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All YA Nonfiction Coverage

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Eliot Schrefer is a two-time National Book Award finalist best known for novels that explore the relationships between humans and animals. In Queer Ducks (and Other Animals): The Natural World of Animal Sexuality, Schrefer turns to nonfiction to present cutting-edge research on a plethora of same-sex animal behaviors, from male doodlebugs observed “doing the dirty” by German scientists in the 1830s, to trios of greylag geese that care for nests and raise fledglings with higher success rates than pairs. The book incorporates personal anecdotes from the author, comics by illustrator Jules Zuckerberg, Q&As with working scientists and plenty of humor to create an absorbing, enlightening and entertaining read.

What inspired you to make the leap to nonfiction?
I’m in the animal studies M.A. program at New York University, and part of that coursework has been reading the long tradition of writers who have dared to question the assumption that humans are the pinnacle of creation. My fiction has long explored what bonds us with the natural world, but I hadn’t really considered working on a piece of nonfiction that would do the same. Then I happened across the burgeoning research into same-sex sexual behavior in animals and realized how much a young Eliot would have loved to have heard about that. That’s when I knew I had to write Queer Ducks.

How did you arrive at the book’s unique blend of formats?
For my young readers, there’s a good chance that the only science writing they’ve encountered is in their textbooks. There’s such a healthy amount of science nonfiction for adults (like Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus or Helen MacDonald’s Vesper Flights) that allows the author to take some space on the page to give readers more of an intimate access point to the science, and I wanted to create a similar work for teens.

The comics were the idea of my editor, Ben Rosenthal. I loved it. I know how often kid-me flipped through a book before committing, and the comics are welcoming to readers who aren’t sure they want to commit to a whole book of nonfiction text that they haven’t been assigned in school.

Same-sex sexual behavior has been confirmed in more than 1,500 animal species. How did you begin to organize this breadth of scientific information?
I decided to focus on 10 representative animal species and to have each chapter tackle an important research question. The wrasse fish enabled me to look more generally at evolutionary explanations for sex change in animals, the Japanese macaques served as an introduction to feminist biology, the dolphins let us explore the question of whether sexual orientation is a relevant term for animals at all and so on.

”When I talk about ‘Queer Ducks’ in public, I go in thinking that I’ll just be rattling through really cool animal facts, but I wind up tearstruck.”

You examine many analogs for a wide swath of human gender identities and sexual orientations and behaviors, including asexuality, polyamory, intersexuality, gender fluidity and more. Why was it important to you to be so inclusive?
This was maybe the most freeing thing about my research: Thinking in terms of “gayness” sort of misses the point when it comes to the natural world. Without the need to self-identify, sexuality and sexual identity in animals can be really polymorphous. Only the rare animal could be said to have a persistent same-sex sexual orientation; instead it’s all a version of bisexuality. I didn’t have to look far to find analogs for all the various ways humans self-present, except for when it comes to the extreme binary identities of homosexuality and heterosexuality. Those seem to be human specialities.

You also include your own life experiences as a closeted queer teenager. These moments really anchor the book. How did you feel as you worked on these sections?
I’ve been watching “RuPaul’s Drag Race” for years, and my favorite moment each season is when the contestants speak directly to a photo of themselves as a baby, telling them the advice they most needed to hear. I had 11-year-old Eliot in my mind while I was writing Queer Ducks. I was terrified that someone would find out the feelings that had risen up inside me. I felt weird and unnatural.

I’m grown up now and doing fine, but the thought that I might be able to help another young person feel like they are a natural part of the world after all was a big part of my inspiration. When I talk about Queer Ducks in public, I go in thinking that I’ll just be rattling through really cool animal facts, but I wind up tearstruck.

Why was it important to you to include the voices and perspectives of the scientists and researchers you interview in the book?
I wanted to include a mix of identities as far as race and gender identity and sexuality, and also a mix of approaches to science. I spoke with a couple of field researchers, a science historian, a biologist and a primatologist. I wanted my young readers to learn about what these people were studying, but I also wanted them to see how science is done and the diversity in who “gets to” do science. We need all sorts of people in science. As one of my interviewees, Mounica Kota, put it: “We have great diversity of other beings, but if we have a very homogenous human voice speaking, that doesn’t make for a great conversation.”

“‘Queer Ducks’ makes a space to think about how expansive and diverse the natural world is, how many ways there are to love and to be.”

I laughed out loud a lot more than I expected to while reading Queer Ducks. What role does humor play in this book?
Lucky for me that you’re a fan of nerd humor! I think one of the risks with writing nonfiction is that a tonal sameness can set in. This can deaden a reader’s emotional responses, and humor is such a good way to shake things up. Your average high school student reads mostly dry or even reverential material about the natural world. But there’s room for non-seriousness in the natural world, too!

