Costa Reading

One girl with too many books.


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Historical Fiction

I absolutely love reading historical fiction. I love it when an author can take me back in time, to a place I will never be able to visit outside of a book. I especially love it when the author teaches me something while telling me a story. I enjoy books from every time period and I’ve read many good books about World War II. I feel as though this was a deeply depressing time period for many people from all over the world but there is much that can be learned from it. Authors are able to retell the stories of times past through historical fiction. They are able to draw readers into a horrendous moment in history by giving them a character to empathize with.

Ruta Supetys does this in Between Shades of Gray. She puts the reader into the world of fifteen-year-old Lina, the daughter of a provost at a Lithuanian university. The Soviet police have taken her and her family away in the night for no reason that they could tell. Lina, her brother, Jonas, and her mother have been separated from Lina’s father. They are put on a train for weeks and finally end up in Siberia. They are put through much heartache, sickness, and pain. However, there are a few rays of light that shine through. Lina develops a friendship with Andrius, a boy about her age who has also lost his father. There is a Soviet guard who shows kindness when he can. And Lina finds joy in her drawing.

Lina’s story brings to light a part of World War II that is not commonly seen in teen literature. Most fiction set during this time take place in the concentration camps that Hitler created. While it is important to learn about these camps and what people lived through there, it is just as important to know what went on in the rest of the world during this time. It’s important for our future to realize that the horrible dictators of the past weren’t just preoccupied with their victims’ nationalities, they were also afraid of their intellects. Supetys states in her Author’s Note, “Doctors, lawyers, teachers, military servicemen, writers, business owners, musicians, artists, and even librarians were all considered anti-Soviet and were added to the growing list slated for wholesale genocide.” Stalin needed to wipe out any individual who might speak out against him. He killed millions of people but there isn’t near the same amount of awareness of his atrocities as there is about Hitler.

It’s important to have books like Between Shades of Gray to bring history to life for the teens of today. They need to be aware of the sordid past in order to help make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Teens also learn about kindness, empathy, and love through books like this. They get to see that no matter how bleak life might seem, there is always hope.

Additional Information:

To find out more about the book and to see an interview with the author click here.

Learn more about Stalin’s occupation of the Baltic States by clicking here.

Learn about the Soviet deportations from Lithuania by clicking here.

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Book Talking

I book talk every day at work. I’m constantly trying to connect readers with books they will enjoy and that they need. These book talks generally happen spur of the moment and in a conversation. In other words, I’m flying by the seat of my pants and I’m told that I’m good at it, by my coworkers, my bosses, and the people I recommend books to. So when I saw that one of our assignments was to do a book talk I thought it would be a breeze, a for sure A+. But let me tell you, there’s a big difference book talking in a setting you’re familiar and book talking to a classroom of your peers! Especially when the book you choose is convoluted and hard to describe.

I chose to book talk Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgewick because it won the Michael Printz award for 2013. The premise sounded good too. It’s a story of two people who, through their many lives, connect with each other on Blessed Island. Throughout thousands of years Eric and Merle meet and each time they mean something different to each other. The story of their lives is a carefully woven, intricate tale that could not possibly be summed up in a three minute book talk. This is one book that you say a couple of sentences about and then a person just has to read the book for themselves. It’s a wonderful book that I could hand to teens interested in many different genres but I’m still hard pressed to describe it.


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The Teen Classic Novel #1

We were asked to read a couple of classic teen novels for this class. According to Oxford Dictionary Online classic is defined as “Judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind“. And so a classic novel is a novel that will stand the test of time. It’s not just a fad, it truly resonates with many people and will do so over the course of many years. A teen classic novel will do just this but is written just for teens. I chose to read Looking for Alaska by John Green for this section of reading. It’s one I’ve heard a lot about over the years but I’d never picked it up for some reason.

Looking for Alaska is about Miles. He’s a teenage boy obsessed with the last words of famous people. He reads their biographies and loves it when their last words are included. When his parents ask him why he chose to go to boarding school, thinking it was because he didn’t have many (if any) friends, and he tells them that it’s because of Francois Robelais’ last words: “I go to seek a Great Perhaps”. This is what really grabbed my attention when I was reading the book. It got me wondering, do teens really think this way? Is John Green making teens appear more deep and philosophical than they truly are? And, if so, does that matter?

