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Exciting Adventures and Political Intrigue: May 2016 High School Titles

April 24th, 2016 | Posted by etownsend in 2015-2016 | High School | May

story of owenThe Story of Owen: The Dragon Slayer of Icon_HighSchoolTrondeim by E.K. Johnston. Carolrhoda Lab, 2014.

In this alternate to the world as we know it, most things are the same with one huge exception: carbon-craving, mammal-eating dragons have always existed, along with a long, proud tradition of dragon slaying. Every town once had its own dragon slayer, but the Industrial Revolution saw dragon slayers lured away from small towns to defend big cities like Detroit (it didn’t work — Detroit and most of Michigan were laid to waste). Recently retired, world-famous dragon slayer Lottie Thorskard wants to renew the tradition of community-based dragon slaying, so she’s moved to a small town in southern Ontario to train her nephew, Owen, and to recruit Owen’s classmate, Siobhan McQuaid, as Owen’s bard — another tradition that’s languished. Observant, musically talented Siobhan is the narrator of this lively, richly imagined story chronicling Owen and Siobhan’s emergence into their new roles, which coincides with a new rash of dragon attacks that leads them to suspect previously undiscovered hatching grounds may be closer than anyone realized. Fast-paced (locating the hatching grounds turns into a race against time), funny (driver’s ed. includes dragon evasion, since the beasts are attracted to most cars), and thoughtful (What is lost when traditions are abandoned in the name of “progress”? What is gained when traditions are challenged?), E. K. Johnston’s sure hand succeeds in all dimensions of world-building, from the cleverly reimagined events in world history to the complexity and appeal of her characters.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Find resources for The Story of Owen at TeachingBooks.net.

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How does having a bard support the cause of the dragon slayers? Additionally, how does the role of the bard shape the structure of the story?
  2. Dragons are the personification of petroleum gluttony. What geopolitical details in the story support this idea?
  3. Associating personality with the sound of a specific musical instrument is a technique the author uses to help develop the story as well as characters. Siobhan calls Owen a “French horn.” What instruments would the other main characters be and why?

Vango: Between Earth and Sky by Timothée de Fombelle. vangoTranslated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone. U.S. edition: Candlewick Press, 2014.

An intricate and intriguing story — part adventure, part mystery, part political intrigue — takes place across the map of Europe between the two world wars and revolves around a young man named Vango Romano. The story alternates between Vango on the run — he’s wanted by Rome police for the death of Father Jean, his beloved mentor — and other characters, and moves between the present and the past. Vango grew up on a small Italian island after he and his nurse washed ashore when Vango was three. His nurse always claimed to have no memory of where they came from. As Vango grew, the monks of Arkadah, a secret island monastery, became his second home. Ethel is a young Scottish woman who met Vango years before, when she was twelve and he was fourteen, on a Zeppelin trip around the world. A young Russian girl wonders about the escaped Bird her father sometimes speaks of, who has eluded capture for years. Her father, it turns out, is Joseph Stalin. And then there is the small, multinational group of World War I veterans who have vowed to do anything necessary to prevent another war. Everything and everyone ultimately revolves around Vango, who realizes he needs to know who he was before he ever landed on that island in order to make sense of what is happening now. Beautifully translated from the French, this breathless work offers clues to Vango’s origins, but leaves many answers for the coming sequel.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Find a teaching guide and more resources for Vango at TeachingBooks.net.

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How does the backdrop of World War II create tension in the story?
  2. What is Vango’s destiny? What in the story convinces you of this?
  3. How do the female characters in Vango contribute to his development as a character?

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