Great Reads for Teens and Tweens!

Helping you make an informed decision about that book

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Title: One Crazy Summer

Author: Rita Williams-Garcia

Publisher: Amistad    Year: 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0060760908

Genre: Fiction

Age: 9 and up

Awards: 2011 Coretta Scott King Award Winner, 2011 Newbery Honor Book, 2011 Scott O’Dell Prize for Historical Fiction, 2010 National Book Award Finalist, Junior Library Guild Selection, Texas Library Association Best Book for 2010

Themes / Subjects: Juvenile Fiction, Historical Fiction, Prejudice & Racism, Family Life, Travel & Culture, African American, Black Panther Party, 20th century issues, Civil Rights Movement

Plot Summary:

It’s the summer of 1968 and sisters, 11-year-old Delphine, 9-year-old Vonetta, and 7-year-old Fern embark on an adventure that takes them from Brooklyn, New York to Oakland, California to meet the mother that abandoned them many years ago. The girls have no idea what to expect, but they certainly didn’t expect to participate in a day camp run by members of the Black Panther Party. Cecile Johnson, their mother, “mammal birth giver,” is secretive about her work behind the closed kitchen doors and wants nothing to do with them. Set during one of the most tumultuous years in American history, One Crazy Summer explores the civil rights movement through the eyes of children.

My Take:

I actually walked away from this book with a better knowledge of the civil rights movement and Black Panther Party. The reader sees the historical changes through the eyes of Delphine, the oldest sister. Although she is just 11 going on 12, Delphine is extremely wise for her age and carries the added weight of being responsible for her sisters. I love how conscious she is of the differences between blacks and whites, yet she doesn’t allow her views or opinions to be mandated by others especially the Black Panther party.

Throughout the book, I kept hoping for Cecile Johnson to change and finally become the mother the little girls so desperately wanted/needed. However, through Delphine’s, Vonetta’s, and Fern’s journey I grew to feel sorry for Cecile and had a better understanding of her relationship with her children (or lack of one). This book is both excellent for teens and adults because the impact of that summer continues to affect us today.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Similar read: The Watson’s Go to Birmingham1963  by Christopher Paul Curtis

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Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Title: Little House on the Prairie

Author:  Laura Ingalls Wilder

Publisher: HarperCollins (75th Anniversary Edition)            Year: 2010

ISBN -13: 978-0061958274

Age: 8 and up

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Subjects / Themes: Juvenile Fiction, Family Life, Frontier, Pioneer Life, 19th Century United States, Farm & Ranch Life, Historical Fiction, Classic

Plot Summary:

Pa Ingalls is tired of how crowded the big woods are getting. So he decides to sell the house and move west with his family. Just before the ice breaks, the family loads up their wagon and heads out. They cross the Mississippi River and then head south, settling two days away from Independence, Missouri. Now they have to build a new house and survive the wilderness. Meanwhile, Laura is anxious to see a papoose. And with all the Indians in the area, she may get her chance.

My take:

Little House on the Prairie is a true classic that is not only enjoyed by children but adults as well. The writing is simple yet the story is captivating. It is a wonderfully enthralling educational adventure story that captivates its readers from the very first page. Although it is categorized as a fictional story, I consider this book non-fiction since it provides us with a pretty accurate view of the relationship between settlers and Indians and between pioneers and the government. This book and series is a great way to introduce students to the 19th century westward movement in the United States.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Similar Read: The Headless Horseman by Mayne Reed

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Poop Happened! A History of the World from the Bottom Up by Sarah Albee

Title: Poop Happened! A History of the World from the Bottom Up

Author:  Sarah Albee

Publisher: Walker Childrens; 1 edition         Year: 2010

ISBN -13: 978-0802720771

Age: 10 and up

Genre: Non-Fiction

Subjects / Themes: Poop, History, Disease, Science, Sanitation, Industrial Revolution, Humor

Plot Summary:

Waste disposal and sanitation have had huge effects on the development of world civilizations. Historically contagious diseases have killed huge numbers of people every year: the bubonic plague, cholera, typhoid, polio, etc… These diseases have shaped human history and their spread is linked to human waste disposal.

Sarah Albee explores human history through the progress of waste disposal and hygiene. She examines advances in sewer technology and how they affected different cultures and she explains how improper waste disposal is linked to the spread of disease.