Miles ends up going to this boarding school and meets the first true friends he’s ever had. His roommate, The Colonel, gives him the nickname, Pudge, and that’s what we get to know him as. Pudge becomes infatuated with this girl, Alaska. She’s moody, attractive, bold, smart, and has a boyfriend. Takumi is the funny one of the group and he also loves to rap. Much of the book is taken over by the witty and smart dialogue between this group of friends and their escapades on school grounds. They mess around a lot but they each seem to take their lives seriously. They seriously ponder the BIG questions about life and share their thoughts with each other. Adults are around but not immediately present. Pudge’s parents are supportive and trust him. They don’t hover but they’re there if Pudge ever needs them. The teachers seem to care but they’re mainly in the background. One does stand out as the protector of the students. They’ve nicknamed him The Eagle and at first he just seems like a disciplinarian but you start to realize that he truly cares about the kids who go to the school.

However, this novel does revolve around a tragedy. It is broken up into two parts, a Before and an After. Pudge starts to truly ponder what The Great Perhaps is in the After portion. He struggles with the reasons why certain choices are made and why such horrible things can happen to the people he loves. He and The Colonel must choose how to move on after such a life changing event happens.

John Green writes his teen characters as real as he can. They make stupid decisions, drink, do drugs, and have sex. But they’re also smart, funny, emotionally vulnerable, strong, and fragile. He seems to write his characters in a way to draw real teens into a story. He really wants to connect with teens and help them feel as though they are not alone in anything that they go through. Sometimes his characters can be irritating and selfish but that’s just how people (not just teens) can be sometimes.

The fact that John Green writes for teens in a way that isn’t condescending or dumbing things down for them might be the reason he has such a faithful following. His brother, Hank, and he started the nerdfighters campaign. They wanted teens to truly feel accepted in a group where they could be themselves. There is no criteria to be a nerdfighter, you just need to want to be one.

Additional Information:

To find out more about nerdfighters, watch a youtube video by Hank and Green here.

For more information from John Green’s website about Looking for Alaska click here.

For famous last words click here.

To find out how to help troubled teens click here.


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A Fractured Fairy Tales Reading Ladder

A fractured fairy tale takes a traditional fairy tale and changes the plot, setting, characters, and/or message to create a whole new kind of story. It is usually obvious which fairy tales these fractured stories are based on and it can be easy to pick out the points the author chose to change.

Lately it seems as though authors are using these usually misogynistic traditional tales and changing them to promote a different way of thinking about everyone’s role in society.

There are no longer helpless damsels in distress with a knight on a white horse coming to rescue her. And if she does need help, she doesn’t sit passively by and do nothing; she actively participates in her rescue.

On the other hand, all men are not the strong dashing type, they also need to be rescued sometimes and this isn’t emasculating in any way.

It’s important that children and teens understand that it’s okay to be strong, weak, happy, sad, angry, intelligent, and (sometimes) ignorant. Nobody is perfect and our literature needs to reflect this. Kids need to be taught that it’s okay for them to make mistakes and it’s what they do after they’ve made them that is important.

I think that these fractured fairy tales I’ve listed in my reading ladder do this very well. They are in leveling order, beginning with the upper elementary age/lower middle school and progressing to upper high school.

Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

For grades 4-6

As next door neighbors Hazel and Jack have been best friends since they were six. They’ve been there for each other through each of their family’s difficulties. However, now that they’re eleven, others have started to question their friendship, thinking it’s abnormal for a boy and a girl to be friends. Hazel and Jack stay true to their friendship, not caring what other people think. Until one day when Jack’s whole personality seems to change. He freezes Hazel out of his life and then disappears. Hazel knows in her heart that something is desperately wrong and sets out to rescue him. She travels through a frozen forest to find the Snow Queen who has bewitched Jack. Will she be able to break through the enchantment to reach Jack’s heart and bring him home?

 

Tale Dark and GrimmA Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

For grades 5-7

This story of Hansel and Gretel is more true to the traditional Grimm Brother’s fairy tales. However, Gidwitz has the brother and sister traveling through the tales much as a reader would read through the stories in a book. He changes the tales in ways to make the story flow but keeps the original intention and feeling. Most importantly, the original gore of the Grimm’s tales is retained. Gidwitz doesn’t sugar coat any of the more sinister bits and this is what has appealed to all of the kids I’ve recommended the book to. However, this is the main reason I would say it’s for 5th-7th graders.

