Lynn: Opening the pages of Ben Philippe’s debut book, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager (Harper/Balzer+Bray, 2019) was like opening my own front door to hear the voices of my sons and grandsons. No, they aren’t Black Haitian hockey-loving Canadians like Norris Kaplan but they were/are smart, snarky, and cynical but with a sweet vulnerability and sometimes a little too clever for their own good. Seventeen-year-old Norris’s recently divorced mother has taken a rare tenure-track position in her obscure field at the University of Texas in Austin. Dragged metaphorically kicking and screaming from his home, friends, father and beloved Habs to attend high school in Austin, Norris knows just what to expect from watching American sitcoms: mean brainless cheerleaders, bullying jocks, clueless nerds and loners! Assigned to keep a writing journal in class, Norris records his observation of the “species” in his field guide and his entries are hilarious but also smugly dismissive.
Norris plans to keep his head down, get through the year and get home to Montreal as soon as possible but despite himself, Norris makes a friend, meets a stunning girl, takes a part-time job, and begins to realize it is not all that easy to lump people into neat stereotypes. Could his field observations be wrong?
This was laugh-out-loud funny with spot-on snarky dialog and such a clever premise. The endearing cast of characters was the real highlight of this book and Norris especially stole my heart. He is working so hard at being cynical but Philippe does a stellar job of giving readers revealing glimpses of Norris’s basic sweetness and the vulnerability he works so hard at concealing. As Norris matures through the course of the story, he begins to see beyond his own assumptions and so does the reader’s understanding of the real depth of all the characters. Early on, I settled in, happy to follow the plot of what I thought was going to be a predictable trajectory. But a surprise twist took the story in an unexpected direction. This was still satisfying but it made the book that much more intriguing for me.
Don’t miss this clever “field guide” and stay tuned for Ben Philippe’s next observation of the teen species.
Updated: Want more? Check out this All Things Considered NPR interview with Ben.
Lynn: American fascination with the British Royals is strong and authors for teens have brought the subject across the pond. So if Meghan Markle watching is hot at your library, here are two 2019 titles that will rate the royal wave:
American Royals (Random, Sept. 2019) by Katharine McGee asks why the Brits should have all the fun? This story posits that back in 1781 at the Battle of Yorktown George Washington accepted the offer to become King of America. Jump forward 250 years and the colonial monarchy is still going strong. Beatrice Georgina Frederika Louise of the House of Washington is Princess Royal of America and next in line to the throne. And there are not one but two spares, her younger twin siblings, Prince Jefferson and Princess Samantha. Beatrice has taken her royal role seriously but now she is faced with the need to marry for the future of the kingdom. Can she do this when her heart is taken by a commoner?
McGee has loads of fun with this concept, providing an alternate history and an American aristocracy. The Duke of Boston and the Earl of Huron anyone? She also works in the pre-requisite wild younger royals, noble mean girls, “prince poachers,” and duty vs the heart debate. Stay tuned for the next installment.
Next up is Her Royal Highness (Penguin/Putnam, 2019) by Rachel Hawkins, a companion novel to one of my favorites from last year. Originally titled Royals (Penguin/Putnam, 2018) it has been re-titled as Prince Charming. This story features Flora, daughter of the current Scottish king and sister to Andrew, heir to the throne. Like the first book, this story follows an American girl whose life becomes embroiled with the Scottish royals. Here, Millie Quint is a scholarship student from Texas to the illustrious boarding school, Gregorstoun. Millie is thrilled to be part of the first-ever female class at the previously all-male prep school. Her new roommate, however, sees attendance there as a penance! The two girls are as different as two people can be and dislike each other on sight. But as the term proceeds, the irritation between the two turns to attraction. Does this romance between a geeky geologist and a royal fashionista stand a chance?
This installment is just as much fun as the first one and many characters from Royals add to the fun by joining the story. Sweet and witty, this one will please old fans and make new ones.
Cindy: For more royal fun, check out Lynn’s post at our previous blog home of ten years, this royal post at the Booklist Reader.
Lynn: Years of working in a middle school library have taught me that if you want to talk to students about serious issues you have to get and keep their attention first. Geoff Rodkey clearly gets that important fact. Author of the New York Times bestselling Tapper Twins series, Rodkey’s new book, We’re Not From Here (Crown, 2019) takes on timely issues but in a way that is sure to captivate young readers and crack them up even as it gives them much to think about.
Earth has been made unlivable and the few who escaped are clinging to survival on the Mars station as food, supplies, and breathable air are running out. Told by 6th-grader Lan, a nick-of-time invitation arrives allowing these remaining humans to settle on the distant Planet Choom. Twenty years in stasis travel later, the human ship arrives only to be told that the government of Choom has changed its mind. Reluctantly, Choom officials agree to a test case—one “human reproductive unit” will be allowed to settle temporarily. Lan’s family is chosen with the future of humanity riding on their shoulders. “No pressure!”
Rodkey knows his audience and this dark-edged story is packed with the sorts of elements and humor perfectly tuned to young readers. It turns out the mosquito-like Zhuri express emotion by emitting odors. Imagine where middle-school senses of humor will go with THAT concept! The Zhuri also love slap-stick comedy and cheezy videos and Lan is an expert on these. Lan’s chatty breezy tone is the perfect vehicle for this extremely funny science fiction tale. Both the humor and the suspense will keep readers turning the pages eagerly and they won’t miss the important issues along the way. Rodkey puts kids squarely in the worn-out shoes of these human immigrants, allowing them to view immigration, refugees, news manipulation, mob violence, discrimination and more from a whole new perspective. Head, heart, and funny bone are all involved in this imaginative, out-of-this-world tale.
Rodkey has some excellent resources available on his website including an interview about the book with the Nerdy Bookclub, a wonderful teacher’s guide, the opportunity for a free Skype visit and more!
Cindy: Want a laugh? Just read the title of this book: How to Give Your Cat a Bath in Five Easy Steps (Tundra, 2019) by Nicola Winstanley. Despite the calm cover art, anyone who has owned a cat knows there is nothing, and I mean, nothing, easy about bathing a cat. The young girl in this book learns that very quickly, although she tries to follow the “five easy steps.” Once she gets the water just right, an effort that takes many tries, the next hurdle is finding the cat. Children and adults will be giggling at the escalating antics illustrated by John Martz’s humorous scenes as the hiding and chasing unfold. Simple repetitive text, spacious layout, and a cookie break will keep children reading and laughing through this story again and again.
Lynn: In Julia Sarcone-Roach’s story, There Are No Bears in This Bakery (Knopf, 2019) Muffin is the “whiskers” of his neighborhood and he takes his job seriously. So when a mysterious noise disturbs the night, he investigates. None of the usual mice, raccoons, or bats are to be seen but a “grrrrrrr” seems to be coming from the bakery. Inside is the biggest mouse Muffin has ever seen – or was it the smallest bear?
The little bear’s belly is rumbling but fortunately, Muffin knows just what to do and it turns out bears really like sprinkles. But the little bear isn’t alone and by the morning there is a big surprise waiting for the sleepy baker!
Muffin’s noir-detective tale is filled with over-the-top funny figures of speech and Muffin’s observations make this a hoot to read aloud.
Sarcone-Roach’s page-filling illustrations are done in acrylic paint, cut paper, and marker. Muted tones wash the pages making the orange of Muffin’s fur the visual focus of this very funny cat tale.