The Scott O’Dell Award

odell award“In 1982, Scott O’Dell established The Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. The annual award of $5,000 goes to an author for a meritorious book published in the previous year for children or young adults.  Scott O’Dell established this award to encourage other writers–particularly new authors–to focus on historical fiction. He hoped in this way to increase the interest of young readers in the historical background that has helped to shape their country and their world.” From the website’DellAwardforHistoricalFiction.aspx


the land

Taylor, Mildred D. The Land. Speak, 2001, 2003. 375 pages. $17.60 ISBN-13: 978-0756915308

Paul-Edward, son of a white plantation owner and a slave, pursues his life-long dream to own land in the South during Reconstruction.

Historical Fiction

Age Range 13 and up

Rating: 4 out of 5 for quality, 3 out of 5 for popularity.

Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, 2002

Coretta Scott King Award for Author, 2002

ALA Notable Children’s Books, 2002

Paul-Edward Logan is in the unique position of being the child of a slave and a white plantation owner who acknowledges him and has him educated along with his white brothers. Although this is set just after the Civil War and Paul is free, he still suffers from being a mixed-race black man. After a rough start with Mitchell, a young black man who’s family lives and works on the same plantation, they become inseparable friends. Together they run away after Mitchell hits a white man and they travel the South working in lumber camps. Mitchell wants to travel and be free, but Paul wants to own and work some land. Using his carpentry skills he eventually saves enough money and he and Mitchell together work to clear some land in exchange for its title at the end of the work. This is an interesting book, the characters are vibrant and Taylor excels at giving their internal feelings and impulses voice without letting the novel drag. There is some concern about this book and its use of the N-word, but the author says she needed to use the language to give it the proper historical context. While I hate that language, I agree with her that to take it out would take away the teeth of the racism experienced by her characters. This title has won a number of awards, and it is clear to see why; it is well written with a good story and complex, endearing characters.


Copper Sun by Sharon M Draper

The Glory Field by Walter Dean Myers

Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule by Harriette Gillem  Robinet

Book Discussion Questions

  1. Why does Paul avoid his family for so long?
  2. Why is land ownership so important to Paul?

Book Talking

Living in the South after the Civil War was dangerous for a mixed race man with an education. Pursuing ones dreams could lead to danger and death, with little legal recourse.


Interview with author at the ALA

Interview with the author on The Brown Bookshelf


green glass sea

Klages, Ellen. The Green Glass Sea. Viking Juvenile, 2006. 336 pages . $17.99 ISBN-13: 978-0670061341

Dewey and Suze, 11, must make friends against the backdrop of the Trinity project that developed the atomic bomb.

Historical Fiction

Age range: 10-14

Rating: 3 out of 5 for quality, 2 out of 5 for popularity.

Scott O’Dell Award, 2007

In 1943 the race for building the atomic bomb was in full swing, but the scientists and military involved had to live in a secret community in New Mexico, so their families did too. Dewy is 11 and has come to Los Almos to live with her father. When he has to travel on government business, she stays with the family of Suze. Both girls are social outcasts, but where Dewy involves herself in building radios and machines and doesn’t care what the other girls in class think about her, Suze wants to fit in. As they learn to be friends, bonding over comic books and dump runs, Suze learns to accept herself and Dewey learns to open up to someone else. This is such a sweet story of overcoming differences and finding friendship and similarities is the crux, but the mystery surrounding the building of the atomic bomb and living in a community surrounded by secrecy gives this book a unique flavor. This was a nice, although somewhat forgettable book. The characters were a little too typical: one an overweight outcast, the other a math minded nerd, but endearing. The author did a nice job of placing the story in historical context, full of comic books and military furniture. The unique historical setting was the drawing power of this book, and although I should not judge a book by its cover, the cover design did take away from the overall force of the book, looking more like something self-published than a professionally published novel.

Because of the historical context it contains an interesting discussion of the moral problems of the bomb development. The parents, both of whom were scientists working on the project are torn about whether the bomb should be used, or if they should sign the petition that hopes to influence the government to not use the technology they built. While these discussions were not central to the story, they were subtly added in to the conversations in a way to introduce the issues without being awkward.


The Art of Keeping Cool by Janet Taylor Lisle

Bomb: The Race to Build-and Steal-the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin

The Loud Silence of Francine Green by Karen Cushman

Book Discussion Questions

  1. Why does it take Suze such a long time to accept Dewey? What is it that finally brings the girls together?
  2. How does living in a secret science community affect the lives of the girls?