What do you think readers will be most surprised to learn about?
The cattle industry, which operates largely by artificial insemination, uses other males to get the bulls in the mood to ejaculate! It has done so for decades. Same-sex desire is part and parcel of one of the most typically macho fields of agriculture.

I think readers might also be surprised by the prevalence of three-bird nests in shorebirds. Polyamory is frequent among these birds, potentially as a way to have more guardians for the eggs and chicks.

Throughout the book, you often mention that it’s impossible to know what animals think about all this. If you could interview some members of one of the species in the book, which would you choose to talk to and why?
Ha! Love this question. I think I’d sit (or should I say float?) with a wrasse fish. They have a mostly female society, with one male at the top of the hierarchy. When that male dies, though, one of the females changes sex within an hour or two and assumes the patriarchal position.

I’d love to talk to a wrasse fish who transitioned. What did his body feel like while it was happening? Did he have any volition in it? How did the group know that she—this particular fish—would be the one to become male? Wrasse fish also swim into the jaws of moray eels to clean their teeth, so I’d be curious if this fish had any dentistry tips.

As you worked on this book that’s mostly about animals, what do you feel you learned about humans?
I think we underestimate how fixated our current cultural moment is on narrowly identifying sexuality. Homosexuality is a word and concept that didn’t exist before the second half of the 19th century. For the majority of human societies and for the vast majority of our history as a species, acts could be same-sex but there was no persistent identity attached to them. Without that need to define what a person is, someone would be much freer to have occasional same-sex sexual behavior—which is exactly what we see play out in species after species in the wild.

Read our starred review of ‘Queer Ducks (and Other Animals).’

You discuss a warning from biologist Marlene Zuk, who asserted that scientists should “avoid using animals to argue about human morality.” How did you work to do this throughout the book?
I love Zuk’s article, because she points out that we can’t cherry-pick our morality from the animal world—and that using animals as moral guides risks reducing them to metaphors. However, in Queer Ducks, I’m not trying to argue for human queerness from animals; instead I’m saying that humans aren’t alone in their queerness. That queer behaviors are part of the natural world. That much is irrefutable at this point.

In the book’s final chapter, you discuss possible reasons why much of the information in the book has remained largely unknown for decades, including unconscious or even intentional homophobia within the sciences, and you address readers who may feel that such information challenges “the natural order.” What would you say to an adult who thinks teens shouldn’t read this book?
Given the dishonest tactics that politicians are currently using to score points by smearing gay people, it’s worth repeating that sexuality is not something that can be locked out of your schools and your family. The feelings crop up within, and when a young person feels alone and unnatural because of who they are, it’s potentially deadly. Queer Ducks makes a space to think about how expansive and diverse the natural world is, how many ways there are to love and to be. Of course the majority of animal sex is heterosexual. No one’s trying to argue against that. But knowing that same-sex sexual behavior has its place in the natural world might save the life of a young person.


Author photo of Eliot Schrefer courtesy of Priya Patel.

Teens will see ducks and doodlebugs in a whole new way after reading Queer Ducks (and Other Animals).
Review by

Two-time National Book Award finalist Eliot Schrefer is best known for YA and middle grade novels that depict environmentalist themes and relationships between people and animals. Endangered followed a teen girl and a young bonobo on a trek for survival through the Congolese jungle, and Schrefer was also selected to write an authorized sequel to the classic 1938 novel Mr. Popper’s Penguins. He shifts to nonfiction in Queer Ducks (and Other Animals): The Natural World of Animal Sexuality, a fun, refreshing book that will have dry biology textbooks shaking in their book covers.

Part research-based science writing and part memoir, Queer Ducks unfolds in 10 chapters that each look at a different type of same-sex behavior in the animal kingdom. From the nonreproductive intersex white-tailed deer known as “velvet-horns” to a number of bird species that raise chicks in same-sex pairs or polyamorous trios, Schrefer offers nature-based analogs for many types of human sexual orientation and gender identity. The chapter on doodlebugs investigates homosexual behavior between male animals, while Japanese macaques serve as the launching point for examples of sexual activity between female animals.

Discover why Eliot Schrefer turned to nonfiction to write ‘Queer Ducks (and Other Animals).’

Charming comics-style illustrations by Jules Zuckerberg open every chapter, serving as perfect little amuse-bouches before Schrefer dives into the hard science. Interspersed throughout the book are personal anecdotes from Schrefer that reveal how science saved him when he was a young queer person.

Schrefer gives readers glimpses into the scientific field as well, offering tales of data obscured or observations omitted from final reports and illuminating the closeting of this important knowledge. Q&A-style interviews with contemporary queer scientists provide a hopeful view of the path ahead.

“It’s humbling and freeing to know that humans aren’t the only creatures with complicated sexual feelings,” Schrefer writes, connecting the dots between the human and animal worlds. Readers will finish Queer Ducks having learned much about animals, but even more about humankind.

