Saturday, August 01, 2015

Ridiculously Good Reads: Summer Reading Edition

It's hard to believe that summer is nearly over. We have exactly one week left in our summer reading program. Students will return to school in just a few weeks. I hope you've discovered some awesome summer reads at our libraries! If you're planning to squeeze in one more vacation before settling into your back-to-school routine (or need some great reads for a Labor Day getaway), you're in luck. Here are the books I've enjoyed most this summer (all 2015 publications):

Armchair travelers and foodies, take note. Even if you aren't planning a trip to Italy, Eating Rome: Living the Good Life in the Eternal City is a fascinating read about Italian cuisine with a Roman emphasis, with a few select restaurant recommendations and recipes that conclude each chapter (if you want a more traditional guidebook, look here; I recommend any DK or National Geographic guidebooks). If you'd like to order and drink coffee without standing out like a tourist (don't drink cappucino after 10 AM, and stand at the bar to drink; drinking at the table will incur an additional cost), appreciate artichokes like a true native, how to find the best gelato (if the colors are bright, the flavoring is probably artificial), the finer parts of grappa (an Italian alcoholic drink that is definitely an acquired taste), and everything you'd ever want to know about pizza and pasta. Elizabeth Minchilli spent several years in Rome during her childhood, married an Italian (she also notes the distinct regional traits in Italy), and currently lives in Rome, so she definitely knows what she's talking about. You'll want to check out her blog after reading Eating Rome. This is definitely going to be one I reread before my next trip to Italy in October!

This has been an awesome year for nonfiction picture books. Growing Up Pedro is a must read for baseball fans. Pedro Martinez and his older brother, Ramon, grew up in an impoverished community in the Dominican Republic. Like many Dominican boys, baseball was their passion. Their combined and unique journey from the DR to major league baseball (and for Pedro, a World Series win) is an inspiring and awesome story. Above all, it's a tender and sweet story about brothers, perseverance, and sacrifice.

Judy Blume's In the Unlikely Event was *my* most anticipated literary event of the summer. Blume's third novel for adults (and according to her, likely the last book she'll write) is based on a series of aviation disasters that occurred in her New Jersey hometown from 1951-1952. Although it's (definitely) an adult novel, emerging adolescence and young adulthood is prominent in this story. It's reminiscent in ways of my favorite (and underrated) Blume novel, Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, as Jewish identity and adolescence during the 1950s is pivotal (the importance of Jewish adolescence is more pronounced in Sally J., but it takes place in 1948, soon after the horrors of the Holocaust were much more fresh). Although much of the story is fictional (save for the events and details of the airplane crashes), the time period of the 1950s is effortlessly brought to life. The long-lasting impact of a disaster (even decades later) on a community is brilliantly portrayed, with heartbreaking results. Need an engrossing read for the beach or a car trip? This should do the trick.

Anything about Mahalia Jackson immediately catches my interest (I'm from the New Orleans area), so it was a happy day for me when Mahalia Jackson: Walking With Kings and Queens showed up on our shelves. This is a beautiful and unforgettable tribute to this great lady of gospel music. Any book about an African-American artist who traveled and performed in the pre-civil rights era is going to have to address some sad and uncomfortable truths about this country's history; Nina Nolan and John Holyfield address the many challenges that Mahalia Jackson faced, even as a noted performer, without making it scary or overwhelming for young readers.

*Sob* Excuse me while I collect myself. I love, love, LOVE Lori Nichols's Maple picture book series. It's a darling and realistic depiction of welcoming a new baby sister and navigating snags in sibling relationships. In their third adventure, we learn that it's time for Maple to go off to school and leave Willow behind. How will both get through the day?  Just fine, thank you, although they are happy to see each other at the end of the school day. ADORABLE. Maple and Willow Apart is a perfect "first day of school" story!

Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Solved All of France is SO COOL. Read it. That is all. It's an amazing story about Ben Franklin that explains the scientific process and the use of placebos in medicine. Plus, you learn how we got the word "mesmerized" in our vocabulary.

I will absolutely keep One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia in mind when I'm asked for Earth Day recommendations. Books about environmental issues run the risk of being scary and fatalistic without offering hope; happily, this is not one of them. Isatou Ceesay was concerned about the impact of plastic bags on her small Gambian community; not only were they causing a great deal of trash, but they were endangering the lives of their livestock (vital to the survival of the community). Her ingenuity led her to a creative and gorgeous way of crocheting strips of plastic bags into eye-catching purses and bags! Although she and her fellow crocheters were initially mocked, their creations soon became popular at the local market. As it is with many small businesses, the benefits to her community were enormous; naturally, trash was reduced in the community, which reduced the threat to the livestock and local water. However, recycling the plastic bags into purses created business opportunities for local women, which was also a huge benefit for the community. Not only that, it's a positive story from an African country featuring empowered citizens. Quite a lot packed into one picture book! You can learn more about this fabulous story here.

