April is a busy month. Jam-packed into a mere thirty days, we celebrate the following annual observances: School Library Month, National Poetry Month, National Autism Awareness Month, and Occupational Therapy Month. All of this in addition to spring break and Earth Day!

In honor of National Poetry Month and National Autism Awareness Month, we have some great new titles on display in our library. Here are two of my favorites:

For National Poetry Month: Ronit & Jamil by Pamela Laskin. This lovely novel in verse tells the story of Ronit, an Israeli girl, and Jamil, a Palestinian boy, who live on opposite sides of a barrier fence separating Israel and Gaza. Despite their differences and the conflict that divides them, when these teenagers meet, sparks fly. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the book unfolds in a series of poems in the alternating voices of Ronit and Jamil, interweaving samples of classic Persian verse, hip-hop, and text messages. Unlikely Shakespeare’s tragedy, this story ends on a hopeful note.

For Autism Awareness Month: Same But Different: Teen Life on the Autism Express by Holly Robinson Peete, Ryan Elizabeth Peete, and RJ Peete. Co-authored by two real-life teen siblings and their mom, this brave and funny book is written in the voices of the two twins. Charlie has autism; Callie does not. In alternating chapters, the twins swap stories about the roller coaster ride of growing up, including the challenges of school, dating, and bullying – with autism in the mix. Whether you have autism, a sibling with special needs, or you are or have ever been a teenager, this book is for you.

Come on up to the 2nd floor of the mansion, and celebrate the month of April – and the power of school libraries!

Celebrate Comic Con + Black History Month with Legend of the Mantamaji

In honor of Black History Month and Hill Top’s annual Comic Con (this Saturday!), here’s a new addition to our comics and graphic novel collection by award-winning African- American television director and author, Eric Dean Seaton, called Legend of the Mantamaji: Book 1. This action-packed adventure series follows Elijah Alexander, an ambitious New York City Assistant District Attorney, who learns that he is the last of the Mantamaji, an ancient race of warrior-knights who protected humanity from evil. Sydney Spencer is a brilliant detective chasing a mysterious gang that nobody else believes exists. Naturally, their worlds collide as both are drawn into an epic war with the fate of the world in the balance. Just like our world, the world of comics is becoming increasingly diverse, with women and people of color taking leading roles – and that’s a good thing. In Seaton’s words, books like these prove that “Everyone can be a hero.” Check out the display in the Hill Top library for a selection of awesome contemporary comics as you get your Comic Con on.


March: Book Three and 2017 YALSA Nonfiction Awards

Today’s featured library book is March: Book Three, the recently released concluding volume of the graphic memoir trilogy by John Lewis, co-authored by Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell. The trilogy tells the riveting true story of Congressman Lewis’ fight for justice alongside civil rights heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The book is a finalist for YALSA’s 2017 Nonfiction Award. Check it out!

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The Serpent King and 2017 Morris Award Finalists

In the months ahead, I’ll be highlighting new additions to our library collection that have recently won or been nominated for awards. One of the major awards in young adult literature is The William C. Morris YA Debut Award, which was first awarded in 2009. The Morris Award “honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature.” YALSA recently announced the 2017 Morris Award Finalists. I’ll highlight one of these today.


The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner is an unusual story about an unusual group of friends: Dill, a talented musician whose Pentecostal minister father is in jail for unspeakable crimes; Lydia, whose hipster fashion blog promises to launch her far away from their rural Tennessee town; and Travis, who finds meaning and, maybe, real love through his favorite fantasy series and online fandom. The novel unfolds in the third person, with alternating chapters devoted to the experience and perspectives of the three characters.

I loved these characters, their realness, and the complexity of their struggles. And it was refreshing to read a young adult novel set in the rural South, in which issues of poverty, class, and religion simmer in the foreground. Among other things, this book takes an honest and compelling look at the challenges facing working class young people, some of whom are the first in their families to consider applying for, let alone attending college. While the serpent theme was somewhat underdeveloped ( more snakes, please!), this debut novel by Jeff Zentner is full of brains and heart.

Author Event and Reading Without Walls Challenge Update

On Friday, December 2nd at 4 pm, local author Matt Phelan will read from his new graphic novel, Snow White, at Main Point Books in Wayne. Set in New York City during the Great Depression, this fairy tale retelling imagines Snow White as a dispossessed yet independent young woman, and the seven dwarves as a ragtag band of street urchins. Fans of film noir will appreciate the dark, moody, atmospheric style of the watercolor illustrations. Watch the official film trailer here.


Also, this week is your last chance to sign up for the “Reading Without Walls” Challenge! See Ms. Murphey in the Library to sign up by Friday, and mark your calendar for Thursday, 12/15. We’ll have a party and book discussion in the Library during mentor period and lunch, with prizes and donuts for everyone who successfully completes the challenge. PS: Please bring your book so I can take your picture for our Reading Without Walls “All-Stars” wall of fame!


Reading Without Walls Challenge Update

I’m thrilled to share that 18 individuals (students and faculty) have signed up for the “Reading Without Walls” Challenge! It’s not too late to participate. See Ms. Murphey in the Library to sign up, and mark your calendar for Thursday, 12/15. We’ll have a party and book discussion in the Library during mentor period and lunch, with prizes and donuts for everyone who successfully completes the challenge. See below for criteria and proud RWW Challenge participant, Mr. Needham. 


The Reading Without Walls Challenge


One of the many things we’ve learned during this historic and unpredictable election year is that many of us in this country don’t really talk to people who are different from us, or spend time in places that are totally different from where we live. Here’s one thing we can do about that…

In 2016, Gene Luen Yang was appointed the fifth National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress. Mr. Yang is an accomplished and beloved author and illustrator of graphic novels, including American Born Chinese and Boxers and Saints (you can find these and more in the Hill Top library).

What does it mean to be an ambassador? Basically, this means that you get a national platform to inspire kids and talk about books and reading. Each Ambassador gets to choose a “platform” for their two years of service. Mr. Yang’s platform is “Reading Without Walls.” He’s challenging young people to step outside their comfort zone and explore their world through books. Here’s how:

  1. Read a book about a character who doesn’t look like you or live like you.
  2. Read a book about a topic you don’t know much about.
  3. Read a book in a format that you don’t normally read for fun. This might be a chapter book, a graphic novel, a book in verse, a picture book, or a hybrid book.

If you really want to go for the gold star, read a book that fits all three criteria!


When you finish, take a photo of you and the book (or just the book if you’re shy) and post it on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #ReadingWithoutWalls. You’ll inspire others to do the same!

I’m really excited about this challenge, and am inviting everyone at Hill Top to participate. Between now and the end of the fall semester, I invite you to choose a book from the school library (or find one on your own) that meets one or more of these criteria. Please let me know if you want to participate, and what book (or books) you decide to read. Everyone who participates will get a prize, with a special prize for gold star winners, When the challenge is over, we’ll have a party with donuts to celebrate!