Friday, August 31, 2012

WELCOME TO YA READS!


Welcome to my blog, a project created for a class on Young Adult Materials (LIBR 265-10).

This project includes a range of enriching materials for young adults, including databases, books, audiobooks, videogames, music and periodicals. In doing my research, I spoke with teen librarians, teenagers, young adults, and teachers, and I consulted many periodicals and blogs. Also, I was able to use my experience as a young adult librarian and English teacher in order to tap into resources that could be fun and educational. The materials here are all teen-tested and they capture the full range of various teen interests and skill levels.

The books tap into a variety of genres, including non-fiction and fiction, fantasy and realistic novels, sci-fi and horror, action-oriented and ones that focus on philosophical musings and intellectual banter. There are true stories about serious problems and there are wildly conjured dream-stories. They really cover the entire spectrum. Although there are many fantastic books, graphic novels, games, and other materials that didn’t make it on the list, all of these would be wonderful resources in any public or school library that caters to older teens. Some of them are ground-breaking and some have been deemed the very best in their genre or format. 

Because some of these recommendations might be controversial, I have included ideas on how to deal with challenges that might arise. There are also booktalking ideas, the reading level (which is about vocabulary and syntax, not content) and interest level. I would not recommend these materials for children under the age of the posted interest level.

More recent posts will have a looser format since they are not being composed for an assignment.

I hope that you enjoy this blog! 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

BLEACH by Tite Kubo


Kubo, Tite. Bleach. VIZ Media LLC, 2008. 191 pages. Tr. $19.99, ISBN: 978-1421525761


Plot: Ichigo Kurosaki, a.k.a. “Strawberry” for his naturally red hair, is just an average 16-year-old kid whose father runs a local clinic, except he can see ghosts. He sometimes avenges their deaths by going after their murderers. Rough and wild yet soft-hearted down deep, Ichigo lives with his father and siblings; his mother died years ago. One night, Ichigo spies a girl in his house wearing a kimono and carrying a long sword. No one else can see her because she is a soul reaper, a spirit who releases “Hollows” by killing them and setting their souls free. Hollows are hideous monsters, the deformed lost souls who attack ghosts and humans and devour them to become whole. Ichigo and the soul reaper/girl, Rukia Kuchiki, barely introduce themselves before Ichigo’s family is attacked, drawing him into a very dangerous world when Rukia tries to give him some of her powers and ends up giving him almost all of them. Now, killing the Hollows is his responsibility and Rukia acts as his guide.
            Ichigo saves a ghost child and the girl who has a crush on him from “Hollows,” and each battle becomes more and more emotionally complex, as he realizes that the Hollows are real people who have died and not just monsters.
Critical Evaluation: This collection of seven installments of the series is visually arresting and full of action. Kubo is a highly skilled artist, but he has some interesting quirks, such as an occasionally shifting visual style and post-modern comments on the form – such as the final page revealing a girl sitting in a chair, making a comment about waiting for a character, with an arrow and the words “how clich├ęd.” Also, Rukia bones up on human culture by reading a horror comic and Ichigo mocks her for it. These sly takes add a different dimension to the stories. The care and artistry that goes into each panel is obvious; Kubo plays with negative space and angles in very interesting ways. The characters have an ornery depth to them, with Ichigo’s tough exterior housing a good heart, Rukia is a tough warrior, and the back and forth banter between the two is always amusing. Ichigo hit gold with Bleach, and it’s not a surprise. The monsters are terrifying, the drawings are visceral yet elegant, and the story pits a prescient teen against some very powerful cosmic forces. Comic book and graphic novel fans will be hooked immediately, but this series might draw in first-time comic book readers and make them serious fans.

Reader’s Annotation: Ichigo sees ghosts all the time, but when he sees a gorgeous girl in a kimono wielding a long sword, he is drawn into a world of soul-eating monsters who attack humans and innocent ghosts alike. Will he take on the tasks put before him?

Author bio: Hiroshima native Noriaki “Tite” Kubo is one of the most famous manga artists in the world. He grew up in Hiroshima, Japan, reading Masami Kurumada’s “Saint Seiya” manga series and never looked back.
            His career began when he submitted his work to Shonen Jump in 1996. Initially, the editors passed on Bleach, but then they changed their minds and decided to publish it. Now, Kubo is an international manga star. He focuses on character when he is doing his work, and he lets that dictate the plot. When he made an appearance at the 2008 Comic-Con, he was treated like a celebrity.

Genre: Manga – comic book.

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
Focus on the artwork, perhaps use a visual to show the graphics. Do a projection; don’t try to use the book.
Discuss Ichigo’s confusion as he steps into a very important role that he never wanted to have. You can do a little teaser about the love triangle in the book, which is always fun! The “rival” girls are opposites: one is sweet and ditzy and has a serious crush on him, the other is serious and a killer and she’s always arguing or baiting Ichigo.
Focus on Ichigo’s character: tough yet sensitive, a monster-killer with morals that sometimes get in the way of his effectiveness.


Reading Level/Interest Age: 14+
Challenge Issues: There is definitely the possibility of a challenge with these – it’s got profanity, sexual content, and violence.
You could talk about the deeper content of the book, which is about a moral code and a character compelled to help people and try to protect them. It was one of YALSA’s popular paperbacks for young adults in 2009 and the series has been positively reviewed in the School Library Journal.

Why Included: My manga-loving students consider it one of the very best and I loved the cover artwork.

PERSEPOLIS: THE STORY OF A CHILDHOOD by Marjane Satrapi


Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of  a Childhood. Pantheon Books (2003). 160 pages. Tr. $13.95, ISBN978-0375714573


Plot: The first section describes the child Marji and her family, who are political and outspoken. She shows herself grappling with political ideas, trying to come up with her own conclusions, and she first decides that she is going to be a revolutionary and then she decides that she is going to support the king. When her grandmother visits, Marji learns about the hardships of the past and how her grandfather was imprisoned. There is an almost constant fear within the family that someone will be arrested for speaking out or not following the rules. Recently released political prisoners come to her house and she hears of the torture that they endured. She learns about her uncle’s own political imprisonment and is proud of him. When the Shah falls, she describes the treatment of the children of agents of the now-fallen government regime. As the goals of the new regime, and the even harsher actions of government agents, come to the forefront, Marji begins to wonder if her dreams will ever become a reality and her family is deeply concerned about the future of the country and their family.
Critical Evaluation: First rendered in French, Persepolis is a ground-breaking graphic novel. Told in an edgy, woodblock style with very harsh inky black and white, chunky illustrations, Satrapi manages to capture a very complicated world. She describes current and past political regimes, wars, and personal tragedies, all from the eyes of a young child. The unique perspective, having a child describe momentous national events in a very personal way, fills the story with a visceral urgency. The girl develops her sense of the world, her vision of her future, through turmoil. Every dream is either created or destroyed through the politics of the day. Because of this, Persepolis is a historical-minded memoir that merges the personal and the political in a way that creates instant access to the ideas and concepts that teenagers can understand and feel.

