Friday, May 20, 2011


Welcome to my final project for LIBR 265 - YA Materials. In alphabetical order, you will find analyses and reviews of age appropriate young adult materials ranging from books, films, music, and video games. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

American Slang by The Gaslight Anthem

American Slang by The Gaslight Anthem
Label: Side One Dummy
Released June 15th, 2010

Plot Summary: The Gaslight Anthem are a rock and roll quartet from New Jersey. American Slang is their third full-length album. As with their other albums, The Gaslight Anthem's songs are inspired by rock artists like Bruce Springsteen and sing almost story-driven songs about love, loss, and friendship. In the title track, lead singer Brian Fallon croons, "And here's where we died that time last year/And here's where the angels and devils meet/And you can dance with the queen if you need/And she will always keep your cards." The album has a simple production with clean guitars, low thumping bass, and a bit of an echo or reverb on Fallon's vocals. Guitarist Alex Rosamilia quietly plays blues-inspired riffs over Fallon's simple, punk-inspired chord progressions.

Critical Analysis: The Gaslight Anthem are one of the few bands I have come across that appeal to nearly all ages. Perhaps due to their heavy Bruce Springsteen influence and rock 'n roll inspiration, older people seem to enjoy it. Fallon's good looks and his ability to write absolutely arena-like choruses and hooks attract the band to nearly everyone else. Unlike many other modern punk-inspired rock bands, Fallon's lyrics are nuanced and relatable. Throughout American Slang, he refers back to "characters" from previous songs, such as the Queen of the Diamond Street Church Choir.

Much like Bruce Springsteen, Fallon knows how to draw the listener in with not only hooks, but story-like lyrics. Take the opening verse of "The Diamond Street Church Choir," for example. Fallon sings, "Now the lights go low on the avenue/And the cars pass by in the rain/University boys and the girls fill the bars/While I'm just waiting for the light to change." Fallon's simple but evocative imagery brings the listener in for a more personal experience when listening to his music.

The Gaslight Anthem are not amazing as musicians, but this is part of their strength as well. Adopting the punk attitude, Fallon and company opt for short songs with simple chord progressions and generally avoid lengthy guitar solos. This truly allows Fallon's suberb lyrics and songwriting to shine, which is The Gaslight Anthem's strength.

Reader's Annotation: The Gaslight Anthem combine the story-driven lyrics of artists like Bruce Springsteen and the anthemic choruses of bands like Against Me! or Rise Against.

Author Information: As previously mentioned, The Gaslight Anthem are a quartet from New Jersey. Their debut album, Sink or Swim, was released only four years ago on XOXO Records to critical acclaim. This garnered attention from Side One Dummy, one of the larger independent rock/punk labels. The Gaslight Anthem then released the '59 Sound, a bit of a departure from the gruff vocals and fast-paced songs of their debut album. With American Slang, The Gaslight Anthem have gotten media attention from magazines like Spin and Rolling Stone and are showing no signs of stopping.

Genre: rock and roll, punk, rock

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Challenge Issues: N/A

Why I included this title: As I previously mentioned, The Gaslight Anthem have a wide appeal across all ages, so it would not at all be a stretch for a teen to listen to them. In fact, I often recommend this album to teens in the library with success. The choruses are catchy, the lyrics are relatable and clever, there's little else to ask for in an album.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Atmosphir by Minor Studios

Atmosphir by Minor Studios
Copyright 2007

Plot Summary: Atmosphir is a free-to-play game that would be most similar to Sony's Little Big Planet. Like Sony's exclusive game, Atmosphir encourages players to create their own world and to play in the worlds created by others. A simple to grasp, complex to master building system is put into place. Anyone can build a level, but it takes time and commitment to make some of the positively humongous and creative worlds that the Atmosphir community is sprinkled with. There is no official story involved with Atmosphir but this is for the best, as the idea is for users to create their own stories and levels with the building blocks provided by developers Minor Studios.

Critical Analysis: Atmosphir is a great game, but does suffer because it is free to play. Like many other free-to-play games, the game is playable with no financial commitment but additional content and premium content will cost a small amount of money. Atmosphir is difficult to criticize since it's so dependent on the creativity and skill of its users. In my experience, I came upon a 3D version of the first level of the original Super Mario Bros. that was superb and a few others levels that were messy and confusing. It all depends on luck. There are a few links to go to the levels voted the best by the community and the Atmosphir blog even posts daily features on notable levels, but it is frustrating to have to dig and search to find a level that looks fun.

