More snow days in March meant more time available to whip through books!
And We Stay
A YA novel about surviving the suicide of a boyfriend could easily slide into mawkish writing. Jenny Hubbard rather skillfully managed to avoid turning it (and other situations that emerge) into a slobbering mess, and has created a thoughtful and tragic story of regret and renewal. This is mature YA; definitely one to watch for the Printz.
The Bathing Costume, Or the Worst Vacation of My Life
One of the many reasons I love ALA Youth Media Awards day is that it introduces me to books that I had never heard of until they are announced as winners. The Mildred Batchelder Award honors English translations of books originally published outside the United States in a language other than English; more often than not, the books are unknown to me. Such was The Bathing Costume, Or The Worst Vacation of My Life (one of three honor books); originally published in France, this tale of an eight year old adjusting to a summer vacation without his parents is funny and endearing.
Becoming Ben Franklin
Russell Freedman's biography and history books are tremendous; this biography on Benjamin Franklin is a vivid depiction of the inventor, writer, and statesman. His books are also beautifully designed; text and images (maps, illustrations, etc) are perfectly aligned.
Biscuit Loves the Library
The ever-adorable Biscuit is having a great day at the library; he plays with puppets, listens to a story on CD, and finds a cozy spot to read with a young friend. Although not actually about a Paws to Read type program (check out Lola Goes to Work for an actual therapy dog story), this would be a perfect read for our friends who participate in our monthly Paws to Read sessions (check the calendar for upcoming dates)! I appreciate the fact that Alyssa Satin Capucilli portrays a busy, friendly, and modern library; looks like a great place to visit.
The Dolphins of Shark Bay
The Scientists in the Field series astounds me; they are magnificent and fascinating looks at different areas of science. The Dolphins of Shark Bay introduces us to scientists who are studying the language and intelligence of dolphins located in coastal Australia. Remarkable insights about these amazing creatures (including their different personalities, especially in their parenting skills and interactions with tourists, which have been greatly limited to their benefit) and striking photographs make this a win for dolphin lovers.
Eruption! Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives
While the Scientists in the Field series has largely focused on animals (so far), the series does occasionally feature non-animal subjects. Not knowing much about volcanoes, I was immediately drawn into the book through the scientists' passion for predicting volcanoes and for educating citizens who live near known volcanoes. Keep in mind that volcanoes such as Colombia's Nevado de Ruiz, which erupted unexpectedly and killed 23,000 people are investigated and vividly (but not sensationally) depicted in words and photographs. Elizabeth Rusch clearly explains that people living near volcanoes rely on them for building their homes and other important features, which makes questions of relocation complicated. One of the best in the series!
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
This 1968 Newbery Medal winner about siblings who hide in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a favorite for many children's literature fans. It's certainly a well-deserved classic, but I've never really warmed to it, for some reason. This is definitely a look at a bygone New York (prices and mention of a transistor radio!).
The King's Fifth
Okay! If you want a depressing story about a young mapmaker for Coronado's troops who is now awaiting a murder trial, try this 1967 Newbery Honor!
The Lightning Dreamer
How is it possible that Margarita Engle published TWO fabulous novels last year? (See my Mountain Dog review). Engle returns to familiar territory--Cuban history--in this fictional biography of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda (nicknamed Tula). Tula grew up in an upper-class Cuban family, in which she was expected to have a limited education and to be betrothed as quickly as possible. Tula loved poetry, despised slavery, and yearned for independence, which she fought for all her life. She used her poetry to speak out against slavery and arranged marriages, which was revolutionary in 19th century Cuba. Engle explains liberties taken with Tula's story in an afterword. This is another great achievement from Engle!
The Long, Long Journey: The Godwit's Amazing Migration
Sandra Markle's lengthy career has included many informational nature books that are occasionally
fine read alouds for elementary school children. The Long, Long Journey, which focuses on the migration of the bar-tailed godwit, is one of her finest (and would be a great read aloud!). Bar-tailed godwits fly 7,000 miles from Alaska to New Zealand every year, making theirs the longest nonstop bird migration. Mia Posada's brilliant illustrations also make this a stand-out nature title.
The Mad Potter: George E. Orr, Eccentric Genius
I'm going through all the 2014 ALA Youth Media Awards titles that I missed last year (and titles on the many "Best of 2013" lists as well); The Mad Potter was the only Sibert Medal (for informational books) that I hadn't read, so I checked it out. If I had known that this was about a Biloxi, MS potter, I would have picked it up long ago! (I spent a lot of time on the Mississippi Gulf Coast during my childhood). George E. Orr was definitely an unusual artist; he created oddly shaped pots and vases that were not fully appreciated and celebrated until after his death. Luckily, his art is now displayed at the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi (destroyed by Hurricane Katrina 18 months before construction was complete, the museum will eventually be an outstanding collection of not only Ohr's artwork, but also African-American art, a center for ceramics, and plans for cultural/community events). If you're a biography fan like me, books that fall outside of the standard biography subjects are always attractive; this is an inventive work!
