Wonder by R.J. Palacio

wonder

Wonder by R.J. Palacio: This book came into my life like a freight train of emotion and steamrolled over everything else I was doing. Auggie is starting fifth grade after being homeschooled for the previous five years: he has extreme facial deformities that make going out in public an almost unbearable trial. Everywhere he goes, people stare at him and whisper to each other. Auggie almost always notices, and wants so very much just to be normal. Inside, he’s as normal as any bright ten year old can be – he adores Star Wars, he likes to play Halo, he’s read all the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, and Halloween is his favorite holiday (since everyone is wearing a mask, he can too, and goes around just like a truly normal kid).

But Wonder isn’t just about Auggie, though he’s the main character. This is one of the few children’s novels I’ve seen that uses more than one narrator, and it’s surprisingly effective. Palacio doesn’t get carried away trying to make each narrator sound distinct (which would complicate matters for young readers): she uses a similar voice for each of the six viewpoint characters, letting their experiences and their emotions differentiate between them rather than her writing style.

This is a happy-sad book. Some moments will stab at you and make you weep, but overall you’ll feel rewarded and uplifted and most of all lucky: lucky to have met August, a character of such everyday bravery that you won’t soon forget him, lucky not to have the cascade of medical afflictions that have made him so remarkable, and lucky to have this beautiful book as a reminder to always be a little more kind than is necessary.

Oliver, Anna, Miss Moore and Rabbit: not just for kids

If you think children’s literature isn’t worthy of discussion, pick up one of these books and prepare to eat your words. These books are not just beautiful, simple, cute stories for children: they have big ideas, big hearts, and important messages to teach readers of all ages. Whether you have a little one to share them with or not, I highly recommend all of them.

oliverOliver by Birgitta Sif: gorgeous, rich, layered illustrations in muted earth tones and fluid character lines that suggest life and movement – brava. So beautifully done, and each page has so much going on; you can follow the unwritten story of the mouse on each page, and careful readers will see that many characters turn up over and over (besides Oliver, of course). Olivia is there all along, living her life parallel to Oliver’s; you can see that they will become best friends. So precious and wonderful.

 

anna the bookbinderAnna the Bookbinder, by Andrea Cheng and Ted Rand: A fantastic picture book! Anna’s father is a bookbinder; she’s helped him in the shop her whole life, and she knows the process very well. When her father is called away from work, Anna steps in to complete an important order. It’s odd to see these historical books where children and parents are coworkers as well as family members, since it’s so unusual now. Despite this book’s happy ending, I found myself wondering if Anna would be able to go to school, to travel, to marry for love – or if her father’s need of help in the bookshop would keep her tied to home forever. Maybe I’m thinking about it too much. 

miss mooreMiss Moore Thought Otherwise by Jan Pinborough and Debby Atwell: Oh Anne Carroll Moore! How I wish I were you. This book – the story of how Miss Moore created the Children’s Library space as we know it today – will make you thankful for children’s libraries. Miss Moore blazes her own trail, she has agency and verve and it’s just so satisfying reading about her successes! Since this is a children’s book, it is biased towards the positive, which made me wonder what Anne’s life was really like, and whether she ever wanted to give up, and what she dreamed of doing but couldn’t finish, and who were the intractable powers-that-be that she overthrew to make her dreams a reality for children everywhere? (It also really, really made me want to time-travel to the opening of the NYPL. Where’s my tardis?)

Rabbityness by Jo Empson: because neon paint splatters. And because of the word ‘rabbityness.’ And because this is a book that doesn’t pretend bad things don’t happen, it’s one that acknowledges that good & bad and old & new change in relation to each other all the time; and one person (or rabbit) can have a big impact.
Rabbityness

Amazing Audiobooks Part One: Family-Friendly Faves

Who says summer road trips have to be boring? Load up the family and hit the open road: the trip will fly by when you bring an audiobook from DPL! Unlike your child’s Nintendo DS or iPod Touch, audiobooks don’t require charging and they will entertain more than one person at a time, including the driver.

These recorded books are winners for the entire family:

Harry Potter series, read for you by Jim Dale: The whole family is sure to love the expertly performed Harry Potter series. Jim Dale’s narration is absolutely perfect; even if you’ve already read the novels, you’ll find something new to love in the recordings. If your children are a bit younger, there are admirable recordings of the Magic Tree House series. For the kids who’ve already read (or aren’t interested in) HP, try Artemis Fowl or Percy Jackson.

 

Bring a box of tissues along with the kids’ classic Bridge to Terabithia, warmly brought to life by narrator Tom Stechschulte. The poignant story of Jess and Leslie has been a favorite since Katherine Paterson penned it in the ’70s. For kids 10+.