Book Talking

What would it be like to live in a secret government community? What if all the adults around you were working on a secret gadget that could change the course of the war?



 Author website

Author interview with Publisher’s Weekly


Alex Awards


‘The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18. The winning titles are selected from the previous year’s publishing. The Alex Awards were first given annually beginning in 1998 and became an official ALA award in 2002.” From the YALSA Website


night circus

Morgenstern, Erin. The Night Circus.  Doubleday,  2011. 400 pages. $28.95 ISBN-13: 978-0385534635

A mysterious circus travels the world at the end of the 1800’s and is the venue of a magical competition between Marco and Celia.

Fantasy Fiction

Age Range: 15 and up

Rating: 4 out of 5 for quality, 4 out of 5 for popularity

Locus Award for Best First Novel, 2012

ALA Alex Award, 2012

Mythopoeic Fantasy Award Nominee for Adult Literature, 2012

Celia is sent to her father the magician at age 6 and almost immediately is signed up for a competition of magic and illusion as her father’s player. When or how the competition will begin is unknown, as is the identity of her competitor.  The story follows her competitor, Marco and soon the competition begins, the venue a travelling circus that opens only at night and follows no set schedule. Celia works there as an illusionist, but Marco must set up his feats of magic and illusion from afar. The descriptions are beautiful  and rich, the plot slow and meandering. This book is lovely and a perfect autumnal read. It won an Alex award because while the characters are adults, the appeal to a teen audience is obvious with its dark, mysterious setting and the forbidden love of the two competitors. The Cover art is appealing, but I have wanted to read this circus book since it came out, and was so excited to have it be a book I could read for a class on award winning books. It also won an award by an organization devoted to promoting literature and the study of the works of the Inklings, which makes it even more appealing to me.


Jonathan strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Book Discussion Questions

  1. How does the author create such a magical environment, how does the circus make it more mysterious?
  2. It seems like the death of the characters was inevitable, did they escape it? What do you think happens to them?


There is magic in this book, Illusions and fantastical gardens held together in a circus that is a goth dream. Everything is in black and white, magic and mystery is everywhere.


Author Website

Article about author in the StarTribune



Knisley, Lucy. Relish: my life in the kitchen. Turtleback, 2013. 176 pages.  $30.60. ISBN-13: 978-0606324311

Lucy tells the story of her life through her foodie experience in this series of comics.

Genre: Graphic Memoir

Age Range: 14 and up

Rating: 5 out of 5 for quality, 3 out of 5 for popularity.

Alex Award, 2014

Lucy Knisley was raised by foodies, her mother an excellent chef and caterer, her father a lover of all things fine.  She writes these fun comic chapters to illustrate the importance of food in her life, and to give omage to her mother, especially. Raised first in New York City and then in Upstate New York, Lucy developed tastes for both complex, rich, unusual foods, as well as the McDonald’s French fry. Her stories are sweet and funny, the illustrations perfect for the lighthearted and earnestness of her voice. Each chapter has an illustrated recipe at the end which add to the design and complete feeling of the book: she is trying to pass on her love of food to the reader. Although written for adults, this memoir is perfectly suited to young adults and even children (my 5 year old is enjoying it and requesting it over and over).


Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

Calling Dr. Laura: A graphic memoir by Nicole J. Georges

They Draw and Cook: 107 Recipes Illustrates by Nate Padavick and Salli Swindell

Book Discussion

  1. How effective is the life story through food stories? How does it help you get to know the character?

Book Talking.

Here is a book for food lovers and comic book fans. Also, learn how to make chai.

Author website

Interview with the Graphic Novel Reporter

Castles and Cooks Interview

Ezra Jack Keats Award for New Writers


ezra keats award

“The EJK (Ezra Jack Keats) New Writer Award was established in 1985 to encourage and celebrate up-and-coming authors of picture books written in the tradition of Keats­—that is, with original, well-told stories that reflect the universal qualities of childhood and the multicultural nature of our world. The goal is to help writers continue to create outstanding picture books for a diverse audience. The New Illustrator Award was added in 2001 to reward originality of artistic expression as well. From the website


kenyan child

Cunneane, Kelly.  For You Are a Kenyan Child. Atheneum Books, 2006. 40 pages. $17.99 ISBN-13: 978-0689861949

A small boy visits all the people in his Kenyan village while he forgets the chore of watching Grandfather’s cows.

