Category Archives: Award Winners

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.


Books in Verse

We haven’t had many opportunities to meet and talk about books in April. And there are so many great books in verse for Poetry Month. With the few remaining days, I have a couple to highlight.


Today’s book is The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. How do I love this book? Let me count the ways.*

  1. It’s about basketball. I’m not much of a sports fan, but there are two that get me: professional baseball and high school or college basketball. There’s a grace to basketball that comes through in the poetry. They go so well together.
  2. It’s about siblings. Josh has a twin brother Jordan. They should get along. They should be each other’s best friend. They’re not. And it’s complicated.
  3. It’s about family. Josh’s parents are real characters in the story. They’re not stupid adults; they’re not mean adults; they’re just real adults.
  4. Vocabulary. Okay, this is where my teacher dorkiness comes in. Every so often, Alexander will use a term in a poem. The next poem will be a definition of that term. Not a basketball person? Not sure what a crossover is? There’s a poem for that. You do know what a crossover is? Have you ever heard it described in verse?

The book is a quick read…but don’t blow through it too quickly. You’ll miss some of the beauty of the poetry and the basketball.

*Junk to anyone who can name the literary allusion there. Mrs. Selinsky, you are not eligible.


April Is…

…a lot of things. If you’ve been here long enough to remember the Great Snapple Incident of ’14 (maybe ’13), you’ll recall that it is both School Library Month and Occupational Therapy Month.

And it’s also National Poetry Month. Which I always find fun. And it’s a great time to highlight books written in verse, which I absolutely love. A book written in verse has such a different flow from a narrative story. There’s also a special beauty to reading poem after poem as they move together to form a whole story.


So, today’s book in verse is brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Woodson has written some great fiction (After Tupac and D Foster is one of my favorites). In this book, she not only turns to poetry, but also to memoir. This is her autobiography in verse. She tells of living in Ohio, then  moving to South Carolina to live with her grandparents, then moving again to New York with her mother. She tells about growing up in the era of Jim Crow laws. Of balancing religion in her life. Of finding new friends. Of struggling to learn. And of finding a voice in telling stories.

I really enjoyed this book. It won a few honors and awards last year when it came out, and for good reason. It would be an excellent choice for celebrating National Poetry Month.

Non-fiction Nominees

Over the past few years, I’ve participated in a challenge to read the books that won or were nominated for ALA book awards. Think of it as the book nerd’s version of seeing all of the movies that were nominated for the Oscars. Some of the best books I’ve read through this challenge have been the books nominated for best non-fiction.


First Flight Around the World by Tim Grove looks at the race to be the first to circumnavigate the globe by air. It was the 1920s and the US, Great Britain, France, Portugal, Italy and Argentina were all trying to claim those bragging rights.

In an effort to claim those rights, the US Army sent out four planes and eight young men. This books looks at the things they accomplished and the challenges they faced. I find it really interesting that much of the book is based on a journal kept by one of the crew members (that’s what’s called a primary source, right?).

I haven’t read the book yet, but it sounds fascinating and there are some wonderful photos and maps to accompany the text. And it may be interesting to pair this with one of 2014’s nominees, Courage Has No Color which is the story of America’s first Black paratroopers (which I also have in audio).


No-Entirely-New Book Wednesday

This book has been hanging around the library for about a year now and I’ve talked about it before. But it is an obvious choice to talk about this week.


Navigating Early is set around the end of WWII. Jack’s mother has just died, and his military father has moved him from Kansas to a boarding school in Maine. While there, Jack meets one of the school’s quirkier students, Early Auden. When Jack and Early are left on campus during a school break, they take off on an adventure.

So, why is this book relevant to this week? Part of the story hinges on the idea that there are mathematicians who believe Pi is not infinite. Remember, this book is set before computers were everywhere and could do everything. There is one mathematician who noticed one number seemed to stop repeating and he took this as a sign that Pi would end. This is particularly distressing for Early who has created a story around the number Pi about a young man named Pi who was sent on a journey and must find his way home. Early’s story is closely related to that of his brother Fisher who was killed in WWII, although Early steadfastly believes his brother is still alive.

This is a fantastic book – a Printz honor book from 2014. It’s got adventure, pirates, fabled bears, and math. What more could you want from a story?

Classic Book Friday – Twisted Classic

Today’s classic book is a twist on a classic.

romietteSharon M. Draper’s Romiette and Julio takes the Bard’s classic and gives it a modern twist. It’s a slightly older book (published in 1999, hence showcasing it on “Classic Book Friday”), so it may seem a little dated that Romiette and Julio meet in an internet chat room where they hit it off and discover that they go to the same school. Everything is going great until a local gang expresses disapproval of their interracial relationship.

I read this ages ago (probably the first time I was here at Hill Top) and remember loving it. Sharon M. Draper is a fabulous writer. In fact, she was just awarded the Margaret A Edwards award for her significant contribution to young adult literature.

Which brings me to a proposal. Every year, the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), through their blog The Hub, does what they call the Best of the Best challenge. For this, they challenge people to 25 of the books that have received awards, like the Printz, the Edwards, the Odyssey, or have been named to a top ten list, like top ten graphic novels, popular paperbacks, etc. For the 4th year in a row, I’ll be participating. And I’d love it if some of you would join me. I’m not suggesting that everyone read 25 books, but a few. The full list of nominated books can be found here (2015_hub_reading_challenge_list-HTtitles). The highlighted books are ones that the library either already has, or that are on order for the library. But, as always, if there’s something you want to read that we don’t have, I will happily get it for you through interlibrary loan. Let’s see if we can, as a community, read 25 of the books!

Let me know if you’re interested in trying some of these books. If you are, I can set up either a Google Classroom or a group on Goodreads and we can keep track of what everyone is reading and what you think of the books.


New Book Wednesday – Zombie Edition

I thought I was over zombie books. Then I read Paolo Bacigalupi’s Zombie Baseball Beatdown and I realized I had to own up.

20150128_090151My name is Mrs. Gillespie and I LOVE ZOMBIE BOOKS.

Rabi, Miguel, and Joe are out playing baseball when they notice a really, really, REALLY bad smell coming from the meatpacking plant near the field. Some investigation and a run in with some rather tenacious people and cows leads to greed and corruption and bad cattle feed. The feed is turning the cows into zombies. And when the meat from those cows is used to make hamburgers, well, let’s just say it doesn’t bode well for the patrons of the little league concession stand.

This is a fabulously fun and funny book that takes a look at corporate greed, and immigration and whether we really need to eat as much meat as we do. The audio book for this title was an Odyssey honor book last year and is incredibly well done. I have a copy on order – and I just checked the website and it looks like it will be delivered today!

But I’m totally over vampire books.