Friday, October 25, 2013

Read Your Way Through the USA (Part 1)

I love lists. I'm eagerly awaiting the "Best of 2013" lists, which should be published starting in early November.  When I was a kid, one of my favorite books to take from the library was an oversize orange book titled Big Book of Kids' Lists or something like that.  Entertainment Weekly's "Must List" of their movie, music, and book picks for the week is a regular habit of mine. I also love stories in which the geographic setting plays a significant role.  So, when I saw a link to Business Insider's "The Most Famous Book Set in Every State" list posted on our Facebook page, I immediately clicked on it to find the books listed for Virginia and Louisiana (my home state).  When I looked at the book they picked for Virginia, and looked at the books picked for other states, I started to compile a list of books that *I* would have chosen....and thought that this would be a great idea for a post! (I had originally planned to post about new fall books, but all our new fall books are checked out!)  So, without further ado, here are Business Insider's picks included with my recommendations.  Let's start with Virginia:

Business Insider: Bridge to Terabithia

Now, Bridge to Terabithia is a fantastic book, but it doesn't really scream "Virginia novel" to me. Misty of Chincoteague, on the other hand, features the annual auction of the Chincoteague ponies, which is uniquely Virginian.  We have several strong historical fiction picks: Kizzy Ann Stamps (an African-American girl's transition from a segregated school to an integrated school) The Yankee at the Seder (a lengthy and sophisticated picture book about a Jewish Union soldier and a Jewish Confederate family in Virginia), Blood on the River: Jamestown 1607, and Ghost Girl (an eleven year old girl living in the Blue Ridge Mountains area during the Depression).  Readers in the mood for a grown-up cozy small-town series should try Adriana Trigiani's Big Stone Gap series.

Business Insider: Interview with the Vampire

Interview with the Vampire is an excellent choice for a Louisiana book.  However, A Confederacy of Dunces quickly sprang to mind, as it vividly captures a bygone New Orleans era. Actually, All the King's Men was my immediate choice, but although it undeniably reeks of Huey P. Long and Baton Rouge politics of that era, I then remembered that Robert Penn Warren set it in an unnamed Southern town. Other strongly-Louisiana flavored novels (for adults) include novels by Rebecca Wells (firmly in the "wacky Southern small town" vein), most novels by Walker Percy, and Cane River (an epic historical fiction novel about four generations of African-American women in rural Louisiana).  My Louisiana Sky is a memorable YA historical fiction story in a fictional small town and in Baton Rouge during the 1950s.

And now, the remaining 48 states, in alphabetical order:

Business Insider: To Kill a Mockingbird

Hard to quibble with BI's choice for Alabama.  For children's books, Inside Out & Back Again considers a Vietnamese orphan's experience in Alabama (2011 National Book Award and a 2012 Newbery Honor book) and The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 features a Michigan family's experience in Birmingham at the height of the civil rights movement (1996 Newbery Honor recipient).

Business Insider: Into the Wild

Can't comment on Into the Wild, but I can tell you about some awesome children's/YA books set in The Last Frontier.  Julie of the Wolves and Diamond Willow look at Native Alaskan life; Gentle Ben is centered on a boy's improbable friendship with a bear in the Alaskan wilderness.

Business Insider: The Bean Trees

Two terrific children's reads set in Arizona are Missing on Superstition Mountain, which takes place in a contemporary desert town, and A Diamond in the Desert, which is a sobering look at a teenage baseball fanatic forced to live at a relocation camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Business Insider: A Painted House

Virginia author Kristin Levine's The Lions of Little Rock is a great look at the enormous changes in Little Rock in the midst of desegregation, through a 12 year old girl's perspective.

Business Insider: East of Eden

John Steinbeck's work is closely associated with California, so any of his books would be an obvious choice for California.  I can also think of three fantastic children's novels set during three distinct eras in California history: One Crazy Summer (2011 Newbery Honor title set in Oakland circa 1968),  Al Capone Does My Shirts (Alcatraz Island circa 1935 and 2005 Newbery Honor book), and Esperanza Rising (Great Depression).

Business Insider: The Saint of Lost Things

Delaware. Man, this was tough.  If you're in need of a children's novel set in Delaware, try A Light in the Storm: The Civil War Diary of Amelia Martin. The Dear America entries are consistently good.

