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9-12 Age Group Book Club Selections
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Girl Coming in for a Landing 
by April Halprin Wayland, Elaine Clayton (Illustrator)

Not since Sandra Cisneros's House on Mango Street have I admired a book of such poetic power as girl coming in for a landing. Unlike Cisneros though, April Halprin Wayland chooses to use poetry as a form rather than poetic short stories to forward her character's travails about the year in the life of a teenage girl. The setting for the book is in and around Los Angeles where the author discusses kissing games, falling in love, the humiliations that is adolescence, and (of course) triumphing in the end. Any time poetry zings across my desk that is so lyrical, fun, beautifully illustrated (by Elaine Clayton) and enchanting as girl coming in for a landing, I have to let you know about it. Check out Girl Coming in for a Landing and tell your friends about it because Ms. Wayland explodes the form.

Click Here to Learn MoreWhat Would Joey Do?
by Jack Gantos (Author)

from Amazon.com:  Modern literature's unlikely hero Joey Pigza is back in Jack Gantos's grand finale to the award-winning trilogy that began with Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key and the Newbery Honor book Joey Pigza Loses Control. Joey, the sweetest, funniest kid on meds you'll ever meet, has enough trouble trying to keep his "active" self together. How can he win in his new, self-assumed role as "Mr. Helpful" when his divorced parents are out of control, his Grandma is surly and morbid, and Olivia, the mean blind girl he's forced to homeschool with, calls him a "hyper retard"? Even Olivia's religious mother can't save him with her "What would Jesus do?" refrain. As his world of flawed adults spins around him in carnivalesque chaos, Joey has to decide on a daily basis what he, Joey, should do. At least he has Pablo, his loyal Chihuahua mutt, his lucky charm. Or at least he does until his maniacal father (complete with restraining order) kidnaps the dog to lure Joey out of the house. 

Joey is a wonderful character, and his first-person narrative is both hilarious and heartbreaking. Sadly, it is his dying grandmother who knows him best: "You know, Joey, if you didn't wear those med patches, you'd just be thinking about yourself, and you wouldn't care about making everyone happy. Your problem is that you got better, and the rest of the world didn't." While it is more rewarding to have read the previous Joey books before this one, it is not mandatory. Still, all three Joey books are memorable, honest, fresh, exciting, truly eye-opening, and should not be missed by child or adult. (Ages 10 and older) --Karin Snelson 

cover Arlene Sardine
by Christopher Raschka, Chris Raschka (Illustrator) 

Amazon.com: "So you want to be a sardine." Although not every reader will personally relate to the opening presumption of Chris Raschka's Arlene Sardine, all will appreciate his lively approach to the humble story of an unsung heroine. Arlene starts out as a little fish who knows exactly what color her parachute is--the slippery gray-green of a sardine. Her career takes off when she and a few of her "ten hundred thousand friends" are caught in a purse net and thrown onto the deck of a fishing boat. After taking her last gilled gasp, Arlene is sorted, salted, smoked, packed in oil, et voilà, her dream has come true! 

While some adults may read this tale as either a morbid take on the traditional fish story or a thinly veiled call to vegetarianism, it is intended to be neither. Grownups occasionally need reminding that for children, the concept of death is not nearly so fraught with fear and panic and heartache as it is for adults. Arlene isn't much bothered by it either. She knows that sardines are, by definition, dead fish--she simply marks her target and shoots for it. 

Raschka earned a Caldecott Honor for Yo! Yes?, and his Mysterious Thelonious garnered acclaim as the New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Book of 1997. In Arlene Sardine, he uses exuberant pastel watercolors and bold, abstract strokes to bring the undersea world alive (and keep it kicking even after the sea life is dead). His text is typically minimal and musical: "Then she was smoked, delicately. She was delicately smoked. Delicately smoked was she." Children will enjoy this matter-of-fact yet playful telling of one tiny fish's journey to sardinehood (and in the process discover words like fjord, thronging, and hermetically), and parents may also learn a thing or two by loosening up and swimming along for the ride. (Ages 4 to 8) --Brangien Davis

