Caroline the Future Librarian

Caroline Davis | LIBR 265-10 | SJSU | Wrenn-Estes

Seek by Paul Fleischman

Title: Seek
Author: Paul Fleischman
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Date: March 2003
ISBN-13: 9780689854026

Plot Summary: Rob Radkovitz was an only child raised by a family of adoring adults – his mother, grandparents, and aunts.  In spite of the support and love he has always received, Rob feels a void that was left by the father he never met, a radio DJ who took off when Rob’s mother was pregnant.  Inspired by his father, Rob becomes fascinated by the radio and spends his nights slowly turning the dial, surrounded by a crowd of voices.  He starts to search for his father through the airwaves, investing in equipment that lets him listen to more and more distant stations.

After his disappointing thirteenth birthday, at which Rob was sure that his father would appear, he abandons his beloved radio equipment and throws himself into the interests of his mother – language and writing.  It isn’t until Rob comes to peace with the absence of his father that he is able to pull his radio back out.

In his senior year of high school, Rob is asked to write his autobiography for a class assignment.  Thinking back over his life, Rob finds that it comes back to him in sounds and dialogue – and writes out his life story in the form of a radio drama.

Critical Evaluation: Seek, written as a script for a radio drama, is one of the fascinating books that I’ve read.  The first few pages seem confused – lines of dialogue that don’t seem to address each other, sound effects without any context, exclamations in foreign languages – but once the connections start to appear and the story begins to emerge, it becomes hard to put the book down.  There are no acts or scenes, the entire book is one continuous conversation.  If you’re forced to put it down, there is no natural stopping point, but it is a quick read and could easily be done in one sitting.  Writing it as a radio drama doesn’t seem like just a flashy technique, since radio is an integral part of the plot it seems like a fitting format.  Fleischman handles it well, using well placed pauses or interjecting lines of dialogue to create humorous moments, while setting somber moods in other parts.  It would be interesting to hear this book performed.

Reader’s Annotation: Rob Radkovitz only knows a little bit about his DJ father who left before he was born, and uses his radio as a means of tracking him down through the airwaves.

Author Information: Paul Fleischman, son of author Sid Fleischman, is the author of several books for children and young adults.  He often writes works that incorporate multiple points of view, sometimes in a play format.  Having once considered a career teaching history, Fleischman often sets his works in historical time periods.

When asked to give advice to aspiring writers, Fleischman said, “First, read. Writers are usually self-taught. Books are our classrooms, other authors our teachers. We’re lucky–we get to pick our teachers, and when and where to go to class. Second, write. As with learning to ride a bike, there’s no substitute for actually doing it. I never took writing classes or read books about writing. I wrote, and learned from my many mistakes and false starts.” (Source)

Like Rob in the book, Fleischman once owned a shortwave radio and used it to listen to stations scattered across the globe.  The boy on the cover of Seek is a picture of the author at about age 10.

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Drama

Curriculum Ties: Autobiography, Drama

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Discuss to what extent Rob’s interest in radio was because of his father, and what made him interested in it for himself.
2) How would this book have been different if Rob’s father was involved with film?  Or the internet?
3)  Was Rob influenced more by the absence of his father or the presence of his mother and grandparents?

Interest Age: 15 and older

Challenge Issues: some allusion to sex

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the book and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist available for viewing on

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: I participated in a book club when I was in high school, and this was one of the books I remembered reading and really enjoying.  Although radio is not the most advanced of technologies, I don’t think that this book will become dated.


Paul Fleischman’s website.


February 27, 2010 Posted by | Books | | Leave a comment

East by Edith Pattou

Title: East
Author: Edith Pattou
Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books
Date: September 2003
ISBN-13: 9780152045630

Plot Summary: On a farmstead in medieval Scandinavia, a girl named Rose lives with her six siblings, her loving father, and her very superstitious mother.  Rose’s mother is obsessed with the notion that the direction of a child’s birth will determine their traits and destiny, and has intentionally birthed each of her seven children for a different point on the compass – all the directions except North.  Rose tries hard to be a gentle and obedient East, but feels more natural wandering the surrounding countryside than doing domestic tasks at home (with the exception of weaving, one of her favorite activities).

The family sinks deeper into poverty, and Rose’s sister Sara (South born) falls extremely ill, when a white bear appears at the farm and says that he will return in a week.  If Rose will leave with him, Sara’s good health will return and the family will become prosperous.  During the next week, Rose accidentally discovers that her true birth direction was North – and her parents had lied to her.  Confused and hurt, Rose decides to leave with the white bear.