Business Insider: To Have and Have Not

Okay. Hemingway definitely should get the Florida mention.  But The Yearling (which is a challenging read due to the dialect) is a powerful look at a long-lost Florida. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's works had a heavy rural Florida influence; I need to put her memoir on my reading list. EDIT: A Kiddosphere reader also recommended Starring Sally F. Freedman As Herself and Carl Hiaasen's books for great Florida reads. I agree!

Business Insider: Gone With the Wind

Well, yes. An obvious choice.  If you're not in the mood for Gone With the Wind (it is a monstrous read, but since it's quite different from the movie, worth a go if you're a fan of the movie), try Cold Sassy Tree if you like Southern-flavored novels.  It's a heartbreaking and heartwarming story set in a small Georgia town in the early 1900s.  If you have any recommendations for children's reads, let me know.

Business Insider: Hawaii

I've tried to get into Michener, but I know he has many fans.  As for children's/YA, I submit two historical fiction stories: Healing Water (leprosy camp in the 1860s) and A Boy at War (Pearl Harbor).

Business Insider: Housekeeping

Idaho writers! Set some children's/YA stories in your state! In the meantime, Chris Crutcher's memoir is a good starting point.

Business Insider: The Jungle (Sinclair)

I've never attempted The Jungle--don't think I have the stomach for it.  Instead, I'll recommend Across Five Aprils (1965 Newbery Honor title set during the Civil War) and A Long Way From Chicago (Illinois figures prominently in Richard Peck's novels).

Business Insider: The Magnificent Ambersons

Historical fiction often has a strong regional setting, such as Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War (War of 1812 disrupts the friendship between a Caucasian boy and an American Indian boy from the Miami tribe) and Chasing Orion (polio epidemic circa 1952).

 Business Insider: A Thousand Acres

1940s farm life in Iowa was pretty tough, as the quietly moving The Linden Tree proves.

Business Insider: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Well, duh. But if you want stories that are set in Kansas throughout the entire story (more or less), try The Thing About Luck (Japanese farm laborers--and getting Newbery buzz), May B (for scary stories about frontier life), Dust Girl (multicultural historical fantasy trilogy set during the Dust Bowl crisis), or Moon Over Manifest (2011 Newbery Medal set during the Depression).

Business Insider: Uncle Tom's Cabin

For a historical perspective on Uncle Tom's Cabin, consider The Annotated Uncle Tom's Cabin; I haven't personally read this one, but I've read others in the Annotated series, and they are remarkable. To Come and Go Like Magic is an absorbing reflection on a 1970s Appalachian town and the yearnings of a preteen to escape her tight-knit community.

Business Insider: Carrie

Maine figures prominently in Stephen King's writings; if you're looking for something that won't keep you up at night, check out Touch Blue or Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy; both feature threats to Maine island communities.

Business Insider: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

The relationship between Louise and the captain is a little weird (in retrospect), but Jacob Have I Loved (1981 Newbery Medal) brilliantly captures the isolation of a fictional community on the Chesapeake Bay.

Business Insider: Walden

OK. But.....hello?! Little Women? Make Way for Ducklings? Sheesh.

Business Insider: The Virgin Suicides

Bud, Not Buddy is one of my all-time favorite Newbery Medal (2000) books and is a powerful story dealing with a young African-American orphan trying to find his father.

Business Insider: Main Street

For children's fiction set in Minnesota, it's hard to beat the classic Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. One of my favorite picture books from 2012 was Hannah's Way, which is a beautiful story about a young Jewish girl in 1930s Minnesota (and based on a true story).

Business Insider: The Sound and the Fury

No argument from me in choosing a book by Oxford's favorite son.  If you'd like something not as challenging to read, Mildred Taylor's phenomenal Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (and its associated stories) is a 1977 Newbery Medal classic about an African-American family struggling to get by in Depression-era Mississippi.

Business Insider: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Well, no other novel is quintessentially Missouri.  A Friendship for Today is a fine children's historical fiction story regarding desegregation.

Business Insider: A River Runs Through It

Hattie Big Sky (2007 Newbery Honor) is a tremendous historical fiction novel about a sixteen year old girl living on a Montana homestead circa 1917 (Hattie Ever After is its sequel; haven't read it yet!).

That's enough for now, don't you think? (Don't want your eyes to glaze over.) Next week, I'll recommend books for Nebraska-Wyoming.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

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Electronic Resources Librarian said...

Love this post. For Florida, I immediately thought of Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself by Judy Blume or any of the Carl Hiaasen books (for children or adults).

Jennifer Schultz said...

Excellent choices! I will add them to the post.