book trailer

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia

Jacket-6• Grade Range: 6th-adult
• Narrative nonfiction
• Author: Candace Fleming
• Title: The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia
• Publisher: Schwartz & Wade Books
• 2014
• 292 pages.
• ISBN: 9780375867828
• Awards: Sibert Honor,YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults finalist
• Author’s website: http://www.candacefleming.com/

 

Book trailer for The Family Romanov

Nicholas the second was born into a role of absolute power. He controlled the fate of a sixth of the world’s landmass, had 130 million subjects and was the richest man in the world.

He was a very ordinary man, lonely as a boy, fond of his family, secure in his right to rule who through his sins and omissions caused streets to run with blood, destroyed a thousand years of tradition and, arguably, caused the death of those he most loved.

Candace Fleming does a brilliant job weaving together private letters, historic documents and first person accounts to make intelligible and riveting the unbelievably tragic history of the fall of the Russian Empire. To her credit Fleming covers much more than the lurid side of the story: the lecherous monk, the massacre of innocent children, the astonishing wealth. She delves into the political and economic reasons behind the revolution and provides cultural context. Page-turning revelations about the depth of the Tsar’s anti-semitism, his catastrophic mismanagement of the war effort and the sweet banality of his domestic arrangements form a riveting and chilling whole. This is an unforgettable tour de force and a superb read for anyone age 12 to adult.

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Doll Bones

Jacket• Grade Range: 5th-8th
• Mystery/Coming of age
• Author: Holly Black and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
• Title: Doll Bones
• Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
• 2013
• 247 pages.
• ISBN: 9781416963981
• Awards: Newbery Honor, Carnegie medal in literature nominee
• Author’s website: http://blackholly.com/

 

Zach, Alice and Poppy have been friends for years. Their imaginary adventure game has evolved as each kid contributes plot and action ideas and creates their doll or action figure’s roles. As they enter adolescence all three are aware of the strains conformist expectations place on their unconventional cross-gender friendship and make-believe play, but it is only when Zachary’s father inserts himself into the game that a rift is created. Poppy’s effort to mount one last adventure leads the three into an ambitious and eerie quest to lay to rest a troubled spirit trapped inside a spooky, and possibly malevolent, bone china doll.

We have a joke in our library, especially when weeding, that ‘destined to be a classic’ means ‘never will be read.’ Doll Bones with its strong writing, appealing characters and astute feel for the pain and anger engendered by letting go of childhood, may be the exception that proves the rule. Like all great thrillers it magnifies the psychological pull of ordinary feelings and exposes just what we hope never to openly acknowledge. Zach’s growth, sports prowess and meddling dad push him unwillingly into tweendom. His impotent anger at being forced to let go of something that still matters to him causes him to imitate the dad whose behavior he so despises; he buries his feelings and flees, convincing himself that “growing up means most stories turn out to be lies.” The friends’ struggle-to keep some honesty alive in their relationship, combined with the ghost doll’s creepy influence, push Zach, Alice and Poppy past childlike dependence into an awareness of the freedom that comes from taking responsibility for their beliefs.

While many reviews and most trailers, including mine, focus on the spooky elements, the book’s strength and heart are really about friendship and growing up. This is a smart, timeless story.

Gris Grimly’s Frankenstein

Jacket-4• Grade Range: 6th-adult
• Horror/Graphic Novel
• Author: Mary Shelley-edited and illustrated by Gris Grimly
• Title: Gris Grimly’s Frankenstein
• Publisher: Balzar + Bray
• 2013
• 208 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0061862977
• Awards: None known.
• Author’s website & blogs: http://www.madcreator.com http://grisgrimlysfrankenstein.blogspot.com/ http://grisgrimly.blogspot.com/

 

 

A philosopher’s stone, an elixir of life, visions of immortality and power: Victor Frankenstein had wildly unrealistic dreams. When studying at University he acquires the tools to penetrate the mysteries of the human body and becomes obsessed. Toiling among the unhallowed damps of the grave he attempts to create a living being: a filthy creation spawned by the charnel house and the dissecting room. His success plunges him into a nightmare of sublime torment and tragedy he struggles to escape.

Gris Grimly’s witty, dark, romantic, illustrations create a gateway into Marry Shelley’s odd tale, which she wrote at eighteen, on a bet, almost two hundred years ago. Grimly has always felt that monster fans are divided into two teams: Team Dracula and Team Frankenstein. Grimly, rebellious and misunderstood has always been on Team Frankenstein.

