Archive for Young Adult Books

Fat Kid Rules the World: A remarkable book absolutely worthy of its reader’s time.

Fat Kid Rules the World

 

Young Adult

Ages 12 and up

By K.L. Going

224 pages

Putnam

2003

 

I recently learned that a film adaptation of this book is being released so I wanted to review the book. Every reader knows that the book is always better. There are a few exceptions in which the book and movie almost match up in greatness, but that’s a post for another day.

The first time I read this novel, I fell in love. The second time I read it, it happened again. This is the kind of book that makes me want to jump up and punch the air in victory. All the pieces come together just right. There’s nothing contrived or unnatural about the story or the characters. It also has a perfect ending, which marks what could be a beautiful beginning.

Troy Billings, the fat kid, is our narrator. He’s seventeen, a senior in high school, and weighs nearly three hundred pounds. When the story opens, he is standing on a subway platform in New York City contemplating suicide. He hates his life, hates being fat. He’s convinced everyone is always looking at him, judging him, hating him. They hate him for taking up too much space, for even existing. Because of his weight, he carefully considers every single thing he does, every move he makes. He’s careful in the way he walks so that he doesn’t work up a sweat. He’s careful in the way he breathes so that his cheeks don’t puff up. He also gives titles to his situations: “Fat Kid Messes Up” or “Fat Kid Hallucinates About Cool Friend.”

The cool friend is Curt McCrae, a legend at Troy’s high school for being “the only truly homeless, sometimes student, sometimes dropout, punk rock, artist god among us.” Curt distracts Troy from his suicide mission, then convinces Troy to buy him lunch. Much to Troy’s surprise, Curt seems to want to be around him and he even asks Troy to be his drummer in a new band. Even though Troy told Curt he knows how to play drums he doesn’t really. The entirety of Troy’s drumming prowess consists of a few lessons in junior high. He can’t blow his cover though, besides being a rock god, Curt’s the first friend Troy’s had in a very long time.

The very basic plot is this: Troy’s family grew apart when his mom died. Troy got fat, his ex-Marine dad closed up, and his younger jock brother, Dayle, pulled away. Troy has no friends, and no confidence. Meeting Curt, forming a band, and stepping way outside his comfort zone is going to lead to big things for Troy. Things do not go perfectly and the “happy ending” is not delivered as a completely wrapped package. But this book, as a whole, is a perfectly bound story worth every second.

There are two things about this book that defy the usual storybook pattern. First, Troy does not lose weight. He does, however, gain confidence, learn about himself, and learn about how others may, or more surprisingly, may not, view him. All too often, in books, movies and TV shows, for overweight people to gain any sort of confidence or realize their potential they must drop a lot of pounds first. It rarely works that way in real life. One must first tap into whatever inner confidence is available and muster up the ability to make a change. Troy does just this. Though he is convinced that at any moment the rug will be pulled out from under him, that it will all turn out to be some cruel joke, he perseveres.

Second, it’s an adult who shows the first signs of real change. Adults have failed both of these boys in some way, which has played a role in the people they are becoming, but Troy’s dad sees a way to change things, and follows through. I’m often discouraged at the lack of positive adults both in books and in real life. Despite the fact that Curt is homeless and addicted to prescription medications, Troy’s dad breaks character and both supports his son and works to help Curt.

Fat Kid Rules the World is an emotionally real journey and a remarkable book absolutely worthy of its reader’s time. So when you see the trailer for this movie, go buy the book instead.

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My top thirteen books for Halloween, from board to young adult.

Five Little Pumpkins

Board

Ages birth to 3

By Dan Yaccarino

16 pages

HarperFestival

1998

Dan Yaccarino’s art is bright and bold and features expressive pumpkins, a ghost, a witch and a black cat. Based on the popular rhyme and finger play, this book offers a great opportunity to learn about colors, expressions and counting to five.

 

One, Two Boo

Board/ Lift-the-Flap

Ages 18 months to 3 years

by Kristen L. Depken

Illustrated by Claudine Gevry

12 pages

Golden Books

2009

Meet a ghost, a cat and other traditional Halloween characters as you count your way through this lift-the-flap haunted house.

 

Spooky ABC

(Originally published as Halloween ABC in 1987)

Picture Book

Ages 3-6

By Eve Mirriam

Illustrated by Lane Smith

32 pages

Simon and Schuster

2002

This Halloween themed alphabet book features a varied array of spooky items and creatures. F is for fiend, N is for nightmare, and X is for a xylophone made of bones. They’re all creepily and perfectly illustrated by the unmistakably talented Lane Smith.

 

Dem Bones

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

By Bob Barner

32 pages

Chronicle Books

1996

White skeletons, set against bright backgrounds, play instruments while teaching young listeners how all our bones connect. This picture book version of the Bones song features additional information about each of the bones as well.

 

Georgie

Picture Book

Ages 2-7

By Robert Bright

48 pages

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

1999

Originally published in 1944, Georgie is not strictly a Halloween book, but it is a great story about a ghost. Every house has a ghost. Georgie loves his house, all its squeaks and its owners. So when some of the squeaks and creaks get fixed, Georgie decides its time to find another house. After searching and searching, Georgie soon realizes he loves his house best.

 

Hallo-weiner

Picture Book

Ages 3-7

By Dav Pilkey

32 pages

Scholastic

1999

This is one of my favorite Halloween books. Dav Pilkey’s story is sweet and hilarious; his illustrations are colorful, and cartoon-y. The other dogs laugh at Oscar, a dachshund, because he’s so short and long. The teasing gets worse when Oscar’s mother dresses him as a hotdog for Halloween. But it’s Oscar that saves the night after the other dogs are chased into a lake by two mean cats.

 

The Halloween Play

(Originally published as The Halloween Performance in 1990)

Picture Book

Ages 3-8

By Felicia Bond

32 pages

HarperCollins

2008

Roger has a small and very important part in the school’s Halloween play. This adorable book follows all the pre-show jitters and anticipation through to the performance and post show excitement. Using warm colors to depict tiny Halloween characters, this book could easily become a year-round favorite.

 

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything

Picture Book

Ages 4 to 8

By Linda Williams

Illustrated by Megan Lloyd

32 pages

HarperCollins

1988

When the little old lady is followed home by an empty pair of shoes, she tells them, “I’m not afraid of you!” Soon a pair of pants, then a shirt, and a pumpkin head joins them, and they’re all following her! The little old lady is still not afraid, and after rounding them all up, she has a lovely scarecrow for her garden. Lloyd’s bright, colorful folk art is a perfect complement to this spooky story with a funny ending.

 

Dragon’s Halloween

Early Reader

Ages 4-8

By Dav Pilkey

48 pages

Scholastic

1995

This is another one of my favorite Halloween books. It contains three tales about Dragon and his Halloween adventures: “Six Small Pumpkins,” “The Costume Party” and “The Deep Dark Woods.” Dragon is one of my favorite early reader characters. He’s sweet, funny, adorable and endearing. The stories are wonderful and the art is irresistibly delightful.

 

Ed Emberly’s Drawing Book of Halloween

Activity Book

Ages 6 to 12

By Ed Emberly

32 pages

LB Kids

2006

Ed Emberly leads young and aspiring artists, shape by shape, through the steps to drawing spooky characters and scenes. A great book for the family to share.

 

Little Monsters Cookbook

Activity Book

Ages 6-12

By Zac Williams

64 pages

Gibs Smith

2010

Features thirty recipes for Halloween, or anytime kids want a spooky snack. Some of the recipes are simple and others more complicated to accommodate a range of ages. Large colorful photographs accompany all the recipes in this spiral-bound (genius!) cookbook.

 

The House with a Clock in its Walls

Middle Reader

Ages 8-13

By John Bellairs

179 pages

Puffin

2004

(Originally published in 1973)

John Bellairs (1938-1991) was an amazing storyteller who wrote adventurous tales of terror. This is the first book in the Lewis Barnavelt series. After Lewis’s parents die, he goes to live with his uncle in an old, large mansion full of secret passageways. The previous owner of the house was an evil wizard who planted a clock inside its walls, counting down to the end of the world. When Lewis accidentally awakens the dead on Halloween night, the clock begins ticking even faster.

 

Halloween Tree

Young Adult

Ages 10 to 16

By Ray Bradbury

160 pages

Yearling

1999

(Originally published in 1972)

In this eerie tale set on Halloween, eight costumed boys are lead through time and space by Mr. Moundshroud. While searching for their friend Pipkin, who was swept up by a dark something, the boys get a glimpse of how other, sometimes ancient, cultures celebrated this time of year.

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The Midwife’s Apprentice: In search of a full belly, a contented heart, and a place in this world.

The Midwife’s Apprentice

 

Young Adult

Ages 10 and up

By Karen Cushman

122 pages

Clarion Books

1996

Newberry Award Winner

 

I love historical fiction because of Karen Cushman. She is a master at drawing readers completely into another time period. Weaving detailed descriptions of the foods, the sounds, the smells, the scenery and the habits of people who lived a much more difficult life, with strong, sympathetic characters readers can connect with. Some authors are good writers, others are good storytellers, Cushman is both. In addition to winning the Newbery Award for this book, she was previously awarded a Newbery Honor for Catherine Called Birdy (Clarion Books, 1994).

This story takes place in England during the 14th century. Brat, the main character, is a young orphaned girl who is maybe 12 or 13. When we first meet her, she’s sleeping in a dung heap, the only warm place she can find. That’s where the midwife finds her. It is also the reason some of the locals take to calling her Dung Beetle, or Beetle for short.

Brat usually moves through towns quickly. However, she convinces the midwife, Jane, that she will work hard and be useful. She becomes Jane’s apprentice and, for the first time in her life, has a reason to settle in. Jane “does her job with energy and some skill, but without care, compassion or joy.” She believes Brat to be stupid, and Brat is scared and timid, making her the perfect apprentice for Jane to exploit and abuse.

When Brat is sent to the county fair to purchase items for the midwife, she’s mistaken for a young woman named Alyce. Brat suddenly realizes that she needn’t be called any of the unkind names thrust upon her by callous people, and changes her name to Alyce on the spot. This transformation marks the beginning of her growth as a person.

Not too much time passes before Brat realizes the midwife intentionally resists actually teaching her the trade and also prevents her from being present at the births. Jane is cruel, especially to Brat. Brat, fearing a return to the streets and an empty stomach, keeps her head down, works harder and vows to talk less. Her only friend and confidant in the village is a cat she rescued from drowning at the hands of some local boys.

It was extremely rare for two births to occur at the same time, but the night it happens Alyce is left in charge of a birthing mother. Jane tends to the wealthier client, who will “pay in silver instead of chickens and beans.” Alyce delivers a healthy baby girl to the bailiff’s wife, and thus finds the courage to sneak into the homes of mothers in labor to learn the skills and secrets of midwifery.

One morning a village boy comes calling for Alyce to help with his mother’s labor. Jane is furious, and Alyce is perplexed, but she follows the boy, while Jane throws pots, insults and curses behind her. The labor is difficult and Alyce is inexperienced. It becomes apparent that she must call for the midwife. Jane delivers a healthy baby girl and Alyce feels ashamed and defeated. She runs away, taking the cat with her.

She soon finds herself at an Inn, and offers to work in exchange for food and shelter. Magister Richard Reese, a guest at the Inn, is kind and gentle, and takes a fatherly interest in Alyce. He’s also educated and Alyce spends extra time cleaning near him in an effort to spy on his writing, though she cannot read herself. Knowing Alyce is paying close attention, but also knowing she is too shy to speak with him, Magister Reese takes to speaking to the cat instead. He even begins teaching the cat to read.

One day Magister Reese directly addresses Alyce and asks what she wants from life. It takes her all day to respond.

“I know what I want. A full belly, a contented heart, and a place in this world.”

The Magister is surprised, thinking she’d ask for something simple, such as a sweetheart or a ribbon for her hair. Alyce continues.

“This is what I want, but it is my misfortune to be hungry, out of humor and too stupid to be a midwife’s apprentice.”

“None so stupid,” he responds. “You can read as well as the cat.”

One night, as Alyce is prepping the Inn for a thunderstorm, a party of riders comes in need of help. One of the riders believes his wife is being devoured by a stomach worm and is seeking a “priest, a magician or a man of medicine.” In fact, the woman is in labor, and Alyce, fighting her own reluctance to help, delivers a healthy baby boy to a very tired and extremely grateful woman.

This event results in offers of work from the grateful couple, as well Magister Reese. The innkeepers offer her a promotion. Alyce, suddenly seeing a world of options before her, realizes exactly who she wants to be.

She returns to the midwife, smarter, stronger, and more determined. She convinces Jane to take her back as an apprentice. And Alyce finds her place in the world.

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