Reader’s Annotation: A young, headstrong girl builds her dreams and identity against the roiling turmoil of an Iran in war and political revolutions.

Author bio: Born in Iran, Marjane Satrapi now lives in France. Her family was political, with communist leanings, and life became very difficult for them as Iranian leaders became more fundamentalist and increasingly interested in stifling freedom and individual expression.
            As a teen, Satrapi moved to Vienna to escape the hostile, sometimes dangerous, environment. She creates autobiographical graphic novels, and children’s books. Her work has won many awards in France and Persepolis was a critical smash when it came out. The second book in that series also received very positive reviews. Satrapi speaks out about civil rights all over the world and is a controversial figure for her political views.

Genre: Graphic novel/memoir.

Curriculum Ties: History – Iran, Iran-Iraq war.

Booktalking Ideas: Focus on the girl and her personality – Marji is a fun, tough, headstrong child.
The beauty of this book is in its images. Project some choice panels to hook the crowd.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 14+

Challenge Issues: This is a politically controversial book. Keep the collection policy on hand, making sure that it notes that the library stocks materials with a variety of different perspectives.

Why Included: Having a personal and political story told in graphic novel format makes it very accessible to teens. It has received many positive reviews.

ST. ELSEWHERE by Gnarls Barkley


Gnarls Barkley. (2006). St. Elsewhere (CD -- Music). New York: Downtown Records. $9.70

Description: The duo Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse put this record out in 2006 to almost unanimous critical acclaim. The record contains a wild mix of soul, funk, psychedelia, hip-hop, and electronica, and somehow they managed to put it all together with remarkable clarity of vision. The second track, "Crazy," became a hit song. Bumping with bass beats, swirling with soul, and pierced with Cee-Lo's wonderful high notes, it is an incredible song that defies strict categories. The other stand out track on this record is "Gone Daddy Gone," about a failed romance. Beat-heavy, this is song blends hip-hop with sly references to classic rockabilly. St. Elsewhere would be a great record for a limited collection because it will satisfy fans of many different genres -- lovers of hip-hop, soul, electronica, jazz, and pop will be entranced.

Artist bio: Gnarls Barkley comes from the union of two strong individuals. Cee-Lo Green is the rotund, sometimes foul-mouthed rapper from Atlanta’s Dirty South hip-hop subculture. Producer Brian Burton, known as Danger Mouse, made the famous “Grey Album” mashup, as well as for working with Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz and, more recently, Beck and Norah Jones.


The two met in Atlanta and began working together in 2003; their commercial high point was the once-inescapable single “Crazy.” Their major albums so far are “St. Elsewhere,” from 2006, and “The Odd Couple,” from 2008. The latter features a dark and highly praised song “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul.” Overall, the group brings soul music back to hip hop, and adds bits of experimentalism around the edges.

Genre: CD.

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Interest Age: 13 +

Challenge Issues: N/A

Why Included: The band is one of the best reviewed rap/soul outfits around.

THE ONLY PLACE by Best Coast


Best Coast (2012). The Only Place (CD). NewYork: Mexican Summer. $14.98

Description: The Los Angeles band Best Coast's second record creates a sound that merges fast-chugging dreamy pop with jangly country guitar. It's a winning combination on this work, an ode to the city where they live -- the key lyric in the title track is "Why would you live anywhere else?" The great thing about this record, aside from singer Bethany Cosentino's soft yet edgy vocalization, is the band's historical mindset. They dig up the musical archives here, blending Phil Spector's girl group pop with touches of indie country (hints of Wilco), classic rock (touches of Roy Orbison) and New York art-rock (Velvet Underground pulses throughout everything). It is both a great contemporary indie rock album and a historical journey that takes you through some of the best sounds of the past 70 years.

Artist bio: The group Best Coast was founded by Bethany Cosentino, a reclusive young woman who lives in Eagle Rock, a bohemian neighborhood in Los Angeles that is also very low key – some coffee shops, a small college, lots of car repair. Their music has some of the same low-key, retro, lived-in quality.
 Cosentino and her musical partner Bob Bruno started working together in 2009, after she relocated from New York. Though she’s often photographed in a Fleetwood Mac T-shirt, Cosentino’s most active musical influences for Best Coast seem to be Phil Spector’s girl groups. She seems to like putting a lot of reverb and echo on the guitars, the way surf bands and the Velvet Underground sometimes did. Their sound has gotten cleaner and less shaggy with time.


Genre: CD -- Indie Rock.

Curriculum Ties: N/A
Reading Level/Interest Age: All ages.
Challenge Issues: N/A

Why Included: This band has become one of the best reviewed indie rock groups over the past few years. Their historical mindset makes for rich listening.

GYM CANDY by Carl Deuker


Deuker, Carl. Gym Candy. Houghton Mifflin, 2007. 313 pages. Tr. $13.65, ISBN: 978-0-618-77713-6

Plot: Mick Johnson is the star running back on his high school football team. He is willing to do anything to up his game and make football his career. It’s no surprise, because Mick never really had a choice. He was weaned on the sport by his father, Mike, who was signed for the NFL yet never really played a game. Now, the father is a radio co-host who is mocked by his partner for being a “third-rounder.” Mike says that he was injured and that’s why he never made it in the pro league. However, Mick is a star and he’s determined to remain one. A trainer has been giving Mick supplements, but he slyly urges him to gain the edge that he needs by taking steroids. Mick is willing to do anything – his father, living vicariously through his son, is so invested in his game that Mick can’t lose, it’s just not an option. When he takes steroids, he gets the edge he desires, but he also acquires all of the famous (and not-so-famous) side effects, prompting a horrific downward spiral.

Critical Evaluation: Full of passion, drama, and great game action, this is one of the very best young adult sports problem novels around. Deuker writes with an intensity that brings readers right onto the playing field, into the gym room, into Mick’s world. The characterization is rich and complex, with Mick’s desire to please his father becoming palpable from the very first chapter. Deuker allows readers to be flies on the wall, unpacking the myriad complex pressures on driven athletes. If others have the edge, why shouldn’t you? If you don’t juice, you will lose, because everyone’s doing it. This is a ripped-from-the-headlines type story that will expose the truths of doping in sports. The plot is taut, the characters are well-developed, and the problem is everywhere.

