Jamie Whitfield

Nearly half of those surveyed by The Young Adult Library Services Association said that although they enjoy reading, they don't have time. Teens need more time to read! The International Reading Association says teens need "specific opportunities to schedule reading into their days." If teens you know need help scheduling reading, now's the time: October 15-21 is Teen Read Week. This year's theme Take Time to Read provides the perfect opportunity to discuss books, and there are shelves of new books to recommend.

Know a teen interested in the latest scientific news? They'll be sure to make time to read two books due this month. Margaret Peterson Haddix's Turnabout is the story of teenagers, Melly and Anny Beth, who have lived over 150 years each. Once residents of a nursing home, they agreed to be part of an experiment on "unaging." The plan was for senior citizens to age backwards, eventually remaining 25-30 years old indefinitely, but the procedure didn't go as planned. Melly and Anny Beth find problems in getting younger, especially during the teenage years when they are trying to live independently. Searching for a family to adopt them before they become too young to care for themselves at all, they discover someone is searching for them. Turnabout is sure to spark discussions about aging and the problems facing each generation.

Blueprint, by Charlotte Kerner, is another discussion-sparker. Referring to herself as a blueprint rather than a clone, Siri is the offspring of Iris, a concert pianist seeking immortality after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. With the help of Mortimer Fisher, head of a reproduction clinic, Iris becomes one of the first self-generating single parents or as Siri says a "mother-twin." Now 22, Siri copes with her mother-twin's death by writing a bitter memoir, confessing that the "most effective horror goes on internally." Know a teen intrigued by adventures in worlds beyond our own?

Plan time to read The Wind Singer by William Nicholson, an adventure set in Aramanth whose slogan is "Strive harder, reach higher, make tomorrow better than today." It's a city where testing begins at age two and results in individual ratings. The rating itself means nothing; it's improving that determines how families live. Kestrel's rebellion against this system causes her family's shunning and her assignment to "Special Teaching." Kestrel, her brother Bowman, and the lowest rated classmate, Mumpo, set off to find the key to the wind singer, a device that may provide a source of happiness.

Teens will find a different world in Eva Ibbotson's Island of the Aunts. Inhabited by unusual animals, the island is tended by three very unusual, aging women. Needing help with their hard work, each kidnaps a child. Two initially frightened children, Minette and Fabio, eventually enjoy their chores and new friends the aunts, the mermaids, the selkie Herbert, the egg-bound boobrie. Then something incredible happens: they hear the Great Hum; and the third child, Lambert, finds his mobile phone and summons his father.

Based on an epidemic in Philadelphia over 200 years ago, Fever 1793 exposes teens to the hardships of living in a time that may seem like another world. From awkward low ceilings to the difficulty of fastening stays, from a cat devouring its prey on a new quilt to dogs barking and pigs running city streets, Laurie Halse Anderson takes teens into the life of Matilda, the daughter of a coffeehouse owner, during a time when a mysterious disease killed over 10 percent of the city's population in less than three months.

Carve teens some time for two books based on diaries of real teenagers facing the worst prejudice and persecution. Forgotten Fire follows Vahan, son of rich, well-respected Armenians living in Turkey in 1915, as his home shatters and he struggles to survive in a world set on his destruction. One Eye Laughing, The Other Weeping, the newest addition to the Dear America series, depicts the life of Julie Weiss, an upper-class Jewish girl in the Vienna of the 1930s, as her family's concerns shift from an eloquent dinner party to finding a way to stay alive.

Teens always find time to read about "outsiders." In Ghost Boy, Iain Lawrence's albino teen Harold Kline joins the circus freak show, and meets others more unusual than he. Though doll-sized Princess Minikin and Samuel, called Fossil Man, accept Harold as their own son, Harold soon learns he's as capable of cruel prejudice as those who gawk at them. Richard Peck's A Year Down Yonder continues the story of Mary Alice. She begins her 15th year living with Grandma, feeling like the only outsider in a hick town a long way from Chicago. She dreads life among those who won't accept her and views Grandma with suspicion. By year's end, she dreads leaving the town and all its quirky inhabitants, feeling she "was one of them now." Another continuing character is Jack Gantos' Joey Pigza Loses Control. Joey has gained control over his behavior thanks to a medication patch. Joey's mom is sending him and his Chihuahua Pablo to stay with his dad. There are two obstacles to an enjoyable visit: Joey's impulsive dad convinces Joey to stop using his medication and Joey's chain-smoking grandmother seems to resent him altogether, especially when the meds wear off.

Have I convinced you to celebrate Teen Read Week? Well, it's about "time"!

 

Jamie Whitfield has all the time in the world to read and write, now that she has retired from teaching teenagers.

Nearly half of those surveyed by The Young Adult Library Services Association said that although they enjoy reading, they don't have time. Teens need more time to read! The International Reading Association says teens need "specific opportunities to schedule reading into their days." If teens you know need help scheduling reading, now's the time: October 15-21 is Teen Read Week. This year's theme Take Time to Read provides the perfect opportunity to discuss books, and there are shelves of new books to recommend.

Walter Dean Myers is a virtual icon in young adult literature two-time winner of the Newbery Award; four-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Award; and author of numerous books, both fiction and nonfiction, poetry and prose. Myers recently took time to answer a few questions about his latest book, a biography titled The Greatest: Muhammad Ali.

Why this book on Muhammad Ali?

There have been a number of books on Ali, but they don't seem to place him in a historical context. Ali came along toward the beginning of the civil rights movement, and for young African Americans he represented everything they wanted to be. He was young. He was a very attractive young man. He was outspoken, not a hater, but still he was very much "out there." Another factor that attracted people, both blacks and whites, was the fact that he was one of the first major fighters who did not seem like a naturally tough guy. Muhammad Ali's nature was sweet. You could imagine him as being this guy who did poetry "float like a butterfly; sting like a bee." I thought I could bring him into the context of that era.

What made you focus on his professional rather than his personal life?

Well, there were a couple of things. When athletes reach Ali's stardom and come from a very limited background, it is very difficult for them to even understand how to deal with this fame and with people fawning over you who didn't even know your name two weeks ago. It's very difficult for these people to deal with that. All of a sudden you're famous. That doesn't happen to writers, by the way. There's another factor, too. So many times biographies get into the area of their subject's slips from grace. It sells more books. But, it's like defining Thomas Jefferson, who was probably the greatest president this country has had, in terms of "did he have an affair with Sally Hemings?" I think it's stupid, you know.

What did you find that surprised you?

The first thing that surprised me was although he was loved as a public figure, many fighters did not like him. They respected him as a fighter, and they respected what he did for them economically that he raised the stakes. You know, among fighters there is this fraternity of pain, the idea that all these guys go through tremendous physical pain. They understand that they do this, but what they want from each other is this level of respect. Muhammad Ali didn't do that. Ali was one of the few fighters who actually ridiculed other fighters. So while many fighters respected his skills and the fact that he would fight anyone who came along, many didn't like him personally. That surprised me. Another thing that surprised me was prior to writing the book, I looked at fighting as, "Oh this was an interesting fight; this was a good fight." I really thought fighters were different from other human beings, that they could take it. It didn't hurt them as much as it would hurt us. I found that this is not the case. The guys suffered enormous physical pain. I was also surprised at how many of them were very, very, badly damaged. The danger of the damage to the bodies, the brain is just so extensive. So it's really a much more brutal sport than I ever imagined it to be.

So you haven't heard his reaction to this book?

No, I haven't heard anything yet, but I expect to.

What's your next project?

I have a book coming out about my own growing up in Harlem, looking back on my first 17 years. I'm surprised at what a bum I was. My poor mom. I'm also working on a couple of projects with my son Christopher: a book on the blues and a book of Bible stories. It's fun working with him.

Walter Dean Myers is a virtual icon in young adult literature two-time winner of the Newbery Award; four-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Award; and author of numerous books, both fiction and nonfiction, poetry and prose. Myers recently took time to answer a few questions about his latest book, a biography titled The Greatest: […]

If one of your holiday traditions is gathering the family around for a good story, this is the season made for you. In addition to the tried and true gems from years past, check out the new titles sparkling on the bookshelves this year.

