Selected Children and Young Adult Books
A talented writer often will try out different forms. Poets write memoirs: historians write novels. Many authors known for their books for adults have tried their hand at writing for children, sometimes with great success.
Novelist Louise Erdrich, acclaimed for her adult novels, has been a Well Read guest twice, most recently for her novel for adults, La Rose. But she also writes books for young people.
One prize-winner is The Birchbark House. It’s set on an island in Lake Superior in the 19th century and features an Ojibwe family (the same tribe Erdrich belongs to), focusing on an eight year old girl. The reader learns how a Native American family of this era lived, and, as with Erdrich’s novels for adults, there are some surprises in store – this girl has some unusual talents. The Birchbark House was a National Book Award finalist for young people’s literature. For ages 9-up.
Millions of readers love the work of Elizabeth George, author of the Inspector Lynley mysteries and another Well Read guest. She has another series going for young adults. It’s about Becca King, a young woman who, besides the usual adolescent complications, is telepathic (she can “hear” what people are thinking) — a gift that gets her in deep trouble with her murderous stepfather.
Becca King goes into hiding on Washington state’s Whidbey Island, and suspense ensues – being able to read other people’s thoughts is definitely a mixed blessing!
This series gave George license to tap into her past as a high school English teacher – she knows a thing or two about restless adolescents. George has three books in this series – the latest is The Edge of the Shadows, but you probably want to go back to the first one, The Edge of Nowhere.
National Book Award-winner Sherman Alexie is a prolific author, a Native American who has drawn heavily on his childhood for his novels, essays and poetry. Though he won the National Book Award for his young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, he had never written a book for young readers until his just-released Thunder Boy Jr.
Alexie started his book when his sons were young – they loved picture books, so he wanted to write one. Thunder Boy Jr. , for ages 3-6, is about a young Indian boy who is not entirely happy that he has inherited his father’s name (not so coincidentally, Alexie is named after his father, Sherman Alexie Sr.). This story has a happy ending, and Alexie was so happy with the result that he says his next book will be another book for young readers – about a young Indian woman.
Thor Hansen is a much-honored natural historian and writer (he won the John Burroughs Medal for his book Feathers. )
One day Thor was engaged in two of his favorite pastimes with his six-year-old son Noah – watching crows, and making up rhymes. One thing led to another, and his book for young readers, Bartholomew Quill: A Crow’s Quest to Know Who’s Who, a charming rhyming story about crows, was just published.
Bartholomew Quill, for ages 4-8, is the story of a young crow who cannot figure out what sort of animal he is, so he flies here and there, comparing himself to puffins and eagles, seals and salmon. Here’s an excerpt: The wolves and the moose were too hairy, the seals and the salmon too wet. The heron too tall, the sparrow too small, the beetles and slugs smaller yet. Does Bartholomew weather his identity crisis? You’ll have to read the book. Hanson says having a six-year-old in the house is great inspiration for making up poems kids will love.
Neil Gaiman is a well-known fantasy author who has written just about everything; comics, television scripts, children’s books, novels. His novel for adults, American Gods, is one of my favorites, and is in production for a television series on the SyFy channel, scheduled for 2017.
He had already written some children’s books, but he outdid himself with his graphic novel The Graveyard Book, illustrated by Gaiman’s longtime collaborator Dave McKean.
This is a story with a chilling premise: a young boy’s family is murdered, and the boy, Bod, wanders away from the scene and into a graveyard.
Sounds like things are about to go from bad to worse, but Bod falls under the protection of the liveliest set of ghosts, vampires and werewolves you will ever meet. As the killer searches for Bod, the graveyard inhabitants teach the boy some very interesting survival tricks. I know this sounds like a very scary book for kids, but my kids loved it, and it won the Newbery Medal in 2009 for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature. Categorized for ages 10-up, I loved every minute of it. Gaiman is a genius.