Reader’s Annotation: Mick Johnson is a champion in the making and he’s willing to do anything to win, but what happens when he tries to gain an edge by doping?

Author bio: Carl Deuker grew up in Mountain View, California. When he was three years old, his salesman father died while travelling and his mother raised their two kids on her own. He played sports in high school and went to Berkeley on a scholarship. There, he majored in English literature and was swept up in the protest movements at the time.
            Deuker has been a journalist and a schoolteacher. His books, which use sports as a framework, tackle serious issues and difficult choices.
Genre: Realistic fiction, sports fiction.

Curriculum Ties: PE, Health

Booktalking Ideas: Focus on the issue of sports and doping; talk about the pressures that athletes face.
Talk about the father/son issues and the secret that Mike kept from Mick. How would it feel to find out that your Dad has been lying to you for years?

Reading Level/Interest Age: 14 +

Challenge Issues: Drug addiction.
Response: This book does attack the issue of steroids and sports doping, but it tries to understand the problem. Keep the selection policy on hand. Keep positive reviews on hand, and perhaps even have a file with a couple of articles about high profile sports figures and doping that came from mainstream news sources so that you can discuss the fact that this problem is all around us.

Why Included: It discusses a serious problem and it is an especially good book for boys. It gets great reviews from teens.

BOY MEETS BOY by David Levithan


Levithan, David. Boy Meets Boy. Knopf, 2003. 185 pages. Tr. $13.41, ISBN: 978-1-41559-581-7

Plot: Paul is gay and everyone knows it, and no one really cares. Paul lives in a town in which anything LGBTQ is acknowledged and accepted. His best friend Tony is also gay but he lives in a much different town. Tony can’t come out and he is tormented by the idea of the retribution and judgment he would face if he did.
            Paul’s best friend from elementary school, Joni, starts going out with Chuck, a cruel jock who insulted Paul’s friend, Infinite Darlene, a cross-dressing quarterback. Tony meets Noah one night when he is with his friends and he is immediately smitten. Noah goes to the same school, and they have trouble connecting but eventually begin a romance. Drama ensues when a neighborhood woman spies Tony and Paul in a friendly, consoling hug;Tony’s parents won’t let him see Paul at all. A still enamored ex-boyfriend of Paul’s re-emerges, prompting Noah to break up with him. Will Tony ever see Paul again? Can Paul organize the Dowager’s Dance AND win Noah back? He’s certainly going to try.

Critical Evaluation: This is a bit of a gay-themed Tale of Two Cities, and Levithan makes some wonderful points with the set up of the story. While the plot is driven by the typical teenage drama, the kiss, the ex, the traitorous ex-best friend, the strict parents, there is a larger issue that he tackles, which is why this book is considered a groundbreaking work in the field of young adult literature. What Levithan offers is a vision of what could be. What would it look like? If LBGTQ teens were accepted, the normal romance/friend issues would be the worst they would have to deal with. By introducing Tony’s world, Levithan shows the way most towns are now. The contrast is what makes the point: Paul’s world is free, Tony’s world is dark and inhibited. This juxtaposition of the settings creates a vision and an argument about freedom and equality that will resonate with anyone concerned with these issues of freedom and equal rights. It might also change minds.

Reader’s Annotation: Paul is gay and he lives in a town in which homosexuality is accepted, even celebrated, but that doesn’t mean that he can avoid drama.

Author bio: A native of New Jersey and graduate of Brown, David Levithan got involved with children’s literature when he landed an internship at Scholastic. He has worked there ever since; he’s now editorial director and the founder of the Push imprint, Scholastic’s foray into edgier YA books.
            Boy Meets Boy began as an annual letter to friends, and it was lauded as a groundbreaking novel. Levithan collaborates with other YA writers (John Green and Rachel Cohn). He has won two Lambda literary awards.

Genre: Part fantasy, part realistic.

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: Focus on the town and the “what if” scenario.
Focus on the romance – the boy meets boy, boy loses boy – and the friendship issues.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 14 +

Challenge Issues: The gay theme in this book has provoked many challenges. I would keep Levithan’s excellent essay on LGBTQ literature and libraries on hand. I would also keep a file with positive reviews and quotes from people about the book. Also, keep Levithan’s bio on hand. His role as an editor of YA books might help. Keep the library selection policy and reviews on hand so that you can give the person who is challenging the book copies right away.

Why Included: It is a groundbreaking YA novel.

SETTLERS OF CATAN video game


Settlers of Catan (GAME), PC Download. Oberon Media, 2005. $29.99.

Description: This is an online four player game and you need a code to purchase it. Based on the award-winning, super popular Settlers of Catan board game developed by Klaus Teuber, the board version won the Spiel des Jahres, the most coveted game prize in the world. The online video game version allows for multiple players. Game play involves settling an island and spending resources to build up a civilization. The game involves trading for resources that players need in order to build. The goal is to do the most building and developing. In the game, each player has his or her own screen on which players can see recent actions. The “board” is created by hexagonal tiles revealing the terrain of the area in question. The areas determine which resource can be used.

Critical Evaluation: This is a wonderful game that requires strategizing, social interaction, and a bit of luck. The visuals of the PC game are bright and bold and they will catch the eyes of teens looking for saturated colors. The layout of the game is complex and they’ve managed to create a video game with all of the complexity but with a clean, streamlined design. This game is complex enough already; the last thing players need is to have to figure out a complex interface. This would be a wonderful game for a school or library. It requires a great deal of thought but it is also incredibly fun and engagaing.

Reader’s Annotation: You are settling an uninhabited island – can you manage your resources so that you can create more and more settlements?

Author bio: Oberon Media was founded in 2003 and they specialize in social, multi-platform games. The headquarters for the company is in New York.
            Klaus Teuber is a respected designer of complex video games. He is the son of a dentist, majored in chemistry, lives in Germany, and he’s won the Spiel des Jahres several times for his complex and engaging game designs.

Genre: Video Game.

Curriculum Ties: History

Booktalking Ideas: Focus on the trading and that it is a strategy game.
Talk about the fact that you are building an island.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 10 and up

Challenge Issues: N/A

Why Included: This is the video game version of one the most intellectually challenging and fun games around. It was recommended by the School Library Journal.

