13 year old Aster wants nothing more than to be a witch. He comes from a family of witches and shapeshifters and he has been secretly learning to be a witch for years. The problem? Boys aren't witches. Boys are shapeshifters and that's just the way it is. Or is it? As Aster pushes the boundaries of what is possible versus what is supposed to be he, along with his friends and family, learn about love, acceptance and the dangers of forcing someone to be who they are not.
These graphic novels were quickly devoured in our house! My kids loved them and so did I. Each book tackles deep topics like conformity, gender norms and personal identity sensitively and without judgment, even when looking at some of the darker sides of the human psyche. The characters are well developed and relatable, wanting what most teens want - acceptance, belonging and a sense of self. Supported by gorgeous illustrations that beg as many questions as they answer, these books are a great jumping off point for a whole host of conversations about identity.
Recommended for Gr 3+
I first came across The List in a bookstore a few years ago. I loved the cover and couldn't resist a book about words. Once I settled in to the book, I was rewarded with a beautiful, yet haunting, dystopian tale about the power of language, the power of fear and the power of courage.
The List is set in a time after the polar ice caps have melted and the world as we know it has been destroyed by climate change. Few survived The Melting and those that did live in (or around) a community known as Ark, led by a man named John Noa. Noa, an outspoken climate change activist before The Melting, believes that it was language that allowed politicians to convince the people that climate change was not something to be concerned about. As a result, he has decided that language in Ark must be limited to The List - 500 words that people are permitted to speak, with few exceptions. As the wordsmith's apprentice, Letta is tasked with writing out word cards to be given to schoolchildren and tradespeople so that they may learn List. Letta believes firmly in the community of Ark and the existence of List, although she secretly hopes that one day people will be deemed responsible enough to have language restored to them. When her master disappears and a young man appears on her doorstep, speaking all of the words that have been banned, Letta's confidence in Ark, and John Noa, is shaken. As the new Wordsmith, she is tasked with shortening List to fewer and fewer words, while at the same time, the young man draws her in to a world of secrets, a world in which she must choose between the life she knows and the possibility of freedom.
The Last Lie continues the story where The List left off. If you haven't read The List yet, you may want to stop reading here, as there are definitely going to be spoilers from here on out.
Letta now lives with The Creators, teaching hedge school (a secret school to ensure that young children learn more words than List) and working to secure freedom for Ark, now ruled by Noa's wife, Amelia. Amelia continues to shorten List and finds ever more brutal ways to control the people of Ark, including trying to destroy The Creators. When the Creators' safehouse is raided, Letta and Marlo flee to forest, where they meet another band of rebels and uncover a sinister plot to silence the people of Ark forever. Letta now faces another choice - flee to freedom or stand and fight for the community, and the words, she loves so much.
I loved both of these books, separately and together. Much of the world-building takes place in The List so I highly recommend starting there as the story arc and characters will make a lot more sense. Patricia Forde's writing style is gentle and beautiful, even while describing fights and kidnappings, which makes the book a great introduction to dystopian fiction for younger readers. Although The Last Lie was a bit slow to start, the action picks up quickly and continues right through to the end of the book (and I suspect that if I had read them back to back the start would not have seemed quite as slow). Letta is a wonderful young woman, full of spunk and indignation and I appreciate how Forde infuses her with a healthy dose of self-doubt, without her seeming annoying or whiny. The book's foundational ideas of climate-change, power and the importance of language are timely and provide many opportunities for rich discussion in the classroom and at home.
Thanks to @NetGalley for the The Last Lie ARC.
Suitable for Gr 4 and up.
I don't often read anthologies (or short stories for that matter). I prefer my books a little longer so I can really get in to the story. Right from the introduction though, Color Outside the Lines grabbed me and sucked me in -
"When people ask me what this anthology is about, I'm often tempted to give them the complicated answer: it's about race, about being different from the person you love - how it can matter and also not matter - and it's about Chinese pirate ghosts, and black girl vigilantes, and colonial India, and a flower festival, and a garden of poisons, and so, so much else. Honestly, though? I think the answer's much simpler than that. Color Outside the Lines is a collection of stories about young, fierce, brilliantly hopeful characters of all colors." (from the introduction by Sangu Mandanna).
I mean, how can you not want to read this book after that? What I loved the most was how different all of the stories were; it would have been easy to create an anthology of YA realistic fiction from the last couple of decades but that's exactly what this book isn't and why it's so wonderful. The stories run the gamut from realistic fiction to fantasy to historical fiction and they are so well curated that the transitions never seem jarring nor are they grouped in such a way that you feel the transition from genre to genre. The book flows smoothly from story to story, author to author.
Speaking of the stories - to go through each one individually would do the book a disservice. There is something here for everyone and that is part of the beauty of the book. I didn't love each and every story but there were some that left me breathless and wanting more. Some are blatant commentary on biracial relations and relationships and some are more subtle explorations of other types of differences. Some take place in the here and now, while others take place in the past or in a different world entirely. What links them together is the humanity of the characters - their strengths, their fears, their hopes, their love - and that's what kept me reading, story after story.
Appropriate for Gr. 6 and up. Some good choices to spark classroom discussions.
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