March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Ten Contenders Make the 2016 National Book Awards Longlist for Young People’s Literature

The National Book Foundation has issued the longlist for the 2016 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Finalists will be revealed on October 13, and the winners of the National Book Awards will be announced at a November 16 banquet in New York City.

Here are the 10 longlist titles, with the corresponding SLJ reviews:

Kwame Alexander, Booked (HMH)

Alexander_BookedALEXANDER, Kwame. Booked. 320p. ebook available. HMH. Apr. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544570986.

Gr 6-10 –Twelve-year-old Nick loves soccer, and he and his best friend Coby have big plans for winning the Dr. Pepper Dallas Cup, the renowned world youth soccer tournament, even though they will be playing on opposing teams. Besides the big game, Nick has a lot of other things on his mind. For one thing, his mother wants to move away to pursue her dream of training race horses, and his linguistics professor father is pressuring him to improve his vocabulary by reading the dictionary. Throw in the twin eighth-grade tyrants who relentlessly want to pound him and weekly lessons at Miss Quattlebaum’s School of Ballroom Dance & Etiquette, and his life at Langston Hughes Magnet School of the Arts is pretty hectic. But school is also where “the Mac” can be found, Langston’s resident rapping, dragonfly-loving, red mohawk–wearing librarian and Nick’s favorite adult. And then there’s April, Nick’s current crush. Newbery-winning poet Alexander once again brings to life a novel in verse that equally captures the rapid-fire excitement of a soccer match and the palpable pain of a young boy whose family is falling apart. Peppered throughout are useful and amusing vocabulary words as well as wise-cracking yet sage life lessons from a beloved librarian. Authentic characters and amusing situations abound, making this story one that will be welcomed by readers of all levels. VERDICT: Another winning goal for Alexander and middle school readers alike.–Carol Connor, Cincinnati Public Schools, OH


Kate DiCamillo, Raymie Nightingale (Candlewick)

DiCamillo Raymie Nightingale

redstarDICAMILLO, Kate. Raymie Nightingale. 272p. Candlewick. Apr. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763681173.

Gr 4-7 –Raymie Clarke has a plan. Her father has run off with a dental hygienist without a word, but Raymie is certain that if she wins the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, her father will see her picture in the newspaper and return. To this end, she begins baton-twirling classes with two other girls, Louisiana Elefante and Beverly Tapinski. Both girls have their own reasons for entering the competition: Louisiana needs the prize money, and Beverly wants to sabotage the event. While they never actually learn to twirl, the classes are nevertheless invaluable because of the unlikely friendship the girls form. All three have lost people close to them, and each girl deals with her loss in different ways. With each small adventure, whether it’s finding a lost book or rescuing a beloved pet, their friendship grows into an undeniable bond. In short, precisely crafted chapters, DiCamillo once again demonstrates her ability to create unique characters that touch readers’ hearts. Raymie, in particular, is observant, thoughtful, and sensitive as she struggles to make sense of the world around her. Her story unfolds in uncomplicated prose, even as the themes explored are complex. Surrounded by the fully realized Louisiana and Beverly, not to mention the adults in her town, Raymie searches for meaning, a search that will resonate with readers. VERDICT Poignant, insightful, and ultimately uplifting.–Amanda Raklovits, Champaign Public Library, IL


John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell (Artist),
March: Book Three (Top Shelf)

redstarMarch- Book Three by John Lewis & Andrew AydinLEWIS, John & Andrew Aydin. March: Book Three. illus. by Nate Powell. 192p. Top Shelf. Aug. 2016. pap. $19.99. ISBN 9781603094023.