Recordings of Suzanne Collins’ runaway hits The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay will be a hit with everyone: mature themes and violence probably make this too grown up for the littlest ones, but don’t let the YA label fool you – adults adore the series too. For kids 12+.

In Nerd Girls: The Rise of the Dorkasaurus, 8th grader Maureen risks life and limb – ok, she risks embarrassing herself in front of the whole school – to stand up to the popular girls who bully her. A funny, relatable story about friendship and the perils of middle school. For kids 12+.

Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody series makes for a charming listening experience – Judy’s misadventures show kids how to handle things when their grand plans don’t work out, and narrator Kate Forbes captures her spunky spirit. Just Grace, about another spirited grade schooler, is a fun choice for the kids who’ve already enjoyed Judy Moody. For kids 8+.

All kinds of great books for kids are available from DPL, from classics like The Chronicles of Narnia and Harriet the Spy to popular new hits like The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Warriors series. Princesses, Sports, Dragons, Animals – whatever your child is interested in, we have an audiobook for it!

*Age recommendations reflect the guidelines printed by the publisher, not DPL’s opinion. Always take your child’s unique level of maturity and experience into account when helping him or her choose books to read.

The Naptime Chef by Kelsey Banfield

Having children changes your life, but it doesn’t have to change what you cook. The Naptime Chef by Kelsey Banfield is equal parts pragmatic parent and ardent foodie. The result is a tasty playbook of meals, made over to save time without compromising taste.

Some favorites are the 45-minute artichoke lasagna, assembled in the morning or afternoon and held in the fridge until dinnertime; a roast chicken that’s rubbed down with herbs in the morning stays moist and flavorful when roasted later in the evening; a French toast casserole that can be tossed together the night before and popped in the oven in the morning for a special breakfast. Soups, salads, veggies, sides, main courses, and desserts are all adapted to the time that you have—whether it’s during naptime, before bedtime, in the morning, or on the weekends—without sacrificing quality or flavor. Take back dinner, one dish at a time! (description from publisher)

Gramma School

I’m going back to “Gramma” School.  Yup, this month we were blessed with a new grandson, so I’m looking forward to spending some time with the little guy and his big sister.  Being a grandmother really is one of the best things in life!

However, I’ve discovered (surprise, surprise) that a few things have changed over the last 30 years, so it seems that one must approach this “parenting-that- is-grand” phase with a life-long learning approach.  One aspect that is usually different – though not always – is that grandparents have more time.  For me, this rings especially true with reading.  As a former teacher, I knew the “read-it-again” rule about re-reading books that kids like, because they learn from the repitition.  With my own children, I probably managed 3 or 4 read-it-agains in one sitting.  But as a grandparent, I’ve read and re-read certain books 8 or 9 times — or at least so many times that I was certain we had both memorized it and that I was going to go insane if I read it again.  (I copped out and suggested that maybe Grandpa could read it again after bathtime.)

Oh — you want to know what that book was?  Well, it’s Martha Doesn’t Say Sorry by Samatha Berger.  It’s a delightful little picture book with lots of pink coloring, though I could never figure out if Martha was a seal or a weasel or what kind of animal she was, other than a cute one.  And why did my precious, perfectly behaved granddaughter want to read that particular book so many times?  I’ll never know.  I didn’t ask.  Oh, yeah, that’s just one of the other little rules I’ve learned in Gramma School.

 

 

Food Week – Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco

Though there are several food-related adult mysteries to blog about (my favorite is  The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by C. Alan Bradley, which Ann blogged about earlier) I’m choosing instead to highlight a delightful childrens book with a food theme — Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco.

Polacco has written (and also beautifully illustrated) many fine stories for the younger set, and some of those, such as Pink and Say, have some pretty weighty underlying themes.  But Thunder Cake is just a fun, family story which not only “teaches” about rain and thunderstorms, but also about how to put a cake together.  By ignoring the thunder and keeping busy gathering ingredients, Grandma effectively dispels her granddaughter’s fear of thunderstorms.  At the end of the story, you’ll find the recipe, which includes a surprise ingredient — tomatoes!  I used this book back when I was a school library-media specialist and I’m looking forward to the time when I can use it again when my own granddaughter is old enough to want to make cakes herself.