Thomas J. Davis' The Christmas Quilt glistens with the wisdom of childhood. It is a story of hope set in north Georgia's Smoky Hollow where, after an absence of more than 20 years, Uncle Joe writes Granny in June of 1942 that he'll be coming home for Christmas. Most of the family dismisses this as just another one of Joe's empty promises; all but Granny have lost hope of ever seeing Joe again. In the heat of a Georgia summer, Granny begins to piece together a quilt for Joe's Christmas. Within a few short months, the quilt is complete and the reader, having come to love this simple family, will understand the patterns of forgiveness that are such a central part of the story. It is the sense of family love despite family turmoil that makes this a perfect jewel to buy for yourself or to give as a gift.

Anyone who loves the songs of Christmas will enjoy Christmas Songs Made in America: Favorite Holiday Melodies and the Stories of Their Origins. Authors Albert and Shirley Menendez showcase the words and backgrounds of more than 40 seasonal songs that, though they have come to us from such diverse origins as Broadway and rock, Hollywood and religion, have the distinction of originating in America. The book is arranged so that you can enjoy an individual song and its story, a cluster of melodies focusing on one theme or a whole strand of songs. If the season doesn't really start for you until you've heard the first carol, add this volume to your shopping list and you'll know the story behind the tunes you're humming.

The Golden Ring: A Touching Christmas Story grew out of a story John Snyder's 89-year-old grandmother, Anna, told him about one of her own childhood Christmases. In retelling the tale, Snyder takes us back to the 1918 coal mining mountains of western Pennsylvania. The township of Myersdale is home to nine-year-old Anna and her five brothers and sisters. Anna's close relationship to her father grows even closer as they both begin having dreams that emphasize the giving and receiving of a ring. You'll follow Anna's family through their preparations for Christmas from cutting and trimming the tree to attending church and helping the less fortunate and come to understand why the ring means so much to her. The Golden Ring is not only a meaningful gift for those you love, but can also serve as a catalyst for giving and receiving your own family stories. What better package to place under the tree?

Joe Wheeler has earned the nickname literary Santa Claus for editing four popular story anthologies in his Christmas in My Heart series. His new volume, Christmas in My Soul, once again gathers stories that convey the holiday themes of inspiration, forgiveness and family love. In the introduction, Wheeler explains how the religious figure St. Nicholas evolved into the secular Santa Claus (Sinta Claes was the name given to the saint by New York's Dutch settlers) and concludes that every age and culture has reinvented the character of St. Nick. The six stories that follow are set in big cities and tiny hamlets. Some are humorous and some are heart-wrenching, but each conveys a sense of the miracle of Christmas. In The Invisible Christmas Trees, a World War II veteran journeys from his home in Maine to New York City with a load of Christmas trees, hoping to earn enough money to make his family's Christmas extra-special. When his truck and all the trees are stolen, the young man reclaims his dream with the help of an enigmatic woman. His story and the others collected in this slender volume, illustrated with period woodcuts, should help spread the magic of Christmas in any household.

Jamie Whitfield is a retired teacher in Nashville.

 

If one of your holiday traditions is gathering the family around for a good story, this is the season made for you. In addition to the tried and true gems from years past, check out the new titles sparkling on the bookshelves this year. Thomas J. Davis' The Christmas Quilt glistens with the wisdom of […]

Want a book that will have kids, no matter what age, giggling and laughing out loud? Roddy Doyle, author of the New York Times best seller A Star Called Henry, has penned just the book.

The Giggler Treatment begins as Mister Mack walks to the train station. A bird sings. A breeze carrying breakfast smells bacon, eggs, frog's legs, and cabbage only adds to Mister Mack's happiness. His children's kisses fresh on his cheek, he's on his way to a job he loves: biscuit (cookie to Americans) tester in a biscuit factory, on his favorite day of the year: figroll day. He's also heading straight for the Giggler Treatment.

What is the Giggler Treatment, you ask? Well, it's what Gigglers do to adults who are rude, dishonest, or mean to children. The Gigglers are baby-sized creatures whose fur changes colors to blend with their surroundings. They are always listening, ready at a moment's notice to inflict the Giggler Treatment on any deserving adult, until the adult begins treating children fairly again.

How do they go about setting up this Treatment? They enlist the help of Rover, a talking dog who has made a handsome profit from his affiliation with the Gigglers. If it seems as though I am digressing, I'm not, and neither does Doyle as the narrator gives asides seeming to go nowhere but always adding suspense as Mister Mack meanders closer and closer to his Treatment.

