This week, the Library of Congress appointed graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang as the 2015-2016 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. The son of Chinese immigrants, Yang is the first graphic novelist to hold the position since it was created in 2008. Yang's 2006 graphic novel, American Born Chinese, received the Printz Award, an Eisner Award for best graphic album, and was the first graphic novel to be a finalist for the National Book Award.
It seems so fitting that Yang would hold this position of encouraging kids all over America to read, at a time when graphic novels are finding more and more recognition as a credible literary form and as a useful way to encourage young people to read. We spoke with Yang about his platform Reading Without Walls, the future of graphic novels, book recommendations and much more.
Congratulations on being named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature! What does this position mean to you?
Thank you! I’m so excited and honored to be appointed the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature! I’m now a part of a larger mission. The Library of Congress, Every Child A Reader and the Children’s Book Council want to get more kids reading and kids reading more. The post is a part of that mission. My predecessors Kate DiCamillo, Walter Dean Myers, Katherine Paterson and Jon Scieszka have established a legacy. I’m going to do everything I can to carry on that legacy.
What is your personal goal as ambassador? What will be your greatest challenge?
I have two goals. First, I want to encourage kids to explore the world through reading. Second, I want to figure out how to use technology to promote reading.
I’m not sure what my greatest challenge will be. This first year, I’m sure everything will be a challenge.
Tell us a bit about your platform "Reading Without Walls."
Every ambassador chooses a platform. A couple months ago, I met with First Second Books and the Children’s Book Council. Together, we came up with the platform “Reading Without Walls.” We want kids to go outside their comfort zones.
For a kid who doesn’t read for fun, this means picking up a book and giving it a try.
For kids who are already reading, we want to challenge them in three ways. First, pick a book with someone on the cover who doesn’t look like you or live like you. Second, pick a book about a topic that you find intimidating. I’m actively pushing STEM-related books. I think stories are a great way to introduce STEM to kids. And third, pick a book in a format you’ve never tried before. If you only read prose novels, give a graphic novel a try. If you’re the opposite, if you only read graphic novels, give a words-only book a try.
How do you think your ambassadorship will affect the future of graphic novels and comics?
The fact that they were willing to consider a graphic novelist for the post shows how far comic book culture has come in America. When I was a kid, graphic novels were hard to find at my local library. We were never allowed to read them in class. Now, librarians and teachers are using graphic novels to engage students. They recognize the value of the medium.
My hope is that this just the beginning. Actually, it’s not just a hope. I KNOW this is just the beginning of a wonderful, fruitful era for American comics.
What books do you most often recommend to young readers?
I recommend a lot of different books for a lot of different readers. Here are some of my favorites:
For young readers, any words to live by?
Read. Write. Draw.
Ree Drummond's incredibly popular food blog, The Pioneer Woman, launched her culinary career, and now she's one of America's most beloved cooks. Her fourth cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime is our January Top Pick in cookbooks for it's wealth of comforting family meals like this Broccoli Cauliflower Casserole.
BROCCOLI CAULIFLOWER CASSEROLE
MAKES 4 TO 6 SERVINGS
The most tremendous veggie casserole in the history of veggie casseroles! I started making it around Thanksgiving as an alternative to broccoli-rice casserole, but it has slowly crept into other meals throughout the year. It’s irresistible.
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Using your hands, break the cauliflower and broccoli into very small florets. Place them in a steamer and steam them over simmering water until slightly tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Set them aside.
3. Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat, then add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour, stirring it into the onion mixture and cook it for a minute or so. Pour in the broth, stirring continuously and cook the sauce, stirring occasionally, until it begins to thicken, about 3 minutes.
4. Add the cream cheese and stir until it melts completely. Then stir in the seasoned salt, kosher salt, pepper and paprika. Turn off the heat and set the sauce aside.
5. In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and the remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter and blend with a fork.
6. To assemble, butter a small (2-quart) casserole and add half the broccoli-cauliflower mixture. Pour on half the sauce, top with half the cheese and sprinkle on a little paprika. Repeat another round of the veggies, sauce, cheese and paprika . . . then top the casserole with the buttery breadcrumbs.
7. Bake the casserole for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are golden and the casserole is bubbly around the edges. Serve it nice and piping hot!
