Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer

Alender, K. (2013). Marie Antoinette, serial killer. NY: Point.

This book is a Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers option – and rightly so! The book opens with a beheading and a mysterious ghost. The majority of the action follows Colette as she is on a class trip to Paris with her French teacher. Colette is like all of us – she desperately wants to impress others. However, she comes to realize that she might be trying to impress the wrong people. With ghosts, strange murders, all the drama of teenage girls, mysterious French boys, and an eerie feeling of connection between Colette and Marie Antoinette, this book was an engaging read. I would recommend it to 6th graders and up.

Extras:

Book Trailer

Prezi

A Tale Dark and Grimm

Gidwitz, A. (2010). A tale dark and Grimm. NY: Dutton.

A Tale Dark and Grimm is a story of courage. It’s a novel that shows that children have depths of endurance, ingenuity and strength that adults often dismiss. I’m not saying that every child could survive what Hansel and Gretel endure, but I think about what kids go through every day, and this message resonated with me. It’s also a cautionary tale to parents. Parents need to consider carefully what it means to be a parent, and how much they cherish their children. Are children a means to an end, a possession, or are they worth their weight in gold? Read it! If you like fairy tales, you definitely need to read it. I listened to this as an audio book and it was great. I especially loved the asides by the narrator, it reminded me of Lemony Snicket. This would make an awesome read aloud with middle school kids – a nice mix of gore and familiar story lines. They would have fun identifying all of the stories they know and comparing the sterilized version they know and love with versions that are closer to the originals as told by the Brothers Grimm. Although some parts are pretty tough, this was a very entertaining and often moving story. I would recommend to 6th graders and up.

Extras:

Official Book Trailer

Unofficial Book Trailer

Author’s website

Teacher Resources

My Friend Dahmer

Backderf, D. (2012). My friend Dahmer. NY: Abrams.

What would it be like to go to school with and be acquaintances with a serial killer? In this graphic novel we get a glimpse of Jeffrey Dahmer through the eyes of Derf, one of his friends and classmates before he became infamous by committing those awful crimes. Derf paints Dahmer as an eccentric and tormented adolescent who was greatly affected by teasing at school and his parent’s terrible divorce. Derf illustrates his life alongside Dahmer’s and concludes that Dahmer could have and should have been stopped if adults had just stopped and paid attention to the signs of Dahmer’s tendency toward killing. Derf’s graphic novel is hauntingly original and really stays with the reader. His drawings are unique and his portrayal of this odd and eccentric individual are very fascinating. I not only enjoyed the graphic novel format, but I also learned a lot from the notes at the end of the story that explained Derf’s illustrations in further detail and described where he got his information from. I know students will find this story fascinating and will want to do even more research on their own to find out more about Jeffrey Dahmer. I would recommend this graphic novel to 9th graders and up.

Extras:

Book trailer

Author’s blog

Grasshopper Jungle

Smith, A. (2014). Grasshopper jungle. NY: Speak.

Austin has two best friends, Robby who is a homosexual and his girlfriend Shann. Austin is also in love with both of his friends, which makes things complicated. Austin and Robby are beat up by bullies and Robby decides to try to write a message with his blood. They must go back later that night to retrieve their skateboards and shoes, which were thrown on a store roof during the altercation. Once on top of the roof they notice an entrance into the store in which Austin works, owned by Shann’s stepdad, Johnny. Inside Johnny’s office they discover some unusual displays. Little did they know these were going to be taken that night, broken in the parking lot and mixed with Robby’s blood. This mixture causes an outbreak of 6-foot tall praying mantises. These bugs are vicious and begin taking over the world by procreating and eating humans. Austin and Robby learn the only way to save the world is by exposing the bugs to Robby’s blood, but it is too late – the bugs have multiplied! Austin, Robby, Shann and family must now live in Eden, which is a hidden underground silo that was built as a safe haven. This science fiction, apocalyptic, fantasy is most appropriate for high school aged students. Students will see the ramifications of selfish acts in a greedy attempt to control the world. Austin, Robby and Shann must deal with how to save the world while dealing with the usual difficulties of being a teenager. My favorite quote: Shann said, “I love how you tell stories. I love how, whenever you tell me a story, you go backwards and forwards and tell me everything else that could possibly be happening in every direction, like an explosion. Like a flower blooming.” I would recommend this book to 9th graders and up.

Extras:

Most enthusiastic book talk I’ve seen to date!

Interview with author

Seraph of The End: Vampire Reign

Kagami, T. (2012). Seraph of the end: Vampire reign. CA: VIZ Media, LLC.

Well, I just totally enjoyed this! This is the first time I’ve read a shounen (male-centered) vampire manga. So far, I’ve only come across shoujo (female-centered) manga with vampire themes. It was an extremely quick read. I was hooked from the opening pages. The orphan’s home setting pulled me in and then the virus apocalypse. Not many characters are introduced, just the main ones: Yu, Mika, Shinoa, and Lt. Col. Guren Ichinose, and we get the whole backstory of this world, at least as far as the main characters know it. Due to the few characters to start with we get to know them quite well for a first volume and see some good action; we’ve got demons, cursed power weapons and an awesome vampire battle scene. Since the people who survived the original virus were children under 13 years old we are dealing with some young people in these violent scenes, both as villains and victims, which makes them pretty creepy. The art is pretty and the backgrounds are quite detailed. FYI – my daughter taught me everything I know about manga and anime. She has been a zealous fan since she was 9 (she is graduating college with a Fine Arts degree in a few weeks). I really think this will be a great new line for kids who are just getting into manga or those who have been enjoying it for a while now. I would recommend this to 6th grade manga readers and up.

