Awards Day 2014

Monday morning I woke up to several ecstatic tweets from John Green, the author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars.

Obviously at this point, I realized that it was Awards Day, and did a little happy dance in my pajamas. Why yes, dear reader, I was in pajamas at 8:40 in the morning. Because I just graduated from college. And I can do such things. Is that not an excuse? Oh, well. Feel free to judge.

But the point is, Awards Day is one of my favorite days of the year– the day on which the American Library Association (ALA) announces the the top books of 2013 for children, young adults, and adults. These awards include the Caldecott, the Newbery, the Coretta Scott King, and, my favorite, the Printz. If you are wondering what all of these awards mean, fear not! The following is a primer on book awards and the books that you should reserve at your library for your reading pleasure this year.

The Printz

The Michael L. Printz Award is probably my favorite award, and is the most applicable to this blog, as we focus on young adult fiction. The award is named for a librarian in Topeka, Kansas who was an active member in the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) and dedicated his life to ensuring that his students had access to quality literature that expanded their horizons and made them think. The first award was given in 2000, and recognizes the best book written for teens based on literary merit.

This year’s Printz winner is Midwinter Blood by Marcus Sedgwick.

The description on the back:

Seven stories of passion and love separated by centuries but mysteriously intertwined—this is a tale of horror and beauty, tenderness and sacrifice.

An archaeologist who unearths a mysterious artifact, an airman who finds himself far from home, a painter, a ghost, a vampire, and a Viking: the seven stories in this compelling novel all take place on the remote Scandinavian island of Blessed where a curiously powerful plant that resembles a dragon grows. What binds these stories together? What secrets lurk beneath the surface of this idyllic countryside? And what might be powerful enough to break the cycle of midwinterblood? From award-winning author Marcus Sedgwick comes a book about passion and preservation and ultimately an exploration of the bounds of love.

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Okay, this is the UK cover… but it is just so pretty and I like it more than the US cover.

The Printz Honor books for 2014 are:

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

and Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

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I have to admit that this is the only book that I read that is on the Printz Honor list… but I loved it!

I have already reserved several of these books at the library, and am so, so excited to read them!

My favorite Printz winners from the past are:

Looking for Alaska by John Green in 2006

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang in 2007

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta in 2009

and Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi in 2011.

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Clare and I are huge Melina Marchetta fans– the name of our blog, Side of Wonder, comes from one of her books.

The Newbery

The Newbery Medal is familiar to many people because most of us read books with the bronze and silver foil stamps on the covers in elementary school. The award is named for an 18th century English publisher who published books for young readers. This award goes to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. The first award was given in 1922, making it the oldest children’s book award in the world.

This year’s winner of the Newbery is Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo.

The description on the back: It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences. The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry — and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart. From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters and featuring an exciting new format — a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black-and-white by up-and-coming artist K. G. Campbell.

Wow. Guys, I am so excited to read DiCamillo’s latest.

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The Newbery Honor books for 2014 are:

Doll Bones by Holly Black

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

One Came Home by Amy Timberlake

and Paperboy by Vince Vawter

Doll-BonesMy favorite Newbery winners from the past are:

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes in 1944

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg in 1968

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George in 1973

and Maniac Maggee by Jerry Spinelli in 1991.

Though honestly, you should read every Newbery Medal-winning book out there. It was so, so hard to choose only four!

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The Coretta Scott King

The Coretta Scott King Award is given to an African American authors and illustrators whose books for children demonstrate an appreciation for African American culture and universal human values. The award commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King and honors his wife, Coretta Scott King, who has continued to champion his beliefs. Awards have been given to authors and illustrators since 1974.

This year’s winners are:

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams- Garcia

The description on the back:

Eleven-year-old Brooklyn girl Delphine feels overwhelmed with worries and responsibilities. She’s just started sixth grade and is self-conscious about being the tallest girl in the class, and nervous about her first school dance. She’s supposed to be watching her sisters, but Fern and Vonetta are hard to control. Her uncle Darnell is home from Vietnam and seems different. And her pa has a girlfriend. At least Delphine can write to her mother in Oakland, California, for advice. But why does her mother tell her to “be eleven” when Delphine is now twelve?

PrintAnd Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me illustrated by Bryan Collier

The description on the back:

Every morning, I play a game with my father.

He goes knock knock on my door
and I pretend to be asleep
till he gets right next to the bed.
And my papa, he tells me, “I love you.”
 