She stays with him for months in a castle built into a mountain.  A mysterious visitor comes into Rose’s room and sleeps on the other side of her bed every night, but she cannot speak to him, touch him or even light a candle because of an enchantment.  When she finally discovers who it is, an evil Troll Queen takes him away intending to force him into marriage.  Feeling guilty for breaking the spell that allowed the queen to capture him, Rose determines that she will find where he has been taken and rescue him.

Critical Evaluation: This creative retelling of the fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” is given realistic depth because it is set in medieval Europe.  Rose does the most traveling in the book, and refers to the countries Fransk, Iseland, Gronland, Anglia and Njord – recognizable as France, Iceland, Greenland, England, and Norway, her home.  The land of the trolls, enigmatically referred to as east of the sun and west of the moon, is located in the farthest reaches of the north, presumably the North Pole.

East is told from an alternating first-person point of view, shifting between Rose, her father, her brother Neddy, the Troll Queen, and the White Bear.  This technique is useful for keeping the reader aware of the developing plot in different regions (for instance, we know what events are happening at the farmstead while Rose is away in the mountain castle).  It is also useful to track developments and changes in the characters – the White Bear, who thinks in short phrases while an animal, narrates in complete sentences when back in his human form, and speaks adoringly of the Troll Queen who has him under a spell.  The defeat of the Troll Queen is not the climactic battle that the reader may expect, but the sweet love story that develops between Rose and the human White Bear makes up for it.

Reader’s Annotation: In this retelling of the fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” Rose feels responsible for breaking a spell, allowing the evil Troll Queen to capture a human man to force him into marriage.  Rose determines that she will do whatever she can to rescue him.

Author Information: Edith Pattou has written three fantasy novels for young adults (East and the Songs of Eirren books – Hero’s Song and Fire Arrow), as well as a picture book called Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden.  Pattou received a Masters in English from Claremont Graduate School and a Masters in Library and Information Science from UCLA.  She lives in Ohio with her husband, a college professor, and her daughter.

Pattou claims that she was inspired to become a writer after reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a child.  When asked to give advice to aspiring authors, she said, “The main advice I have for someone who wants to be a writer is to read.  Turn off the TV and read everything you can get your hands on.  Also, I highly recommend keeping a notebook.” (Source)

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale Retelling

Curriculum Ties: None

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Discuss and contrast the journeys that Rose takes in the novel.
2) Do you think the fortune of Rose’s family turns around because of the white bear, or because of Harald Soren?
3) Was Rose’s mother right to be superstitious?  Is Rose really influenced by being a North born?

Interest Age: 14 and older

Challenge Issues: alcohol consumption by a minor character

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the book and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist available for viewing on

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: I first became aware of East when I read a review of another retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.”  This was one of my favorite fairy tales as a child, because it casts the woman as the rescuer, so I was interested to see how it would be expanded into a young adult novel.

February 27, 2010 Posted by | Books | , | 1 Comment

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Title: Little Brother
Author: Cory Doctorow
Publisher: Tor Teen
Date: April 2008
ISBN-10: 0765319853

Plot Summary: Marcus Yallow is a senior at Cesar Chavez High School in San Francisco.  He’s technologically savvy and can easily trick the several surveillance systems at the school into not recognizing him, which makes it easy for him to leave in the middle of the day to meet up with his best friends and ARG team (that’s Alternative Reality Gaming) to play the best game ever – Harajuku Fun Madness.  The team is hunting for the first clue when they hear an explosion, everyone starts panicking, and Marcus and his friends are kidnapped by an unknown organization.

Marcus discovers that his captors are the Department of Homeland Security, who keep him locked up, repeatedly interrogate him, and treat him like a suspect of the bombing before finally releasing him with a warning that they’ll be watching him.  With the government spying on him, and his best friend still missing, Marcus launches an underground movement to strike back.  Using an encrypted web connection called Xnet, he and his followers fight the system that threatens to treat the innocent like potential terrorists.

