Monday, January 16, 2017

A Birthday Celebration: Books for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

We have so many outstanding books about Martin Luther King Jr that choosing books for this post was difficult! If you'd like to share Dr. King's legacy with your children (or for your own benefit--many patrons and staff members have told me how much they learn from and enjoy children's nonfiction!), here are my top picks:

Out of all the picture book renditions of King's "I Have a Dream" speech, none can top Kadir Nelson's I Have a Dream. Not only are the illustrations magnificent, but it also includes a CD recording of the speech.

Walter Dean Myers's I've Seen the Promised Land: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  biography is a strong choice for young readers.

I admire  the March trilogy so much that I can't leave it off this collection. Representative John Lewis is the sole surviving speaker from the March on Washington; if you haven't read this graphic novel adaptation of his life story, you are missing out on one of the greatest graphic novels ever created.

Toward the end of his life, King's work focused on workers' rights; Marching to the Mountaintop: How Poverty, Labor Fights, and Civil Rights Set the Stage for Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Hours is an insightful and moving look at his final days, which was centered on a sanitation workers' strike in Memphis (where he was assassinated).

Martin and Mahalia: His Words, Her Song is a gorgeously illustrated and told dual biography (in picture book form) of King and the great gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson.

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  received a Caldecott Honor in 2002 for Bryan Collier's magnificent illustrations. This is a modern classic in children's nonfiction.

If you need a fantastic civil rights read aloud, you need to read A Sweet Smell of Roses  and/or We March. Both fictional stories are set during the 1963 March on Washington.

Young people were instrumental in the civil rights movement; Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March is a compelling and inspiring account of the Selma march through the perspective of Lynda Blackmon Lowery.

For more nonfiction titles on Martin Luther King, check out the JB King and/or the J 323.1 sections.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Monday, January 09, 2017

Royal Reads: Books About Queen Victoria

I don't know about you, but I am counting down the days until the Queen Victoria miniseries premieres this Sunday on PBS. Although not produced for children, this is a great time to look at our Queen Victoria books for children and teens, as well as books about the Victorian era (or written during the Victorian era):

Want a quick introduction to the life of Queen Victoria? The ever-popular Who Was/Is's Who Was Queen Victoria? should educate and entertain those who want the highlights of her life story.

At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England  is the incredible biography of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, an African princess and one of Queen Victoria's adopted goddaughters. 

Although the fashions and customs of the Victorian era are fascinating and charming, life during the Victorian era was harsh and unyielding for many, especially poor childen. Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London is an eye-opening and compelling look at how these children lived, and how Charles Dickens brought their plight to widespread attention and reform. 

Victorians were enchanted with fairy stories and fairy art; when most people picture fairies, Victorian images are often the ones that come to mind (if you see a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the fairies will look quite different if the production keeps the Elizabethan setting). This is a collection of fairy stories by Victorian authors. 

Victoria Rebels is for the YA crowd; written in diary form (Victoria was a prolific diarist), this is an entertaining retelling of her early queendom and marriage to Prince Albert.  

The Victorian era (1837-1901) was rich in books that are still read and loved today. Queen Victoria was an avid reader; although some of her favorite authors have faded from history, she was a fan of Wilkie Collins, George Eliot, Charlotte Bronte, and of course, Charles Dickens.  In addition to authors such as William Thackeray, Thomas Hardy, and Mark Twain (his piece about Victoria's Diamond Jubilee can be found in A Tramp Abroad), the Victorian era also launched the careers of many classic children's authors: 

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) was one of Queen Victoria's favorite novels; its word play made it popular with readers of all ages. 

Black Beauty (1877) has been called "the most influential anticruelty novel of all time" and was instrumental in the fight for anti-animal cruelty legislation in both England and the United States. 

Little Lord Fauntleroy (1885) inspired a very popular style of dress for boys (Buster Brown suit) and was Frances Hodgson Burnett's first children's novel; like many novels during this time (including Dickens's work), it was serialized in newspapers. A Little Princess was also published during this era.

Little Women (1868-69) was an immediate critical and popular success in both the US and UK; it was published in two parts. 

