Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
It's no secret that I love Amy Krouse Rosenthal's books. At least it's no secret in the Children's Room. I just love her charming characters and the way she plays with words and typography. My favorites are the books she has done with Tom Lichtenheld. With Amy and Tom together, it's sure to be a great book. The newest is called Exclamation Mark! and it's a great story about the importance of celebrating our differences and being happy about what makes us special. I love that this book teaches such an important concept in a fun way and that in the end the differences between Exclamation Mark and his friends, make the entire group stronger! You can find more of Amy's books here. And more Tom Lichtenheld books here.
Hilary McKay is one of my favorite authors (her series that includes Saffy’s Angel is terrific) and now she’s written a couple of stories for kids who are ready to read short chapter books. Lulu and the Dog from the Sea is her newest. Lulu is certain that the stray dog living on the beach just needs a friend . . and it could be her!
Lulu and the Dog from the Sea
Every time I stumble across a book like Kathleen O'Dell's The Aviary, I'm amazed that more readers - of all ages - don't read middle grade. The Aviary is very Gothic in setting and tone and simultaneously bursting with colorful characters, a unique combination. There are secrets and magic, plus a good dose of realism and a lesson or two as well. It actually reminded me a bit of Ransom Riggs' Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
The main character, Clara, is a delightful character: headstrong, adventurous, and incurably curious. I would have enjoyed The Aviary based solely on the premise and setting, but Clara made me love it. Her curiosity was engaging and infectious, ensuring that the reader was never plagued by a dull moment or stale passage, simply because Clara herself was always plotting her next move and going off on some adventure.
Since The Aviary is in many respects a mystery, there are many great elements I feel I can't really comment on in much depth. I can, however, say that every detail in The Aviary comes together quite elegantly and I was left completely satisfied by the ending. I spent much of the novel hypothesizing about how everything fit together... I liked that the mystery wasn't ridiculously easy to solve, but all the pieces of the puzzle were there, waiting to be put together by the reader and the intrepid Clara.
The Aviary is one of wonderful titles that can be enjoyed by a wide variety of readers. It is, plain and simple, a wonderfully written and imagined novel and didn't feel at all confined to one specific reading level. It could easily be a read for the whole family and will appeal to those who usually read young adult or adult titles.
There are 2 things I can say about Dan Gutman he must be big on baseball and he has found a great way to tell historical stories about baseball. He takes a very youthful and imaginative approach to telling Jackie Robinson’s story in Jackie & Me. What kid couldn’t relate to time travel, baseball cards and getting to meet a famous player like Jackie Robinson. Jackie & Me is one of Gutman’s baseball card adventures and it's a great way for a young person to take a look at what it must have been like for Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier back in 1947.
There are several other books in the Baseball Card Adventures like Shoeless Joe and Me, Ray and Me, Babe and Me, and Honus and Me.
Jackie & Me
The Fiddles Go On Strikeby Bobby Claeys is cute children’s book with a message. It starts out with a child asking is mom how does this or that work. The mom doesn’t know how our gadgets work, they just work. Then one day they stop working. The TV will not turn on, the computer will not work, the toaster will not make toast. Why? Repair people come and find a note inside each broken gadget saying “We Quit” We find out that the Fiddles or as some called them the purple dudes wrote the note. The Fiddles make a statement “BEHOLD! We are the reason your lives are easier. For too long, we have been working without any appreciation. You humans go through each day using your gadgets without even thinking ‘How does this work’” The humans hold a party thanking the Lil’ Purple Dudes. This is a cute entertaining book and especially dear to me as my sons best friend Bobby Claeys is the author. We look forward to more books by the soon to be famous author Bobby Claeys.
The Fiddles Go On Strike
There are some writers, whose hyper-serious books and their grim subject matter, transform the sadness and hopelessness of the human condition with remarkable accuracy and frankness (Raymond Carver, J.M. Coetzee, Samuel Beckett, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Thomas Bernhard e.g.) into great literature. Then there are those authors who do ‘funny’ really well and whose stories reflect the power and role of levity and humor to shape a book’s tone and emotional heart, including the works of satirists (David Sedaris, John Irving, Tom Robbins, Tom Wolfe, Nick Hornby, Zadie Smith e.g.). There are those who wed ‘sad’ and ‘funny’ really well (Lorrie Moore, David Foster Wallace, Amy Hempel, e.g.), mixing up the two with a deft and subtle touch. These are the great books that bring the tragic and comedic together, that suture morbidity and human fallibility with hints of irony, poignancy and absurdity. You laugh and cry with equal measure as these imagined characters’ lives unfold.
