February 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Ten Titles Make Longlist for the 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature

nbf_logoThe National Book Foundation has announced the longlist for the 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Finalists will be revealed on October 14, 2015, and the winners of the National Books Awards will be announced at a November 18 ceremony in New York City.

The 10 longlist titles are:

Albertalli_SimonBecky Albertalli, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Children’s Books

SLJ‘s review

Albertalli, Becky. Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. 320p. HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray. Apr. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062348678; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780062348692.
Gr 8 Up–Simon Speir, high school junior, walks away from his computer at school for just a moment, and that is when his biggest secret is discovered. He has been emailing a boy in his grade anonymously ever since a poetic waxing on his high school’s gossip Tumblr caught his eye, and now Martin Addison has taken a screenshot and has a powerful way to blackmail Simon into getting his friend, Abby, to date him. Although it is filled with trendy pop-culture and digital-age references (Tumblr, Justin Beiber, The Bachelor, etc.) that may not stand the test of time, the message will resonate. Rife with realistic, high school relationships and drama, with a laugh or two at every turn, this is a coming-of-age, coming-out, and defying-the-odds story with which many teens will identify. With a very tidy, feel-good ending, the book will appeal to readers who enjoyed Tim Federle’s Better Nate Than Ever (2013) and Five, Six, Seve, Nate! (2014, both S. & S.) and will find a familiar, slightly more mature home with Simon.–Brittany Staszak, St. Charles Public Library, IL

It’s Not All Death, Dystopia, and Disaster: YA Novels to Tickle the Funny Bone by Joy Fleishacker http://ow.ly/S9SP3

Secrets and Lies | New YA Fiction by Erin Black Salge http://ow.ly/S9SU3

SymphonyCityDeadM.T. Anderson, Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad Candlewick Press

SLJ‘s starred review:

Anderson, M.T. Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad. 464p. bibliog. ebook available. index. notes. photos. Candlewick. Sept. 2015. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780763668181.

Gr 9 Up–This ambitious and gripping work is narrative nonfiction at its best. Anderson expertly sets the scene of the tumultuous world into which Dmitri Shostakovich was born in 1906 and traces his development as an artist and a public figure. He also tells the story of the composer’s beloved Leningrad, focusing on the creation and legacy of the symphony written in its honor at the height of World War II. In his author’s note, Anderson poses an intriguing question: “How do we reconstruct the story of someone who lived in a period in which everyone had an excuse to lie, evade, accuse, or keep silent?” The compelling, well-researched narrative relates what is known of Shostakovich’s story, what is speculation, what is revisionist history, and what new sources have revealed. The chilling details of the Stalin regime and the plight of the Russian people even before the Germans arrived will be eye-opening to many teen readers. The book has all the intrigue of a spy thriller, recounts the horrors of living during the three year siege, and delineates the physical oppression and daunting foes within and outside of the city. This is also the story of survival against almost impossible odds. Through it all, Anderson weaves the thread of the composer’s music and the role it played in this larger-than-life drama. VERDICT A must-have title with broad crossover appeal–Luann Toth, School Library Journal

Strike Up the Band | M.T. Anderson and the Story Behind the Leningrad Symphony http://ow.ly/S9T8A

Video Interview: M.T. Anderson and the Symphony for the City of the Dead — @fuseeight A Fuse #8 Production http://ow.ly/S9Tay

JellyfishAli Benjamin, The Thing About Jellyfish
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers/Hachette Book Group

SLJ‘s starred review

Benjamin, Ali. The Thing About Jellyfish. 352p. Little, Brown. Sept. 2015. Tr $17.ISBN 9780316380867. LC 2014044025.

