humor

Zero Fade

Jacket• Grade Range: 7th-adult
• Humor/Coming of age
• Author: Chris L. Terry
• Title: Zero Fade
• Publisher: Curbside Splendor Publishing
• 2013
• 295 pages.
• ISBN: 9780988480438
• Awards: In the Margins top 25, Best of 2013 lists-Kirkus & Slate.com
• Author’s website: http://www.chrislterry.com/

 

It is the mid 90’s in inner city Richmond and Kevin is in 7th grade. For nine days in April so are we. It’s Saturday morning and Kevin is getting a haircut in the basement from his Mama when what he really wants is a sick fade and a chance to spend Saturday with someone fine, like orange-haired Aisha. While his dad is no longer around, Kevin has a tight family, a mom going to school and holding a job, an older sister Laura and an admired uncle Paul: his mom’s baby brother. While Kevin narrates most chapters, Paul gets a turn too. He’s gay and he knows it’s time to tell his nephew; problem is his nephew: pining to be cool, desperate to get with a girl and a fan of Eddie Murphy’s gay bashing humor, doesn’t seem ready to hear what he has to say. Add into the mix Kevin’s inability to control his smart mouth, getting grounded, a classic bully, the nastiness of his mother getting a date before he does and an ill-advised adventure with his sister, and Kevin has a full week.

There are a ton of fabulous 2014 books I plan to add to this blog, but as I peruse the best of 2014 lists I can’t forget some of my favorites from last year. Every once in awhile I come across a book I just adore that doesn’t seem to get traction in the press. In many ways those are the books I most want to feature here-genuinely fantastic books you might miss and which deserve to be widely read

In Zero Fade Terry has written a hilariously funny, honest, warm and believable YA novel that easily crosses over with adults. It is a rare book that manages to make the YouthLibraries.org In the Margins award list of “the best books for teens living in poverty, on the streets, in custody – or a cycle of all three” and win over a diverse range of folk on Goodreads: from self identified ‘old ladies’ to those who don’t even like YA. The novel comes across as genuine, surprising and very recognizable, which is fabulous for kids who share Kevin’s ethnicity and or background, but equally fabulous for those who don’t.  Consider this apt perspective from 13 year-old Kevin: “crying in school is like peeing yourself. It feels good to get it out, but you wind up with a bigger problem.”

Thank heavens Kevin is a winningly imperfect teen, with virtually nothing figured out. He fantasizes about being a stand up comic and wonders “[w]hat about my life would be funny later? Not getting any? No cable?” The book is packed with vernacular language, fresh observation and a complete lack of didacticism. When his uncle Paul gives him some good advice: “I mean, just keep doing your thing. There’s always gonna be someone wanna say something, so just do you.” Kevin rightly thinks “[b]ut I’ve been doing me and it ain’t working.” What teen hasn’t had this response to a well meaning adult advising them to “be yourself.”

What I love about Zero Fade is it’s strong sense of ethnicity and place. It deals with substantive issues. It is frank. It is also very, very funny, very human and very relatable. If I can get a single seventh grader to read it I am convinced I’ll get half the class. Likely this won’t be without controversy as there is occasional talk of titties and masturbation and lots of language inappropriate to school. I wonder if this is why this first novel by Terry didn’t win the Coretta Scott King John Steptoe award for new talent. Never the less I am convinced this exactly the kind of multicultural literature we need for kids, both for those who see Kevin in their reflection and for those who see Kevin in themselves on reflection.

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Sons of the 613

Jacket-1• Grade Range: 7th-high school
• Humor/Coming of age
• Author: Michael Rubens
• Title: Sons of the 613
• Publisher: Clarion
• 2012
• 320 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0547612164
• Awards: selected by Kirkus, YALSA and VOYA as one of the best books of the year.
• Author’s website:http://www.michaelrubens.com

 

Sons of the 613 opens with a Bar Mitzvah-fail of epic proportions. Isaac, aghast in the audience and three weeks away from his own Bar Mitzvah, knows he’s in “terrible, terrible, terrible trouble.’ He has concealed the fact that for the past many months his Hebrew tutor has never shown up. His determination to come clean to his parents is stymied when they leave town and put his brother Josh in charge. Six foot three, 245 pounds of muscle, sporting a skull and crossbones yarmulke and a tattoo that testifies to his obedience to the 613 commandments in the Tanakh, twenty-year old Josh has his own ideas about what Isaac needs to learn to become a man. So begins an epic, hilarious and touching quest.

Isaac’s rite of passage is filled with outrageous comedy, boatloads of adolescent shame and angst, bar fights, strip clubs, double-dares and growing maturity. There is much that might offend, but Rubens, in his YA debut, uses the comic skills he employed producing the Daily Show to keep the plot moving and Isaac self-deprecatingly aware of his mistakes. Isaac’s maturation process is messy, painful, decidedly not parent-approved, occasionally too cinematic, and sure to delight teen readers. This book is rarely on the shelves of the library and it is one of the titles that frequently walks, precisely because it appeals to the kids who are not the typical, compliant library users; there in lies it’s charm and power. Kids are constantly looking for the information they know they need as they hurtle through adolescence. While there are many fabulous books in our K-8 library, there are not a lot-maybe no others- that speak so directly to the actual concerns of teen-age boys.