Friday, August 10, 2012

ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE by Rolling Stone LLC


Rolling Stone magazine. Rolling Stone LLC. One-year subscription: $19.97

Contents: A magazine that focuses on rock, pop, and rap music and popular culture, which also usually contains two pieces of serious investigative journalism. In the March 2012 issue, the cover story is on Paul McCartney, but there are articles on Tina Few, Joey Ramone of the Ramones, and LMFAO. Inside, Van Halen shares the space with Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Madonna. There are articles on an undercover mission in the ecological terrorist movement, the Oscars, and “Obama’s New War on Pot.” There is also a large feature on Christopher Paolini, the author of the Pendragon series. There is also a story about the CD format and whether it is a dinosaur and also a piece on Danny McBride, a comedian. The music focus ranges from classic rock to rap and ‘80s new wave to cutting edge indie artists.

Critical Evaluation: The stalwart rock magazine is slimmer now than in its glory days, but it seems appropriate for a library with a limited budget because of its range. There are many more specialized magazines that teens would like, but this one offers something for everyone. It gives rock lovers the opportunity to discover some classic blues, country and rock and it gives hip-hop and rap fans lots of interesting content, too. The articles are well-written by established journalists. The content is edgy but no one would find it offensive.

Reader’s Annotation: Rolling Stone: Where else do you go for edgy journalism on domestic terror groups, a bit on Johnny Cash, and a feature on LMFAO?

Publisher bio: Jann Wenner was born in 1946 in New York City. He went to boarding school and then to U.C. Berkeley, but he dropped out before graduating. He began writing and then founded Rolling Stone with Ralph Gleason in 1967.
            Wenner became known for discovering now-famous talents, like writers Hunter S. Thompson and Cameron Crowe and photographer Annie Leibovitz. He moved Rolling Stone to New York in 1977.

Genre: Rock/culture magazine.

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: Focus on discovering old classics.
Talk about the magazine’s focus on rap and hip-hop.
Discuss the edgy journalism and describe a story or two.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 12+

Challenge Issues: Some references to drugs and some sexual content.
Note the longstanding reputation of the magazine. Describe the famous writers and stories that have come from Rolling Stone. Note that references to drugs are usually about current events and politics.

Why Included: It is a music magazine with a lot of depth and range.

BEAUTIFUL BOY by David Sheff

Sheff, David. Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction. Mariner Books, 2008. 340 pages. Tr. $18.31, ISBN: 978-0-329-70193-2

Plot: Smart, sensitive, and deep, Nic Sheff, always made his father so proud. Growing up in northern California, they led what seemed like an ideal life, with the exception of the father’s divorce from Nic’s mom and their shared custody, which shuttled Nic to and fro from the northern California area to Los Angeles and back. Aside from that, all seemed normal – David remarried a wonderful woman and they had two kids Nic adored. Then, Nic starts disappearing. The father tracks him in one pivotal scene to find his son in San Francisco, looking like a skeleton, a withered version of his former self. He had become addicted to crystal meth and the addiction gloms on to him and doesn’t let go. Nic goes into rehab and falls, goes back into rehab and falls again. The cycle repeats, with Nic often vanishing and leaving his father wondering if he’s alive or dead. David goes on the journey of recovery with him, doing research about drug addiction, talking to addiction specialists, and, at times, trying to protect his young children from his beloved son’s arrests, thievery, and overall dissolution. When Nic disappears again after a particularly long period of being clean, David wonders if his son will ever re-emerge.

Critical Evaluation: This is a sharp, evocative, and compelling look at drug addiction and especially how addiction impacts families. Sheff is looking for answers – What went wrong? Did I do this? Can we ever escape this cycle of rehab and falling? The way the father tells the story, you see Nic grow up – a smart, vivacious kid with a great deal of personal style and a charmingly quirky mind. Going back to the beginning, Sheff makes the reader feel the same parental feelings that he must have, and so, even though we know what will eventually happen, that Nic will become an addict, it is still piercing when it happens. Sheff’s tone is concerned, reasoned, and, occasionally, desperate. He mixes thoughtful meditations with scenes that have a sharp impact. He is half concerned parent and half curious journalist, and the result is a powerful exploration of what happens when a father is forced to watch his son dangle on the precipice between life and death.

Reader’s Annotation: David Sheff’s son seemed to be perfect – smart, funny, with a winning personal style – so how did he end up on the street, shaking, afraid, skeletal, and addicted?

Author bio: Originally from Boston, MA, David Sheff moved to northern California to go to Berkeley. He wrote articles for New West magazine and others, and then began to write books (the topics have ranged from John Lennon and Yoko Ono to video games).
            His son Nic was born during his first marriage, and then he had two more children with his second wife, an artist and illustrator. In 2005, the New York Times Magazine published “My Addicted Son,” an award-winning article chronicling his son’s descent into drug addiction. The article was expanded to become Beautiful Boy, which garnered many positive reviews.

Genre: Memoir.

Curriculum Ties: Health, Psychology, English.

Booktalking Ideas: Talk about Nic’s fall and the family’s attempts to pull him out.
Read the section that describes the moment when David realizes that something terrible has happened, when Nic needs to be rescued on the street.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 16 +

Challenge Issues: Drug addiction, discussion of casual drug use.
This is a book about an addict, so there could be challenges to it. Focus on the writer’s credentials, his past books, his background as a top journalist. Keep a list of positive reviews on file. Know the content and that this is hardly a book that glorifies drug use.

Why Included: It is a gripping meditation on drug abuse, a topic of interest and concern to most older teenagers.

INTO THE WILD by Jon Krakauer

Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. Villard, 1996. 224 pages. Tr. $25. ISBN: 978-0679428503

Plot: Young Christopher McCandless had just graduated from Emory University when he got rid of the few personal items he had accrued, gave away tens of thousands of dollars to Oxfam International, and took off in his car. He did not tell his upper-middle-class family in Annandale, Virginia, that he was taking off. For two years, McCandless took to the road, seeking for, it seems, a life of philosophical introspection, communing with nature, and the soul-cleansing experience of pushing a body and mind out of civilization and to the very brink of its resources. He ventured west, north and south, making his way to Arizona, California, Mexico, North Dakota, and Alaska, driving, then hitchhiking, and living on rice, wild berries and the kindness of strangers. McCandless’ conjured up a dream of an “Alaskan Odyssey” and he heads out alone to the Alaskan bush, where he eventually starved to death in an abandoned bus in the wilderness, which turned out to be not as remote as he had hoped but it was remote enough that he couldn’t get help when he needed it.