Sarah Dessen is one of my automatic "buys" for the YA collection; her novels are insanely popular. Saint Anything is one of my favorites, as it's a genuine depiction of a family dealing with incarceration of a young adult. Peyton was the golden boy in the family, which makes his incarceration (for a drunk driving crash that permanently disabled a young man) all the more shocking. Sydney must not only navigate her feelings of shame (the unrelenting attention paid to the events, as well as continuing updates on the young boy's condition takes its toll), but everyday situations involving friends, school, and crushes are paramount. The story takes a darker turn when a family friend's inappropriate attention toward Sydney escalates, but never salacious or unbelievable.

Scarlett Undercover is a must read for fans of YA mysteries. Teen genius Scarlett investigates murders and crimes in her spare time. When she is hired to investigate a suspicious suicide, she finds herself drawn into a very strange and sinister underworld (that concludes with a hair-raising ending!). Scarlett Undercover adds a much needed element of diversity to YA mysteries (Scarlett is the child of Sudanese immigrants and is a non-observant Muslim).

Something Must be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, A Virginia Town, A Civil Rights Battle is a deeply felt and personal look at the segregation crisis that shut down Prince Edward County Schools for five years, leaving a long-lasting impact on many families, including the author's family (instrumental in creating the private segregation academy for Caucasian students).  Although the county has made strides to move forward and make amends, it is clear from Green's reporting that the wounds are still fresh. African-American families that had the means to send children to family in other counties and states did so; those that did not missed out on crucial years of education. Caucasian families that could not afford the academy or were opposed to it were also affected. This is a book that you will not soon forget.

My undergraduate degree is in Family, Child, and Consumer Science, so brain development was a big part of my studies. However, our knowledge of human development has changed in the years since then, so I'm always eager to read new books such as The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults. Although the title makes it seem that it's a parenting guide, this is a worthy read for anyone who works with young people or is interested in neuroscience. This is not a quick read, as Dr. Jensen delves into brain function and development in great detail. With chapters on the effects of marijuana, constant access to electronics, the importance of sleep (and why schools are debating school start times for middle and high school students), and concussions (from sports injuries), readers will find that this is an extremely timely read.

We have several books on Wangari Maathai, but Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees is probably my favorite. It clearly illustrates that she was not just an African Johnny Appleseed, but tirelessly worked to improve the lives and living conditions of all Kenyans, especially women, and how the Kenyan government viewed her as a threat. A very inspiring read!

I adore all Toon books (Lost in NYC is another must read for 2015) , so I was not surprised to find myself charmed and entertained by We Dig Worms! Some may be grossed out by worms, but they are super important for the soil and the environment (as explained by our worm narrator). This is written at a simple reading level, ideal for beginning readers needing (or wanting) nonfiction.

Woodpecker Wham! is on my shortlist for the 2016 Caldecott; it is that awesome! Illustrated by the inimitable Steve Jenkins and written by frequent collaborator April Pulley Sayre, this is a gorgeous, inviting, and eye-opening peek into the world of woodpeckers. It's also a fine read-aloud for preschoolers and even early elementary students.

If you need more suggestions for recent books, check out  current and back issues of Wowbrary; we've ordered a wide variety of children's, teens, and adult books that should catch your interest (I know my to-be-read list has grown by a ton!).

Also see: Ridiculously Good Reads: April-May Edition
                Halfway Mark: Reading Through the Year

               Ridiculously Good Reads: March Edition 

               Ridiculously Good Reads: Early 2015 Edition (this includes pre-2015 titles)

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

Saturday, July 25, 2015


This is an exciting time for astronomy fanatics! New Horizons has finally passed by Pluto and its moons, and it only took a little over nine years. Everyone's favorite demoted planet is back in the spotlight. You can catch all the latest pictures and news from John Hopkins's Applied Physics Labratory, New Horizons's official Facebook page (and on Twitter), and NASA's New Horizons site. After you've finished geeking out over the pictures, come visit us to get some awesome books on Pluto:

A funny book about the decommissioning of Pluto? (Well, maybe not funny to Pluto's most ardent and stubborn fans.) How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming is a thoughtful and informative read about Mike Brown's discovery of Eris (a planet larger than Pluto, which triggered the debate over Pluto's status) and the resulting downfall of Pluto's official status as a major planet; it's also a sweet peon to his daughter, who was born during the heated controversy. (adult nonfiction)

Astrophysicist superstar Neil DeGrasse Tyson's The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet  is a perfect demonstration of Tyson's ability to explain complicated and confusing astrophysics topics to a lay audience. As director of the Hayden Planetarium, Tyson was the primary focus of media attention (and hate mail) when the New York Times noted that its exhibit on the planetary system showed Pluto as an object in the Kepler system instead of a major planet. Tyson reveals the fascinating history of Pluto (Pluto was the only planet discovered by an American and at an American laboratory), the contentious debate over its status, and the reasoning behind Pluto's demotion. He also shares many letters penned by angry, defiant, and supportive citizens, many of which were from schoolchildren. One highlight was from a high school science class that thoroughly debated the controversy. (Adult nonfiction)

Pluto's Secret: An Icy World's Tale of Discovery is quite whimsical, but effectively manages to get the basics down about Pluto's status and how scientists classify (and reclassify) the solar system. This is an attention-getting presentation about the dwarf planet published by the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. (children's nonfiction)

Taking a more serious (but still compelling) approach, When is a Planet Not a Planet? The Story of Pluto offers superb explanations on how technology helps researchers redefine the solar system as well as the history and classification of Pluto. (children's nonfiction)

We have many more amazing astronomy-related books in our children's and adult nonfiction collections (start at 520 and work your way through the stacks for handbooks, single subject books on the planets, and more).

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

Saturday, July 11, 2015

It's Shark Week!

With the recent string of shark attacks on the East Coast, Discovery Channel's Shark Week programming, and the 40th anniversary of Jaws, sharks have been at the forefront of news and media attention. This is a great time to learn more about these immense creatures!

The I Survived series is my go-to recommendation for reluctant readers needing historical fiction titles. Like the Dear America/Royal Diaries/My Name is America series, this is a historical fiction series that many readers actively seek out. I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916 follows the concentrated shark attacks that occurred in 1916 along the New Jersey coastline, through the perspective of a young boy.

If you'd like something that's a tad less dramatic, Little Shark is the book for you. Written by a legend in nonfiction picture books for very young children, Little Shark tells the tale of a young shark on its own, complete with intriguing facts about its habitat, eating habits, and more.

Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting With the Great Whites of California's Farallon Islands was one of the highlights of the 2014 publishing year and one of six extraordinary children's nonfiction titles honored with the Sibert Informational Book Medal. This intricately illustrated and engagingly written look at the great white sharks that live off the California coast (26 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge!) is one-of-a-kind.

Shark vs. Train is a hilarious and crazy story about a shark and a train competing in several events. Who will win in a hide-and-seek contest? A bowling competition? Read and find out!

Shark Wars  is an exciting series for adventure and shark fans that not only includes tons of adventure, but also a glimpse into the effects of overfishing and environmental hazards on sealife.

Sharkopedia, published by Discovery Channel's publishing arm, is a superb guide to shark anatomy, classification, behavior, and hundreds of incredible photos.

We also have Jaws: the book and the movie.  Although it has been criticized for its characterization of sharks, the movie is still worth watching (I guarantee that the theme music will still raise goosebumps!).  Teen readers interested in a true account of a shark attack should consider Soul Surfer (book and DVD); Shark Girl is an excellent and affecting novel about a teen dealing with the aftereffects of a shark attack. Shark Life: True Stories About Sharks and the Sea is another must-read for teen shark aficionados.  You should also browse the 597.3 and 597.31 sections in both the children's and adult nonfiction section for more awesome selections.

Happy Shark Week!

Dum dum...dum dum...dum's almost back to school time! I blogged about new "first day of school" books on the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC) blog.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Happy Birthday, America! Fantastic Nonfiction for Independence Day

Happy Fourth of July! As a history fan, the American Revolution is an era that I find absolutely fascinating. In recent years, children's nonfiction books have branched out beyond the well-known aspects and figures of the American Revolution, which makes reading and learning about this important era more inclusive:

America's Black Founders: Revolutionary Heroes and Early Leaders With 21 Activities is a great introduction to African-Americans' involvement in the Revolutionary War. From Crispus Atticus, the first American to die in the American Revolution, to James Armistead Lafayette, an American slave and spy who informed Washington of Cornwallis's battle plans, young readers will learn about the important contributions of African Americans in the nation's fight for independence.

Everybody's Revolution: A New Look at the People Who Won America's Freedom demonstrates that the American Revolution was fought by men and women from many nationalities and ethnic groups, including Native Americans, African-Americans, Jewish-Americans, Hispanic Americans, and women. 

Gingerbread for Liberty: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution is one of my favorite children's nonfiction books of 2015. This little-known story of a German baker who fed the hungry American troops is not only a fun and intriguing read aloud, but also a reminder that everyone has talents to share.

Who Was Abigail Adams? , part of the excellent Who Was? series, is a fine introduction to the second First Lady of the United States. If you haven't investigated the Who Was/Who Is/What Is line, you are missing out!

Happy Independence Day! Fauquier County Public Library is closed for the holiday, but we will be open from 1-5 on July 5.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Short and Sweet: Chapter Books for the Beginning or Reluctant Reader

Young readers often make the jump to chapter books in the summer. It's a huge deal to move from easy readers like Henry and Mudge or Green Eggs and Ham to full-fledged chapter books. Finding something that challenges yet doesn't overwhelm can be tricky.

