In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Current 9th grade favorites

Dear Aunt Debbie,

I love the idea of mutual storytelling, the ways in which kids and parents end up telling a story together -- so true to life, and so lovely.  We're excited, as always, for the arrival of the Birthday Box.

I've made it to the end of the first full week back at school, always both invigorating and exhausting.  Last year, I wrote about some of my ninth-graders' favorite books, as described in the introductory letters they write to me.  I asked the same question of them again this year, and thought I'd mention a few of the results tonight.  Many familiar titles, of course -- Harry Potter, The Hunger Games -- but a few I haven't read that sound interesting.  Such as...

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, by M.T. Anderson.  On your recommendation, I read Anderson's Feed a while ago, and found it totally compelling.  While Feed is set in a dystopian future (ah, how YA authors love dystopian futures), Octavian Nothing is historical fiction, set in Revolutionary War-era Boston.  Octavian is a young black man being raised by a group of rational philosophers who realizes belatedly that he's part of an experiment testing whether Africans are "a separate and distinct species."  It sounds like an interesting exploration of the issues surrounding slavery and utopian idealism at the time.

Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West
, by journalist Blaine Harden, is nonfiction, and not technically YA, though more than one of my Korean students mentioned it.  It's the true story of a man born and raised in a North Korean prison camp, and sounds intense and brutal in its details --  Shin Dong-hyuk saw his family killed, and was subjected to all kinds of overwork and abuse.  As a chronicle of recent history and ongoing abuses, it sounds fascinating.

But where, you may ask, is the nice long series with magic, supernatural powers, intrigue, and multiple sequels?  Some of my students recommend The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, by Michael Scott.  The premise: twins Sophie and Josh are interrupted in their summer jobs in San Francisco by the realization that Josh's boss is actually Nicholas Flamel, historical alchemist who was supposed to have died close to 700 years earlier, but has been making and taking an immortality potion for all that time.  There is theft and a host of evildoers, and a Codex of ancient prophecies, which apparently name the twins as actors in the battle between good and evil.  Scott draws on mythology and history -- Flamel was a real person -- and develops six books from the premise.  Maybe I should start making up my summer reading list for next year right now.

Love, Annie

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