Gr 8 Up –In the final installment in the trilogy, Congressman Lewis concludes his firsthand account of the civil rights era. Simultaneously epic and intimate, this dynamic work spotlights pivotal moments (the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL; the Freedom Summer murders; the 1964 Democratic National Convention; and the Selma to Montgomery marches) through the lens of one who was there from the beginning. Lewis’s willingness to speak from the heart about moments of doubt and anguish imbues the book with emotional depth. Complex material is tackled but never oversimplified—many pages are positively crammed with text—and, as in previous volumes, discussion of tensions among the various factions of the movement adds nuance and should spark conversation among readers. Through images of steely-eyed police, motion lines, and the use of stark black backgrounds for particularly painful moments, Powell underscores Lewis’s statement that he and his cohorts “were in the middle of a war.” These vivid black-and-white visuals soar, conveying expressions of hope, scorn, and devastation and making storied figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Fannie Lou Hamer feel three-dimensional and familiar. VERDICT This essential addition to graphic novel shelves, history curricula, and memoir collections will resonate with teens and adults alike.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal


Grace Lin, When the Sea Turned to Silver (Little, Brown)

redstarWhen the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace LinLIN, Grace. When the Sea Turned to Silver. illus. by Grace Lin. 384p. Little, Brown. Oct. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316125925; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780316317696. POP

Gr 3-6 –The Tiger Emperor is conscripting all the men of the mountain villages to build the Vast Wall surrounding the kingdom. But when they reach Pinmei’s village, they also take her grandmother, the Storyteller. In order to save her, Pinmei and her friend Yishan embark on a voyage to find the Luminous Stone That Lights the Night—the only thing the Emperor will trade for a prisoner’s freedom. From the top of Never-Ending Mountain to the City of Bright Moonlight to the bottom of the sea and back, their journey brings readers to familiar characters and settings as well as new ones. Combining the epic quest ofWhere the Mountain Meets the Moon and the tight, cyclical plotting of Starry River of the Sky, this is the strongest addition yet, binding the previous volumes together even more closely. As in the earlier companion novels, stories inspired by Chinese folktales are frequently interspersed, giving astute readers critical background information and clues and letting them see the future of their favorite characters, as many stories gain additional chapters. The framing narrative is bleaker and darker, and greater emphasis is placed on the importance and role of stories and storytellers. Lin’s vibrant chapter decorations and full-color, full-page paintings add to the work’s beauty. VERDICT A stunning addition to a deservedly beloved set of novels; recommended for all middle grade collections.–Jennifer Rothschild, Arlington County Public Libraries, VA


Anna-Marie McLemore, When the Moon Was Ours
(St. Martin’s / THOMAS DUNNE)

redstarWhen the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemoreMCLEMORE, Anna-Marie. When the Moon Was Ours. 288p. ebook available. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne. Oct. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250058669.

Gr 9 Up –Love bests every opponent in this surreal exploration of familial bonds and sexual identity. Teens Sam and Miel have been best friends for years, ever since Miel appeared, sodden and terrified, amid the flooded ground around an overturned water tower. As their friendship unfolds into romance, long-repressed secrets and rumors clamor for air. Sam is reticent and obsessed with painting moons on paper and metal. Miel and her guardian, Aracely, are thought to be witches—Miel because roses grow beautifully and painfully out of her wrist one at a time, and Aracely because she cures lovelorn townspeople with potions she creates. Until recently, the four haughty, gorgeous Bonner sisters held mysterious sway over the hearts of the town’s young men. Now that their power has gone, they believe Miel’s roses are the fix they need, and they have no scruples about using physical cruelty or blackmail to get what they want. Amid the ordinariness of the small-town setting, McLemore winds arabesques of magical realism. This imbues the narrative with the feel of a centuries-old fairy tale, while the theme of sexual identity gives it the utmost relevance. Some teens might be put off by the frequent descriptions of egg and pumpkin varieties and their associated shapes, colors, and uses.VERDICT: Readers who stick with this novel will be rewarded with a love story that is as endearingly old-fashioned as it is modern and as fantastical as it is real.–Jennifer Prince, Buncombe County Public Libraries, NC


Meg Medina, Burn Baby Burn (Candlewick)

redstarMedina, Meg. Burn Baby BurnMEDINA, Meg. Burn Baby Burn. 320p. ebook available. Candlewick. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780763674670.

