Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
For the month of April, I chose a teen title to blog about, and the one I picked was a lucky choice.
“Ship Breaker” by Paolo Bacigalupi is set on the United States Gulf coast following an unnamed apocalyptic event. It’s pretty much every person for themselves, and life is hard and cruel, although small communities have sprung up. Nailer, a teen age boy, is a scavenger of huge cargo tankers, along with crews of other young people who can fit into the small spaces of the ships to search for prized copper wire. A devastating hurricane upsets the already delicate balance of life, and after the storm has passed Nailer and a friend find a large passenger sailboat that has been wrecked. Amazingly, one person has survived, a teen age girl who claims to be from a very wealthy family. She says they will pay richly for her return- but does she really want to go back, and is she telling the truth?
What I really liked about this book was the imagined look at what life could be in the United States if there was a total breakdown of modern life as we know it. It’s a world where living by your wits and skills are the main keys to survival, and trust is not given lightly. “Ship Breakers” is a National Book Award finalist, and fortunately there is a sequel, which I definitely am going to read.
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
Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris first came to my attention on a “Best Mystery” list. It is a mystery, and much more. Set in modern day Saudi Arabia, Palestinian Nayir al-Sharqi is asked by his friend Othman to go with him into the desert to try and discover the whereabouts of Othman’s sixteen year old fiancé, Nouf. The young woman has disappeared into the desert three days before their wedding, seemingly without a trace. Nayir tries to discover what has happened to Nouf, with the help of Katya, a young woman working in the state medical examiner’s office.
What I found particularly fascinating about this book was the glimpse into modern Saudi Arabian life. The author has lived in Saudi Arabia and so has a unique perspective and insight into the lives of both men and women living and working there. I recommended this book to a friend. Her book group chose it as their monthly read, and she said it resulted in a lively discussion.
If you’re looking for a mystery with a different slant, give this a try!
It’s winter, and though there’s no snow on the ground right now in late December, we can pretty much assume that it will get cold and snowy sometime soon. Why not check out some of these new children’s books about winter, get cozy with a cup of cocoa, and read?
I See Winter by Charles Ghigna and Henry Goes Skating by B.B .Bourne both celebrate winter activities—snowmen, sleds and skates. In more of a folktale vein and for slightly older children is The Wind that Wanted to Rest by Sheldon Oberman. Lovely illustrations complement the story.
A chapter book and part of a series is Good luck, Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke. Young Anna goes from her native Africa to Canada to visit her grandmother. It’s cold and snowy there, and new adventures and experiences await Anna.
Spring, summer, fall and winter—your library is a great resource year round!
I See Winter
I’ve been a children’s librarian for a lot of years, so am always on the lookout for new children’s titles. One that definitely caught my eye is Princess in Training by Tammi Sauer. One of the most requested topics we get is “princess books” for kids. This book is certainly that, but with a twist. Princess Viola loves to skateboard, karate chop and jump in the moat- not your traditional princess activities. The king and queen send Viola to princess school, with hilarious results, and an ending that is totally satisfying.
I love dogs, and in Boot and Shoe by Marla Frazee, two canines from the same litter, Boot and Shoe, do everything together. They eat together, they eat out of the same bowl, they sleep in the same bed. But Shoe is a front porch kind of dog, and Boot camps out on the back porch all day, which is perfect until a pesky squirrel throws their ordered world into disarray. Wonderful, expressive pictures add a lot to the story, and it’s perfect for new readers.
Dog in Charge by K.L. Going has some of the funniest pictures I’ve seen in a quite a while. Illustrator Dan Santat captures dog and cat personalities to a “T”. Dog is given the task of keeping the family cats in line while their family is gone, and the wily felines prove to be a challenge for somewhat clueless Dog. All is well in the end, and peace reigns.
Check out these and other new kids’ titles just for the fun of it, and to keep kids reading!
Princess in Training
Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the event, which this year is celebrated September 30-October 6. According to the American Library Association website, Banned Books Week brings together booksellers, libraries, publishers, journalists, and readers of all types in “shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”
Banned Books Week draws national attention annually to books that communities or organizations have attempted to restrict access to, or remove from libraries and schools.
Here are a few of the titles on this year’s list: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Foer; Nickel and Dimed: on (not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich; and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. Teen and children’s titles are not immune to challenge, either. Some examples are: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and Stolen Children by Peg Kehret.
You can read more about Banned Books Week, and view annotated lists explaining why the books were challenged, at the American Library Association website. Don't miss the Banned Books Readout at Central Library on October 4th, 7 pm.
Banned Books Week
An avid history fan, I’m listening right now to a wonderful audiobook version of Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall. It’s a look at the England of Henry VIII, when Henry decided to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled, and marry Ann Boleyn. Mantel portrays these turbulent political and religious times through the life of Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell was very much behind the scenes, and powerful. He came from humble beginnings. But he contrived to know the right people and got things done, first for his mentor Cardinal Wolsey, and later for Henry VIII, when Wolsey fell out of favor with the king. Cromwell is not always portrayed in a favorable light; here Mantel has made him a wholly believable and not unsympathetic figure.
