Costa Reading

One girl with too many books.

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I’ve never been drawn to nonfiction. I would much rather be entertained by a good story than sit and read a bunch of facts. That’s how I’ve always viewed nonfiction, as boring as reading a textbook. I have always understood the need for nonfiction and realize that it has a well-deserved role in every classroom and library but I would never pick up a nonfiction book to read for pleasure. However, How They Croaked was a nonfiction book I couldn’t put down. It might be full of scientific and historical facts but it’s also humorous and entertaining.

Georgia Bragg has put together a tome of the grisly ends of some of the most famous people throughout history. Each chapter is on the life and death of a historical figure. The narration brings the facts to humorous life and the illustrations make it less intimidating to those who are nonfiction novices. The chapters all end with tips like “Steps for a Successful Leeching”, “Bloodletting Do’s and Don’ts”, and “Crossword Puzzle Words for ‘Dead’”. Readers will also learn things that might come in handy today. For example, after the chapter on Mozart there is the alphabet in sign language.

Bragg chose well in the people she decided to write about. Most of them died from things we never would even think of today because we live in a world of vaccines, hospitals, and Geiger counters. Teens reading this book will definitely get a history lesson while laughing out loud. They might know some of the facts already but they will most definitely learn something new. I learned that Cleopatra did not die of snakebite, that Einstein’s brain was stolen, and that Galileo wouldn’t drink water so drank a lot of lead laced wine.

This is one nonfiction book I will be able to recommend to many teen readers. It will be a book I use to entice kids with shorter attention spans and a taste for the macabre.

Additional Information:

Watch book trailers and learn more about Georgia Bragg here.To read an interview with the author and read an excerpt click here.


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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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Teens are constantly struggling with finding their unique identity. Most of them don’t quite know yet who they are and who they want to be. Every day brings up new questions as to how they will respond to situations. Adults must also make these decisions but it does get easier as time goes on. It gets easier not to succumb to peer pressure or take the easy way out, even if that means hurting somebody. That doesn’t mean that adults don’t ever make decisions that hurt others just that it happens less often, if they’ve chosen to be the type of person that would rather be kind. This is the type of situation that Wonder comes from. The author, R. J. Palaccio, told an NPR interviewer that the idea of the book comes from a situation where she didn’t act with the kindness she wishes she had.

Wonder is about a boy who is born with a severe facial deformity that has prevented him from attending public school. August has always known that he’s different from other kids but he still feels like a normal kid. He plays video games, loves Star Wars, his dog, his family, and hanging out with his friends. He feels normal but is terrified at the thought of attending public school. But, with encouragement from his parents, he attends school for the first time in fifth grade. This has to be one of the hardest times in a child’s life without having a very prominent physical difference and I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have the appearance of August.

The strength that is shown by August and by those who choose to be kind and to be his friend is what makes me love this book so much. I completely understand why this book is on so many teachers’ reading lists. This book shows kids what it means to be a good person, what it means to choose to rise above appearances and to be kind because it is the absolutely right thing to do. There was one particular teacher who tried to teach this to the fifth graders in August’s English class, Mr. Browne. Mr. Browne had a precept for every month of the year that the students discussed and wrote essays on. His very first precept was: “When given the choice between right or being kind, choose kind” (page 48). This precept definitely spoke to me on a personal level as I’m sure it did many other readers. I know that it spoke to the characters in the book because of the precepts they write themselves at the end of the book.

Another reason Wonder will appeal to many different readers is because it isn’t just told from the point of view of August. The reader is put in the place of his friends, Summer and Jack, his sister, Via, and his sister’s boyfriend, Justin, and his sister’s estranged friend. Miranda. We’re introduced to imperfect people who feel uncertainty, jealousy, and a bit of resentment but they are all good people. The characters are so real that you feel what they’re feeling and you hope that you would be able to rise to the occasion of being kind. However, not everyone is good. The world is full of people who will be cruel and that’s just reality. August, along with his friends, goes through some tough situations but it’s how he reacts that makes the true impression on the reader.

Additional Information:

Send your own precepts to the author here.

Hear the author’s story of Wonder here.

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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 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.

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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My Book Life

Books have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother reading out loud to my sister, brother, and me. I don’t remember learning how to read myself but for as long as I can remember I wasn’t without a book wherever I went. It was the same with my mother. She not only told us kids how important it was to be a good reader, she showed us by her example. She made it so that books were always available to us. We had more books in the house than we had shelves for them and we were constantly adding to the collection. Whenever we went to yard sales, which was a lot, the first place I would go would be to the table stacked with books. We also made regular trips to the public library and left with more books than we could possibly read.

As a teen I used books as a safe way to experiment with who and what I wanted to be. I read about tragedy and heroism, about love and loss, about fantastical creatures and scientific impossibilities. From the safety of my own room, I traveled to many different places and met many different people. Consciously, I read for fun and unconsciously, to learn more about myself.

As an adult, I’ve been able to embrace teen literature in ways I never did when I was a teen. I can truly disappear into a teen novel, be inspired by those young protagonists, and remember what it was like to feel so lost or alone in my troubles. I feel that’s what teen literature should be for teens now. Books should help them to find themselves, help them decide what kind of person they want to be, now and in the future.

This is why I love my job so much. As a librarian, I have a small amount of power to nurture life long readers in the children and teens I come into contact with in the library.