Critical Evaluation: The book is a biography of McCandless’ life but it also examines the spiritual and psychological need for some men to journey into the often dangerous wilderness. At heart a mystery about what happened to a recent college graduate when he broke with his family and abandoned conventional civilization, it also goes beyond this to fully capture the psychic wounds and the spirit of adventure that pushes boys and men to forge into some of the most remote areas. He looks at historical figures who have gone off the deep end on wilderness quests. Writer Krakauer is an adventurer and risk-taker who had done his share of travelling into the wilderness in what some might call dangerous or foolhardy ways himself. There is a “There by the grace of God…” quality to the writing and a deep sympathy for McCandless. Krakauer compares McCandless to some famous wilderness worshipers and compares his journey to a religious pilgrimage. It is a heady travelogue, gripping psychological investigation, and a through study of the spirit of adventure that can uplift and inspire as much as it can hurt and destroy.

Reader’s Annotation: When a young man ventures into the wilderness and dies, a risk-taking writer tries to understand what made him – and so many others in American history – take incredible risks for a taste of freedom.

Author bio: A lifelong adventurer and mountain climber, Jon Krakauer was covering an expedition for Outside Magazine when his expedition fell into tragedy. His documentation of what happened during that fatal trek became “Into Thin Air,” his acclaimed book that explored the combination of mistakes and fatal bad luck during those days.
A native of Brookline, MA, and Corvallis, OR, and graduate of Hampshire College, Krakauer has lived in Washington and Colorado. His books tend to explore the place where man’s love of the wilderness turns to hubris.

Genre: Non-fiction, adventure

Curriculum Ties: Many of McCandless’ issues are anti-Capitalist and his philosophy was affected by a utopian, back-to-the-land pre-Communism that was rampant in Russia before the revolution.  One could link the book to Capitalism and early dissatisfaction with social changes caused by the Industrial Revolution.
California State Standards: World History – The Modern World
­10.3
2. Examine how scientific and technological changes and new forms of energy brought about massive social, economic, and cultural change (e.g., the inventions and discov­ eries of James Watt, Eli Whitney, Henry Bessemer, Louis Pasteur, Thomas Edison).
3. Describe the growth of population, rural to urban migration, and growth of cities associated with the Industrial Revolution.
6. Analyze the emergence of capitalism as a dominant economic pattern and the responses to it, including Utopianism, Social Democracy, Socialism, and Communism.

Booktalking Ideas: 1) Focus on a young son’s rejection of his family background, what they stand for…
2) Ask the questions of the book – treat the book like the mystery that it is and get the audience involved in asking some questions.
3) Talk about nature – what nature does for us and how little interaction that we have with it in modern urban/suburban life.
4) Focus on the desire to break free, gain independence.
5) Talk about explorers and risk takers. Bring up a couple of amazing feats. Discuss why anyone would ever want to take such risks.

Reading Level: Eighth grade
Interest Level: Ninth grade and up

Challenge Issues: Some may say that the book glorifies reckless, thoughtless behavior.
Challenge Responses: 1) Be familiar with many positive reviews in notable papers, such as the New York Times. 2) Have the collection development policy handy.
Talk about the cultural significance of the book, with backing: http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/05/18/reviews/krakauer-wild.html

Why Included: The movie and the book got very good reviews, drew attention to a story that was shocking and widespread.  The book is very highly regarded by the Los Angeles Times YA book critic.

THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner


Dashner, James. The Maze Runner. Delacorte Press, 2009. 375 pages. Tr. $14.49, ISBN: 978-0-385-73794-4

Plot: A boy named Thomas arrives in a strange place in a lift. The landscape is green and there is a crowd of boys around him, and he has absolutely no idea how he got here, to this place that the boys call the Glades. He knows his name, but he doesn’t remember anything else. The Glades is a strange place, with a huge rock gateway that opens and closes on a maze, and all of the boys here had the same experience that Thomas is having now. Supplies are delivered up from below in the lift, but none of the kids knows the source of the provisions. The next day, a girl is delivered up in the lift – the first girl and she brings a message, which changes everything. Every day, the boys must run the maze, trying to figure it out and escape, but they must return by nightfall. Inside the maze are Grievers, mechanical insect-slug creatures that can be fatal. As time goes on, things get more and more dangerous as the Grievers creep into the boys’ former safety zone of the Glades.

Critical Evaluation: This is an extremely well-conceived read that is full of mystery. The challenge of getting out of the maze fills the book with suspense and the Grievers are sufficiently creepy characters to imbue the novel with a sense of heart-wrenching dread. The setting has a dark, creepy, otherworldly aspect to it – there’s a little bit of Stonehenge in rock edifices -- and the pacing of the plot makes this a great series for the post-Hunger Games crowd. What Dashner does best here is create a sense of confusion and a suspenseful urgency, both by the time limit, the possibility of death, and by the rushing to get out. Because of these factors, and because they will identity with the main character, Thomas, this is a fast-paced read for teens looking for an adrenaline rush.

Reader’s Annotation:
Author bio: Born in Georgia, James Dashner went to Brigham Young University before becoming an accountant. After leaving the world of number crunching (quite happily), he became the author of adult books and several fantasy books for children before writing the Maze Runner trilogy, including Scorch Trials and The Death Cure.
            He lives in Utah with his wife and four children. Dashner is currently at work on a prequel to the Maze Runner.

Genre: Science Fiction/Adventure.

Curriculum Ties: English – suspense, tone

Booktalking Ideas: Focus on the dangerous robotic monsters.
Talk about the setting and sense of mystery – describing that they are all boys and then use the arrival of the girl as the kicker.
Reading Level/Interest Age: 12 and up

Challenge Issues: Violence, cryptic setting.
There are some possibilities of a challenge because of the violence and the title of the last book in the series, The Death Cure, might call attention to this book, but the possibility is pretty slim. Keep positive reviews in a file and know the content of this book, but a challenge probably won’t be an issue.

Why Included: This is an action-packed book for teens looking for Hunger Games-like adventure and suspense.

CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins

Collins, Suzanne. Catching Fire. Scholastic Press, 2009. 391 pages. Tr. $15.34, ISBN: 978-0-439-02349-8

Plot: In this second book of the Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss goes back to District 12 a hero. Things seem to be looking up: her mother has perked up and reignited her role as a healer in the community, they’ve got a nice house in the best part of town (a “winner’s circle” inhabited by former game winners), and they all have good food to eat. But trouble brews: the Capitol leaders are furious with her for her surprise in the Games, Peeta is in love with her but now she has reunited with Gale and her feelings are complicated, and there is dissent in the other districts that has been prompted by her televised acts. The Capitol needs to quell the unrest and get rid of Katniss (and maybe Peeta, too), so they do the unprecedented – stage a special Hunger Games and pitch Katniss and Peeta back in the fray.

