Why I’m obsessed with Juvenile Fiction and You Should Be Too!

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Before I became a Children’s Librarian I was an English Major that hadn’t read many “classics”.  If I was going to graduate with an English Lit. degree, I believed I needed to read a few. So I compiled a list and started checking them off.  When I started my M.L.I.S. I hadn’t read many YA books. If I was going to be a YA Librarian, I needed to read much more of that collection. So I read YA.

Then I got hired….as a Children’s Librarian.

My previous years of dedicated reading meant nothing: no one was asking me if I preferred Dostoevsky to Gogol or if John Green’s “Turtles All The Way Down” read like “The Fault in Our Stars”. So I did what every librarian/avid reader does when faced with a dilemma, a question, or a Friday night with no plans: I read. And read and read.

Returning to Juvenile Fiction (and the reason I truly believe ALL adults should go back to reading middle grade novels as well) changed who I was, as a person.

They taught me empathy.  Recently published juvenile fiction shares more perspectives, situations, and lifestyles than ever before.  It is impossible to read a book without a plethora of characters from all different backgrounds and experiences. When reading so many different voices, it is impossible not to become more sympathetic and empathetic.  These books teach us to look at each other with more honesty and love; to rethink our experiences and reimagine others’. In a world increasingly aggressive, these books above all else, will be our saving grace to evoke internal change and intellectual shift as they expose us to ideas outside of our personal “norms”.  

They remind me what it is like to be a kid.  It is our nature as humans to relate from where we are now.  And now I’m a 30 year old, not an 11 year old. I often see my young patrons as who I want them to be: having fun without adult stress, being kind to each other, loving themselves, etc.  In essence, I see them as how I wish I could have been if I could do it over. I forget that as an 11 year old I still felt worry and stress. I forget that I wanted to be treated as an adult.  I wanted to be respected and included. Reading juvenile fiction is indispensable guidance for any adult who interacts with adolescents. If you want to be able to reach an age group, relate to that age group.  Juvenile fiction will bring up all the feels; reminding us what it was like to be in middle school.

They speak to simplicity.  Now don’t get me wrong; these books have brain tumors, murder, and homeless children.  They have racism. They have bad people who do good things and good people who make colossal and awful mistakes. They have “adult” topics because there really are no adult topics vs. children topics.  There is just life and life is scary, dark, and brutal sometimes.  But juvenile fiction doesn’t muss around with our adult baggage. It gets to the point: this situation sucks but these are people surviving.  Juvenile fiction is filled with reality: the good stuff and the bad stuff. What I love most of all is that there’s always a sense of accomplishment within each book. You end it feeling like you’ve grown.  You’ve changed. How many adult books offer that (outside of self help)??

Juvenile Fiction (also known as middle grade novels) make better people and that is why I have chosen to review them more than any other collection.  Adults MUST go back to reading them: We will raise better children and become a better society.



Breakout by Kate Messner

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Pizza Book club starts today!! Last spring I tried out a lunchtime book club.  A group of 8th graders walked across the street to the library to eat pizza and talk about a book.  This year we decided to start the lunchtime book club earlier in the school year, so they'd be able to read more than one book and today is our first meeting!! I’m starting us off with Breakout by Kate Messner… it's a bit longer than I would usually pick but the entire story is told in a series of documents (letters, poems, text messages, news stories, and comics) collected by Nora Tucker for the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule Project.  So although its got a high page count, it's a fairly quick read.
The plot: Nora Tucker is in the last two weeks of school before summer vacation in Upstate New York when two inmates break out of the town's maximum security prison.  Suddenly this small “safe and friendly” town is in constant fear and lock-down.
Here’s where the story kicks ass: She introduces a new classmate for Nora who’s brother is serving time in the prison.  As Nora becomes friends with Edilee she begins to see that Wolf Creek might be safe and welcoming for her and her white friends but it does not treat her new black friend the same.

The novel is fast-paced and entertaining while poking at some pretty intense contemporary issues within criminal justice, racial bias, and community goodwill. I’ll let you all know the Lunchtime Book Club opinion when we’ve finished it!!

Recommended Age: 9- 14 years old

For Those That Liked: “ The Science of Breakable Things”, “Front Desk” “The Parker Inheritance”

Yoga Pose: Utkatasana (Chair Pose):
*Stand in Tadasana. Inhale and raise your arms perpendicular to the floor (shoulders distance apart, palms facing each other).  If you feel tightness in the shoulders (a rising of the shoulders towards the ears) move your arms out wider than shoulders distance apart.
*Exhale and bend the knees, lower down so that the thighs are parallel to the floor. Reach the hips down and back, bringing your weight to the heels of the feet. Do not bring the hips lower than the level of the knees. Remain for 3-5 breathes.