Genre: Picture Book Fiction

Ages:  3-9

Rating: 5 out of 5 for quality, 3 out of 5 for popularity.

Ezra jack Keats New Writer Award, 2007.

You are in charge of Grandfather’s cows today, but you cannot resist going through town to say hello, “Hodi” to everyone in your village. This charming book tells the story of a young Kenyan boy in the second person as he visits the tea shop, the chief, grandmother, plus monkeys and friends. The child is supposed to be watching the cows, but finds the village and the people far more interesting. In it are beautiful, rich illustrations that give a sense of both the colors and textures of the African village. The text includes phrases in Swahili that teaches the reader a little about the sounds of the village as well. Even though the young boy neglects his chore all day, he is still welcomed into the arms of his mama to go to sleep  and listen to the night sounds around him. This book is an Ezra Jack Keats award for new authors, an award which honors authors and illustrators that describe the wonder and rich multiculturalism of our modern world. The unique illustrations and cartoonish cow on the front and the playful narrative are what caused me to pick it up, but I enjoyed it and read it many times to my son.


Mama Panya’s Pancakes by Mary and Rich Chamberlin and illustrated by Julia Cairns

We all Went on Safari by Laurie Krebs and illustrator Julia Cairns

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema

Book Discussion Questions

  1. Why is the story told to “you”? How does that make you feel about the story?
  2. When the child finally makes it back to the cows, how does the Grandfather respond?


Una taka cheza? Do you want to play? This little boy plays all over his village and meets all the friendly villagers.


Author website

Artist Website



Fogliano, Julie. And Then It’s Spring. Ilustrated by Erin E. Stead. Neal Porter/ Roaring Book Press, 2012. 32 pages $16.99 ISBN-13: 978-1596436244

A boy plants some seeds and waits and waits and waits for spring.

Genre: Picture Book Fiction

Age Range: 4-8

Rating: 5 out of 5 for quality, 3 out of 5 for popularity.

Ezra Jack Keats Award for New Writer, 2013

Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book for Picture Book, 2012

ALA Notable Children’s Book for Younger Readers, 2013

A young boy plants seeds in the brown earth. He and a dog, a rabbit, a turtle and a handful of birds and other small creatures come out to the garden every day in the hope of seeing a little green. They wait through rain, and sun. The boy worries about birds feasting on the seeds, or bears stomping through when the seeds are trying. The illustrations are woodblock and pencil and give a subtle texture to the clouds and earth and brown of the waiting land. There is a great deal of quiet humor in the animals and the boy himself quiet with glasses that cover his eyes and lend him a little mystery to his unsmiling face. The colors feel old-fashioned and the images feel timeless. It is a lovely story of patience and hope. My favorite picture is the one where the reader gets to see the secrets under the earth: the paths of ants and worms, mice listening to the dirt, and the tiny roots of the plants the little boy is so dearly hoping for. It is not an exciting read, and is not my child’s favorite, but it is a lovely afternoon read.


Spring is Here! By Heidi Pross Gray

Bear has a Story to Tell by Philip C. Stead

Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert

Book Discussion Questions

  1. The boy has a lot of patience for his seeds. Is there anything you have to wait for that is hard?
  2. Even while he is waiting, the boy keeps busy. Does that help the waiting go by?

Book Talking

How hard is it to wait and wait? Have you ever waiting for weeks and weeks? This boy is waiting for brown to turn green.


Author Interview at the Ezra Jack Keats Award

Illustrator Website

Illustrator interview at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Book Trailer



Book Battle: The Revolutionary War

Both Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson and he Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing Traitor to the Nation: The Pox Party. by M. T. Anderson look at the Revolutionary War from the perspective of a black slave. To view this moment in American history, one traditionally full of discussions about independence and representation in government through this lens takes us away from clearly defined views of history into the grey zone of complicated moral quandaries. I see these books as challenging the way our more conservative society is working to canonize the founding fathers, and honoring the fact that all people in all parts of history are flawed. Chains wins this battle, being the more exciting and having better characters. Octavian Nothing spends too much time setting the scene for the ultimate betrayal, but is less gripping and did not keep my interest as well.


