Sunday, 27 April 2014

Recommendations for The Siobhan Dowd Trust

Kate from the Siobhan Dowd Trust got in touch with me yesterday asking for some recommendations for books to send to schools - the brief was top 20-30 classic and contemporary, with a wide mix, and a note on degree of sex/controversy to be able to make teachers and librarians aware of this.

The Trust is currently running an incredible competition where one school will win £6000 worth of books and two runners-up will win £3000 worth of books so they're hoping for lots of recommendations - and if you know of a school who HASN'T entered it, please let them now that Friday 2nd May is the closing date!

I can never resist a challenge so jumped at the chance to give this a go - I'm NOT great with classics (all the older books I really love have fallen out of print!) so said that I'd do 10 pre-2000, 10 2000-2013, and 10 from this year. (This then ended up as 12 each, because I'm hopeless at narrowing stuff down.) Please note, while ALL of these books are absolutely wonderful and I'd strongly recommend them, they're not necessarily my absolute favourites from the time period - partly because that changes pretty much every day and partly because I was trying to make sure I got a wide mix. I've also left out the massive stuff that I'd expect schools to be pretty sure to already have - Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Fault in Our Stars, and so on, as well as recent prize-winners that I'm assuming are likely to be on their radars.

Kate is really keen to kick off a discussion, so if you want to comment on my choices (I think there may be a few controversial ones!) or if you're interested in picking your own, it would be great to hear from you! Leave a comment (or if you're posting on your own blog, leave me a link so I can check it out!)


Pre-2000

Wolves Chronicles by Joan Aiken - Sprawling alternate history series which starts with The Wolves of Wilougby Chase, as two children and a goose-boy try to foil a governess's evil schemes, moves to London with Black Hearts in Battersea - where Simon, the goose-boy, is caught in a mysterious plot to overthrow the king - and goes all over the place in future volumes. The first four books, in particular, are spellbinding, and Dido Twite, the street-urchin central to most of the sequence, is a superb heroine.

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander - Set in Prydain, a world based on Welsh mythology, this is a great 5 book sequence and the last two books are two of the best I've ever read. In particular, the climax is an all-time favourite which had me in tears

Junk by Melvin Burgess - Yes, it's about drug use, there's sex, and it's very hard-hitting. It's also brilliantly written and was a deserved Carnegie winer.

What Katy Did series by Susan Coolidge - My favourite of the acknowledged classics, this has wonderfully warm characters, and I love Katy and her sister Clover's relationship, in particular.

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper - Part of me feels that I should go for more variety than having two classic fantasy series, but how can you leave either this or Prydain out? An amazing fantasy series which ties in Arthurian legend to the present day. Breathtakingly epic, and bears up to repeated rereading.

The Dark Behind The Curtain by Gillian Cross - Not one of Cross's better known novels, but this story about a group of schoolchildren putting on a production of Sweeney Todd only for terrible things to start occuring is eerily brilliant.

The Runaways by Elizabeth Goodge - Recently reprinted, this story of family, friendship and redemption is magical in more ways than one.

Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner - Brilliant chase story with lots of strong characters and wonderful descriptions of Berlin between the wars.  

Watchmen by Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons - Bleak and thought-provoking; surely the greatest ever graphic novel? One for more mature teens. 

The Story of the Treasure Seekers by E Nesbit - Perhaps less likely to be in school libraries than The Railway Children or Five Children and It, Nesbit's first children's book may be my favourite of all of hers. Warm, funny, and a great story of family.

The Magician Trilogy by Jenny Nimmo - I appear to be flooding this list with Welsh/Welsh-inspired fantasy sequences, but I can't leave this out either. First book The Snow Spider is one of the only books I can think of which works superbly on two levels - I read it as a brilliant adventure when I was a child, and as a moving study of grief as an adult. The other two books are nearly as good.

Mike at Wrykyn/Mike and PSmyth by PG Wodehouse - While Wodehouse is most famous for Jeeves & Wooster and Blandings, his school stories are also excellent. These are perhaps my favourites, and over a century after first publication holds up really well.


2000-2013

You Don't Know Me by Sophia Bennett - One of the best YA contemporary stories I've read in years, exploring media manipulation, cyber-bullying, body image, romance, friendship, making choices, and doing it all with incredible heart and a wonderful cast of characters. Oh, and an ending that made me want to turn cartwheels down a crowded train carriage.

Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter - Four brilliant central characters with a great friendship between them make this spy school series a fantastic one.

Love In Revolution by BR Collins - I can never really review this; I just incoherently ramble "OMG READ THIS NOW!" Wonderful love story between two girls falling for each other during a revolution. Perhaps the most outstanding book of last year for me. (And last year was AMAZINGLY good.)

GONE series by Michael Grant - Six books, and a ridiculously high number of completely enthralling character arcs. The development of the teens - both super-powered and normal - as they try to build a working society while trapped in a dome where everyone else has disappeared - is outstanding, over the course of all six books. (Or less, in some cases - given the amount of deaths here it's NOT one where you can afford to get too attached to characters!) Super-gory in places.

Have A Little Faith and Keep The Faith by Candy Harper - Two of the funniest books that I've ever read. Brilliant stories about a great group of friends. The ultimate mood-busting books.

Dept 19 series by Will Hill - This Dracula-inspired vampire thriller is almost certainly my favourite ongoing series; I can't wait for book 4 in June! Gory.

Wereworld series by Curtis Jobling - Brilliant epic fantasy which is another where lots of characters develop superbly over a sextet of books; lead Drew, half-brother Trent, friend Hector and love interests Gretchen and Whitley perhaps being the five best.

Pantomime/Shadowplay by Laura Lam - Enthralling fantasies which deal wonderfully with issues of sexuality while also having strong plots and brilliant characters. I cried, a lot.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson - Grieving girl caught between her dead sister's boyfriend and the new guy in town. Utterly heartbreaking and lyrically brilliant. Contains sex, drugs and strong language.

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales - An emotional, sometimes brutal, but ultimately hopeful read with an amazing voice. Sex, some strong language, suicide attempt.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - One of the all-time great tearjerkers, this book about two female friends in WWII, a pilot and a spy, one of whom gets captured by the Nazis, absolutely broke me. Incredible.

The Monstrumologist series by Rick Yancey - This series about an orphan helping a monster-hunter who's one of the most fascinating characters I've ever seen starts well and gets better and better. VERY gory. I felt I needed a stronger stomach to really enjoy the first one (although actual teens seem to have had less issues than me.)



2014

Sesame Seade series by Clementine Beauvais, illustrated by Sarah Horne - Clementine's brilliant plotting and characters make this a great read, Sarah's fabulous illustrations are the icing on the cake. This girl detective series is massively good fun.

Girl With A White Dog by Anne Booth - Feels hugely important. Hard to say too much as I'm petrified of spoiling it, but the 9-12 year olds this is aimed at MUST read it. It floored me completely, to the point I went out and bought three copies. (And don't actually know who has any of them, I was so desperate to get them into people's hands!)

Magic Marks The Spot by Caroline Carlson - Pirates + magic + gargoyle = huge amounts of fun.
http://www.yayeahyeah.com/2014/01/recommendations.html

Bone Jack by Sara Crowe - A deeply disquieting tale which mixes old legends with thoroughly modern problems. This is really, really special.

Boys Don't Knit by TS Easton - Absolutely hilarious comedy with a stunning voice for the narrator and a vividly realised cast of characters. REALLY strong language and a 50 Shades of Grey parody included.

Lobsters by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison - Story of two teens trying to lose their virginity before going to university is another staggeringly funny one. Sex, obviously, and strong language here.

Fifteen Bones by RJ Morgan - Gripping story of gang violence feels incredibly real and has brilliant characters. Very strong language.

Trouble by Non Pratt - A book about a pregnant teen but so much more - massive amounts of heart, brilliant characters, and both narrators have superb voices.

Far From You by Tess Sharpe - Stunning story of the relationship between two girls, one of whom is investigating the other's death. Lead character Sophie is coming out of rehab after kicking a drugs addiction. Breathtaking, probably my top 5 of all-time.

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith - Bisexual love story mixed with the end of the world and an invasion of giant bugs. Lots of sex, violence, and a writing style that you'll either love or hate. Personally, I absolutely adored it.

Starring Kitty by Keris Stainton - Completely charming and absolutely adorable, this romance between two girls is one of the loveliest books of the year. It's great to see a really happy LGBT story.

Roomies by Sara Zarr/Tara Altebrando - Gorgeously sweet story of two girls who become friends via e-mail when they find out they're rooming together at college. A lovely tribute to friendship in all its forms.



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