Wolf Hall was longlisted for the Booker Prize, and it’s well deserved. Mantel is historically accurate, and the characters and times are fascinating in their detail. Library Journal’s review says, “There will be few novels this year as good as this one,” and I would concur. Author Hilary Mantel was born in England. She studied law at the London School of Economics, and has lived and worked in Botswana and Saudi Arabia, before returning to live in England.
The summer of 1962 in a small town Norvelt, PA is off to an iffy start for 11 year old Jack in Dead End in Norvelt. He accidentally fires off his father’s World War II Japanese rifle, and, Jack’s mother “grounds him for life” (or at least the summer.) The one exception to his not leaving the house is to help Miss Volker, whose arthritic hands make it impossible for her to type the newspaper obituaries. She can’t drive, either, so she gives Jack driving lessons and with Jack at the wheel, they careen around town trying to discover if a Hell’s Angel really put a curse on the town, or if the Girl Scout cookies are laced with rat poison. Eccentric and colorful characters abound in this book. It also provides a glimpse into actual historical events, an added plus. (There really was a town called Norvelt, created by Eleanor Roosevelt, and based on communal land ownership.)
A wonderfully readable book with non-stop action for older children, Dead End in Norvelt won the Newbery Award for 2012. It joins a long list of other great titles by popular author Jack Gantos, including the Joey Pigza chapter book series and the Rotten Ralph picture books.
Dead End in Norvelt
Dogs—big ones, small ones: the varieties are nearly endless. A new offering of children’s books here at the library about dogs provides something for almost any child who wants a story about canines.
Middle grade readers who like funny mysteries will enjoy The Trouble with Chickens: a J.J. Tully Mystery by Doreen Cronin. J.J. is a former search and rescue dog, so he’s not very impressed when two chicks named Dirt and Sugar, and their chicken mom, ask for J.J.’s help in tracking down their missing siblings. They offer J.J. a cheeseburger if he will help. What dog could resist such an offer? This is the first in a new series by Cronin, author of Diary of a Worm, a best-selling picture book.
Little Dog, Lost is the story of a small town, a boy named Mark who wanted a dog, and Buddy, a dog who had lost her way. Newbery Honor award winning author Marion Dane Bauer has written a satisfying chapter book story with evocative illustrations that will appeal to children. This would also make a good read-aloud story.
Switching gears a little, Stay; the True Story of Ten Dogs tells the true story of Luciano Anastasini, who works for a circus. His family have been circus performers for generations, and when an accident means he can no longer work as an acrobat, Luciano has the idea of developing an act with dogs. But he chooses dogs from the pound, the ones nobody else wants. In the book’s introduction, author Kate DiCamillo says. “It is a story of second chances, belief and love. Mostly, though, it is a story of the miracles that can occur when we (dog or human) are extended the grace of being well and truly seen by another.” Wonderful photographs showcase the personalities of Luciano and his talented dogs.
The Trouble with Chickens: a J.J. Tully Mystery
When I read that Rin Tin Tin: the Life and the Legend was Library Journal’s pick for top nonfiction title of 2011, I was intrigued.
Author Susan Orlean has written a wonderfully readable book, not only about Rin Tin Tin, the iconic dog star of films and TV. Her story ranges widely and touches on the early history of Hollywood and films, the bravery and use of animals in war, and much more.
The story begins on a battlefield in France during World War I. A young American soldier, Lee Duncan, discovers an orphaned German shepherd puppy in a bombed out kennel. He has left his own dog behind in America, and adopts the small pup. Duncan, who was raised in an orphanage, feels an affinity with the abandoned dog, whom he names Rin Tin Tin. He immediately senses that this is an extraordinary dog, and is fortunately able to bring “Rinty” back to the US. The rest, as the saying goes, is history—and what a ride it is!
Susan Orlean is a respected reporter who spent ten years researching and writing this book, the story of a dog born in 1918 and his descendants, and the people who loved them and helped to insure their legacy.
This is a book for all people who have ever had or loved a dog.
Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend
Since I’m a children’s librarian by training, I’m always interested in reading children’s books. A new book, The Case of the Deadly Desperados by Caroline Lawrence, got rave reviews and I can understand why.
In the Old West of 1882, 12 year old P.K. Pinkerton is on the run from Whittlin’ Walt and his gang of desperadoes. P.K. has a deed that his dying Ma gave him, that gives the bearer possession of land and a rich silver mine in the Nevada Mountains. P.K. has to use lots of ingenuity to stay one jump ahead of ruthless Whittlin” Walt, and also the schemes of gamblers, hurdy girls, and con men who populate the rough and tumble West of those times.
The story is action packed, funny, and poignant, and is aimed at 5th grade-and-up readers. This is the first in the projected “Western Mysteries” series by Caroline Lawrence; I’ll be looking forward to the next installment and P.K.’s further adventures.
The Case of the Deadly Desperados