Only there's a problem. Mister Mack does not deserve the Treatment. Will the Gigglers, Rover, Mister Mack's children Robbie, Jimmy, and baby Kayla and his wife, Billie Jean Fleetwood-Mack, who is well on her way to climbing the highest mountain in every country, be able to stop the ever-approaching Treatment from happening? As they make their way to Mister Mack and he makes his way to the Treatment, readers will learn the history of the Giggler Treatment, listen to musings from a fish-hating seagull, learn why Mister Mack dreads cream cracker nightmares, lose track of chapter numbers (but not titles: one is named after Elvis Presley), and compare American slang to Irish, all while wondering where it's all going to end.

Well, I can tell you where it's going to end: in a fit of giggles.

Jamie Whitfield has managed to keep the Gigglers at bay, despite having a teaching career that spans 20 years and thousands of children.

Want a book that will have kids, no matter what age, giggling and laughing out loud? Roddy Doyle, author of the New York Times best seller A Star Called Henry, has penned just the book. The Giggler Treatment begins as Mister Mack walks to the train station. A bird sings. A breeze carrying breakfast smells […]

Patricia Gaffney has done it again. In The Saving Graces, she wove characters so real you felt a part of their friendships. Now, in Circle of Three, she spins a tale about a family so genuine you will swear you know them.

Like her first novel, Circle of Three has women at its center: a grandmother, Dana; a mother, Carrie; and a daughter, Ruth. Gaffney has the women take turns telling their stories so that, chapter by chapter, the threads of their lives braid into a multi-leveled plot.

Each woman is struggling with the constraints of her generation. Dana, facing the physical frailties that come with growing old, has fought to build an illusion of the life she would like and is afraid it will somehow evaporate. Carrie, adapting to the death of a husband she did not love, is 42 and reestablishing a relationship with Jesse, a man she has loved since high school. Ruth, in the midst of teenage angst, decides the way to grow up and retaliate against her mother for being with Jesse so soon into widowhood is to get a tattoo. Each character will remind you of someone you know, someone quirky and likable, but annoying. There are men in the lives of each woman, though all but one are more observers than doers. Dana's George barely speaks and is content to go outside and smoke in solitude. Raven, Ruth's boyfriend, dresses like a vampire and ignores Ruth after a make-out session in the graveyard. Even Carrie's dead husband Steve is notable only in his dying. It is Jesse who takes action, and it is because of Jesse that the circle of three is stretched almost to the breaking point.

It is in the pushing and pulling of each generation against the others that they are tied even more tightly together. The commitment they feel for each other is as much a part of them as the genes they share, and it is this commitment and shared history that provide the strength to move forward. It is also what will remind you why you continue to remain tied to your own family.

Jamie Whitfield writes from her homes in Tennessee and North Carolina.

Patricia Gaffney has done it again. In The Saving Graces, she wove characters so real you felt a part of their friendships. Now, in Circle of Three, she spins a tale about a family so genuine you will swear you know them. Like her first novel, Circle of Three has women at its center: a […]

Lurlene McDaniel, author of over 40 titles on young people facing life-threatening illnesses, has begun a new series spotlighting teens volunteering for missions in Africa. The first in the series, Angel of Mercy, introduces Heather, an idealistic girl from a privileged background whose experiences aboard a medical missionary ship and in a Ugandan health clinic prove life-changing. In the second of the series, Angel of Hope, Heather's sister Amber takes center stage. McDaniel recently talked with BookPage about her writing, her life, and her new series.

BookPage: Your One Last Wish novels and the Jenny books cover topics most find depressing — the illness and death of young people — but they are successful. What brought you to write about those topics?
Lurlene McDaniel: I was always a writer, and when my son was three years old, he became critically ill. The diagnosis was juvenile diabetes, and all of a sudden I was thrust into the world of the chronically ill. I learned it wasn't fair. There was nothing my son had done to deserve this disease and yet he had it. The first rule of writing is to write about what you know. Few people wrote about the chronically ill, so people who had illnesses never saw themselves in literature. I started writing about kids with chronic illnesses, and they were just enormously successful, surprisingly so.

BP: How is your son Sean?
LM: He's doing well. He's 30 and a businessman, still a diabetic and always will be. He coaches youth soccer.

