Staff Picks: Books

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

A co-worker read and recommended the Teen title Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, and his description sounded intriguing. What sets the story apart and adds to the book’s mystique are old photographs that are interspersed with the text.

Sixteen year old Jacob has had to endure the sudden death of his grandfather, which occurred under decidedly odd circumstances. Jacob ventures to a remote island in Wales with his father, to try and unravel the mystery. Miss Peregrine’s orphanage does indeed contain a host of children with peculiar talents. Time travel, strange and rather horrific beings, and a strong sense of place make this fantasy hard to put down.

There is a 2014 sequel as well, titled Hollow City, which continues the adventures and which I certainly intend to read.


Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

The Boy on the Wooden Box

Leon Leyson was number 289, the youngest on the list.  The list that would eventually mean life for more than a thousand Jews.  Leon was Number 289 on Schindler's list.  His powerful memoir, The Boy on the Wooden Box  tells his story to the young people of today what it was like surviving the Holocaust.  The reader sees this horrific time through the eyes of a child.  His youthful perspective brings a powerful message of survival and humanity.  Leon was only a boy during WWII, spending most of his years from 10-19 in Jewish ghettos, work, concentration and displaced persons camps.  The hunger, loss, pain and suffering are real.  Separated for months at a time from his family, Leon found the will to survive inside of him.  If you are a reader at 40 or a child at 10 reading this book, you will feel the struggle. You will hold your breath as the family is forced to separate.  You will wonder how evil can exist.  You will wonder if Leon ever sees the faces again of his brothers.  Share this book with your children or students. 

I think the dedication page is its own recommendation for reading this book:  "To my brothers, Tsalig and Hershel, and to all the sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, parents and grandparents who perished in the Holocaust.  And to Oskar Schindler, whose noble actions did indeed save a "world entire." - Leon Leyson


The Boy on the Wooden Box

Prepare for fall movie releases with summer reading...

Film adaptations of three recent novels and one middle school classic are scheduled for release this fall. Why not take advantage of summer reading season to read, or perhaps re-read, the books that have inspired these upcoming movies:

The Giver by Lois Lowry - August 15 release

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - October 3 release

The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks - October 17 release

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins - November 21 release


Gone Girl


Time.  So many clichés about time. Time goes so fast….if I only had more time….time heals….time flies….time is running out.  Seriously friends....NOW is the TIME! Read The Fault in Our Stars!  The movie comes out this June, and you need to connect with the characters before seeing it on the big screen.  As a Teen Services staff member when a book comes out by John Green, it instantly becomes the top slot on my To Read list.  TFIOS fills all of my expectations from this author.  The story takes us along when Hazel, a teenager with terminal cancer, meets Augustus at a cancer support group for kids.  The typical coming-of-age story, but with a terminal twist.  You are instantly vested in the characters from the beginning.  I read this book quickly, trying to get myself to the happy ending I was sure was coming.  I laughed when they laughed and cried when they cried.  Take time to read it for yourself.

Are you already a John Green fan?  Perhaps you've already read this book.  It is not new, it was published in 2012.  If you're a teen, tell your parents why they should read it.  If you're an adult, find a teenager to recommend it to.  Then join us at the Central Library on Tuesday, June 3 at 6:30 to celebrate An Abundance of John Green.  You'll have the chance to record your own video about why someone else should read any of John Green's books!  Check out the event page for more info, a Nerdfighter video and the TFIOS movie trailer!


The Fault in our Stars

The Mad Potter

The arresting photo on the cover of this book caught my eye and I was quickly drawn into the quirky world of George Ohs, who called himself The Mad Potter.

Born in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1871, George Ohs was a largely self-taught potter, making items like no one had ever seen before. It wasn’t until long after his death that the art world came to appreciate what he called his “mud babies.”

The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius tells his fascinating story and is illustrated with intriguing historic photographs.


The Mad Potter

Grasshopper Jungle

Once in a while a book comes along and completely destroys everything you thought you knew about everything. Andrew Smith's latest book for older teens, Grasshopper Jungle, is exactly that book. Set in desolate small-town Iowa, Grasshopper Jungle is sixteen-year-old Austin's first-hand account of both the end of the world and also his teenage sexual confusion, although not exactly in that order. Where in most teenage giant monster stories the giant monsters function as a metaphor for teen angst, in Grasshopper Jungle these tropes are completely reversed to amazing effect. As Freud might say, sometimes a giant maneating mutant insect is just a giant maneating mutant insect. Grasshopper Jungle is totally dark, funny, crass, creepy, weird and awesome. It's definitely not for those with aversions to copious amounts of sex, violence, swearing, or GIANT MANEATING UNSTOPPABLE BUGS but aside from all that, Grasshopper Jungle is seriously amazing writing. My favorite book of the year so far, and one that's going to be really hard to top.


Grasshopper Jungle

He Said, She Said

This is a high-school love story with a subplot about protesting arts funding cuts at their high school. The chapters bounce back and forth between Omar “T-Diddy” Smalls and Claudia Clarke, newspaper editor. They are both seniors at West Charleston High School in South Carolina. T-Diddy was born in the Bronx, but was sent to live with his uncle Albert two years ago to avoid trouble with the law. T-Diddy is the star quarterback of the Panthers and he is pumped by the defeat of their Powerhouse rivals: Bayside Tornadoes.

Although Claudia is turned-off by playas like T-Diddy, she soon realizes his clout with his social media skills at bringing classmates together to protest Arts cuts. T-Diddy is dedicated to restoring arts funding to their school and so is Claudia. They realize the power of collaboration. Their Principal, Dr. Brenda Jackson, aka Cruella, supports the cuts made by the school board, including the drama guild, the poetry club, the choir, and the marching band, library closure three days a week, and several teachers and staff lay-offs. However, these cuts become unacceptable to T-Diddy, Claudia, and the rest of the student body.

As Omar and Claudia spend more time together, their young love blossoms. Omar’s Uncle Albert supports their protests and provides knowledge he gained during the Civil Rights Movement.

This is definitely a worthwhile read for all teens and reinforces the power and strength of togetherness.


He Said, She Said

The Impossible Knife of Memory

Isn't that a great title? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson's latest teen novel and it is incredible as usual! I think this statement about Anderson from a New York Times  review by Jo Knowles says it better than I ever could:

“Beginning with the publication of her award-winning young adult novel Speak in 1999, Laurie Halse Anderson has written with honesty and grit, bravely shedding light on such once-taboo topics as rape, eating disorders, suicide and addiction. In doing so, she has helped build the current landscape of contemporary young adult literature. Anderson writes the hard truth, stirring debate and discussion among both fans and objectors, and ultimately creating long overdue conversations about the real issues teenagers face every day.”

Kids and teens need to see themselves and their stories reflected in literature, even the hard stories. And they need to see the stories they may never personally experience portrayed in literature as well. In The Impossible Knife of Memory, Anderson writes with depth and authenticity about the sometimes devastating effects of war and PTSD and about the raw, reality of loving a parent who struggles with addiction. This book will change lives in that wonderful way that literature can. I am honored to have read it and I don't regret for a moment sobbing my way through it. 


The Impossible Knife of Memory

Notes from the Blender

I like teen books. They’re clever, easy to read, and they usually end well, even if the story gets messy in the middle. Here’s what I liked, especially, about Notes from the Blender:

It’s told in two different voices: a boy and a girl (unrelated) whose single parents have hooked up and gotten pregnant. Suddenly Declan finds he’s going to be step-brother to his biggest crush. Popular, beautiful Neilly, whose parents divorced when her father came out, now finds herself estranged from her mother, yet oddly open to making friends with Declan, one of the least cool kids in school.

There are four positive gay characters in the story, including Neilly’s father and his fiancé. Neilly likes her new stepdad-to-be, and she proudly defends her father’s sexual orientation.

Declan’s lesbian aunt is minister at the Unitarian Universalist (UU) church he attends. The way the adults in the church are portrayed is pretty realistic of UU communities. Unitarian Universalism doesn’t get much press in our culture, but teens who are UU’s deserve to have their church show up positively in novels. He has a close relationship with his aunt and her partner, which deepened after his mother died.

Declan’s dad gets to be a real man with feelings, grief and awkwardness, who generally communicates well with Declan (even though he botched the chance to tell Declan about his new love, before there was a baby on the way.)

Authors Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin also paired up for A Really Awesome Mess in 2013.


Notes from the Blender


Cassia Reyes lives in a peaceful, carefully planned Society where citizens are sorted into occupations and matched with their mates by government officials who use statistical modeling and drugs to ensure the perfect lives for their people. Cassia has no real needs- food, shelter, schooling, and even death are tightly controlled: a planned 80-year lifespan limitation may seem a little cold, but everything is done by the Officials for the good of the people. When Cassia is Matched with her childhood friend Xander, everything appears to be going exactly according to the Society's plans, but when the face of Ky (an "Aberration", prohibited from the same rights as normal citizens) briefly appears on Cassia's screen in error, the perfection of the Society begins to unravel.

While there may be an unavoidable comparison to the Hunger Games (female protagonist who has to choose between the love of two boys, oppressive government and society), the similarities are only surface-level. Matched is thoughtful, less action-oriented, and has more in common with A Brave New World, 1984 or The Giver. The story continues in two sequels, and the scope of the conflict between the Society's ideals and the desire of humans to make their own choices widens.

