Readers, 2011 is already proving to be a terrific year in children's/YA literature. I'm going to tell you about two fantastic books I've recently read AND tell you about my current read, which is just amazing. Oh, it is amazing. But first-the already-reads.
The Great Wall of Lucy Wu
This book made me all feel warm and fuzzy inside. It's just a darling and thoughtful story with a terrific girl character. Lucy thought that this year was going to be great; her older sister, Regina, was off to college, and she would finally have her own room!
Enter Great Aunt Yi Po. Great Aunt Yi Po, her late grandmother's sister, is visiting from China. She's also sharing Lucy's room. But that's not the only thing that's completely gone topsy turvy; Lucy has to attend Chinese school, which threatens to interfere with basketball practice. To top it all off, Lucy also has mean girl problems with Sloane, who will stop at nothing to be the captain for the students vs. teachers basketball game.
Lucy works through her challenges in an endearing and believable way. Her changing relationship with Great Aunt Yi Po is a lovely multigenerational story. She finds a way to stand up to Sloane that is funny and pointed, yet doesn't stoop to Sloane's behavior. Lucy's reluctant friendship with a quiet, studious, and annoying (to Lucy) is also charming and understandable.
The Great Wall of Lucy Wu is heartwarming, but it also touches on the brutality of China's Cultural Revolution. Lucy also faces instances of racist bullying from Sloane, but this is handled appropriately and truthfully. All in all, this is fun, honest, and delightful storytelling from a northern Virginia author. As this is Wendy Wan-Long Shang's debut novel, I look forward to reading her future gems.
Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart
Every so often, bits of information or new theories arise about Earhart's fate, fueling massive amounts of articles and spots on news broadcasts. Earhart's larger than life personality and the unsolved mysteries surrounding her disappearance continue to fascinate us 74 years after her presumed death. In her latest stellar biography, Candace Fleming presents Earhart's difficult childhood, her emerging career in aviation, and her meteoric rise to fame alongside alternating chapters mapping out her fatal flight and the ultimately unsuccessful search and rescue efforts. Fleming also introduces us to people who (convincingly) claim that they heard Earhart's final broadcasts and pleas for help.
Fleming brilliantly shows how Earhart's red-hot popularity was largely manufactured by her husband, George Putnam (who was married at the time he met Amelia). Amelia's image was used to sell everything from cigarettes to her own fashion line. She wrote a column for Cosmopolitan magazine and was on non-stop publicity tours. All this attention and activity naturally took away from flying practice, which Earhart needed for her upcoming flight; unfortunately, she blew off and cut short lessons in learning how to navigate new equipment due to her packed schedule (her original navigator for her final flight eventually quit because he lost confidence in her flying ability).
So! If you're expecting a heroine-worshipping biography of Earhart, keep looking. However, if you want an engrossing, thrilling, and honest read about an amazing character from a master of children's biography, definitely read Amelia Lost.
And now.....my "amazing" current read.
Oh, you HAVE to read this! Please, please, please! Read it, and you'll love it, and you'll want to tell everyone about it. That's what I'm planning to do. Do you remember the quote I posted from The Horn Book Magazine? Saying that this is in the territory of Charlotte's Web and Watership Down, but is in "a country all its own?" They weren't lying. I love, love, love this book, and I'm nearly halfway done. It has heartpounding adventure, it's laugh out loud funny at times, it's sweet, it's adorable, and it's beautifully written. I won't tell you more until I finish it, but you will absolutely fall in love with Fredle (and Sadie the dog-she's a trip). This is already on my list for 2012 Newbery hopefuls. Read it!