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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Top Teen Titles #30-34

#34 The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. Greenwillow Books, 2000. ISBN: 9780688174231, 288 pp.

Publisher’s Description: When his small mountains country goes to war with the powerful nation of Attolia, Eugenides the thief is faced with his greatest challenge. He must steal a man, he must steal a queen, and he must steal peace. But his greatest triumph-as well as his greatest loss-can only come if he succeeds in capturing something the Queen of Attolia may have sacrificed long ago.

Quotes from Readers: It’s a wonderful YA book about the difficulties of overcoming an unexpected and debilitating handicap, and how the ingenious protagonist makes the most of the situation—way, way more than the reader ever expects him to. It’s the sequel to the Thief, which is more of a true kid’s book, and prequel to the King of Attolia, which is number nine on my list. When I first read it, I was astonished (the ending is quite a headspinner) but within a month I was rereading it again to pick up all the subtle clues I’d totally missed the first time through.

Online reviews: Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari.

Awards: BCCB Blue Ribbon Book (2000), Books for the Teen Age 2001 (NYPL), Parents’ Choice Gold Award, ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults

Diane’s note: Come on, you had to expect this title to show up since Thief and the King of Attolia popped up already! This title has such a compelling quality that you won’t be able to put it down. Don’t begin this title before bed if you intend to sleep at all.

#33 The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Knopf, 2005. ISBN:  9780375831003, 512pp.

Publisher’s Description: Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau. This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

Quotes from Readers: Historical Fiction at its best.

Online reviews: Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, TeenReads, TeensReadToo.


  • Prijs van de Kinder- en Jeugdjury Vlaanderen (2009),
  • Printz Honor (2007),
  • Exclusive Books Boeke Prize (2007)
  • Zilveren Zoen (2008),
  • Teen Read Award Nominee for Best All-Time-Fave (2010),
  • Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis (2009),
  • ALA’s Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults (2007)
  • Ena Noel Award (2006)
  • A Horn Book Fanfare Best Book (2006)
  • Kathleen Mitchell Award (2006)
  • ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2007)
  • Book Sense Book of the Year (2007.4 | Children’s Literature Winner, 2007)
  • Sydney Taylor Book Award (2007)
  • BCCB Blue Ribbon Book (2006)
  • Whitcoulls top 100, 2008 (81)
  • ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults (2009.04|Death and Dying, 2009)
  • ALA Outstanding Books for the College Bound (2009.3|Literature & Language Arts, 2009)
  • School Library Journal Best Book of the Year (2006)
  • Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award Nominee (2010)
  • Book Sense Summer Pick Teen Readers (2006)
  • National Jewish Book Award (Children’s and Young Adults’ Literature, 2006)

Diane’s note: Who knew death could narrate such a touching tale? Set during one of the worst times in history, death still manages to convey a sense of hope for the human spirit. When I first read The Book Thief I was so touched and deeply affected as an adult, I couldn’t picture marketing this to teens. I keep encouraging some of my teachers to read this personally, but it seems such a hard sell. High school teens read this and feel like they have discovered one of the lost treasures of literature. I have had former students pop onto facebook to tell me what an impact The Book Thief has had on their life. It’s hard to describe how a book set in Germany with the main character being neither a Nazi nor a Jew can be such an important addition to historical fiction on WWII. This is a title where you cry from the joy of the beautiful writing while crying for the characters.

#32 Sabriel (Abhorsen series #1) by Garth Nix. Harper Collins, 2008 (first published in 1995). ISBN:  9780061474354, 336 pp. 

Publisher’s Description: Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him. She soon finds companions in Mogget, a cat whose aloof manner barely conceals its malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories. As the three travel deep into the Old Kingdom, threats mount on all sides. And every step brings them closer to a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death—and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own destiny.

With Sabriel, the first installment in the Abhorsen trilogy, Garth Nix exploded onto the fantasy scene as a rising star, in a novel that takes readers to a world where the line between the living and the dead isn’t always clear—and sometimes disappears altogether.

Quotes from Readers: Fantasy with a strong female protagonist is a required genre. Sabriel is thrown into quiet an adventure, and though she is often scared, she never whines about it. It also has my favorite confession of love amid battle, when Touchstone says: “I think I love you, I hope you don’t mind.”

I never could quite figure out the sequence of these books, and mostly I remember them being hugely confusing. But also amazing.

Original and exciting, with twists that consistently surprised me.

Online reviews: Goodreads, LibraryThing, ShelfariTeensReadToo.