Extras:

Anime based on manga/graphic novel trailer

Everybody Sees the Ants

King, A. S. (2012). Everybody sees the ants. NY: Little Brown.

Lucky Linderman doesn’t really like his life. His father, a chef at a fancy restaurant, is hardly ever home, his mother, to cope with his father’s absence, swims hours and hours a day, and for Lucky there is Nadar McMillan. Nadar has been physically and emotionally bullying him for years and neither of his parents really do anything about it. To escape the abuse, Lucky dreams he is fighting to free his grandfather, a prisoner of war in Vietnam who never returned home. He also imagines several ants that follow him wherever he goes, making funny and sarcastic comments about the different scenarios in his life. His mother, fed up with their situation, decides to take Lucky and go live with her brother and sister-in-law in Arizona for the summer. Once there, Lucky is able to find healing from his parent’s absence and learns how to stand up for himself. Everybody Sees the Ants can be classified under magical realism because Lucky’s visions of Vietnam and his discussions with the talking ants seem real to him when they are really fantasy, but there is more to this novel than these visions. There is romance, friendship, interpersonal conflict between family members, and the emotional and physical scars bullying leaves behind. The quirky and flawed characters in this novel never seemed forced or fake to me; they just reminded me we are all quirky and flawed in some way and we have to learn how to navigate life despite them. I would recommend this novel to 7th graders and up.

Extras:

Book trailer

Author’s website

An Abundance of Katherines

Green, J. (2006). An abundance of Katherines. NY: Speak.

Colin is devastated after being dumped by his girlfriend Katherine, who is the latest in his string of girlfriends named Katherine. His friend Hassan believes that a road trip will cure his depression. Colin is determined to be miserable, but agrees to go along. Driving south they end up in a Tennessee community, where they meet Lindsey. Lindsey’s mother offers them a job and a place to stay. They agree and end up experiencing life in Tennessee with Lindsey and her friends. Colin continues to wallow in his sorrow and is determined to develop a theorem that can predict getting dumped. His unique intelligence, anagram fetish and willfulness to complete the theorem intrigues Lindsey. They form a friendship, in which Colin would never entertain the idea that it could go any further because he only dates Katherines. However, their attraction is no longer denied once Lindsey assists Colin in completing his theorem. The inclusion of mathematics, anagrams and footnotes throughout this modern realistic fiction book challenges readers to think beyond the story. Readers 14 and older may become frustrated with Colin’s impossible attitude to snap out his self-pity, but Hassan’s humor keeps the story light and humorous. The life lesson to be learned is experiences and love can pass you by if you do not pick yourself up from your sorrow and move on. I would recommend to 9th graders and up.

Extras:

Cutest trailer, it even has bloopers

Author’s website

Only read this if you finished the book

When You Reach Me

Stead, R. (2009). When you reach me. NY: Yearling.

Miranda is a middle school student and one day her good friend Sal is punched in the stomach by a boy named Marcus. The next day he stops being friends with her for no apparent reason.  Soon Miranda becomes friends with a girl in her class, Annemarie. At her home, Miranda and Miranda’s mom’s boyfriend help her mom prepare for when she will be on the show “The $20,000 Pyramid.”  One day Miranda comes home to find that their apartment door is open and when her mom checks their hiding place for their key, it is missing.  Soon after Miranda starts finding these obscure random notes in random places.  Also, every day, she passes by this crazy homeless man.  Then one day as she talks to him she notices something familiar about him.  One day Miranda sees Marcus chasing Sal, apparently to apologize, but it causes Sal to run into the street and almost get killed.  Luckily, the homeless man sacrifices himself for Sal.  Miranda then realizes that Marcus is the homeless guy and he has learned how to travel through time.  This is a very poignant story of friendship. I would recommend this book to 4th-8th graders.

Extras:

Book Trailer

Lesson Plans

Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Black, H. (2013). The coldest girl in Coldtown. NY: Little Brown.

Tana wakes up from a party one morning to find the other guests have been brutally murdered. She finds her ex- boyfriend, Aiden, chained to a bed seemingly transformed into a vampire. In the room as well is a genuine vampire, Gavriel. Tana decides to escape the house taking Aiden and Gavriel with her. She is concerned she is infected so they all head towards Coldtown, a place for the infected and vampires. On their journey they meet up with two teenagers who decide to join them. Tana realizes that her only way out of Coldtown is to turn in Gavriel, whom she has grown fond of, and receive an exit “marker”. Once in Coldtown Tana becomes infected and she learns her sister has entered Coldtown. She must find her quickly and get her out. After helping Gavriel destroy an enemy, she saves her sister and then quarantines herself. She knows the process is brutal, but Gavriel decides to join her as a source of comfort. I really loved the fast-paced, intense action of this fantasy vampire novel; I didn’t want to put it down! It reminded me of an edgier Twilight; it had the romance and otherworldly feel of Twilight but in a much more Bram Stoker’s Dracula way. I think students will like it for that quality. Holly Black does a great job setting up her vampire world; I liked her scientific explanation of how an individual becomes a vampire and the reasons the government set up Coldtowns. It made the novel much more real and gave it a whole other dimension. I would recommend to 9th graders and up.

Extras:

Book trailer

Interview with Holly Black

Author’s website