Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Ray Halfmoon, a Seminole-Cherokee boy living with his grandfather in Chicago, is at the center of this short book of connected stories. Showing the contemporary life of a young boy, the story is filled with challenges and successes as Ray and his grandpa go through their days.
Cynthia Leitich Smith will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Mary Calletto Rife Youth Literature Seminar, which will be held Friday, November 5, 2010. This annual celebration of youth, books, and reading is now in its 33rd year.
If you’re an adult with an interest in children’s books, we’d love to see you at the Seminar! Cynthia Leitich Smith will also be our guest at a free program for families at the Central Library on Thursday, November 4 at 7:00 p.m.
Yup. And, it appears, for a thirteen-year-old middle school 8th grader, a darn good one. Theo’s family are all lawyers. His Dad, real estate things. His Mom, abuse cases. His Uncle Ike, disbarred but doing income tax things. Theo’s classmates and schoolmates ask him questions about their brother’s getting arrested for marijuana, about which parent should a child live within a divorce case, about what can be done with an illegal immigrant who…
OOPS! I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot of John Grisham’s newest thriller titled Theodore Boone Kid Lawyer. Theo lives in a small town with many “real” lawyers, including his family as described above. He even fancies himself as an attorney, sort of. And, then, the unlikely happens. A murder is committed, and the defendant is being tried by a local judge, who just happens to be Theo’s friend. At least, as much of a friend as a sitting judge can be to a kid in the 8th grade. Theo’s favorite class in school is Government, and he finagles seats for his classmates so that they can attend the opening day of this murder trial. And, the excitement begins.
Author John Grisham’s titles for adults are known for their intrigue and suspense, a fact that has made him a #1 international best-selling author. He is certainly the master of the legal thriller. When I heard that he had written a book for younger readers (and I’d say late elementary age through middle school), I thought, “yeah, right”. John Grisham can’t write a book for children! Well, friends, guess what? He can, and he has.
Theodore Boone Kid Lawyer is for kids and it is every bit as exciting as the author’s adult novels. I started this book yesterday, and finished it today…it kept me guessing and kept me turning pages as I read (almost skimmed some parts, I was so interested) what certainly could become a best-seller for children, and maybe even an award winner!
Thanks, John Grisham! But, you didn’t finish the story. A sequel maybe?
Theodore Boone Kid Lawyer
Dwight is the weird kid, whose 6th grade classmates tolerate him hanging around, is the owner of Origami Yoda. The paper finger puppet, interestingly, offers cryptic advice to any question asked of it.
So should you take advice that comes from Origami Yoda? Visit the Children’s Room to find the answer to that question PLUS instructions for making your own Yoda.
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda
I was excited to see that Mark Haddon had written a new book but was rather surprised to find that it was heading for the children’s department. I am a fan of Haddon’s adult fiction works The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (a past Reading Together selection) and his less acclaimed Spot of Bother. It isn’t uncommon for authors to cross genres and audiences and I decided it was worth giving Haddon’s latest book, Boom!, a read.
In the book’s introduction I learned that it was originally published in 1992 under the title Gridzbi Spudvetch!. Haddon jokingly states that only twenty-three people bought this difficult to pronounce title. At the time it was first published, Haddon had not received his notoriety so it isn’t all that surprising that the author and his publishers decided to update, rename and republish this book.
Boom! is the story of two young friends who find themselves in a life-changing misadventure after bugging their school faculty’s staff room. Overhearing a conversation between two teachers in a secret language, the boys’ curiosity is piqued. They boost their spy skills to a new level in order to find out what their teachers are up to only to find that they are now the ones being targeted! As the plot unfolds with amusing and lively twists and turns, the boys find that the “evaluation” they are receiving might be out of this world! I’ll leave the rest for you to discover.
The book is both humorous and fun. While I believe that Haddon’s writing skills have improved in his more recent works, I found that his knack for character development is his talent and true foundation. If you’ve read his other novels, you know that no one writes an innocent, naïve character better than Mark Haddon. It’s easy and fun to get lost in his work.
One of the latest juvenile historical fiction titles I have read is titled Good Fortune and which is written by Noni Carter.
New to the publishing world, Ms. Carter “was only a child when she first conceived of this story of a young girl’s journey from freedom to slavery and back to ultimate freedom…” (back jacket) Would that all first-time authors could pen something as engrossing and compelling as Good Fortune!
Written from the viewpoint of Ayanna Bahati, her African free self; and moving to being called Sarah, her slave self; and finally, to Anna (free in the North), this story details the daily happenings of a field hand on a Southern plantation. Sarah experiences horrible living conditions, appalling working conditions, beatings, and more until she meets John, an itinerant “preacher man” who begins to care for Sarah in a “womanly way”. The author keeps all situations in check, however, and only hints at things that Masta Jeffry might do to Sarah and the others.
