YA books comprise one of my favorite genres. There are a number of interesting options now, and many authors are engaging creatively with narrative styles. I plan to return to this category often as there are a wide-range of sub-genres and so many excellent reads. Although cross-over books are pretty widely recognized, thanks to Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, YA books still remain an elusive genre and one not easily defined. Are they defined by reading level or content? Authorial intention or marketing plans? Readers or teachers/parents/and librarians?
In honor of this ambiguity, my first YA recommendation also poses a number of unanswerable questions, by challenging our conceived notions of fixed boundaries. David Levithan’s Every Day (Knopf, $16.99) is a unique inquiry into the relationship between body and soul. Is ‘who we are’ distinct from ‘what we look like’? Is love really blind or do we fall for the ‘package’ as much as the ‘person’ inside? What makes us human anyway? Readers will start asking these and other philosophical questions when they read A’s fascinating story.
A wakes up every day in a new body, crossing gender, race, ability, and sexuality. Creating a personal code of ethics, A discovers what can (and cannot), should (and should not) be done when you’re living in someone else’s life. One day A wakes up as Justin, meets Justin’s girlfriend Rhiannon, and on that day A’s own life finally begins.
Every Day was just released in August 2012, but it’s already showing up on Picks of the Year lists. It’s edgy, thought-provoking, and has enough respect for teenagers to not force any conclusions on them. I’d love to see it on school reading lists, but because of it’s gender and sexual fluidity I wouldn’t be surprised if instead it’s frequently challenged. Families with teenagers should read it as a family. I’m sure it will spark lively discussions at dinner.
On day three, I’m already tripping over books and gender. It’s an ongoing issue and one I want to address quickly. Are there ‘girl books’ and ‘boy books’? What kinds of limits are we placing on children and books when we use these types of filters? On the other hand, I, like many booksellers I’m sure, have seen boys reject a book because it’s about a girl and many, but certainly not all, girls seem to prefer Daisy Meadows’s Fairy series over Captain Underpants. I’ve really enjoyed seeing articles lately recognizing that sometimes boys like to wear dresses, and sometimes boys want to read fairy books. What is even more gratifying is to see their parents happily buying fairy books for them. When the child is in the store, I generally try to point out a few different types of books and let them decide for themselves, but the issue is exceptionally tricky when someone is buying a gift for a child they do not know. I often wonder if I’m doing a disservice to boys and girls, when I send grandparents home with non-fiction for their grandsons, gift-wrapped in blue paper, with a robot sticker on the front. Although I expect these questions to surface regularly, this blog will strive to remain gender neutral, and I’ll let you decide for yourselves. But what do you think about books and gender?
I often recommend Scholastic’s series Geronimo Stilton ($6.99, translated from the Italian) for kids who are old enough to read chapter books, but reluctant to move beyond the early reader step series that so many publishers offer. Geronimo Stilton is a mouse detective and the books are full of adventure and humor. However, it’s the page lay-out that really distinguishes this series. While not a comic book, various words are printed in a wide variety of whimsical fonts, small color illustrations are sprinkled throughout the text, and there are numerous full-page illustrations. This approach engages kids who might be put off by too much text and I firmly believe that learning to read images is just as important, and equally complicated, as learning to read text. Enthusiasts will be kept busy reading for a while as there are over 50 books in the series, and his sister, Thea, has her own spin-off series.
Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine (Hyperion, $5.99) is by far my favorite character from an early reader series. She’s spunky and resourceful, with a sense of humor. She gets into trouble a lot, mostly for not paying attention, but she is paying attention, just not always to her teacher. Nevertheless, she has quirky relationship with her teachers and principal, and ultimately they seem to understand that Clementine always has the best of intentions. Her parents encourage her uniqueness and gently remind her how much she is loved. Marla Frazee’s illustrations are perfectly paired with the text and bring out the subtle humor in this story. The image of Clementine talking to the principal is priceless! The fifth book in this series, Clementine and the Family Meeting, has recently been released in paperback. Luckily there are two more Clementine books to come before the series ends.
Sunny Holiday, by Coleen Paratore, has become a recent favorite (Scholastic, $5.99). Sunny is more assertive and confident than Clementine, and is not afraid to speak her mind. Sunny and her best friend Jazzy live in an apartment building filled with strong, independent women who gather together for a monthly dance party. Surrounded by these role models, Sunny decides to create a Kid’s Day, and in the process learns how much influence kids really can have. The second book in the series, Sweet and Sunny, is still in hardcover. Sunny has a lot more to say, so here’s hoping we see more of this series.
Our bookstore is near the beach and summer is our busiest season. We feature a range of books about the beach, marine animals, lighthouses, mermaids, sailing, tide pools, seals, hermit crabs. My favorite board book is I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry (Dial Books, $6.99). A giant squid proudly proclaims that he is bigger than all the other marine animals and the boasts continue, until he encounters a whale. This is a silver-lining type of squid though and the resolution will amuse adults and children alike. The illustrations are bright and bold, minimal enough for very young readers, but with details and expressions that will delight older toddlers. (Ages 6 mo. – 3 yrs.)
I’ve been a bookseller for over 15 years. My specialties are children’s and ya books, but I’ve sold adult fiction, business books, travel books, reference books, history, science, and philosophy books, home and garden manuals, study guides,and religious texts.
Bookstores are filled with information and I’m always amused (and flattered) at how often someone stops in or calls for something that has nothing to do with books. They want to know where to eat, directions to local sights, hours for nearby businesses and they turn to the bookstore. People come into bookstores with questions and they expect the booksellers to have answers. They keep coming back because we often do. Booksellers are readers and we read everything.
Mostly, though, people approach booksellers for recommendations: “I’m looking for a book . . . ” I love having the chance to talk to our customers about books and love it even more when they’re willing to take the time to work with me, provide information (sometimes personal!), and talk about their own experiences with books and reading. Although the final selection is always individual, there are some books that formulate my core set of favorites.
This blog will feature many of the requests I get every day: I’m looking for a book . . . for an early reader who wants a chapter book . . . for a new-baby book . . . for a 12 year old who is a reluctant reader . . . for a teenager who has read everything . . . about horses, sports, fairies, mysteries, fantasy, history . . . and the answers from a bookseller, who is always ready with a recommendation.