The weather is getting nice . . .
Ms. Bartels Recommends
No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien
Yes, yes, it's that Tolkien. Simon is J.R.R.Tolkien's grandson, and the book is dedicated to his famous grandfather, who fought in the Somme in the summer and early fall of 1916. This epic novel begins in 1910 and sweeps the reader into the war years in a coming-of-age tale that is shattering, painful, and beautifully written. Issues of class strife are threaded throughout, and for anyone who watched "Downton Abbey" and was intrigued by the changes that were happening in England as big manor houses gave way to a more balanced relationship between the wealthy and the working classes, this book will add to that story. And readers will love Adam, the reluctant "hero" of this story. His life has been a hell, and his intellect and good heart have made it possible for him to advance in society, but the call of war cannot be ignored for long. The fact that it is also a beautifully rendered love story is just the icing on the cake. My World War I obsession continues, and this played into it very nicely.
"From the slums of London to the riches of an Edwardian country house; from the hot, dark seams of a Yorkshire coalmine to the exposed terrors of the trenches, Adam Raine's journey from boy to man is set against the backdrop of a society violently entering the modern world.
Adam Raine is a boy cursed by misfortune. His impoverished childhood in the slums of Islington is brought to an end by a tragedy that sends him north to Scarsdale, a hard-living coalmining town where his father finds work as a union organizer. But it isn't long before the escalating tensions between the miners and their employer, Sir John Scarsdale, explode with terrible consequences.
In the aftermath, Adam meets Miriam, the Rector's beautiful daughter, and moves into Scarsdale Hall, an opulent paradise compared with the life he has been used to before. But he makes an enemy of Sir John's son, Brice, who subjects him to endless petty cruelties for daring to step above his station.
When love and an Oxford education beckon, Adam feels that his life is finally starting to come together – until the outbreak of war threatens to tear everything apart." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 9+
Ms. Ricker Recommends
New Kid by Jerry Craft
Comic book authors are really getting it right for their middle grade readers. For students who love Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, and Cece Bell, Jerry Craft has a new graphic novel with another authentic and humorous take on life as a middle school student. In New Kid, Craft draws on his own experiences as an African American student from Washington Heights who commuted to Fieldston every day. In this novel, Jordan Banks grapples with living in two worlds when he is accepted to the prestigious "Riverdale Academy Day School." Race plays a large role in this novel, but the lessons never feel heavy-handed. There's a lot of humor here and Craft does a great job of showing that things are not always as they seem. For example, the white student from an affluent family feels jealous of Jordan because Jordan's father is always available to come to his sporting events. This book pairs well with Bell's El Deafo, as both characters draw on their inner superhero to overcome the difficulties of middle school. Jerry Craft will be on campus on May 2nd to speak to students about his work – please contact Ms. Ricker for a copy of his book to read prior to his visit.
"Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade. As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds – and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his friends and staying true to himself?" ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 6+
Ms. Kazan Recommends
What the Night Sings by Vesper Stamper
This debut novel is both simultaneously depressing and uplifting, as many Holocaust books are. What makes Stamper's book so unique are the vividly poignant illustrations that accompany the affecting text. This is not a graphic novel, though, as the drawings serve to enhance the story rather than tell it. Readers will be stunned by what Gerta must endure as a prisoner in the ghettos, concentration camps, and death camps she inhabits. But it's her possible betrayal by her stepmother that seems the most shocking. Though filled with horrors, the story contains enough hope in Gerta's future and inherently good people to make it suitable for middle school readers.
"After losing her family and everything she knew in the Nazi concentration camps, Gerta is finally liberated, only to find herself completely alone. Without her Papa, her music, or even her true identity, she must move past the task of surviving and onto living her life. In the displaced persons camp where she is staying, Gerta meets Lev, a fellow teen survivor who she just might be falling for, despite her feelings for someone else. With a newfound Jewish identity she never knew she had, and a return to the life of music she thought she lost forever, Gerta must choose how to build a new future." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 7+
Ms. Matlin Recommends
Witchmark by C.L. Polk
When I saw this title had made multiple best-of-2018 lists and was a Nebula nominee for best novel, I knew I would have to read it. I'm normally a reader who cares more about plot advancement and character development than setting or literary style. While Witchmark's steampunk-y/magical world of an alternate Great War is gorgeously detailed and the plotting is well-paced and appropriately complex, the elegant prose was really the star here. Polk has a way of spinning words that mirrors the artistry of her characters' use of magic; Miles's description of the haunting of his PTSD patients is especially poignant. For me, though, Polk is at her best when she describes Miles's longing for Tristan. Her skill with unfinished sentences perfectly mimics the heart clenches and stops felt when falling in love. I've already reserved my copy of the companion novel due out next February.
"In an original world reminiscent of Edwardian England in the shadow of a World War, cabals of noble families use their unique magical gifts to control the fates of nations, while one young man seeks only to live a life of his own.
Magic marked Miles Singer for suffering the day he was born, doomed either to be enslaved to his family's interest or to be committed to a witches' asylum. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man, but he couldn't leave his past behind. The war between Aeland and Laneer leaves men changed, strangers to their friends and family, but even after faking his own death and reinventing himself as a doctor at a cash-strapped veterans' hospital, Miles can't hide what he truly is.
When a fatally poisoned patient exposes Miles' healing gift and his witchmark, he must put his anonymity and freedom at risk to investigate his patient's murder. To find the truth he'll need to rely on the family he despises, and on the kindness of the most gorgeous man he's ever seen." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 9+