I picked up All Our Names on a whim; I wanted adult fiction, and since historical fiction from a non-Western perspective intrigues me, I took it home. I was immediately taken with this story of a young revolutionary from an unnamed African country (he immigrates to Uganda early in the story) and the small-town Midwestern social worker who falls in love with him. This takes place in the mid-seventies; an interracial relationship is radical in their small town, so they have to hide their relationship (a scene in which they eat at a local diner is memorable). Things get a little confusing halfway through the book; there's lots of secrets being hidden, and not everything is neatly wrapped up at the end.
For readers who want to learn about elephants but aren't ready to tackle Dr. O'Connell's The Elephant Scientist (one of the exemplary Scientists in the Field books), A Baby Elephant in the Wild's brief (er) text and gorgeous pictures featuring the life of a baby elephant should enchant them. Basic questions about what baby elephants eat, how they are cared for, and how they survive (and why they are endangered) will inform and entertain young naturalists.
Blood Diaries is a funny and fun read for middle-grade readers who want a vampire story, but aren't ready for YA romance or horror stories. Navigating the world of middle school can be tough at times for most students, but it's doubly so if you're a boy vampire trying to fit in. His parents don't understand why he even wants to attend middle school and wish that he would make more of an effort to befriend the other vampire kids; getting on the bad side of a vegan classmate makes middle school life even more difficult. Readers who gravitate to diary novels such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid will love this; it's a funny and also realistic (although somewhat exaggerated) look at middle school life.
I finished The Bully Pulpit days before the premiere of Ken Burns's The Roosevelts (the series only briefly touched upon the close and fractious relationship between Presidents Roosevelt and Taft). Although Roosevelt figures heavily in the book, I picked it for my Taft biography read (I'm reading a biography of each president); as Roosevelt figured heavily in Taft's life, it was quite a sensible pick! The friendship between Roosevelt and Taft was strained and eventually broken when Taft did not continue the progressive politics started by Roosevelt, as Roosevelt had thought he would; Roosevelt's disastrous third-party run against Taft nearly ended one of the most fascinating political relationships of all time. This actually about a month to read, as it is quite lengthy, but very much worth it. You probably know that Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals was adapted for film by Stephen Spielberg; he has already bought the film rights for The Bully Pulpit, and I can't wait to see how it turns out (hopefully, it won't take as long to make this film as it did Team of Rivals!).
Fans of British historical fiction definitely need to read The Fortune Hunter. Royalty! Illicit affairs! Debutantes! Add in a beautiful empress married to a much older emperor and hounded by the media wherever she goes and an heiress fighting against the norms expected in her upper-class society, and you have a moving, occasionally funny, and gorgeously depicted Victorian-era historical novel.
Incident at Hawk's Hill was one of five books that received a Newbery Honor citation in 1971. I read it when I was in elementary school and had never reread it until recently. It's a harsh tale of a boy that befriends a raccoon when he goes missing; squeamish or sensitive readers should note that the cruelty and randomness of nature is a big part of the story. Although it says that it was "based on a true story," there's no evidence of research or an author's note backing that up; that would certainly be expected if the novel was published today.
The Planet of Junior Brown also earned a Newbery Honor that year; although it definitely reads like a dated book, this story of a homeless boy and his overweight African-American friend is worth reading as an example of early multicultural fiction.
Marcus Sedgwick is an outstanding author; his YA books are sophisticated and meaty reads that often have rather involved plots. She is Not Invisible is no different, and it's one of my favorites (so far) by him. A blind British teenager and her brother run away to find their missing father in New York; unfamiliar with their surroundings and increasingly mystified by puzzles and clues that involve the number 354, the two eventually despair of ever finding their father. Readers (teen and older) who like literary thrillers will devour this.
I am loving the many great additions to our easy chapter book collection; they are fun to read, well-written, and are often multicultural. Suzannah longs for a pet, but the rules of her apartment complex forbid pets. Luckily, her mother learns that the local shelter is starting a "Shelter Pet Squad" for kids her age; they make toys for the animals living at the shelter and help the shelter staff (I like that the kids were restricted in what they could do; that makes it much more realistic). Suzannah encounters a family reluctantly surrendering their beloved guinea pig (they are moving overseas and can't take Jelly Bean); Suzannah promises their young daughter that she will help find a good home for Jelly Bean. Not only is this a cute story about kids and adults working together, but Cynthia Lord includes terrific information about pet care, how to make the toys that the kids made in the story, and how to help your local animal shelter. Awwww! If you love Critter Club, you'll love Shelter Pet Squad.
Oh, man. This book. (I read it a month or two ago, but forgot to blog about it.) Yes, it's a fabulous read and is a worthwhile read in this age of humans and wildlife increasingly encroaching on each other's habitat. A really engaging read. But (SPOILER ALERT) I'll give you three guesses as to what happens to that wolf on the cover who likes to play with the dogs that live in Nick Jans's Alaskan community which is divided between those who have adopted it as a town mascot and those with itchy trigger fingers. Read if you enjoy books that leave you curled into a fetal position at the end. (END SPOILER ALERT)
If you're looking for more reads (that may or may not leave you whimpering like a toddler who just dropped his ice cream cone), check out Wowbrary (back issues are available).
I blogged about "not-so-cozy bedtime stories" on the ALSC blog this month.
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library