Friday, August 29, 2014

August Reads

It's the end of the month, so time for my monthly wrap-up of reads. August was a fabulous month! Here's what I read:

All the Light We Cannot See is one of the hottest titles circulating in Fauquier County; no surprise there, as author Anthony Doerr has received incredible reviews for his exquisitely told historical novel of two young people coming of age in Germany and France during World War II. The terror of French citizens during occupation and the manipulation of German youth (to the point that minors are forced to lie about their age in order to fight for a rapidly deteriorating Germany) is depicted through the perspectives of a blind French preteen and a German orphaned teenage boy. This is historical fiction at its best. Definitely one of my favorite reads of the year. Unforgettable.  (Adult historical fiction)

Claudia Mills's Franklin School Friends is a precious, funny, and realistic series ideal for young elementary school students. Each title focuses on the strengths of a Franklin School Friend; Annika Riz, Math Whiz follows Annika as she prepares for a sudoku contest at the library (in between trying to convince her friends that math is fun, and getting ready for and attending the school's carnival).  ADORABLE. We have excellent books about kids that love to read (such as Annika's friend, Kelsey Green, Reading Queen) and kids that love science (Franny K. Stein series), but not so much math lovers. Although Annika Riz is the second title in the Franklin School Friends series, you do not need to read Kelsey Green, Reading Queen first. The third title will feature Franklin School Friend Izzy and her love of track and field (out in Spring 2015).

YES! Science fiction that's not a 400+ doorstopper! Plenty of young readers would love to read stories about aliens and space travel, but too many are either too long or too mature for their level. After reading Blast Off!, I have high hopes for Nate Ball's Alien In My Pocket series. When a small alien crashes into fourth grader Zack McGee's bedroom, he causes a ton of mischief and aggravation for poor Zack. Not only is it super funny (there's some gross-out humor, but it's very mild), there are also scientific explanations tucked into the story (a science experiment that illustrates a key component in the action is also included)!

What comes to mind when you think of China? Probably Beijing and people that belong to the Han ethnic majority. In fact, China is bordered by 14 countries and includes 55 ethnic groups that speak 292 languages, ranging from ethnic Koreans near the North Korea border, Muslims in the Xinjiang province, to Russians living near the Russian border. David Eimer traveled to areas that are rarely visited by Westerners (including disputed borderlands), and chronicled his travels in his revealing account, The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China.  Although the entire book is fascinating, I found the descriptions of Tibet, the expatriate North Korean community, and the underground Christian community most unforgettable. I love in-depth accounts of countries and cultures; this one is exceptional. (Adult nonfiction)

I have put off reading Enchantress From the Stars for some time, because I really wasn't in the mood for literary science fiction. However, I want to get back to my Newbery reading project, and it was next on my list (it received a Newbery Honor in 1971).  To my surprise, I was engrossed in this science fiction/fairy tale/Romeo & Juliet story of sorts.  Will definitely keep this in mind for science fiction recommendations!

As I mentioned in a recent blog, I've read enough books about the Romanovs that any new book has to have something unique about it in order for me to want to read it. The assassination of reform-minded Alexander II, the ascension of his revenge-minded son, Alexander III, the ineffectual and wholly unprepared Nicholas II, the immediate hatred of Tsarina Alexandra, the exponentially rising despair over the birth of four daughters, the hemophiliac heir, Rasputin, riots, war, exile, execution, and trading the misery of life under imperialism with the misery of life under's all too depressingly familiar. I'll read anything by Candace Fleming, so I automatically got on the wait list for this book.  If you're familiar with Candace Fleming, especially if you've read her biography of Amelia Earhart or her biography of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, you know that she presents history in a revealing, singular, and thought-provoking way. She has OUTDONE  herself with The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, & the Fall of Imperial Russia, and as extraordinary as I thought Amelia Lost was, this is even more so.  Although most books about the Romanovs do touch upon the extremely difficult lives of ordinary Russian subjects at the time, Fleming fully shows the desperation, extreme poverty, and lack of civil rights endured by both peasants and urban workers through diary accounts, letters, and other first-hand accounts, often including those from young children and teens. The (extremely) close-knit nature of Nicholas II's family is strongly depicted (although Tsarina Alexandra's chronic illnesses, isolation, and growing paranoia caused strong conflict at times with her daughters). The extreme and immediate dislike of Alexandra by the Russian elite is notable. Although there was growing disappointment and despair with the birth of each daughter, the pride and love for each infant daughter (expressed in their parents' diaries and letters) is very sweet. The aftermath of the executions and the DNA testing of the family's remains during the 1990s and early 2000s (and the controversial sainthood of the family and their servants by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad) is also discussed. Don't be fooled by the fact that this is written for young people; this is an involved, difficult, and very sad read at times. But an amazing read.