Want to know more? Meet author Ally Condie on Thursday, November 7th, 6:30 PM at Central library!



The Wish List

I love the way Eoin Colfer writes. I was hooked on his book “Benny and Omar” then I got hooked on the Artemis Fowl series. I just finished his book “The Wish List” and am still happy with his brand of writing. In The Wish List Meg and Belch are robbing an old man. Meg is reluctant and basically a good girl but Belch is rotten. When the old man pulls a shotgun Belch sic’s Raptor, his Rottweiler on the old man. Meg tries to help out, Belch is not happy. Meg jumps out the window and Belch follows her. Belch has the shotgun and in the ensuing struggle it goes off and a gas generator explodes killing Meg, Belch and Raptor. Now the twist, up until then it was a regular story but Eoin Colfer does not write just regular stories. Meg finds herself given a second chance. St. Peter gives her a chance to redeem herself and he sends her back to earth to help the old man. Belch has merged with his dog Raptor and the Devil has sent back him back to make sure Meg fails so he could get her soul. It makes an entertaining read.


The Wish List

Awesome indeed!

As Andrea says below, teen books are great ffun to read for adults as well as teens.  As additional prooff, I offer you The song of the Quarkbeast, by Jasper Fforde.  Fforde, who has written several series for adults, started a series for a younger crowd with The last dragonslayer.  In this sequel, you will find light spheres that run on sarcasm, additional references to marzipan as a controlled substance, and an enlightening and thought-provoking view on how trolls view the human species (on page 200), as well as the most delightful sentence I've read recently.

"She was so crabby, in fact, that even really crabby people put their crabbiness aside to write her gushing yet mildly sarcastic fan letters."


The song of the Quarkbeast

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I Geek Teen Books! I know we've talked about this before but I love young adult fiction. Always have. Always will. Rainbow Rowell's new book, Fangirl, had me up until well past 2 a.m., desperate to find out what happens to Cather in her first year of college. I laughed and cried and missed the characters when they were done. Cath and her twin sister Wren, so named because their mother couldn't be bothered to come up with two names (get it? Cather and Wren=Catherine), start their freshman year of college at the same university. Wren is both easygoing and outgoing. Cath is neither. Both have family baggage that comes with them to school. I loved the depth of this coming-of-age novel and the way I saw myself in every one of the characters at one moment or other. I wouldn't say I loved it as much as I loved Eleanor and Park but I can tell that I will be thinking about the characters for quite some time. And I will read it again soon, I'm sure.

Sometimes I meet people who are surprised at my love for teen fiction. "Shouldn't an adult read adult books?", they say. "Especially a librarian", they say. To that I say, "pffft!" So many adults are reading what you might call teen or young adult books. Do you know why? Because they are awesome. And there is depth and truth throughout. Also, they don't bog me down with details. I wish I could express it better than that but sometimes you just know what you like. 

It's different for all of us and it can be hard to define exactly what we like and why we like it. But know this.....Whatever you geek, KPL supports you! Love what you love and feel good about it! And let us help you find more of the good stuff! That's our job and we love it!


Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and Park

One of my favorite things about reading a novel is when I come across one with characters so believable, so engaging, that I think about them for days after I’ve finished the book.  Eleanor and Park was just one of those books for me, and I nearly decided not to read it because it was labeled as young adult fiction.  Based on the recommendation of someone whose opinion I trusted, I put my teen lit prejudices aside and found I couldn’t put the book down once I had picked it up.  Eleanor and Park are sixteen in 1986, social outcasts, and falling in love over comic books and New Wave.  I’m certain I would have been friends with them in high school.

Tension in the novel arises from Eleanor’s home life—she lives in poverty with an abusive stepfather.  Her situation is a tough one, and it’s heartbreaking, but author Rainbow Rowell manages present her story in a realistic way without turning it into a schmaltzy after-school special.  I consider the absence of schmaltz a major feat since this is basically a story about two socially awkward teenagers falling in love for the first time, and it’s ripe with opportunities for sentimentality.  This book is good for anyone, teen or adult, who likes great character development.


Eleanor and Park

Missing May

Missing May is a bitter-sweet story about the after-effects of coping with the death of a most-beloved wife and stepmother named May. For many years May and Ob, her husband, a disabled Navy veteran, lived in Deep Water, West Virginia in a rusty old trailer. They were a childless couple until they met Summer, a distant relative who became parentless at the age of six, and who was subsequently “adopted” by May and Ob.

The story begins after May’s death. May was a very loving woman and both Ob and Summer grieve so desperately that they attempt to find May’s spirit. Cletus Underwood, a kid from Summer’s seventh grade class, befriends Ob and senses Ob’s despair. He tells Ob and Summer about a Spiritualist in a nearby county, so, Ob, Summer, and Cletus begin a quest to find The Reverend Miriam B. Conklin, Small Medium at Large. Do Ob and Summer find what they’re looking for to quell their sadness? You will discover the truth after reading this inspirational story that received the 1993 John Newbery Award.


Missing May


Looking for a great audio book? I loved the audio version of “Dodger” by Terry Pratchett. On a dark and stormy night (what else) in Victorian London, a young 17 year old man named Dodger happens upon a young woman who is being kidnapped. He rescues her, and being a young man who makes his living from the streets, knows how to survive and protect her. It fast becomes apparent that some very bad men are trying to get Felicity back. Whirlwind action, mystery and history combine to make great listening. I’ve listened to lots of audio books over the years, and the reader can make or break a story. The reader here does a great job, and sounds as though he’s thoroughly enjoying himself.

Pratchett has some real life people make appearances, such as Charles Dickens as a sharp newspaper reporter, and also Sweeney Todd, the famous barber murderer. Dodger interacts with them, in what Pratchett calls “historical fantasy.” It’s so well done that it seems perfectly natural.

I really enjoyed this audio version from start to finish, and hope Pratchett does a sequel, preferably soon!



Facts Schmacts

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion; however, everyone is not entitled to their own facts.”—Michael Specter, author of  Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives

“Facts are meaningless. You can use facts to prove anything that’s even remotely true. Facts schmacts.” –Homer Simpson


Now, I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy (unless the next guy is Jesse Ventura).  In fact, I recently watched a feature-length documentary that details all the crazy theories people have conjured up about secret meanings that Stanley Kubrick supposedly packed into his 1980 film The Shining.  One of these notions is that Kubrick used the Stephen King  adaptation to clandestinely confess that he helped NASA fake the moon landing in 1969.  It would be generous to call the “evidence” these theorists use to make their case for this a stretch: a boy wears an Apollo 11 sweater; a key chain that reads “ROOM No. 237” contains the same letters that one could use to spell “moon room.”  Of course, none of the theorists consider the thought that if they wanted to know if the moon landing happened or not, an old horror movie is probably not the place to go digging for evidence.  But this is just another example of the human tendency to choose one’s beliefs first and selectively scavenge for support second.  These folks are so convinced they are right, that they choose to ignore or deny any kind of actual, factual evidence that would contradict them.

This very conspiracy theory provides the title for the graphic nonfiction book How to Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing the Myths of Science Denial, in which author-illustrator Darryl Cunningham takes some of the most widespread—and often life-threatening—instances of science denial rampant in popular opinion today and presents the scientific evidence to refute them.  Using comic book panels and concise, well-researched information, Cunningham tackles topics like homeopathy, climate change and fracking, debunking the myths surrounding these issues and presenting the science in an accessible manner for both teens and adults.  It’s a quick read and I definitely recommend it to everyone, particularly if you are more likely to believe what Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy have to say about the vaccine-autism controversy than actual scientists.


How to Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing the Myths of Science Denial

Boom, Boom, Pop!

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

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

Ship Breaker

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.


Ship Breaker

Still one of the best teen books!

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 Outsiders

The Orange Houses

I have not read much in the way of teen novels lately, but did get around to Paul Griffin’s 2010 effort entitled The Orange Houses. It concerns three rather unlikely allies, brought together by various circumstances into a state of friendship. The novel takes place during the course of a little over one month and the stories of these three individuals are told in alternating chapters.

First, there is Tamika, or Mik, who has been partially deaf since childhood. She attends a tough high school and manages to close herself off to the world around her by using her disability as an excuse.

Then there’s Jimmi Sixes, a nineteen year old war veteran, whose girlfriend committed suicide while he was enlisted. He turns to drugs, and despite trying to straighten up his life, his thoughts are regularly interrupted by a nagging question...Is life really worth living? And if so, then at what expense? Although he is Mik’s protective friend, (especially from the bullies she encounters at school), he is nonetheless detested by her mother as being a bad influence.

Finally, there is Fatima, a rather gentle soul who is an illegal immigrant from Africa. She arrives in New York on a ship all alone, with only the clothes on her back. She is looking and hoping for a better future in the United States and longs to see the Statue of Liberty up close. She is also a whiz at making beautiful, folded paper creations that are endearing mementos to those she shares them with.

This novel is a fast moving and absorbing read, ending in a dreadful outcome that the reader will not soon forget. The “orange houses” in the title refers to the projects, where all three characters reside; a place that offers little hope of redemption, where poverty prevails and where life is put on hold. The book made it onto the 2010 list of the best books for teens.

Reading this novel, brought back very fond memories of meeting one of my favorite teen authors, Robert Cormier, who did a book talk at Kent State University in the late 1970s while I attended library school there.