My take:

Poop is not something we talk about in polite society so naturally this book’s title immediately draws EVERYONE’s attention. When I first say it on the shelf of the book fair, I eyed it over quite a bit before working up the nerve to take it off the shelf. Now that it is in the library, it is hardly ever on our shelves!

Rather than reading this book from cover to cover, I found it more fun to randomly flip through and read the stories. Tweens are definitely going to want to check out this book. Not only will the title have them giggling and perusing but add in the humorous illustrations and the flippant style and kids will be hooked.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars! Who knew that poop had such a long history!

Similar Read: How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous

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Drought by Pam Bachorz

Title: Drought

Author: Pam Bachorz

Publisher: EgmontUSA         Year: 2011

ISBN -13: 978-1606840160

Age: 12 and up

Genre: Fiction

Subjects / Themes: Young Adult, Slavery, Science Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, Historical Fiction, Cult, Dystopian, Social Drama, Forbidden Romance, Friendship, Family, Coming of Age

Summary:

For the past 200 years, Ruby and the Congregation have been enslaved by Darwin West and forced to collect “blessed” water for a mysterious visitor. Brutally beaten and starved, the Congregation waits and endures for their savior, Otto to arrive and deliver them from their hell. Few people know that the secret to the water is Ruby’s blood which gives it healing and life-sustaining properties. When Ruby falls in love with an overseer she is greatly conflicted with the desire to escape oppression and live in the modern world, and the obligation to endure and sustain with the Congregation.

My Take:

BORING! Not only did the Congregants have to wait and endure until Otto arrived, but I spent the whole book waiting and enduring a poor storyline for something to happen. This book just seemed to drag on and on with very little action and not enough description. Based on how this book ended, I have a very bad feeling that Pam Bachorz is planning on releasing a sequel, gosh I hope not. Although, maybe it will be one of those rare cases where the sequel is actually better than the original but I doubt it. I guess we’ll just have to wait some more to find out. There just wasn’t enough information and back story to truly understand the Congregants plight. And what little action there was lasted no more than a couple pages.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars … I didn’t absolutely hate the book and the concept of it is interesting, I was just so bored.

Similar Read: I’m not sure what to recommend because I would hate for it to be another dud.

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Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson

Title: Titanic: Voices from the Disaster

Author: Deborah Hopkinson

Publisher: Scholastic Press    Year: 2012

ISBN-13: 978-0545116749

Genre: Non-Fiction

Age: 8 and up (according to the publisher)

Themes / Subjects: Shipwrecks, Titanic (Steamship), North Atlantic Ocean, History

Plot Summary:

The voices and stories of real TITANIC survivors and witnesses to the disaster are weaved together in a heart stopping action, nail biting drama filled with fascinating historical details, archival photographs on nearly every page and quotes from primary sources. Hopkinson’s book follows the stories of nine-year-old Frankie Goldsmith; Violet Jessop, a young stewardess; Jack Thayer, an American high school senior; Colonel Archibald Gracie, a well-to-do gentleman; William Murdoch, a brave seaman; Charlotte Collyer, a young mother on her way to start a new life; and many others.

My Take:

We recently put this book into our library system and with the recent re-release of James Cameron’s Titanic (the movie) and upcoming anniversary of the event, I thought it would be an interesting read.

Deborah Hopkinson’s style of writing is very similar to James Swanson (I just reviewed his book Chasing Lincoln’s Killer below) in that she takes factual information and weaves it into a historical retelling of that fateful night. It is absolutely heart-wrenching to read first-hand accounts of families having to make the most difficult decisions of their lives. When the women and children boarded the life boats, little did they know that they would never see their husbands/fathers again. This book really made me think about how I would have reacted had I been on the Titanic.

The publisher of this book suggests kids ages 8 and up to read the book, but because of the chilling nature I would suggest at least 12 years old. I seriously had nightmares where I was stuck on a sinking ship, had the potential to be rescued but was told I couldn’t bring my babies. On a happier note, this book is a wealth of information and I learned a lot about the Titanic in a non-boring way.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars. I just could not put this book down! I would be reading until the wee hours of the morning and fall asleep with the book on my chest. Then when I would wake up in the morning I would be rushing off (usually late) to work because I tried to squeeze in just one more chapter, or two, or three …

Similar read: Shutting Out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880-1924 by Deborah Hopkinson … I am seriously looking forward to reading more nonfiction books by Deborah Hopkinson and James Swanson.

