RSS Feed

Staff Picks: Books

The Roots of “Frozen”

I noticed while the credits were rolling at the end of a recent household watching of Frozen that it is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. I brought The Snow Queen home to read to my 5-year-old daughter, and per her request we have read 4 or 5 different versions of the story in the last month. It is not very much like the movie, but it is still a fascinating fairy tale involving an enchanted shattered mirror that pierces and freezes the heart, as well as a colorful cast of characters: a young girl and boy who are best friends (Gerda and Kay/Kai), a witch-like woman with a flower garden, a prince and princess, a band of robbers including a robber girl, a crow and his mate, a reindeer, a Lapland woman and Finland woman, and the Snow Queen herself (who does not make a huge appearance in the story). 

This story is HC Anderson’s longest fairy tale and has 7 chapters. After reading several versions of this, we’ve moved on to The Emperor’s New Clothes, with plans to take on The Little Match Girl next… It’s fun reading different versions of fairy tales and comparing the differences in both text and illustration.

 


American Romantic

I have liked all of the many books by Ward Just I have read. His most recent, American Romantic, centers on Harry Sanders, who grew up in a family of Connecticut liberals and is now a promising young foreign service officer in Vietnam just before troops arrive en masse.

Henry is asked to undertake a not-quite-official mission. He becomes stranded in the jungle, injured, and “damaged goods”, but is owed a lifetime of State Dept postings in return.

This is a well-written story of a young, naïve foreign service officer and the two women who love him, beginning at a restless time in our history.

Another satisfying book from Ward Just.


Don't Write In Library Books

Ander Monson is the most bizarre, versatile, prize-winningest writer who hails from Michigan that you have never heard about. He won the John C. Zacharis First Book Award for Other Electricities, the Tupelo Press Editor’s Prize for his poetry collection Vacationland, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for his book of criticism called Vanishing Point. If not for that last one, I would have had to add that the prizes he has won are just as unheard of as he is. 

 
I read Other Electricities several years ago which left me with a vivid impression of the mix of tenacious survivalism and self-destructiveness of the residents of the Upper Peninsula and the image of snowmobiles jumping snow banks out on to frozen Lake Superior; occasionally breaking through the ice and disappearing. 

 
His newest book, a collection of essays titled Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries, comes out on February 3rd. Check it out and see what you think of Ander Monson and if you can resist writing in a library book about people writing in library books.


The Big Blue Thing on the Hill

Sometimes picture books are just meant for adults. Often I will add one of these gems to my lineup for a Family Storytime program, after all shouldn’t the caregivers have fun too!

In The Big Blue Thing on the Hill, it happens one night – a big blue thing roars to a stop right on top of Howling Hill. There in the middle of the Great Forest the day is peaceful and the animals sleep. But at night the forest comes alive. All the animals are out – they growl, they howl and the big blue thing disrupts the forest. The bears think it’s a meteorite, the wolves think a space ship but the foxes say trouble and they are right, and all the animals hide.

The next morning the animals creep back but the trouble is still there and now noise is coming from it. It’s a big blue elephant say the weasels, no it’s a big blue dinosaur say the badgers (equally birdbrained) but the foxes still say the big blue thing is trouble. The animals decide to leave it alone until night when the wolves howl and howl, but nothing happens. The bears growl and growl but the big blue thing doesn’t move one inch. The boars want to nudge it back down the hill. They huff, puff, push and shove but the big blue thing doesn’t move. Next the foxes think burying it will work and they dig and dig and dig, it might work when the big blue thing grumbles and rumbles but it doesn’t move. Now the animals know they need to ask the wise owls what to do. The old owl has a plan. They summon the help of the smallest forest friends – the bees and wasps, midges and skeeters and a snake or 2. They form a big bug flying squad. The plan – wait until dawn then send the squad into the mouth of the beast. They predict it won’t be long before big blue is gone for good. The squad whizzed and buzzed as they flew and crawled through every crack. It didn’t take long, with a roar and a rumble the big blue thing turned tail and fled. And with that the animals all make a hullabaloo. The forest and Howling Hill become peaceful once more.

It doesn’t take long for the reader to recognize the big blue thing as an old VW van complete with curtains. The people can be seen in the van having fun and playing music but with the bug invasion it doesn’t take long for them to leave the campsite. Everything is good or is it…that evening a space ship lands on the hill!

The illustrations are full of comical animal characters and the old VW van is perfect. Such a fun story to share for readers and listeners.


Cat on a Hot Tin Roof...Well, Not Exactly

C. Roger Mader has done it again! He’s the author of Lost Cat, a children’s picture book I had previously blogged about. Supposedly, this newest work Tiptop Cat is based on reality as it mimics the adventures of his niece’s cat living in Paris ...“who roamed the rooftops of her neighborhood and survived a six story fall”. Yikes! 

 

As the story and pictures describe, a young girl gets a black and white cat for her birthday, who becomes her most favorite gift. Although the cat enjoys his indoor life, he also especially likes the outside balcony. This cat is no slouch – so he roams and jumps from one rooftop to another and then another, and then one more until he finally reaches “Le Grand Prix”; a prime sitting spot on a chimney that happens to have the best view of the Eiffel Tower in all of Paris.

 

However, one day he submits to his baser animal instincts and pounces upon a pigeon intruding on his balcony domain. Unfortunately, it’s a misjudged jump. As a consequence, he falls many floors down, right through a café canopy and into the arms of a man who just happens to be in the right spot, at the right time!  Luckily, the cat doesn’t break anything except maybe his spirit for hunting. For a while, he shies away from the balcony and rooftops until one day he once more spots someone landing on his domain; this time an irritating crow. And then he can’t help but give chase.  