Gr 4-7–Suzy’s best friend, Franny Jackson, was a strong swimmer. There is no way she could have drowned, at least in Suzy’s mind. Suzy’s determined search for a different explanation for her friend’s death leads her to believe that Franny was stung by an Irukandji jellyfish. Having nothing but time, since she has no other friends and has decided to stop talking, Suzy sets out to prove her theory. This multilayered novel takes readers on several concurrent emotional journeys. Benjamin skillfully blends time and narrative to slowly reveal truths about Suzy: first and foremost that their friendship was over long before Franny’s death. The girl she had once thought was her best friend decided it was time for a middle school social upgrade, choosing popularity over her awkward childhood pal. Suzy’s decision to seek revenge and remind Franny of their bond backfires, destroying what was left of their relationship. Consequently, Franny’s death is the impetus for the protagonist’s mission of personal reconciliation for the guilt and regret she feels over their falling out. Suzy’s fierce intelligence, compounded by her painful transition into adolescence, makes her a sympathetic and compelling character. Benjamin’s sense of timing and delivery is extraordinary, as she blends the visceral experiences of Suzy’s journey with an internal dialogue that is authentic and poignant. Though Suzy herself is oddly unique in her self-imposed social ineptitude and singular focus, the politics of friendships and changing values of young teens will resonate with readers. Benjamin’s inverse approach to tragedy, placing the death at the beginning of the novel and storytelling through the grieving process, transcends the trope, as the story triumphs in the affecting realities of emotional response and resilience. VERDICT Strong readers of middle grade realistic fiction will fully immerse themselves in this superbly written, heartfelt novel.–Juliet Morefield, Multnomah County Library, OR

walk on earth a strangerRae Carson, Walk on Earth a Stranger
Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins Children’s Books

SLJ‘s review

Carson, Rae. Walk on Earth a Stranger. 448p. (Gold Seer Trilogy: Bk. 1). ebook available. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Sept. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062242914.
Gr 6 Up–This riveting saga features 15-year-old tomboy Leah, who has an extraordinary talent, the ability to sense when gold is near. She uses this skill to provide for her ailing parents, who live in an isolated part of Dahlonega, GA, the site of the first major U.S. gold rush in the early 1800s. They lead a fairly frugal existence so as not to arouse local suspicions. When her parents are robbed and murdered and her best (and only) friend, a half-white, half-Cherokee boy named Jefferson, leaves Georgia for a new gold rush in California, her world is turned upside down. To make matters worse, a nefarious uncle comes to claim her parents’ property and use her gold-seeking skills for ill intent. Disguised as a boy, she leaves the only home she’s ever known to reunite with Jefferson and join a wagon train. Lee, as she calls herself, is a smart, feisty, and likable protagonist who encounters all the hardships one would expect on the arduous journey West—illness, injury, hunger, exposure to extreme weather, and buffalo stampedes. All the while, she knows her uncle will stop at nothing to hunt her down. At the crux of the story is Leah’s dilemma of keeping her gender and talent a secret from those to whom she becomes close. The time period rings true through Carson’s skillful use of language and attention to detail. VERDICT Though the wagon train adventure is slightly cliché, the fast-paced plot, a hint of mild romance, and the added element of fantasy make this stand out from your average Gold Rush story.–Madeline J. Bryant, Los Angeles Public Library

Paulsen_this-side-of-wild_hrGary Paulsen, This Side of Wild: Mutts, Mares, and Laughing Dinosaurs
Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing


#SVYALit Project: Bone Gap and Survivor Stories, a guest post by author Laura RubyLaura Ruby, Bone Gap
Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Children’s Books

SLJ‘s review

Ruby, Laura. Bone Gap. 368p. HarperCollins/
Balzer & Bray. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062317605; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780062317636.
Gr 10 Up–It is a rare book that sits comfortably on the shelf with the works of Twain, McCullers, Conroy, Stephen King, and D’Aulaires’ Greek Myths—rarer still that a novel combines elements of these authors together. Bone Gap does just this, to superb effect. We start with a boy named Finn and his brother, Sean. Sean is the classic hero: strong, silent, great at everything he does. Finn is a pretty boy whose otherworldly goofiness has earned him the nicknames Spaceman, Sidetrack, and Moonface. Along comes Rosza, a beautiful and damaged young woman, fleeing from some unknown evil. When she disappears, only Finn witnesses her abduction and he is unable to describe her captor. He is also unsure whether she left by force or choice. The author defies readers’ expectations at every turn. In this world, the evidence of one’s senses counts for little; appearances, even less. Heroism isn’t born of muscle, competence, and desire, but of the ability to look beyond the surface and embrace otherworldliness and kindred spirits. Sex happens, but almost incidentally. Evil happens, embodied in a timeless, nameless horror that survives on the mere idea of beauty. A powerful novel.–Nina Sachs, Walker Memorial Library, Westbrook, ME

