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Hunger Games

Graphic Novel Friday: Guilty Pleasures No More!

I’ve harbored a secret since May of 2013. It’s nothing to be ashamed of—more like a guilty pleasure—but I didn’t advertise it to my comics reading friends. I’m ready to come clean: I read both Avengers Arena and Young Avengers (and I’m in my mid-30s).

Avengers Arena is The Hunger Games meets Avengers sidekicks (note the Battle Royale homage cover pictured at right), an infectious, jump-in-and-read soap opera where the stakes are life or death—and sometimes both. The premise is thin, and yet this comic is more readable, funny, clever, and addictive than most marquee books.

Writer Dennis Hopeless (don’t let the ominous name dissuade you) smartly assigns visible life meters to each character, and they deplete with each act of aggression. It’s a great way for readers to keep powers and character fights in check amidst the explosions, shape-changers, and killer tidal waves. Hopeless doles out the love triangles, and artist Kev Walker supplies jagged, frenetic lines to everyone and everything—giving it all page-turning momentum. All three volumes are now available and tell one heck of a complete and satisfying story.

No less addictive but much headier, the restart to Young Avengers introduces a young Loki to the team along with Ms. America (I didn’t know her, either). The former addition proves to be writer Kieron Gillen’s winning formula, as Loki’s mischievous, know-it-all attitude gives the book its funny backbone. Rejoining the team are series stalwarts Hawkeye (Kate Bishop, who’s also co-starring in Matt Fraction’s sublime Hawkeye), Wiccan and his boyfriend Hulkling, and Marvel Boy. The longtime romance between Wiccan and Hulking has always been the lynchpin of the team, and here it is tested thanks to Loki’s boss-level scheming.

The villain of the first two arcs (a monster mom!) could have quickly run aground, but Gillen keeps the narrative upright by dropping meta-sized plot bombs onto the team, resulting in a book that is full of young adults but reads like a crossover drama. Jamie McKelvie’s art is a pleasure, all clean lines, distinctive character designs, and believable expressions.

My secret’s out, and it seems silly to have kept it so. These are great books that deserve wider recognition. Join me on the rooftop. I’ll be the one shouting.


YA Wednesday: I *Heart* Banned Books

When you check out the lists of young adult books that have been banned over the years, it's almost like a who's who of some of my favorite YA novels and authors. Which might be funny if it didn't also mean books are still being censored and pulled from library shelves. Ugh. The antidote to that? Turning Banned Books Week into a celebration of reading. 

Earlier this week, my fellow editors each chose a book from the list to defend, from classics like Fahrenheit 451 to the graphic novel Persepolis.  Since there are so many YA books that have been challenged, I decided to choose three for my own mini list:

Thirteen Reasons Why

Banned Book: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Suicide, sex, drugs.  Okay, I get why Thirteen Reasons Why might make some parents uncomfortable, but these are topics that frequent teenage minds and hallways.  The story is intriguing: Clay Jensen receives a box of audiotapes recorded by Hannah--a classmate and love interest who recently committed suicide.  The tapes take him on a journey of the 13 incidents--and the people who perpetrated them--that led to her decision to end her life.  Some are big things, like a date rape. Most, however, seem mean or hurtful but individually not enough to push someone over the edge. That is one of the great things about this book--you see the effects of individual acts of unkindness and how devastating rumors, lies, and staying silent can be. I also appreciate that rather than glorifying suicide as revenge or martyrdom, it was obvious that Hannah's stubbornness and pride ultimately decided her ending, which was a waste and a regret. 

The Call of the Wild

Banned Book: The Hunger Games  by Suzanne Collins

I won’t argue that The Hunger Games isn’t violent, because it is. These are, after all, kids being forced to kill each other in a death match, while the rest of the country watches and bets on the outcome.  But I would argue that the ends justify the violent means.  Besides exploring important themes of oppression and sacrifice, the Games satirizes our obsession with reality television which has only gotten more obnoxious since the book released in 2008.  Teens (and adults for that matter) who were not readers came to the party for The Hunger Games and then returned for the next book, and the next.  In my opinion, a  book that demonstrates the entertainment value of a great story, and gets kids reading, deserves a place on the shelf.

