Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Some little boys want a family dog, some parents don’t want a family dog. Hal Fenton is one of those boys who desperately wants a dog for a birthday present, but his wealthy parents Donald and Albina do not want one. To pacify their son they rent a dog for the weekend; the Easy Pets Dog Agency in London is just the place. Myron and Mavis Carker, owners of the agency, do it for profit, not for the love of dogs. Kayley is the kind teenage caretaker of the dogs. Kayley finds a mongrel, brings it to the agency, and names him Fleck, and pronounces him a rare breed: a “Tottenham” terrier. The Fentons rent Fleck for the weekend. Fleck and Hal are inseparable, that is, until Albina returns Fleck.
Let the adventure begin! Hal and his pal kidnap the dogs at the agency and begin a journey to his grandparents home near the coast of England, all the while being pursued for the tremendous reward offered by Hal’s parents. The delightful story of Fleck, Otto, the St. Bernard, Li-Chee, the Pekinese, Francine, the poodle, Honey, the rough-haired collie, and even Queen Tilly, the Mexican hairless, is both harrowing and heart-warming. Do they make it to their destination? Read it and find out!
This is the last book written by Eva Ibbotson who passed away in October 2010 at the age of 85.
One Dog and His Boy
Bagels may not often described with the above adjectives, but Sharon Kahn’s Fax me a bagel definitely fits the bill. The first in her Ruby, the rabbi’s wife series, it is a quick and enjoyable read, with quirky characters and old technology (published in 1998 – can that really be fifteen years ago already – facsimile technology and the necessary accoutrements of a business have come a long way). If you enjoy this title, you’ll be pleased to know that we have the rest of the series, which are six in total. Just beware: you may finish reading with a craving for bagels, though you may be as lucky as I was – and coincidentally be offered one. Just in case it wasn’t a coincidence, my next read may be about winning the lottery!
Fax me a bagel
My kids attended a fine arts magnet school in Chicago. The great thing about this elementary school was that everyone danced. Dance was as big a part of the school day as gym. Most kids seemed to enjoy it. Mine certainly did, so when we moved to Michigan it didn't come as a surprise to me when my youngest asked if he could continue dance lessons. It started off good, especially with him being the only boy in the group. He got all kinds of attention from the girls and the instructors. When he walked into class everyone stopped what they were doing and said "Hi, Tommy". My problem was he was growing fast so he kept outgrowing his shoes. I got him through a couple of years by using his older brother's and sister's slippers and tap shoes. Then he outgrew those. It was time to face facts. Although, Tommy was still having a good time in dance and was learning a lot about movement, he wasn't that interested in the actual dance part of it. So, I did what most American moms would do. I bought him a basketball. Then he was a cool kid with a basketball.
Well, the teen book Panic by Sharon Draper is about a real dancer, Justin. Just like Tommy, Justin likes the female attention that comes from being a guy in a dance group. But, he also got a lot of not-so-good male attention for being 16 and liking toe shoes. The major difference between Justin and Tommy was that Justin could dance. He had real talent. Dance was his life. And even though the guys called him a fag he went "boom, boom, pop" with the Black Eyed Peas and that made it all worth it.
But the book Panic is not just about dancing. It's chucked full of teen life, including the scary parts. Sharon Draper has never hesitated to talk about the real life scary stuff, such as, bullying, bad relationships, abuse and abduction, trust and what it means to be a real friend. It's a tough read and although it's very realistic I'm glad it's fiction.
Flowers in the Sky by Lynn Joseph is a classic coming of age story set in Samana, Dominican Republic, and the promising land of New York. Fifteen year old Nina Perez must find the meaning and truth of life, love and self-image. Through her magical gift of gardening, she discovers that it is possible for flowers to grow anywhere; in the tropics, in the grit of New York City, in the sky, or even inside a heart.
Lynn Joseph’s writing style is real, at times lyrical and always engaging. This book definitely goes on the must read list for summer and beach reading. Enjoy!
Flowers in the Sky
Prompted by a library user suggestion, we decided to shelve our fantasy books in the same location as our science fiction books. Since many readers who like either of these genres often like both, we hope this makes it easier for you to find the books you want and to discover new authors and titles in which you might be interested.
Stop in and choose your own adventure.
A Dance with Dragons
As we reflect this month on teen novels for adults to read, I offer this item from the teen collection. Actually it isn't a novel, but a collection of short stories, so it does count as fiction. It isn't specifically directed toward a teen audience either, but it's one teens would enjoy. When I was a sophomore in high school, one of the assigned readings from our literature text was 'Cask of Amontillado' by Edgar Allan Poe. I remember being captivated by the tense horror of the story, so I later bought a paperback so I could read more of Poe's work. When I arrived at WMU as a freshman, the first English class I took read 'The Tell-Tale Heart.' Other favorites of mine were 'The Pit and the Pendulum,' 'Fall of the House of Usher,' and 'Descent into the Maelstrom.' It has been many years since I read any of these, so perhaps it's time for me to revisit them.
Complete stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe
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.
