A YA Great Gatsby Retelling: GREAT

March 1, 2015


~posted by Ruth

Great by Sara Benincasa

We love retellings, especially when there is a twist in the new version that highlights the themes in a different voice.  And that’s the case here, in the YA contemporary version of  F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great GatsbyThe original is a big favorite of mine; my intrepid Book Club decided to read a “classic” for a change last year and chose The Great Gatsby.  Though we had all read it at least once (several English teachers. . .), we found ourselves marveling at the language, deep themes, and compelling voices.

Fresh from that rereading, I was delighted to see Sara Bencasa had taken on the challenge of updating this classic–especially with the gender-switching roles she crafts while keeping so many of the original themes and personalities. Instead if the Jazz age, the time is “now” in the rich Hamptons of New York, complete with jet-setting and mega-rich socialites, decadent over-the-top parties, and faux friends who change sides.

At the heart of the story is the narrator, teen-ager Naomi, who befriends Jacinta, the Gatsby character.  While certainly not the literary level of the original, Great gets high marks from me for reinterpreting the major plot line of the book into today’s teen world.  I’d use this as a pre-read to The Great Gatsby, noting similarities and differences.  The gender-bending elements are ripe for discussion, as well as the variation in the endings.

What do you and the teen readers in your life think of this YA novel?  We’d love to hear!

CLEOPATRA IN SPACE: Recommended Graphic Novel for Young Readers

February 21, 2015

CleoCleopatra in Space #1:  Target Practice by Mike Maihack

What does it take to be a great leader?  Well, Cleopatra finds out in this new graphic novel series starring the original Cleopatra.  Well, sort of. . .The difference is that this Cleopatra, while she comes from ancient Egypt, finds herself in the very far future, preparing to save the galaxy from the tyrannical rule of the evil Xaius Octavian. At the high-tech school of the future, Cleopatra makes friends and works to fulfill her destiny.  Our hero Cleo is a bit of a trouble-maker (no surprise) who takes more quickly to her ray-gun practice than her academic studies.  Love the attitude, adventure, and her delightful side-kick, a talking cat.  The art style is a treat, with lots of expressive touches, and added details to pore over.  The next in the series is out later this spring, so stay tuned.

If your readers enjoyed this, they’ll surely love our list of Graphic novels for tweensZita the Space Girl is a special favorite from this list, and there are now 3 books in the series!

RAIN, REIGN by Ann Martin: A Review

February 14, 2015

RainRain, Reign by Ann Martin

I am always intrigued by novels that allow me to step inside the minds of people who approach the world in very different ways from me.  The character Rose puzzles, delights, and intrigues me.  She glories in homonyms, and given her obsession, loves that her own name is one.  She  purposely gives her dog a very special name–a double homonym:  Rain (Rein, Reign).

The story of her beloved dog going missing during a powerful storm is told through Rose’s eyes and with her own unique voice and vision.  We learn of her other obsessions–prime numbers, the need for order and rituals–all common symptoms of high-functioning autism.  But this novel is beyond a card-board story built around a perceived disability; it is raw, emotional, and riveting.  Middle-schoolers I know are loving it–and so do I.  A great book for stopping after chapters and discussing, whether it’s read at home or school.

We recently reviewed another book with a main character with Asberger’s Syndrome.  If the teen in your life enjoyed Rain, Reign, you might recommend The White Bicycle:

The-White-BicycleThe White Bicycle by Beverly Brenna

Taylor Jane travels to France for the summer and chronicles her trip in her journal.  Since her diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome at age 11, she has learned to use her writing as a tool to help her process her experiences, and as readers, we are able to eavesdrop on her thinking as we read those journal entries.  The White Bicycle figures prominently in her dreams, where the “the speed and wind on my face as I ride is exhilarating.”  The book is the third novel about Taylor Jane, and in my mind, the most compelling.  The respect for the gifts as well as challenges of autism is refreshing and informative.

EL DEAFO by Cece Bell: An Enthusiastic Review

February 7, 2015

El-DeafoWe are always on the lookout for new graphic novels that capture young readers minds and hearts.  El Deafo by Cece Bell does just that.  Bell’s memoir is told with humor and poignancy as she relates her journey through words and pictures.  An early bout with spinal meningitis leaves her with severe hearing loss, and her tale is both about adjusting to her hearing difficulties (as well as her hearing aids trials and tribulations) AND her search for a true friend.

I found it touching, funny–and downright inspiring.  I especially love the way she creates her own superhero:  El Deafo!  And daydreams El Deafo’s triumphs, all the while narrating her adventures mentally. ( I also appreciate that the characters are all rabbits!)  And they are terrific characters we might recognize from our own childhoods–the perfect friend we lose and try to get back, the bossy overpowering friend, the friend she has a crush on.  I suffered with Cece through her phase with the “too-sensitive-to -her-Deafness” friend as well.

