Better Late than Never! Having worked as a Youth and Teen Librarian with Glendale for nearly 9 months, I am finally contributing to Book Obsession.
Next week the ALSC Youth Media Awards discussions will take place in Chicago and the winners will be announced on January 14th. Most of us don't get to attend the real thing, so last week a bunch of youth and teen librarians from the valley got together to hold Mock Caldecott, Newberry, and Printz discussions. Karen was part of the Mock Printz discussion group (YA books) and I was part of the Mock Newberry discussion (Youth Books). I thought I would take a minute to talk about the books that my group decided were the very best in youth literature from 2007.
I know what your thinking, why talk Newberry on a teen literature blog? Well... It is not unusual for a teen book or a book with teen appeal to receive the Newberry Medal or Honor. For example, Criss-Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins won the Newberry in 2006. In our discussion it was easy to see that most of the front runners this year would appeal to an older audience. Of the 3 books we chose for our Mock Newberry awards, one was written for teens and can be found in the teen section, and the other 2, though in the Youth Department, have teenagers for main characters and discuss situations that are pretty intense. They are worth looking at.
Our Mock Newberry winner is Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate. This book is just beautiful all around. Written in free verse from the perspective of Kek, a teenage boy from Sudan. He has come to the United States as a refugee from the slaughter in his country. Having lost almost everything that he knew, loved, and understood Kek comes to the American Midwest to stay with his Aunt and Cousin, also recent refugees. A depressed cow aids Kek's transition into his new world. Coming from a long line of Cattle Herdsman, Kek is able to hold onto a piece of his own identity through his love for the old cow he meets on his first day in America. Kek is thrown into a world completely alien to him(apart from the cow). He's never seen snow, gone to school, shopped at a grocery store, or used a dishwasher and yet while still trying to cope with the loss of his family, Kek adapts to his new world. The story is, as you must have guessed, very sad but it is also completely hopeful and ends on a high note. If this one doesn't at least get a Newberry Honor I will be miffed!
Okay, the next one on my list is Blackbringer by a new fantasy author named Laini Taylor. This one was written for teens and is shelved in the teen department. I know there are lots of people out there who cringe at the thought of another fairy book, but I am not one of them. Faeries in Blackbringer are not of the cutesy Disney variety, nor are they the slightly sinister slightly sexy faeries of Tithe by Holly Black (also a good read). Magpie and the other faeries of Dreamdark are a somewhere in the middle. Magpie, is a young faerie (by faerie standards anyway) who travels around recapturing devils that have been set loose by clueless and curious humans (Unfortunately devils were imprisoned in bottle, and the genie story is reeking havoc). An open bottle with the seal of one of the world's creators has been found, and the race is on to discover what deep dark sinister demon was important enough to be sealed in that bottle, and how he can be stopped before his darkness devours the living world. The plot is complex but fast paced and the characters are well developed. But what really will attract fantasy readers, aren't the faeries so much as the intricate world that Taylor created. The world is both geographically and politically complex, it has a real sense of history, it is full of the wonder and oddness one expects from a fantasy world, and I felt like I was there. I don't know that it will really win any awards (fantasies seldom do), but it's a winner in my book. Oh, and you'll love the cigar smoking crows!
Last but certainly not least is When I Crossed No-Bob by Margaret McMullan. Addy O'Donnell is a 12 year old girl in the post civil war south. A true Hillbilly from a violent and inbred family, Addy is in desperate straights. Dirt poor, half starved, and abandoned at a wedding she wasn't even invited to, Addy finds herself at the mercy of a newly wed couple who might be the first decent people she has ever had a relationship with. Mr. Frank a farmer and school teacher is dubious about an O'Donnell's ability to make anything out of herself but her loyalty, intelligence, and willingness to work wins him over in the end. Just when Addy is actually happy for the first time in her life, horror hits her world. While Addy watches helplessly, the Ku Klux Klan attacks an African American Church, worse still her own family might be involved. Still reeling from the sadness of this event, her father, turns back up to claim her and drag her back to the No-Bob, the land of O'Donnells, where she is sure to be abused, neglected, and married off to a cousin. Fiercely loyal Addy is now torn, who should she be loyal to? As the events of this book progress, Addy is faced with difficult decisions that she handles with ingenuity and integrity. This work of historical fiction is deeply moving, and incredibly interesting, bring to light a part of our nation's past that we seldom discuss or remember.