Critical Evaluation: Though some people, enamored of the first book, have gotten frustrated with its pacing and that Collins takes more time with explication than with action (which is reserved for the end, but it is explosive) in this book, others (like me) will enjoy the fact that Collins slows down a bit to pump up the political side of things and to fully explore the setting of District 12 and the people who live there. The tone of this book is definitely more meditative, as if Collins went for a rollercoaster ride for the first book and now wants to slow to a trot and survey the scenery a bit. Katniss is just as angry and winning, Peeta is hurt yet solid, and Gale will compete for readers’ attention in this one. Collins has done a remarkable job in establishing the setting in this and the first book, and, before the games, readers will feel as if they have been in District 12 and met all of its inhabitants. This is a solid second act which allows Collins relish the landscape, both political and geographical.

Reader’s Annotation: When Katniss goes back home, she is a hero and things are even looking up until political unrest prompts the evil leaders at the capitol to stage a reunion with both Peeta and Katniss back in the arena.

Author bio: The daughter of an Air Force officer, Suzanne Collins traveled quite a bit as a child. A theater major, she went to high school at an Alabama fine arts school and she majored in drama and telecommunications at Indiana University before she began writing for children’s television shows in 1991.  She worked for Nickelodeon and Scholastic Entertainment.
            She met children’s author James Proimos while working on a show; he convinced her to try her hand at writing books for children. She ended up writing the hit series The Underland Chronicles before penning The Hunger Games books, which became a YA publishing world sensation. Se was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2010.

Genre: Science fiction/adventure.

Curriculum Ties: English

Booktalking Ideas: Focus on the place, the political uprising, and the threat that Katniss holds for Panem.
Focus on the love triangle -- read a section when Katniss is torn between the two.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 12 and upm

Challenge Issues: Violence
There is violence in these books, but there is also rich characterization and a political backbone to it. Listen to the challenge, but try to bring up the depth of the book. Know the content well. The fact that it the books are becoming major motion pictures might make them more familiar. Keep a file and include positive reviews and the bounty of awards and its placement on several prominent top ten lists: http://www.suzannecollinsbooks.com/catching_fire_88086.htm

Why Included: These books are extremely popular and very well written. They attract even reluctant readers.

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins


Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Press, 2008. 374 pages. Tr. $15.34, ISBN: 978-0-439-02348-1

Plot: Katniss Everdeen is a survivor, a girl who has kept her family alive by hunting and scavenging with her best friend, the similarly resilient Gale. Her mother, crippled by depression, can’t do anything to help the family and it is Katniss’ job to keep her beloved sister alive. She lives in District 12, a destroyed former mining area that has been ravaged by Panem, the capitol city, where everyone is rich and pampered while most of the people in the districts scramble for survival.
            Every year, to maintain their control over the districts, Panem holds the Hunger Games, a to-the-death, gladiator-style battle on live television. The warrior/entertainers in this battle are children, some willing combatants and some completely unprepared and starvation-weak. When Katniss’ sister is chosen to compete in the games, Katniss volunteers to take her place. Another teen, Peeta, is chosen. A relatively middle class baker’s son, Peeta seems like an unlikely fighter.
            The two battle in an arena that is controlled and ever-changing, manipulated by the show producers. They eventually form an alliance that changes the balance in the games in a way that revolutionizes the games.
Critical Evaluation: This book has a slow start, with Collins spending a lot of time describing the setting and developing the strange world of the book, but it soon becomes an action-packed page-turner that is an incredibly rich, rewarding read. The characters are winning or at least colorful – Katniss is wholly winning as a scrappy, sometimes violent survivor, Peeta is almost her opposite (gentle, creative, sensitive), and the other characters are a collection of Technicolor wonders from Panem or weary, destroyed, or battle-hardened victims of the capitol’s pillaging and iron fist rule. The plot moves forward quickly, with the forward movement bringing Katniss closer and closer to the center of the capitol and then to the roiling, ever-changing heart of the games. The tricks of the game-creators will always keep the reader guessing about what new challenge will Katniss have to hurdle, and her amazing capacity to overcome adversity will make readers want to cheer. A fast-moving plot, wonderful characters, a beautifully realized setting, and a political backbone makes Hunger Games as thrilling as it is unsettling.

Reader’s Annotation: When a girl from a ravaged district of what used to be America is forced to fight other kids to the death, will she kill or be killed?

Author bio: The daughter of an Air Force officer, Suzanne Collins traveled quite a bit as a child. A theater major, she went to high school at an Alabama fine arts school and she majored in drama and telecommunications at Indiana University before she began writing for children’s television shows in 1991.  She worked for Nickelodeon and Scholastic Entertainment.
            She met children’s author James Proimos while working on a show; he convinced her to try her hand at writing books for children. She ended up writing the hit series The Underland Chronicles before penning The Hunger Games books, which became a YA publishing world sensation. Se was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2010.

Genre: Science fiction, adventure.

Curriculum Ties:

Booktalking Ideas:

Reading Level/Interest Age: 12 and up

Challenge Issues: Violence.

Why Included: This book is a best-seller, it’s great for reluctant readers, and it is an almost perfectly realized science fiction/adventure novel.

THE SIMS 3 by Electronic Arts


Electronic Arts. The Sims 3 (video game). $29.99. DVD-ROM (PC). ASIN: B00166N6SA

Plot: A character-based game, The Sims is a simulation of real life in which characters need certain activities in order to survive and thrive. Players create the characters, families, friends, and situations. Each character requires taking care of – a child character may need food while the father may require sleep. The dog might want to go to the bathroom. Another character may require social interaction. The goal of the game is to balance the needs of the people and not allow any of them slip into exhaustion, hunger, or loneliness. As the game gets more complex, the people can strive for higher levels of satisfaction. Two characters may not get along, so the player would need to extricate one from the pairing before a big argument gets out of hand and loses the player points. Each version of this game has gotten more complex, giving the player the ability to create more elaborate and far-reaching settings and to put limitations on the characters to make things more challenging for the players.

Critical Evaluation: The Sims 3 game introduces character wishes and goals and offers up smaller goals so that the game is not just a large hodgepodge. This creates some focus to the game play. Creative players can modify the game in very interesting ways, customizing it to create very specific situations. The School Library Journal describes a version of the game that players have called “Nickel and Dimed,” modifying it to replicate the adversity of the people in Barbara Ehrenreich’s book. The Sims can also be used to understand characterization. It mirrors life in a way, by showing that there must be balance and that basic needs must be met before a character can pursue higher needs, echoing some of Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” (a psychology teacher could use this as a great example of what Maslow describes). The game is fun and engaging, but it also offers some of the elements of fiction, like setting and characterization. A creative teacher could find many engaging ways to use it to illustrate his or her teaching.