Critical Evaluation: Doctorow’s novel is a technologically advanced thriller that will appeal to teens with a geeky side – and everyone can relate to the friendship issues and first love that Marcus experiences.  Among other things, Little Brother is a coming of age story, although most teens won’t face the same problems and enemies that Marcus and the Xnetters have to deal with!  One of the strengths of the novel is how well it describes tough concepts like Bayesian physics and cryptography in an understandable way, and makes us re-examine our understanding of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  Marcus is a great narrator because he can explain these advanced ideas so that even the average reader can understand them – in fact, a reader who is very knowledgeable about these subjects may find that portions of the book lag with too much information.  Not only a thought-provoking read about issues that we should all be concerned about, but also an exciting story!

Reader’s Annotation: When the US government imprisons Marcus, a high school geek who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and treats him like a potential terrorist, he and his friends find a way to fight back and protect their

Author Information: Cory Doctorow is a blogger, journalist, and author of several books and short stories about science fiction and blogging.  Doctorow is also the co-editor of Boing Boing, a blog that contains articles on tech, gadgets, science as well as business, entertainment, and art and design.  An activist for the Creative Commons organization, Doctorow has made his novel Little Brother available as a free download under their license.

Born and raised in Canada, Doctorow has also spent time living in London.  He married Alice Taylor in 2008 and has one daughter.

Genre: Science Fiction

Curriculum Ties: Could be used to illustrate the importance of Constitutional Rights.

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Compare the perspectives of Ms. Galvez and Mrs. Anderson.  Do you think there are times when the Bill of Rights should be suspended?
2) Discuss surveillance and whether you personally feel safer, or just watched.
3) How does Marcus’s dad change his views throughout the novel?  Would you be willing to be questioned if it  you thought it helped find real criminals/terrorists – even if you don’t find out whether it works?
4) Do you value security or privacy more?

Interest Age: 15 and older

Challenge Issues: sexual content, anti-government views, some violence and torture

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the book and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and others available for viewing on

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: Little Brother was assigned for this course, but I enjoyed reading it and think it’s a great book for older teens and particularly can be recommended for guys and readers interested in technology.


Cory Doctorow’s personal blog.

Little Brother online version.

February 25, 2010 Posted by | Books | | 1 Comment

Riot by Walter Dean Myers (Audiobook)

Title: Riot
Author: Walter Dean Myers
Publisher: Listening Library
Date: September 2009
ISBN-13: 978-0307583383

Plot Summary: Claire is the fifteen-year-old daughter of an Irish mother and a black father living in New York City in 1863.  The Civil War is raging, and the battle at Gettysburg just shifted the upper hand in the war back to the Union.  In July, a draft is instituted, which enrages the working class Irish in New York.  Rich citizens are able to buy their way out of the draft, and many of the Irish immigrants (who left Ireland during the Potato Famine) are living in poverty, and don’t want to fight to free slaves that will become competition for available jobs.  Furious groups of rioters roam the city, looting stores and attacking blacks.

As a child from both worlds, the riots cause Claire to think about her identity for the first time.  They also provide a chance for her to prove to her parents that she is no longer a child, and that she can make decisions for herself rather than relying on them for protection.

Critical Evaluation: Myer’s screenplay-like style translates well into the audiobook format.  There is a narrator who describes the action and directs the camera, while a full cast delivers the dialogue – which makes the presentation feel like an old radio drama.  It is easy to visualize the scene when it seems like real conversations are taking place between the characters (as opposed to having one reader doing all the voices).  The audio format also allows for sound effects and background music, an effective way to bring the story to life and draw in the audience.  For instance, the first scene depicts New York City in modern time, the 1950s, the turn of the century, and the 1860s – in each of these time periods, the street scene is described as we travel back in New York’s history.  Each of these vignettes has different background music, from hip hop to jazz, ragtime to fiddle music, which is used to draw us into the time periods that we associate the music with.  Sound effects in later scene, whether the rumbling of an angry mob in the background, or the gunshots of soldiers, brings to life the New York City Draft Riots of 1863 as depicted by Myers.  The audiobook also includes an interview with the author.

Reader’s Annotation: During the Civil War, a draft in New York City incites groups of rioters, primarily recent Irish immigrants, to loot stores and attack  black citizens.  Claire, the daughter of an Irish mother and a black father, finds herself caught between the two sides and struggles to define her identity.

Author Information: Walter Dean Myers is an author of young adult literature, including the New York Times bestseller Monster, which tells the story of a young man on trial for murder.  Myers particularly depicts stories of young African Americans living in Harlem, and addresses topics like gang activity and drug use.  He has won the Coretta Scott King Award for African American authors five times.