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) was recently named "America's greatest and best-loved homegrown fairy tale" by the Library of Congress. Although it was a critical success when it was first published, snobbery over fantasy as a literary genre (unlike the movie, the novel is pure fantasy) and other elements in the story led to it either being ignored or under censorship challenges in later years.

Want more comprehensive books on Queen Victoria? Check out our biographies for adults.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

Monday, January 02, 2017

Out of This World Stories: Books For National Science Fiction Day

In honor of famed science fiction author Isaac Asimov's birthday, January 2nd is unofficially National Science Fiction Day. As I don't often have the patience for 400+ paged fiction (youth or adult), science fiction novels can be daunting. However, in the interest of diverse reading, I make it a habit to pick up a science fiction novel every now and then. In addition to classics such as A Wrinkle in Time, The Giver, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, here are my favorite children's science fiction novels that aren't enormous doorstoppers!

You may be familiar with the Kelly astronaut siblings(the only siblings to have both traveled in space, although not in the same mission); as they are identical twins, NASA conducted studies on both Mark and Scott during and after Scott's year-long work on the International Space Station in order to study the physical differences caused by living in space for an extended period of time. Both brothers have retired from NASA, with Mark starting a new career as a children's author with the launch of the Astrotwins series. Based loosely on the brothers' childhood, Astrotwins follows two brothers who build a rocket, which leads to all sorts of amazing adventures! Facts about space and space life are intertwined into this fun story that will appeal to reluctant readers. 

Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist is a super funny series about a young scientist who constantly runs into troubles with her experiments (such as a monster popping out of the school lunchroom's garbage can). I recommend this series all the time to both boys and girls, avid and reluctant readers all! 

When patrons ask for beginning chapter books, I always recommend Galaxy Zack. With short chapters and illustrations sprinkled throughout the story, this series about a boy who moves to Planet Nebulon charmingly deals with everyday issues such as moving to a new place, making friends, etc in an outer space setting. 

I adore the HiLo graphic novel series, and can't wait to read more adventures of Hilo and his friends. HiLo is hilarious, touching (it might just be me, but there are some elements that remind me of E.T.), and offers much needed diversity in children's science fiction stories. This OUTSTANDING (as HiLo would say) series about a blonde-haired alien who falls to Earth is one of my favorite graphic novel series of all time. 

Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast features a young boy and his eccentric grandmother, who operates a very unusual bed-and-breakfast for a rather eccentric clientele. Not only is this quite funny, but it's also a good pick for those not quite ready for YA science fiction, which tends to be rather heavy. 

Science fiction stories often deal with societal questions and issues; YA science fiction is no exception: 

Set in 2050 Los Angeles, Bluescreen features non-stop action in a virtual reality setting; it also includes a diverse set of characters, which is very welcome in YA science fiction. 

Looking for an insanely fun and addicting read? Marissa Meyer's enormously popular Lunar Chronicles is for you! This science fiction series with a fairy tale twist is super smart and clever(check out Meyer's latest, Heartless, if you're already a fan).

Noggin images a world in which cryonic freezing is a reality, through the experiences of a teenage boy who is brought back to life five years (with a different body other than his head) after his death. The emotional consequences are sky-high; this is a mature and thoughtful read. There are moments of levity that break the somber tension, but overall, this is a read that will linger with you for a long time. 

Like many people traveling this holiday season, I took two books with me to occupy my time waiting at airports and during the actual plane trips; as my first flight was delayed three hours, I had plenty of time to delve into George Lucas: A Life. As a fan of both Star Wars and biographer Brian Jay Jones's remarkable Jim Henson biography, I had eagerly anticipated this ever since it was announced. Science fiction movies in the 1970s were thought to be a dead medium, which is why the enormous success of Star Wars was unprecedented (Lucas had no champions for his movie and was so discouraged by the constant problems faced on the set  that he thought it would be a failure as well). This is an even-handed look at a very private man who tends to be unemotional on the surface and whose major scandals involved tinkering with the original series and an over-reliance on special effects in the prequel series (so not so much drama in his life, especially since he seems to be very content with life post Star-Wars; this could have made for an unmemorable read if written by lesser-skilled hands).  