Next Level (Awkward Chair Pose):
*
Draw your tailbone down to the floor, keeping your lower back long and bring your hips down lower (shift your weight into your heels, about 80% of weight, so that you could lift your toes off the mat if you wanted to).
*Consciously place all weight anchored in the right foot.  Lift the left foot with control. Bend at the knee and rest the left ankle on top of the right knee.  Remain here for 3-5 breaths before lowering the left foot back to the floor and rising to Tadasana. Repeat on the opposite side, beginning in Utkatasana before moving into awkward chair.


Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

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My immediate thought at the last sentence: “I wish that went darker.” Honestly. it seemed a bit half- baked; a happy ending crime story.  Psychological thriller? Eh, it could have been… if Erin didn’t turn out to be the most accidental criminal EVER.  Entertaining? Yes. It kept my attention and I can’t take that away from the novel… But I kept waiting for it to get creepier (i.e. Gone Girl). I kept wanting the moment where you go “Holy Shit!! I can’t believe that just happened!!” The moment never came. And that was disappointing. But maybe more disappointing is having to buy into this idea that she just suddenly likes crime, feels comfortable and excited in the criminal world when there’s been no hint of this character trait ever cropping up in her back story. It felt a little fake and much too neat (unless it all unravels in a follow-up). The only thing truly worth merit was a gaslighting element I hadn’t seen coming- that was pretty cool but even that was too little, too late. A solid pick for those readers who like a bit of drama and mystery without getting too under your skin or into your head.  But not at all worthy of the psychological thriller hype.

 

Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya

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Marcus has given himself an identity based on the opinions of classmates (pretty much the fact that he is incredibly, magnificently tall) and his role in his family (protector of his older brother who has Down Syndrome) in his hometown of Springfield, Pennsylvania.  However as he, his mother, and brother travel to Puerto Rico (visiting family he never knew he had and searching for a father he hasn’t communicated with in ten years) he allows his identity to deepen with his roots. Identity is a huge topic in YA/Adult Lit. but rarely given the attention it deserves in Juvenile Fiction.  It was nice to see the conversation expanding to a younger demographic in this novel. Identity is important to every individual, no matter the age. I liked that the novel was able to address the idea of being in two vastly different worlds:Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico and how a Tween can be both!

Recommended Age: 10 years old and up.
For Those That Liked: “Listen, Slowly”, “The Night Diary”, “Louisiana’s Way Home”, “The Stars Beneath Our Feet”

Yoga Pose: Krounchasana (Heron Pose):
*Kneel on your mat with your knees together, separate your feet slightly wider than hip width (if this is painful on the tops of your feet or your knees, kneel on a thin blanket, you may also be more comfortable with the knees remaining hips distance apart).
*Bend lower in your knees as you lean forward to place your hands behind you on your calves:  Pull your calf muscles away from your knees as you lower to sit on the floor between your feet.
*Place your hands on your knees and draw the skin on the knees back towards your thighs.

Next Level:
*Slowly lower yourself down to rest on your hands (placed behind your hips, fingertips pointing towards your feet), your forearms, or all the way down to rest on your back.
OR:
* Straighten the right leg out in front of you before bending the knee and placing the foot on the floor, just in front of the right sitting bone. Place your right arm against the inside of the right leg (so that your shoulder presses against the inner knee). Cross your hand in front of the right ankle and grasp the outside of the right foot. Finally grasp the inside of the right foot with your left hand.
* Lean back slightly, but maintain a lift of the chest. Raise the right leg diagonally to the floor.
*Lower right leg gently to the floor before releasing the left leg into Dandasana (Staff Pose).

Max Tilt: 80 Days or Die by Peter Lerangis

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Here’s what I love:

*A modern twist Jules Verne’s adventure stories, updating the “classics” (that all adults love to force children to read) to be much more relevant and fun.

*Rapid fire plot pace, making it impossible to put down

*The main character is a child on the spectrum, giving a face to an underrepresented voice in entertainment and literature.

Just as great as the first, already itching for the third!!

Recommended Age: 8-13 years old.
For Those That Liked: A Robert Langdon series for middle graders, “Holes”, “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library”, “The 39 Clues” series

Yoga Pose: Sirsasana II (Tripod Headstand Pose):
*Start in tabletop: placing the hands flat on the ground, shoulder distance apart.
Bend the elbows back towards the ribs (similar to chaturanga arms)
*Place the crown of the head onto the ground.
Make sure that your hands are far enough away from your face that you can create a 90
degree angle in the elbows and be able to see your fingers.  
*Curl the toes under, lift the hips, and straighten the legs into dolphin pose.  Begin to walk the toes towards the head. Press down into your hands, using the strength to keep your shoulders lifted, and any added pressure off your head and/ or neck.
*If you feel stable, draw your belly button to your spine and use your core strength to lift your right leg, bend the knee and place it lightly on your right tricep.  Bend the left knee and place on the left tricep.