Awards: British Fantasy Award (1997), برنده جایزه آریلیس, Ditmar Award Nominee for Short Fiction (1996), An ALA Notable Children’s Book for Older Readers (1997), Aurealis Award for Fantasy Novel and Young Adult Novel (1995), Winner of the Aurealis Award for Excellence in Australian Science Fiction, Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004, #3, Fantasy for Young Adults

Diane’s note: A fantasy unlike so many others. A world dealing with death that isn’t bleak and dark. Sabriel is a girl – coming – of –  age book that doesn’t attempt to force her to conform to stereotypes of female fantasy characters. This novel is touching and fantastic. I own many Garth Nix titles in my middle school collection including the Keys to the Kingdom series and the Seventh Tower series. They appeal more to the boys while Sabriel appeals to the girls.

#31 The Watsons go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 1995. ISBN:  9780385321754, 224 pp.

Publisher’s Description: A wonderful middle-grade novel narrated by Kenny, 9, about his middle-class black family, the Weird Watsons of Flint, Michigan. When Kenny’s 13-year-old brother, Byron, gets to be too much trouble, they head South to Birmingham to visit Grandma, the one person who can shape him up. And they happen to be in Birmingham when Grandma’s church is blown up.

Quotes from Readers: Kenny tells his friend he’s not like”them”, but his friend says yes you are but that’s okay.

Online reviews: Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, KidsReads.


  • Newbery Honor Book (1996)
  • Coretta Scott King Award (1996: author, honor)
  • Jane Addams Children’s Book Award (Finalist, 1996)
  • Golden Kite Award (1996: Fiction, Winner)
  • Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award Nominee (1998)

Diane’s note: A perfect novel for fifth and sixth graders especially. I have loved this book for years. Betsy Bird had The Watsons Go To Birmingham – 1963 as book #34 on her list this past year. The touching family relationships of the Watsons in Michigan, as they journey south to Alabama, and once they are confronted with racial prejudice during the Civil Rights movement are what sustain us throughout this title. We care about the humorous antics of this family and feel their suffering more deeply when, to the very end of the book, the bombing of the church occurs.

This title is what enabled Christopher Paul Curtis to leave the Detroit assembly lines. His video biographical statements inspire my students to keep working and learning. I have met Mr. Curtis at ALA for award ceremonies and always I feel like I am in the midst of superstars. If I could read aloud only one title to middle school students in grades 5-6, it would be The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963.

#30 The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. Vintage, 1996 (First published as Tiger, Tiger in 1956). ISBN:  9780679767800, 272 pp.

Publisher’s Description: In this pulse-quickening novel, Alfred Bester imagines a future in which people “jaunte” a thousand miles with a single thought, where the rich barricade themselves in labyrinths and protect themselves with radioactive hit men – and where an inarticulate outcast is the most valuable and dangerous man alive. The Stars My Destination is a classic of technological prophecy and timeless narrative enchantment by an acknowledged master of science fiction

Quotes from Readers: It’s the greatest novel you’ve never read. Sci-fi fans rejoice. This Story was originally published in the 50’s in the birth of science fiction, but the times are only now catching up to this book. It is regarded by the science fiction community as one of, if not the, greatest books ever written. Unfortunately it may not make it to this list because teens these days are pretty shallow and will vote for Twilight. sad.

I bet no one else will even mention this title and it won’t make it on the list, but it is the best science fiction book ever written. (Note from Diane: you both lose as this title did get enough votes to pop up pretty high on the list)

Online reviews: Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari.

Awards: Prometheus Hall of Fame Award (1988)

Diane’s note: I confess. The above quotees were correct. I have never read this title. 1950’s Sci-Fi on space travel long before they’d actually gone there? Come on! Especially when I’d heard that the author refers to women with 1950’s mind-sets and marvels that there is an intelligent “negro” woman as a supporting character. Still, there are so many positive reviews of this title out there that I feel like I have been dismissing The Stars My Destination out of hand. Coming in at #30 should mean something in this poll. Reading how many men reviewers in particular discuss how well this novel has aged and that it is comparable to The Count of Monte Cristo (one of my favorites), it seems The Stars My Destination will go onto my must-read pile.

Original and exciting, with twists that consistently surprised me.


  1. Hi Diane, will you be posting these titles & authors in a single list without annotations after reaching your #1 picks? I ask because I’d like to direct readers to this list, but most of them wouldn’t want to search through multiple postings.

  2. Lisa Von Drasek Diane Chen says:

    Hi Laura, I just posted a quick list of titles #100-25 to help. I noticed that there are five titles in the middle that lost all their annotations, so I’ll be fixing that this week. too. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Dennis Shidemantle says:

    Hey there! I’ve been following your blog for a while now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Atascocita Tx! Just wanted to mention keep up the fantastic job!