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Every book, to some degree, reflects the time in which it was written. As our culture—and our canon—evolves, it can be useful to return to the beloved works of our past and ask the question: What has changed? This collection (inspired by librarian Amy Seto Forrester’s May 2019 webinar on suggesting “recommend-alongs” for classic kidlit titles, which can be found in Booklist’s webinar archives) takes six recent classics and pairs each one with a more modern work that fits a similar mold. Whether they address the same social issues, represent characters from marginalized groups, or exemplify a certain genre, these pairings ought to raise questions among thoughtful readers. Over time, how has treatment of these subjects progressed? Has our collective viewpoint shifted? In what ways has our language adapted, and what historical perspectives can be gleaned? It’s an exercise sure to prompt discussion.
Annie on My Mind. By Nancy Garden. 1982. Farrar, $10.99 (9780374400118). Gr. 9-12.
Everything Leads to You. By Nina LaCour. 2014. Dutton, $17.99 (9780525425885). Gr. 9–12.
When Annie on My Mind was released in 1982, it was still a surprising notion that a lesbian love story could have a happy ending. Prior to then, homosexuality was typically treated as a problematic form of sexual expression, and gay characters tended either to die or be “fixed.” Garden’s tale of Annie and Liza, two teenage girls from different backgrounds who meet at the Met and fall in love, was groundbreaking, not only because it featured lesbian leads but also because it treated them with respect. By 2014, it was less uncommon to find a queer romance on the shelf, and the social context had changed. Everything Leads to You follows Emi, fresh out of high school and openly gay, as she pursues a career as a set designer in Hollywood. A series of coincidences leads her to Ava, a young starlet, and through her infatuation, Emi grows in her understanding of herself.
Eragon. By Christopher Paolini. 2003. Knopf, $18.95 (9780375826689). Gr. 7–12.
Children of Blood and Bone. By Tomi Adeyemi. 2018. Holt, $18.99 (9781250170972). Gr. 9–12.
Eragon tells of the eponymous young farm boy who comes upon a dragon egg, leading to his rise as a Dragon Rider and hero of the rebellion against the Empire. In crafting his tale, Paolini famously drew inspiration from the massively influential Star Wars and works of J.R.R. Tolkien—among others—resulting in a story that was largely representative of the longstanding state of young adult epic fantasy, i.e., rooted in Western tradition. While Children of Blood and Bone utilizes many of the same tropes, it breathed fresh life into the genre with its complex heroine, cast of Black characters, and foundation in Adeyemi’s West African heritage. In its land of Orïsha, where the cruel King Saran has eradicated magic and suppressed its users, young Zélie resists by learning the old ways. When she meets Amari, the king’s runaway daughter, they join forces in the fight to restore magic to the world.
Forever. By Judy Blume. 1975. Atheneum, $10.99 (9781481414432). Gr. 8–12.
Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts). By L. C. Rosen. 2018. Little, Brown, $17.99 (9780316480536). Gr. 10–12.
In Forever, readers follow 17-year-old Kath on her whirlwind journey of intimate, awkward, and graphic sexual discovery. Despite Booklist’s 1975 review predicting that “explicit sex scenes will limit this to the mature reader,” Blume’s much-banned novel became a seminal work of sexy YA. An oft-cited influence on many of today’s authors, it helped make room within young adult literature for novels that double as sex-positive resources for teens. Enter Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts), featuring out-and-proud Jack, who winds up writing a sex-advice column for his friend’s website. When the letters start coming in—even as an anonymous stalker attempts to blackmail him—Jack advises teens of all orientations on a wide range of sexual matters. This entertaining education, delivered in Jack’s frank, brazen voice and using explicit terms, makes for a bold and inclusive exploration of teen sexuality that does justice to Blume’s legacy and carries the torch forward.
Summer of the Swans. By Betsy Byars. 1970. Penguin, $18.99 (9780670681907). Gr. 3–6.
A Boy Called Bat. By Elana K. Arnold. Illus. by Charles Santoso. 2017. HarperCollins/Walden Pond, $16.99 (9780062445827). Gr. 2–5.
Modernity has brought a big shift in the way developmental disabilities are understood, treated, and represented in literature. When Summer of the Swans was published, autism wasn’t a well-known (or well-defined) concept. The story centers on insecure, 14-year-old Sara, who is grounded by love for her brother, Charlie. Regarded as “mentally handicapped”—among other terms—he is fascinated by swans, and after he wanders out on his own to visit them, Sara leads a panicked search for her missing brother. While Charlie’s disability isn’t specifically diagnosed, it is often perceived by today’s readers as being on the autism spectrum. In A Boy Called Bat, on the other hand, an autistic child is the protagonist. Bat, like Charlie, has a fondness for animals. When his veterinarian mom brings home a baby skunk, he falls in love and sets out to prove that it would make the perfect pet.
Walk Two Moons. By Sharon Creech. 1994. HarperCollins, $16.99 (9780060233341). Gr. 5–8.
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse. By Joseph Marshall III. Illus. by Jim Yellowhawk. 2015. Amulet, $16.95 (9781419707858). Gr. 4–6.
“Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.” This phrase acts as a kind of thesis for Creech’s 1995 Newbery medalist, which follows 13-year-old Sal as she goes with her grandparents on a midwestern road trip to see her mother, with whom she longs to be reunited. As they travel, Sal tells the story of her friend Phoebe, who is also missing a mother, and as she spins Phoebe’s yarn, Sal untangles her own truths. It’s a journey of self-discovery, with a theme of cultural identity running through it, and 2015’s In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse walks a similar path. This is the story of Jimmy McClean, who, despite being three-quarters Lakota, has light hair and blue eyes, about which he is teased and bullied. When his grandfather takes him on a trip tracing the path of the legendary Crazy Horse, Jimmy learns about his Lakota heritage, finding himself along the way.
The Westing Game. By Ellen Raskin. 1978. Dutton, $7.99 (9780142401200). Gr. 6–8.
Game World. By C. J. Farley. 2014. Akashic/Black Sheep, $18.95 (9781617753053). Gr. 5–8.
It’s impossible to talk about fictional gaming contests without highlighting The Westing Game. This Newbery winner begins when multimillionaire Sam Westing is murdered, and 16 strangers are summoned to the reading of his will, where a game is then launched. One of the strangers is the culprit, and the one who solves the murder will inherit Westing’s estate. By the time of Farley’s Game World, gaming had gone digital, and while his book is more fantasy-adventure than puzzle-mystery, there are parallels worthy of discussion, from the nature of the games to the depictions of disabled characters. In Game World, after a multi-billion-dollar corporation announces a video game tournament in search of the best players of “Xamaica,” the popular fantasy RPG, Dylan easily rises to the top. But when his little sister, Emma, is sucked into the game’s Jamaican-myth-inspired world, he only has three days to solve the dangerous mystery behind “Xamaica,” save Emma, and prevent catastrophe.
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