Read our Q&A with Eliot Schrefer.

A fun exploration of same-sex behavior across the animal kingdom, Queer Ducks (and Other Animals) will have dry biology textbooks shaking in their book covers.
Review by

Debut author Jetta Grace Martin joins forces with scholars Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr. to present the fascinating history of an iconic group of Americans in Freedom! The Story of the Black Panther Party. The result is a work of narrative nonfiction that will engage and challenge teen readers. 

The book opens by introducing the party’s co-founders, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, and depicting their early confrontations with police forces, in which they displayed independence that the Black community in the United States had not seen before. Engaging sections unfold in linear fashion and depict the formation, work and eventual fall of the party. 

The authors expertly integrate pivotal moments for the organization, such as the Panthers’ early support of the family of Denzil Dowell, who was killed by Mel Brunkhorst, a sheriff’s deputy. Inclusion of events such as the Watts rebellion of 1965, a six-day period of unrest sparked by the police beating of the mother of a man arrested for a DUI in a mostly Black neighborhood in Los Angeles, enables readers to understand the circumstances that energized Black communities during the 1960s and set the stage for a group like the Black Panthers, who could direct such powerful frustrations into a movement.

Throughout the book, the authors incorporate drama and suspense without sacrificing accuracy or integrity. Freedom! makes full use of the authors’ extensive research and frequently incorporates both quotations and photographs. The book’s back matter includes a timeline, a glossary and 15 pages of endnotes to support the book’s notably positive depiction of the Panthers’ accomplishments. 

The Black Panthers used a variety of methods and strategies to accomplish their goals, and their shifting tactics offer food for thought to a new generation of young people contemplating which coalitions, programs and techniques will help them become effective changemakers. Freedom! positions the Panthers within “the long freedom struggle” against not only all forms of racism also but imperialism and capitalism. It’s a thorough, thought-provoking and entertaining investigation into one of the most significant movements in 20th-century American history.

By incorporating drama and suspense without sacrificing accuracy or integrity, the authors of Freedom! have created a narrative history that engages and challenges.

Delight the teenager on your holiday list with a fabulous graphic novel or gripping true story guaranteed to make them swoon, giggle or gasp.

The Girl From the Sea

For the reader who longs to be carried away on the waves of a fantastical story

In The Girl From the Sea, author-illustrator Molly Knox Ostertag blends myth and realism to create a story about the things we’d rather keep submerged—and what happens when they surface with a splash.

Morgan Kwon is 15 and part of a power clique at her high school that serves as a frothy diversion from her unhappy family life. She’s just biding her time until she can move away from her small island town and finally come out as gay. 

One rainy night at the rocky seaside cliffs that are her favorite place to sit and think, Morgan slips on the wet stones and falls into the water. She’s rescued by a mysterious girl named Keltie, who is kind of cute, really, and an awfully powerful swimmer, but the instant connection between them threatens all the secrets that Morgan’s been carefully concealing from her friends and family. 

Ostertag (The Witch Boy) is an expert at conveying complex emotions and subtly shifting the mood from one panel to the next. Morgan is part of a group text message thread with her friends, which  includes numerous invitations that Morgan declines, at first because of her feelings of loneliness and depression, and later because Keltie is clearly not welcome among the group, even as she and Morgan are tentatively falling for each other. Ostertag initially depicts Morgan’s home life with her stressed mom and angry little brother in stark, silent scenes, but as secrets come to light and Morgan’s family reach out to one another, there’s a warmth to their time together that lifts off the page.

This graphic novel’s narrative flows so smoothly that you might find yourself reading it in one big gulp, and its resolution is bittersweet but hopeful. The Girl From the Sea is a wistful romance that will catch readers by the heart.

—Heather Seggel

Passport

For the reader who has always suspected there was more to their parents than meets the eye

“¿Qué está pasando?” Early in her graphic memoir, Passport, author-illustrator Sophia Glock writes that this phrase—which means “what is going on?”—is her mantra at the Spanish-language immersion high school she attends in Central America. The phrase is a lifeline as Glock navigates the usual challenges of teenage life, but it takes on another meaning when Glock discovers that she is the daughter of CIA agents who have been keeping her in the dark. 

Growing up, Glock lived all over the world because of her parents’ ambiguous “work.” What work is that, exactly? She has no idea. The more questions she asks, the fewer answers she receives. Just keep your head down, her parents tell her. Stay safe, and if you can, why don’t you let us know what your friends’ parents do for a living?

When Glock reads a letter that her older sister, away at college, wrote to their parents, the blanks in her life begin to fill in, though she is too afraid to confront her parents directly. Instead, like any frustrated teen, she exercises her autonomy and starts telling lies of her own. Boys, girls, drinking and partying abound while Glock travels through the gauntlet of adolescence and the tension between her ever-accumulating little lies versus her parents’ one big lie threatens to boil over.

Glock’s depictions of quiet yet consequential moments, such as when she ponders the choices her parents have made, are especially spellbinding. Her sparse, restrained art style evokes the feeling of a memory play, a recollection both real and ethereal. She renders the entire book in only three colors: shades of a reddish pink, a cold blue and white. Her characters aren’t always easily distinguishable from one another, and while that can cause some confusion in the story, the overall effect is satisfying. After all, how much does Glock really know about the people around her? ¿Qué está pasando? In her author’s note, Glock concedes as much. ”These stories are as true as I remember them,” she writes. The CIA’s publication review board nixed some of the particulars of Passport before it was published, which makes the details that did end up in the book all the more dramatic.

A deceptively spare graphic novel chock-full of depth and beauty, Passport is an unusual coming-of-age memoir that’s totally worth the trip. 

—Luis G. Rendon

★ The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor

For the reader who loves spooky castles and fears no gothic terror, not even marauding zombie bunnies

Haley is so exuberantly dedicated to gothic romances that her exasperated teacher orders her to stop writing book reports on Wuthering Heights (and no, she cannot do an interpretive dance about it instead!). After school, Haley sets out for home in the rain, and lo! As she stands on a bridge, dramatically sighing, she sees a man struggling in the dark waters below. She dives in to rescue the floundering fellow, conks out after her exertions and awakens abed in Willowweep Manor, attended by a dour housekeeper named Wilhelmina. Have Haley’s period-piece dreams come true? 

Turns out, Haley has indeed been inadvertently catapulted into a world much like those in her beloved books. There’s a castle (complete with “baleful catacombs” and an on-site ghost) and verdant moors, as well as three handsome brothers—stoic Laurence, brooding Montague and vacuous Cuthbert—who took her in after she saved Montague from drowning.

But Haley soon discovers another side to Willowweep. It’s a gasket universe, a liminal space between Earth and an evil dimension laden with a substance called bile that destroys everything in its globby, neon green path. Can Haley help the brothers fend off the encroaching forces of darkness before it’s too late? 

The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor is a hoot right from the get-go, but when everyone bands together to defend the manor, author Shaenon K. Garrity’s tale becomes ever more hilarious and exciting. Humorous metafictional quips fly hither and yon as the characters take up arms, squabble over strategy and realize they’ve got to break a few rules (and defy a few tropes) if they want to prevail. 

Christopher Baldwin’s art is full-bore appealing. He has an excellent command of color: Brooding browns underlie characters’ stress while sky blues highlight Haley’s growing confidence. Facial expressions are little comedies unto themselves, including horses who side-eye Cuthbert’s silliness, and slack-faced bile-addled bunnies who adorably chant “Destroy.” 

The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor celebrates and satirizes a beloved genre while encouraging readers to defy the rules and become the heroes of their own stories.

—Linda M. Castellitto

Find more 2021 gift recommendations from BookPage.

Looking for something to please a choosy teen reader? Look no further than these gripping graphic tales.
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Maybe it's the reality TV craze, but it seems that today's books for teens are less focused on moral lessons and more focused on the issues of everyday life. In honor of the American Library Association's Teen Read Week (October 19-25), we've chosen some recent books that typify this trend by reflecting the challenges and interests of a new generation of readers.

Inner-city angst
No one cuts to the heart of inner-city teen issues like Walter Dean Myers. The Beast begins when 16-year-old Anthony "Spoon" Witherspoon leaves his Harlem neighborhood for a Connecticut prep school called Wallingford Academy, which he hopes will help him fulfill his dream of attending Brown University. The only thing he regrets is leaving his girlfriend Gabi, who has a real talent for poetry. At school, Spoon's classes inspire him, and he gets along with his classmates. It's only when he goes back to his old neighborhood for the winter break that he realizes how much and how quickly things can change. His best friend, Scott, has dropped out of high school. Gabi is still the sensitive poet he left behind, but the stress of family problems has pushed her into drug use. Spoon's attempt to save her will change them both.

The author of several acclaimed young adult novels, Myers grew up in Harlem, and if the disadvantaged teens seem a little too good to be true at times, knowing that Myers has been there himself allows the reader to suspend disbelief. The Beast's ultimately uplifting ending will satisfy teens.

Finding the way
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Round Things by Carolyn Mackler explores the challenges faced by teens on the other side of New York City. Fifteen-year-old Virginia Shreves considers herself a loser in a family of winners. Her parents and older brother and sister are all thin, attractive, intelligent and fluent in French. Virginia is "larger-than-average," detests French and prefers People magazine to classic novels. Her best friend has just moved to Walla Walla, Washington, her clandestine romance with a classmate called Froggy is on the rocks, and her fitness-obsessed mother has decided that now's the time to do something about Virginia's weight problem. Confronted with the disapproval of her parents and the rude comments of the more popular students, Virginia starts a dangerous descent into starvation dieting and other self-destructive behaviors. When her brother, Byron, is suspended from Columbia, Virginia realizes that her family might not be so perfect after all—and finds a way to accept and discover herself. Mackler, whose Love and Other Four-Letter Words was an IRA Young Adult's Choice book, does an amazing job of capturing the wistful self-consciousness of teenage girls, and Virginia's transformation is inspiring.

Good advice
The mature lives led by today's teens have inspired a crop of self-help and motivational titles. Mawi Asgedom, an Ethiopian refugee whose inspiring memoir, Of Beetles and Angels (2000), was a BookSense '76 pick, offers one of the best. The Code: The Five Secrets of Success for Teens tells teens how they can improve their lives through knowing their inner character and refining their outer goals. Asgedom shares many inspiring case studies as well as his own experiences of overcoming difficulties in a conversational style that will appeal to teen readers. Each chapter is devoted to one of the five secrets and ends with a short section called "Your Turn," which gives teens the opportunity to put the chapter's message to immediate use. Asgedom, a graduate of Harvard, has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, named by ESSENCE as one of the 40 most inspiring African Americans and has given the commencement address at Harvard. His practical advice will motivate teens to greater levels of success.

Star quality
Nothing says "teen" like rock n' roll. The Book of Rock Stars by Kathleen Krull is the perfect volume to slide under the door of that teenager who just won't come out of his or her room (and has the music turned up too loudly to hear you knocking). The brief profiles of stars from Jim Morrison to Chrissie Hynde to Kurt Cobain are accompanied by gorgeous color art by Stephen Alcorn and full of fascinating tidbits. Can you name the only person who's been inducted three times into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame? (Eric Clapton as a Yardbird, a member of Cream and a solo artist.) Three rockers who died at age 27? (Joplin, Morrison and Cobain.) The book concludes with suggestions for further research into each star, including websites, books and albums. This compelling introduction to some of rock's major figures will interest teens and offer an opportunity for parents to reminisce about the music of their youth.

 

 

 

Maybe it's the reality TV craze, but it seems that today's books for teens are less focused on moral lessons and more focused on the issues of everyday life. In honor of the American Library Association's Teen Read Week (October 19-25), we've chosen some recent books that typify this trend by reflecting the challenges and interests of a new generation of readers.
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LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK
Two classic fairy tales combine with a trademark Neil Gaiman twist in The Sleeper and the Spindle. Originally published without illustrations in the anthology Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales, edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt, Gaiman’s tale melds the darkest elements of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White for something familiar yet wickedly updated. Warrior queen Snow White (though she’s not named outright) has just survived her yearlong sleeping curse and is preparing to marry a man she’d much rather not. When three dwarfs warn her that a sleeping curse spreads toward her lands, she and her short-statured companions take off to save Sleeping Beauty and the many, many people who have fallen victim to the curse. While Gaiman’s short tale offers moments of whimsy and humor, the black-and-white illustrations by Kate Greenaway Award winner Chris Riddell, gilded here and there with metallic details, make this book worthy of any bookshelf. From the delicate spiderwebs that spread over the sleeping citizens to the sagging, loose skin of a creepy old woman who guards Sleeping Beauty, Riddell’s illustrations elevate The Sleeper and the Spindle to nothing less than an object of art.

WOMEN OF SCIENCE
Women have more access to education and career advancement than ever before in history. However, they certainly haven’t achieved parity with men, with women making up only a third of scientific researchers worldwide. And all too often, the scientific contributions of women throughout history have gone unacknowledged. Following up the award-winning Magnificent Minds, Pendred E. Noyce’s Remarkable Minds spotlights 17 more pioneering women in science, engineering, mathematics and medicine. Spanning seven countries and three centuries, the brilliant heroines of Remarkable Minds are forgotten no more, from a French noblewoman to the granddaughter of slaves, from women who hesitated to call themselves scientists and those who became winners of the Nobel Prize. For all the many advancements highlighted here, perhaps what readers will remember best of all is the stories of women helping women, advising and advocating for each other and celebrating each other’s achievements.

ROOKIE’S SENIOR YEAR
Rookiemag.com is an online, independent magazine written by young women, for young women, and Rookie Yearbook Four is the latest compilation of the very best art, essays, photographs, playlists, DIY tutorials, guides and interviews from June 2014 through May 2015. In the tradition of yearbooks, this is also the last in the series, as editor and founder Tavi Gevinson grows up, graduates, moves out and waves goodbye to this format of Rookie—while promising that the mag and its community will continue. In Rookie’s senior yearbook, readers explore essays on rape culture, heartbreak, humility, role models, college admissions, sex, crushes and love; on honoring yourself, your body, your BFF and your creativity; on transitions big and small. There are themed playlists with power anthems, poetry and photography by teens, interviews with Donna Tartt, Laverne Cox, FKA twigs and Genevieve Liu (the founder of Surviving Life After a Parent Dies, or SLAP’D), plus so much more. In Yearbook Two, Tavi wrote that “the closest thing I have to the sense that someone, somewhere is watching over me is the knowledge that everything I could possibly feel has been articulated by another human being in art.” Here it is, as powerful as it is playful—everything a teen girl’s heart has ever felt and may ever feel.