Myers was born in West Virginia and was given away to a couple that raised him in Harlem.  He dropped out of high school when he was seventeen to join the army, but remembered the encouragement of one of his teachers to keep writing.  Working at a construction job years later, he began writing about what he describes as “the most difficult period of my own life, the teen years” (Source), beginning his successful career as a novelist.

Myers says of his work, “I hope that the next book, story or poem that I write will be worthy of the time the reader spends with it. If it is then my life is successful. If it’s not, then I’ll try again.” (Source)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Curriculum Ties: American History, Sociology

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Discuss the events and factors that led up to the riots.
2) Does Claire identify more with her Irish mother or black father?

Interest Age: 12 and older

Challenge Issues: violence, some death, racism

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the audiobook and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews from School Library Journal available for viewing on

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: I was looking for a good historical fiction title and chose this one for several reasons – I was familiar with Walter Dean Myers and knew that he was a well-known YA author, I was trying to include more audiobooks and was interested in this one because it was performed by a full-cast, and I thought the issues that were being raised about race and identity gave it more depth.


Walter Dean Myers’s website.

Video of Anthony Morgan Choir of New York recording music for the Riot audiobook:

February 23, 2010 Posted by | Audiobooks | | Leave a comment

The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope

Title: The Sherwood Ring
Author: Elizabeth Marie Pope
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Date: October 2001 (originally published in 1958)
ISBN-13: 978-0618177370

Plot Summary: After the death of her father, seventeen-year-old Peggy Grahame is sent to live with her elderly Uncle Enos at Rest-and-be-thankful, the Grahame family’s ancestral estate in rural New York.  On the day of her arrival, Peggy meets Pat, a handsome young British scholar who is trying to study his family heritage and thinks that her uncle might have some information about his eighteenth-century ancestor.  But Uncle Enos inexplicably throws Pat out of the house in a rage, and even has little interaction with Peggy.

But Peggy is not completely left alone in the old house.  She is visited on several occasions by the ghosts of her own eighteenth-century ancestors, who tell her about the history of the Grahame family during the Revolutionary War.  In many ways, history seems to be repeating itself – and Peggy finds out why there is a connection between Pat’s family and her own.

Critical Evaluation: It is appropriate that the topic of this book is reflection on a previous era, since the book itself seems to be a relic from an earlier era in young adult literature.  Perhaps high school girls in the 1950s would have swooned over the blossoming relationship between Peggy and Pat, but The Sherwood Ring is very tame by modern standards.

However, a young adult book doesn’t need to be edgy to be likeable, and Pope’s book was certainly an enjoyable historical romance with a touch of the supernatural.  The plot was very formulaic – Peggy would discover a historically significant item in the house, and one of her ancestors would appear to explain why it was historically significant.  The modern setting with Peggy is just the framework for the real story of the book – the exploits of the eighteenth-century Grahame family as they help in capturing the outlaw British soldier Peaceable Sherwood, and the love story that develops between the outlaw and the daughter of the Grahame family.

In a way, using the apparitions as a plot device seemed very familiar – similar to Scrooge’s nocturnal visits from various Christmas ghosts in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol that serve to teach him more about himself.  Peggy Grahame’s visitors serve a similar purpose – telling her about the past so she can apply it to the future.

Reader’s Annotation: Peggy Grahame is ignored by her cranky Uncle Enos, and her only friend, Pat, a handsome British scholar, has been forbidden from seeing her.  Fortunately, she is visited by the ghosts of her eighteenth-century ancestors, who tell her about their exploits and adventures during the Revolutionary War.

Author Information: Elizabeth Marie Pope (1917-1992) was an academic who specialized in Elizabethan England.  After receiving her B.A. from Bryn Mawr and her Ph.D. at John Hopkins in 1944, she went on to become a professor of English at Mills College in Oakland.  She taught about the works of John Milton and William Shakespeare for 38 years before retiring in 1982.

Pope only wrote two works of juvenile fiction, The Sherwood Ring (1958) and The Perilous Gard (1971), which was a Newbery Honor Book.  Both novels are historical fiction, with some romance and a bit of fantasy – The Sherwood Ring is set in New York and is primarily focused on the Revolutionary War, and The Perilous Gard takes place in sixteenth-century England, based on the ballad of Tam Lin.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Curriculum Ties: Revolutionary War History (possibly)

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Compare the events of Peggy’s life to the story that her ancestors tell her.
2) Think of artifacts in your life that represent important events that have happened to you.

