Archive for the ‘Grand Canyon Reader Award’ category

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

June 20th, 2013

A few years back I asked students to interview their families about their experiences when the family members were teenagers. One student from Cambodia started the interview with his dad only to have it interrupted quickly with a somber, “You don’t want to know.”

I found out that my student’s father had survived the Killing Fields of Pol Pot, a violent dictator that led Cambodia in the 1970’s. The Khmer Rouge came to power and murdered anyone who didn’t agree with them or fit with their racial plan for the world. This was the 1970’s, a generation after World War II and the Nazis, and yet genocide was still happening (as it is in other parts of the world even today).

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick tells the story of Arn, a young boy caught in the violence of a country in upheaval. McCormick does a phenomenal job with taking very, very serious topics – topics that have such a huge scope – and making them accessible to audiences that otherwise may not have known (let alone related to) the issues in her books. Protagonist Arn is someone you can connect with as he experiences the sorrow of being separated from his family, the terror as he tries to survive in the Cambodian jungle, and the remorse as he is drafted into the Khmer Rouge army.

The serious tone is not overwhelming to the point of depressing, though, because there are glimmers of hope throughout the narrative. Even in the worst circumstances, people are reaching beyond themselves to take risks for what they know is right and to help fellow strangers. Arn expresses the full range of emotions, reminding the reader of humanity in the midst of tragedy. It’s so expertly done by McCormick that it just seems natural.

One thing that really caught my attention was McCormick’s diligence with Arn’s grammar. As he’s telling the story in English and not Khmer, his word choice reflects a grammar sometimes found in non-native speakers. McCormick’s linguistic rendering is impressive in its accuracy and yet readability.

Never Fall Down, a title that has so many connotations throughout the story, is a perfect gift to the real-life Arn Chorn-Pond. The man has gone on to found the Cambodian Living Arts foundation to preserve the amazing culture that could have been lost when 2 million people died (25% of the people in a population of 8 million) during the Khmer Rouge rule. Yes, the book deals with harsh stuff, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is one that will stick with me. Just like Cambodian Living Arts preserves a nation’s culture, Never Fall Down will preserve Arn’s story. It’s one that I’m backing for the Grand Canyon Reader Award.

Jack Strong Takes a Stand by Tommy Greenwald

April 30th, 2013

I’m really liking the amount of humorous, realistic fiction that has come out recently. It takes a lot of skill to write characters that are believable and yet live in big enough experiences to keep the narrative interesting. Tommy Greenwald succeeds in doing that with Jack Strong Takes a Stand.

Jack is an overscheduled middle-schooler who decides to stage a sit-in on his family’s couch until his schedule frees up. It reminded me a little bit of Avi’s Nothing but the Truth as one tiny action escalates into a media storm. Newspapers, web sites, and a TV show all run Jack’s story – but not the full version of it. All have their own agenda, whether they support the parents or think that Jack’s parents are the worst people ever. What I love is that Jack doesn’t hate his parents. Even when outsiders criticize his family, Jack is quick to try to defend them. His dad has a legitimate reason for wanting to overschedule his son’s life. Greenwald made sure that the dad wasn’t a two-dimensional antagonist (although the two-dimensional illustrations are pretty fun) and we see that it’s done because the father cares about his son.

Fans of Charlie Joe Jackson (a book on the GCRA list, might I remind you) will enjoy the similar style. There’s a fun reference to Charlie in the book, placing the events in the same world as Charlie Joe. I especially enjoyed the characterization of Jack Strong. Yes, he’s overscheduled. Yes, he’s taking a stand. And yes, he sometimes is taking for granted opportunities that others do not have. If the story was just about us sympathizing with a busy teen, it wouldn’t be as compelling. It’s more realistic that some characters agree with Jack’s choice but still think that he’s spoiled.

Jack’s grandmother is a stand-out character in the book and it’s interesting to note that she shares the same last name as Ellen Kellerman, the woman that the book is dedicated to. What a great memorial. I know that the illustrations may remind people of Wimpy Kid, but I would say this is more of a Gordon Korman-style book (and yet with the very unique voice that Greenwald expertly wields). Make sure to grab a copy this fall.

Our Grand Canyon List for 2014

November 1st, 2012

We just released our top ten picks for the Grand Canyon Reader Award:

Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide To Not Reading by Tom Greenwald (2011)
Deadly by Julie Chibbaro (2011)
The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen (2012)
Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby (2011)
Legend by Marie Lu (2011)
Mindblind by Jennifer Rozines Roy (2010)
The Outcasts by John Flanagan (2011)
The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez (2010)
Sources of Light by Margaret McMullan (2010)
This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel (2011)

Some, like Cinder and Divergent, we had to surrender to the teen list no matter how much of a temper tantrum I threw. That doesn’t take away from how much I like the titles we selected.

2011 Grand Canyon Reader Award Nominees

December 8th, 2009

How the Grand Canyon Award books work:

  1. We give you the top ten books from recent years.
  2. You read the books.
  3. When voting time comes around, you vote for the best book out of the ten.
  4. You sit back and relax, having enjoyed some really good books while you wait for our next list.

Check out the main site here.

I’m on the awards committee, so students of mine should recognize quite a number of these books:

The Brooklyn Nine by Alan Gratz (2009)
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (2008)
Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban (2007)
Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande (2007)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (2008)
H. I. V. E: The Higher Institute of Villainous Education by Mark Walden (2006)
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)
London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd (2007)
My Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison (2009)
Palace of Mirrors by Margaret Peterson Haddix (2008)

Grand Canyon Awards Committee

December 12th, 2008

On Thursday I got an e-mail about our AzLA presentation, Set Your Library on Fire II (it was a sequel year). I received an invitation from Kerrlita Westrick to be on the Grand Canyon Reader Award Committee.

To put it into context for the non-librarians followers of the site, the Grand Canyon Reader Award is a collection of the best books within the past five years. The committee recommends ten books and then students vote on the best book, like an Oscar award for a book. On top of that, places like Phoenix Book Company and Barnes and Noble will designate special places of honor in their displays for the Grand Canyon Awards. Librarians will buy multiple copies of the books, even if they haven’t read them, simply because they’re on the list.

I get to do Griggs Greats for the state. I am very thankful and excited.