During the mid to late 70s and beyond, Mr. Cormier had written The Chocolate War, published in 1974 and I Am the Cheese, published in 1977, probably his most prominent and attention receiving books that were later made into movies. His other works included Beyond the Chocolate War, Tunes for Bears to Dance To, After the First Death, and Other Bells for Us to Ring.

His novels were famous at the time for their complex intensity. They covered sensitive as well as controversial themes, such as abuse, violence, revenge, betrayal, and conspiracy.

All in all Cormier, who passed away in late 2000, was considered by many experts as a gifted author and a major influence on teen literature. To this day, KPL still owns many of his books in their collection, and if you are not familiar with his writings, whether you are a teen or not, do yourself a favor and check them out.


The Orange Houses

33 Minutes

This book is the story of Sam Lewis and the events that unfold during the 33 Minutes until Morgan Sturtz kicks his butt at recess (and then around 60 more minutes of aftermath). The author speaks directly to his tween audience, and gets it right. The voice of middle school is heard loud and clear over food fights, fire alarms and friendships. It’s funny, fast paced, heart-warming and breaking all at once. It’s the perfect book to recommend to kids that are starting to outgrow the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. The lessons in 33 Minutes on friendship and staying true to one’s self will stick with the reader long after the worst day of Sam’s life and his middle school years have passed. I think it would be awesome to have a teacher like Ms. Z who can say: “This sucks….Wait. Be patient. You’re not going to be here forever. And in the meantime, even though you and this place don’t fit together so great all the time, be you.” Now, a sigh of relief from me that middle school has passed and that authors like Todd Hasak-Lowy are writing realistic books for tweens to read during the transition of middle school. Meet Todd at Bookbug in Kalamazoo on May 5 at 4 pm!


33 Minutes

Tales From Outer Suburbia

“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


Desert Island Teen Novels

An idea hatched in our KPL Innovation Team to celebrate the popularity of teen novels to adult readers during the month of April. No other segment of the publishing industry has consistently grown over the past few years. Adults are unabashedly checking out novels specifically written for teens. In 2012, Amazon listed John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars as one of the overall Ten Best Books of the Year which is quite an accomplishment when measured against the adult competition. I spent the first half of my career at KPL as the Teen Services Librarian and during that time a new “Golden Age” of Teen Literature had begun. During that time I read hundreds of novels for teens and below list the five titles I would want with me if stranded on a desert island.

1. Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas – The creator of the cult classic TV show Veronica Mars  pens a now classic tale of Steve York, troubled teen and son of an astronaut. York is charged with writing an essay about his life in order to graduate. The result is a hilarious look at one teen’s transformation from shooting star to crashed space debris.
2. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher – Disfigured Sarah and formerly fat kid Eric are unlikely friends. When she enters a mental institution, Eric learns the story behind her “accident” and demonstrates incredible loyalty to readers. The in-class discussions the teens have in this novel are amazing.
3. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson – Melinda is raped at a party right before entering high school. When she is discovered calling the police by her friends, they turn on her because they are unaware of her situation. She decides not to speak during the school year and is haunted in the halls every day by her attacker.
4. Feed by M.T. Anderson – In the future humans are implanted with feeds to help them digitally navigate the world. Titus and his friends love being able to interact with one another, immediately order clothes, and listen to the latest music. His view changes when he meets Violet, a girl with a damaged feed and little hope for the future.
5. Dangerous Angels: The Weetzie Bat Books  by Francesca Lia Block – Five short novels combined to make a magical book featuring the eccentric Weetzie Bat and friends. A modern fairy tale of mysticism, and hot dogs that is filled with inventive slang, colorful settings, and most importantly a huge dose of love in a dangerous world.


Rats Saw God

Artemis Fowl

Artemis Fowl is a 12 year old boy genius who kidnaps a fairy in order to get her gold. This is the first in a series and is titled Artemis Fowl. Artemis is what every 12 year old boy wants to be. His mom has dementia so he is not hampered by her rules and having to go to school, yet he does miss her and would still like to have her back as his mom. Artemis has a man servant with the last name of Butler who is huge and protects Artemis. The first thing that happens is that Artemis captures a fairy book. With this first chapter we are introduced to Artemis and find out that he has a castle, has a great computer network, that he is always two steps ahead of everyone and that Butler is very strong and dedicated. Artemis uses the knowledge in this fairy book to ambush Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon fairy unit. He holds her hostage and demands a ton of gold. The fairies try to get Holly back but are defeated time after time by Artemis. Root, a commander in the LEPrecon unit decides to send in a dwarf named Mulch. This book is written for a teen age audience. It is heavy into to fairies, dwarfs, goblins, trolls etc. It also has the gassy fart humor that teen age boys enjoy. The drawf can unhinge his jaw and tunnel through dirt. Prior to starting he also opens the back flap of his tunneling pants because what goes in the jaw comes out the other end. He also builds up a tremendous amount of air pressure and he actually is able to use this to incapacitate Butler. This book is full of details about fairy life. This is book one of a series. I got my copy from KPL's digital audio collection but we also have them in hard copy. I look forward to “reading” (having them read to me) the others.


Artemis Fowl

Celebrating Teen Literature

Having spent the first part of my KPL career working in the Teen Services area, I had the opportunity to be exposed to a whole new genre of literature that I’m quite sure didn’t really exist when I was a teen. As a result, and because I had to know what I was talking about when recommending books, I read perhaps a disproportionate amount of teen literature as an adult. Among some of my favorites, in no particular order, were:

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson
The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt
I Am the Messenger by Marcus Zusak
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
Going Bovine by Libba Bray

As I review this list, I recognize that the overriding theme of most of these titles is self-identity, obviously a developmental hallmark for kids between the ages of 12 and 18. I also recognize honest characters, humor, and intelligent writing as some common features of many of these books, things that I would think are important to kids today who are looking for a book that will be worth the time it takes to read…no small task in this digital age of immediate gratification.

What’s worth noting, however, is that those themes still speak to me as an adult and that sometimes, tackling them through the eyes of young protagonist gives me just the perspective I need in my own life.

If you haven’t been to the Teen room lately, you owe it to yourself to check it out and perhaps find a book that will appeal to you.


Going Bovinge 


My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Beach reads can be great, but they imply a certain amount of fluffiness that simply doesn't come to mind when I think about Huntley Fitzpatrick's My Life Next Door. Not that you'd know that just from a quick glance at the cover art and brief description... so I was surprised when I quickly discovered that My Life Next Door is most definitely not a turn off your brain and settle in for a comfy, sedate ride kind of book. Instead, it was filled with angst, painful decisions, and intense romance and friendship and family drama.

The characters of My Life Next Door are one of the best aspects of the novel. Each has a very distinct personality, so, despite there being quite a few children running around in various passages, each character was easily identified. I felt like I knew these characters... like maybe I lived on the other side of the Garrett's growing up and we all happened to be neighbors. I found myself tightly wrapped in the emotional ups and downs of these characters.

The main character, Samantha, is not perfect, though she's spent much of her life trying to fit the image her mother so carefully cultivates. I cheered each of Sam's rebel moments, proud of her for doing something for herself rather than her mother. And I appreciated the fact that Sam really didn't do anything that would be harmful to herself. Her rebellion wasn't full of drugs, alcohol, and sex, but rather the bravery to accept the sometimes messy, but rewarding parts of life outside of one's comfort zone.

Huntley Fitzpatrick is a talented writer and I can easily imagine her novels gaining a healthy following, much like Sarah Dessen and Deb Caletti's novels. I, for one, am anxiously awaiting news of her next project!


My Life Next Door

The Aviary by Kathleen O'Dell

Every time I stumble across a book like Kathleen O'Dell's The Aviary, I'm amazed that more readers - of all ages - don't read middle grade. The Aviary is very Gothic in setting and tone and simultaneously bursting with colorful characters, a unique combination. There are secrets and magic, plus a good dose of realism and a lesson or two as well. It actually reminded me a bit of Ransom Riggs' Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

The main character, Clara, is a delightful character: headstrong, adventurous, and incurably curious. I would have enjoyed The Aviary based solely on the premise and setting, but Clara made me love it. Her curiosity was engaging and infectious, ensuring that the reader was never plagued by a dull moment or stale passage, simply because Clara herself was always plotting her next move and going off on some adventure.

Since The Aviary is in many respects a mystery, there are many great elements I feel I can't really comment on in much depth. I can, however, say that every detail in The Aviary comes together quite elegantly and I was left completely satisfied by the ending. I spent much of the novel hypothesizing about how everything fit together... I liked that the mystery wasn't ridiculously easy to solve, but all the pieces of the puzzle were there, waiting to be put together by the reader and the intrepid Clara.

The Aviary is one of wonderful titles that can be enjoyed by a wide variety of readers. It is, plain and simple, a wonderfully written and imagined novel and didn't feel at all confined to one specific reading level. It could easily be a read for the whole family and will appeal to those who usually read young adult or adult titles.


The Aviary

Me, Him, Them, and It

Me, Him, Them and It  by Caela Carter is definitely one of the best literary takes on teen pregnancy I've read. Carter tackles the subject with a deft hand, and while it can be said that she pushes her heroine, Evelyn, in some directions more than others, I felt that the novel presents a well-rounded and realistic portrayal of a teen faced with an unexpected pregnancy.