A Single Shard (Newbery Medal Book, 2002)
by Linda Sue Park

From Publishers Weekly
Park (Seesaw Girl) molds a moving tribute to perseverance and creativity in this finely etched novel set in mid- to late 12th-century Korea. In Ch'ul'po, a potter's village, Crane-man (so called because of one shriveled leg) raises 10-year-old orphan Tree Ear (named for a mushroom that grows "without benefit of "parent-seed"). Though the pair reside under a bridge, surviving on cast-off rubbish and fallen grains of rice, they believe "stealing and begging... made a man no better than a dog." From afar, Tree Ear admires the work of the potters until he accidentally destroys a piece by Min, the most talented of the town's craftsmen, and pays his debt in servitude for nine days. Park convincingly conveys how a community of artists works (chopping wood for a communal kiln, cutting clay to be thrown, etc.) and effectively builds the relationships between characters through their actions (e.g., Tree Ear hides half his lunch each day for Crane-man, and Min's soft-hearted wife surreptitiously fills the bowl). She charts Tree Ear's transformation from apprentice to artist and portrays his selflessness during a pilgrimage to Songdo to show Min's work to the royal court he faithfully continues even after robbers shatter the work and he has only a single shard to show. Readers will not soon forget these characters or their sacrifices. Ages 10-14. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Peter Pan : The Original Tale of Neverland, Complete and Unabridged
by Raquel Jaramillo (Illustrator), James Matthew Barrie

Book Description
Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie's tale of the boy who wouldn't grow up, remains one of the most beloved children's books ever written. For nearly a hundred years, kids across the world have drifted off to sleep dreaming about Tinker Bell and the Lost Boys, pixie dust and ticking clocks, crocodiles and Captain Hook. But in spite of the story's visual richness, it has never been illustrated photographically until now.   In this lavishly produced edition of the unabridged adventure classic, designer and illustrator Raquel Jaramillo interprets Peter Pan through her wondrous photographic imagery. By blending illustration, photography, and computer technology, she blurs the lines between fiction and reality. The result is fresh and startlingly beautiful -- pure magic. Neverland comes alive with the immediacy and drama of a movie. Pirates stalk savage forests, mermaids swim through sun-kissed seas, children fly above undiscovered islands. Portrayed with a flesh-and-blood intimacy, the beloved characters of Peter Pan, Wendy Darling, Captain Hook, Tinker Bell, and Nana seem more real than ever before.  Part ghost story, part love story, tender, funny, and wise, Peter Pan is a haunting work that appeals equally to boys and girls. But in the wake of numerous abridged retellings, the famous Disney adaptation, and other big-screen updates, the true nature of the novel has been somewhat forgotten, its impact diminished with each passing generation. Jaramillo's stunning re-creation secures the legacy of the tale, in all its complexity, for a second century. It will prove to be as ageless as Peter himself. 

When Dad Killed Mom
by Julius Lester

From Publishers Weekly
Though his subject matter may be sensational, Lester (Pharaoh's Daughter) penetrates the minds of two children left motherless by their father's murder of her, to spin a taut psychological mystery. "My mother is dead. Dad killed her," opens the novel. Through the alternating viewpoints of Jeremy and his older sister, eighth-grader Jenna, readers glean clues to the psychologist father's motive for killing his wife, Rachel. Information that Jeremy uncovers in his mother's diary also sheds light on possible scenarios: inappropriate behavior both professionally and personally on their father's part comes to the fore. The author smoothly balances the children's individual struggles to deal with the aftermath of Rachel's death (their challenges at school, their inability to communicate with each other, their divergent reactions to their father) alongside their attempts to reconcile the facts surrounding her death and their father's subsequent imprisonment. The courtroom scene at the father's trial gives way to melodrama and undermines somewhat the admirable restraint in the preceding chapters. But Lester's exploration of the children's complicated mix of feelings especially Jenna's awakening sense of sexuality in the midst of sorting out her parents problems is subtly and credibly done. Ages 12-up.  Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (Boxed Set)
by J. R. R. Tolkien

