Sunday, October 24, 2010

Five for the Adults

Book fair books are not just for kids. I like to add a few of my favorite adult books. As I moaned about in an earlier post, I have not read a lot that excited me over the past few months. So I decided to suggest some older books for your enjoyment. In years past I have sent out lists of suggested reading for adults and inadvertently included books that are no longer in print. Oops! Today I decided to make sure that everything I suggest is still available so I went to the bookstore and looked at the paperback shelves. Here, in no particular order, are some of the books I saw and remember fondly.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger is a lovely, heart-wrenching story by the 11 year old boy who wants to keep his family intact after his older brother guns down bullies who break into the family home. What can or should a family do to help and protect a brother who has done something horrible, yet, perhaps, justifiable?

Still Alice by Lisa Genova tells the story of the onset of Alzheimer's through the voice of a woman who is diagnosed at a very young age. She makes a list of things that she must remember and slowly watches them fade away. The picture is grim yet beautiful. The author works with Alzheimer's patients which makes the reader feel that this is a fairly accurate portrayal.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving may be the best of this well-respected American author. Owen Meany is a dwarfish boy who accidentally kills his friend's mother and believes that perhaps he is a messenger of God. It is a tightly written story with much to offer.

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay is the story of an English boy growing up in apartheid South Africa. Race can not be ignored but the essence of this powerful work is the boy's growth to adulthood in a story filled with pain and joy and humor.

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell is another coming of age story, this one set in England at the time of the Falklands War. Jason Taylor narrates the story in a way that he never could orally due to a stutter that haunts his every interaction as he covers his life over a span of 13 months in 1982 and 1983.

Five Favorites times Five

In preparation for our upcoming Book Fair, November 14, I am publishing five favorites in several different categories. Please go back through earlier posts on this blog for more ideas. Then tell me some of your ideas for books that I forgot to mention. If you add your thoughts in the comments section more people will get to see them.

Middle School Readers are not always easy to please. No matter how many adult suggestions they get, it is their peers who ultimately will direct them to the books that are popular now. Here are a couple of new titles and some older books that are worth considering again.

Archvillain by Barry Lyga (grades 5-8) is the first in a promised series. The narrator thinks a lot of himself because he is, after all, a genius who is embarrassed by how stupid his parents and classmates all seem to be. When he is mysteriously slimed in a meadow near his school (could it have been a meteor shower or an alien invasion?), he becomes even stronger and smarter. That would be good if there were not now an alien among them with similar strengths. How can the alien be outwitted before he takes over the world? Can being bad do good for the world?

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper (grades 4-7) is told by a young girl with cerebral palsy who has never been able to communicate with any but her closest care givers and then only in the simplest fashion. Because of this she is kept in special education classrooms with no expectations that she understands anything. When she gets a special computer program similar to that used by Stephen Hawkings, she is able to show her vast knowledge and earns a spot on the school quiz bowl team. Instead of a simplistic, happy ending, this book ends realistically, but with a solid dose of hope.

The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (grades 6-8) is an eerie story of a boy who moves with his family to a deserted house on the coast of Spain during World War II. Soon they learn of a boy who died in the house and a strange magician who had power over the people who live there. Adults and many teens have read and enjoyed Zafon's Shadow of the Wind without realizing that Zafon began his writing career with this book for young adults.

Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster (grades 6 and up) was one of my favorite books when I was young and I am thrilled that it is still around nearly 100 years after its first publication. It is a romantic story of young orphan who is given the task of corresponding with the benefactor who has sent off to a good school. Told in letters illustrated with girlish drawings, it is a joy to watch the romance grow with unexpected results. A girl can dream and I dreamed my way through this book more than once. I can not guarantee that today's teen will love it the way I did, but, as I said, a girl can dream.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (grades 6 and up)and the rest of this His Dark Materials series rank with the greats of fantasy. The trilogy is a magnificent creation of parallel worlds, philosophical discussions, and magical beasts. Don't bother seeing the movie which totally missed the beauty and impact of the stories and left out many important parts.

Fiction for Grades 3-5 must take into accounts the varying interests of the readers. Some readers want to try a little of everything and are willing to bite off more than they perhaps can digest. Others will want the safety of a familiar series. Either approach is probably just right. Don't ignore those series, but this list will introduce some books that might have been missed.

Half Magic by Edward Eager (grades 3-6) was the book that pushed me happily into a long phase of reading every bit of fantasy that I could get my hands on--including every book Eager ever wrote. When I can get a new reader drawn into these books I consider it public service. They have just the right blend of family, fantasy, magic, and humor.