Evelyn is a smart girl who makes some reckless decisions in an attempt to both punish and draw the attention of her very absent parents. While she used to have a relatively strong relationship with her father and at least a passably good relationship with her mother, that all changed when her father had an affair. Instead of her parents splitting up, her mother decided to take her father back and stay together, but things are far from normal. The house is always tense and silent and Evelyn rarely see her parents who are so busy avoiding each other they forget she's even around.

Evelyn takes what one might consider the stereotypical route and begins rebelling. She quits her extracurriculars, starts lying, distances herself from her friends, and decides to lose herself in meaningless sex. Except for what starts out as meaningless sex turns into more when Evelyn finds herself falling for Todd. And then finds herself pregnant.

One of my favorite aspects of Me, Him, Them and It is how real Evelyn felt. There are moments when she's brave, moments of realization, and moments of undeniable immaturity. At first, she's terrified of what will happen to her life and what people will think of her. Not only is she pregnant, but she doesn't have a boyfriend, which she knows will create all kinds of gossip. Her aunt, who she looks up to and considers one of the only reliable adults in her life, lives far away and has no idea how much she's changed and Evelyn fears disappointing her. Along with the fear of what others will think, come Evelyn's fears about losing her freedom, gaining weight, her grades slipping, and her entire future. Overwhelmed, Evelyn shuts down and attempts to push all the decisions regarding the pregnancy and the baby onto her parents and every other adult she comes in contact with. But the author doesn't let Evelyn off the hook that easily, which I feel is extremely important. Evelyn's mother would be more than happy to make all the decisions, but she doesn't. Instead, she stresses to Evelyn how important it is that she make the decisions because, ultimately, it is her life and nobody can live it for her. This doesn't mean that our heroine is left all alone to figure things out, after all, she's only sixteen. There are many great secondary characters that form a support system for Evelyn that are integral to her decision making process.

In addition to Evelyn's parents, she also gains insight from her aunt, her partner, a counselors, and doctors. Despite her negative view of her parents, it's clear that they care a great deal for her and, though they've both made mistakes, are determined to be there for her no matter how she decides to proceed. Evelyn's aunts, who she lives with during the decision making process, are a fantastic support system, as one provides much needed understanding and the other provides structure, while they both provide plenty of love.

One character who is notably absent from the decision making process is the baby's father, Todd. While he does have some input, more or less saying that the decision is completely Evelyn's and that he doesn't want to participate in the baby's life if she chooses to keep it, he is otherwise absent when it comes to the pregnancy. I came to appreciate this detail as Evelyn struggled internally with her feelings for Todd and the idea of the baby being a catalyst for them to start a family. I'm so glad that Todd wasn't physically near Evelyn as she sorted through her options because it would have been entirely too easy for her to succumb to that fantasy, but it was fantasy and his distance allowed her to see that.

I also appreciated that Me, Him, Them and It touched on every available option to consider when faced with an unexpected pregnancy and the pros and cons. Adoption, both open and closed, teen parenthood, alone and with help or the father, and abortion are all discussed and explored. Furthermore, Planned Parenthood, religion, and family opinion are all considered. I truly felt that all options were fairly represented.

In the end, I feel that Evelyn not only made an educated decision, she also made the decision that was best for her. Of course, I can't say much more without spoiling the ending, but had come a long way by the conclusion of the novel. Her situation, though not ideal, forced her to think about her future, change her lifestyle, and her take some time away from a pretty unhealthy environment to figure things out. Though the novel did wrap up neatly, I wasn't left feeling that things were too calm or perfect. The Evelyn at the end of Me, Him, Them and It is clearly different than the one at the beginning and that, for me, allowed for a satisfying conclusion.


Me, Him, Them, and It



Mind Games

Kiersten White's Paranormalcy books missed the mark for me, but I was pleasantly surprised by her newest offering, Mind Games, which achieves a maturity the Paranormalcy books did not. I think it was actually the UK version title, Sister Assassins, that really caught my attention - as I'm obsessed with assassins, especially female assassins - though, after reading, I feel that Mind Games is a more fitting title. I was also drawn by the description, found below:

Fia was born with flawless instincts. Her first impulse, her gut feeling, is always exactly right. Her sister, Annie, is blind to the world around her—except when her mind is gripped by strange visions of the future.

Trapped in a school that uses girls with extraordinary powers as tools for corporate espionage, Annie and Fia are forced to choose over and over between using their abilities in twisted, unthinkable ways…or risking each other’s lives by refusing to obey.

A detail that I feel I should touch on is that the book has been marketed as an "intense psychological thriller about two sisters determined to protect each other," and while this may be technically true, I felt that the older sister, Annie, wasn't focused on nearly as much as Fia. I knew she was there in the plot, doing things, but I simply wasn't as concerned about her and I certainly wasn't as invested in her character.

However, I really enjoy Fia as a character. She's a dangerously broken individual that has the potential to turn dark, but she's inherently good. Because she sometimes lapses into immaturity and shows unexpected emotion, emotion that is the very opposite of the cutthroat assassin she's been trained to be, it's easy to see the Fia she could have been if her life hadn't been hijacked by the mysterious group that runs the "school" she and Annie attend.

The atmosphere of this novel (i.e. Fia, her boss, love interest, and the group that controls the sisters) are reminiscent of the characters and plot of shows like ABC's Alias and The CW's Nikita, which I love... and which probably contributed to my liking Mind Games as much as I did. Many of the characters are more than they seem, hiding something, or have the potential to give into the power they yield and use it for evil rather than good.

I feel that Mind Games is a great introduction to Fia and Annie's world. The action really picked up by the end of the novel, which I think bodes well for the next installment.


Mind Games

Blind Spot

Michigan author Laura Ellen's Blind Spot left me emotional and confused. For me, Blind Spot is one of those unique novels that gains power over the reader by causing intense emotional turmoil and frustration. Basically, this book made me so angry and frustrated that I haven't been able to banish it from my thoughts.

The main character, Roz, suffers from macular degeneration, leaving her legally blind. She constantly struggles to make up for this deficit as she maneuvers her way through high school, but her eyesight is, unsurprisingly, always on her mind, making her self-conscious and lowering her self-esteem. Constantly frustrated from feeling helpless and out of her element in many situation while still wanting to be able to handle everything herself and without help, Roz has a tendency to jump to conclusions and snap at those around her, even those with the best intentions. This aspect of the novel felt very realistic to me. My younger sister was born with glaucoma and I think she'd identify closely with Roz. I can't say what goes on inside my sister's head, but I do know how she reacted to things when she was in high school and, from my point of view, Roz had similar reactions and thoughts. In the novel, Roz points out that people don't realize how poor her vision is and are constantly asking why she doesn't just get glasses. She can't drive and isn't able to play sports because she's a liability. These are all things my sister struggled with. Also like Roz, my sister could be a bit angry. She didn't like wearing her glasses, which improved her vision but left her feeling dorky and unattractive (which is not fun for anyone, let alone a high school-aged girl), and new situations were extremely stressful because she couldn't see to figure things out.

This is where the similarities between my sister and Roz end, right along with my positive feelings regarding Blind Spot. My biggest issue? I absolutely loathed all of the characters. The teachers, the police, Roz's friends, her mother, her boyfriend: all horrible, mean people motivated by self-interest and unwilling to see things from any point of view other than their own. I know it's a strong word, but I was truly disgusted. Realistically, I know that there are people like this in real life, people that let power go to their head and exploit others, but to have an entire novel populated with them was sometimes overwhelming. 

I will say that I actually did enjoy the character Tricia, but she's dead from the first page (the focus of the book is, primarily, her disappearance and murder). Tricia, however, was the only character who, though monumentally messed up, actually seemed to do some genuinely nice, even protective, things for Roz without expecting anything in return.

So, despite feeling extremely frustrated with the characters as I read Blind Spot, I can't really say my strong negative feelings were necessarily a bad thing. Yes, I was disgusted and unhappy and wanted to stop reading because I felt like what was happening on the page was terribly unfair, BUT I didn't. And I can't help but talk about about this book and the messed up characters to anyone who will listen... so disliking the characters of this book isn't the worst thing that could have happened. Having no opinion of the characters or easily forgetting them would be even worse than hating them. In this case, hating the characters is a good thing. 

Despite being very unhappy with pretty much all of the characters, I kept reading because I really wanted to know what happened to Tricia. It really bothered me that the one person who wasn't completely horrible ended up dead and I had to know what happened to her.  

From the moment I finished Blind Spot, it hasn't been far from mind and I'm still trying to sort out all of my feelings about it. In the end, I want you to read this book. It isn't long and it clips along at a quick pace, but it isn't an easy read. I think it's good to challenge your perceptions and ideas though and Blind Spot allows for this in very interesting ways.


Blind Spot

The Madman's Daughter

My goodness, where should I even start when talking about Megan Shepherd's debut, The Madman's Daughter... 

I suppose I could start by saying that I picked it up while reading Ann Radcliffe's The Italian, which was published in 1797 and is considered one of the very first Gothic thrillers. Reading these two novels, while simultaneously researching the Gothic novel as a genre, gave me an interesting vantage point from which to view The Madman's Daughter as a Gothic novel and, I think, in the end, it may have deepened my love for Shepherd's debut (and for The Italian, which was boring me to tears at the time)!