 

 

Secrets of the Ancient Gods

       Jacket         Jacket-1

  • History related title
  • Age Range: Grades 4th-6th
  • Author: Vicky Alvear Schecter
  • Series Title: Secrets of the Ancient Gods
  • Publisher: Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press 
  • 10/2013 & 9/2014
  • 116 and 128 pages respectively.
  • ISBNs: 978-1-59078-995-7 & 978-1-62091-598-1
  • Awards: Anubis Speaks was a Cybils finalist.

Anubis clearly loves his job; being worshiped and getting to toss still beating hearts to the crocodile-headed Amut the Destroyer, what could be better? In this chatty, behind-the-scenes tour, the jackal-headed god of the underworld guides readers through an epic nightly battle, as Egyptian Gods fight against the forces of darkness and evil to ensure the sun god Ra is reborn: rising anew with the dawn.

Schecter does a remarkable job of making the complicated iconography of Egyptian mythology both clear and memorable, without dumbing-it-down. Convivial, yet menacing, Anubis orients readers with the Egyptian creation myth and then gets down to the really gross stuff. In between the blood, guts and snakes he manages to convey lots of accurate, precise, nuanced and compelling information about Egyptian practices and beliefs, making Anubis Speaks both an excellent curricular resource and a fun recreational read. Cleverly, a caution at the beginning warns of alarming content while simultaneously functioning as a source-note. An index, glossary, guide to Gods and Demons encountered, and an extensive list of sources, establish nonfiction bona fides – making this an auspicious beginning to the new Secrets of the Ancient Gods series.

Schecter follows her excellent Anubis Speaks (BMP, 2013) with a tour of the Greek and Roman underworld designed to creep you out. Long before Voldemort there was an original ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’: Hades. And, if you dare, he is here to take you on a personal tour of his dark realm.  Hades may have a chip on his shoulder about being the least known and worshiped of his brothers: Zeus and Poseidon, but he definitely has the best stories to tell, and as Larson’s pen and ink illustrations show, a personal-style rock stars would die for.

Readers will be both entertained and come away with a smattering of knowledge about the greats of the Greek and Roman world. And to balance out the Plato and Aristotle, who can resist knowing which hero left half his rear-end stuck to the Throne of Forgetfulness? A Guide to Gods and Heroes, an extensive glossary, a thorough bibliography that includes web sources, and an index establish the scholarly bona fides. Sure to please reluctant readers and fans of Percy Jackson.

 

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous

Jacket-8• Grade Range: 5th-9th
• History related title
• Georgia Bragg, Illustrated by Kevin O’Malley
• How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous
• Publisher: New York, Walker & Co.
• 2011
• 184 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-8027-9817-6
• Awards: North Carolina Children’s Book Award Nominee~Cybils Award (Non-Fiction)~ALA Notable Children’s Book (ALA)~IRA/CBC Young Adults’ Choice~Kentucky Bluegrass Award Nominee~Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (YALSA)~Texas Lone Star Reading List~Truman Readers Award Nominee~Volunteer State Book Award Nominee~Garden State Book Award Nominee (Teen)
• Author’s website: http://georgiabragg.com/

Georgia Bragg lays out the big ugly sad mess of death and how it did in 19 famous individuals. Her chatty and irreverent style is matched by Kevin O’Malley’s macabre cartoons.

Too often history for children omits the nasty bits. Bragg has single handedly righted that wrong: compiling all the grossest facts about the most gruesome ends of notable individuals from Pocahontas to Albert Einstein. As she forthrightly points out in her introduction: this is not a book for the squeamish. Even if you think you know how gruesome medicine was in the past, nothing could prepare you for the terrible ends of Beethoven or James Garfield: stomach drill or egg and whisky enema, anyone? And as King Tut, Napoleon and Albert Einstein’s corpses could tell you: even if the doctors don’t get you, the souvenir hunters will.

Bragg’s tone is often flippant: Darwin was “a few cards short of a full deck.” Her ‘take no prisoners’ style keeps the narrative rollicking along, as she blithely piles lurid fact on top of ghastly detail. Each chapter gives the circumstances of death and provides context for the historical period. Between each chapter is a two-page spread of facts tangentially related to the previous subject. Among myriad memorable items we learn a few priceless things Pocahontas noticed about King James I and the definition of Napoleon complex.

While the immediate effect of all this information may be to send you speeding to the bathroom to wash your hands, ultimately the account will impress you with both human fortitude and the endless remarkable stories history contains. Bragg’s enthusiasm is infectious and reader’s will be hard pressed not to share gruesome anecdotes and fun facts. However, as Bragg points out: “the people in this book didn’t become famous because of how they croaked but because of how they lived.” Not only does How They Croaked make an excellent elective read, it would be a fabulous way to fire up students before a biography assignment.

Front matter: Contents come complete with humorous and tastelessly named chapters: Marie Curie – You Glow Girl. An Introduction packs a strong warning advising those without ‘guts for gore’ to turn back. Back Matter: ‘One More Thing’ reminds readers of the important lives the famous dead lived and urges readers to emulate them and find something worth devoting your life to, since eventually everybody’s story ends. A diagram notes connections among the historic figures. Acknowledgements thank those who encouraged the author. Extensive bibliographic sources are divided by individual and chapter. Bless her heart-Bragg includes a wonderful annotated selection of further reading and surfing sources for kids, again divided by subject. An index concludes the book.