The casserole can be assembled and stored in the fridge, unbaked, for up to 24 hours. Allow 10 minutes extra cooking time if baking straight out of the fridge.
This recipe can easily be doubled!
Use all cauliflower or all broccoli, if you prefer.
Use sharp Cheddar cheese instead of Monterey Jack for a slightly different flavor.
Sauté 8 ounces sliced mushrooms with the onions and garlic.
Matt Marinovich's cool thriller hands a murder scene to a not-too-happy young couple, and delightfully, they use this opportunity to make many, many bad decisions. Scott and Elise are staying in the Hamptons, which is practically deserted in wintertime, as Elise handles the affairs of her dying father. It all begins innocently enough for Scott—he fills some of his ample free time by snooping around the empty next-door summer house. When he and Elise try to rekindle things in one of the guest bedrooms, things go from bad to worse. Watching this husband and wife steadily get in deeper and deeper is almost as thrilling as trespassing.
Then I heard a noise, upstairs, and I swear, for three or four seconds, my heart didn't even beat. I didn't even swallow the alcohol left in my mouth. The small snifter stayed frozen in the air, as if I were toasting someone. I pictured some man coming down the winding staircase, tying some silk belt around a silk robe as he made his way toward me.
I think I waited a minute, but there were no more sounds. I decided not to push my luck. I told myself that this was far enough. I could always come back.
I had entered mumbling to myself, still pretending I was someone else, but I left without saying a word. I just closed the door and calmly walked away. Looking back, I realize I hadn't changed yet. It was too early for that. But there was something natural about the way I walked away. Upright, unhurried, aware. It's the way intruders walk, and I swear, you either have it or you don't. It can't be taught.
What are you reading today?
We're still talking about our favorite children's books of 2015 and the 2016 Youth Media Award winners, but it's time to get excited about what 2016 holds, including new books from Kate DiCamillo, Jon Klassen and more. With a list like this, we can't wait to see what other great children's books await us this year!
Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead (Roaring Brook, March 1)
We're always a sucker for a new Stead picture book, but this one looks especially magical. It’s sort of a book about nothing, or everything: In search of writing ideas, an author takes a walk with his dog around the neighborhood. View all our reviews of Stead's previous books.
Summerlost by Ally Condie (Dutton, March 29)
The author of the critically acclaimed, bestselling Matched trilogy makes her middle-grade debut with the story of 12-year-old Cedar, who is grieving the sudden deaths of her father and younger brother while working for the renowned Summerlost Shakespearean theater company.
Twenty Yawns by Jane Smiley and Lauren Castillo (Two Lions, April 1)
This beachy bedtime book is the first-ever picture book from Pulitzer Prize winner Smiley, and we're ecstatic to see she's collaborating with Caldecott Honor winner Castillo (Nana in the City).
Booked by Kwame Alexander (HMH, April 5)
Alexander follows up his Newbery Medal winner, The Crossover, with another novel-in-verse, this one a heartfelt tale of soccer. Most importantly, one of the characters is a rapping librarian named The Mac.
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick, April 12)
Two-time Newbery Medalist DiCamillo pulls generously from her own life for this much-anticipated middle-grade novel about 10-year-old Raymie Clarke, whose father has just run away with a local dental hygienist. Specifically, DiCamillo grew up in small-town Central Florida, competed in (and lost) the Little Miss Orange Blossom contest, and her father left the family when she was very young. View all our reviews of DiCamillo's previous books.
Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat (Little, Brown, April 12)
Don't let the innocuous title fool you, as there's also a T-Rex on the cover of Caldecott Medalist Santat's road trip picture book, so we're expecting more than a few wonderfully ridiculous surprises. On this most unusual road trip, time seems to be moving so. slowly. . . . that it starts moving backward. View all our reviews of Santat's previous books.
Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier (Amulet, April 5)
It seems like we've waited FOREVER for Auxier to take us back to the world of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes (2011). But our patience is rewarded: This new middle-grade book is set two years after Peter Nimble and Sir Tode rescued the kingdom of HazelPort, and now they're back to find a 12-year-old bookmender named Sophie Quire. View all our reviews of Auxier's previous books.
Gordon and Tapir by Sebastian Meschenmoser (NorthSouth, April)
Mr. Squirrel and the Moon was one of our very favorite 2015 picture books, and we can't wait to see the humor and charm that will no doubt fill Meschenmoser's odd-couple tale. And it's already been shortlisted for the German Children’s Book of the Year Award.
Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Little, Brown, May 10)
National Book Award-winner Alexie and Caldecott Honor winner Morales (Viva Frida) team up for a picture book about a little boy, son of Big Thunder, who's looking for his own special name.
There Is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith (Roaring Brook, May 3)
We were granted a sneak peek of Smith's picture book for last September's cover reveal and Q&A, and we still can't wait for this one. Plus, I crack up everytime I think of a group of Lane Smiths being an "annoyance of Lanes." View all our reviews of Smith's previous books.
A Clatter of Jars by Lisa Graff (Philomel, May 24)
The latest middle-grade novel from National Book Award nominee Graff returns to the world of A Tangle of Knots (2013) for another magic-filled camp adventure. View all our reviews of Graff's previous books.
Nine, Ten by Nora Raleigh Baskin (Atheneum, June 28)
Ruby on the Outside was one of our favorite 2015 middle-grade novels, so we're definitely watching for Baskin's next book, about four middle schoolers whose lives are dramatically impacted by the tragic events of 9/11.
School's First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson (Roaring Brook, June 28)
Robinson just picked up a Caldecott Honor and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for Last Stop on Market Street, and he's quickly becoming one of our all-time favorite illustrators. His back-to-school book with Rex sounds like a collaboration made in heaven.
Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown, July 12)
Another 9/11 middle-grade novel? We trust Rhodes to do the tragic events justice. View all our reviews of Rhodes' previous books.
Travis and Stinky by Jacqueline Kelly (Macmillan Children's, October 4)
This is the first installment in a new spinoff series of chapter books from Kelly's beloved The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate. A new generation of readers will get to meet all those wonderful characters we immediately fell in love with. View all our reviews of Kelly's previous books.
We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen (Candlewick, October 11)
The epic Klassen hat saga reaches its end, after I Want My Hat Back and the Caldecott Medal and Kate Greenaway Medal-winning This Is Not My Hat. This time, two turtles have found a hat, both of whom look good in said hat. Who will win the hat? Will one turtle eat the other turtle? These questions must be—will be—answered.
A Voyage in the Clouds: The (Mostly) True Story of the First International Flight by Balloon in 1785 by Matthew Olshan, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (FSG, October 11)
Olshan and Blackall brought us the outstanding The Mighty Lalouche (2013), so another (mostly true) history lesson from the duo is a real treat. Check out our interview with Blackall on The Mighty Lalouche and collaborating with Olshan.
What children's books are you most looking forward to this year? Share in the comments below.
Every month, we review the hottest new romance releases in our Romance column. But why let the print books have all the fun? In Digital Dalliances, we highlight digital-only releases guaranteed to heat up your eReader.
A Duchess in Name by Amanda Weaver
Carina Press• $3.49 • ISBN 9781459290617
Publishing Jan 18
Amanda Weaver starts a new digital-only Victorian romance series, The Grantham Girls, with A Duchess in Name. Sent away to Lady Grantham's finishing school at a young age, American heiress Victoria Carson has spent her entire life preparing for marriage. Her cruel, monomaniacal mother is desperate to gain a British title to complement the massive wealth of the Carson family. Victoria despairs at her lot in life, but she's resigned to a loveless marriage to one of the "arrogant, broke men with titles" courting her.
Andrew Hargrave, the future Duke of Waring, is far removed from London society. He's happy pursuing a different kind of treasure in Italy—the buried kind that's rich in history. But when he's summoned to England by his father, it's revealed that his life is about to drastically change. In order to save his family's status, he's been promised in marriage to Victoria, and neither are remotely happy about it. Yet marriage seems to be the only option—and both are surprised at the passion this marriage inspires.
In an author's note, Weaver reveals that she was inspired by Edith Wharton's The Buccaneers as well as the life of the wealthy Consuelo Vanderbilt, who was forced by her mother into wedding a Duke. Sadly, their marriage was an unhappy one.
Genevieve took a sip of her tea before speaking. “This whole thing is no doubt as much of a surprise to him as it was to you. And being compelled to marry a stranger for money would make any man feel put-upon. Perhaps he hasn’t had enough time to come to terms with the situation. Once he has a chance to get to know you, he’ll become less uncomfortable in your company.”