If  science fact rather than fiction is more appealing, don't miss Hidden Figures (I haven't finished it yet, but I'm planning to do so before I see the movie next weekend). This account of African-American women who worked as human computers at NASA during the early days of the space program is inspiring, compelling, and eye-opening. This is also Virginia history, as the women worked at Langley Research Center in Hampton (author Margot Lee Shetterly is also a Hampton native). We also have the young readers' edition available. 

I recently blogged about some of my favorite 2016 children's books on the ALSC blog; check out the comments from other ALSC members as well! 

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Countdown to 2017: Favorite Adult Fiction and Nonfiction

I am very picky about the adult fiction and nonfiction books that I read. I give each book the "100 page rule"; if I'm not motivated to read past the first 100 pages, or if getting to the 100th page was a chore, I abandon the book (I rarely abandon children's/YA novels). I am more drawn to adult nonfiction than adult fiction (and historical fiction for much of my adult fiction reading), so despite my best efforts every year, my end of the year list for adult fiction/nonfiction is heavy on the nonfiction. Here are my top 5 favorite adult fiction/nonfiction reads (with a 2016 publication date) for this year:

I'm  quite familiar with Jacqueline Woodson's children's/YA titles, so I was very curious about her new novel for adults. Set in 1970s Brooklyn, Another Brooklyn is a somewhat quick read (under 200 pages), but full of characters you'll long remember after finishing the book.

Behold the Dreamers is my favorite adult novel of 2016; this illuminating story about two families--Cameroonian immigrants and the wealthy senior executive at Lehman Brothers--whose lives are changed by the recession is at times both joyful and painful, with a heartbreaking but expected ending.

Kate Anderson Brower's The Residence is an outstanding and addictive read about the White House, so I was really impatient to read First Women: The Grace and Power of America's First Ladies. She did not disappoint with the revelatory look at modern first ladies (Kennedy-Obama); it's a gripping and even-handed look at women who were often reluctantly thrust into a role with few rules but plenty of unspoken expectations.

While there are many books about the Great Depression, A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression focuses on not only how everyday Americans feed themselves during this difficult time, the rise of canned and frozen foods, but also on the assistance programs that were offered, including the home economists who offered budgeting and cooking tips. The extent of the food crisis was such that the Army had to disqualify 40% of its World War II draftees due to poor nutrition; the descriptions (and photographs) of the massive amounts of people lined up for soup kitchens are incredible. Admittedly, this may not have a wide readership; if you're not into domestic history (history of food, home life, clothing, etc), you probably won't stay with this book (my undergraduate major was one of the last vestiges of home economics education, so I can't get enough of this stuff).

The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish is an amazing book about the clothing/accessible fashion aspect of the home economics movement, as well as the decline of home ec). Be aware that much of the book also focuses on the governmental response to the food crisis during the Depression; if you are more interested in stories about coupons, ration books, recipes, etc (as some Goodreads users were expecting), check out The Food of a Younger Land or Grandma's Wartime Kitchen: World War II and The Way We Cooked.

Sue Macy's investigation into the kidnapping, exploitation, and eventual return of two African-American albino brothers is an incredible read. Macy brings to life the difficult times faced by the African-American community in the Roanoke area at the time, as well as the bizarre sideshows that were popular in the early 20th century. Most notably, their niece and primary caregiver, Nancy Saunders, fiercely protected them; Macy's interactions with her are enlightening. Willie Muse lived to be 108 years old; his positivity and faith are humbling. At times, verb tenses are mixed and transitions between time periods are sometimes messy; still,  Truevine: Two Brothers, A Kidnapping, and a Mother's Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South is one of the most unforgettable reads you will read in some time.

Looking for some first-rate children's/YA reads for vacation reading? Check out my favorite children's/YA reads of 2016.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Countdown to 2017: Favorite Children's and YA Books in 2016

In just two weeks, we will welcome 2017! As 2016 winds down, we are bombarded with lists for best books of 2016 (and movies, TV shows, recordings, etc). Not to be left out, here are my favorite children's and YA reads from this year (that have a 2016 publication date). I forced myself to choose my top five favorites from each category, which was really hard!