Book Description from Amazon.com

Hobbits and wizards and Sauron--oh, my! Mild-mannered Oxford scholar John Ronald Reuel Tolkien had little inkling when he published The Hobbit; Or, There and Back Again in 1937 that, once hobbits were unleashed upon the world, there would be no turning back. Hobbits are, of course, small, furry creatures who love nothing better than a leisurely life quite free from adventure. But in that first novel and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the hobbits Bilbo and Frodo and their elfish friends get swept up into a mighty conflict with the dragon Smaug, the dark lord Sauron (who owes much to proud Satan in Paradise Lost), the monstrous Gollum, the Cracks of Doom, and the awful power of the magical Ring. The four books' characters--good and evil--are recognizably human, and the realism is deepened by the magnificent detail of the vast parallel world Tolkien devised, inspired partly by his influential Anglo-Saxon scholarship and his Christian beliefs. (He disapproved of the relative sparseness of detail in the comparable allegorical fantasy his friend C.S. Lewis dreamed up in The Chronicles of Narnia, though he knew Lewis had spun a page-turning yarn.) It has been estimated that one-tenth of all paperbacks sold can trace their ancestry to J.R.R. Tolkien. But even if we had never gotten Robert Jordan's The Path of Daggers and the whole fantasy genre Tolkien inadvertently created by bringing the hobbits so richly to life, Tolkien's epic about the Ring would have left our world enhanced by enchantment. --Tim Appelo

The View from Saturday
by E. L. Konigsburg

Twenty-nine years after winning a Newbery Medal for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler," E. L. Konigsburg wins the award again with The View from Saturday--a novel about the journeys we make to become ourselves. How on earth could a group of sixth-graders beat out team after team of seventh- and eighth-graders to become champions of the state Academic Bowl? The answer--believe it or not--involves sea turtles, a crazy wedding, chance meetings, and more. The delicious plot twists and quirky characters will propel this story straight into your heart. (Amazon.com)


Miracle's Boys
by Jacqueline Woodson, Nancy Paulsen (Editor)

"Sometimes I feel like our life is one big work of art--it's everything" [Charlie] stared down at his bare feet. "And nothing."

"This isn't art," I said. "It's our block! It's our life."

If only, if only... Life is full of poignant hypotheticals for Ty'ree, Charlie, and Lafayette, three brothers who are raising themselves after they lost their father to a drowning accident and their mother to diabetes. Each boy deals with his grief in his own way: the oldest, Ty'ree, has given up his dreams of college to work full time to support the others. Charlie is slipping into a life of crime, and is just back, angry and alienated, from two years at a correctional facility. Lafayette, the youngest brother, has retreated inward, avoiding his friends and blaming himself for his mother's death. These three are struggling against pretty large odds, but "brother to brother to brother," they can survive.

Jacqueline Woodson writes with a sure hand and true understanding of the complexity and depth of young people's lives. Winner of many awards for her novels, including two Coretta Scott King Honors (for From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun and I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This), she tells a captivating, honest story. (Ages 9 and older) --Emilie Coulter

Walk Two Moons (Trophy Newbery)
by Sharon Creech

Thirteen-year-old Salamanca Tree Hiddle's mother has disappeared. While tracing her steps on a car trip from Ohio to Idaho with her grandparents, Salamanca tells a story to pass the time about a friend named Phoebe Winterbottom whose mother vanished and who received secret messages after her disappearance. One of them read, "Don't judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins." Despite her father's warning that she is "fishing in the air," Salamanca hopes to bring her home. By drawing strength from her Native American ancestry, she is able to face the truth about her mother. Walk Two Moons won the 1995 Trophy Newberry Award.


The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963
by Christopher Paul Curtis

In a voice that's both smart and naive, strong and scared, fourth-grader Kenny Watson tells about his African American family in Flint, Michigan, in 1963. We get to know his strict, loving parents and his tough older brother, who gets into so much trouble his parents decide to take him back "home" to Birmingham, Alabama, where maybe his strong grandmother will teach him some sense. Several of the family stories are a bit self-conscious (we keep being told we're going to laugh as Dad puts on a show and acts the fool), but the relationships aren't idealized. Racism and the civil rights movement are like a soft rumble in the background, especially as the Watsons drive south. Then Kenny's cute little sister is in a Birmingham church when a bomb goes off. She escapes (Curtis doesn't exploit the horror), but we're with Kenny as he dreads that she's part of the rubble. In this compelling first novel, form and content are one: in the last few chapters, the affectionate situation comedy is suddenly transformed, and we see how racist terror can invade the shelter of home. (Hazel Rochman, Amazon.com)

Ten-year-old Kenny and his family, the Watsons of Flint, Michigan, are heading for Birmingham, Alabama, and one of the darkest moments in American history. 1996 Newbery Honor Book. 1996 Coretta Scott King Honor Book. An ALA Notable Book. An ALA Best Book for Young Adults. A New York Times Book Review Best Book. A Horn Book Fanfare.

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