Sarah, her brother Daniel and a friend take the big step: a leap forward in the freedom process one dark and stormy night and endure hardships that are almost unbelievable. They also find kindnesses in folk willing to help them on their way via the Underground Railroad to Ohio and eventual freedom. Their friend doesn’t make the entire trip, but Sarah and Daniel do, and are transplanted into an all Black community near Dayton, Ohio where they begin to make their way into a life previously unknown, or hardly remembered: that of freedom. They are able to work, save their money, buy things, marry, have children, get educated, etc. Part of the appeal of this story is that of female protagonist Sarah, who is about 12 years old when she begins her journey. Sarah teaches herself to read and write by covertly listening to the plantation owners’ children as they do their daily lessons. She capitalizes on her limited education, and eventually becomes a teacher for the community in which she lives in Ohio. Such determination! Such will! No wonder she is able to escape the bonds of slavery!
A must read for ‘tweens and older. This is an excellent glimpse into Southern plantation life and the life of the slaves that lived and worked there. I can see this book being awarded maybe a Newbery Medal, or a Coretta Scott King award (for new authors). Check it out today!
Both works of fiction for older readers, Mahtab’s Story (by Libby Gleeson) and Boys Without Names (by Kashmira Sheth), these stories spoke to me right from their first arrival here at KPL.
I should say that I have a seemingly more than ordinary curiosity about stories set anywhere in the Middle East and/or India. This interest was first fueled by news events, and then by several titles by Deborah Ellis (who wrote The Breadwinner, Parvana, Parvana’s Journey, and Shauzia just to name several).
Kashmira Sheth’s Boys Without Names chronicles eleven-year-old Gopal and his family as they are forced to flee their rural Indian village in secrecy and under the cover of darkness, because they are too far in debt to the moneylender to ever get clear again. Upon their arrival in the big city of Mumbai, Gopal’s father goes missing (or does the moneylender have him?) and Gopal, desperate to help his family by earning money for basic living, ends up locked in a sweatshop from which there is no escape. It is common practice to purchase orphans or street beggars for what seems like a large sum of money, and then enslave them in horrible conditions as child laborers. Newbery Award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson says that “Boys Without Names is one of the best books I have ever read.” While I can’t compete with Ms. Woodson’s literary evaluation skills, I, too, think this is an excellent choice for ‘tween-age readers, and would recommend it to any classroom teacher for a read-aloud as well.
Mahtab’s Story by Libby Gleeson is another tale of a family forced to leave their home, this time in Herat, Afghanistan; and journey secretly through the rocky mountains to Pakistan, and finally to far-away Australia, to escape the Taliban. Mahtab’s family, like Gopal’s, waits months and months for any solution to their situation. Mahtab’s father, too, goes missing in his attempt to reach safety and get established for his family. Confined to several detention centers along the way, the family is finally re-united! This family endures hardships and tortures that can only be imagined by those of us living in the Western world. This story, too, would make a good read-aloud for the ‘tween-age reader in a classroom setting.
These stories give good glimpses into the cultures and religious restrictions in each of these locales. The families in each book are strong, yet weak; determined, yet uncertain; and real enough to make the reader want to have a “happy ending.”
The world's most popular team sport has the world's attention during World Cup 2010 in South Africa. Football, or soccer if you prefer, has been around for thousands of years. People have always played soccer and likely always will. In Goal!, a group of young friends in a dusty South African township come together in a pickup game with their brand-new, federation-size soccer ball. How do they team together when some older boys, bullies, try to steal their ball? We see the best and worst of human nature when people come together to watch or to play the most human game. I like that Goal! focuses on football as the sport of the people and the joy of the game – even in the face of adversity.
I hope I look this good when I am 80! The character I’m referring to is Nancy Drew, who made her debut in 1930, at the tender age of 16 years. Nancy Drew lived “the life” in Midwestern River Heights, a town I always thought might be a Chicago suburb, but I have no proof that it could be. Nancy had it all: an understanding father who gave her free rein, a dashing blue convertible roadster (this morphed into a Mustang-type car in later editions, and then into a hybrid in very recent updates), a housekeeper who was a great cook and who took the best of care of Nancy and her widowed father, lawyer Carson Drew, and two friends, cousins Bess Marvin and Georgia (George) Fayne who supported Nancy in all of her adventures. Speaking of Nancy’s friends, I remember a very early story where Nancy visited her friend Helen Corning, at a lake resort/campground/association type place. There was a definite suggestion of affluence in these stories. There was also the element of boyfriends for each of the girls.