To Kill a Mockingbird Banned Book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I don't even know what to say here. REALLY? But yes, as recently as 2011, To Kill a Mockingbird made the list of ten most challenged titles. And yet, this novel is frequently listed as a favorite book of all time. People name their children (and I’ve met several personally) Harper, after the author, and Scout, for the young protagonist. Obviously, this is a book that touches many readers in a deeply profound way. The themes of racism and inequality, seen clearly through the eyes, and innocence, of an eight-year-old, are every bit as powerful--and relevant--today as when the book was first published in 1960. In this age of unprecedented bullying, we need to encourage kids to stand up for what they know is right, even if it's unpopular. And I can't think of a better role model than Atticus Finch.

Most Read by Facebookers in 2012

If you've got a Facebook profile, you may have noticed a new link: "See Your 2012 Year in Review." The roundup goes beyond your own pictures, new friends, and how many pages you liked, though. Facebook Trends from 2012 includes quite an interesting feature revealing the books that were most read by Facebook users in 2012. And, unlike our own Best Books of the Year list (which focuses on books published in 2012), this list ranges from an entire modern series to decades-old classics.

Topping the list in positions 1, 2, and 3 is Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy in sequential order. At least among Facebook users, the beginning of the Harry Potter saga continues to attract new readers and re-readers. Classics To Kill a Mockingbird (which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year)and The Great Gatsby (soon to star Leonardo DiCaprio in the big screen remake) add a little canon to the mix, while Fifty Shades of Grey stands out as an R-rated anomaly on an otherwise PG-13 list.

Here, in order, is what Facebook users read in 2012:

The Hunger Games

Catching Fire Mockingjay

50 Shades of GreyHarry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone The Help

Twilight To Kill a Mockingbird Great Gatsby Water for Elephants


YA Wednesday: What to Get the Teens on Your List

I think teenagers are the hardest to buy for, for the same reasons that YA authors like to write for them--a teen reader has no qualms about telling you they love a book or can't stand it and they are passionate either way. 

Luckily, this holiday season there are some really great choices in books so I thought I'd share a handful of editor's picks for the best gift ideas--as you'll see, I love a box set (especially when the price is right) and, in fact, I still have a couple battered box sets that I received many years ago (Little House, Narnia--though my set looks like this).  And why limit these gift ideas to just teens? I would recommend them for adults who read YA or popular fiction as well. You can find more editor's picks in gifts for kids & teens here.MatchedBox  What books are on your wish list?

Matched Trilogy Box Set: This is a series tailor-made for Hunger Games readers. Romance and action in a Big Brother society, and I'm not giving anything away to tell you that it starts with a teen girl, Cassia, who is shown her expected marriage match--but for a brief second another boy's face appears on the screen.  Hmmm... The story builds from there, each book adding a new layer and new voices to the narrative.  Addictive reading.


John Green Box Set: Oh, John Green, how do I love thee...The Fault in Our Stars is our #1 pick for the Best Teen books of 2012 and he hasn't won the Printz award and Honor for nothin'.  If you are the one to introduce Green's books to someone who has never read him they will thank you later and I bet you'll get a really good gift from that person next year.  Funny and smart with characters you fall in love with, Green's books are memorable and relatable. The set includes updated hardcover editions of four favorites: Looking for Alaska (Printz Award winner), An Abundance of Katherines (Printz Honor winner), Paper Towns, and The Fault in Our Stars.


 Lauren Conrad Beauty:  Lauren Conrad has managed to maintain her popularity in the fickle teen world. Her new book of beauty tips isn't going to have anyone heading to school looking like Lady Gaga, but rather like a well-coiffed and skillfully made-up version of themselves.  I'm happy to report that I tried her methods for glamorous (but not ridiculous) eyeliner and hair curling and met with success.


Not Exactly a Love Story: My top pick for December in YA. A loner boy in love with Miss Popular who happens to live next door might sound cliché, but this is funny and sincere with a lot of heart.  Vinnie's parents have recently divorced and his mom quickly re-married--of all people--the gym teacher at Vinnie's new high school. The perfect anecdote for teen girls suffering teen boy angst and a reminder that some of the best guys in high school (and beyond) might be the nice one right under your nose. 