Freddy the Detective by Walter R. Brooks (grades 3-6) is just one of a series that my daughters and I laughed over as we read through them all. Freddy is pig who imagines himself to be quite talented, though that is debatable. Readers soon learn to appreciate all of the quirky characters on the farm.

Spacehedz by Jon Scieszka (grades 3-5) is a book that I almost did not pick up. There was something about the look of the cover that I could not appreciate. It got great reviews so I finally dived in and I am so glad I did. The cover is perfect for this story of a young school boy is given the task of welcoming two new students who just happen to be space aliens. They have learned everything they know about earth from advertising. This leads to much confusion and hilarious situations. I am now proud to be a Spacehead.

On the Blue Comet by Rosemary Wells (grades 4-7) will come as something of surprise to those who think of Rosemary Wells as writing only charming picture books. With beautiful illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline, this slice of life from 1929 to 1942 is complete with real characters like Ronald Reagan and Joseph Kennedy. Oscar Ogilvie is an 11 year old boy living in Cairo, Illinois, with his widowed father with whom he shares a love of model railroads. The depression, however, means that they must sell the trains and their house to survive. The heads to California to find work, leaving Oscar with a very uptight aunt. Things progress rapidly when Oscar jumps into the model trains to escape a bank robbery. He travels across the country and ten years into the future . The excitement is palpable and the historical facts make it seem real.

Justin Case: School, Drool and Other Disasters by Rachel Vail (grades 2-5) boldly enters the realm previously held sway by the likes of Ramona Quimby, Judy Moody, and Clementine, with the trials and tribulations of elementary school. The difference is that Justin is a boy so he sees things a bit differently than those girls did. Readers who like, or think they would like, The Wimpy Kid will like enjoy the antics Justin records in his diary.

Beginning Readers are books with limited vocabulary and, thanks to Dr. Seuss and others, a good story. The large type helps those just mastering reading to speed through the stories and lots of illustrations help fill gaps in comprehension.

The Cat on the Mat is Fat by Andy Griffiths is a thicker book with several stories to help readers feel that important sense of accomplishment. The stories are pure silliness with simple black and white illustrations and plenty of rhyme.

Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst features a very spoiled girl who is not willing to give in when her parents refuse to buy her a brontosaurus for her birthday. They have given everything else she has ever wanted so why not this. After arguing her point for nearly two weeks, she runs away from home. The author kindly offers several alternative endings so everyone can live happily ever after.

Buzz Boy and Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold is the latest in this amusing series of easy readers about a boy and his pet fly. In this tale, they become superheroes in a comic book written by the boy. I have yet to meet a child who does not appreciate the sly humor in these wacky stories.

Ten Apples Up on Top by Theo LeSeig always surprises me by how much young readers enjoy it. It is among the simplest of simple stories. The build up to the climax gets kids to the edge of the seats--either with anticipation or laughter.

Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik is one of those books that makes mothers get a little teary eyed. Little Bear is such a sweet fellow with such heartwarming adventures that it is impossible not to love him. Luckily for adults, young readers love him, too.

Picture Books truly are for readers of all ages. There was a recent New York Times article about how picture books are not selling the way they did in years past. Don't miss these wonderful books or think that people are ever too old to enjoy a good picture book.

A Bedtime for Bear by Bonnie Becker follows nicely on the heels of A Visitor for Bear. The little mouse is back to see bear, this time planning to spend the night. Anyone who has ever had a sleep-over knows that even the most well meaning guest can disturb set routines and bear likes his routines to be just so. Of course these friends work it out perfectly, but it is not easy.

Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown caught my eye immediately with its cover illustration that reminded me a bit of the best of Tomie DePaola. A happy little bear brings home what she hopes will be a perfect pet--a child that she names Squeaker because to her ears that is all he can say. Mother's repeated warning that children make terrible pets does not bother little Lucy. She and Squeaker have fun but the child is also a bit of a bother.

Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco will be best appreciated by readers in grades three and up. It is Polacco at her best as she remembers her own experiences as a new student put in the "special" class for children with troubles learning in the usual ways. Thanks to a very special teacher, the class learns lessons about their own strengths and teaches the school bullies a few lessons as well.

Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion is an older book that endures because it is such a good story. Harry is a white dog with black spots who hates to take a bath. When he wanders away and gets terribly dirty, his family does not recognized the black dog with white spots who comes back home. If you are dirty enough, Harry realizes, a bath is wonderful.

Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkin has many imitators but is still the best "monkey see, monkey do" book there is. Act out the story with any group of monkeys you might encounter.

Non-Fiction is sometimes a hard sell to readers of any age. Happily for all of us, there are more and more non-fiction books that are as enjoyable as fiction.

For Good Measure: The Ways we Say How Much, How Far, How Heavy, How Big, How Old by Ken Robbins (grades K and up) is the best introduction to measurements that I have ever seen. Using photographs and a paragraph or two of interesting text, this book helped me understand and relate to measurement in ways I never had before.

Hot Diggity Dog: The History of the Hot Dog by Adrienne Sylver (grades 1-4) features a hot dog space ship on its cover which is a good clue to the irreverent history that is presented within. The hot dog is an American staple so why not learn about its humble origins and rise to fame. Lots of bright illustrations and interesting sidebars add to the enjoyment of this food history.

Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca (grades 2-6) is a collaborative effort that tells the story of the collaboration that became an American classic. Choreographer Martha Graham, composer Aaron Copeland, and set designer Isamu Noguchi are the contributors who are shown working together to create a masterpiece. If you are planning to see any ballet in the near future, read this book for a fuller understanding of what goes happens before the curtain opens.

Weird by True 2: 300 Outrageous Facts from National Geographic (All ages) is bright and bold and full of facts that will keep anyone who picks it up flipping through it for more trivia to amaze and amuse friends and family. It is a perfect bathroom book but will also prove useful in a backpack, at the dinner, or on the coffee table.

The Cartoon History of the Universe by Larry Gonick (Grades 6 and up) is just one in a large series of cartoon introductions to history, science, and more all set in a fun and funky graphic format. The beauty of it is that the reader does not even realize how much is being learned in a way that is hard to forget.

These are just a few of my favorites. Look back through the blog for more and come see me for personalized suggestions. Happy reading.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Quick Suggestions

I was a little surprised when the Parent Organization (ESPO) took me up on my offer to briefly speak about some good books at their meeting this past week. Time was of the essence, both for me to gather books and for the meeting to end at a reasonable time. Life was wild last week, but I had several good new books that I had just finished reading, so I grabbed them along with a couple of other favorites. Then I edited my growing pile. (Word to the wise: Never ask a librarian to talk about a few good books. Librarians have trouble picking out just a few favorites. We love to talk about good books almost as much as we love to read them.)

Here are the books that I showed at the ESPO meeting. All are well worth your time.


The Chicken Thief by Beatrice Rodriguez--I can not say enough good thinks about this wordless and wonderful book. The pictures are detailed and the surprise ending is just exactly what I would have wanted to have happen if I had thought about it clearly.

Olive Goes to Venice by Ian Falconer--The amazing pig's latest adventure takes her to Venice where she learns to love gelato. This is not my favorite Olivia book but that is simply because the others are so good.

Art and Max by David Wiesner--Two friendly lizards share an appreciation of art which leads to a demonstration of many art media. There is a solid mix here of humor and art.


Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee--These two girls seem like opposites but that does not stop them from being great friends. The firendly and engaging illustrations show the girls' visible differences--one is quite tall and the other is short--and the differences in what interests them. This is a wonderful example of how best friends come in all sizes.

ELEMENTARY--Grades 2-5

Tumtum and Nutmeg: The Rose Cottage Tales by Emily Bearn--More beautifully told tales of two mice with just the right about of adventure. and a hefty dose of charm. If you loved the first book, you will love this one, too, but you don't need to read them in order.


Scumble by Ingrid Law--This is the sequel to Savvy. Both books are about a family which gains unexpected magical powers on their 13th birthday. Magic is not always easy for those who get to handle or understand.

Toby and the Secrets of the Tree by Timothee de Fombelle--This sequel to Toby Alone continues Toby's quest to save the tree that is his entire world, people with good people and those who would rather destroy the tree than lose their power. The environmental moral is strong and the story is even stronger.


Bibiloburro: A True Story from Colombia by Jeanette Winter--This simple picture book tells a powerful story of a man who takes books by burro to children in the mountains of Colombia. Google "biblioburro" to see videos and read some inspiring articles.

Marsupials by Nic Bishop--Bishop takes the most astounding wildlife photos I have ever seen. Check out all of his other books as well--Frogs, Butterflies, Spiders, and Lizards. One of my favorite parts of each book is the end piece where Bishop explains how he gets his photos. Many take hours and hours of waiting and hoping.

I will soon be putting up more lists as we prepare for our annual book fair. Keep checking back for those suggestions.