Anderson, Laurie Halse. Chains. Atheneum, 2010. 320 pages. $17.99 ISBN-13: 978-1416905851

Isabel and her sister Ruth are sold to a loyalist family in New York at the brink of the Revolutionary War.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Ages 10-16

Rating: 5 out of 5 for quality, 5 out of 5 for popularity.

Scott O’Dell Award, 2009

National Book Award Nominee for Yong People’s Literature, 2008

YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2008

When Isabel’s master dies the will said she and her sister would be freed, but the nephew who inherits has other ideas and quickly sells of Isabel, aged 13, and Ruth, aged 5, to a mean loyalist couple from New York. Isabel’s life is hard, full of kitchen drudgery and cleaning, bossed by a nasty woman who is afraid of Ruth’s epilepsy. Isabel is constantly watching out for her little sister and trying to keep from being in trouble with the owners, but because the Revolutionary War is underway, she is also asked to spy on the owners by the rebel army.  This book explores the deep irony of revolutionaries demanding liberty from England, but who cannot even imagine giving the slaves they own freedom. It is an exciting narrative with complex characters, interesting and tragic situations. Isabel is a wonderful character who deals with moral questions and situations in an authentic way. This book is well reviewed by librarians and young people are clearly drawn to this author for her willingness to be honest.

Read Alikes

Flygirl by Sherri L Smith

Sophia’s War by Avi

Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Book Discussion Questions

  1.        Anderson does not shy away from the problems of a call for liberty for only some people. Have your thoughts about the revolutionary war changed after reading this book?
  2.        Curzon believes in the fight for independence, why doesn’t Isabel?

Book Talking

Isabel wants to be free, as do many of the colonists around her, but because of the color of her skin, she is less likely to benefit from the push for liberty.


Author website

Interview with author about historical accuracy

Author talks about censorship



octavian nothing

Anderson, M.T. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing Traitor to the Nation: The Pox Party. Candlewick, 2006. 368 pages.  $17.99 ISBN-13: 978-0763624026

Octavian, a slave raised as a prince in a philosophical society, finds trouble and increasing tensions at the start of the Revolutionary War.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Age: 15 and up

Rating: 3 out of 5 for quality, 5 out of 5 for popularity.

National Book Award Winner, 2006

Printz Honor Book, 2006

Boston Globe-Horn Book award for Fiction and Poetry, 2006

YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2007

Octavian and his mother live in decadence and wealth in a philosophical society run by Mr. Gitney. Secluded and well educated, it is only with the onset of the Revolutionary War and the changes in finances that cause Octavian to realize the realities of his enslavement, and of the conditions of slavery in the colonies. After Mr. Gitney hosts a pox party in an attempt to inoculate his friends and relatives with the small pox, Octavian runs away and joins a rebel militia. Told in beautiful, rich language as a testimony by Octavian, it is also filled in with letters and other documents to give it the feel of a court case. It has the unique perspective of a slave evaluating the complications of the colonists demanding liberty for themselves but refusing it for the enslaved blacks. It looks at the brink of a war from a perspective of militia men, slaves, and philosophers. It is a fascinating mix of characters. That all being said, it was a very hard book to get through. It starts slow, building up the strangeness of Octavian’s upbringing and the odd characters he is surrounded by. The excitement of the plot point lasts only briefly before the author changes voices and tells the story through letters sent from a militia man to his family as he befriends Octavian and prepares to fight battles. This section is hard to understand because of the language, and of less interest because to get the story about Octavian, the reader has to read through other tidbits about characters that are not fleshed out or interesting. I can absolutely see why this won awards for young adult literature, for it is literature, but it is not fun, in fact it can be quite gruesome.


Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Day of Tears by Julius Lester

47 by Walter Mosley

Book Discussion Questions:

  1.        Why does the nature of Octavian’s experiment change? How does this change Octavian?
  2.        Why didn’t Octavian try to make it into Boston to try to fight for the British?


This is the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Boston is unsettled, and the Novanglian College of Lucidity is trying to determine the classification of Africans by experimenting on the intellect and psyche of Octavian, who was raised by the College since infancy. Things are changing and this book has runaway slaves, war battles and a party of upper class intellectuals and merchants who all willingly submit themselves to smallpox.


Author Website

Acceptance Speech for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award

NPR Interview