As it's nearly the end of February (how did that happen?!), it's time to reveal my favorite reads of the month!
Bone Gap is the 2016 Printz Award winner for young adult literature; although I didn't think it was my cup of tea, I ended up enjoying it much more than I thought I would. Eighteen year old Finn is considered an oddball in his small town, especially after the mysterious disappearance of a local girl. Finn is the only witness to the kidnapping, but his inability to recall any distinguishing characteristics (other than the way the kidnapper moved) raises even more suspicions about him. Finn finds a unique relationship with a young beekeeper who is also ostracized in their community. This is an involved, intense at times, and somewhat ethereal tale, but quite satisfying in the end. Printz winners tend to be on the mature side of YA literature (for subject and literary content), and Bone Gap is no exception.
I enjoy creepy thrillers and horror novels as long as the blood and gore is limited. Forbidden fits my criteria perfectly. Orphaned sixteen year old Josie must leave her home and live with her eccentric aunt and uncle on the coast of Scotland. Everybody in their rural community seems absolutely weird and crazy, save for one handsome young man, Josh. Josie discovers that her aunt and uncle are involved in something truly sinister and greedy; they, along with others in the village, plunder shipwrecks. The story gets quite bizarre and even romantically tragic, but Eve Bunting keeps the story line tight and believable (Bunting did quite a bit of research for this 19th century setting, which is explained in an afterword).
With the recent observance of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, books about this nearly forgotten tragedy have become more prevalent. The Hundred Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey is a deeply personal look at the horrors of the expulsion and massacre of the Armenians, as author Dawn Anahid Mackeen retraces her grandfather's journey across Armenia, Turkey, and Syria. The difficulty in getting her grandfather's diary translated, the frustration, sorrow, and even joy as she reflects upon her grandfather's survival as she travels are emotionally rich in detail. Fans of Chris Bohjalian's The Sandcastle Girls should definitely read this (and if you find The Hundred Year Walk a gripping read, make sure you read The Sandcastle Girls!).
If you're looking for an in-depth Lenten read, consider Jesus: An Illustrated Life. Published by National Geographic, this comprehensive, nondenominational, and secular yet respectful historical look at Jesus's life as detailed in the Christian Gospel is bursting with maps, intriguing information about everyday life in the communities in which Jesus lived and visited, and much more. An overview of the Parables and their meaning in the Gospel is a major highlight.
Musical theater has always been a part of my life; I started going to shows when I was five, and although I don't follow current theater as much as I did when I was younger, I always get excited about any new book about musical theater. When I saw that Musicals: The Definitive Illustrated Story was published by one of my favorite publishers, DK, I was super stoked. DK is known for their big, lavishly illustrated, and obsessively detailed oversized books on a huge variety of subjects for both children and adults. Musicals: The Definitive Illustrated Story is a gorgeous appreciation of this uniquely American art form. While a vast array of shows are highlighted, shows that broke the mold are featured in-depth (Oklahoma, West Side Story, A Chorus Line, etc), as well as the monster hits of the 1980s and beyond (Les Miserables, Rent, and more). Classic Hollywood musicals are also included (Singing in the Rain, Meet Me in St. Louis) as are European musicals that are little-known in the United States. A pure delight for the theatrically inclined.
With the popularity of Dreamgirls and the recent television adaptation of The Wiz, it's obvious that Motown style and nostalgia remains high. Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound is the first children's book that I know of to celebrate the history and influence of Hitsville, USA. While Andrea Davis Pinkney certainly focuses on the premier Motown artists (Diana Ross & the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, and The Jackson 5), it's the "behind the scenes" details that make this most fascinating, such as the "finishing school" that Motown artists were required to go through, under the direction of Maxine Powell, the competitiveness of Friday meetings in which the next potential Motown hits were chosen, the input from all sections of Motown's staff into songs (including secretarial and janitorial staff), and the not to be underestimated importance of Motown during the civil rights movement. As this is an unabashed celebration of Motown written for young readers, the manipulation of Motown artists and the downfall of Berry Gordy's empire is lightly touched upon; while Pinkney makes a point to feature the protectiveness of Stevie Wonder's mother, the sad circumstances of the The Jackson 5 is not discussed (which is just as well).
Pinkney frames her book through a narrator called "The Grove" who talks directly to the reader as if they are on a long road trip. Reviewers have been divided on the success of this mechanism; I did not care for it at all, but after I read that she based the colloquialisms on a beloved relative, I didn't mind it as much. She includes an extensive playlist; I can vouch for the fact that listening to Motown while reading this is irresistible (use your favorite online streaming source, or take home our Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross & the Supremes, or Temptations CDs, as these artists are prominent in this unique book.
Who's ready for spring? Me, me, me! Although it's still a bit too soon to get into the spring mood (March is famous for bringing one last snow/ice event around here!), I'm beyond ready to put out our awesome spring books. I've been on pins on needles for Kevin Henkes's latest, When Spring Comes, and I am thrilled that it is just as beautifully pastel and engaging as his many other picture books. While some picture books about the seasons can be admittedly boring, When Spring Comes will be a hit with both children and adults. The reawakening of nature is sweetly depicted, as is the topsy-turvy days of early cool spring days (I appreciated this a lot, as you rarely see this aspect in spring books). Definitely consider this to tuck into an Easter basket!
Check out my January post for even more titles! I also blogged about birthday books on the Association of Library Services to Children's blog, so if you're in the mood to read fun picture books about birthdays, jot down those titles as well.
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library