If you want something much brighter, you must read Half a Chance. I adore it and have it on my Newbery list (as much as I love it, I do think there is a part of the story that might cause some debate).  As can expected from Cynthia Lord,  important lessons about family, friendship, and self-discovery are learned and conveyed in authentic and endearing situations. Lucy and her family have recently moved to a quiet lake community in Maine; luckily, she soon makes friends with a boy who shares her interest in photography. Entering a photography contest judged by her noted photographer father brings a multitude of ethical concerns; I have mixed feelings on the conclusion of the story, so I'm eager to learn what the readers of School Library Journal's Heavy Medal blog will have to say about it when the blog is revived in September! A subplot about early dementia is accurately and heartbreakingly portrayed. This is another winner from Cynthia Lord (and will make you want to book next year's summer vacation in Maine).

Henry Winkler is famous for his "Fonz" character from the 1970s sitcom Happy Days, but he's made a fine second career as a children's author. I recommend his Hank Zipzer series to reluctant and avid readers alike, as many children can relate to Hank, regardless of their academic success. Winkler conveys the frustrations of a child's academic struggles accurately because he knows it first-hand; he has been open about his unhappy childhood due to undiagnosed dyslexia during his school years (he was diagnosed with it after his stepson was diagnosed).  I'm thrilled that Winkler and longtime Hank Zipzer collaborator Lin Oliver have started a chapter book series about a young Hank Zipzer (the original series features Hank in middle school).  Hank deeply wants to be a part of the big school play, but he is overcome with stage fright during his audition. His understanding teacher creates a new role for him; good thing, because the star of the play (and a mean bully) has to be saved during the performance by Hank! This is funny, touching, and authentic--just like the first Hank Zipzer series.  Here's Hank: Bookmarks Are People Too!  is printed in a special font called Dyslexie, which was created by Dutch graphic designer Christian Boer specifically to help readers with dyslexia.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy has been bestowed with FIVE starred reviews, which is incredible. (Don't include this in your Newbery predictions, as Karen Foxlee lives in Australia; only authors currently living or maintaining a residence in the United States are eligible for the Newbery)  As you can guess, I'm not a huge fan of fantasy stories; I tend to go for realistic stories, but the impressive reviews require that I not neglect it. Happily, it's deliciously creepy and immeasurably readable.'s under 250 pages, which is unusual for a fantasy novel. (Could the fat novel fad for children's fantasy novels be dying down? Please say yes.) Ophelia is strictly scientifically-minded and has no time for anything hinting at magic or fantasy; while exploring the museum at which her father works, she meets a boy who is locked in the museum and finds that she will play a key role in his release (and in fulfilling an ancient mission). Fans of fairy tale-like stories (an evil queen plays a big role, and Ophelia, like many fairy tale heroines, is mourning her deceased mother) will love this.

