Friday, January 31, 2014

December/January Reads

I had hoped to have more to share with you (regarding December/January reads), but for various reasons, I really slacked off with my reading.  I tend to burn out right before the Youth Media Awards, and this year was no exception.  I always get re-energized after the awards are announced. Not only do I have titles to discover from 2013, but we're also receiving the first books in the 2014 publication season!

Banner in the Sky
Perhaps it's because I've just finished a long string of Newbery books that didn't thrill me, but I was quite taken with Banner in the Sky.  Rudi has grown up listening to tales told of his father, the great explorer Josef Matt, who perished in his attempt to climb The Citadel.  Rudi's mother, understandably, is quite against Rudi following in his father's footsteps, despite his natural talent.  Rudi is determined to complete his father's quest and faces innumerable threats and challenges, both physical and emotional, in his test.  Banner in the Sky received a Newbery Honor in 1955; aside from a very few word choices, this doesn't read dated at all.  This would be a great read for those who enjoy adventure stories.

March: Book One
While I'm waiting for the 2014 books to trickle in, I'm making my way through the Youth Media Award titles that I missed last year.  March: Book One appeared on many end-of-the-year lists, but I put off reading it until it was announced as a Coretta Scott King Honor book this Monday.  I'm thrilled that this won.  This is an exceptional graphic novel.  Congressman John Lewis, the sole surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington, tells the story of his childhood and involvement in the civil rights struggle to two young boys and their mother while he prepares to attend President Obama's first inauguration.  This is a remarkable read, and I can't wait for Book Two!

Mountain Dog
Margarita Engle is best known for her verse novels featuring stories of Cuban history, so Mountain Dog is quite a departure.  Tony is sent to live with his great-uncle when his mother is jailed for dog fighting.  The remoteness of the Sierra Nevada mountains is a shock for Tony, coming from an inner city Los Angeles neighborhood.  As his uncle is involved with the search and rescue guide dog community, Tony bonds with a special dog, Gabe, and tries to adjust to his new life and the fact that his mother does not want to see him when he visits her jail site.  Told in verse, this is an emotionally powerful and stirring read (and I'm sorry that it was forgotten in Monday's awards).  I particularly enjoyed how much Cowboy Church played a big role in the story; having lived in Texas, I'm familiar with Cowboy Church, and I loved its importance to the story.

Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab
Nick and Tesla's parents have mysteriously vanished!  When they move in with their odd uncle, they are inspired by his wild and crazy inventions and science experiments. Unusual things start occurring in their neighborhood, and it's up to them to solve them, using their inventions to crack the case.  Each adventure features an actual science experiment with instructions.  As these can be quite explosive experiments, author Bob Pflugfelder cautions readers that they are to be done at their own risk, under adult supervision.  This is a wacky, fun, and fast read sure to entice science fans.

Old Ramon
OK. Some people have talked about "Newbery bait."  You know how there are some books that seemed written to fish for a Newbery? Very literary, quiet, etc? Just like some movies are called "Oscar bait" and are about Very Serious Issues. Well, I guess librarians in the 30s-60s might have called children's novels starring a southwestern (U.S.) or South American shepherd boy maturing into adolescence "Newbery bait," because I think this is about the third book I've read that featured exactly that. There's usually an old guy mentor as well.  In Old Ramon (1961 Newbery Honor), an old shepherd and his young apprentice talk about the whys and wherefores of shepherding as they zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.........

Toy Time
Well, this was a fun read.  Christopher Byrne hits on the toy superstars, from the long-standing classics (Barbie), to the long-forgotten flashes in the pan (Johnny Reb Cannon).  While I was familiar with most (Slip-N-Slide, hated by dads everywhere because it absolutely KILLED the lawn), there were a few that completely took me by surprise, like Vac-U-Form (fun with melting plastic!).  Not only does Byrne include the creation and popularity of the toy, he also ends each section with a "Where Are They Now?" tidbit. Some toys have been reintroduced to subsequent generations (Easy Bake Oven, Tonka Trucks), others are only coveted by collectors (Chatty Cathy).  Lots of great color pictures add to the enjoyment of this attractive book.

Oh, WOW. We just received a ton of late 2013 and early 2014 books.  So.much.reading. I'm currently reading my first 2014 (adult) historical fiction, Motherland (I was hesitant about it, but I think I'll finish it) and a fabulous biography of Abraham Lincoln. YES, I am at Lincoln in my presidential reading project. THANK GOODNESS.  I just checked out Laurie Halse Anderson's latest (2014!) YA novel, The Impossible Knife of Memory, in which wartime PTSD plays an important factor. Looking forward to it.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

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