This is one in a series of periodic reviews written by four area teachers of children's literature. Today's are by Dr. Alexa Sandmann, associate professor in the University of Toledo's college of education.
This month's reviews, almost exclusively, are award-winning books for adolescents. The first four reviews honor those books which received the Michael L. Prinz award, which is announced annually at the midwinter meetings of the American Library Association. Also included are the more well-known Caldecott and Newbery winners. Prinz award winners, named for a Topeka, Kan., librarian, must be young-adult books or be deemed appropriate for young adults ages 12-18.
The last two books also won awards which are only sometimes presented, the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award and the New Talent Illustrator Award. As their name suggests, only African-American writers or illustrators new to publishing are eligible. Chill Wind, winner of the Author award, is most appropriate for high school readers, but The Moon Ring is appropriate for all.
THE PRINZ AWARD
POSTCARDS FROM NO MAN'S LAND. Written by Aiden Chambers. Dutton Books. Ages 14 and up. &tab;$19.99.
The winner as well of England's prestigious Carnegie Medal, Postcards from No Man's Land is a most engaging book. While it addresses art, homosexuality, and euthanasia, it is much more a story of World War II and Germany's occupation of Holland. Chambers deftly weaves the contemporary story of 17-year-old Jacob, who has come to Amsterdam to honor his British grandfather who died in a nearby town. It also is the historical story of his grandfather as a young man when he and his military company were trying to liberate Amsterdam. Chamber's willingness to address significant topics in a straightforward and genuine way will draw adolescents to value his writing and cause them to think carefully about the issues.
PRINZ HONOR BOOKS
HOLE IN MY LIFE. Written by Jack Gantos. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Ages 14 and up. $16.
While Gantos' writing is oftentimes humorous, this autobiography is far from funny. Gantos reveals all, including the time he spent in jail for running drugs along the Atlantic coast. The good news of such a book is that the reader comes to understand the circumstances - without excuses - which led to his decision to run the drugs, as well as the result, an extended time in jail. Most significantly, Gantos moved from one who wanted to write to becoming a writer. How? He simply started writing, his salvation.
MY HEARTBEAT. Written by Garret Freyman-Weyr. Houghton Mifflin. Ages 14+. $15.
Fourteen-year-old Ellen comes of age in this book about relationships, about the “unwritten social laws” that she is only beginning to understand when a ninth-grade classmate of hers asks if her brother, Link, and his best friend, James, are a “couple.” Ellen talks with her mother, who explains that she doesn't know, because she hasn't asked. She implies that if something is not said aloud, it cannot be true, whatever the issue is. Her father lives that perspective even more fully.
This is a powerful book about family dynamics, well worth reading, and most of all discussing, in classrooms or out.
THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION. Written by Nancy Farmer. Richard Jackson/Atheneum. Ages 12 and up. $17.95.
A previous winner of the National Book Award, The House of the Scorpion was simultaneously named a Prinz Honor book as it was named a Newbery Honor book, and therefore was reviewed in March with the Newbery winners. Our reviewer wrote:
This story, set in some imprecise future time, centers on Matt Alacran, a clone of the 140-year-old drug lord who is his current protector and mentor. When the patriarch dies, Matt's life is in danger, so he escapes into a world he has only heard described. This world, too, undervalues him, but Matt fights to do what he believes is right, especially when it is someone else who needs his help. Matt is an unlikely hero but a hero all the same.
CORETTA SCOTT KING/JOHN STEPTOE NEW TALENT AUTHOR AWARD
CHILL WIND. Written by Janet McDonald. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Ages 14 and up. $16.
Another book for older readers, Chill Wind focuses on 19-year-old welfare mother Aisha Ingram. The mother of two who does not receive support from their father gets a 60-day notice of termination of benefits. The “chilling out” that had been her mantra while the food stamps and assistance checks were regular features of her life starts to become the “chill wind” of real fear and potential homelessness, especially when the 30-day notice comes. The novel does have a happy ending, but it seems realistic; it would be an eye-opener for many teens.
CORETTA SCOTT KING/JOHN STEPTOE NEW TALENT ILLUSTRATOR AWARD
THE MOON RING. Illustrated and written by Randy DuBurke. Chronicle Books. Ages 5-8. $15.95.
Young African-American Maxine makes a wish on the “blue moon,” a time when the moon is full for the second time in a month, her grandmother explains. Just as grandmother predicts, her wish is granted. The colorful illustrations draw the reader in to enjoy Maxine's adventures right along with her, riding a giraffe, hanging out with the penguins, landing in New York City, and returning home with her as well. Was it a dream? Outside her window are her new friends!