She scowled. “That’s what I thought at first, too. But I don’t think he’s uncomfortable, precisely.”
Gen set her teacup down in its saucer. “What do you mean?”
“Well, after that, we waltzed.”
“As one does, at a ball,” Grace quipped.
"I’ve never waltzed like that before. It was like I was on fire.” She hid her face in her hands. “Oh, never mind.”
Gen reached out and tugged her hands away. “Vic, are you saying you felt something for him while you danced? As a man?”
“Definitely as a man. And I’m fairly sure he felt something for me. As a woman. He wouldn’t stop looking at me. The look in his eyes… I think I know what he was thinking and it was nothing proper. And his hands, where he held me… And when the music stopped, he didn’t release me. We… I can’t even describe it.”
“Well, you see now?” Gen sounded quite pleased. “This is a good start.”
“That’s not all.”
Amelia sat up. “You danced a scandalously seductive waltz with the man and you’re telling us there’s more?”
She cast a furtive look at the three of them, all leaning in, hanging on her words. “He kissed me.”
Amelia and Grace gasped in unison. Gen took a deep breath and raised one eyebrow. “A kiss good-night on the cheek?”
Do you think you'll be picking up this romance novel for your eReader?
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A critically praised novel and two compelling memoirs top the list of new paperbacks on sale today:
A God in Ruins
By Kate Atkinson
Back Bay • $17.99 • ISBN 9780316176507
Announced last week as the winner of Britain's Costa Award, Atkinson's evocative novel also made many best books of the year lists in the U.S. (including the BookPage Top 50, where it ranked #11). A follow-up to her dazzling 2013 bestseller Life After Life, Atkinson's latest chronicles the life of British World War II pilot Teddy Todd.
Born with Teeth
By Kate Mulgrew
Back Bay • $15.99 • ISBN 9780316334327
In her own unmistakable voice—confident, frank and feisty—the TV and film actress recounts her adventures growing up in a Midwestern Irish-Catholic family and navigating the road to stardom.
Leaving Before the Rains Come
By Alexandra Fuller
Penguin • $17 • ISBN 9780143128427
The author who captured her unorthodox African upbringing in Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight reveals the other side of her story—what happened after she married an American adventurer, moved to Wyoming and took aim at domestic tranquility.
Today the American Library Association (ALA) announced the top books for children and young adults, including the Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Newbery and Printz awards. Several of the BookPage Best Children's and Teen Books of 2015 received awards, including Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson, which took the Newbery Medal, a Caldecott Honor and a Coretta Scott King Honor. Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer by Carole Boston Weatherford and Ekua Holmes also earned multiple nods, including a Caldecott Honor, the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award and a Sibert Honor.
And congratulations to Jerry Pinkney, winner of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award and the Coretta Scott King/Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement!
Read on for all the winners:
NEWBERY MEDAL, for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Putnam)
Newbery Honor Books:
CALDECOTT MEDAL, for the most distinguished American picture book for children: Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Little, Brown)
Caldecott Honor Books:
CORETTA SCOTT KING AUTHOR BOOK AWARD, for an African-American author of outstanding books for children and young adults: Rita Williams-Garcia for Gone Crazy in Alabama (Amistad)
King Author Honor Books:
CORETTA SCOTT KING ILLUSTRATOR BOOK AWARD, for an African-American illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults: Bryan Collier for Trombone Shorty, written by Troy Andrews (Abrams)
King Illustrator Honor Books:
CORETTA SCOTT KING/JOHN STEPTOE NEW TALENT AUTHOR AWARD: Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith (Clarion)
CORETTA SCOTT KING/JOHN STEPTOE NEW TALENT ILLUSTRATOR AWARD: Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (Candlewick)
PRINTZ: Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (Balzer + Bray)
Printz Honor Books:
MARGARET A. EDWARDS AWARD, for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults: David Levithan
PURA BELPRE AUTHOR AWARD, for a Latino writer whose children's books best portray, affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience: Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle (Atheneum)
SIBERT AWARD for most distinguished informational book for children: Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams)
Sibert Honor Books:
WILLIAM C. MORRIS AWARD, for a debut YA author: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (Balzer + Bray)
YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults: Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin (Roaring Brook)
Click here to view all the winners, including the Alex Awards (the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences), the Stonewall Book Award (books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience), the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished beginning reader book and more.
