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Books by Authors You'll See at IRA14

by the CL/R SIG
 | Apr 07, 2014

For many attendees, one of the delights of the International Reading Association Annual Conference is the chance to hear authors of children’s and young adult literature discuss their books and tell the stories behind the characters, themes, and settings found in those books.

There is nothing quite as inspiring as listening to a beloved author ruminate about the inspiration for a book, share his/her creative process, or even tell anecdotes about the writing process. For bibliophiles, these author sightings are enough to keep us energized until the next year’s conference. In this week’s book review column, members of the Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group highlight a few of the books written by authors who will appear at Conference.


Grades K-3

Robinson, Sharon. (2014). Under the same sun. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Under the Same Sun | Reading Today OnlineTo celebrate an important milestone—her eighty-fifth birthday—a grandmother and her daughter travel to Tanzania to see their family. The author describes the eager anticipation and preparation of the adults and children who can’t wait to be reunited with the American branch of their family. As is the case for many families, storytelling and eating are a large part of the celebration. But this reunion has a somber note as well when the family visits the site of a slave-trading outpost and ponders the exquisite loss of a family separated and torn from its geographic and cultural roots.

Young readers will appreciate this gentle introduction to the diaspora and the different choices made by members of the family in modern times. The acrylic illustrations show this lively family enjoying the time it has together. The inclusion of photographs of the actual Robinson family in the back matter adds to the story’s poignancy and authenticity.  Being separated makes the time the children and the adults in their lives spend together even more precious.

Sharon Robinson will present at Somewhere Over The Rainbow: The Search For Literacy And Social Responsibilityon Saturday, May 10 at 11:00 a.m. and at the "I Can See Myself!" Identity and Diversity Author Panelon Monday, May 12 at 11:00 a.m.

-Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


McDonald, Megan. (2014). Judy Moody & friends: Jessica Finch in pig trouble & Rocky Zang in the amazing Mr. Magic. Illus. by Erwin Madrid. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Judy Moody and Friends | Reading Today OnlineIn a new series featuring the irrepressible and always-popular Judy Moody and some of her friends, these two separate stories highlight two youngsters who have great expectations. Judy plays a supporting role in both stories. In the first title, Jessica would love to have a pig as her birthday present, but when she and Judy Moody look around her house for signs of the pig, they find only pig-themed gifts. Jessica is at first disappointed and then becomes angry when she thinks Judy is keeping secrets from her. In fact, she becomes so annoyed that she no longer wants Judy to attend her party. But Judy's secret might make Jessica’s wishes come true.

In the second title, everyone’s favorite third grader provides a little help—make that some disruptions—to her friend Rocky Zang as he tries out several magic tricks. Readers will surely be amused by all the hijinks described in the book, and how the tricks go so very, very wrong. Many of them will relate to Rocky's determination to pull off some nifty tricks and amaze others, too.

Megan McDonald will speak at the Primary Literature Luncheon on Saturday, May 10 at 12:00 p.m. Tickets are required for this event.

-Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Grades 4-6

Flood, Nancy Bo. (2013). Cowboy up! Ride the Navajo rodeo. Illus. by Jan Sonnemair. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press/Wordsong.

Cowboy Up | Reading Today OnlineEighteen poems written in different voices are juxtaposed with informational text and commentary from a rodeo announcer in this book. The poems provide insight into Navajo rodeos, weekly events that draw competitors from all over. Not only do these competitions provide entertainment, unite families, and provide a place to socialize and enjoy good food, but they also offer a chance for youngsters to test their nerves and strength.

The book contains vignettes and large, colorful photographs featuring the ever-present sheep, horses, and bulls—all essential parts of the rodeo. There are also descriptions of fast-paced barrel racing and feats requiring courage and stamina. The back matter provides additional information about the history of rodeos, and readers will be curious to learn even more about these events so common in the western portion of the nation. For those unable to saddle up, the book provides a vicarious thrill ride.

Nancy Bo Flood will present at Children's Literature: The Perfect Teachable Moment on Saturday, May 10 at 3:00 p.m.

-Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Kinney, Jeff. (2013). Diary of a wimpy kid: Hard luck. New York, NY: Abrams/Amulet Books.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 8 | Reading Today OnlineIt seems that Greg Heffley may never run out of things to say or write about, a fact which must please fans of The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Poor Greg Heffley is down on his luck and completely on his own now that his BFF Rowley spends all his time with his new girlfriend, Abigail, who dislikes Greg. What’s a wimpy kid to do?
Desperate for someone to hang out with at school, Greg considers joining various clubs and even befriending someone else. But still, a good friend like Rowley—despite his flaws—seems impossible to come by. Various amusing vignettes about Greg’s family, including his mother's sisters and their children, are threaded through the main plotline. While it's clear that they love each other, it's also clear that some of his relatives have an unattractive and greedy side.

When Greg finds a Magic 8 Ball, he decides to let it determine his future actions. Of course, this leads to many problems. Although the book is hilarious as usual, it also has serious moments surrounding Greg’s perception of his childhood. As the author digs further into Greg’s family dynamics and classroom challenges, readers laugh and learn about navigating middle school.

