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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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