But enough about my recommendation.  Molly was immediately drawn to this book, reading it over and over.  Meghan was able to take Molly to meet Cece Bell and she was beside herself!  Bell signed her well-loved book, and noted that it looked like it had been read a few times.

Highly recommended, whether you are a tween, parent, teacher–or grandmother!


February is Library Lovers Month!

January 31, 2015

Miss-MooreIt’s hard to believe, but once upon a time, American children were not allowed to check books out of the  library.  We highly recommend reading about who “thought otherwise” and created the first children’s room in the New York Public Library.  It’s a wonderful book to honor  February’s special designation as Library Lovers month.

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise:  How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children by Jan Pinborough, illustrated by Debbie Atwell

Anne Carroll Moore grew up loving books, sharing stories–and did not appreciate that she and other children did not have book borrowing privileges in libraries.  As a young woman, she traveled from Maine to New York City to become a librarian (one of the few jobs open to unmarried women) and worked tirelessly to ensure that all children felt welcome at library programs and were able to check out books.  Not only that, she brought in poets, musicians, and artists, and set up storytime and readaloud sessions, changing the world of libraries–and their role in children’s lives.

It’s hard to imagine that world of the early 1900’s, where children were not even allowed to touch the books in libraries.  What a change one woman was able to make, not just in New York, but nation-wide, and ultimately, internationally.

Start with this book, and extend your appreciation throughout the month–and beyond.

This isn’t the first time we’ve celebrated our appreciation of libraries.  Check out Library Love for a a winning list of picture books devoted to libraries.  Still want more?  Here you go:  More Library Love

Let us know your favorite finds, too!


January 24, 2015

~posted by Ruth

MustacheThe Mustache that Cured World Hunger by Kyle B. Hart,

Just a few weeks after we posted the list of picture books that celebrate mustaches, this delightful book fell in my lap, courtesy of my colleague at Lewis & Clark College, Kimberly Campbell.  One of her students, preparing to become a high school teacher, has a close friend who has written the tale, and she thought I might appreciate its humor, whimsical illustrations, and catchy rhymes.  I was immediately hooked, and bought a copy to share with Molly and Jacob over the holidays.

The good news is, they absolutely loved it.  For Jacob especially, it became the go-to book to read and share and keep in his bedside stack for late-night rereading.  The whackiness of the premise immediately drew the kids in–the idea that “Steve’s mustache” has his own power and personality, leaving his home on Steve’s face each night to fly around the world delivering food to the hungry people of the world.  This is a mustache with a social conscience!  Like his creator, Kyle, who donates 50% of the proceeds of the book to the Oregon Food Bank.

The pictures are fresh and funny, and I can attest to their appeal to 7-year-olds, and the many adults who shared the book over the holidays. When I told Jacob and Molly that Ben, a student at my school, is good friends with Kyle, their eyes got big.  “You mean you know the author?”

“No,” I admitted, “but I ‘ll bet Kimberly would ask him to autograph your book.”

I hope to get them their freshly inscribed copy in time for their birthday.

Thanks, Ben–and Kyle!

WINGS AND CO: The Latest from Great Britain!

January 17, 2015

Wings-and-Co-4Straight from Great Britain, Wings & Co Book 4 arrived in time for our New Year’s celebration.  The series seems to get better and better–even though it started off really strong!  The Matchbox Mysteries by Sally Gardner continues to follow the adventures of Emily Vole and her friends as they solve mysteries for their very own fairy detective agency.  Back in Podgy Bottom, the friends (including a large talking cat named Fidget: Buster, a grumpy boy fairy who has been eleven years old for over 100 years; a set of walking keys; and a vain magic lamp) take on the mystery of the thief who is shrinking cars to matchbox size and pocketing them.  We also celebrate the return of the most horrible of villains, Harpella the witch.  When we last met her, she had been changed into a large purple rabbit.  Here, she is reunited with her evil alchemist magic broomstick, wreaking havoc on Podgy Bottom and beyond!

MatchboxLike the other books in this series, readers delight in the special humor, magic, and fun of the stories, and the delightful British wit and wordplay. Fidget is still heard exclaiming “Spot on the fishcake!” And showing his affection for Emily Vole by calling her, “my little ducks.”   A true delight as a family readaloud.

New to the series?  Learn more from our review of the earlier books in the series: Wings and Co:  Perfect Readaloud for Young Readers.


We not only enjoyed reading the book. but creating our own illustrations:






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