see both characters change and grow over the course of the summer. Inclusion of primary source materials, including the text of a real and vile pamphlet created by KKK members, does not shy away from the reality and hurtful language used by bigots during this time period. For those looking to extend the story with a full-sensory experience, the author has compiled YouTube clips of each song referenced in the book on a Pinterest board (http://ow.ly/vBGTc). With elements of family drama and coming-of-age themes that mirror the larger sociopolitical backdrop, Revolution is a book that lingers long after the last page.–Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal

Revolution | A Conversation with Deborah Wiles by Jennifer M. Brown

History comes to life in Wiles’s second “Sixties” installment | Audio Pick


browngirldreamingRedReviewStar Our Bodies, Ourselves: A Transgender Teen Memoir, a Guide to Puberty, and Guys vs. Girls | Nonfiction Grades 5 & UpWoodson, Jacqueline. Brown Girl Dreaming. 320p. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399252518.

Gr 4-7–“I am born in Ohio but the stories of South Carolina already run like rivers through my veins” writes Woodson as she begins her mesmerizing journey through her early years. She was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1963, “as the South explodes” into a war for civil rights and was raised in South Carolina and then New York. Her perspective on the volatile era in which she grew up is thoughtfully expressed in powerfully effective verse, (Martin Luther King is ready to march on Washington; Malcom X speaks about revolution; Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat only seven years earlier and three years have passed since Ruby Bridges walks into an all-white school). She experienced firsthand the acute differences in how the “colored” were treated in the North and South. “After the night falls and it is safe for brown people to leave the South without getting stopped and sometimes beaten and always questioned; We board the Greyhound bus bound for Ohio.” She related her difficulties with reading as a child and living in the shadow of her brilliant older sister, she never abandoned her dream of becoming a writer. With exquisite metaphorical verse Woodson weaves a patchwork of her life experience, from her supportive, loving maternal grandparents, her mother’s insistence on good grammar, to the lifetime friend she meets in New York, that covers readers with a warmth and sensitivity no child should miss. This should be on every library shelf.–D. Maria LaRocco, Cuyahoga Public Library, Strongsville, OH

Video: Jacqueline Woodson Keynote | SLJ Day of Dialog 2014 by Kathy Ishizuka

Review of the Day: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson | A Fuse #8 Production by Betsy Bird