Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War; illustrated by Jim Kay

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greatwarThe Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War; illustrated by Jim Kay
Candlewick, 2015.

It is hard to make World War One relevant to contemporary kids, particularly American ones; this handsome collection, is a valiant attempt to do that by focusing on the short and long-term effects that the war has on different children.

These eleven exceptional stories, written by authors such as Michael Morpurgo, Marcus Sedgwick and Tanya Lee Stone, are each inspired by a military or civilian object. These come mostly from the Imperial War Museum collection and include a war-time butter dish with an inscription from the prime minister, a Victoria Cross, sheet music and a soldier’s writing case.Great War Warhorsefield

Most are set in England, but there are also stories from Ireland, France, America, and Australia. Some take place during or immediately after the war and others in more contemporary times. Each looks at the toll, both direct and oblique, that the conflict has on a child, and how it transformed everyone’s life, rarely for the better. This is particularly poignant in Sheena Wilkinson’s quietly moving “Each Slow Dusk” as well as A. L. Kennedy’s more immediate “Another Kind of Missing”.

great war tankBinding the collection together are Jim Kay’s (A Monster Calls, 2011) exquisitely beautiful ink and charcoal war scenes, which are shown both as double page spreads and then as shards and splatters across other pages.

Back matter includes photographs of the objects with accompanying information, and short bios of the writers.

Like the similarly intentioned Above the Dreamless Dead, this was originally published in the U. K. in 2014 to mark the centenary of the start of the war and is also a worthy addition to middle and high school libraries, as well as public library collections. However, I think both short stories and historical settings can be a hard sell, so the combination probably means few kids will pick it up, though Jim Kay’s illustrations could reel some in.

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Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

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simon vs the homo sapiens agendaSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Balzer + Bray, 2015.

Combining an upbeat and breezy tone with thoughtful reflections on contemporary social mores, Albertalli’s debut novel will appeal to readers looking for an older and more realistic version of Tim Federle’s Better Nate than Ever (Simon & Schuster, 2013).

High school junior Simon Spier is a modern sort of gay teenager: He has not come out but is entirely comfortable with himself, and has no fears of being ostracized. However, he is in an anonymous email relationship with another gay junior, Blue, who is more secretive about his sexuality. As Simon’s feelings for his unknown correspondent grow, he becomes increasingly frustrated about the concealment, particularly as his straight friends start to pair up. Meanwhile, another student tries to use his knowledge about Simon to gain an entrée into his social circle.

With the maturing Simon at the center surrounded by a richly developed family and group of friends, the novel’s adorable frothiness also allows for hard-edged and important questions: Why are straight and white the default? Why do you only have to come out if you’re gay? Even though Simon is not afraid of coming out in the way he might have been in an earlier era or with a different family, he still feels the enormity of “crossing the border”, knowing that once his secret is out there, there’s no coming back.

In a flurry of resolution at the end, Simon realizes how little he knows about even his close friends: as Blue says, people are “vast houses with tiny windows.” Only when Simon stops focusing on himself and asks them questions does he discover the secrets and layers of their lives.