Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
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.
Jackie’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
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 Amazon.com, 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)
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 books, Concise 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 America, The 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
Leo and Diane Dillon have been illustrating children’s books together for most of their married life. They are icons in the world of children’s books. Patricia McKissack is also revered in the same world. Together, these talented folks have given us Never Forgotten, the story of Musafa, who was taken captive, sent across the sea, and sold into slavery.
Richly illustrated with oil paintings that look like woodcuts, this is lyrical story reminds readers that family is more important than anything and that our ancestors are with us always.
This book won a well-deserved Coretta Scott King Honor Award this year.