The setting and atmosphere of a Gothic novel is of utmost importance. In fact, the setting is so important it must act as a character itself. For me, the island where Juliet's father has been secretly living and conducting his "research" more than fulfills this requirement. From the moment Juliet learns of the island (and meets the islander accompanying Montgomery, her father's assistant), the reader knows this isn't going to be an island with gorgeous white-sand beaches and hammocks casually strung between trees. While the island's history isn't explored in extreme depth, the reader knows that it is no stranger to misfortune and, perhaps, even sinister death. Plus, it's the home of a mad scientist who was run out of London after performing horrid experiments on living subjects... it's hard to imagine such a man living in a bright, sunshine-y place.

The Madman's Daughter might remind readers of Frankenstein as it deals with themes of science versus nature, experimentation for the purpose of creation and life, the meaning of humanity and life, and features a scientist that believes he is doing something good, but whose opinion may be a tad (or a lot) biased. One of the things that I absolutely loved about this novel was how often it made me question: is this wrong? Some of the experimentation itself is wrong, but, after Juliet learns what her father is doing, essentially merging and manipulating different parts of animals to create humanoid creatures, she refers to them as monsters. While I do see how such creatures could be viewed as monstrous, I also grew to care deeply about many of them as the novel progressed. At more than one point, I was actually moved to tears as these creatures suffered. I get a little bit weepy just thinking about it now, weeks after reading.

As far as Juliet's father is concerned, I have very strong negative feelings. Though, as a product of the 21st century, I'm not sure that I see his scientific mind and quest for innovation as mad, I definitely still see him as a madman on many other levels. He may have begun as a scientist searching for truth and knowledge, but, by the time the reader meets him, he's off-his-rocker-crazy. The power has gone to his head and, for someone who is obsessed with the secret of creating life, he cares very little about preserving life. Still, after some secrets from Juliet's past are revealed, I couldn't help but take a longer look at Dr. Moreau and consider what he might have been like before.

The Madman's Daughter also incorporates some very pro-feminist vibes as Juliet fights against a very anti-woman world, culture, and father. She strong, determined, and courageous despite nearly everything being stacked against her. She rebels against her father who sees her primarily as something to use and manipulate and secondly as a burden to marry off. She doesn't take no for an answer when Montgomery tries to prevent her from going to the island nor does she accept the simple answers she's given when she knows there's much more to be learned. I can't imagine any reader calling Juliet Moreau weak.

And, to round out an already fantastic plot, there's more than enough romance to satisfy readers who like their heroine's distracted by a guy while fighting their mad father and considering philosophical questions about humanity. In fact, there's a rather intense love triangle featuring two very unique men... but following this tangent would require multiple paragraphs and more than a few spoilers.

I could go on and on about The Madman's Daughter, but I'd say it's in your best interest to read this fantastic novel yourself. Luckily, you'll find a copy downstairs at Central and another at our Oshtemo Branch! And, while The Madman's Daughter might technically be classified as Young Adult, I feel adults will fully enjoy it as well!


The Madman's Daughter

Code Name Verity

There’s been a lot of talk in the book world about this teen title: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. This is the summary from the library catalog: “In 1943, a British fighter plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France and the survivor tells a tale of friendship, war, espionage, and great courage as she relates what she must do to survive while keeping secret all that she can.” It’s a complex, poignant, horrific, and deeply moving story, told from the perspectives of two incredible characters.


Code Name Verity

Bad Taste in Boys

Teens and zombie fans will love this look at the lighter side of the cannibalistic undead in Michigan author Carrie Harris's debut Bad Taste in Boys

Kate Grable is a smart, butt-kicking heroine who spends her days focused on getting into an awesome school and making medical history as Kate Grable, M.D., dreaming of catching the eye of her quarterback crush, Aaron, and making hilarious observations about the world around her. Little does she know, a virus is about to sweep through her school, leaving many of her peers with zombie-like tendencies. With all the limbs and body parts people keep losing, she'll be lucky if she doesn't end up literally catching Aaron's eye.

It seems impossible that a book could make a reader gag and laugh within the space of a paragraph, but Bad Taste in Boys proves it's entirely possible... and surprisingly likely. Kate's life might be a complete - and often gory mess - during the novel (ya know, zombies and all), but the reader can't help but laugh as Kate describes the ridiculous things happening around her.

Kate has just the right amounts of confidence and insecurity to make relating to her easy. She's obviously got a lot going for her, but she doesn't see it herself. She's smart and, though she's sure of her abilities, she's not cocky. She doesn't realize she's got beauty in addition to brains, but Carrie Harris doesn't portray this in an annoying, false way. Kate doesn't put herself down about not being conventionally beautiful. I was thankful that I never once thought to myself: I feel like this character is constantly talking about how ugly she is just so I'll think in my head, "no silly, you look great!" Kate might sometimes feel self conscious when she considers her looks, but she doesn't dwell - she's got way more important things to worry about. Like that zombie over there.

When I read that Kate's crush is a popular football player and her best friends are equally popular, I was worried that Bad Taste in Boys would suffer from Horrible Best Friends and This Guy Is Way Too Good For Me Syndrome, but I was wrong! Instead, Kate's friends, though they didn't play a super huge role in the novel, were pretty fantastic, and Aaron was adorable. Plus, he's a super fantastic guy that doesn't suffer from an overly inflated ego. Big shoutout to supportive secondary characters!

In conclusion, don't be a bad, be good! And by good, I mean read Bad Taste in Boys sooner than later!


Bad Taste in Boys

Summer of 1962: “Dead End in Norvelt”

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

Fighting for a Safe Harbor

Some say that prostitution is a “victimless crime,” because presumably everyone involved participates willingly. Rachel Lloyd, in Girls Like Us, demonstrates that many girls and young women recruited and trafficked into the commercial sex industry are clearly victims of the system.

Lloyd, the executive director of GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, was once a victim of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE.) She was eventually able to escape, through the support of a caring church community and some adults—surrogate parents, in essence-- who reached out to her, offering her a chance for educational and professional success, beyond the life she knew.

In Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World where Girls are not for Sale, an Activist Finds her Calling and Heals Herself, Lloyd breaks it all down: how the neglect and abuse most girls experience prior to exploitation sets them up to become victims of CSE; the methods pimps use to keep the girls from leaving; the stigma that surrounds girls, once they’ve become commercially sexually exploited. She also describes in detail what factors must be present to support someone leaving and successfully thriving, after living ‘in the life.’

Lloyd, along with several of the girls served by GEMS, successfully persuaded the New York State legislature to enact the Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act, which aims to protect –rather than prosecute—children subjected to sex trafficking.


Girls like us: fighting for a world where girls are not for sale an activist finds her calling and heals herself

Play the Drums!

Drumming, by Ian Adams, is a good introduction to playing drum set. This new nonfiction title for beginning drummers shows the different kinds of equipment used to get started playing the drums along with good advice on safe drumming (ear plugs) and finding a teacher. An explanation of musical notation specific to drums, grooves and styles, inspiring highlights on influential rhythmic creators like Stewart Copeland, Cindy Blackman, and DJ Afrika Bambaataa plus great images of drummers from a wide variety of musical genres make this a great read for upper elementary, middle school, and teen readers.




What are you waiting for?

Most of the time I’m waiting for one book or another to come out. Knowing forthcoming publication dates is part of this profession but I think I’d be this way regardless.  Most of the time, I think the anticipation is fun and I even add reminders to my online calendar so that I don’t forget to put the book on hold.

The hardest part of reading a good series is waiting for the next book. Sometimes I’m so anxious to read it, I have to work hard to distract myself with other good books. Other times I forget about a series for awhile and then am pleasantly surprised when a new book comes out. A few times in my life, I’ve purposely waited until the whole series was available before reading because I just new it would be so good that I’d want to read it all at once. It’s hard to avoid spoilers but it’s pretty great to not have to wait for the next book. I read the Harry Potter series this way, start to finish. That was a great two weeks!

Early 2012 seemed to be a busy reading time for me with new additions to some of my favorite series for children and teens coming out. I really enjoyed Trenton Lee Stewart’s new book, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict, a companion to his Mysterious Benedict Society series. This series is great for elementary aged kids but I know a fair number of adults who like it too. I think it’d be great for reading as a family or listening to on a road trip. Suspenseful and touching with lots of mystery and problem-solving. Funny, engaging characters. This latest book was easily my favorite of all four.

Now I’m moving on to Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore. It’s a companion book to “Graceling” and “Fire” and I’m hoping it’s just as wonderful. I've been waiting a long time to read more about Bitterblue, Po, and Katsa! 

So what books are you marking your calendar for? Anything I should be looking out for too?



I Am the Messenger

If you enjoy listening to Australian accents and if you like stories written with an ingenious idea, then listen to I Am the Messenger, written by Markus Zusak and read by Marc Aden Gray.

The summary, as listed in the KPL catalog, reads: “After capturing a bank robber, nineteen-year old cabdriver Ed Kennedy begins receiving mysterious messages that direct him to addresses where people need help, and he begins getting over his lifelong feeling of worthlessness.” Ed Kennedy’s ordinariness and common desires keep this story fresh. Ed lives in a self-described shack with his stinky old dog named “the Doorman.” Who is sending these playing cards with cryptic messages written on them anyway? Messages that demand Ed to seek justice by entering the lives of various townsfolk, ie: an abused wife, a lonely old woman with dementia, an athletic teenage girl who runs barefoot, a priest with dwindling attendance at his run-down neighborhood church, a poor mother of three children, two battling brothers, Ed’s own condemning mother, and lastly, his three best friends with hidden agendas: Ritchie, Marv, and Audrey.