Interest Age: 11 and older

Challenge Issues: None.

Challenge Defense Ideas: This book has no apparent challenge issues, but if a challenge comes up:

• Become familiar with the book and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews available for viewing on

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: The Perilous Gard, Pope’s other book for young adults, was one of my favorite books when I was in high school.  I had never heard of The Sherwood Ring, so I thought I would read it.  I also wanted to include a historical fiction title in my collection.  (I still prefer The Perilous Gard).

February 15, 2010 Posted by | Books | | 1 Comment

Stardust by Neil Gaiman (Audiobook)

Title: Stardust
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: HarperAudio
Date: September 2006
ISBN-13: 9780061153921
Read by: Neil Gaiman

Plot Summary: Tristran Thorn was raised in the village of Wall, on the border of England and Faerie.  When he sees a star fall on the other side of the wall that creates the boundary between the two worlds, he promises to retrieve it for the most beautiful girl in the village, who has rejected his previous advances.

Tristran is not the only one interested in the fate of the fallen star.  On the other side of the wall, a witch and her two sisters plot to find and capture it for themselves, so they can use it to make themselves youthful again.  And a pair of brothers are vying to be the next Lord of Stormhold after the death of their father.  In order to ascend the throne, they must retrieve the Power of Stormhold – a topaz necklace that will be found with the star.  And in the midst of this there is Yvaine, a beautiful and bright woman who injured her leg when she fell from the heavens…

Critical Evaluation: As audiobooks go, it is always wonderful to find one that helps the story to come alive for the listener.  When the author reads the book, the audience is lucky to be hearing the story as it was intended to be told.  Listening to Neil Gaiman read Stardust was a pleasure, particularly because his British accent lent an air of authenticity to the voices of his characters.

By creating a wall that separates England from the world of Faerie, Gaiman uses a technique that I find makes fantasy stories like this more believable.  I think it is always more effective to have characters from the “real” world enter into the realm of fantasy – imagine if the Pevensies had been raised in Narnia, or if Alice had always been in Wonderland.  He was also able to use this boundary as a significant part of the plot – if Yvaine crossed into Wall, she would be transformed into a lump of rock.

I was familiar with the film adaptation of the Stardust story, but I’d never read the book before listening to this audio version, so I enjoyed noting where the plot had been changed for the movie, and getting deeper into the story.  For instance, there is a scene in the film where a unicorn appears to rescue Yvaine.  In the book, the unicorn is first encountered when it is fighting with a lion over a crown – a much more symbolic introduction.  The plot with the witch, particularly the ending, is quite different in the book (but perhaps not dramatic enough for movie audiences).  Also, Tristran is renamed Tristan in the film.

I was surprised how much more adult the book was than the movie.  There are somewhat descriptive sex scenes, a bit of graphic violence, and one use of the “F” word (otherwise, not much profanity).  I have a copy of the graphic novel version of the story (illustrated and unabridged), and Vertigo Comics recommends it for “mature readers.”  In my opinion, it would be appropriate for high school students, particularly older teens, who are crossing over from young adult fantasy into adult fantasy.  The amount of content is not overwhelming.

Reader’s Annotation: Tristran Thorn ventures into the realm of Faerie to retrieve a fallen star to impress the most beautiful girl in his village.  What he doesn’t know is that the star is actually a woman, and that he is not the only one seeking her.

Author Information: Neil Gaiman is the author of several works of fantasy and science fiction for adults, young adults and children.  He has written short stories, novels, comic books, and screenplays.  Many of his books have been adapted into films, including Stardust and Coraline.  Gaiman has won several awards and honors for his writing, including the Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, and the Newbery Medal.  Gaiman grew up in England, and currently lives near Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Gaiman describes his writing behavior and his experience of creating Stardust: “As far as I’m concerned, the entire reason for becoming a writer is not having to get up in the morning. It’s not writing when you don’t want to, and writing late at night if you want to. I’m a fairly undisciplined writer. I’m the kind of writer who, if a deadline is looming and I’m not there yet, will go off and take a room for a couple of weeks in a cheap hotel somewhere that I don’t know anybody, and do nothing but put my head down and finish the book or the project. It depends on what I’m writing as to how I actually write. Stardust was written in longhand because I wanted to inject the kind of feeling to recreate the kind of sentence structure, emotion, the whole thing that people had in, say, the 1920s. I wanted a slightly archaic voice. Most of all, I didn’t want to do what I know that I do when I’m working on a computer. I work on a computer as if I’m working in clay. You put down the kind of thing that you mean and then you look at that for a few seconds. And then you work into it, you delete this word, you add that word. You change the tense. You decide that isn’t quite what you meant and you use a thesaurus or whatever. There is no discontinuity. There is no break between your first and second draft. There is no first or second draft. What you have is an ongoing, improving first draft. With Stardust, I wanted to write a novel that could have been written, with perhaps the exception of two rather mild sex scenes, one moment of ultraviolence and the word “fuck” written very small, it could have been written in the 1920s.” (Source)