Lorrie Moore is one writer whose stories bring together the humorous and the sad. Her characters are notorious for their brilliant one-liners that highlight the gallows humor in her novels and short stories, wonderful works that often plumb the complexity and ephemerality of relationships with a stylistic nod to both quirky experimentation and minimalist realism. Her first novel Anagrams is a pitch perfect and innovative book that plays with form and plot in a way that presents a series of possible lives of the primary character Beena as she’s written into different experiences and scenarios with reoccurring characters acting in different ways. The book is ultimately about a very simple fact—that we love others while falling out of love with them.
While I’m at it, read Amy Hempel’s short stories as well. She’s great!
Birds of America
A co-worker recommended the book A Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie to me. What a great suggestion! In 1950’s era England, eleven year old Flavia de Luce finds a body in the family’s cucumber patch. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened in my entire life.” She attempts to solve the mystery ( sometimes to the consternation of the local police) using her intelligence, advanced knowledge of chemistry, and just plain persistence. A quirky family- two older, literary sisters and a widowed father who is an avid stamp collector-also figure in the story. Canadian author C. Alan Bradley won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel for this delightful mystery, the first in a series featuring memorable Flavia.
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
I just finished reading Secrets of an organized mom by Barbara Reich, and after just a couple days my house is at least 100 pounds lighter, and the Three Rivers Goodwill store has got some fresh inventory, thanks to me. This book takes you through all the problem areas in your house and how to purge, design, organize, and maintain them. I have focused mainly on the purge and organize phases--So far I have rid our home of many bags of no-longer-worn clothes (or clothes that I wore even though I hated…which was most of them!) and 1 pair of skis that hasn’t been used in 10 years (I can always just rent them if I ever ski again, right?)…and I haven’t even gotten to the basement storage area yet—yikes! The main things that are beneficial about this book is that it is motivating, takes each room one at a time so you are not overwhelmed, and is practical. It throws in a little bit of psychology with common sense (are you really attached to the item, or is it the person that gave you the item?). I am excited for the weekend so I can hit up that hideous storage area!
Secrets of an organized mom
Most of these God-debate books either bash fundamental Evangelicals or New Atheism. This one bashes both, while saying some good things too. Author Frank Schaeffer comes from a unique perspective. He was raised by a fundamentalist evangelical preacher family and became a prominent one himself. Although he has a lot of good to say about his mother and father as people, he eventually rejects their religion on many grounds. He learned that it was almost impossible to love God if God is making you millions of dollars. He also thought that they worshiped the Bible more than God, as if God was the Bible. Also, they are never interested in what people have to say. Instead, every conversation is a chance to convert people. He reminisces the old days, when his mother and father would accept gay people into their community without thinking twice. Now days they target these people as a political tactic to strengthen the faith. An important point of the book not to overlook is this: you can bash a religion or atheism all you want, but this doesn't necessarily make the people bad. His mother and father were good decent people, he says, and that's because they didn't follow the nastier parts of their dogma.
He comes from the perspective of Soren Kierkegaard, the Christian mystic Existentialist philosopher (who I'm reading now): We have no clue what God is, so let's just be humble about it. We can try to figure out what God isn't (negative theology), but experience and openness is the best we got. In fact, this encapsulates his critique of the New Atheists: like fundamentalist Evangelicals, they think they know everything. They have no humility. It's a different form of the same thing. It's a frame of mind. This reminded me of a Jewish philosopher I read and blogged about recently, who blamed the Greeks for turning faith into a knowledge pursuit. This was a wrong step. Faith is not knowledge, and knowledge does not destroy faith.
The author talks about his new faith in the Greek Orthodox liturgical tradition. But mostly he talks about his family, and how much he loves them; and how much he thanks God for them and for all the good and bad in his life. He does not give an answer for why his God would allow children to suffer; he doesn't think there is an answer. His passion for life really comes through at the end.
Patience with God
Ever wonder why you can’t just eat one Dorito? Or why that can of Coca-Cola seems to call out to you from behind the refrigerator door? Read, Pullitzer Prize winning author, Michael Moss’s latest book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us and you will wonder no more. The short answer, science. Plus millions of dollars in advertising and loads and loads of salt, sugar, and fat tossed in just to make sure we can't get enough. Moss takes readers inside the story of the rise of the processed food industry into the multi-billion dollar industry it is today and how big food’s insatiable craving for profit has left an obesity epidemic and generations with poor eating habits in its wake. Salt Sugar Fat is certainly a cautionary tale, and will have every reader questioning their own consumer behavior and eating habits. But Moss’s tone isn't overly preachy and takes a pragmatic view of the food industries focus on providing the much in demand convenience of processed food with the need for individuals to be aware of and responsible for what they put into their bodies. Highly recommended.
Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us