Critter Club series is a must read for young animal fans. This group of animal helpers encounter mystery, friendship issues, and family issues (age appropriately handled) while caring for the animals in their community.

Readers not quite ready for Judy Blume's Peter Hatcher stories should check out Friend or Fiend? With the Pain and the Great One. Trademarks of Blume's fiction for young readers--sibling conflict handled with humor and heartfelt resolution--are abundant here.

I Don't Believe It, Archie! is perfect for those who like their humor wacky and offbeat. Weird things are always happening to Archie: escaping a runaway piano, trapped in a house with a lion, and other outrageous things are everyday occurrences for Archie (usually while on his way to do an errand for his mother). Luckily, he manages to make a narrow escape each time. Some Briticisms (money, etc) may be unfamiliar to readers, but they don't get in the way of the story.

Need more ideas for easy chapter books? I wrote a post on the ALSC (Association for Library Services to Children) blog about recently published easy chapter book series.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Dad Reads

I have a very critical eye when it comes to books about fathers. Books that feature a father character as a dumb overgrown child get on my last nerve. If you're tired of stories that feature incapable dads, take home these books during your next visit to the library:

A Beach Tail is frequently checked out during the summer, as you can imagine! This sweet picture book not only highlights a fine father-son bond, but it also celebrates the importance of imaginative play.

Nancy Tafuri's books are perfect reads for very young children; her picture books are staples in my Baby Steps story time (at the Warrenton library every Monday at 10:30!). Daddy Hugs is a gorgeous and adorable read about animal daddies.

Allen Say has had a long and distinguished career as a children's author-illustrator; he often draws upon his Japanese-American heritage for his stories, as he does in The Favorite Daughter. As a blond biracial (Caucasian and Japanese) child with a distinctly Japanese name, daughter Yuriko often received stares and comments during her childhood. Not wanting to draw that much unwanted attention (as many children would), Yuriko attempted to retreat from her Japanese name and heritage. Her father's loving and gentle guidance led her to be proud of her unique heritage, as chronicled in this sensitive and sophisticated picture book (which ends with photographs of a young adult Yuriko visiting Japan).

Fortunately, The Milk is a rarity in science fiction: it's short and funny! While on a trip to the store to pick up milk for his family, a father is abducted by aliens (or, so he tells his captivated children). This would be a great family read aloud!

Papa and Me is a deceptively simple story about a young Latino boy and his father. Papa only speaks Spanish, but he and his son share a deep bond. It's a true reflection of many young bilingual children's experiences.

Surfer Chick is hilarious and adorable; it also has a darling father-daughter story AND features a girl surfer (yes, she's a chicken, but that makes it even funnier).

Attending the Father's Day car show in downtown Warrenton? Take a break from the heat and enjoy our Dudes and Donuts program from 1-4 on June 21. Make a craft for dad, build with LEGOs, and enjoy some refreshments!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

It's a Bird...It's a Plane....

It's Superman Days!

Did you know that the town of Metropolis, IL celebrates "Superman Days?"  For the past 37 years, this small town has hosted a festival celebrating Superman and other superheroes. As you may know, our summer reading program theme is "Every Hero Has a Story." We're celebrating all kinds of superheroes this summer: animal superheroes (and their superhero human caretakers) and superheroes in our family, as well as superheroes in movies and books.

Your vacation plans might not include a stop in Metropolis, but you can celebrate your own Superman Days with some cool books and DVDs:

Finding books appropriate for little superhero fans is difficult. Comic books are too complicated, and even the easy readers can be too long for very young attention spans. Luckily, DC Comics has started a line of board books featuring their superheroes. Superman Colors and Superman to the Rescue have been extremely popular! (Yay!)

The life stories of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman, are incredible and heartbreaking tales. I reviewed Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero way back in 2012. Pop-culture connoisseurs would love this fascinating adult nonfiction read about the ups and downs of Superman's legacy. Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster  is an adult nonfiction biography of Superman's creators (have not read it).  Young readers would enjoy Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman.

It really is a shame that Superman vs. the Ku Klux Klan: The True Story of How the Iconic Superhero Battled the Men of Hate has such a boring cover (it's a YA nonfiction title, too!). I also first reviewed this in 2012; it's a well-crafted look at a little-known aspect of Superman (radio) history.

Fallout is high on my list of books I want to read this summer.  This YA novel focusing on Lois Lane's high school years sounds like a super fun read! (If you're not a Superman fan, I doubt you've read this far, but just in case--Lois Lane is Superman's love interest.)

Of course, we also have the Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve, as well as the memoirs he wrote after he became quadriplegic.

Today is our official kickoff of our summer reading program! We have many fun activities planned!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library