Genre: Fantasy

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Track the development of Tristran and Yvaine’s relationship.
2) View the movie version and discuss the differences.
3) Think of other titles that juxtapose real and fantasy worlds.

Interest Age: 15 and older

Challenge Issues: sexual content, some graphic violence, an instance of profanity

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the audiobook and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and others available for viewing on

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: I chose this audiobook because I was looking for a fantasy written for adults that would also appeal to teenagers.  It was an added bonus to have Gaiman reading his work.


Neil Gaiman’s website and blog.

Stardust Film trailer:

February 15, 2010 Posted by | Audiobooks | , | 1 Comment

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Title: Leviathan
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Date: October 2009
ISBN-13: 978-1416971733

Plot Summary: Aleksander Ferdinand (who likes to be called Alek) is the prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – but when his parents are killed, his claim to the throne is threatened and he is forced to flee with a small band of faithful companions and a walking war-machine.

Deryn Sharp, raised in Scotland, just wants the chance to become a soldier, but as a girl she is ineligible to join the Air Service.  Can she fool everyone into believing that she is a boy named Dylan, so that she can have the chance to fly?

In this alternative history based on the start of World War I, the two sides are divided not only by existing alliances, but by the technology each side depends on.  The Austro-Hungarians and Germans are Clankers, relying on their advanced machinery for protection and defense.  The British are Darwinists, able to manipulate the life threads of creatures to produce living weapons and transportation – such as the Leviathan, an airship based on a whale that sustains a complete ecosystem.

Critical Evaluation: Westerfeld’s steampunk version of world events provides a dose of real history with some widely imaginative details stirred in.  The conflict between Nature and Technology seems familiar – it was portrayed recently in the film Avatar, and was famously explored in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Without giving too much of the book away, the characters find that combining the two worldviews may be more powerful than either side alone.  It is an interesting premise, and the ending is left wide open for a sequel, which will surely delve deeper into some of the questions it raises and pick up some plot threads that were left unresolved.  Westerfeld has claimed that Leviathan is the first in a trilogy.

The third person narration alternates focus between Alek and Deryn/Dylan throughout the book, even after the plot brings them together.  Seeing the same events from different perspectives is a clever device, because it gives some depth to the viewpoints of the Clankers and Darwinists.  Westerfeld throws in some interesting historical details to enrich the setting – for instance, one of the characters is always accompanied by a domesticated Tasmanian tiger, a species believed to have gone extinct during the 1930s that would have still lived in 1914.

Leviathan would be a great read for any young adult, and can particularly be recommended for boys and reluctant readers.  The story is action-packed and will hold the interest level of readers of all levels (the writing isn’t particularly advanced, and since there is no objectionable content except for battle-based violence that isn’t too graphic, it could also be enjoyed by younger readers).  Although most of the history is imagined, there are some facts based in reality, which Westerfeld describes in the afterword.

Reader’s Annotation: In this version of World War I, the opposing sides are Clankers (dependent on advanced machinery) and Darwinists (reliant on fabricated creatures that serve as living weaponry).  Alek is an exiled prince and a Clanker, and Deryn is pretending to be a boy so she can be a soldier for the Darwinists – what will happen when the two sides meet?

Author Information: Scott Westerfeld is the author of the young adult series The Uglies, as well as science fiction titles for adults.  Born in Texas, Westerfeld married an Australian author (Justine Larbalestier) in 2001 and now divides his time between Sydney and New York City (depending on which hemisphere is enjoying summer!).  Before becoming a full-time novelist, Westerfeld worked as a substitute teacher, a textbook editor and a ghost writer.  He also enjoys composing music.