Just for fun: The release of this book was actually planned to coincide with the 100th anniversay of the sinking of the Titanic!

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Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson

Title: Chasing Lincoln’s Killer

Author: James L. Swanson

Publisher: Scholastic Press    Year: 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0545204705

Genre: Non-Fiction

Age: 12 and up

Awards: YALSA Best Book for Young Adults

Themes / Subjects: Biography, memoir, president, Abraham Lincoln, education & reference, American history, John Wilkes Booth, Civil War, manhunt,

Plot Summary:

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer is an account of Lincoln’s assassination and the 12-day manhunt for his killer, the famous (now infamous) actor John Wilkes Booth. Although nonfiction, this book will read like a historical thriller, as Swanson uses dialogue and text from original sources adding to the authenticity and chilliness of the story. The sentences are short and the chapters condensed yet full of excellent black and white illustrations to compliment the text.

My Take:

Usually when tweens/teens hear the word nonfiction they automatically think boring books about facts. I used to think that too and relied only on the nonfiction section for research. So when student after student suggested I read James Swanson’s book Chasing Lincoln’s Killer I did so reluctantly.

This is how learning about history should be! Swanson is an absolute magician when it comes to weaving together pieces of history and testimony to recreate the manhunt for the infamous John Wilkes Booth beginning with the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and ending with Booth’s capture twelve days later. I love history and thought I knew everything about Lincoln’s assassination but this book proved there was still so much more to learn. Swanson at times goes into gruesome, in-depth detail which only serves to captivate the reader and motivate them to keep reading. I was absolutely blown away to learn how many people helped Booth escape and the number of close calls he had with getting caught. My favorite part was seeing pictures and reproductions of all the conspirators, locations, and newspapers/cartoons surrounding this event in history.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5. The reason I can’t give this book a full five stars, is that many times I felt like I was rereading certain pages. The author can be a bit repetitive at the beginning of the book but by the end I was more focused on John Wilkes Booth then whether or not I had already read a certain piece of information.

Similar read: Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson

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Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Title: Al Capone Does My Shirts

Author: Gennifer Choldenko

Publisher: Perfection Learning     Year: 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0756970208

Genre: Fiction

Age: 10 and up

Awards: Newbery Honor, NYPL’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, Publishers Weekly Best Book 2004, ALA Best Book for Young Adults 2005, ALA Notable Book 2005, New York Public Library Best Book for Teen Age 2005

Themes / Subjects: Alcatraz, Special Needs, Relationships, Coming of Age, Friendships, 1930s, Famous convicts of the 1930s, Family, Social Issues

Plot Summary:

It is 1935, right in the midst of the Great Depression when Moose Flanagan’s father takes a job as a prison guard on Alcatraz Island. This means the whole family, including his mom and older sister, Natalie, have to live on the island, within the shadow of the prison, in an apartment building with the families of the other guards. Moose is not happy about leaving his home and friends in Santa Monica to take up residence next to a prison. Moose adjusts to life in a strange new place, stuck with the responsibility of looking after his sister, hardly seeing his parents, and getting to know the other children on the island, including the pretty and problematic Piper, the daughter of the Warden.

My Take:

When I first saw this book in the school library three years ago, I thought it sounded silly. I was expecting a comedy, maybe some boy humor too. I totally judged this book by the cover. And it was totally not what I expected. Sure there is humor sprinkled throughout the book, but I was so surprised how serious the book was.  The story is told by Moose Flanagan, a 12-year-old boy whose family has recently moved to Alcatraz because of his father’s job. I expected the book to be about Moose’s relationship with Alcatraz and fitting in, which it does a little, but the bulk of the book is about Moose’s relationship with his special needs sister.

What I love most about this book was reading about their relationship and how Natalie’s special needs affect the entire family. It really is tough love.  I really believe this book could help teens to understand people with special needs and that they deserve to be treated with the same respect as everyone else. This story is really deep and has so many wonderful messages yet the setting and time period help to keep it light.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars … I think Al Capone would be delighted to know he plays a vital, positive, role in a young teen’s life in this novel

Similar read: The Children of Alcatraz: Growing Up on the Rock by Claire Rudolph Murphy … A great non-fiction read to learn more about life on Alcatraz with real stories from the kids who lived there.

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