As brother and sister, Hansel and Gretel must help each other navigate their way through the many evils that surround them. They take turns being the logical rescuer of the other. I love the way this book makes the sibling’s relationship so very important. This is something we don’t see too much of. A lot of books for this age group are about being the sole hero.

 

Far Far AwayFar Far Away by Tom McNeal

For grades 6-8

Jeremy Johnson Johnson has been friends with the ghost of Jacob Grimm for the last few years. The ghost is a voice of reason for Jeremy until he becomes friends with Ginger, a spunky girl who challenges him to break out of his shell. Then they become involved in a series of dangerous events and their lives are put in danger.
This book felt very much like a fairy tale but I couldn’t pinpoint any one specific tale.
Far Far Away is definitely a coming of age tale for boys. Jeremy is trying to figure out how to save his house because his father is frozen into inaction by depression. He is also discovering who he is and how he can become the person he wants to be. Jacob is that external voice that would usually be the protagonist’s inner voice.
sisters redSisters Red by Jackson Pearce

For grades 8-10

Scarlett and Rosie march are the contemporary Little Red Riding Hoods. Their grandmother had been killed in their house by a Fenris, a werewolf like creature who attack young girls. The sisters aren’t helpless little girls anymore. Rather they take the fight to the Fenris by acting like victims and then killing as many Fenris as they possibly can. They don’t do this alone however, they are joined by a long family friend who also happens to be a huntsman. Things can’t stay the same however, they start to change as Rosie and Silas begin to have feelings for each other.
The question of the strength of a sister’s bonds are questioned and whether or not they’ll be able to survive the next challenges the three are going to face.


CinderCinder
by Marissa Meyer
For grades 9-11
Cinder is a cyborg Cinderella who lives New Beijing. She is treated as a servant by her stepmother, Adri, and one of her stepsisters, Pearl, but she absolutely adores her stepsister, Peony. Cinder works as a mechanic to repair androids and this is how she meets Prince Kai. Of course she develops feelings for him (this is a Cinderella story after all) but she doesn’t become the damsel in distress. She fights for her freedoms and to improve her lot in life. She even makes it her mission to save Prince Kai for the evil Lunar Queen Levana.
This is definitely not the traditional Cinderella story and has many different levels of complexity. It takes on stereotypical gender roles while tweaking the traditional fairy tale. And as the series moves on to Scarlet, Cress, and Winter readers are introduced to many more versions of fractured fairy tales.


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The Problem Novel

Teen suicide is something that should not be happening as much as it does. There are so many teens that haven’t even started their lives yet they’re in so much pain that they’re willing to cut them short. Some of these teens suffer from severe mental issues such as depression yet many are simply pushed beyond the limits of what they can deal with. Whether they’re being bullied or the victim of some other sort of abuse, these teens aren’t able to stand anymore of it.

What Thirteen Reasons Why teaches teens is that they just might have the power to save the life of someone. It might be somebody they’re close to or it might be a complete stranger. We don’t know the power of a few kind words or a smile might have on somebody. Books like TRW are here to bring this message to as many people as possible.

TRW is told from two different points of view. One of these is the pov of Clay, a nice guy who receives an innocuous looking package in the mail. The other pov is of Hannah, the girl who sent the package. The package is full of tapes that Hannah made that are being sent to very specific people. The tapes are full of the story of why Hannah killed herself. As Clay listens he learns that Hannah has sent the tapes to the people responsible for her suicide. However, he can’t figure out what role he played in her death. In fact, he had always had a crush on her. Yet, as he gets deeper and deeper into Hannah’s story, he realizes the many different times he and others might have been able to save Hannah just by being kind or being her friend.

Many times I found Hannah to be too angsty, too ready to find fault in others, and not very likeable. The reader never gets a chance to really know Hannah beyond her reasons for committing suicide. This was hard for me but then my professor pointed out that author Jay Asher might have kept her such a blank to show that she could be anyone you know. We don’t get to see anything beyond the way people treat Hannah and how she reacts. That could be how this book shows teens that anyone could be Hannah, anyone could need a kind word or smile. It’s a book that teens can learn empathy from. It just might open their eyes to how others might be screaming silently for help. And it just might give them the strength to offer a helping hand.

Additional Information:

To hear Hannah’s tapes click here.

To submit your own review of Thirteen Reasons Why and visit the book’s website click here.

To find help for someone you feel might need it click here.