Do you have a teen on your gift list whose bookshelf holds their most prized possessions, who has crushes on fictional characters and who seems more interested in make-believe lands than the real world? You’re in luck: These three new books make ideal gifts for the book-obsessed teen.

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From fairy-tale archetypes turned into art to the mysteries of the universe and our own emotional landscapes, these books are full of thought-provoking entertainment for teen readers.

Charlie McDonnell’s Fun Science: A Guide to Life, the Universe and Why Science Is So Awesome uses accessible, illustrated examples and plenty of humor to explore why science is the best tool we have for understanding the world around us. The 26-year-old English YouTube sensation starts way out in the cosmos and explains his way down to a single cell, with stops along the way to look at evolution, the atmosphere and the human body. Did I mention how funny it is? From cartoonish illustrations to “editor’s note” blurbs talking back to McDonnell, it’s easy to be carried along by the jokes only to realize several pages in that you’re learning a ton. A science lover will like this, but a lot of readers will become science lovers after starting here.

INCREDULATION
You most likely know Eden Sher from the ABC comedy “The Middle”; the word “adorkable” may have been coined to describe her character, Sue Heck. Sher has more feelings than she can express without bursting at any given time, so she and illustrator Julia Wertz created The Emotionary: A Dictionary of Words That Don’t Exist for Feelings That Do to make sense of that overload. Words like losstracize (“to reject the support of others in times of grief”) are illustrated with short cartoons that exemplify the unique ways we manage to shoot ourselves in the feet when we’re feeling too much. Are you irredependent (irrationally independent and unable to ask for help)? That tends to end poorly; cartoon Eden won’t accept a hand with a dangerously heavy box and is ultimately squashed so completely her guts fly out like streamers. Her friend deadpans that she’s unlikely to get her deposit back when it’s time to move. It’s simultaneously sweet and laugh-out-loud (in painful recognition) funny. 

ARTFUL TALES
The Singing Bones collects photos of small sculptures by Shaun Tan and displays them next to excerpts from the Grimm’s fairy tales on which they’re based. Don’t pick it up thinking you’ll be able to put it down when the phone rings, or it’s time for bed, or the house is on fire. These pieces are simple, almost primitive, and perfectly play with the fairy-tale archetypes. “The Companionship of the Cat and Mouse” depicts a large cat with an enormous saucer for a mouth, on which the tiny mouse has been perched, unbeknownst to him, for the entire story. Neil Gaiman contributes a foreword, and there’s an essay by Jack Zipes providing some background on the Brothers Grimm, both of which are helpful. But dive into the artwork and you’ll find creepy, cool, deceptively simple works sure to fire the imagination. It’s perfect for artists, writers and dreamers.

 

This article was originally published in the December 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

From fairy-tale archetypes turned into art to the mysteries of the universe and our own emotional landscapes, these books are full of thought-provoking entertainment for teen readers.
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From inspirational feminist essays to illustrated fairy tales and an interactive journal, three new books provide material for teen readers to savor during winter’s long nights.

Thirty-eight women and girls, from high school students to bankers to professional authors, write about the opportunities and struggles of being female in ­Because I Was a Girl: True Stories for Girls of All Ages, edited by bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz. Some contributors were discouraged from their chosen careers. Others have dealt with being the only woman in their offices, labs or studios. Some pieces rile the reader’s anger while others are laugh-out-loud funny. But all of the women featured have gone on to carve their own niches and find their own voices. Timelines of major events in the women’s rights movement are interspersed among short biographical sections, making Because I Was a Girl a great choice for either reading in batches or appreciating as an entire work.

TALES TO TREASURE
Everyone thinks they know the stories: the Minotaur in the labyrinth, the gingerbread cookie come to life and the sea princess with the beautiful voice who exchanges her mermaid’s tail for a pair of legs. We also know that an illustrated book pairs images with words to tell a story—but what if these ideas were inverted, turned inside out and presented in new and unexpected ways? In The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic, author Leigh Bardugo and illustrator Sara Kipin collaborate to do just that. Five short stories and a novella, all set in the world of the author’s Grisha trilogy, subvert readers’ expectations of what, exactly, constitutes a happily-ever-after. The story forms through both words and pictures, as each page adds one more element to the mostly monochromatic, illustrated borders. Bring tissues: Some of these tales are total tearjerkers!

GET CREATIVE
Keri Smith, bestselling author of Wreck This Journal, is back with a new book made for creative scribbling. As readers pencil in the titular shape in The Line, they’re invited to explore patterns, navigate obstacles and participate in everything from revelation (“The answers are contained in the line itself. The line may reveal them to you, but only if you are ready to hear them.”) to destruction (invitations to cut, fold and otherwise mutilate the pages). The reader’s line meanders across shapes, words, blank spaces and black-and-white photographs as its adventures build to a crescendo. Like Smith’s previous books, The Line can be devoured in a single sitting, or each page’s activity can be completed one at a time. This is a great gift (especially when accompanied by an exquisite pencil) for teens who love art, journaling and introspection.

 

This article was originally published in the December 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

From inspirational feminist essays to illustrated fairy tales and an interactive journal, three new books provide material for teen readers to savor during winter’s long nights.

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Books are easy to use (no charging or downloading required) and will always be in vogue. For the age group that’s the most difficult to buy for, we’ve got reads for musical lovers, Hunger Games fans and DIY crafters.

The Tony Award-winning musical Dear Evan Hansen, which follows the eponymous teen’s struggle with social anxiety, has taken Broadway by storm. Now, the creators of the show offer another way for fans and newcomers alike to experience Evan’s story through Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel. Written in a light, breezy narration, the novel tells the story of how Evan, a teenage loner, takes his therapist’s advice and begins writing letters to himself each day in order to deal with his anxieties and insecurities. But when one of his private notes lands in the wrong hands, Evan accidentally becomes a social media sensation after the note resurfaces at the scene of a classmate’s suicide. Like the musical upon which it’s based, Dear Evan Hansen tackles serious themes—like isolation, mental health, friendship, love, community and the difficulty of telling the truth, even to yourself—in a sometimes serious, sometimes hilarious way that is sure to connect with today’s teens.

A WORTHY TRIBUTE
Suzanne Collins’ acclaimed Hunger Games series—perhaps one of the most popular and well-loved YA series of all time—is now available in a gift-ready new package. The Hunger Games: Special Edition Box Set celebrates the 10th anniversary of this action-packed series with new paperbacks that feature luxe foil covers and lots of great bonus material. Fans will relish the longest published interview with Collins to date, a conversation between Collins and the late author Walter Dean Myers, a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the series and a timeline of Hunger Games-related events from 2008 to the present.

GET STICHIN’
For crafty teens, there’s Australian embroidery expert Irem Yazici’s Tiny Stitches: Buttons, Badges, Patches, and Pins to Embroider. This guide lays out necessary materials and sewing techniques for needlework newbies, and there are plenty of illustrated examples and step-by-step instructions for projects like pins, patches and buttons. From outdoorsy scenes to cutesy snack items, young readers will be sure to find a pattern to love. Traceable templates allow the budding crafter to immediately deck out their best denim.

 

This article was originally published in the December 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Books are easy to use (no charging or downloading required) and will always be in vogue. For the age group that’s the most difficult to buy for, we’ve got reads for musical lovers, Hunger Games fans and DIY crafters.

Three new books for young readers—a work of nonfiction, a novel and a unique memoir—offer fascinating insights into World War II, an era that helped shape the world we live in today.


The seeds of World War II were planted during the aftermath of World War I. Harsh financial penalties imposed on Germany, combined with the devastating effects of the Great Depression, contributed to the rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party. Andrew Maraniss explores the prewar period for young readers in his masterful Games of Deception, which reveals the little-known story of the first United States Olympic basketball team. They competed in 1936, the year basketball debuted as an Olympic sport—and the year the games were held, amid controversy, in Hitler’s Berlin.

Young readers will likely be unfamiliar with much of this history, including the boycott efforts that surrounded the games, but Maraniss is an effective storyteller who skillfully paints a picture of the past by focusing on individual people and evocative details. Along with the players’ stories, Maraniss also introduces ordinary people who became eyewitnesses to history; these include a German Jewish boy named Al Miller who never forgot what it was like to watch Jesse Owens run.

The 1936 Olympics were, of course, a prelude to the horrors to come, and Maraniss follows his story through to the war’s end. Full-page photographs, a bibliography and a timeline enhance the book. A fantastic afterword traces Maraniss’ research process, including his meeting with 95-year-old Dr. Al Miller, who managed to escape Hitler’s Germany.

Alan Gratz’s latest novel, Allies, zeros in on one of the most dramatic military operations of all time: D-Day, the invasion of Normandy. Gratz has previously combined meticulous research with compelling characters and action-packed scenes in bestselling books such as Refugee, Projekt 1065 and Grenade. Allies is no different, as Gratz once again draws readers into history.

The novel opens with Dee Carpenter riding in a Higgins boat through the rocking waves on his way to Omaha Beach. Dee is a 16-year-old from Philadelphia who has signed up for the U.S. Army with a fudged birth certificate. But readers find out something else at the end of the first chapter: “His real name was Dietrich Zimmermann, and he was German.”  