Did your favorite children's or YA book pick up an award this year?
Former Atlanta paramedic Kevin Hazzard takes readers on a ride in his ambulance at breakneck speed in his memoir, A Thousand Naked Strangers. Our reviewer writes, "Hazzard is no gleeful voyeur; the respect he accords his patients and many—though not all—of his colleagues imparts a kind of honorable dignity to this work. . . . His story may well inspire others to take a chance on this vital but often overlooked vocation." (Read the review.)
We asked Hazzard to tell us about three books he's been reading lately.
Into the Silence by Wade Davis
For whatever reason, I’m a huge fan of paperbacks and often torture myself waiting for much-anticipated books to come out in my favorite form. This was the case with Into the Silence, Wade Davis’ account of the first three attempts to conquer Mt. Everest. It proved worth the wait. The moment I heard Davis—National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and author of The Serpent and the Rainbow—had written about George Mallory on Everest, I was in. But once I began reading, I found myself sucked deep into a sprawling story I hadn’t anticipated. Coming as it did on the heels of World War I, the quest to reach the world’s highest peak transcended mere mountaineering, ultimately becoming a journey of healing for England’s Lost Generation, while also embodying Britain’s desire for hope and renewed national purpose. Though unsuccessful, the expeditions overcame tremendous odds to map and explore a region where few, if any, outsiders had ever tread. With fine writing and a wonderful sense of story, Davis corrals a sweeping saga with an unwieldy number of characters and delivers a remarkably simple tale of redemption and perseverance.
The Fish That Ate the Whale by Rich Cohen
The Fish That Ate the Whale is perhaps the book I’ve recommended more than any other. In just over 240 pages, Rich Cohen manages to tell the ultimate parable of the American Dream. The book charts the all-but-unbelievable rise of Sam Zemurray from broke immigrant in 1891 to the very heights of global power upon his death more than a half-century later. Zemurray started out as a fruit peddler on the docks of Mobile, Alabama, and—through that classic combination of tenacity and instinct—eventually became the head of United Fruit, one of the wealthiest and most influential companies in American history. His rags-to-riches story spans the American Century and includes corporate piracy, mercenaries, the CIA, peasant revolts and the overthrow of Central American governments—all in the name of bananas. Cohen is a remarkable writer who not only gives us the history of the banana we never knew we always wanted, but lays out the binary nature of America as both land of opportunity and imperialistic behemoth. I’ll never look at a banana, or the U.S., the same way.
The Tiger by John Vaillant
If you’re looking for a book that will pull you out into deep water and then drag you under, you couldn’t do better than The Tiger by John Vaillant. The book recounts the story of a tiger who’s gotten a taste for human flesh in Russia’s Far East. The village, not only thousands of miles but many time zones away from Moscow, squats in a lawless region populated by poachers and outcasts and those who, for any number of reasons, want to be left alone. It’s also home to Russia’s remaining tiger population. I’ve always admired and feared the great cats, but it wasn’t until reading Vaillant’s book that I realized just how incredibly smart, how perfectly capable, how remarkably deadly these animals are. As a primer, consider this: Siberian tigers reside so comfortably on the top of their food chain that they’ve been known to climb trees and then leap into the air to swipe their paws at passing helicopters. The book follows Yuri Trush, the government tracker sent to find the tiger before he strikes again. Trush is a man straight out of Russian fiction, and his true journey into this wasteland of dangerous men and even more dangerous tigers will stick with you.
Thank you, Kevin!
(Author photo by Lauren Pressey)
The latest installment of the Austen Project finally has an on-sale date: April 19, 2016. Eligible is bestselling author Curtis Sittenfeld's take on what is perhaps the ultimate Austen novel, Pride & Prejudice. No pressure!
Fortunately, it sounds like Sittenfeld has spent plenty of time considering her approach. Since it no longer makes sense for a mother to be worried about whether her teen- and 20-something daughters will be married, Jane and Lizzie are now in their late 30s. They're working in New York City when their father's health scare causes them to return home to Cincinnati, where they find their younger sisters' lives, in disarray—but also meet two handsome, single doctors. Intriguing!
RELATED CONTENT: Don't miss our interview with Sittenfeld about American Wife, and check out our coverage of previous installments of the Austen Project from Val McDermid, Alexander McCall Smith and Joanna Trollope. You can also read more news about 2016 releases.