Favorite Chapter Books: 

1. Liberty

Love, love, love this friendship story set in World War II New Orleans. This is part of Kirby Larson's exceptional "dogs of World War II" series, and my favorite. If you don't know anything about the Higgins boat factory or the German POW camp located near the city, you should definitely read this book (someone needs to write a nonfiction account of the factory--it would be a great story to tackle for Steve Sheinkin or Russell Freedman!). The interracial friendship is heartfelt and realistically portrayed.

2. Fenway and Hattie

"Talking dog" stories aren't anything new, and often fall flat in less-accomplished hands. This start of a new series is hilarious and heartfelt, starring a dog who moves from the city to a suburban house with a big backyard.

3. The Infinity Year of Avalon James

Readers that enjoy a dash of magic in realistic fiction will enjoy this. Coming of age/friendship issue stories often revolve around two girls (The Kind of Friends We Used to Be) or, to a lesser extent, two boys (Crossover) . Rarely do we see a boy-girl friendship, especially when it's sensitively and honestly created.

4. It Ain't So Awful, Falafel

I love reading stories set in different cultures or countries other than mine; Firoozeh Dumas's tale of a young Iranian-American girl growing up during the hostage crisis is genuinely eye-opening, funny, and heartbreaking. Pair this with Margarita Engle's YA memoir, Enchanted Air, to get a glimpse at what it's like to be an "outsider" during a historical crisis in one's own country.

5. All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook

This poignant and revealing story about a boy who grows up in prison until a well-meaning official separates him from his mother  is still one of my top favorite for the 2017 Newbery.

Favorite Children's Nonfiction:

1. Preaching to the Chickens

Jabari Asim and E.B. Lewis have created a joyous and endearing story based on Congressman John Lewis's childhood. This is on my favorites for the Caldecott.

2. Coyote Moon

Bagram Ibatoulline's illustrations of a coyote hunting for food in a suburban area are outstanding; Maria Gianferrari's text makes this an excellent read aloud for elementary school classes.

3. The Extraordinary Suzy Wright: A Colonial Woman on the Frontier

It's a special treat when I find biographies about little-known people that move and entertain me; history is filled with these exceptional people who were well-regarded by their communities in their time, but require dedicated historians and storytellers to bring their achievements to new generations. Suzy Wright was an awesome person; you should definitely get to know her!

4. We Will Not be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler

I am in awe of Russell Freedman; he has brought so many important aspects of history to children in informative and accessible books. This is a World War II story that everyone should know.

5. Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus

As someone who has read many Biblical picture books for children, I am confident saying that John Hendrix's accounts of the miracles of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament are unlike anything I've seen in a long time. Not only are the illustrations magnificent, but the text is also accessible for children in a way that isn't always the case with gorgeously illustrated Bible stories.

Favorite Picture Books:

1. Five Little Ducks

When I saw that Denise Fleming's latest picture book was a take on the "5 Little Ducks Went Out One Day" classic children's song, I expected a cute and brilliantly illustrated take, but that was about it. I was delighted to find that not only does it star Daddy Duck instead of Momma Duck (making this a great read for a dads/grandads story time!), but also introduces the days of the week as well as the expected subtraction angle. Plus, it's ADORABLE.

2. The Water Princess

I belong to several Facebook librarian groups in which library staff post questions and share advice/programming information. Recently, one poster asked for books to help her children appreciate their surroundings and to make them aware that others are not so fortunate. I immediately recommended The Water Princess, which is based on model Georgie Badiel's childhood in Burkina Faso. Having to gather and carry water far from her home (where it has to be boiled in order to be safe to drink) is a daily task for a little girl who dreams of having clean water closer to her home. When she asks her mother why water isn't closer, her mother replies that perhaps she will find a way to bring water closer to her village. This would be an inspiring and eye-opening read aloud for kindergarten students and up; Gigi's life may be difficult, but she is never an object of pity or condescension. An afterword gives more information about Georgie Badiel's foundation, which brings clean drinking sources to communities in Africa. I love this book--it's on my Caldecott list.