The Noonday Friends
Sorry--no cover image available. The Noonday Friends (1966 Newbery Honor) is a charming realistic coming of age story in Greenwich Village; Franny's artistic father has unemployment issues, which makes buying anything other than essential difficult. Although it is a dated look at New York City, it features a Puerto Rican family without cringeworthy stereotypes.
Paperboy was the only Newbery Honor book that we didn't own at the time of the ALA Youth Media Awards announcements, so I'm just now getting around to reading and reviewing it. Set in 1959's Memphis, this is a moving novel with a character struggling with a severe stutter (author Vince Vawter, who is also a stutterer and offers further information about stuttering in an afterword, based the story on his childhood memories). It's a sophisticated and mature novel that straddles the children's/YA divide.
Russians: The People Behind the Power
Some of my favorite reading is focused on books that investigate countries and/or cultures; Russians: The People Behind the Power is an engrossing and extremely timely focus on Russian politics and culture, including common views on gender, problems with alcoholism, the importance of friendship, corruption in politics and business, treatment of prisoners, and so forth. After reading this and Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, I want to read everything I can about Russia. I have many other things to read, though, so I'm trying not to go down that rabbit hole.
Rutherford B. Hayes
I am determined to see this presidential biography project through! Some presidents, however, are more interesting than others. I doubt many people thought much about Rutherford B. Hayes in years until the 2000 presidential election, when comparisons between Hayes's win and that election were drawn (Hayes lost the popular vote but won the electoral vote, and there were controversies in several states' voting, including Florida). Hans L. Trefousse's biography (part of the exemplary American Presidents series; I read its terrific volume on Ulysses S. Grant as well) puts Hayes's presidency into new focus, arguing that Hayes's ending of military occupation of the South helped the reunification process of a still-wounded and fragile nation.
I was on the Jefferson Cup committee that named Ann E. Burg's All the Broken Pieces as the 2010 winner, and I'm thrilled that her second novel in verse is just as powerful as her first. Set in Haiti just before and after the devastating 2010 earthquake, Serafina's Promise is a heartbreaking and hopeful tale of a young girl who dreams of becoming a doctor; school fees, however, make this dream a seemingly impossible one. Life in Haiti is hard enough for the poor even before the earthquake; the tragedy makes it doubly so, yet the faith of the Haitian people is strong and humbling. This is an incredible read; I am always appreciative of author notes and afterwords, though, and wish that one had been included (a pronunciation guide to Haitian Creole words is included, which is very much welcomed). One minor complaint of an otherwise perfect read.
A Star for Mrs. Blake
Oh, look! A 2014 adult fiction read! My second....and also a historical fiction. (I'm trying to branch out in my adult fiction to reads to things other than historical fiction, which I crave). Oh, well. This one was a treat to read. As 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the first year of World War I, there is an increase in the number of fiction and nonfiction books about that era. Did you know that Gold Star Mothers (mothers who lost sons in war) were invited to visit their sons' final resting places in France in 1930? A Star For Mrs. Blake is centered on a group of women who have all lost sons on the battlefields of France, but are all from different social backgrounds. It's a remarkable, intriguing, heartfelt, and sorrowful character study; some parts of the story are funny, but this is a very sobering read. Well worth it if you are a historical fiction fanatic.
Historical fiction novels set during Reconstruction are few and far between. Jewell Parker Rhodes's latest YA novel (published in 2013), set on an 1870s Louisiana plantation, is an enlightening novel concerning an orphaned former slave child named Sugar; Sugar is torn between wanting to stay with her familiar surroundings and yearning for a new start. A complicated friendship with the young son of her former master and the arrival of imported Chinese field workers adds tension and realistic conflict to the story (the scene in which the Chinese workers, chained to each other, arrive on the plantation is unforgettable). Sugar is an appealing and truthful character in which you become quickly invested, and a novel that you won't soon forget.
Words With Wings
Knock, Knock: My Dad's Dream for Me and Words With Wings were the remaining 2014 Coretta Scott King Medal books that I had yet to read; although Knock, Knock is a picture book and Words With Wings is a novel in verse, both are acutely sensitive stories about children thrust into difficult situations. The young boy in Knock, Knock is dealing with his father's sudden absence, while the young girl in Words With Wings is trying to cope with her parents' divorce and her tendency to daydream, which is affecting her schoolwork. Ideal for readers who prefer character-driven realistic fiction, this is a first-rate story of the importance of creative outlets and the impact a caring teacher can have.
Zlateh the Goat: And Other Stories
I am almost DONE with the 1960s Newbery books; I have three or four left, then it's onto the 1970s era. Zlateh the Goat: And Other Stories was one of three Newbery Honor books in 1967; it's an amusing collection of Jewish folklore, with the addition of illustrations by Maurice Sendak (in the early days of his career).
We will order a batch of new children's/YA books for April soon; if you are a Fauquier County Public Library patron, you should subscribe to Wowbrary so that you are among the first to know when they have been ordered!
I wrote about bee/butterfly themed picture books on the ALSC blog. Perfect for a springtime story time.
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library