BP: Do you have a teenager that you use as a sounding board?
LM: Oh, I wish. Sean had a brother, Eric, who's a youth pastor in Alabama. I can be around kids if I need to be.

BP: Do you write with an audience or gender in mind?
LM: I have always been amazed guys read these books and seem to enjoy them. Because I've raised boys, I like to think I can get inside a guy's mind. I try and make the boys talk like guys, sound like guys and react like guys. [Characters] say, "Well, you know, she's got cystic fibrosis, and that grosses me out." You've got to be realistic.

BP: A poll taken by Book magazine lists both female and male teens' favorite authors. Your name was fourth for females and fifth for males. This must be immensely gratifying.
LM: That blew me away. I am very privileged and honored when someone chooses to read a book, especially a book of mine.

BP: One of your books, Six Months to Live, has been placed in a time capsule at the Library of Congress, to be opened in the year 2089. How did that come about?
LM: That book got put in the time capsule because it was nominated by children from all over the country. Pizza Hut sponsors a reading program: Reading is Fundamental. This particular year, they invited children to nominate their favorite books and write an essay why. They were going to take the top letter from each state and put it in the time capsule. They notified me that Six Months had been the most nominated book in the competition. It had won in three states. The grand prize letter was from South Carolina.

BP: Why that title versus any of your others?
LM: I've often wondered what is behind the phenomenon of this book as opposed to other books. It's one of the first serious books they run across after they've exceeded the Babysitter's Club. They're walking through the book fair and see Six Months to Live. It's a great title, you gotta admit. They just are mesmerized that a 13-year-old girl who is normal, just like them, could get leukemia.

BP: Your characters are often in emotionally charged situations. Do you emotionally detach sometimes?
LM: No, actually, it's the other way around. You want to attach emotionally. I have been through a lot of medical trauma. I was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago and went through that trauma. I wrote the book Don't Die, My Love as I was going through radiation, so it certainly has an air of authenticity about it because I was there. I think all of my books took on kind of a deeper tone when the lady who wrote about cancer all of a sudden had cancer. I'm doing well. I went through it all and they said, ‘You're fine."

BP: Great. You know, many consider your works inspirational.
LM: Well, thank you. That's the goal I go for. You know not every book has to have a happy ending, but it has to have a satisfying ending. I like to tell young people—you know one in four children die by their own hands—no matter how bad things seem, just wait a day, wait a week. Life will turn around. I have known some magnificent young people who died very young but had wonderful lives and inspired many people by their short existence.

BP: Angel of Mercy and Angel of Hope focus on volunteers at a medical mission in Africa. How did you choose this topic and setting?
LM: I wanted to write about the third world and had the opportunity to go live in the trenches, so to speak. I wanted to show what it's really like for 98 percent of the world's population. Plus, I also see there are an awful lot of young people out there doing good things, and I wanted to give them a platform. I created a character whose motives were pure and good and she was going to go out and save the whole world. But the truth is, you can't save the whole world, but you can save one. And that was the whole thrust of the novel — to save just one.

BP: Heather, your main character, encounters powerful experiences. I'm thinking of that scene where the baby is lifted over the fence. Are any of her experiences based on what you saw or heard directly while you were in Africa?
LM: Yes. As a matter of fact, you just see a lot. Women walk in three days from the bush with a sick infant. By the time they get to medical help, it's too late. Children are dying of things we get a shot for. I saw that first hand.

BP: Heather certainly inspires readers. In Angel of Hope the shift will be from her to Amber. Does Amber's character differ from Heather's?
LM: Well, Amber is more self-centered and self-focused. Amber feels like her sister's shadow, an addendum in her family. Heather is the good, noble, smart one, and Amber has always tried to get attention by being the crazy, wild one. Well, in Angel of Hope, Amber ends up going in her sister's stead. The focus of that book and the next one coming out, Angel of Love, is how she finds her way out of her sister's shadow and into herself. That's really what those two novels are based on.

Lurlene McDaniel, author of over 40 titles on young people facing life-threatening illnesses, has begun a new series spotlighting teens volunteering for missions in Africa. The first in the series, Angel of Mercy, introduces Heather, an idealistic girl from a privileged background whose experiences aboard a medical missionary ship and in a Ugandan health clinic […]

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