The graphics in Atmosphir are passable, but not amazing. The avatars you play as are human-like with not much detail. The worlds are usually open, grassy, and sunshiny unless you actively try and avoid that style. As previously mentioned, the level creation tools are easy to use, difficult to master. Building a square out of the simple blocks provided, no problem. Building a complex network of moving floating platforms, that can take days.

Reader's Annotation: Build, create, and play your own levels or other user's levels in Atmosphir!

Author Information: Atmosphir is Minor Studios' first game. They are located in Buenos Aires and San Francisco. Minor Studios is part of the Minor Ventures family.


Genre: Action/Adventure/Platforming game

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: N/A

Reading Level: Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues: N/A

Why I included this title: As a teen librarian under a budget, I am always looking for free and fun to play games that are appropriate for the library. Atmosphir fits this bill perfectly. It is engaging, fun, and teen-friendly. Teens love to make (usually impossible) levels and have me or other teens try them out, it makes for a great social tool.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Batman: Arkham Asylum by Rocksteady Studios

Batman: Arkham Asylum by Rocksteady Studios
Released 2009
Rated T for Teen
Released on PS3, XBOX 360, and PC

Plot Summary: Batman: Arkham Asylum is an 3rd person action/adventure video game in which the player leads Batman through a most dangerous place, Arkham Asylum. The story starts out with Batman escorting the Joker into Arkham Asylum, the Joker laughing and showing no worry or remorse whatsoever. Then, the Joker traps Batman in the asylum and escapes, forcing Batman to traverse the asylum to escape himself. Players will have to employ Batman's cunning, his detective skills, stealth, gadgets, and hand to hand combat if they want to survive. Familiar faces and villains such as Commissioner Gordon, Poison Ivy, The Riddler, and Bane all make appearances.

Critical Analysis: Many people who have played this game, including myself, think this is not only the greatest Batman videogame to be released, but the greatest superhero game. In the past, developers have gotten perhaps one aspect of a superhero correct, but never as lovingly and thorough as Rocksteady Studios did for Batman in this game. Batman: Arkham Asylum is arife with obscure references to Batman comics, backstory for villains and characters, and the very dark and gothic feel of the Batman universe. It seems that the game was designed around Batman as a character instead of designing a game in which to throw Batman.

Controlling Batman feels right and fluid. With a press of a button, the Dark Knight can glide past security guards, throw Batarangs, and knock out guards. The combat system eschews button mashing in favor of timed button presses and group attacks. The game drip feeds the player a new gadget that opens a new door or finds a new secret every few hours, so there are always new things to do and explore. Arkham Asylum is an island, and most players including myself will gladly explore every inch for every last collectible item.

However, those collectible items can be the downfall of Batman: Arkham Asylum as well. Especially in this generation of video games, developers have been accused of adding hard-to-find collectible items to artifically lengthen a short game. In my opinion, the collectible finding in this game was fun, partially due to the new abilities that are unlocked from time to time. Some gamers could find it tedious though.

Reader's Annotation: The Joker has trapped the Dark Knight in Arkham Asylum. To escape, Batman will have to fight both his inner demons and some regular old outer demons.

Author Information: Rocksteady Studios are based out of North London and is comprised of 90 industry professionals. They are currently working on the sequel to this game, entitled Batman: Arkham City.


Genre: Action/Adventure Fantasy

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: N/A
Reading Level: Ages 13 and up

Challenge Issues: N/A

Why I included this title: As an avid graphic novel reader, I was excited to hear about a well-executed video game that featured a superhero. I'm also a big fan of Batman. Many teens are into graphic novels and video games, this is a guaranteed shoe-in for most teen gamers. Playing as Batman makes the player feel like they are Batman, so this would be a hit with teens.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bone: One Volume Edition by Jeff Smith

Bone: One Volume Edition by Jeff Smith
ISBN: 188896314X
Cartoon Books, 2004
1344 p.

Plot Summary: Fone Bone, Smiley Bone, and Phoney Bone are brothers and have been exiled from their home in Boneville. They venture through the desert and fall into a mysterious valley where everything is much different: talking bugs, vicious rat creatures, and human folk like Gran'ma Ben and Thorn populate the area. Fone Bone, the protagonist, has mysterious dreams about a red dragon and a sinister figure later to be dubbed the Lord of the Locusts. Along the way, the three brothers venture through many foreign lands and the greedy Phoney Bone gets them caught in multiple sticky situations. After a journey through the terrifying field of "ghost circles," areas that can take one of the brothers out of existence, they journey to defeat the Lord of the Locusts to save the new mysterous world they've discovered.