I always thought that the “author” of the Nancy Drew books was Carolyn Keene... a single, female type person with a wonderful gift for writing. As an adult, I learned that Carolyn Keene was a pseudonym, often for a team of ghostwriters employed by the actual creator of the series, Edward Stratemeyer. It seems that Stratemeyer himself wrote outlines and plot summaries for the stories, and then found writers to complete the stories, for a one-time fee of $50-$250. All copyright remained with the syndicate. Stratemeyer also owned the pseudonyms.
I began reading Nancy Drew after I finished the Bobbsey Twins (also a creation of the Stratemeyer Syndicate). I would get the books as gifts, and devour them quickly, and often. I would trade with girl friends so that I didn’t have to wait for the next occasion to get another book. So, I was about in third or fourth grade, and was already an avid library user. But, I couldn’t find my newest favorite books at the library! An article I read by Meghan O’Rourke in an issue of The New Yorker from 2004 said that “the Stratemeyer Syndicate came under attack from educators and librarians from the start.” The article continues with calling series published by the Syndicate “tawdry, sensationalist work taking children away from books of moral or instructional value.” I knew that my teachers didn’t allow me to do required book reports on Nancy Drew titles, but sure didn’t understand why.
I have always said that if I hadn’t read series books (Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Cherry Ames [not a Stratemeyer series]) that I wouldn’t be the reader that I am today. I see these books as stepping stones to more sophisticated literature…and I’ve read them all from Treasure Island to Tom Sawyer to Gulliver’s Travels to... I could go on and on. I’ve read biographies, and loved them. I’ve read romances, mysteries, science fiction, and fantasy (Brian Jacques’ Redwall series was wonderful)… I’ve read Newbery Award winners and nonfiction and...
Nancy Drew titles have been updated, and modernized and have had mentions of racism/sexism removed. Why have they survived? Back to Meghan O’Rourke’s article, it’s because of the re-writes, and because “as Nancy has aged, children’s book publishing has become more sensitive to psychological issues”, and Nancy now “acknowledges her flaws, and shows herself to be a more inclusive soul than the old Nancy.”
I sure wouldn’t hesitate to re-read these books, even now. And, to me, it would be a good way of saying to Nancy Drew and friends, “Happy Birthday”!
Take-Off: American All-Girl Bands During WWII is a book with a CD that tells a story seldom heard. Take-Off is a great introduction to swing music and features recordings of some of the all-women swing bands that came into their own during the war. More than half of the tracks on the CD included with the book Take-Off were performed by The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, a sixteen piece band that was integrated at a time when, in many locales in the Jim Crow Deep South, it was actually illegal for black and white musicians to play together. The Sweethearts toured there, but not much. For the most part, they played sold out shows in New York, Chicago, Washington, and other cities in the North. In 1945 they traveled to Europe with the USO.
Check out the book Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World, illustrated by 2010 Caldecott Medal winner Jerry Pinkney. Marilyn Nelson’s poems speak in the voices of some of the instruments in the band: Tiny Davis’s trumpet, Ina Bell Byrd’s trombone, Roz Cron’s tenor saxophone, or bandleader Anna Mae Winburn’s baton reminiscing from the shelves of a New Orleans pawnshop about struggles and glory gone by. The Sweethearts, and the other swing bands featured in Take-Off, played music based in the blues and filled with driving energy and joy. Why not place a hold on the books right now?
Sweethearths of Rhythm
More and more, books themselves are more than just books. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Can You Hear It? is a book with a CD in which works of music are paired with works of visual art in ways that offer the opportunity to enjoy each work more fully.The Hiroshige print Chrysanthemums, which features a hovering bee, illuminates a recording of Flight of the Bumblebee.A movement from Copland’s Billy the Kid accompanies a Frederic Remington painting.The text of Can You Hear It? invites the reader/listener to look for elements in the works of art and, at the same time, to listen for particular motives or allusions within the sound recordings. Listen for a bit of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” within Saint-Saëns’s “Fossils” from The Carnival of the Animals. That piece of music is offered in juxtaposition with The Calavera of Cupid by José Guadalupe Posada. The end result is that both works are expanded.
Can You Hear It? is a little bit Music and Make Believe, a little bit art appreciation, and a lot of interesting fun. You’ll hear the familiar and, most likely, something new. The sailor/composer Rimsky-Korsakov experienced keys as colors. The key of C for him was white (not surprising, I suppose, if you look at the piano keyboard) while B major was a “gloomy dark blue with a steel shine”.Synesthetic or not, there’s a certain purity in listening to music without including any visual programming. You can paint your own pictures in your mind. On the other hand, since many people use music as a kind of background dressing anyway, there’s a kind of potentially rewarding discipline in choosing the visual foreground in a very intentional way. Either road you choose, you'll find lots of good material here.
Can You Hear It?