#SVYALit Project: Bone Gap and Survivor Stories, a guest post by author Laura Ruby — @TLT16 Teen Librarian Toolbox http://ow.ly/S9TIi

X-ANovelIlyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon, X: A Novel
Candlewick Press

SLJ‘s starred review:

Shabazz, Ilyasah with Kekla Magoon. X: A Novel. 384p. bibliog. chart. chron. ebook available. Candlewick. Jan. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763669676.
Gr 8 Up–Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little. The story opens with his departure from Michigan as a teen, though there are flashbacks to his younger years. It follows Malcolm through his time in Boston and Harlem, culminating with his conversion to Islam and his decision to change his name while in prison in 1948. The story does contain some gritty situations, most notably the use of the “n” word, non-graphic sex, drug and alcohol abuse, and criminal behavior. This was the reality of Malcolm X’s early life, and make the later scenes that more authentic. While the novel stops prior to his rise as a civil rights leader, the excellent back matter provides historical context, bibliography, time line, family tree, and a note from the author (who is also the third of Malcolm X’s five daughters). This is an eye-opening look at an important historical figure. The author’s honesty about his early troubles serves to convey that it is possible to rise through adversity to make a positive difference in this world. A worthwhile addition to any collection.–Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH

Interview: Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon on their YA Novel About Teenage Malcolm X http://ow.ly/S9TSY

Pictures of the Week: Shabazz and Magoon Launch “X: A Novel” at the 92Y in New York City http://ow.ly/S9TWB

mostdangerousSteve Sheinkin, Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

SLJ‘s starred review

SHEINKIN, Steve. Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War. 384p. bibliog. index. notes. photos. Roaring Brook. Sept. 2015. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781596439528.

Gr 7 Up–In this thoroughly researched, thoughtfully produced, and beautifully written book, Sheinkin delves into the life of Daniel Ellsberg, former Pentagon consultant and a self-described “cold warrior,” who gradually made an about-face with regard to America’s presence in Vietnam. Ellsberg famously leaked the Pentagon Papers, a lengthy document written by military insiders about the Vietnam War, to various members of the press in 1971. He was quickly labeled an enemy of the state and a traitor to his country, aka the most dangerous man in America. With access to many of the key players in this real-life drama, as well as mountains of source material, Sheinkin builds a narrative that is at once accessible and suspenseful, with revelations and details coming at just the right moments. In Sheinkin’s careful hands, Ellsberg and others, including Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and Robert McNamara, are fully realized characters with strengths, flaws, and motivations that grow ever more clear as the story unfolds. Direct quotes, primary source documents, and archival photographs are peppered throughout, supplementing and complementing the text. Meticulous source notes indicate the level of research and time that the author has put into this particular work. With the news filled with stories about Edward Snowden and the NSA, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, and privacy rights and government overreach, this brilliant work about an extraordinary whistle-blower taking a stand should be on everyone’s reading list. VERDICT A timely and extraordinary addition to every library.–Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA

shusterman_Challenger DeepNeal Shusterman, Challenger Deep
HarperTeen/HarperCollins Children’s Books

SLJ’s starred review:

Shusterman, Neal. Challenger Deep. illus. by Brendan Shusterman. 320p. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Apr. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780061134111.