The book also follows Samira, an Algerian girl in the French resistance who is trying to sabotage the German occupation and find her mother, with (she hopes) the help of a fearless little dog. Supporting characters include a Jewish soldier, a Canadian paratrooper and a character based on the famed African American medic Waverly “Woody” Woodson, who was part of the all-black 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion on Omaha Beach.

Allies is timely, not merely because of this year’s 75th anniversary of D-Day but also for its contributions to discussions of how individuals, communities and nations can be allies in today’s world.

Like Waverly Woodson, Ashley Bryan was also on Omaha Beach. Now 96 years old, Bryan has published numerous books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor book Freedom Over Me. Infinite Hope is the extraordinary memoir of this hugely beloved figure in children’s literature. Like many veterans, Bryan has never talked about his military service, so his story may take people by surprise.

When his draft notice arrived in 1943, Bryan was a 19-year-old art student who was already familiar with prejudice. One art school interviewer told him his portfolio was the best the school had seen, but “it would be a waste to give a scholarship to a colored person.” With his teachers’ encouragement, Bryan was accepted to Cooper Union, which judged applicants blind. Even this did not prepare Bryan for what he would experience when he joined the Army. “As a Black soldier, I found myself facing unequal treatment in a war that Blacks hoped would lead our nation closer to its professed goal of equal treatment for all.”

Infinite Hope tells the story of Bryan’s journey as a stevedore in the 502nd Port Battalion through mixed media, with large photographs interspersed with sketches, paintings and excerpts from his diary and letters. The result is both an intimate portrait of Bryan himself and a rare insight into the African American experience of World War II and the invasion of Normandy, where Bryan worked nonstop on Omaha Beach unloading cargo in the months after D-Day. Later, while guarding German prisoners of war in France after the war’s end, Bryan realized the Germans were given more respect than black American soldiers. After arriving home in early 1946, Bryan locked his WWII drawings away and rarely spoke of his experiences.

Infinite Hope makes Bryan’s incredible artwork, created in the midst of war, available for the first time. It is a must-read for young people, parents, educators and anyone interested in World War II. Most of all, it is the work of an inspiring American who truly embodies infinite grace.

Three new books for young readers—a work of nonfiction, a novel and a unique memoir—offer fascinating insights into World War II, an era that helped shape the world we live in today. The seeds of World War II were planted during the aftermath of World War I. Harsh financial penalties imposed on Germany, combined with […]
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 Stamped
To foster a fruitful discussion about race in America, begin with an essential resource like Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. It “is not a history book. . . . At least, not like the ones you’re used to reading in school.”

A “remix” of Kendi’s Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, the book begins by dividing racial thought into three categories—segregationist, assimilationist and anti-racist—and clarifying that a person can articulate thoughts from more than one category in the span of a day and can certainly change camps over the course of years or a lifetime. It then follows the trail of racist and anti-racist ideas as they have challenged each other across history, from the first-known written record of racist ideas in 15th-century Europe to the arrival of Europeans on North American shores, all the way through contemporary American society.

This may sound like an epic feat for a slim volume written for young readers—and it is. More than merely a young reader’s adaptation of Kendi’s landmark work, Stamped does a remarkable job of tying together disparate threads while briskly moving through its historical narrative. Employing his signature conversational tone, Reynolds selects key names to dwell on, revealing complex motivations behind their actions and diving fearlessly into their contradictions.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Go behind the scenes of Stamped with Jason Reynolds and Dr. Ibram X. Kendi.


This Book Is Anti-Racist
Once readers have been introduced to Stamped’s thorough overview of the history and modus operandi of racist and anti-racist thought, the next steps are self-reflection and action. Turn to This Book Is Anti-Racist, written by Tiffany Jewell and illustrated by Aurélia Durand. It’s a handbook for how to be an anti-racist in a racist world, with neatly organized sections that guide readers through its mix of theory and practice.

First, Jewell encourages readers to explore their own identities and to consider how we all “carry” history. Next, she offers a guide on preparing to act against racism, including strategies such as disruption, interruption, calling in and calling out. Finally, she invites readers to consider how to work in concert with others through allyship, spending privilege, self-care and more. At the end of each section, journaling and writing activities help to solidify and personalize the content.

Jewell uses a mixture of facts and personal anecdotes to illustrate each concept. Her text speaks directly to young people and acknowledges their limitations—as well as their great potential—in a world where many decisions are made by adults. She is honest about the discomfort and risks involved in taking action against racism and encourages readers to reflect and prepare before they do so.

Durand’s colorful artwork depicts wonderfully diverse groups of young people, and it combines with Jewell’s intentional use of inclusive language to provide a safe and inviting way for teen readers to reflect on the world’s issues and their place in solving them.

Two books confront the history of racism in America and provide a road map for teens to take action.

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