When You Reach Me

When You Reach Meby Rebecca Stead

The Newbery Medal is the gold standard for children’s books. This book, the 2010 medal winner, has an elegant plot, a vivid setting, and a fascinating premise.

Twelve-year-old Miranda, growing up in New York City with her single mother, worries when her best friend, a boy named Sal, begins to pull away from her. The crazy homeless man on the corner also bothers her. But her fears are heightened when she starts receiving mysterious notes that seem to foretell future events.  When these predictions start proving eerily accurate, the tension ratchets up.

Miranda’s voice is clear and engaging, as she negotiates the shoals of sixth-grade friendships, befriends a bully, and deals with a working mom obsessed with winning a TV game show. Her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, sparks unexpected discussions about time travel.

Each clue from the mysterious note-writer drew me deeper into the story until I couldn’t put the book down. Stead skillfully drops clues and hooks the reader right up until the surprising – and satisfying – ending.

Amazing! Rebecca Stead has not been writing books for long, but she is a master.

Rebecca Stead's delightfully whimsical website is www.rebeccasteadbooks.com.

The Fences Between Us

fences(Dear America), by Kirby Larson

Author of the 2007 Newbery Honor Book Hattie Big Sky, Kirby Larson has a wonderful knack for making history come alive.  This book, the first new Dear America title in five years, comes in the form of the diary of a fictional seventh-grader named Piper Davis, who lived in Seattle in 1941.

Piper seems very real, with a best friend and a boy she likes, though she worries about her big brother, who enlisted in the Navy just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Suddenly the Japanese American kids at her school, and their families, are forced to leave their homes and move to camps. When her father, who is pastor for a Japanese Baptist Church, tells her they are moving to Idaho to be near his congregation, she hates him. How could he destroy her life?  Yet she grows to understand just whose lives are being destroyed.

This is a topic close to my heart because my good friend, Mary Matsuda Gruenewald, an American citizen, was incarcerated by the U.S. government at the age of 17. It's a tough subject to deal with, and Kirby does it beautifully. She deals with tender and painful subjects in a sensitive and thoughtful way. I hope lots of American kids read this book and never forget.

Kirby Larson's website is http://www.kirbylarson.com/

The Hunger Games

Hunger Games cover

by Suzanne Collins

Katniss, like my Emmajin, is a strong-willed, dark-haired archer who will inspire many girl readers!

When I first heard about The Hunger Games, I refused to read it. The premise seemed so awful: 24 teenagers are forced to participate in a televised competition in which they have to kill each other. The last one alive wins.The contest takes place in North America in the distant future, when the Capitol oppresses its people by forcing them to offer their teenagers each year as tributes, sacrifices to these terrible Hunger Games. Who would want to read about that?

Well, millions of readers are onto something, something quite amazing. Because it's true: Once you start this book, it's very tough to put it down. This book is brilliantly written, tightly plotted, and full of surprises. I kept predicting what would happen, and I was wrong.

More importantly, the book asks a deep and resounding question: How could you possibly maintain your human values when society forces you toward violence and cruelty? Like Lois Lowry's The Giver (published in 1993; if you haven't read it, you should!), it forces readers to ask deep and difficult questions, to decide what really matters in life. Those challenges are valuable at any age.

Suzanne Collins's website is www.suzannecollinsbooks.com.

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens

Mongol Queens coverby Jack Weatherford

Okay, I'm obsessed with the Mongol Empire. Otherwise, why would I write a novel about a princess who lived in that era?  But this book really captured my imagination.

Most of us think of "barbarians" and "plunder" when we hear the words "Mongol" or "Genghis Khan." But did you know that Genghis Khan gave power to his daughters? While he and his sons were off with the army, conquering lands far more advanced than Mongolia, he left the already-conquered lands under the control of his wives and daughters. Yes, he married off his daughters to allied kings and princes; but once he did, he stripped the husbands of their titles and gave the real authority to his daughters. He gave them the title of "Princess Who Runs the State." One of these daughters, says Jack Weatherford, a Macalaster College anthropology professor, governed so well that she even "invented the cultural and organization model that grew into the Mongol Empire."

Wow! After all the research I did for Daughter of Xanadu, I knew that Mongolian women were strong, learned archery from a young age, and sometimes rode off to battle with their husbands. The Secret History of the Mongols tells of many female ancestors who showed great fortitude. But governing?  I never knew that.

This book of history - not fiction! - tells some fascinating tales. I wonder if Emmajin knew all these stories?

You can find out more at the Random House website.

Shooting Kabul

shooting kabulby N.H. Senzai

How wonderful to have a book for children about a 12-year-old Afghan boy who leads an ordinary life in California: He worries about bullies at school and yearns to join the photography club. The boy in this book, Fadi, also has a deeper concern: his little sister, Mariam, who was lost when his family fled the Taliban. Filled with guilt about her loss, he searches for a way to go back and find her. A moving, lovely, tension-filled story, Shooting Kabul is a rare combination: a book that American kids can relate to but also one that conveys the complexities and nuances of Afghanistan before and after 9-11. This book is refreshing and compelling - and it keeps you guessing about the ending!

Best-selling author Tamora Pierce says, "If I had my way, SHOOTING KABUL would be required reading for 6th graders."  I agree!

N.H. Senzai's website is http://www.nhsenzai.com/

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