Reader’s Annotation: You create your own humans, but then you have to take care of them. Soon enough, you discover that people are a lot of work.

Author: Maxis, then The Sims Studio

Genre: Video game.

Curriculum Ties: History, English, Psychology, Health

Reading Level/Interest Age: 14 and up

Challenge Issues: N/A

Why Included: This is a fun game that also provides challenges that exercise mental muscles and stir the imagination. It was recommended in School Library Journal.

TOO SOON FOR JEFF by Marilyn Reynolds


Reynolds, Marilyn. Too Soon for Jeff. 223 pages. Tr. $15.05, ISBN: 978-0-329-55627-3

Plot: Jeff Browning has everything going for him. He’s a senior and a star on the school’s debate team. He’s got good grades and is heading for college. He’s got big plans for the future. His plans don’t include his girlfriend of one year, Christy, who is nice but just not the right one for him. Although he knows that it will be difficult (Christy’s a sweet girl), he goes out with her one night, determined to break the news that they are over as a couple. Christy interrupts his speech with the news that she is pregnant. Jeff’s plans did not include this. She was on birth control pills, but she explains that she occasionally forgot to take them.
            Christy is determined to keep the baby; Jeff wants her to get an abortion or give it up for adoption, but she’s not having it. Christy’s father is furious and makes life very difficult for Jeff. His parents are disappointed. His life is going off track, but he needs to get it together. The baby is born and Jeff has to learn how to incorporate fatherhood into his life plans.

Critical Evaluation: An easy to read, true-feeling story. The characters are incredibly realistic, probably because Reynolds worked as a teacher and counselor. She gets into Jeff’s head in a way that makes the reader believe him whole-heartedly. He is confused, angry, and determined, but he also needs to learn how to become flexible and responsible, and he needs to learn it quickly. Although the book is a “problem novel,” the characters are fully formed, so that the book never feels like the problem is the center; every plot point pivots on Jeff’s character and his emotional turmoil is so realistic that you feel like you know him well by the end of the story. This book will engage struggling readers with its strong characters and dramatic situations. The writing is clear and the vocabulary is never daunting for even struggling readers. This is one of the best realistic fiction novels for struggling readers or non-native English speakers.

Reader’s Annotation: Jeff is a star debater, a senior with big plans for college and beyond, but what happens when his girlfriend gets pregnant?

Author bio: Marilyn Reynolds was born in a Los Angeles suburb, and she has been a library assistant, teacher, and a writer. Aside from her realistic fiction, including the “Hamilton High” series (which includes Too Soon for Jeff), she has written books about helping reluctant readers.
            Reynolds specializes in “problem novels,” with kids facing serious life issues in an often-confusion world. She delves into the often-complicated emotions of her characters, who are quite often making important decisions. Rather than focusing on the problem, she focuses on how the problem impacts everyone around the main character.

Genre: Realistic fiction.

Curriculum Ties: Psychology, Health.

Booktalking Ideas: Read a paragraph or two. The writing and his character will sell the book.
Describe his situation. Ask the audience to speculate on what he should do. What would they do?

Reading Level/Interest Age: 14 +

Challenge Issues: Teen pregnancy.
The central issue in the book is teen pregnancy, but there is nothing in it that would glorify the situation. It is about responsibility. Keep a file of the positive reviews. Know the content of the book very well and be able to describe what the book is really about. Cite positive reviews and that it was adapted to film in an “After-School Special” on television.

Why Included: Struggling readers are very fond of this book. A student first got me to read it and it has been a big hit with other teens at my school.

WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON (Audiobook)


Green, John, and Levithan, David. Will Grayson, Will Grayson (audiobook), performed by Andrews, MacLeod, and Podehl, Nick. Brilliance Audio, 2011. $49.97, ISBN: 978-1-45587-017-2
Plot: In this co-written book, John Green and David Levithan portray two teenage boys, Will Grayson, a bottled up kid whose main problem is his passivity, though he believes it to be his friend, an outsized gay football player named Tiny Cooper. The other will grayson (whose name isn’t capitalized in the book) is a hostile gay teen in a town about a mile away, who is roiling with anger and self-disgust over his father’s disappearance and his mother’s attempts to make things all right. Lowercase will’s only relief from pain is his relationship with Isaac, but their only interaction during the course of a year has been online.
            When Isaac suggests that will meet him in the city and Tiny, Will, and Jane (Tiny’s friend) also go to Chicago to see a band at a club, Will Grayson meets will grayson, will grayson meets Tiny, Will Grayson starts having feelings for Jane, and their lives intertwine. There are romantic entanglements. Jane gets involved with an ex-boyfriend, to Will’s chagrin. Tiny and will develop a strong connection. And Tiny Cooper is about to fulfill his dream of staging a musical about his life. Eventually, Will has to come to grips with his over-the-top friend and will has to learn to love and trust again.

Critical Evaluation: John Green’s section is read by Nick Podehl, who captures Will Grayson’s reserved, good-guy charm, and Macleod Andrews takes on angry will. The narrators express the confusion and hurt of the characters and do a fantastic job of revealing the cracks in their hardened shells when the time comes. Tiny Cooper, voiced by Nick Podehl, has an infectious charm and listeners will laugh every time they hear his trademark “GRAYSON!!” The audiobook format is perfect for this book, since it is written by two different writers, and includes song snippets from Tiny’s musical, a listener can have a very rich experience.
            As different as they are, both Wills have similar issues – an inability to reach out to someone else. Tiny Cooper, on the other hand, can’t stop reaching out. Levithan captures the anger and fear of his character while John Green infuses his section with his trademark philosophical probing about the nature of love and trust.  

Reader’s Annotation: One Will Grayson feels stuck with a childhood friend, the huge and very gay football player Tiny Cooper; the other will’s only connection is with an Internet friend. When the two Wills meet, their lives will never be the same.

Author bio:
John Green -- Born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1977, John Green grew up in Florida and then went to a boarding school in Alabama (inspiration for his acclaimed debut, Looking for Alaska, which was set in a boarding school). 
            Green, who majored in English lit and religious studies in college, became a chaplain at a children’s hospital, an experience which has, he says, informed every book that he has written. He has lived in Florida, Chicago, and New York. He currently lives in Indianapolis with his wife and toddler son.
David Levithan -- A native of New Jersey and graduate of Brown, David Levithan got involved with children’s literature when he landed an internship at Scholastic. He has worked there ever since; he’s now editorial director and the founder of the Push imprint, Scholastic’s foray into edgier YA books.
            Boy Meets Boy began as an annual letter to friends, and it was lauded as a groundbreaking novel. Levithan collaborates with other YA writers (John Green and Rachel Cohn). He has won two Lambda literary awards.

