Ranting About Books Redux

Last summer, as we were preparing for our older son to begin middle school, we first came in contact with the “Summer Reading Requirement.”  Students have to read two books over the summer (no problem), and one of them has to come from the list of nominees for the Kentucky Bluegrass Award—a prize that students vote for from among books nominated by librarians.

I went on a bit of tear regarding the nominated books (see Ranting About Books), almost all of which seemed to me to be rather morose, traumatic, or “therapeutic.”  Well, this summer we have two middle schoolers, and last week we received the list for this year’s nominees.  I’d like to say I like it a lot better, but, again, we have a series of stories dealing with death, murder, disorders of various kinds, and genocide.  Now, I do remember that when I was that age (hmm, think 1970), one of the teen bestsellers was Go Ask Alice, a novel about teen pregnancy and drug use, and we also had A Separate Peace, which involves the death of a young boy, so maybe I’m compartmentalizing here.

So you look over the list and tell me what you think.  As a teenager, would these titles and descriptions appeal to you?  One friend last year, who is a librarian and was familiar with several of the books, defended them as better than they sounded, blaming the descriptions for the sensational tone.  Use that grain of salt as you form your opinions.

Kentucky Bluegrass Award Nominees 2012
Grades 6-8
Hero/Mike Lupica.
Philomel Books, 2010.
Zach Harriman is devastated when his dad, a globetrotting troubleshooter for the president is killed. Not knowing that he has inherited “special powers” from his father, Zach discovers the same people who murdered his father are now after him.
How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous/Georgia Bragg.
Walker & Co., 2011.
This nonfiction book shares the eerily gruesome details of the deaths of nineteen famous historical figures, among who are King Tut, Pocahontas, George Washington, Edgar Allan Poe, Marie Curie, and Beethoven.
Leaving Gee’s Bend/Irene Latham.
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2010.
Ludelphia Bennett, a determined, ten-year-old African American girl in 1932 Alabama, leaves home in an effort to find medical help for her sick mother, recounting her adventures in a quilt she is making.
Liar, Liar: The Theory, Practice, and Destructive Properties of Deception/Gary Paulsen.
Philomel Books, 2009.
Fourteen-year-old Kevin is very good at lying and doing so makes his life so much easier. When he finds himself in big trouble with friends, family, and teachers, he must find a way to end his bad habit and make amends.
The Line /Teri Hall.
Dial Books, 2010.
Living close to “The Line,” an invisible border of the Unified States, Rachel feels she and her mother are safe. Then she gets a message asking for help from a boy who lives across the line.
A Long Walk to Water/Linda Sue Park.
Clarion Books, 2010.
When the Sudanese civil war reaches his village in 1985, 11-year-old Salva becomes separated from his family and must walk with other Dinka tribe members through southern Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya in search of safety.
Scrawl/Mark Shulman.
Roaring Brook Press, 2010.
When eighth-grade school bully Tod and his friends get caught committing a crime on school property, Tod’s “punishment” involves serving detention with the school guidance counselor and keeping a journal revealing aspects of himself that he would prefer to keep hidden.
Sean Griswold’s HeadLindsey Leavitt.
Bloomsbury, 2011.
Angry after discovering that her parents have been hiding her dad has multiple sclerosis, Payton begins counseling sessions at school. Her assignment – a “focus exercise” to distract her –leads her to an interest in a boy she’d never really noticed before, problems with her best friend, a new interest in long-distance biking, and eventually allows her to come to terms with life’s uncertainties.
A Tale Dark and Grimm/Adam Gidwitz.
Dutton, 2010.
This eerie tale follows Hansel and Gretel as they walk out of their own spooky tale and into eight more frightening adventures, encountering some helpful folk and several wicked creatures along the way.
Virals/Kathy Reichs.
Razorbill, 2010.
When Tory Brennan and her three best friends are accidentally exposed to a canine parvovirus while snooping around a top-secret government facility, their senses become heightened, and they must use these new powers to stay alive and solve the cold case murder of a young girl who disappeared years ago.

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