But what happens when, one day, that “knock knock” doesn’t come? This powerful and inspiring book shows the love that an absent parent can leave behind, and the strength that children find in themselves as they grow up and follow their dreams.
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The Coretta Scott King Honor Books from 2014 are:
16240729My favorite Coretta Scott King winners from the past:
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The Caldecott

The Randolph Caldecott Medal is named after a 19th century English illustrator. The purpose of the award is to honor the most distinguished American picture book from the previous year. The ALA has been giving this award out since 1937.

This year’s winner of the Caldecott is Locomotive by Brian Floca.

The description on the back: It is the summer of 1869, and trains, crews, and family are traveling together, riding America’s brand-new transcontinental railroad. These pages come alive with the details of the trip and the sounds, speed, and strength of the mighty locomotives; the work that keeps them moving; and the thrill of travel from plains to mountain to ocean. Come hear the hiss of the steam, feel the heat of the engine, watch the landscape race by. Come ride the rails, come cross the young country!

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The Caldecott Honor Books are:

Journey by Aaron Becker

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle

Mr. Wuffles! by David Weisner

Flora+CoverMy favorite Caldecott winners from the past years are:

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey in 1942

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak in 1964

and The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick in 2008.

12x18-max-room-where-the-wild-things-are-placemat3Happy reading!

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Back Again: 2013 in Review

Hello, dear readers. This is my first post in such a long time that perhaps I should introduce myself again. My name is Emily, and I am one of the writers on The Side of Wonder. Or, I used to be, before life got crazy and swallowed me whole. But I am back again, and my goal is to post more regularly and give Clare a breather, as she has been ever faithful in posting since I went MIA.

I do have excuses for not posting. They may not be very good ones, but they do exist. I graduated from the University of Maryland with a BA in English on December 21st. Since then I have been trying to recover after the craziest semester of my life, and have been working to acclimate to life as a post-grad.

Around New Year’s, Clare wrote an awesome year in review post. I was supposed to write one too, but, well, see the above paragraph. Earlier this week, I turned 22. As I look forward to the next year of my life, I can’t help but look back and think about just how incredibly blessed I have been. So, I suppose you can consider this my Year in Review blog post.

Here are some of my favorite memories from 2013:

1. Visiting Clare in New York City with my mother.

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My mom and me in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

2. Clare and I went to London.

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Clare and I got to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral and so many other places in London! Which was so amazing and was also (conveniently) research for my current book.

And Paris.

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In front of the Louvre.

And Oxford. Best week of our lives? Oh, yes.

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Getting to celebrate Clare’s birthday in The Eagle and Child, Tolkien and Lewis’ favorite pub, was so much fun.

3. I started a blog with my best friend. Perhaps you have heard of it?

Some of my favorite posts from the past year:

A review of Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, the story of best friends in World War II

Getting to meet Susan Cooper, the author of The Dark is Rising saga

There and Back Again: A Book Lover’s Holiday

Seeing Holly Black, Megan Whalen Turner, Margaret Atwood, and Veronica Roth at the National Book Festival

Why young adult literature is important

Meeting Neil Gaiman

4. I finished writing my first novel, Ithaca.

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Finishing a book was a life-long dream that I can now cross off my bucket list.

5. I met a Special Someone.

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Thank God, he loves to read too!

6. The Boy took me to New York City as a Christmas present.

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The Empire State Building decorated for Christmas

7. I graduated from college.

Graduation

So glad to be done!

I have had such an incredible year and I am so very blessed. In the coming year, I am looking forward to working part time at a reading and writing center, continuing to work on getting my first book published, and working on writing my second book. And also, dear reader, I will be more regular in my blog posts… I promise.

KA

The Iliad

ImageLet’s be honest. You didn’t love your high school reading list. The Grapes of Wrath, Romeo and Juliet, and 1984 usually aren’t on people’s list of favorite books. In high school, John Steinbeck books are too long, Shakespeare writes in a foreign language, and what the hell is 1984 about anyway? But I promise you, if you go back and take a second look at some of the books on your high school reading list, you might find that they’re aren’t so bad. Maybe now you’re old enough to appreciate the characters in The Grapes of Wrath, the poetry in Romeo and Juliet, and the themes in 1984.

Homer’s Iliad is one of those books that garners few fans in high school. If we’re still being honest, you thought Achilles was a crybaby, you couldn’t keep track of all the gods and demigods, and you didn’t get why the book ended before anyone actually won the war. So let’s answer a few questions that should expand (or spark) your appreciation for the Iliad.