This intriguing, thought-provoking story is certain to satisfy both teen and adult readers.


I Am the Messenger

Dead End in Norvelt

Dead End in Norvelt, by Jack Gantos, is the 2012 Newbery Medal winner for the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year. Gantos has written many excellent children’s books including the naughty cat “Rotten Ralph” series and the troubled kid “Joey Pigza” series. Dead End in Norvelt is a semi-autobiographical story that mixes fact and fiction, the main character is named Jack Gantos... It is the summer of 1962. Jackie is twelve years old and is grounded for the summer for firing a shot from his father’s WWII Japanese sniper rifle AND for mowing down his mother’s corn patch intended to feed the needy inhabitants of her beloved town of Norvelt, Pennsylvania. Why did he mow down the corn? His dad, a navy veteran, told him to mow it, said he needed the land to build a bomb shelter from the Commies and a runway for his J-3 airplane, hoping to eventually fly away his family to a new life in Florida.

newbery-medal-best-childrens-books-160.jpgJackie’s mother is devoted and loyal to the concept of neighbor-helping-neighbor. She’s forever grateful to the memory of and indebted to the social programs of Eleanor Roosevelt for whom the town is named, (“Nor” from Eleanor and “velt” from Roosevelt). Eleanor Roosevelt was instrumental in getting indoor plumbing and electricity in their New Deal homestead project built in 1934. When Jackie’s mother gives him permission to help their neighbor Miss Volker, he jumps at the chance to throw down his shovel and pick up a pencil to write obituaries with Volker. She’s old, arthritic-handed, and is the town nurse and medical examiner. Jackie writes the obits as the excited Volker dictates, never missing a beat about the importance and thoroughness of including everything, ie, the family part and, the important ideas to keep alive, and the importance of history. Volker gets worked up, pacing back and forth, swinging her arms like a windmill. Jackie types, then delivers the obits to Mr. Greene, Editor of the Norvelt News. Volker also writes: “This Day in History” for the newspaper. Volker is adamant with Jack about learning the importance of History… and don’t you forget it!

Sometimes the underage Jackie drives Volker around in her Valiant to visit the dead old ladies who are officially declared dead by Volker, the medical examiner. Why are so many of the original female inhabitants of Norvelt dying? Is it really just old age? What if Norvelt doesn’t get new inhabitants, what will become of the beloved town of Norvelt? Read this book for the surprise ending of this Newbery Award Winner!


Dead End in Norvelt

What’s on your nightstand?

Popular magazines often fill space with little blurbs about what books are on prominent peoples’ nightstands, giving us a glimpse into their world as human beings with curiosities and interests outside of their own celebrity. While I do not presume that my own book choices would attract similar attention, my nightstand currently holds quite a variety that might be of interest to someone:

Hassman, Tupelo Girlchild (fiction) - Rory Dawn Hendrix, growing up in a trailer park in Reno, Nevada, is determind to defy the odds of her environment and family history.

Keaton, Diane Then Again (memoir) - Keaton’s own stories alternate with excerpts from journals kept by her mother, Dorothy Keaton Hall. Poignant account of an interesting life.

Green, John The Fault in Our Stars (young adult fiction) - Combine this popular young adult author with a love story about teenagers with cancer, and you get a fast-moving and powerful narrative that goes beyond the surface.

Cain, Susan Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking (nonfiction) - I have not read this one yet, but am looking forward to it, especially after seeing Cain’s TED presentation.

So many books, so little time...



Books about Books, What to Read Next, and other tools

We are what we read. But how do we decide what to read? Normally we don't have a systematic program for our reading life. Perhaps a friend told us, or the "customers also bought this..." on, or our last book mentioned it, or we heard it on NPR or Oprah. These are all great, but there's many other ways. Try the Now Read This through our website. Or, if you want a Read-a-Like based on an author you like, try our Books and Authors database (or try Good Reads or LibraryThing).

But, if you want to get super serious, we have tons of books that are about books (i.e. bibliographies, "treasuries," "anthologies," "companions").

Based on Age:

1001 children's books you must read before you grow up, 100 best books for children, The Book of virtues for young people : a treasury of great moral stories, Black Books Galore! Guide to great African American children's books about girls, 500 Great Books for Teens, Disabilities and disorders in literature for youth : a selective annotated bibliography for K-12, The Ultimate Teen Book Guide

"I just want the classics!" (usually this means great literature, not necessary from the Classical period):

Cambridge Guide to Literature in English, Magill's survey of world literature, Literature Lovers Companion: the essential reference to the world’s greatest writers—past and present, popular and classical, Assessing the Classics: great reads for adults, teens, and English language learners, The modern library : the two hundred best novels in English since 1950, Harvard Classics series (has the actual writings)

By Genre:

Short Story Writers, The Essential Mystery Lists, Harold Bloom writes several books, e.g. on British Women Fiction Writers, Asian American Women Writers, Major Black American Writers, Classic Science Fiction Writers, and more.

To find the major books in an academic field, like philosophy or physics or astronomy, look for an introductory book. They usually have primary sources and "further reading" sections.

Racial or Cultural Identity:

African Writers, Sacred fire : the QBR 100 essential Black booksConcise encyclopedia of Latin American literature, Native American literatures : an encyclopedia of works, characters, authors, and themes

Movements and Places:

Literary movements for students : presenting analysis, context, and criticism on commonly studied literary movements, Promised Land: 13 books that shaped AmericaThe Oxford companion to American literature (we also have these for Austrialian, French, Canadian, and more); Michigan in the Novel (really cool book list of novels set in MI or about MI)

Have fun reading, and slow down to think!


1001 Books for Every Mood

The Hunger Games

I typically don’t read science-fiction, but kudos to Leigh, who also “doesn’t read sci-fi,” and nevertheless insisted I not miss The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.

In Panem (formerly North America,) there are 12 districts surrounding the ruling Capitol. One male and one female teenage tribute from each district are chosen via lottery by the Capitol to fight till death in the Hunger Games. No one outside the Capitol is exempt from the lottery. If a starving family needs food, they may receive extra grain and oil, in exchange for submitting their child’s name an extra time into the lottery pool.

The games are staged much like the TV show, Survivor, except being ‘voted off’ means you literally just got killed by another tribute. The games are conducted for the supposed entertainment of residents of the Capitol, yet they are required viewing for all districts to watch. The GameMakers create an ‘arena,’ a natural-looking area with foliage, climate control, wild animals. They can manipulate conditions to force the participants into hardship, thereby upping the ante, when there’s not enough exciting action for the viewers.

The story of The Hunger Games mirrors many of the realities of war. Selected tributes have no choice but to fight. Rich districts can afford to train and outfit their tributes better. Poor families lose disproportionately more of their children to the games. In the end, everyone loses: most tributes die and the survivors suffer injuries, guilt, addictions and/or mental breakdowns.

The heroine, Kat, is strong, clever and determined. There are a few heroes in the story, really, who display compassion and wisdom. It’s a hard book to put down, so make extra room in your reading schedule, once you land a copy of the book. One final warning: The Hunger Games is the first book in a trilogy by the same name. You may get hooked to read all three titles in the series!


The Hunger Games

Gary D. Schmidt: Okay for Now

Gary D. Schmidt does a superb job of character development and reality writing in his Young Adult novel titled: Okay for Now. It’s the late 1960s and Doug Swieteck, the main character, is 14 years old and has just moved to a new town in New York. Doug is the darling who frequently mends his family and community… a gigantic feat for a teen who is abused by his bum father, is mutually loved by his mother, is scorned by his jealous older brother, and is the lifesaver of his oldest brother who returns broken after serving in VietNam.

Doug’s best friend is Lil Spicer; her dad owns the grocery store where Doug gets a delivery job thereby befriending more townsfolk. Doug delights in his weekly redemptive visits to the library where he studies Audubon prints and learns to draw. Doug’s disabilities are painfully uncovered by an astute teacher, while yet another teacher creates nightmares.

You might ask, Why read this book? Doug is fun. Doug is cool. Doug triumphs. By the way, Gary D. Schmidt lives near Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is an English professor at Calvin College and has written other great must-reads!


Okay for Now

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

A novel based on a random selection of vintage photographs, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children creates a fantasy world that blurs with modern day doldrums.  The reader is never quite sure what is fact and what is fiction as Jacob makes his way from one reality to the next.  Were the children in Miss Peregrine's home sequestered because they were simply unusual or because they were dangerous?  Was Jacob's grandfather delusional or a product of the horrors of WWII?  Author Ransom Riggs does a fine job of blending the details, creating a suspenseful story, and keeping the reader wondering. Rumor has it Tim Burton might direct a film based on the book and that Mr. Riggs might have a sequel.  Both great ideas!

NOTE:  I started this novel in hardcover and finished it in ebook format on an iPad.  Because of the photos being an integral part of the story, a basic e-ink ereader without the ability to show the images well might not do the story justice.


Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Ask Me Why I Hurt

I first heard of Randy Christensen, MD, when Diane Rehm interviewed him on her show, discussing Ask Me Why I Hurt. “Dr. Randy” is medical director of Crews’n Healthmobile, a mobile medical clinic providing health care for homeless youth in Phoenix, AZ. In this book, Christensen tells the true stories of many of the young people he’s treated on the healthmobile, changing names and identifying characteristics, of course, to protect the privacy of his patients.

We learn early on where the book gets its title, when “Mary” appears outside the van, wearing a beaded bracelet, with the words “ask me why I hurt” spelled out in block letters. Mary nervously avoided the doctor’s direct questions, so it took a while for Dr. Randy to build enough rapport with her to trust he could ask the question, without her running away. When Mary did finally answer him, after several stops to the mobile, he learned she’d been seriously sexually abused by her father. Mary’s and the other teenagers’ stories told in this book are both heartbreaking and heartwarming, as many of them do ultimately find reason to hope and ways to heal.

I take exception to the subtitle: “the Kids Nobody Wants and the Doctor who Heals Them.” To say this book is about the kids nobody wants isn’t the whole truth. Many of the young people seeking health care at Crews’n have experienced serious neglect and/or abuse, often at the hands of family members, that is true. Yet, Mary finds sanctuary and a second chance with her aunt; ultimately, we learn that she goes on to finish her education and complete a master’s degree. Donald—a boy whose father beat him so severely he sustained permanent brain damage--gains a loving family and caring community when Pastor and Mrs. Richardson take him in. Then there are all the workers from HomeBase, a shelter for teens, and UMOM, a shelter for homeless families, who help teens prepare for adult life, via GED and life skills education.

To my mind, the book isn’t really about Randy Christensen. Granted, he shared autobiographical details that help the reader understand the stresses of trying to balance family life with the particular challenges of his chosen career. And yes, as I read the story, I came to care about him, as well as the kids that visit the van. The book is written in first-person narrative, but the main reason for the book is that these young people matter, their stories matter, and Christensen felt they needed to be heard. Christensen shows us that there are a lot of young people suffering, there's a desperate need for more services and protection for them, and yet there are many people who care and are helping teens-at-risk make positive changes in their lives.


Ask Me Why I Hurt

A New Sisterhood Book

I was fourteen when Ann Brashares wrote The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.  I remember checking the book out from the teen area at central library and laughing to myself about the name.  “How corny!” I thought to myself.  But, I read the book anyways…and I loved it!  I was the perfect demographic for this series.  The girls in the sisterhood were exactly the same age as me and I related to both their joys and their tribulations.  My sisters and I gobbled up all the books in the series like they were candy, even purchasing some of the later books because we just couldn’t wait until our name came up on the hold list.  We wanted to read the books so badly!

What was it about these books that made them so enjoyable to read if you were a teenage girl?  I realize now why they were so relatable.  No matter what your personality was, you could relate to at least one of the girls in the book.  The story is about four girls whose mothers met in a prenatal aerobics class.  The mothers became friends and gave birth to four babies girls within weeks of each other.  They brought the girls up together and they became almost inseparable.  You realize in reading the book, though, that even with this long standing friendship the girls are very different in appearance, interests, and personalities.  Carmen is more sensitive and still coping with the divorce of her parents.  She is a writer and an actress.  Tibby is spunky and rebellious and seems to analyze every situation somewhat pessimistically.  Bridget is the star athlete who is flighty and unpredictable.  She suffered a great loss losing her mother at a young age and is deeply scarred from this.  Last is Lena, the character I always related to best.  She is quiet and shy, her introverted nature debilitating at many times.  Her family is Greek and she travels back to Greece for the summer in the first book.  She begins to better understand her background as well as meets someone who will have an impact on the rest of her life.  The girls have their positive attributes and weaknesses, their scars and successes.  As a reader, you can always relate to one or more of the characters and the experiences they have had.

You can imagine I was pretty excited when I recently discovered Ann Brashares had just come out with a sisterhood book, Sisterhood Everlasting.  The setting is ten years after the final book of the series, meaning the girls are now twenty-nine.  Carmen is an actress living in New York City engaged to be married to a prestigious producer.  Bridget lives in San Francisco and is constantly moving in search of the sunniest apartment for her house plants to flourish.  Lena has her masters and is an artist and a teacher.  Tibby has moved to Australia with her long-time boyfriend Brian and has fallen out of touch with the other girls.  Tibby plans a reunion for the four girls and they excitedly wait in anticipation for the moment they will all finally be back together.  It is not meant to be, though, and tragedy strikes the sisterhood.  Even twenty pages after reading what had happened, I still refused to believe it was true!  The rest of the book outlines the way the girls cope (or fail to cope) with their loss.

There are new characters in this book as well as many familiar characters.  Just as I connected with the characters in the earlier books of the series as teenagers, I found I could relate to the experiences and emotions of the characters now as adults.  I felt joy and sadness reading the book and often found myself laughing out loud.  It turned out to be the perfect type of read for the summer and brought me back to remember the old books I so enjoyed.  If you read the sisterhood books of the past, you’ll find this book very enjoyable.  (If you are in this category, I have a teaser for you…Kostas is back!)  If you haven’t read them, give them a try.  Especially if you are a teenager, I highly recommend this series as it is very enjoyable!


Sisterhood Everlasting

Steampunk + Zombies = Awesome!

Normally, I'm a little wary of genre mashups, as most of the ones I've read tend to be long on the novelty of the thing and short on actual storytelling. When a copy of Cherie Priest's Boneshaker came through the Teen department, I hesitated... but I'm happy to report that not only is Boneshaker an excellent steampunk adventure, it's also a great zombie apocalypse yarn. In an alternate history Civil War-era Seattle, crazed inventor Leviticus Blue is comissioned by the Russians to build a gigantic steam drilling machine to mine for gold under the Alaskan ice. On its trial run, however, Dr. Blue's Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine demolishes several blocks of downtown Seattle and in the process exposes a subterranean pocket of gas that turns anyone who breathes it into walking, flesh-hungry "Rotters". Sixteen years later, Dr. Blue's widow Briar journeys into the walled-off ruins of old Seattle to find her teenaged son, who's out to clear his grandfather's name. What follows is nonstop action and adventure, complete with zeppelins, air pirates, clockwork armor, mad scientists and hordes of the walking dead!

While Boneshaker could have turned out poorly like so many other slapdash crossovers, instead it's well-written with a likeable cast of characters and a gripping storyline. Plus, it's simply a stupid amount of fun. Highly recommended!



Quit Monkeying Around, Jay Berry!

Wilson Rawls, known for his Where the Red Fern Grows, has written a treasure titled Summer of the Monkeys. I happened on this book one night shift in Teen at Central. It’s the story of Jay Berry Lee, his family, and his blue-tick hound, Rowdy. The family lives on a farm “smack dab in the middle of the Cherokee Nation” in Oklahoma. The time is the late 1800s. Summer of the Monkeys is the story of 14-year-old Jay Berry Lee and his adventures in the bottoms of a river not too far from their homestead. Jay Berry has a younger sister by the name of Daisy, who was born with her right leg “all twisted up”. She walks with a crutch, and has a fairy-world type of imagination that lets her almost forget her leg and its limits on her life.

The Lee family is eking out a living on their farm, but there is not much money left over, and certainly not enough to take Daisy “to the city” where doctors can fix her leg.

Jay Berry comes upon a bunch of monkeys that belong to a circus and who have escaped on account of a train wreck. There is a reward for their return, and Jay Berry immediately sees $$$$ which add up to a rifle of his own, and a new pony.

The author says it much better than I can in this excerpt from the first chapter of his book: “Up until I was fourteen years old, no boy on earth could have been happier. I didn’t have a worry in the world. In fact, I was beginning to think that it wasn’t going to be hard at all for me to grow up. But just when things were really looking good for me, something happened. I got mixed up with a bunch of monkeys and all of my happiness flew right out the window. Those monkeys all but drove me out of my mind.”

Reading Rawls’ story was a real treat. I laughed. Out loud. I cried. Silently. I hope you will enjoy this story of familial loyalty as much as I did.


Summer of the Monkeys

Okay for Now

Gary Schmidt is one of my favorite authors. The Wednesday Wars is one of his books that I often recommend to middle-grade readers. Now Schmidt has written a companion story, telling about one of the minor characters from the earlier book.

Okay for Now is the story of 14-year-old Doug, who looks and often acts like a thug. Of course, behind every thug is a real person, often with a compelling story. This is that story.

Even if you don’t usually read books from the Teen area of the library, this might be a good exception to make.


Okay for Now

Why Read? It’s Summertime!!

Recently, I was reading the May/June 2011 issue of The Horn Book Magazine when an editorial caught my eye. Written by Roger Sutton, Editor in Chief for the magazine, the editorial, titled “Who Can We Count On?” raises several very good questions about reading in general, and specifically, about summertime reading by schoolchildren. These questions are certainly ones that teachers, parents, librarians, and other concerned adults should ponder. Here they are, with some of my own added:

• How many books should one read in a given time frame?

• Should we encourage schoolchildren to read?

• Does reading level (of the reader) really matter?

• Should summer reading schoolchildren be provided with incentives for reaching pre-set reading goals? And, who should set these goals?

• What types of incentives should be offered? (books, burgers, bicycles?)

• Should the number of books read count for anything?

As a librarian in a public library who works almost exclusively with children’s reading habits, I find these questions “right on the money” for insuring success in a summertime reading program or club. At the Kalamazoo Public Library, the summertime reading program for kids begins in early to mid-June, and continues until the last weekend in August. Somewhere close to twelve (12) weeks. The Library offers summer games for children ages birth-entering Kindergarten, for children entering 1st-4th grade, for ‘tweens who are entering grades five through seven, and for teens entering grades eight through graduation. (Don’t worry, adults, there’s a game for you, too!) Each of these games offers incentives at intervals along the way. Each of the children’s games encourages reading books at one’s pre-determined level (usually from the Accelerated Reader program in the schools). Each game encourages reading for a minimum of twenty (20) minutes a day, and also allows for reading at one’s level and for being read aloud to.

This year, incentives and games are going to be more “across the board” than they have been in the past. Readers will earn paperback books, tee shirts, stickers, and colorful beads at pre-set intervals.

Should you bring your child/encourage your child to come to the library this summer and read in one of the games? Absolutely! And, don’t forget to read yourself! What better role model than a reading parent?

Roger Sutton’s editorial concludes with this question: “…creating a second home on the floor of the children’s room…”. Won’t you join me this summer and read, read, read?


Summer Reading

Coming in July...

When I read an entire book in a day--not a common occurrence for me--I know it must have something special. Such is the case with Once Upon a River, the next offering by Kalamazoo's own National Book Award nominee, Bonnie Jo Campbell. And for this, I credit Campbell's mastery of language; her sound, down-to-earth characterizations; and a setting I could actually feel in my bones. This is the story of sixteen-year-old Margo Crane’s struggle to find the mother who abandoned her, while carving out her own existence along the fictitious Stark River in southwest Michigan following her father's untimely death. And yet, life on the river is not the challenge one might expect it to be; in fact, that is where Margo feels most at home. Rather it is in the relationships--and self-discovery--that happen along the journey that we come to know Margo best. While published for an adult audience, teen readers will identify as well.

As you anticipate the release of this title (July 2011), you might want to take advantage of the opportunity to catch up on some of Campbell's previous work. I know I will. 


Once Upon a River

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

As a librarian in the Teen Services area, I'm always interested in the Alex Award winners...books that were originally published for adults that have appeal for teens. This title, by Aimee Bender, is one of this year's Alex Award winners.

The story chronicles the childhood and young adulthood of Rose Edelstein who, at age 9, discovers quite by accident, that she has the ability to "taste," in homecooked food, the emotions of the person who made it. Not surprisingly, the first time it happens, the food has been prepared by her mother and Rose finds herself privy to some feelings that her mother has never outwardly expressed. And so it begins. Throughout the book, as Rose finds ways to manage (or in some cases, not) this unusual gift, she learns more than perhaps she ever wanted to know about herself and the people in her life, namely her parents and her reclusive brother. 

I'm glad to say this was the first time I checked out an eBook with my KPL library card, and there were many things I liked about the experience: 
    • Because I had installed the appropriate Android app, I was able to download the title to my phone and was therefore able to read a few pages whenever I had time to spare...waiting to pick up my kids, in the doctor's office, even at the gym; 
    • I appreciated having a time limit on finishing the book. eBooks are not renewable so I had to finish the book in the allotted time (14 days) before it disappeared from my phone. That forced me--in a good way, of course--to keep reading; 
    • I continued reading one or two of the printed books by my bedside. In this way, the eBook was almost like a "bonus book" that I found myself enjoying at times and places where I might not normally have a printed book with me.

If you haven't tried it yet, and you have a device that allows you to read eBooks (or audiobooks too), I encourage you to give it a try.  


The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

If you knew today was your last...

 …what would you do different?

Such is the issue facing high school senior Samantha after she dies in an automobile accident in this debut novel for young adults by Lauren Oliver. 

For seven days afterward, Sam continues to wake up on the same day--her last--having yet one more chance to make things right with all the people in her life: her family, her friends, her boyfriend, and most importantly, the people who had previously occupied only the periphery of her popular and sometimes not-so-nice senior existence but who, in the end, help her see what’s truly important.

I was interested to read this short interview with Lauren Oliver about the circumstances under which she actually wrote this book. 


Before I Fall 

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had

Dit is disappointed to learn that the new postmaster’s child is a girl, not a boy, as he’d been led to expect. The whole town of Moundville, Alabama is surprised that the newcomers to town are black. Emma, the postmaster’s daughter, is as different from Dit as she could be – smart, well-read, a very thoughtful only child. Dit is a white boy from a family of twelve. He loves to fish, play baseball, skip stones, and hunt. How could they ever be friends?

Despite their differences, Dit and Emma each learn from the other, and they develop a close friendship. Together, they witness a horrific, unthinkable incident and learn more about how different ‘justice’ is for ‘coloreds,’ than it is for white folks in 1917 Alabama. The two devise a courageous plan to alter the course of justice. 

Kristin Levine is a fabulous storyteller. This book kept me up late at night, turning pages and reading ‘just one more chapter.’ You know the deal. It's her first novel, and I hope we may look forward to many more.


The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had

Fortune or Fortunate?

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!


Good Fortune

Young Adult Titles with Adult Appeal

In the world of book awards, there exists a category given to books published for adults but with high appeal for teen readers.  These are the Alex Awards.  So far, I am not aware of an award that does the opposite, i.e., acknowledges books published for teens that have high appeal for adult readers, but perhaps it's only a matter of time before such an award is created.

Until then, I'll make a couple of recommendations.  And while it's true I am an adult, I am also an ex-teen and I believe that common experience is what could make many of today's teen titles appealing to adults.  We've all been there.

Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick is the inspiring story of Amber Appleton, a teenager who lives on the school bus her alcoholic mother drives by day, but who, in spite of those circumstances, manages to create an existence in her community that truly makes a difference in the lives of others. And when tragedy comes into her life, it is those very people who build her up.

The View from the Top by Hilary Frank takes a realistic look at modern-day teen relationships--with friends, family members, and boyfriends/girlfriends. Through the alternating voices of six young people in one small town during the summer before they head off to college, Frank illustrates how difficult (but normal) it is to first, sort out one's feelings, and, second, to express them honestly to the people who need to know.

Regardless of our age, we can all take away something from these "teen" stories...come browse the Teen collection and see for yourself!


Sorta Like a Rock Star

Martin Gardner

The world lost Martin Gardner on Saturday, May 22nd. He was 95. Gardner was a prolific writer on many subjects, but is perhaps best known for books about tricks and puzzles, optical illusions, and recreational math. In the early 1950s, Gardner edited the children’s magazine Humpty Dumpty. In 1956, Gardner began writing Scientific American's Mathematical Games column which ran for 25 years. Gardner introduced lots of people to the work of then contemporary M.C. Escher when the work of the great Dutch artist was not so well known. Gardner wrote The Annotated Alice. Gardner also focused on debunking pseudoscience. Here is Scientific American's tribute to Martin Gardner.



Martin Gardner

One of My Favorite Book Characters is Eighty (80!) Years Old This Year!!

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”!


Nancy Drew

Liberty Porter or the Obama Girls?

My latest read from the Juvenile collection is called Liberty Porter, First Daughter. Its author, Julia DeVillers, combines just the right portions of humor, truth, frustration, and embarrassment to deliver this quick read for third-fifth graders. Liberty Porter’s dad has just gotten a new job…and she has to move to a new house…in a new city…and, well, even though it seems predictable since her dad is now President of the United States, and her new house is the White House in Washington DC, and now that she has her own Secret Service detail…

Liberty likes her new house, sort of. She likes her father’s notoriety, sort of. She likes being in the public eye, sort of. Liberally sprinkled with black and white illustrations that curiously resemble the Obama family, Liberty Porter, First Daughter is a quick, enjoyable read. The book would make a great book report for a school assignment, too! Readers will enjoy just enough truth about what’s inside the White House to make them want to explore further through other books in the Kalamazoo Public Library’s collection about this National landmark, the home of the President and his family.


Liberty Porter First Daughter

TAGGED – Mara Purnhagen

Is it art or is it graffiti? Is being in the “in” crowd worth fighting for? Can a high school girl just choose to disappear into the background, or is standing up for your friends worth the humiliation and pain of being thrust into the spotlight? These issues and much more surround the story of Kate and her best friends Lan and Eli in this new teen book by debut author Mara Purnhagen.

I have to admit, I’m partial. Mara is my daughter and worked here at the Kalamazoo Public Library for 4 years in high school. It was here that she learned to love reading and here that her spirit was nurtured. But I think you will find that this is a quick and fun read—with a good story plot to boot. Still and all - the best part of the story is discovering gorillas in the high school, on the town square, outside the coffee shop, all over the state? …. Enjoy!



The Heaven Trilogy

Have you ever waited years to finish reading a series?  I’ve been waiting for the final book in the Heaven trilogy ever since 2003 when I finished reading First Part Last.  The wait is over!  Angela Johnson finishes her trilogy with the recent release; Sweet, Hereafter.  Just as with her other books, Johnson invites you into the lives of teens and their families from a small town in Ohio.  The characters are so beautifully written; you want to be a part of their lives and watch them come of age.  Sweet, Hereafter touches on topics of war, identity, family and high school relationships in a quick read that will leave you wanting to read more.  Thank you Angela Johnson for allowing me to be a part of the lives of your friends in Heaven!


Sweet, Hereafter