Critical Analysis: One of the most impressive aspects of Jeff Smith's epic is his ability to balance humor and drama. The first quarter of the series is almost Disney or Pogo-like, featuring lighthearted physical humor and drawings. Once Smith slowly develops that something sinister is going on in the world, the style is maintained but the story takes on a much more serious tone.

Smith is both the writer and illustrator of Bone, which is quite an accomplishment. His drawings are extremely expressive and exaggerated, drawing inspiration from old cartoons. For example, when someone is surprised, his or her jaw will literally drop to the floor. Smith allows words to illustrate expressiveness, sometimes scribbling exclamations in black.

Bone is also full of allusions and references. Foney Bone is constantly having dreams about Moby Dick, his favorite book. One scene has Foney Bone sailing a ship as a part of a grand adventure and the red dragon of his dreams replaces the whale. This scene parallels the rest of the book and was very well done.

Reader's Annotation: The three Bone brothers have been exiled from home and are starting an epic adventure full of dragons, rat creatures, a giant cat, and more!

Author Information: Jeff Smith started his career as an animator for commercials and quit. He started his own independent comics publisher Cartoon Books and self-published the entirety of Bone over the course of ten years. He has won multiple Eisner Awards and is currently working on a more adult focused graphic novel called RASL.


Genre: fantasy, graphic novel, adventure

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Reading level: 10 to adult

Challenge Issues: N/A

Challenge Defense Ideas: No challenge issues come to mind when reading this book. The best defense is having a strong knowledge of the book, so becoming familiar with it by reading reviews, finding other opinions, and reading it one's self is a good start. One could also refer to the library's collection development policy here.

Why I included this title: I have yet to meet anyone that did not love the Bone series after reading it. Smith has struck an amazing balance in that the series appeals to all ages and genders. I thoroughly enjoyed the humor mixed with the epic adventure fantasy and I'd recommend it to anyone.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
ISBN: 9780198326762
Oxford University Press, 2007
224 p.

Plot Summary: Bruno is a 9 year old boy whose father is a German officer during World War II. He is quite upset when he finds out that his family must pick up and move from Berlin to "Out-with" or Auschwitz for his father's job. Bruno finds his new surroundings dull and depressing, with no other children to play with. In his observations, he sees that there is a fence with many children and others near his house whose residents wear striped pajamas. Bruno ventures along the fence and meets Schmuel, a Jewish boy who is imprisoned in the camp. Bruno and Schmuel exchange many conversations until one day Schmuel's father is missing. Bruno decides to don some striped pajamas and sneak under the fence to help Schmuel find his father.

Critical Analysis: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is told from a 9 year old's perspective for good reason. Boyne expresses in the afterword that trying to imagine the pain and suffering of the Holocaust with no primary knowledge or experience can seem disrespectful, so he thought the innocent observations of an adventuring German boy could help avoid that. This is much like Spiegelman's Maus, in which mice represent Jews and cats represent Germans to help portray the horrors of the Holocaust in a less jarring manner.

It takes much writing talent to pull off an entire narrative from the mind of a 9 year old, but Boyne for the most part succeeded. Bruno's naivete can sometimes prove irritating, especially when he gets hungry on the way to meeting his ever skinnier friend Schmuel. Boyne never out and out says what is happening, he instead allows the reader to infer that "Out-with" means Auschwitz and that Bruno's father is a Nazi officer.

The only criticism I have of Boyne's work is that Schmuel lacked characterization. Perhaps this was purposeful, illustrating that individuals in concentration camps all become one and standing out is both foolish and unnecessary. However, in the context of Schmuel's and Bruno's sudden friendship, he needed more depth to help with its believabiltiy.

Reader's Annotation: One day, Bruno met a lifelong friend with a manmade barrier between them: a barbed wire fence.

Author Information: Boyne is a young Irish author, this book won a bevy of awards and sold over five million copies. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was adapted to film by Miramax.


Genre: historical YA fiction, drama

Curriculum Ties: seeing Maus' popularity on YA reading lists, Boyne's work could easily make its way into a curriculum on the Holocaust and World War II. It can help illustrate the innocence and misunderstandings of both factions.