3. The Night Gardener

Terry and Eric Fan's story about a mysterious gardener and an orphaned boy is an offbeat and moving testament to the importance of community spirit. On my list for Caldecott 2017.

4. Diana's White House Garden

Historical fiction picture books can be tricky; while we have many outstanding titles, quite a few are longer than your average picture book. This is a charming tale of a young girl who helps Eleanor Roosevelt plant a Victory Garden at the White House (and based on a true story!).

5. Emma and Julia Love Ballet

How can it be that Barbara McClintock has never won a Caldecott (not even an Honor)? Can we rectify this with this darling story of a young ballet student and her mentor?

Favorite YA:

1. Heartless

YA Alice in Wonderland spinoffs are nothing new (Looking Glass trilogy and Colleen Oakes's new Queen of Hearts series), but none are written by Marissa Meyer! The creator of the Lunar Chronicles is back with this fantastic Queen of Hearts origin story. Be warned--Cath is a pastry chef, so lots of delicious details about tarts, pies, and whatnot. There's also heartbreaking romance and Cath's spiral into revenge (Meyer acknowledges that Gregory Maguire's books, especially Wicked, were an influence). No need to have read Lewis Carroll before picking this up, although you'll definitely appreciate the references more if you're somewhat familiar with the characters (if you're only familiar with the Disney cartoon, that would suffice).

2. Top Prospect

Paul Volponi is one of the best YA sports authors in years; his latest about a middle school football prodigy who is offered a college scholarship  is a cautionary tale about young fame and the dangers and distractions that young players face.

3. Shame the Stars is another superb read from Guadalupe Garcia McCall; this epic tale about two young Mexican-Americans caught on both sides of the Texas-Mexico border battle is a much needed addition to YA historical fiction.

4. The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever

Truly one of the funniest YA novels I've read in some time. You don't need to be a zombie fan to enjoy this (I am not), although zombie fans will love the references to other zombie movies. This ragtag group of young filmmakers (and a truly odd principal) is fun to follow.

5. Soar

Joan Bauer's novels are always brimming with heart, humor, and occasionally heartache. She captures a loving (if eccentric) father-son relationship, as well as the struggles young people with chronic conditions face.

Favorite Graphic Novels:

1. March: Book 3

The conclusion of the powerful March graphic novel trilogy, based on Congressman John Lewis's childhood and involvement in the civil rights movement, is a stirring end to one of the most mesmerizing graphic novel series in some time. This has already earned its place among Maus and Persepolis in graphic novel canon; although not specifically written for young audiences, it would be a sublime choice for middle/high school history classes.

2. LEGO Friends: Pop Star Power

I had no expectations when I picked up one of our latest LEGO graphic novels; both the LEGO Friends and the LEGO Ninjago graphic novels have been super popular (no surprise!), so I wanted to get a sense of what the series were all about. While the Ninjago series is fun, LEGO Friends really charmed me. Star Power has a predictable but cute message about the ups and downs of being a pop star and the meaning of friendship, but what I really loved were the mini-biographies of famous female singers such as Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion, along with fun craft activities.

3. Vader Down

The recent Darth Vader comic books have been magnificent--the great graphics and storytelling make them standouts. This miniseries features Vader cut off from the Empire forces and facing the Rebels on his own. (Speaking of Star Wars...did you know that we have Rogue One books on the way?)

4. The Great Pet Escape

What happens when classroom pets decide to escape? Madcap mayhem--and perhaps a realization that being class pets isn't so bad? This is book #1 in a new series full of humor and adventure.

5. Hilo 2: Saving the Whole Wide World

I adored the first Hilo book, so I was stoked when Hilo 2 turned out to be just as hilarious and sweet as its predecessor. Judd Winick's story about a young blonde-haired alien who crashes to earth is OUTSTANDING, as Hilo would say.

Next Monday: my top 5 adult fiction and nonfiction reads!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library