Is Achilles a crybaby? No, although he does cry in the Iliad. Today it is the opposite of masculine for a man to cry in public (and even private), but that was not the case thousands of years ago. It was acceptable and expected for men to show passionate emotions in public—including crying.

Why is Achilles crying? Agamemnon, leader of the Greek army, takes away one of the women that was awarded to Achilles after a victorious battle.

Why is this a big deal? Because in heroic culture, a man’s honor and respect is determined by physical prizes—gold, cows, women, etc. The equivalent today of Agamemnon taking Briseis away would be stealing the Medal of Honor from one of your fellow soldiers and wearing it yourself.

Why does Achilles cry over this? Achilles knows that he has two fates available to him. He can refuse to fight and live a long life, or he can fight and die a young death but achieve more glory than any other man. When Achilles chooses to fight, he’s basically trading his life for glory, and this glory is manifested by Briseis. So when Agamemnon takes away Briseis, he is taking away the very thing that Achilles traded his life for. That’s a big deal.

Are Achilles and Patroclus lovers? Yes. No. I don’t know. With ancient Greeks you can never tell.

Aren’t Paris and Helen romantic? No, they aren’t. Helen leaves her husband, daughter, family, and home for Paris and causes a war. By about year 9, they are both over their love affair. Paris has moved on to other women and Helen hates herself for causing so much death and leaving her daughter behind.

Aren’t Hector and Andromache romantic? Yes.

Why is Achilles dragging Hector’s body such a big deal? In ancient Greece, burial procedures were very important because of their belief in the afterlife. Bodies mutilated before they were buried affected how that person appeared in the Underworld. Mutilated leg when you were buried, mutilated leg when you wander around as a ghost in the Underworld. It is the highest insult and cruelty when Achilles drags Hector’s body behind his chariot for this reason.

Why does the book end before the war is over? The war is symbolically over when Achilles kills Hector. Hector is not only the heir to the Trojan crown and Troy’s best warrior, but he is symbolically Troy. His death is Troy’s death.

What is even the point of this book? The Trojan War was seen as the last part of the heroic age, the last time heroes like Hector and Achilles walked the earth. It was the Greek Harry Potter, everyone’s favorite bedtimes stories and the inspiration for their plays and poems. It also indirectly led to the founding of Rome (see Virgil’s Aeneid).

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2004 Movie Adaptation

Why is it called the Iliad? Ilium is the word for Troy. Iliad means the story of Troy.

What should I read next? Both the Odyssey and the Aeneid are epic poems that take place after the Iliad. The Odyssey is also by Homer (though some scholars dispute that) and follows the story of Odysseus’ journey home. The Aeneid is by Virgil, a Roman author, and follows the story of Aeneas and the Trojan survivors as they travel from Troy to Carthage to Italy where they found Rome. Aeschylus’ play Agamemnon recounts the homecoming of Agamemnon after the war. Euripides’ plays Andromache, Hecuba, and The Trojan Women relate the fates of the Trojan women who survive the war.

2013: Year in Review

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Emily and I standing in front of the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford, England.

I’ve been really good so far about writing 2014 instead of 2013, a change that usually takes me several months to adjust to. But I’ve been very self-conscious about it this year, so my dates have been surprisingly accurate. Still, it makes me a little sad to see 14 follow the 20 instead of 13. 2013 was a good year, I think, and as we head into 2014, Emily and I thought we’d do a little recap of the past year in books, movies, and our general lives. So, without further ado, here are the highlights of my 2013…

Let’s begin with books! I read some very enjoyable ones this year. Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why was the book that moved me the most this year. It is a very emotional and compelling story. I couldn’t put it down. On a lighter note, I also quite enjoyed Grave Mercy by R.L. La Fevers, the story of nun assassins. Just as entertaining was Kerstin Gier’s Ruby Red trilogy, the story of a girl able to time travel and caught in the middle of a conspiracy surrounding a mysterious and dangerous Count Saint Germain. The last book I’ll mention is Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt. This book was positively delightful and some of my favorite reading from 2013.

As far as movies go, 2013 has been a spectacular year, which should make the Academy Awards coming up very interesting. There was Star Trek: Into Darkness, an epic sequel to the new Star Trek reboot, and the new animated Disney movie Frozen, which proved to be as good as any classic Disney film. I also loved Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. I could watch that a million times.