Next Level:
*Lift the hips up (until they are stacked over the shoulders) as the thighs draw into the chest.
Remember to lift the shoulders and keep the triceps engaged in chaturanga.  
*You can choose to raise one leg at a time or send both feet towards the ceiling.  Hug the inner thighs, continue to draw the navel to the spine, and spread the toes.

The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

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Amihan lives with her mother who is “touched” on Culion Island in the Philippines (the world’s largest leper colony between 1906-1988), until the government decides that colonizing the affliction will eventually cause it to die out. The government believes that it knows what's best for the healthy children and that means taking them from their families and moving them to an orphanage on another island.  

This is not the only time in history that colonization has taken children from their parents and The Island at the End of Everything is a wonderful story to teach this historical mistake and the different faces of prejudice.

Recommended Age: 9- 14 years old.
For Those That Liked: “The Night Diary”, “Amal Unbound”, “Listen, Slowly”

Yoga Pose: Kurmasana (Tortoise Pose):
*Sit in Dandasana with your legs straight in front of you and your hands on the floor alongside your hips. Sit tall, flexing your feet and lifting your chest then bring your legs to the edges of the mat so that your knees are shoulders distance apart.
*Keeping your feet flexed, bend your knees and draw them closer to your hips. Pull your chest and arms forward between your legs (leading with your heart), releasing hands down to make contact with the floor.
*Bend your legs even more and work towards being able move your shoulders one by one under your knees.

Next Level:
*Once there, stretch your arms out to the sides. Roll your thighs inward and spread the front of your chest and collarbones forward and down with the help of the pressure of your thighs on the shoulders or upper arms. Keep the feet flexed (without adding tension) to stretch and straighten your legs. Your inner thighs should remain in contact with your side ribs.

Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood

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There’s only so much that can be taught in school so all the historical fiction thrills me, giving children a chance to learn about more events and experiences than they will in a traditional public school curriculum!!

Historical fiction obsession established: Lifeboat 12!! Late in the evening of September 17, 1940, the steam passenger ship SS City of Benares (sailing from Britain to Canada and carrying evacuee children among its passengers) is torpedoed.  Lifeboat 12 travels too far from the site when help finally arrives, leaving them alone at sea with only enough water for one week. The lifeboat is filled with 36 crewmen, passengers, and sailors and six evacuee boys. They set sail for Ireland and pray for rescue, which arrives just as the water runs out.  The survival story is a miracle: only 13 children from the original 90 evacuees survived the attack, 6 of those 13 survived on Lifeboat 12.

Recommended Age: 9- 13 years old.

Yoga Pose: Modified Boat Pose/Paripurna Navasana:

*Sit on the floor with the soles of your feet planted on your mat.
*Press your hands on the floor a little behind your hips with fingers pointing toward the feet.
*Lift your feet off the floor, so that the thighs are parallel to the floor.
*Lengthen your tailbone and lift your pubis toward your navel.
*Remain with your knees bent, perhaps lifting the shins parallel to the floor. Keep your hands on the floor besides your hips or move them to hold the back of your thighs.

Next Level:
*Slowly straighten your knees, raising the tips of your toes slightly above the level of your eyes.
*Stretch your arms alongside your legs (parallel to the floor).


Everything Else in the Universe by Tracy Holczer

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Inhale.  Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten. Exhale.  I want to write all the magical emotions this book brought up.  I want to write about family, war, fragility, and resilience. But Tracy Holczer does that and does it beautifully.  So instead I’m going to say that reading this book was a serendipitous reminder that sometimes we’re stuck in our own lonely suffering but there will always be someone to bring you a big mess of polenta to share.  And through the sad stuff, no matter how alone we feel, we are connected to everything else in the Universe.

Recommended Age: 10yrs. old and up.

Yoga Pose: Revolved Chair Pose, Grasshopper Prep:
*Stand with feet together.
*Lift left foot (externally rotate the left hip open).
*Place left ankle onto right thigh (just above the knee).
Keep the left foot flexed and slightly sticking out past the right thigh.
*Find your Drishti (point of focus) and bend the right leg deeply.
*With hands in Anjali Mudra (palms together in front of your heart) slowly twist to the right from your upper ribs, reaching your left elbow/forearm to the sole of your left foot.
*Push the left elbow/ forearm into the sole of the foot as you press the palms together to deepen the turn of the chest.

Next Level:
*Work towards getting the armpit close to the sole of the foot.
*Drop the left hand down to the outside of the right foot while extending the right arm straight up into the air.