Friday, December 13, 2013

Three Favorites from 2013

Today I continue our TeachingAuthors series about our favorite books of 2013 by discussing three of my favorites from this year: a nonfiction picture book, a middle-grade novel-in-verse, and a young adult historical novel. In honor of today being Poetry Friday, I've obtained permission from the author of the novel-in-verse to include a poem from her book  I'll also provide links to several online "best books of 2013," in addition to those JoAnn shared last Friday.

Because I'm currently working on novels, I haven't been reading many picture books, but I want to highlight one I did take time to read: Let's Go Nuts! Seeds We Eat (Beach Lane Books) by April Pulley Sayre. Full disclosure here: April is a good friend of mine--we met while attending Vermont College. (We featured April in this Guest TeachingAuthor interview back in 2010.) But even if I didn't know April, I'd still LOVE this book, the third in a series that includes Rah, Rah, Radishes! A Vegetable Chant and Go, Go, Grapes! A Fruit Chant, also from Beach Lane Books. All three books use a lively rhyming text in the form of a chant to turn what might be a dry topic into a fun learning adventure. The books' wonderful photographs make the subjects appetizing to even the pickiest eaters. I can just imagine a classroom of students chanting these texts. And even though I consider myself somewhat of a "health food nut" (Quinoa, nuts, and flax seeds are all a regular part of my diet.) Let's Go Nuts introduced me to new seeds, like butternuts. Finally, I love how the lightheartedness of this book extends to the end matter, which provides "The Scoop on Seeds." Thanks to Let's Go Nuts! Seeds We Eat, I now know the difference between cacao and cocoa. It's no wonder that JoAnn included one of April's books in her best-of list, too--April is a master at making nonfiction come to life!

Speaking of masters, I have to say that Helen Frost is a master of the novel-in-verse. Unlike some books in this form, Frost's are true poetry. I remember being blown away by Diamond Willow and Hidden, both contemporary stories told in verse (and published by Frances Foster Books/FSG) that contain poems written in special forms to fit their stories. Now Frost's come out with Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War (Frances Foster Books/FSG). This novel not only makes use of unique poetry forms tied to the characters' points of view, it also tells a compelling story based on actual historical events. Here's a summary:
“In 1812, as war ravages the land, two young boys, one the son of American settlers, the other Native American, find their friendship and loyalties tested by conflict among the British, Americans, and Miami tribe members.”
As with Let's Go Nuts!, I enjoyed learning new things from this book, this time about American history. The story is set in what is now Indiana. Even though I was born and raised in Illinois, I had no idea the War of 1812 reached the Great Lakes region, nor had I ever heard of the Miami Tribe. But aside from what I learned about American history, I appreciated what this book had to say about friendship, especially friendship across cultures. As I wrote in my reading log: "I was especially struck by how misunderstandings develop between settlers and natives simply because they don’t speak each other’s language, even for the two boys. But because of their friendship, the boys overcome their misunderstandings to help each other."    

Frost explains in her author's notes that the poems from Anikwa's point of view include diamond and triangle shapes reminiscent of Miami ribbon work, while James' poems consist of horizontal lines to suggest the stripes of the American flag. And periodically in the story, there are free verse poems about salt and its importance to both people and animals. Here is one of my favorite poems from the book:

                         Salt Streaks

               Tears come from earth and sky,
               from words moving through us.

               We taste them as they fall,
               leaving salt streaks on our faces.

              We bear witness as they splash
              back to earth, and are absorbed.

excerpt from Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War (Frances Foster Books/FSG)
© 2013 Helen Frost. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

My young adult favorite from 2013 is a book I read for this year's SCBWI-Illinois Prairie Writer's and Illustrator's Day because it was edited by one of the conference speakers: Love Disguised (Bloomsbury USA) by Lisa Klein. I wasn't familiar with this author and I worried about what sort of license she'd take in a story featuring William Shakespeare as a main character. But I didn't know that Klein is a former college English professor. It soon became obvious as I read Love Disguised that she knew what she was doing. Here's a summary of the book from the author's website: 
"Will Shakespeare, in London pursuing his dream of acting, meets a young woman who will change his life forever: Long Meg, a tavern maid who disguises herself as Mack. A tale of mistaken identities, love triangles, and comic misadventure."

I love that Klein chose to tell this story in a style reminiscent of Shakespeare's work and filled with historical details true to the setting. I especially appreciate how she creates an authentic, multi-layered protagonist in Meg. You don't have to be a fan of Shakespeare to enjoy this book. 

And now, for the links to additional lists of "best books of 2013" for children and teens:  

New York Times list of Notable Children's Books 2013 includes young adult, middle grade and picture books.

School Library Journal has three separate lists: picture books, fiction, and nonfiction.

From Kirkus: the best picture books and middle grade fiction by category (they picked Salt too!) and the best teen books by category  

And you can see the Goodreads' Readers' Choice awards for picture books, middle grade, young adult fantasy and science fiction, young adult fiction.

Don't forget, today is Poetry Friday. When you're done checking out all these great lists, be sure to head over to this week's roundup by Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference.

Wishing you all a safe and happy holiday season!

Happy Writing!


Tabatha said...

What are you guys doing to me? That's the second book I've bought this morning based on a Poetry Friday recommendation! I'm scared to look at the rest of the posts ;-)

Carmela Martino said...

Hope you enjoy the book, Tabatha. And thanks again for hosting today.

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

Great recommendations! Thank you. :)

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks, Michelle!

Linda B said...

I loved Salt-& you're right-all of Frost's book are excellent. Don't know the final one, will look for it. Thank you Carmela!