Category Archives: teen books

Remembering Brian Jacques

It is with great sadness that I mention the passing of Brian Jacques, author of the beloved Redwall series (Philomel).  Jacques, aged 71, died of a heart attack over the weekend. Read more about his life and work here.

Though I confess I haven’t read any of the most recent titles in the 21-book series, I was a huge Redwall fan as a child.  Growing up, I’d play for hours in the woods behind my house, pretending that I was adventuring in Mossflower or preparing for a feast at Redwall Abbey.  I’m sure that the positive memories I associate with the Redwall books are echoed by kids and adults the world over.

So when I found out, I just had to draw mouse characters, including Mariel, my favorite Jacques’ heroine, in honor of the great storyteller (see above). And if I can lighten the mood just a bit on this solemn occasion, I thought the two reference photos that I used to make the sketch were pretty funny.



My Princess Boy Part II: Books With Non-Traditional Gender Roles

Since writing my first post about My Princess Boy, I got to thinking about boys who wear pink, and other non-traditional gender roles.  Was there a place for them in children’s books before this news story?  Turns out, there was, and librarians and readers have been making lists for ages!  Here’s my own list, with some personal favorites for boys and girls:

(Note: I also went to the bookstore and read My Princess Boy. My two cents? I’m not a fan of an illustration style with faceless figures, though I understand the attempt to be “universal” and androgynous, and I know others that liked it. Ultimately, though, I respect the point of the story, and that’s satisfying enough for me!)

Little Women – by Louisa May Alcott / There’s no contest: Louisa May Alcott, in the guise of her autobiographical protagonist, Jo March, is the original tomboy.  She’s independent, stubborn, and refuses to accept the feminine societal norms that eat up the rest of her sisters’ time and energy.  Women for generations have idolized the way she bravely cuts off her hair (her one beauty!), but fans were a little less content with her refusal to marry Laurie… or anyone at all.  In fact, Alcott later wrote,

“Jo should have remained a literary spinster, but so many enthusiastic young ladies wrote to me clamorously demanding that she should marry Laurie, or somebody, that I didn’t dare refuse and out of perversity went and made a funny match for her”.

Listen to a great story about Jo March on NPR, here.

Hattie Big Sky – by Kirby Lawson / There are many wonderful contemporary novels featuring spunky historical heroines, but my favorite is “the one about the girl homesteader”, aka. Hattie Big Sky. Hattie is a 16-year-old orphan who winds up with a piece of land in rural Montana, and has to successfully farm it in less than a year to stay.  I love Hattie’s unique voice and the community that she creates for herself within a harsh setting… she can’t help but have guts to stick through her situation!

The Paper Bag Princess – by Robert N. Munsch / Since 1980, this princess has been kicking some serious dragon-butt, proving that girly-girls everywhere can get down and dirty, bring on some clever defense, and rescue the prince all on their own . . . even if he turns out to be not-so-Charming.

Oliver Button Is A Sissy – by Tomie dePaola / This story has a lot of heart, and with a main character who’d rather paint pictures and read than play sports, it’s pretty easy to spot that this is an autobiographical dePaola story.  This may have been the first time that male gender stereotypes were addressed in a picture book, and I’m happy to see that Oliver Button still resonates today.

Ferdinand – by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson / I didn’t think of this book immediately, because Ferdinand reminds me more of my shy 175-lb. Pyranese dog, Jaxon, than any kid I know, sissy or otherwise.  But when it was on all the related lists about books defying gender stereotypes, it gave me pause to think. Maybe this little bull could give comfort to a shy boy who’d rather pick flowers than wrestle himself.

Billy Elliot / Okay, okay . . . this isn’t technically a book (though it is now adapted from the screenplay!).  But this movie touched the hearts of so many, because a man doesn’t have to be gay to want to express himself creatively.  I loved the film, and can’t wait to see the Broadway musical this weekend!

Pinky And Rex series – by James Howe, illustrated by Melissa Sweet / Pinky and Rex defy traditional gender roles in a cool, easygoing way — by just being themselves.  Pinky likes pink and animals, Rex likes dinosaurs, but they’re best friends and brave enough to stick up for each other anyway. As a first-grader who was more comfortable playing with boys and animals in the mud than with Barbies, this was one of my favorite early-readers growing up!  And FYI? My favorite color at that age was blue.

Top Ten Award Winners On My To-Read List

1. Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (Newbery) / I love surprises, and so does the Newbery!  So this underrated debut novel, set in 1930s Kansas, is sure to send booksellers and librarians scrambling to put copies on the shelves.  Can’t wait to see if it lives up to the top dog award!

2. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (Printz) / When it comes to YA, no trend sucks me in more than dystopian fiction.  The story of Nailer, a scavenger who finds a wealthy girl trapped among the wreckage of Gulf Coast oil ships, has intrigued me since it was nominated for a National Book Award.  I’m hoping the action is as gripping and bold as the novel’s graphic cover.

3.  One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia (Coretta Scott King, Newbery Honor) / If I had to place bets on a winner before the awards came out . . . this would’ve been my pick, because everyone’s been raving about it for ages. And something tells me those 3 sisters on their Brooklyn-to-California adventure are gonna steal my heart too.

4. Dark Emperor and Other Poems Of The Night by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen (Newbery Honor) / Three cheers for a picture book getting a Newbery, not just a Caldecott, Honor!  It’s wonderful to see authors of books for younger readers be recognized, because it’s just as hard to say something beautiful in few words as it is to say in many.

8. will grayson, will grayson by John Green and David Levithan (Stonewall Honor, Odyssey Honor) / What can complicate high school even more than it already is?  Having two characters with the same name. What can make a book even more hilarious than anything that’s come before it?  Two authors: John Green and David Levithan.  I’m obsessed already.

6.  90 Miles to Havana by Enrique Flores-Galbis (Pura Belpre Honor) / Isn’t the cover just lovely?  The colors drew my attention, but its the story that kept me interested: the based-on-a-true-story tale of the children of “Operation Peter Pan“, which brought 14,000 kids as refugees from Cuba to the US.


7.  Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride (William C. Morris Honor) / The real awards for this book should be, “Coolest Title” and “Coolest Cover”.  In a sea of kind of dated-looking material, this is by far more edgy and teen boy-appealing than any of the other winners.  I’m all for funny-scary, or scary-funny… whatever.

5.  Dave The Potter: Artist, Poet Slave illustrated by Brian Collier, by Laban Carrick Hill (Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King) / This is the one Caldecott pick I haven’t read, and with two awards, I guess I better pay attention.  Seems like it has a pretty traditional vibe for a picture book.

9. Bink And Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile (Geisel) / What a fun-looking study in character expression!  The amount of buzz I’ve seen about this book might just put Bink and Gollie in the realm of classic friend pairs like “Frog and Toad” and “Henry and Mudge”.  I bet it’ll get me moving on my own early reader!

10.  The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston (William C. Morris) / Strange cover, and looks like a strange book. But isn’t strange what makes life interesting?  The dark themes might not make this the most pleasant of reads, but I’m hoping it’s just crazy enough to be wonderful.