Steve Sheinkin's nonfiction is often centered on events that had major social changes or implications. The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, And the Fight for Civil Rights focuses on a little-known event in American civil rights history.  As in all wartime conflicts in American history, African-American men were eager to serve their country in World War II; due to discrimination, many were relegated to segregated conditions that were unfair and even dangerous. Unsafe conditions at the Port Chicago in California lead to a massive explosion that killed more than 300 servicemen, of which many were African-American. After the explosion, 244 African-American servicemen refused to return to the port until the harmful and discriminatory conditions were addressed; they were charged with mutiny, jail time, and even execution. While some supporters have attempted to have their names cleared by presidential pardon, many survivors rejected that, as they felt that being pardoned reaffirmed their guilty sentences. It is so vital to have books about black history that teach history outside the slavery era and the 1960s/70s civil rights era; researching, reading, and learning about those two specific eras will never not be important, but books that highlight other important times in American history are very much needed.  This is published for the YA market (what a great year already for YA nonfiction!), but older history buffs will definitely want to read this.

Battle of the Books readers who were moved by Shooting Kabul will be happy to know that Saving Kabul Corner is a worthy companion novel to N.H. Senzai's first book. (You do not need to read Shooting Kabul before reading Saving Kabul Corner.)  Ariana and Laila are cousins, but they do not get along at all; Ariana is all-American, while Laila, recently arrived from Afghanistan, is more like the traditional Afghani girl that Ariana's relatives would like her to be. Laila cooks Puktun food expertly, sews, and can recite classic Puktun poetry beautifully; more than that, she forms a close bond with Ariana's best friend, Mariam, who can relate to the Puktun culture and the upheaval in Afghanistan, unlike Ariana.  Ariana's family owns and operates an Afghani grocery store; like many ethnic grocery stores, it is the heart of the Fremont Afghani community, where customers linger to chat about current events and loved ones left behind....until a rival Afghani grocery store opens in the same shopping center.  Age-old rivalries that were thought to be left behind in Afghanistan erupt, with disastrous results. Ariana, Laila, and their friends take it upon themselves to find the culprit behind the ongoing circulating falsehoods and destruction of property that threaten their family's livelihood.  The "kids save the day" element does strain credulity, but this is such a rich story of family, friendship, and the immigrant experience (not to mention such likable kids) that the overall charm and mystery makes that minor point immediately believable in this story. (And children understandably love "kids save the day" stories.)   Afghani-American culture is lovingly depicted, and the pride that Ariana's family takes in family and work is admirable and realistic. One of my favorite 2014 reads.

Another short science fiction chapter book series! Yes!  Archie Takes Flight is the inaugural entry in the Space Taxi series; Archie knows that his dad is a taxi driver, but what he doesn't know (until "Take Your Kid to Work Day!") is that his dad drives a space taxi for aliens. How cool is that?! As Archie accompanies his dad on a late night shift, they encounter all sorts of aliens, a weird cat, and a mastermind determined to ruin everything.  This is great fun.

Oh, wow. Can you say MIND BENDING? Because that's what We Were Liars definitely is. Cadence and her cousins have spent every summer at their family's exclusive island near Martha's Vineyard; lazy days on the beach, shopping in the Vineyard's quaint downtowns, and luxurious dinners fill the endless days of summer.  Cadence suffers a life-changing brain injury when she is fifteen; the extent and the reason behind her amnesia and crippling headaches is slowly revealed in flashbacks and hints scattered throughout the story. (Can't say much without ruining the story.)  Make sure you have time set aside to delve into the story; this YA novel will grip you until the very last page.  This has received five starred reviews, which is quite an achievement. Definitely putting this on my Printz 2015 short list.

Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated September 15-October 15. I recently blogged about some of my favorite picture books that highlight Latino culture on the ALSC blog (the Association for Library Services to Children is the professional organization for children's librarians; they are the ones that bestow the Newbery, Caldecott, and other great book awards).

Get ready; September and October are strong months for releases of new books. (Last chance to be noticed by the awards committees and the "Best Of" lists!) Make sure you are subscribed to Wowbrary to be among the first to know what titles have been ordered. We just ordered a bunch of awesome books (children's, teen, AND fiction/nonfiction for adults), so get ready!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

To learn more about Fauquier County Public Library's collectionevents, and programs, visit us on FacebookTwitter (Kiddosphere's feed is here), or on our website.

No comments: