Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Plot Thickens!

Our August genres for middle grade book boot camp are mysteries and thrillers.  You can find the list of recommended reading for this month as well as some resources here at the Book Boot Camp wiki.  

Growing up, my favorite genre was mystery – especially a good “who done it?” As we get ready for our #bookbootcamp Twitter chat, I spent some time reviewing the OLD stuff I grew up on.  Having done that, I have a better idea of what I am looking for when I decide a middle grade mystery is either good or not so good.  

The earliest mysteries I remember reading were Donald Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown books, the first of which was published in 1963.  I loved the short story format, and the fact that if you were really paying attention, you could solve the mystery with Encyclopedia. When I was reading The Three Investigator series, it had just started, 1968.  The series ran through 1987 with 44 titles.  

If you are my age and grew up reading mystery series in school, you have reason to thank a literary syndicate, Stratemeyer Syndicate.  Originally founded in 1909 by Edward Stratemeyer, the syndicate was noted for formulaic, ghost-written, and wildly popular mystery and adventure series including Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Cherry Ames, The Bobbsey Twins, and The Hardy Boys.  Like most kids, I grew up not knowing that the authors Carolyn Keene, Laura Lee Hope, and F. W. Dixon were pseudonyms.  

This week, I re-read the first Nancy Drew mystery, The Secret of the Old Clock.  Anachronisms that I did not notice in the 1960’s grabbed my attention. For example, Nancy wears gloves when she drives in her convertible, many of the homes she visits don’t have phones, and why wouldn’t a girl as smart as she is be heading for college?  The author refers to Nancy over and over as "the young sleuth."  Of course, none of these details were noticed when I read the book in elementary school. 

In high school, I read classic mysteries such as Sherlock Holmes and added several “Golden Age”of mystery writing authors to my favorites list, including Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers.  The creepiest murder mystery I ever read was nonfiction, In Cold Blood (1965) by Truman Capote.  It terrified me with the randomness of the murders. 

I have a few criteria that I look for in a good mystery:
  1. I want a crime – murder, theft, kidnapping, poison pen letters, I don’t care, but at the end of the book I want to be able to state the conflict as a crime that was committed, and the resolution as the solution to the crime.
  2. I want enough clues that I can make a reasonable guess at the solution, but don’t give it away too early.
  3. I am OK with last minute revelations, “Yes!  It is true that I was the nanny of the murdered child and that makes me an obvious suspect had you only known that small fact from the beginning!”
  4. I want the mystery solved at the end.  Don’t leave me guessing.
Now I'm on a quest for the best mysteries I can find for my middle school students.  I hope you will join me and the other librarians and teachers of #bookbootcamp for our Mystery chat, Monday, August 26, 2013 at 8:00 p.m.  What are you looking for in a good mystery?  Check out my suggested reading list of new mysteries and series.  What should I add to it?

Stratemeyer Syndicate. (2001). In The Cambridge Guide to Children's Books in English. Retrieved from http://www.credoreference.com/entry/childbooks/stratemeyer_syndicate

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Manga in the Middle School Library

Since becoming librarian I've increased our collection of manga and my students are so happy about it. It is one of the first things that student visitors comment on when they come to the library.  Most middle school libraries do not have many of these series. I think that the majority of librarians do not purchase them because they do not like them or do not believe it is "real" reading. I'll admit that they are not my favorite genre, but my students like them so I buy them and try to stay up to date.
If you are willing to give manga a try these are a few series I recommend. I also suggest visiting your nearest comic book store. Make friends with the owner and get their advice before purchasing a series to make sure it is age appropriate.

I have other series in the library, but these are the most popular. So popular in fact that many of my "manga boys", as I call them, run frantically into the library when changing classes to get the next in the series. Isn't that the passion for reading that we want to see in all of our students? It doesn't matter whether you like that genre or not.

Do you have any manga? Is it popular? What series do you have?

Graphic Novel Adaptations

One trend I have noticed recently is graphic novel adaptations of novels. Purchasing these titles will allow another group of students to access these novels. Many of my special education students and struggling readers want to read the popular, but difficult novels yet they are limited by their reading disabilities. Graphic novel versions of these novels remove those obstacles. In some cases the graphic novel version will make an old title new again. One of my favorites, The Girl Who Owned a City, released a graphic novel version and renewed student interest in the title.
Here are a few I recommend.

What graphic novel adaptations have you read and enjoyed? What adaptations are popular with your students?

Graphic Novel Series

There are several excellent, popular graphic novel series that I like and have as part of my middle school collection. Here are a few I recommend.

As a bonus I want to share some of my favorite notebook novels. While these are really more of a novel and graphic novel hybrid, many students that enjoy graphic novels are drawn to these as well. 

Are there any other series you recommend? What do your Wimpy Kid readers read when they finish the series? 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Nonfiction Graphic Novels

In a previous post I shared some of my favorite graphic novels. Most of those were fiction so I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of my favorite nonfiction graphic novels. I love nonfiction graphic novels because they help reluctant and struggling readers and it can be a gateway to the nonfiction areas of the library for all of our students.

First I'll start with a few biographies (even though I mentioned some of them in my first post).

Now for a few science related books and series.

A few more for history.

Finally a few that are connected to the English classroom and mythology.

What are your favorite nonfiction graphic novels? Are there any series that I'm missing that you recommend?

I hope you are enjoying reading graphic novels this month. Feel free to share the titles you are reading on Twitter using the hashtag #bookbootcamp. 

I'll share other posts soon with my favorite graphic novel series, novel adaptations and manga series.

-Tamara Cox