In the past few weeks I’ve shared the winner and honorable mention for the 2013 Américas Award. This week I complete these announcements by sharing the titles from the final award category: commended titles.
Each of the commended titles is worthy of extended discussions. They’re all remarkable books and as such I find it difficult to narrow the conversation down to a single post. For the time being I’ll keep it brief, but only so as not to spoil future posts. Spoiler alert: in the future, look for longer posts from us regarding Sáenz and Lake.
Without further ado: the three commended titles which were selected this year include Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz; Drummer Boy of John John written by Mark Greenwood and illustrated by Frané Lessac; and In Darkness written by Nick Lake. A side note: the second was published by Lee & Low Books, which means that we tip our hat to them once again.
Here’s how the Américas Award press release describes them all:
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is the deeply moving account of two young men growing into adulthood in El Paso, Texas, in the late 1980s. Sentences are expertly distilled – spare in words, but rich in meticulous details and astute character development. Readers follow the two young men as they thoughtfully discover the complexities of the world around them as well as truths about themselves – indeed, the secrets of the universe. Woven throughout are details that expand the novel’s relevance: nuanced depictions of Mexican-American families and their heritage; musings about the purpose of life; and honest questions about sexuality and love. In telling the story of their coming of age, Sáenz offers homage to, “all the boys who’ve had to learn to play by different rules.” It is a novel that can complement discussions (in the classroom and beyond) around discrimination in response to culture and the LGBTQ community. At its core, the novel shows Saénz unearthing how to be true to oneself – something to which we can all relate. (Grades 9-12)
This book’s story is inspired by that of Winston “Spree” Simon, the creator of Trinidad and Tobago’s national instrument, the steel drum. Drums and other percussive instruments take center stage in young Winston’s quest to compete to have the best band in his island’s Carnival parade. The celebration of sound drives the story, with onomatopoeia serving as an effective device to draw the reader into the fun feeling of Carnival. Young Winston hears percussive instruments all around him, and, discovering a wealth of sounds from all sorts of found objects, he eventually founds a “junkyard band,” which takes first prize. The illustrator’s use of vibrant tones and people in motion capture the energy of the occasion. Whimsical scenes in the junkyard and beyond add interest to the telling of this tale for young readers. (Grades K-3)
Trapped in crushing darkness beneath debris of the 2010 earthquake, Shorty recalls his violent, gang-controlled life in Haitian slums. While despairing of rescue, he is heartened and disturbed by thoughts of Toussaint l’Ouverture who led a slave revolt in the eighteenth century and died in darkness. Ultimately Shorty is prepared to reclaim his life. ”I was in darkness, but now I am in light.” By braiding the parallel lives of Shorty and Toussaint, Lake paints an alarming, thought-provoking portrait of Haitian history, both present and past. It gives young readers a heady mix of the social, religious, and political realities of the Americas’ poorest country. (Grades 9-12)
It was an honor to take part in selecting these wonderful books. Whether it’s an award winner, honorable mention, or commended titles, these books offer some of the best reading of the year for children’s and young adult literature.