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Graduating (before I cut my hair) in Trinity Church, New York City.

Besides reading books and watching movies, Emily and I did some exciting stuff this year. We traveled to London, Oxford, and Paris. I got to check some things off my bucket list, namely set foot in the hallowed ground of the Oxford pub and home of the Inklings The Eagle and Child. Best part of my year, though Paris wasn’t too shabby either. I also cut my hair and donated it to Locks of Love. On top of that, I graduated! Finally, no more school. Thank God, right? More importantly, I finished the rough drafts of two novels, which leads me into my one big New Year’s resolutions for 2014: edit those drafts and start sending out query letters! That makes for a daunting 2014, but luckily I will have Emily’s help with that.

2013 was a great year for me, and I hope 2014 will be just as exciting. Emily and I are always curious to know about your own goals and resolutions (especially if they’re writing or reading related) so let us know in the comments what your big plans are for 2014!

Allegiant

ImageI was 66 on the wait list at my local library for Veronica Roth’s third and final book in her Divergent series—Allegiant. But it was definitely worth the wait. Third books in trilogies make me nervous. They’re supposed to be the climax of the series, be bigger than the previous two books, and wrap up the story to give the reader closure and a sense of fulfillment. That’s a tall order, and often books fall short of pulling this off. I don’t think many people were pleased with the third Hunger Games book. The third Twilight book was the worst in the series, in my opinion. I approached Allegiant with trepidation. Veronica Roth had set herself up for an epic conclusion, but that also gave her high standards to achieve. Would she do it? Would Allegiant be all I hoped it would be? The quick answer is yes.

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Veronica Roth

To be perfectly honest, though I liked and enjoyed Divergent, a lot of the book annoyed me. It frustrated me that characters clung to their factions’ singular characteristics, like Dauntless was so into being fearless that they were not compassionate. I realize that this is one of the points Veronica Roth was trying to make—that to be too brave or too smart or too honest at the expense of kindness and compassion is a bad thing, and we should strive, as Tobias of the upcoming Divergent movie puts it, “I want to be brave, and I want to be selfless, intelligent, and honest, and kind.” But I found it difficult to read about characters who turned their backs on other people and left them for dead or to be cast out with the factionless. But I still found many good things in Divergent, so I read the second book, Insurgent. Insurgent, in my opinion, was better than Divergent. The characters started to realize that they shouldn’t sacrifice their compassion in order to succeed in their faction. Roth was also starting to really broaden the story, delving into questions about human nature, human relationships, government, morality, and all that good stuff. And then at the end of Insurgent, Roth laid the foundation for an epic third book.

Allegiant did not disappoint. Allegiant expanded on the themes Roth introduced earlier in the series, asking deep questions about human nature. She examines both the good and the evil found in each person, and is both optimistic and realistic about what she finds. Roth also develops her characters, making them grow as individuals and together in their relationships. Roth expands the scope of her book beyond the characters and beyond the city of Divergent. She looks at human nature itself and the world at large, successfully making Allegiant bigger than its two predecessors.

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Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) in the upcoming Divergent movie.

There is enough action in Allegiant to make it a climatic end to Roth’s Divergent series. She also expands the story and the themes to be bigger than her first two books, making Allegiant epic and climatic. Readers get closure with a powerful and moving ending that is very well written. And most importantly, after so much conflict and hardship and struggle for her characters, Roth offers redemption in. After everything characters have been through, especially in dystopian stories, the author must offer something to give the characters and readers hope—to know that this was not all for nothing, that they will go on, that at the end of the story there is hope. Veronica Roth does that extraordinarily well.

Now that Divergent is behind her, it will be very interesting to see what Veronica Roth writes next. Though, for those of us unable to let go and move on from the Divergent trilogy, the movie Divergent is coming soon.

The Book Thief

ImageThe Book Thief is one of the closest book-to-movie adaptations I have ever seen, and since the book is amazing, it’s not surprising that the movie is too. It’s always a nerve racking when you find out one of your favorite books is being turned into a movie. You just never know what the final result will be. Fingers crossed you might get something like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, imperfect but very good. Or you might end up with something like the film adaptation of Rick Riordan’s Sea of Monsters. Sadly, the odds are against book lovers, as most movie adaptations not only fall short of the books but also are just simply awful. Given the statistics, I was nervous about one of my most treasured books becoming a movie, but, in this case, my fears were needless.