Gr 9 Up–Caden Bosch lives in two worlds. One is his real life with his family, his friends, and high school. There he is paranoid for no reason, thinks people are trying to kill him, and demonstrates obsessive compulsive behaviors. In his other world, he’s part of the crew for a pirate captain on a voyage to the Challenger Deep, the ocean’s deepest trench. There he’s paranoid, wary of the mercurial captain and his mutinous parrot, and tries hard to interpret the mutterings of his fellow shipmates as they sail uncharted waters toward unknown dangers. Slowly, Caden’s fantasy and paranoia begin to take over, until his parents have only one choice left. Shusterman’s latest novel gives readers a look at teen mental illness from inside the mind of Caden Bosch. He is a credible and sympathetic character, and his retreat into his own flawed mind is fascinating, full of riddles and surrealism. Shusterman based the novel on his son’s mental illness, and Brendan’s input regarding his diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and psychiatric care makes the novel ring true. Teens, especially fans of the author’s other novels, will enjoy this book. VERDICT This affecting deep dive into the mind of a schizophrenic will captivate readers, engender empathy for those with mental illnesses, and offer much fodder for discussion.–Heather Miller Cover, Homewood Public Library, AL

2015 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award Winners http://ow.ly/S9Uop

nimonaNoelle Stevenson, Nimona
HarperTeen/HarperCollins Children’s Books

SLJ‘s starred review

Stevenson, Noelle. Nimona. illus. by Noelle Stevenson. 272p. ebook available. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. May 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062278234; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780062278227.

Gr 7 Up –This celebrated webcomic, a mash-up of medieval culture with modern science and technology, is now available in print. Lord Ballister Blackheart, a knight, has assumed the role of a supervillain in order to expose the nefarious schemes of the kingdom’s front organization, The Institute of Law Enforcement. The kingdom’s champion is Lord Blackheart’s nemesis and former best friend, Sir Ambrose Goldenloin. Blackheart’s prickly relationship with Goldenloin further explores the limits of their friendship. Enter the title character, a brash young shapeshifter who doggedly follows Ballister until he agrees to take her on as a sidekick. Nimona’s skills as a shapeshifter up the ante in the ongoing rivalry between Ambrose and Ballister. Despite her anger management issues, the teen becomes Ballister’s invaluable ally and together they form an alliance of mutual trust and dependence. Action scenes dominate as Nimona shifts with Hulk-like ferocity from frightful creatures such as a fire-breathing dragon to a docile cat or a timid child. Dialogue is fresh and witty with an abundance of clever lines. A complementary color palette of Blackheart’s muddy browns contrasts with Goldenloin’s fresh transparent yellow-greens. Both color schemes highlight Nimona’s intense reds. Readers will note subtle visual differences in webcomic images. The print edition includes an exclusive epilogue not available online. At its core, Nimona is a story of rescue. Each of the main characters rescue allies, friendships, the Kingdom, and ultimately, themselves. VERDICT A vibrant solo work from “Lumberjanes” (Boom!) cocreator.–Barbara M. Moon, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY

Girl Power to the Max: SLJ Chats with the Creators of the “Lumberjanes” Comics http://ow.ly/S9UsZ

Book Review: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson — @TLT16 Teen Librarian Toolbox http://ow.ly/S9UEq


The 2015 longlist was determined by five judges—John Joseph Adams, Teri Lesesne, Laura McNeal, G. Neri, and Eliot Schrefer. A total of 294 books was submitted by publishers for consideration for this year’s award.

The 2015 Young People’s longlist includes a previous National Book Award winner; a two-time National Book Award finalist; a three-time Newbery Honor Book recipient; a Michael L. Printz Honor Book recipient; and an Eisner Award winner. Three novels are by debut authors.

The remaining longlists for the poetry, nonfiction, and fiction categories will be revealed by The New Yorker at 9 a.m. EDT as follows: poetry on Tuesday, September 15; nonfiction on September 16; and the longlist for fiction on September 17.


Kathy Ishizuka About Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka (kishizuka@mediasourceinc.com@kishizuka on Twitter) is the Executive Editor of  School Library Journal.

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