Genre: Realistic fiction.

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
Focus on the idea of a quiet kid stuck with a wild, outsized friend.
Play parts of the audio – such as the first paragraph or two in which Will grouses about being saddled with Tiny.
Focus on the difficulty both of these characters have in reaching out to others – the fear of stepping forward, trusting, taking a stand.

Reading Level: 5th grade
Interest Age: 14+
Challenge Issues: Although there are no graphic scenes, the many gay characters in the book would be disturbing for some.
Challenge Response: Know the content of the book; discuss the themes of the book.
Keep the book’s many positive reviews on hand.
Keep the authors’ bios on file – that both are very respected writers in the field, with Levithan working at Scholastic for years.

Why Included: This book was recommended by a teen librarian in the Burbank Public Library system.  

GRACELING by Kristin Cashore


Cashore, Kristin. Graceling. New York: Harcourt Children's Books, 2008. ISBN: 015206396X.  $17.

Plot: In the world of this novel the first book of three, there are people called Gracelings, born with special skills, called graces. Katsa's grace is that she is a killer. Surprisingly, she has become enslaved to a cruel king who uses her to torture his enemies.

Easily identified by having two different colored eyes, Gracelings, though blessed with such amazing powers as laser vision or hearing people's thoughts, are not worshipped, they are shunned. Though powerful, they are usually used as tools. Katsa meets her match when, on a secret goodwill mission, she encounters Po, another killer Graceling, and the only person who can stand up to her in a fight -- thus kicking off a rich and romantic fantasy.  


Critical Evaluation: In this first book of the Cashore’s Graceling trilogy, the author has dipped into classic tropes from comic books and fantasy novels (the heroic outcast, the medieval-like setting) and created something entirely original. With intense action and suspense, a well-crafted plot, and richly detailed settings, Graceling is pure pleasure to read. Katsa is an ornery, tough, thoroughly likable character and a wonderfully strong female protagonist, literally and figuratively. Her love-hate relationship with Poe creates tension and drama, but it is also humorous at times, in a good way. Katsa is like a caged animal, desperate to get out; Poe is gentle, but he’s no pushover. Together, they are one of the most magnetic couples in recent young adult literature. The fact that Katsa is on a mission seems secondary to the journey, which is one of thrills and life-threatening adversity. Although the stakes of the central conflict (saving a kingdom from an evil, all-powerful dictator) isn't as enthralling as the love-hate romance, Cashore takes readers on a rich journey that is full of surprises.

Reader's annotation: A girl, graced at birth with the power to kill, needs to get out from under a horrible king to save a kingdom from ruin. The she meets another killer, a boy, and she may have met her match.

Author Bio: Kristin Cashore grew up in a rural area of Pennsylvania, where she read constantly. She eventually went to Williams College (a difficult experience for her) and then to Simmons for their Children’s Literature graduate writing program.
Graceling was her debut novel, followed by the equally lauded Fire and then, most recently, Bitterblue.

Genre: Fantasy.

Booktalking Ideas: Focus on Katsa's powers and her life as an enslaved outcast desperate to break free.
Talk about the romance -- the love/hate set up is one that teens will enjoy.
Discuss the suspense and the journey and the powers of the gracelings -- the different types of powers that they may have (sometimes unsure about their exact "grace") is part of the mystery of the book.
Reading Level/Interest Age: 14+

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Challenge Issues: Although some may be bothered by the sexual content of the book, there is really only one scene and it is extremely short and not graphic in any way. For any challenge, know the content of the book well and keep a file of positive reviews, of which there are many.

Why Included: Although she can kill, Katsa can do much more. It is about getting out from under someone else's controlling grip; about a disenfranchised girl finding her true power.

BRITANNICA ONLINE SCHOOL EDITION by Encyclopedia Britannica


Encyclopedia Britannica. Britannica Online School Edition. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved from http://info.eb.com/

Description: A familiar name in the encyclopedia world, Britannica’s Online School Edition offers encyclopedia entries with text, graphics, videos and photography. It allows students to create their own workspaces on the site, where they can collect articles, take notes on articles, and share their work with others. The first page allows young people to pre-select their level, elementary school, middle school, or high school The site includes a Merriam-Webster Dictionary and a World Atlas. It offers tips and tutorials on browsing and searching. On the home page of the high school level, readers will find a blog, with famous mysteries and historical facts collected by writers under a topic (“Ripper’s London and Thoreau’s New England” or “How Fast is Jamaican Sprinter Usain Bolt” – about the current Olympic Games). There is also a biography of the day, a “This Day in History” section, news by The New York Times’ web site, and BBC news links.  More bells and whistles include statistics and summaries, revised articles, and video clips. If I go to the Gabrielle Giffords site, I see videos, links to topics mentioned that have their own pages, a section on her husband, and a link to other sites and journals outside of Britannica. There is also a Spanish translator and a citation creator, with three citation style possibilities.

Critical Evaluation: This is an especially fantastic tool for teens who are researching people and countries. The graphics are attractive and clean despite the volume of different elements on the pages, making for easy navigation. Though the brevity of some of the pages mean that this database is great for getting a quick glimpse of a person, place or thing, but not great for in-depth research. When I’m using this one with my students and we have multiple database possibilities, I usually tell them that they should go to Britannica for a quick overview of the topic, to get their feet wet and gather search terms, and then they should go to other sites for deeper knowledge. I particularly like to use this site for research on states and countries.  The flags, maps, images, statistics and information are a real bounty for any student involved in research on a place. For biographies, too, it can be invaluable, with wonderful archival photos and neutral explanations about the person’s life. This is a great, fundamental resource for any public or school library.

Bio: Founded in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1968, Britannica has a reputation as being a scholarly encyclopedia. It is the oldest encyclopedia company still in operation. Although they are criticized for their coverage of certain topics or lack of attention to others, the company has retained its reputation as one of the most popular and esteemed encyclopedias.
            With the advent of the digital age, Britannica has worked hard to retain its relevance in the era of Wikipedia.

Genre: Online encyclopedia/database.

Curriculum Ties: Can be tied to all subjects.

Reading Level/Interest Age: Kindergarten up.

Challenge Issues: None.

Why Included: It’s a very useful tool for school research.