 

The author states that he himself lives in the Normandy countryside of France with his wife and a petite cat named Pete, who is not allowed to hop on rooftops in search of excitement. That’s very good to know. Because you should never, ever let your cat wander over balconies, rooftops or anything else located high off the ground! The depth perception of domestic cats is not as keen as their agility, so accidents happen much more often than is commonly known. And in the end, the danger of losing your feline friend for a lifetime is just not worth their temporary happiness.

 

A wonderfully spirited book with many bright, evocative illustrations. Just remember one thing: Unless you’re a stunt cat, don’t try this at home!

 

 


Recommended in the strongest possible terms

Julie Schumacher’s funny and inventive novel Dear Committee Members hysterically skewers the world of academia from a perspective that feels intimately familiar with the absurdity of the world it depicts. Structured entirely in a series of satirical recommendation letters from Jason Fitger, a beleaguered, immensely egotistical, and more than a little unhinged professor in the English department of a small Midwestern liberal arts college, written to a variety of colleagues (including multiple to his ex-wife), HR departments, academic muckety-mucks, etc. The letters which drip with sarcasm and aggressiveness, both passive and not so much, work to slowly illuminate the very sad state of Fitger’s life and position. Dear Committee Member is laugh-out-loud funny, insightful, touching at times, and has a mischievousness about it that I found a joy to read.


The Farmer and the Clown

Had I seen this book earlier in the year, it would have had a top spot on my Best of 2014 list.  Marla Frazee’s The Farmer and the Clown is a sweet treasure of a picture book.  The story is told solely through the artwork, which shows a solitary farmer and a baby clown’s unexpected meeting and bittersweet parting.  It’s a lovely and quiet reminder that love happens in unexpected ways. 


Mom Ran Away With Bigfoot

Are you tired of vampires and zombies, but still want some fantastical realism? How about Bigfoot, lake monsters, half-human puppies and bird-women? You will find all of these in Sharma Shields’ debut novel The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac.

After Eli Roebuck’s mom runs off with a sasquatch when he is nine years old, he spends the rest of his life in pursuit of the creature. Could this book possibly be compared to Moby-Dick? Yes, and not just once.

Booklist says, “Eli's quest is not unlike Ahab's, and Shields writes with piercing insight about the monsters that keep us from connecting with one another in this funny and wise first novel.”

A reviewer in Kirkus wrote, “ Imagine a mashup of Moby-Dick and Kakfa's Metamorphosis (with a hearty dash of Twin Peaks thrown in), and you'll begin to get an idea of what Shields' ambitious tale of disenchantment sets out to do.”

It comes out January 27th, but we have already ordered it so you can place a hold right now.


Reading About the 60’s

I wrote a few days ago about my unplanned reading emphasis for 2014 on books about World War I and II, generally with a European setting, and both fiction and nonfiction.

I enjoy looking back over the list of books I read during the year and see another unplanned emphasis: the 1960’s. It is not surprising that there have been many books published about that decade as we “celebrate” the 50th anniversary of the mid-point of that decade AND a formative time for me.

I read and would recommend

Ready for a Brand New Beat: How “Dancing in the Streets” Became the Anthem for a Changing America by Mark Kurlansky

The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America by James T. Patterson

Tomorrow-land: The 1964-65 World’s Fair and the Transformation of America by Joseph Tirella

1963: The Year of the Revolution by Robin Morgan

You don’t have to have grown up in the 60’s to appreciate these titles, but it helps! I’m betting we’ll see more titles about this decade published in 2015.


FatKid Rules the World, by K. L. Going

Fat Kid Rules the World, by K. L. Going (Kelly)
c.2003

I really liked this story. It has substance, believability and great character development.

Troy Billings is a 300 lb. high school senior who lives in New York City with his retired ex-Marine father and Dayle, his freshman jock brother. Troy’s mom died when he was nine years old. The story begins with Troy standing treacherously close to the subway tracks, contemplating whether or not to jump when he is suddenly and purposely interrupted by Curt MacCrae. Curt attends the same high school as Troy and Curt is a guitarist extraordinaire. Curt is filthy, skinny, and he’s a junkie. Curt and Troy form a friendship; Curt nicknames Troy “Big T” and he likes that moniker. Curt recruits Troy to be a drummer in his punk rock band, he knows that Troy has what it takes to pound the drums for the sounds he craves.

Troy thinks of himself as a loser; he overeats and he has no friends. Curt really helps Troy move beyond himself. Curt is sweet, unpredictable, and caring, but he’s a victim of abuse and neglect. His father is gone and his mom is married to an abusive alcoholic. Curt pops any prescription pills he can steal to self-medicate.

Troy only played drums in junior high. Curt takes Troy to a music club where they practice playing their music. Troy meets two other musicians and takes a few lessons from the drummer. Troy goes to a punk rock concert with Curt and he has a blast. By now Curt has visited Troy’s house and met Dayle and his dad who is very direct with Curt. He is glad that Troy has a friend, he buys him a drum set. Troy buys drumming books. He practices. Then he doesn’t. When he finally does play on stage for the first time, he is humiliated. Troy is disgusted with himself and he ignores Curt’s phone calls. Soon, however, Troy discovers that Curt is deathly sick and he takes him to ER where Curt is diagnosed with pneumonia and he’s in the hospital for several days. While hospitalized Curt steals prescription drugs and hides them in a planter. Some critical decisions arise: Where will Curt stay upon release from the hospital? What about his addiction? Will Troy force an ultimatum on Curt?

Fat Kid Rules the World is a Printz Honor Award winner for literary excellence for young adult literature. K. L. Going acknowledges Curt Cobain in the writing of this book which has been made into a movie.