Jeff Kinney will be the keynote speaker at the General Session held on Saturday, May 10 from 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.

-Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Mlynowski, Sarah. (2013). Whatever after: Dream on. New York. NY: Scholastic.

Whatever After Dream On | Reading Today OnlineIn the fourth installment of this revisionary fairy tale series, Abby and her younger brother Jonah end up going back through the magical looking glass in her basement when her best friend Robin stumbles into the fairy tale world. Fans of fractured fairy tales will enjoy this one immensely as the youngsters end up in the world of Sleeping Beauty and find a princess who can't see all the wonderful reasons she has to be happy right under her nose.

While Robin slumbers on after pricking her finger on a spindle, Princess Brianna is angry to have missed out on the curse intended for her, and what she is sure will be a much better future. Readers will enjoy the interplay between the siblings as well as the interesting dynamics among the fairies as they arrive to bestow gifts on Jonah who pretends to be having a birthday. All of the titles in the Whatever Afterseries are delightful, and this one is no exception with its humor and character development.

Sarah Mlynowski will present at Special Interest Group Network of Adolescent Literature (SIGNAL): Experiencing Adolescent Literature with E. Lockhart on Sunday, May 11 at 11:00 a.m.

-Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Pilkey, Dav. (2013). Captain Underpants and the revolting revenge of the radioactive robo-boxers. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Captain Underpants | Reading Today OnlineThis series just keeps getting better and better, and while much of the humor may not appeal to some adults, it has kid-appeal written all over it with its humor and the characters’ crazy antics. Only the grumpiest of individuals can fail to be amused by the adventures of George and Harold, not to mention Captain Underpants, and the many versions of Tippy Tinkletrousers. The names alone are enough to make readers titter in glee. They will surely hoot in delight at the various iterations of this villain as they peek out from the man’s unzipped pants.

The focus of this volume is a revisionist history behind the Ice Age, the extinction of the dinosaurs, and other tidbits concerning early humans. The Flip-O-Rama that allows readers to animate a few pages' worth of drawings adds to the delights of reading this one, the tenth in the series. Even the chapter titles are witty; for instance, "Have an Ice Day!" (p. 158).

Dav Pilkey will be the keynote speaker at the General Session on Sunday, May 11 from 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.

-Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Grades 7-8

Swinburne, Stephen R. (2014). Sea turtle scientist. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Sea Turtle Scientist | Reading Today OnlineThe close-ups of the sea turtles that scientists are dedicated to saving and the lively, engaging text offers readers reasons to care about the fate of these creatures. The author provides a sandy observation post during the mother turtles’ laborious process prior to depositing their eggs on the beach. The turtles heave their cumbersome bodies across the sand in search of a safe place, and then dig a body cavity for the eggs with their flippers. After covering them with sand, the female turtles head back to the ocean where they can move more fluidly.

While the turtles are the reason for the book, the text focuses on the work of Dr. Kimberly Stewart who studies the turtles that nest on the beaches of St. Kitts. She counts the number of eggs laid by the mother turtles and works to involve the community in protecting them. Readers will be swept up by the enthusiasm of those who care about turtles and their hatchlings' perilous journey to the sea. This fine addition about a unique type of science is another excellent addition to an already stellar series dedicated to scientists’ work in the field.

Stephen R. Swinburne will present at Authors, Teachers, and Teacher Educators: Sharing Teachable Moments for Reading and Writing in the Middle Grades on Sunday, May 11, at 11:00 a.m.

-Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Grades 9-12

de la Peña, Matt. (2013). The living. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.

The Living | Reading Today OnlineWhile some of the elements from this author's earlier books can be found in this one—cultural identity issues, romantic yearnings, family dynamics, encounters with racism—he explores new territory in this title. Although all the protagonists in his earlier books are survivors in one way or the other, this one explores survival at its most basic level. The book's protagonist is Shy, a California high school teen who takes a job on a cruise ship. He intends to use the money he will make to help ease his family's financial burdens. Shy has no idea that his “glamorous” job will come close to costing his life.

After an earthquake shatters parts of the west coast, a tsunami topples the ship. Through sheer luck, Shy manages to survive and ends up in a boat with Addison, the daughter of a wealthy passenger who had dissed him earlier. While the two use their limited resources to survive, Shy realizes that there is a connection between Addison’s father and the man who committed suicide on an earlier voyage. When they are finally rescued, their salvation may not be as clear as they think. There seem to be links between the island where they have found shelter and the origin of Romero Disease, the deadly plague that has claimed the life of Shy's grandmother. Teen readers will be riveted by the description of the enormous waves that crash into the cruise ship and the ever-hungry sharks circling the wreckage for survivors.

It's nearly impossible to categorize this one—Is it an adventure story, a story of survival, a medical thriller, a romance, a post-apocalyptic slice of life, or a modern version of the Titanic? But de la Peña’s fans will eagerly await “The Hunted,” the next book in this series.

Matt de la Peña will speak at the Young Adult Literature Luncheon on Sunday, May 11 at 12:00 p.m. Tickets are required for this event.

-Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Stiefvater, Maggie. (2013). The Raven boys. New York, NY: Scholastic.

The Raven Boys | Reading Today OnlineAs usual, Blue Sargent and her psychic mother stand in a churchyard on St. Mark’s Day, April 25, as those destined to die during the next year file by. For the first time, Blue herself hears the voice of one of the poor souls, Gansey, a boy born into a life of privilege and great wealth.

Gansey and his friends attend an exclusive local private school, and their lives become intertwined with that of Blue, who is in on a mission to keep him alive. As the story unfolds, readers realize that all of the characters are harboring secrets. Some won't even be surprising: Of course, the Latin teacher with the odd last name of Whelk has a somewhat sordid past that leads him to increasingly risky behavior. Gansey is in search of ley lines and a connection to the past while Adam, Blue's love interest, endures an abusive home life.

Fans of the supernatural will love the book and its successor “The Dream Thieves” (2013) and all the odd characters and happenings in the small Virginia town where the series takes place. The writing is engaging, the characters intriguingly complex, and the book hooks readers from its very first page. “The Raven Boys” and “The Dream Thieves” will steal into your slumber and turn those innocent dreams into nightmares.

Maggie Stiefvater will present at Discover Your Spirit Animal: Children Reading Multi-Platform Books in the 21st Century on Saturday, May 10 at 11:00 a.m. and Kick-Ass Girls in YA Lit: Who They Are and Why We Need Them on Sunday, May 11 at 11:00 a.m.

-Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Yang, Gene Luen. (2013). Boxers & saints. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press/First Second.

Boxers | Reading Today OnlineSet near the end of the nineteenth century in the Northern Shan-tung Province in China, this emotionally stunning and informative graphic novel boxed set provides readers with insight into the Boxer Rebellion in China. Once again, Gene Luen Yang explores cultural identity through important historical events while also examining their effects on individuals. In “Boxers,” Little Bao watches as foreigners destroy two men he admires. The boy grows into a man who forms a group called the Big Sword Society. Their goal is to rid the country of the foreigners who seem to be overrunning their country while replacing traditional beliefs with Christianity.

Somehow harnessing the power of his Chinese ancestors, Bao has good intentions but little compassion. In one especially compelling scene, he orders his followers to burn the sanctuary where several Christians, white and Chinese, have sought safety, while justifying his decision because of their supposed sins. The book's images are stunning, and its messages about intolerance, power, and cultural values hit hard. When he burns the famous library in Peking with all of its literary treasures to get to the foreigners on the other side, Mei-wen, a follower whose mother was killed by some disreputable Chinese Christians, reminds him that in so doing he has destroyed China's people and her stories.

In the companion volume, “Saints,” readers follow the misadventures of Four-Girl, whose very name indicates her family's bad fortune. When her grandfather dies, she is convinced that she killed him, and then eventually drawn to Christianity since she thinks it will make her even more evil. Instead, her new religion offers her friendship and a new name, Vibiana, and she leaves her village. While she finds some measure of happiness in her new home, Bao’s Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist is not far behind, and they murder the Christians. Because the two books cover some of the same events from different perspectives, readers will feel torn about what is right and what is wrong. In the end, the line between those who are sinners and those who are saints is a fine one, as Boxers & Saints shows time and time again.

Gene Luen Yang will present at A Plethora of Possibilities: Connecting Graphic Novels to the Common Core State Standards on Monday, May 12 at 1:00 p.m.

-Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

These reviews are submitted by members of the International Reading Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Reading Today Online

The CL/R SIG is accepting submissions to the fall 2014 edition of their journal, The Dragon Lode, through April 15, 2014. There is an open theme, and they invite manuscripts that explore contemporary issues and questions, genre study, literary theory, and research related to children's literature and reading. Manuscripts should be no longer than 20 double-spaced, typed pages. Use APA (6th edition) formatting. Author's name, affiliation, mailing address, telephone and fax numbers, and e-mail address should be on a separate cover page. Photos and illustrations should be sent as a separate jpeg file. Any reference to the author that would enable the reviewer to know the author's identity should not appear in the manuscript. Submit all manuscripts to: Dr. Ruth McKoy Lowery, Co-editor.

CL/R SIG will host a special session entitled Children's Literature: The Perfect Teachable Moment on Saturday, May 10 at 3:00 p.m. at the International Reading Association 59th Annual Conference in New Orleans. The session celebrates award-winning children's and young adult books and authors. Author Nancy Bo Flood is the keynote session speaker. Her work encompasses more than a dozen books. Her recent historical fiction "Warriors in the Crossfire" is set in Saipan during WWII, and was selected on the 2011 Notable Books for a Global Society (NBGS) list. The NBGS list represents selections and authors from all genres K-12, with a focus on understanding of and appreciation for the world's full range of diverse cultures, ethnic, and racial groups. The session will also include presentation of the 2014 Notable Books for a Global Society (NBGS) list by members of the selection committee. Visit http://www.iraconference.org to learn more about IRA 2014 or to register. 

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