When asked about the difference between writing adult novels and YA novels, Westerfeld says, “The main difference is that the storytelling in YA is much more straightforward and direct: no lollygagging. Perhaps I’m a bit more language-focused in my YA work (teens are more into slang, poetry, and nicknames than adults), and my YA probably protags are a bit more uncomfortable in their own skin, in that teenage way. But I think that my basic themes and techniques are pretty much the same.” (Source)

Genre: Science Fiction

Curriculum Ties: World History (possibly, although the fact will have to be separated from the fiction)

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Discuss whether machines and technology can overpower nature, or vice versa.
2) Talk about how real history was incorporated into the story.
3) Think of other books and movies that show the conflict between machines and nature.
4) Predict what might happen next in the series.

Interest Age: 12 and older

Challenge Issues: None, except non-graphic battle violence.

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the book and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews from School Library Journal available for viewing on

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: I work in a used bookstore and became interested in this title after seeing it on display.  I was also trying to find titles that would appeal to boys.


Scott Westerfeld’s blog.

A book trailer for Leviathan:

February 8, 2010 Posted by | Books | | Leave a comment

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Title: Shiver
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Date: August 2009
ISBN-13: 9780545123266

Plot Summary: Grace Brisbane, an introverted and bookish seventeen-year-old, has always felt drawn to the pack of wolves that haunt the Minnesota woods behind her house every winter – particularly a wolf with yellow eyes that seems to look back at her.  Although she had been attacked by the wolves as a child, she does not fear them and knows that her wolf will never harm her.  When a local boy is killed, the town rallies together to hunt them down, and Grace discovers that they are actually werewolves that shift forms when the temperature changes – and that the wolf with yellow eyes becomes a yellow-eyed boy named Sam.  The two are meant for each other, but their time together is running out before Sam turns back into a wolf – permanently.  Can Grace and Sam find a cure before winter arrives?

Critical Evaluation: In the same way that Stephenie Meyer rewrote vampire lore, Maggie Stiefvater has created a breed of werewolves that don’t depend on lunar cycles for their transformation.  The paranormal romance that she crafts has the passion and urgency of a feverish high school romance (or – dare I say it? – the daydreams of a devote Team Jacobite).  The story is split between the first-person narrations of the two main characters, and each chapter is (helpfully) headed by the current temperature.  Stiefvater’s prose is often poetic, and captures the intensity of the two young lovers from different worlds.  The conflict comes from sources supernatural (How can they keep Sam from changing back?  Can they find the rogue werewolf that has been spotted around town?) and personal (How does having a boyfriend affect Grace’s friendships?).  I found Shiver to be mildly unoriginal and predictable, but it was a fun, romantic read that I would have devoured when I was fourteen.

Reader’s Annotation: In this girl-meets-werewolf tale, can Grace find a way to keep Sam from transforming back into a wolf – forever?

Author Information: Maggie Stiefvater (pronounced “Steve-otter”) is the author of two young adult series: the “Books of Faerie” (Lament and Ballad) and “The Wolves of Mercy Falls” (Shiver and the upcoming title Linger), which she plans to make into a trilogy.  She has also expressed interest in creating a graphic novel.  Aside from writing, Stiefvater has also worked as a musician and an artist.  Stiefvater lives in Virginia with her husband and two kids.

When asked why she chooses to write for a young adult audience, Stiefvater says, “I have a Peter Pan complex. I love writing teen protagonists because everything’s still new for them — the world stretches out with endless possibilities. I think that it could still be this way for adults, too, if they saw the world that way — but a lot of adults get into their rut and just keep going through the motions. I can’t see myself writing about desk jobs or normal adults . . . so teens it is. Also, I love reading YA and they say to write what you love to read.” (Source)

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Curriculum Ties: None

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Discuss how using two narrators allows the story and characters to develop.
2) Contrast Sam’s relationship with Beck and Grace’s relationship with her parents.
3) Think of the ways that the seasons affect the characters (not just the werewolves).

Interest Age: 14 and older

Challenge Issues: sexual content, description of a violent act against a child

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the book and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews from School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly available for viewing on

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: A review of Shiver on A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy piqued my interest.  I also thought it was important to include because it is a recently released book.


Maggie Stiefvater’s website and blog.

A book trailer for Shiver:

February 6, 2010 Posted by | Books | | Leave a comment