Sixth grade was a big birthday year for me. My older sister gave me earrings with my birthstone and proceeded to pierce my ears, using the ice cube/potato/“match-sterilized needle” method, without our parents’ permission. Luckily my earlobes didn’t get infected, and I could hide the evidence from Mom and Dad till my earlobes had healed by keeping my longish hair down around my face.
That same birthday a friend gave me The Outsiders. This book rocked my world. I grew up in a smallish town, where the main social difference I knew to that point were country kids vs. town kids, and we didn’t fight. We just had different lives. I read the book over and over, and then again every few years into my 20s. I knew the first sentence by heart and thought it was cool how the author (S.E. Hinton) wrapped that sentence back into the last line of the book.
“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.” With this sentence, Ponyboy Curtis launches into an amazing story which just doesn’t quit. He’s about to get jumped by the Socs for being a greaser. The ‘Socs’ are the rich west-side kids, who hold beer blasts, drive fancy cars and jump ‘greasers’ for fun. Ponyboy, his brothers and friends, are ‘greasers,’ the poorer east-side kids. They have a reputation for robbing gas stations, holding gang fights and wearing their long hair greased back. But not all greasers are alike, and neither are all Socs, as Ponyboy learns, after a lot of violence, heartbreak and growing up.
I’ve recently been re-reading The Outsiders, and I can’t put it down. It still grabs my heart. It ranks in my memory right up there with The Pigman and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.
The Striker is a book by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott. You can interpret that as by Justin Scott with Clive Cussler taking credit and providing guidance. This is another Isaac Bell Adventure and takes place in 1902. In this book Isaac Bell is just starting out with the Van Dorn Detective agency. This story takes place in Pittsburgh in the coal mines. The Van Dorn agency is hired to find out who has been sabotaging the operations. I could relate to the geographical area of this book. I went to college not too many miles outside of Pittsburgh and used to hitchhike in to town for a weekend. When they described the area they wanted to move their tent city to, they talked about the area where the three rivers came together and then they said just imagine a baseball diamond here. Well, since this book was written in 2013 we know that the famous Three Rivers Stadium home to the Pittsburgh Pirates was built there. I know the area well. I spent the night sleeping in a phone booth just outside of the stadium. I was a college kid with no money, it was snowing and the phone booth offered protection from the wind. The police did make me vacate and find another place, the bus terminal offered warmth. These Pittsburgh police were nice, the ones in book took easily to swinging clubs, cracking heads and putting people in jail or the hospital. In this book they develop the Isaac Bell character. He is young and has a hard time being viewed as a lead detective of a team due to his youthful looks. It is suggested he grow a mustache. In the other Isaac Bell books his mustache is constantly referred to when describing him. Archie, his best friend is an apprentice in this book and just learning the ropes. It seemed odd to have the great Archie being subservient. In the books I have already read, we have experienced Isaac’s and Archie’s love interests and their marriage, their getting shot, they are seasoned professionals. So to now discover them as neophytes was interesting. In this book we are introduced to why Isaac carries a derringer in his hat. We read of him buying the derringer, and the hat and of the many many hours he spent perfecting his drawing the gun, all the time knowing that he has used this trick of a hidden gun to save his bacon later in his life. I think what I liked best about this book was the development of Isaac’s character and the description of what it was like in 1902; the living conditions, the unions, coal and our dependence on it for fuel. This could make a good movie, steam boats blow up, people get shot all the elements of a good movie.
“The suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth,” sang Geddy Lee, lead singer of my favorite band Rush when I was a teenager growing up in a Chicago suburb. This is not the case in Shaun Tan’s book of mini-surreal masterpieces, Tales From Outer Suburbia. In these suburbs, there is a water buffalo that answers questions in an empty lot, a dugong (manatee type creature) that appears on someone’s lawn, ICBMs in everyone’s backyard, and a man wandering around in a diving suit.
I found the stories from Tales From Outer Suburbia to be a little too bizarre at first, but my compulsion to finish books that I’ve started carried me through until I slowly became enchanted. The stories feature physical manifestations of the hopes and fears of the people who live in these suburbs and they wove their way into my psyche and released strong feelings of wonder, healing, and letting go. The strange story lines somehow open you up and leave you thinking about them long after you have read them.
I especially identified with a story about two brothers who have a map of their suburb and decide to walk to where the map ends to see what is there. It reminded me of a 10 mile hike my brother and I took to complete the hiking merit badge. We weren’t going to get “out in nature” anytime soon, so we just decided to walk around our Chicago suburb (which, oddly enough, included a stop at the public library to pick up some 8mm films). The experience did have a surreal feeling and it completely changed the way I felt about where I lived. Walking gives you such an intimate connection with your surroundings and it empowered me, as I went to places I had only gone with my parents up to that point.
I was so struck by the book that I asked my son if I could read him the extremely short stories before he went to bed. He agreed and loved the stories and I got to have the nice experience of reading aloud to him that I hadn’t had in several years and to talk a little bit about what it is like to have an older brother who is always right.
Tale From Outer Suburbia