This is one in a series of monthly reviews of books for young people written by three area teachers of children’s literature. Today’s are by Barbara St. John, retired from Bowling Green State University.
Each year five books are named as finalists for the National Book Award in the category of young people’s literature. This year’s books have a common theme — survival. Readers will meet young people who listen, observe, and analyze in order to cope with the complexities of their world. They find ways to survive overwhelming odds.
GOBLIN SECRETS. By William Alexander. McElderry/Simon. $16.99. Ages 8-12.
Magic spells, secrets, and goblins abound in this 2012 National Book Award for children. Rownie is an orphan who lives with Graba, an old woman with magical powers. Rownie’s greatest desire is to find his older brother, Rowan. Rowan is an actor, which is a crime in Zombay. Wearing a mask and pretending to be someone else is not tolerated. Rownie’s love for Rowan helps him to free him.
The creation and use of masks is an integral part of this story. Students might want to try creating their own.
ENDANGERED. By Eliot Schrefer. Scholastic. $17.99. Ages 12 and up.
The Congo is a dangerous place and Sophie learns just how dangerous when she spends the summer at a sanctuary for bonobos that is run by her mother. First, Sophie breaks the rules — she buys a young bonobo from a street vendor. Otto becomes her charge. Then a revolution breaks out. Sophie and Otto head into the jungle. followed by the young sanctuary residents. Sophie must use all her wits to keep everyone alive. This is a must read for animal lovers.
OUT OF REACH. By Carrie Arcos. Simon Pulse. $16.99. Ages 14 and up.
When Micah, Rachel’s older brother and a drug addict, goes missing, she decides she must find him. She is joined by Tyler, Micah’s best friend. Their journey leads them to San Diego. The two find themselves in dangerous situations which force them to question their own motivation. Can a drug addict be rescued if he doesn’t want to be? Can you assume responsibilities for someone else’s life, no matter how much you love them?
NEVER FALL DOWN. By Patricia McCormick. Balzer+ Bray/Harper. $17.99. Ages 14 and up.
This book is based on hundreds of hours of interviews with Arn Chorn-Pond, who was 11 when the Khmer Rouge invaded Cambodia in 1975. This is a portrait of the genocide which followed as seen through Arn’s eyes. He learns to do exactly what is required to survive: “Never fall down.” He follows orders, does things well, and survives. Strangely, it is music which helps Arn to survive. Today he raises money for organizations such as Children of War and Cambodian Living Arts.
BOMB: THE RACE TO BUILD — AND STEAL — THE WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS WEAPON. By Steve Sheinkin. Roaring Brook. $19.99. Ages 12 and up.
Sheinkin carefully traces the development of the atomic bomb. However, in an unusual twist, he focuses on the spies involved in this historical event. The story is fast paced, and many photographs clarify events. Footnotes abound. Readers will be quickly immersed in this piece of history which continues today. “It’s a story with no end in sight. And, like it or not, you’re in it.”