I Know I Am, But What Are You? by Samantha Bee

Every night before bed, I try to catch the newest episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  So I was surprised and excited when I saw that one of my favorite Daily Show correspondents, Samantha Bee, had just come out with a book of humorous essays about her life.   In her new book I Know I Am, But What Are You?, Bee covers everything from her upbringing by her Wiccan mother to teaching her friends about the birds and the bees using her Barbie dolls to trying to come up with the perfect gift for her husband and failing miserably.  I was reading this book on a road trip to Chicago and found myself laughing out loud and sharing  passages with my sister and husband, who couldn’t help but laugh out loud themselves, particularly at the passage where she described her son wanting to put the family cat in his mouth in order “to be kept safe forever in a protective human boy suit.”

Though she stays out of the realm of political humor that she is famous for on The Daily Show, Bee has no problem finding hilarious situations in her own life to write about.  One of my favorites is her story of how she met her husband, fellow Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones:  they were both in a traveling stage production of the childrens cartoon Sailor Moon, complete with anime-style outfits and a lot of very displeased children in the audience.  You don’t have to be a fan of The Daily Show to enjoy this book; you just have to be looking for a good laugh.

The Bicycle Runner by G. Franco Romagnoli

Like all boys growing up in Rome during the 1930’s and 40’s, the author was expected to join Balilla, Mussolini’s Fascist Youth Organization in Italy.  An unwilling participant, he counters this activity by becoming a bicycle runner, secretly delivering pamphlets and other materials to members of the Resistance.  Later, near the end of the war, after Italy has surrendered to the Allies but is still controlled by a puppet German government, Romagnoli flees Rome to avoid military conscription.  Hiding in the remote mountainous countryside, he becomes even more dangerously involved in the Resistance, working with both American and British soldiers.

But The Bicycle Runner, which covers his life from ages 14-25, is much more than a war story.  In fact, it reads much more like a coming-of-age novel, full of the usual adolescent angst weaved together with plenty of humorous anecdotes.  Examples include his descriptions of fearful confessions to the local priest (which the entire congregation can hear)  to his first experiences with love and lust.

The author may be better known for co-hosting the first American television program on Italian cooking, The Romagnoli’s Table, for which he  coauthored two companion books.  Though he passed away in December of 2008, the love for his native land and culture comes through strikingly clear;  the subtitle, A Memoir of Love, Loyalty and the Italian Resistance, is perfectly appropriate.

Challenged: The Lorax by Dr. Suess

LoraxMost people are familiar with Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax –a story about the little mustachioed creature who warns the Once-ler (and the reader) about the harm caused by taking advantage of nature’s resources, but did you know that this classic book was challenged in a California Public School in 1989 for demonizing the logging industry to children?

Of the top ten banned books of 2008, all were children/young adult books (or adult fiction being read by young adults) and of those, seven were cited for being “unsuitable for age group.” What is interesting is how often the books challenged by adults are the most beloved by children– all of my childhood favorites were on the list of banned books from 1990-1999: Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George, The Witches by Roald Dahl and The Giver by Lois Lowry. I have no doubt that I would be a different person if I had not experienced these stories as a ten-year-old, an eleven-year-old and a twelve-year-old (respectively).

…interesting fact: [The Lorax] used to contain the line, “I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie,” but 14 years after the book was published, the Ohio Sea Grant Program wrote to Seuss and told him how much the conditions had improved and implored him to take the line out. Dr. Seuss agreed and said that it wouldn’t be in future editions. (from mentalfloss.com’s The Quick 10: Stories Behind 10 Dr. Seuss Stories by Stacy Conradt )

Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan

re-one-of-themYou know what it’s like when you just can’t put a book down? Well, this widely acclaimed book was one I actually had to put down. I just needed to take a break from all the suffering and violence. Still, it’s a book I’m recommending. In fact, I really think that it should be required reading for most adult Americans. Why? Because how many of us are acutely aware of what is really happening in Africa? Sure, you may have heard it on the news, but this book will affect how you feel about those happenings.

The author, Uwem Akpan, is a Jesuit priest who was born in Nigeria and later educated in Michigan. He chooses to tell most of these short stories (a few quite long) through the eyes of children. This, in my view, makes them all the more tragic. For example, in the last story, “In my Parents’ Bedroom,” the young narrator, Monique, can’t understand why the ceiling is bleeding. For me, this was the most powerful story, reminding me of the movie Hotel Rwanda. Monique is the daughter of a Tutsi mother and a Hutu father and the title, Say You’re One of Them, is based upon the advice her mother gives her shortly before the machete-wielding mob arrives.

In the story, “An Ex-Mas Feast,” a 12- year old girl works as a prostitute in order to feed her starving family. And, in “Fattening for Gabon,” two children are sent to live with their slave-trading uncle as their parents die of AIDS. So, no, this is not a pleasant book, but it is an important one. For all those literally starving children in Africa, please at least give it a try.