Gr 9 Up –Nora Lopez is 17 in 1977 when New York City faced one of its most horrific summers in history. A serial killer called Son of Sam was on the loose, shooting innocent couples; the city faced a blackout complete with looting; and arson was rampant. Nora’s brother Hector is illegally dealing drugs and physically abusing his mother, Mima, and Nora. Their father is practically out of the picture, unreliably sending checks and calling only on the holidays. Nora works at her neighborhood deli, helping the family to make ends meet. Just when Nora’s fear and panic peaks, she meets new hire Pablo. While Nora is not ready for a relationship, one quickly forms. Ashamed and embarrassed, Nora hides secrets about her family from Pablo and from her best friend, Kathleen. Medina uses Nora’s story to seamlessly connect readers to an unforgettable period in history, the setting leaving readers thirsting for more information about the summer of 1977. The character development is tight and accurately constructed. Medina holds nothing back, shedding light on the characters’ flaws, which teens today will be able to relate to. Medina is on point with the teen voices, evoking their intense fear, panic, and dreams. VERDICT: A devastatingly intense story, this work is a must-have for all collections, especially where Ruta Sepetys’s books are popular.–Erin Holt, Williamson County Public Library, Franklin, TN


Sara Pennypacker & Jon Klassen (Illustrator),
Pax (HarperCOllins / Balzer + Bray)

redstarpaxPENNYPACKER, Sara. Pax. illus. by Jon Klassen. 304p. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Feb. 2016. Tr $16399. ISBN 9780062377012.

Gr 4-7 –A viscerally affecting story of war, loss, and the power of friendship. Pennypacker, author of the exuberant “Clementine” series (Disney-Hyperion) and the charmingly morbid Summer of the Gypsy Moths (HarperCollins, 2012), here displays not only her formidable writing skills and a willingness to stretch her storytelling into increasingly complex narrative forms but also her ability to tackle dark and weighty themes with sensitivity and respect for the child reader. Set in an intentionally undefined time and place that could very well be a near-future America, the novel opens with a heartbreaking scene of a tame red fox, Pax, being abandoned at the side of the road by his beloved boy, Peter. Perspectives alternate between the boy and the fox, and readers learn that a terrible war rages in this land. Peter’s father is about to leave for the frontlines, and while he’s away, Peter must live with his grandfather out in the country—and his father makes it clear that there is no place for Pax in Peter’s temporary home. Almost as soon as he arrives at his grandfather’s, Peter is overcome with guilt, and he sets off under the cover of darkness to trek the 300 miles back to his home, where he prays he’ll find Pax. The loyal fox, meanwhile, must figure out how to survive in the wild—though never losing hope that his boy will return for him. As the protagonists struggle to reunite in a world in the grip of violence and destruction, they each find helpers who assist them on their respective journeys: Peter breaks his foot and is rehabilitated by Vola, a hermit suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, while Pax is taken in by a leash of foxes who teach him the basics of foraging and hunting. Pennypacker doesn’t shy away from some of the more realistic aspects of war, though she keeps most of the violence slightly off-screen: in one scene, the wild foxes define war for the naive Pax as a “human sickness” that causes them to turn on their own kind, akin to rabies; later, as the battle creeps closer, several creatures are maimed and killed by land mines. Black-and-white drawings by Klassen offer a respite for readers, while adding to the haunting atmosphere.With spare, lyrical prose, Pennypacker manages to infuse this tearjerker with a tender hope, showing that peace and love can require just as much sacrifice as war. VERDICT: A startling work of fiction that should be read—and discussed—by children and adults alike.–Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal


Jason Reynolds, Ghost (S. & S. / Atheneum)

ghostredstarREYNOLDS, Jason. Ghost. 192p. (Track: Bk. 1). S. & S./Atheneum. Aug. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481450157.

Gr 5-9 –Castle “Ghost” Crenshaw lives with his single mother; his father is serving time in prison after firing a gun at Ghost and his mom three years ago—and Ghost has been running ever since. While running one day, he stops to watch a track practice and decides to crash the race. Impressed, the coach offers him a position on the team. His mom reluctantly agrees to let him join as long as he can behave himself and stay out of trouble in school. This is a struggle for the impulsive Ghost, but with Coach’s help, he learns the advantages of diligent practice and teamwork. Reynolds paints a realistic picture of a boy who needs the support of his community to channel his talent and energy. Supporting adult characters, like shop owner Mr. Charles and Coach, are positive, nuanced, and well-developed. The diverse team members are dealing with their own struggles, which will be explored in three future installments. The consequences for Ghost’s misbehavior are somewhat inconsistent, but the detailed and informative descriptions of running and training with an elite track team more than make up for this. VERDICT: The focus on track athletics—a subject sorely lacking in the middle grade space—combined with the quality of Reynolds’s characters and prose, makes this an essential purchase.–Karen Yingling, Blendon Middle School, Westerville, OH