The Hobbit (Deluxe Collector's Edition): The big movie of the holiday season, The Hobbit film should have people of all ages reading or re-reading the Tolkien classic.  This edition is gorgeous and unique, besides the swanky cover there is a map and text pages printed in black with green accents (!)--it will make a beautiful gift for any bookshelf and especially so for the Tolkien obsessed.


Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-up Adventure:  Who doesn't love a cool pop-up book?  This would be a good one for those tough tween boys and Matthew Reinhart is the paper genius behind the best-selling Star Wars Pop Up Guide to the Galaxy.  The new book is elaborate, with small pop-ups off pages with big ones and even a lightsaber that lights up when you open the page.  There is an awesome customer review video on the page that can show you more than I could ever hope to explain. May the force be with you this holiday season.

From "Hunger Games" to Children's Books

BartholomewBiddleThis year Gary Ross' Hunger Games film had movie-goers lining up at theaters for the latest in a career that includes other best-selling books turned Hollywood gems (Seabiscuit, Tales of Despereaux).  Besides directing and producing movies, Ross has written original screenplays and now he's turning his attention and talents to children's books.  Bartholomew Biddle and the Very Big Wind is an imaginative journey for readers age 6 and up, told entirely in rhyme.  It's a tricky style, and he pulls it off beautifully (we picked it as a Best Book of November) in this story of a boy, a bedsheet, and a love of adventure.  I talked to Ross earlier this year about how he came to write Bartholomew Biddle and the Very Big Wind, his film work, and what's next--you can see what he had to say in the video below.  I also asked if he would read a passage from the book for us-- the colorful verse makes a perfect read-aloud for younger kids--and as it turns out, this was his first author reading! You can see/listen to it in the second video below.

Bring On the Banned Books

Every year Banned Books Week (September 30-October 6) is devoted to reminding the reading public and the book community at large that having the freedom to read what we want isn't always a given when it comes to schools and libraries.  Though I've seen the list countless times I'm always struck dumb by the titles that are frequently challenged or have been removed from school libraries--the majority of them being some of the most popular titles of the day like The Hunger Games (#3 on the Top 10 Challenged Books of 2011) , or books like The Catcher in the Rye that are synomous with classic literature (see more banned and challenged classics here).

2012 marks the 30th year of Banned Books Week and the American Library Association created a really cool timeline that shows a significant banned or challenged book representing each of the last 31 years (it includes 2012) and the reason each title made the list.  It's quite a representation of the big names in publishing and children's books in particular--Maurice Sendak, Katherine Patterson, Kurt Vonnegut, Judy Blume, etc. 2009's representative title may look especially familiar as you've probably been seeing trailers for the movie adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower--the book was challenged in both VA and WI for references to drug use, homosexuality, and suicide.  Something tells me there won't be the same reaction to the movie version. 

It's hard to believe with all the reality shows that have taken over television in recent years showing young people doing drugs, having sex, not just drinking but getting completely hammered, that BOOKS are still challenged... I get it that these are books in schools and libraries and it's the use of our (rapidly dwindling) public funds that get some people in a twist, but as a parent I would much rather have my kid read about drugs and become more informed, than try to learn by doing.  Whatever your thoughts on censorship and books, I hope this week to celebrate reading inspires us all to read something new, share a favorite book, or just remember some of the best reads of your life.  Here are a few of my favorite books that have been challenged in recent years--what are yours?


Mickey TKAM HungerGames

Want to Visit the "Catching Fire" Movie Set?

Though the movie release of Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy, is set for November 22, 2013--a year and three months away (not that I'm counting)--this Saturday fans will finally be able to relive the Hunger Games experience from the comfort of their own couch.  To celebrate the DVD/Blu-ray/Amazon Instant Video release, there is a pretty awesome sweepstakes going on (see here to enter) that will take the winner and a guest to the set of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire movie. 

If, like me, you have forgotten what exactly happened in book two, here are some broad strokes to spark your memory (no spoilers): Peeta and Katniss go on a Victory Tour of the districts and then the 75th Hunger Games, called the "Quarter Quell," is announced. President Snow devises a unique method of pulling tributes from each district for the Quarter Quell and the Games take place in a tropical setting of beach and jungle. 

Don't forget to enter the sweepstakes before 11:59 PM (PT) on August 18th (this Saturday) and may the odds be ever in your favor

*To enter and find more details, go to  NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Ends 8/18/12. See Official Rules for details.

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