The ink and watercolor illustrations, in a dour and subtle palette, channel a Gothic sensibility. Grimly’s characteristic style combines both steam-punk and organic monstrosities, resulting in images that are horrifying, humorous and beautiful. His renderings imbue Frankenstein-never a sympathetic character-with a quirky pathos. Grimly has abridged Shelley’s text but preserved her original language. His graphic novel adaptation re-envisions Frankenstein, making it accessible to a new generation.

A graphic novel book group I teach read Grimly’s Frankenstein last year. The illustrations were admired, but it was only this year that the story really seemed to grab them. Several of the boys, now in eighth grade, have read and re-read it and two went so far as to create an excellent book trailer-see above. I continue to be impressed with how excellent illustrations can leverage the power of text, propelling a book from good to great and allowing readers to connect to ideas on multiple levels.

 

Bomb: The Race to Build-and Steal- the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

Jacket-14• Grade Range: 6th-Adult
• History related title
• Author: Steve Sheinkin
• Title: Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon
• Publisher: New York, Roaring Brook
• 2012
• 266 pages.
• ISBN: 978-1-59643-487-5
• Awards: Newbery Honor Book~National Book Awards Finalist~Robert F. Sibert Award~YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction~Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year~BCCB Recommended Title~CCBC Choice (Univ. of WI)~Washington Post Best Books of the Year~Maine Student Book Award Master List~VA Jefferson Cup Winner (Older Readers)~Vermont Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award Master List
• Author’s website: http://www.stevesheinkin.com/

At secret locations in America, brilliant and eccentric scientists raced to develop the atomic bomb ahead of Hitler. Meanwhile teams of Allied spies sought to sabotage German efforts, while Soviet agents infiltrated and stole the bomb’s plans, before it was even deployed.

Sheinkin masterfully tells the big story of the creation and theft of the most destructive weapon ever invented. His cinematic style, and exemplary editing and pacing make Bomb a real page-turner. He introduces tens of characters, from Robert Oppenheimer: the original, brilliant absent-minded-professor, through Knut Haukelid: a Norweigan real-life Jason Bourne, to Harry Gould: an innocuous American whose desire to please caused him to hand the world’s deadliest weapon to one of the century’s most ruthless dictators.

Sheinkin packs his story with fascinating personalities and intriguing anecdotes. The well-chosen details and telling quotes let the reader get to know the characters and helps to keep them straight. It’s hard to forget Oppenheimer once we’ve been introduced to the fact he once got so wrapped up in thinking of physics he left a date parked in a romantic spot while he walked home and went to bed. Chapters end with cliffhangers, drawing the reader on. But like any masterful storyteller Sheinkin teases out our interest, deftly interweaving chapters on bomb development with those covering espionage and the political and practical maneuverings that led to the bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Sheinkin sets up his story with a dramatic prologue: the moment the spy Harry Gould decides to confess to the two FBI agents who had finally tracked him down: “Yes, I am the man,’ Gold said…There is a great deal more to this story. It goes way back…I would like to tell it all.” The final chapter of the book, after the story has been told, wraps up back at the beginning: with Harry Gold moments before the agents knock on his door, starting up the stairs to try to destroy seventeen years of evidence. An epilogue briefly explores the fates of some of the main characters: the spies Klaus Fuchs, Harry Gold and Ted Hall and the scientist Robert Oppenheimer. A reflective essay briefly summarizes the arms race up to the present day.

Throughout the book period photographs, diagrams and relevant documents enhance understanding. The letter Albert Einstein wrote to FDR, making him aware of the danger of German development of atomic weapons, is reproduced in full. As usual Sheinkin’s source notes are exemplary: he groups his sources according to topic and provides brief annotations for each group to help readers research areas of interest. Photos are credited and all direct quotes are documented by chapter. The acknowledgments include experts who helped him vet material. An index concludes the book.

Bomb does a superb job of telling a compelling and complex story. It is clear Sheinkin respects children’s sophistication, curiosity and intelligence and that respect is both well-placed and returned. When I recently asked a seventh grade boy if he had read Bomb he replied simply: “it’s the best book I’ve ever read.”

For those who want more on this topic, check out the excellent graphic novel Trinity by Jonathan Fetter-Vorn. While it doesn’t cover much of the espionage it does an excellent job explaining the physics behind the bomb and covers the destruction of Hiroshima more thoroughly than Bomb. Another excellent complimentary book is Edward T. Sullivan’s The Ultimate Weapon: The Race to Develop the Atomic Bomb. Sullivan’s work goes into details about the secret industrial complexes, staffed by civilians, where the plutonium and uranium were produced. It also offers more material on the internal debate about using the bomb among scientists, politicians and military leaders and spends more time on the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.