Caren Stelson, Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story

stelson-sachiko-cvredstarStelson, Caren. Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story. 144p. bibliog. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. maps. notes. photos. websites. Carolrhoda. Oct. 2016. lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9781467789035. Gr 5-8–Sachiko Yasui was just six years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on her hometown of Nagasaki. On August 9, 1945, she went from playing house with her friends to burying them. Yasui also lost a brother that day and would lose many more family members because of radiation sickness. Growing up, she was ostracized for her status as hibakusha, a bomb survivor. Despite her trauma and the bullying she faced, Yasui endured. She sought out inspiration from the likes of Helen Keller, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. Their works allowed her to make peace with the events in her life. Stelson recounts hearing Yasui speak at a ceremony to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This event would spark a long and intimate process in which Stelson repeatedly met with and interviewed Yasui in order to tell her story. Frequent historical notes provide context to the events happening in the narrative: Japan’s role in World War II, the issue of racism in the war, President Truman’s ultimatum, the effects of radiation sickness, the U.S. occupation of Japan after the war, and more. Back matter includes a glossary of Japanese terms used in the book and detailed maps of where events took place. VERDICT This sensitive and well-crafted account of a Nagasaki bomb survivor is an essential addition to World War II biography collections for middle school students.–Deidre Winterhalter, Niles Public Library, IL


Nicola Yoon, The Sun Is Also A Star (Delacorte)

yoon-thesunisasloastar-cvYOON, Nicola. The Sun Is Also a Star. 384p. ebook available. Delacorte. Nov. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780553496680. POP

Gr 8 Up –It is Natasha’s last day in New York City, where she has lived for 10 years. Her family, living as undocumented immigrants in a small Brooklyn apartment, are being deported to Jamaica after her father’s arrest for drunk driving. Natasha is scouring the city for a chance to stay in the United States legally. She wants the normal teen existence of her peers. Meanwhile, poetic Daniel is on his way to an interview as part of his application process to Yale. He is under great pressure to get in because his parents (who emigrated from South Korea) are adamant that he become a doctor. Events slowly conspire to bring the two leads together. When Daniel and Natasha finally meet, he falls in love immediately and convinces her to join him for the day. They tell their stories in alternating chapters. Additional voices are integrated into the book as characters interact with them. Both relatable and profound, the bittersweet ending conveys a sense of hopefulness that will resonate with teens.VERDICT This wistful love story will be adored by fans of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park and by those who enjoyed the unique narrative structure of A.S. King’s Please Ignore Vera Dietz.–Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH

This year’s longlist was the work of five judges: William Alexander, Valerie Lewis, Ellen Oh, Katherine Paterson (Chair), and Laura Ruby. Their selections of what they considered to be the best books of the year were made independently of the National Book Foundation. A total of 326 books were submitted by publishers for consideration.

The 2016 Young People’s longlist includes a mix of emerging and established authors, including two ALA Coretta Scott King Book Award recipients; a Pura Belpré Award winner; a two-time Newbery Medal recipient; and an Eisner Award winner.

The remaining longlists for the poetry, nonfiction, and fiction categories will be revealed by The New Yorker at 9 a.m. ET as follows: poetry on Tuesday, September 13; nonfiction on Wednesday, September 14; and fiction on Thursday, September 15.

The winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2015 was Neal Shusterman for Challenger Deep (HarperCollins). Previous winners of National Book Awards include William Carlos Williams, William Faulkner, Sherman Alexie, Jonathan Franzen, Denis Johnson, and James McBride.

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  1. Toby berkowitz says:

    As a Senior Citizen i am so happy to see that just by the titles and the storylines, i feel such pride in the direction our younger generation is taking. I am encouraged to think that my idol John Lewis will not fade into oblivion. You all deserve accolades.
    My daughter, a teacher, is my mentor and we share our experience, strength and hope. Do the same.