One of the brilliant successes of the film The Book Thief is the casting. Of course, actors like Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson are expected to give excellent performances, and they do. Geoffrey Rush is wonderful as poor, German accordionist Hans Hubermann, and Emily Watson perfectly portrays the stern but loving Rosa Hubermann. But perhaps the greatest feat is the acting accomplishments of the movies young cast—Sophie Nelisse as the protagonist Liesel Meminger and Nico Liersch as her best friend Rudy Steiner, both earnest and well-acted in their roles. Also marvelous is Ben Schnetzer as Max Vandenburg. The cast is an interesting balance of famous actors, such as Rush and Watson, and new talent, like Nelisse, Liersch, and Schentzer. There is no difference in the performances of the veteran actors and their young costars. Everyone’s performance is deeply moving and worthy of praise.

ImageAnother brilliant success of the movie is the set, filmed on location in Germany. The accents are accurate, as is the history. The movie depicts the infamous Kristallnacht, the Hitler Youth, book burnings, and the Nazi hatred of Jews and communists. But the movie also presents the daily fear that Germany’s own citizens lived under during Hitler’s reign, as well as the struggle of the poor to not only survive but also help those in need of their help. It’s an honest look at the often-overlooked Germans during World War II, both good and bad. This was one of the interesting aspects of the book, and the movie captures it as well.

The best success of the movie adaptation of The Book Thief is its closeness to the book. It doesn’t stray from the original story in any major way, and includes all the important plot and character developments of the story. It is one of the closest adaptations I have ever seen. It is also proof to Hollywood that you don’t need to change a book if you want it to be a successful movie. Good books are good stories, and good stories translate on the screen as well as on the page. The Book Thief is a book worth reading, and now it is also a movie worth watching.

A Book Worth Stealing

Image“When you read a book as a child, it becomes part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your life does,” says Meg Ryan in the movie You’ve Got Mail. I may not have been a child when I read Marcus Zusak’s novel The Book Thief—okay, I admit, I was in high school—but The Book Thief is one of those rare books that struck straight to my soul, a feat accomplished by only a few precious books.

There were many things about The Book Thief that resonated with me in a strong way, that made it a book of the like I had never read before—and may never read again. One of these things is the narrator: Death. As I write that out, it feels morbid. Death? Like, Jack the Ripper? With a black cloak and a sickle? Zusak’s pensive narrator is anything but this dark image of doom. In The Book Thief, Death is an observer, a presence that watches the events of humanity unfold, and when the time comes he ferries souls from one life to the next. He is not threatening, or even calming. He is just there, like a third person narrator unraveling a story—which he is in The Book Thief. And in the height of World War II, where the novel takes place, Death has his work cut out for him. This setting provides Death to make some deep insights into the condition of the world, as well as the capacity in humans for great good and great evil. This kind of narration also made for very original writing and storytelling, establishing Zusak as a master of his craft.

Another thing that struck me—indeed, struck every reader, I am sure—are the characters. First, there is Liesel, a young girl whose life has been marked by tragedy. She loses her parents and her brother, only to be thrown into a strange home with strange, new parents. But Liesel has a secret—she steals books. Any book she can find. And with the help of her adopted father Hans, a gentle, accordion-playing man, she learns to read. There is also Rosa, Liesel’s adopted mother, a woman presented as stern and abrupt. But as the book progresses, Liesel discovers Rosa’s true loving nature, particularly when Hans and Rosa hide Max, a Jew on the run from Hitler. Max is another stellar character, who opens up to Liesel and helps Liesel open up herself. Max teaches Liesel the importance of words and books and reading, as well as helping people during dark times. Last, but certainly not least, there is Rudy, a boy Liesel’s age, her best friend, who sees neither race nor ethnicity, but instead focuses on helping and protecting the people he loves, including Liesel.

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Marcus Zusak

Zusak’s characters are a testimony to the hope, kindness, and courage found in ordinary people in extraordinary times. There are many stories about the heroic actions of people during World War II. Stories of brave rebellion, like Dietrich Bonheoffer. Stories of fearless soldiers, like in Band of Brothers. But The Book Thief offers a new and rare look into another side of the war, a look into the lives of Germans living in Germany at the time, and the small, but not insignificant, actions they took to do what is right.

Marcus Zusak’s book is a masterpiece of storytelling, from the writing to the characters to the setting to the themes. He moves the readers deeply, sometimes to tears; with a fiction that is so true it cannot help but resonate with every single reader. The Book Thief is a modern classic, one that every person should read. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll cry like a baby at the end.