Booktalking Ideas: Bruno eventually forgets the names of his friends back in Berlin. Why? How does Boyne's work illustrate a child's view of the Holocaust? How do they interpret its events?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues: N/A

Challenge Defense Ideas: No challenge issues come to mind when reading this book. The best defense is having a strong knowledge of the book, so becoming familiar with it by reading reviews, finding other opinions, and reading it one's self is a good start. One could also refer to the library's collection development policy here.

Why I included this title: Having already read Maus, I thought experiencing another work of historical fiction based on World War II would be beneficial. Many works are dedicated to the understanding and remembrance of the Holocaust and I think this one does a particularly good job.

Click by Various Authors

Click by Various Authors
ISBN: 0439411394
Scholastic, 2010
224 p.

Plot Summary: Click has a meandering narrative, allowing its characters and setting to travel and become fluid. However, the one constant is a friendly old man named Gee who is armed with amazing stories and a camera. Gee has made quite an impact on many individuals' lives including his own granddaughter Maggie. When Gee passes away, he leaves Maggie seven seashells from the oceans of all seven continents and gives her the task of throwing them all back. From there, the narrative switches to many different characters along the way. One is a young lady who thinks her father might be a fish. Another chapter chronicles the story behind a famous shot of Muhammad Ali. A few others follow Gee into tragic situations in which he must take pictures of victims of the atomic bomb and of the Communist regime. These all lead to a reintroduction to Maggie in the distant future when she has only one seashell left.

Critical Analysis: As it was advertised, Click is one story written by ten different authors with one chapter apiece. Without a strong driving theme, the story would be lost. Fortunately, the idea behind following a man with a camera is simple but open enough to allow for continuity in the story but creativity as well. The most thought-provoking chapters are the ones that explore who cameras truly capture. One particular story shows the power of photographs when a character photographs a shy and aloof young woman for an art showing. Once she sees the simultaneous beauty and sadness of these pictures, she seems to embrace a new life outlook.

Though it is an interesting idea, the format of Click has only a fifty percent success rate. Half of the time when I moved on to the next chapter, I lost the "flow" I get when reading and I had to get used to the next author's writing style. By the time I got acclimated, the chapter was over which was frustrating. I know it's too much to ask to have ten authors try and write similarly, but I feel more of an effort could have been made. While I was picturing a story more like a creative writing activity where one person leaves off a leading sentence and the next continues the story, Click instead felt like a series of loosely related vignettes.

My only other criticism is that Click occasionally felt a bit preachy. The proceeds of the book go to Amnesty International, which is great. However, I feel that a few of the authors took that idea a bit too far and wrote melodramatic and sappy stories designed to try and evoke emotion. Instead, they fall flat.

Reader's Annotation: Ten authors write a chapter apiece chronicling the fascinating life of Gee, a photographer who has quite literally been around the world.

Author Information: Some of the more recognizable names include Nick Hornby and Gregory Maguire. Though the former garnered the most attention for High Fidelity and the latter for Wicked, both of these authors have branched out into writing young adults novels as well. A few of the authors are award winners, including Margo Lanagan who won a Printz Honor for Black Juice and David Almond who won a Printz Award for Kit's Wilderness.

Source: the back of the book

Genre: ya realistic fiction/short stories

Curriculum Ties: The Taro story could be used to help understand foreign relations between the United States and Japan after the atomic bomb. It was a dramatic and controversial short story, so it'd be likely to spark discussion.

As previously mentioned, Click has a strong thematic presence throughout. It'd be a great literary example to teach the concept of a theme.

Booktalking Ideas: What is the power of a camera? Why does the young girl change when Jason takes pictures of her for the art show? How is Gee remembered via his pictures?

Reading Level: Grades 9 and up

Challenge Issues: N/A

Challenge Defense Ideas: No challenge issues come to mind when reading this book. The best defense is having a strong knowledge of the book, so becoming familiar with it by reading reviews, finding other opinions, and reading it one's self is a good start. One could also refer to the library's collection development policy here.

Why I included this title: The ten authors, one book idea piqued my interest. I figured teens might pick it up off the shelf for the same reason. I'm also a fan of Nick Hornby and Gregory Maguire's work, so I was curious to see their contributions. Finally, I wanted to include at least a few general fiction stories in my list.