Book of the month:
Esperanza Rising, by Pam Munoz Ryan
MG historical fiction. I’d never heard of the so-called ‘voluntary repatriation’ of Mexican and Mexican-American farm laborers during the Depression and am grateful to this title for introducing it in such a well-written, personal manner through the story of Esperanza and her family. Chapter titles are named for fruits and vegetables, a touch I found both charming and moving.
- Half-Magic, by Edward Eager. Middle-grade. My daughter is participating in her school’s “Battle of the Books,” so I’ve been re-reading some of the titles with her. One of my all-time fantasy favorites: Four children find a magic coin that grants wishes–sort of. A great summertime readaloud.
- The Book of the Banshee, by Anne Fine. One of England’s best-known children’s authors, and recently named “Children’s Laureate” there. Funny contemporary MG portraying a girl’s difficult adolescence through the eyes of her younger brother. I especially liked the scenes depicting the boy and his other sister, a four-year-old, a relationship not often seen in children’s fiction. Another good YA read by this author: Flour Babies, in which a boy must take care of a bag of flour as if it were an infant.
- Stuck in Neutral, by Terry Trueman. Printz Honor title for 2001. Part of the function of literature–in my opinion, of course–is to give voice to those who have none. This book gives voice to a severely handicapped boy, a victim of cerebral palsy who has no muscle control–he can’t even direct his eyes. A slim book with a lot of ergs per page. Don’t skip the author’s note at the end.
- Hard Love, by Ellen Wittlinger. YA must-read, Printz Honor book for 2000. John is one of the realest characters I’ve met in quite a while–a boy who tries to deal with his feelings of alienation by producing a homemade magazine, and meets a fascinating girl along the way. A story of unrequited love, with the realness carried through right to the lasst page.
PLUS two adult titles I read this month and can’t resist recommending:
- The Professor and the Madman, by Simon Winchester. A book about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary? It may sound like a snooze, but trust me on this one–whether you’re a nonfiction lover, a history buff, a word maven, or simply a story lover, I think this nonfiction tale will have you riveted. For me it was a two-sitting read. (Published in England as The Surgeon of Crowthorne.)
- Pot on the Fire, by John Thorne. The latest from my favorite food writer. I’m obsessed about the role of food in culture, history, people’s daily lives; Thorne goes everywhere in his kitchen and takes me with him. I love his meditations on breakfast; the potato in Irish cuisine; not one but two essays on rice… he’s quirky and opinionated and a terrific writer.
Books of the month (two, because I couldn’t choose between them):
Owl in Love, by Patrice Kindl
YA fantasy. Girl by day, owl by night. Owl has a marvelous voice–wise, dry humor, yet replete with teenage vulnerability. This book should appeal to those who like romance and mystery, as well as fantasy.
Make Lemonade, by Virginia Euwer Wolff
Contemporary YA written in ‘poetic prose,’ which looks like free-verse poetry on the page. LaVaughn works as a babysitter for a teenage single mother to earn money for college. Voice and story seamless, with characters who will seem like neighbors to those who live in a big city.
Other recommended reads:
- The Wanderer, by Sharon Creech. One of this year’s Newbery Honor books. Sophie sails the Atlantic with three uncles and two cousins, telling her story alternately with cousin Cody. I especially liked the resolution of the relationship between Sophie and her grandfather Bompie. Note to self: Learn juggling.
- My Side of the Mountain, by Jean George. Another golden oldie that I’m rereading along with my daughter. City slicker Sam Gribley tries his hand at living off the land. Never mind that he’s a little too successful–it’s a compelling story that reads just as well now as it did thirty years ago. (Am I really that old!?)
- Kamikaze, by Yasuo Kuwahara and Gordon T. Allred. Memoir of a teenage kamikaze pilot. A remarkable story.
- Looking Back, by Lois Lowry. Memoir with photos. A re-read of one of my favorite authorship titles, and a must-read for Lowry fans.
- Journey, by Patricia MacLachlan. Journey and his sister live with their grandparents– because their mother abandoned them. MacLachlan examines the relationship between memory and experience through the motif of photography. I continue to be amazed at her ability to pack so much into so few words; she seems incapable of writing anything less than wonderful. If you know a kid who likes photography, give them this book.
- True Believer, by Virginia Euwer Wolff. The sequel to Make Lemonade. Going against the received wisdom here, I think the first book is stronger–a more unusual storyline. This one has a much more standard plot, but the same compelling un-put-downable style, and you can’t help but cheer for LaVaughn.
Book of the Month:
Tangerine, by Edward Bloor
YA novel that defies description: It’s a sports book, a mystery, a problem novel, and a school story, with a little multiculturalism thrown in as well. All elements deftly handled, with a great protagonist in sixth-grader Paul Fisher.
- Sunset in a Spider Web, by Virginia Olsen Baron. Translations of sijo, a traditional Korean verse form.
- On My Honor, by Marion Dane Bauer. MG/YA about a boy who gets into terrible trouble through disobedience.
- Morning Girl, by Michael Dorris. MG historical fiction: a sister and brother alternate first-person chapters in an account of their lives as Tainos just before Columbus’ arrival.
- Fiddle Fever, by Sharon Arms Doucet. MG period fiction: A boy in Louisiana’s bayou country dreams of becoming a fiddler.
- All is Well, by Kristine Litchman. MG historical: A girl comes of age in turn of the century Utah. Presents the old Mormon practice of polygamy without sensationalizing.
- Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon, by Leonard Marcus. Adult book. Fascinating biography of the acclaimed picture-book author.
- Yang the Second and her Secret Admirers, by Lensey Namioka. Younger MG: The second in the series about a Chinese-American family.
- A Child’s Delight, by Noel Perrin. Adult book. Brief essays about the author’s favorite children’s books, some famous, some not, a delight indeed. The companion to Reader’s Delight, by the same author, about adult titles.
- The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman. YA fantasy, third in the “His Dark Materials” trilogy. Imaginative and compelling.
- At the Sign of the Star, by Katherine Sturtevant. MG historical fiction set in medieval England–a girl who wants to become a bookseller. If you like Karen Cushman’s books, try this title.
- Miracle’s Boys, by Jacqueline Woodson. MG/YA, this year’s Coretta Scott King Medal winner for fiction. Three brothers in present-day Harlem. A slim volume that packs a big punch.
The announcement of the annual ALA awards always kicks me into high gear reading-wise. Starting this month, I’ll choose a “book of the month,” and add brief notes to my titles list.
My book of the month:
The Sterkarm Handshake, by Susan Price
A YA time-travel adventure story, set in 16th- and 21st-century England, with a vulnerable and interesting heroine. Winner of a Guardian prize for fiction in the UK.
- When Jeff Comes Home, by Catherine Atkins (contemporary YA, the harrowing story of a kidnapped and returned teen)
- A String in the Harp, by Nancy Bond (MG fantasy–time travel set in Wales)
- The Quiltmaker’s Gift, by Jeff Brumbeau, illustrated by Gail de Marcken (PB, an original fairy tale a little heavy on sentimentality but lushly illustrated)
- Martha Graham: A Dancer’s Life, by Russell Freedman (MG biography by a master)
- Shizuko’s Daughter, by Kyoko Mori (YA coming-of-age set in contemporary Japan–a young girl deals with the aftermath of her mother’s suicide)
- Ties that Bind, Ties that Break, by Lensey Namioka (early 20th-c. period fiction, set mostly in China and centered around the traditional practice of footbinding)
- Yang the Youngest and his Terrible Ear, by Lensey Namioka (younger MG, contemporary family story)
- A Year Down Yonder, by Richard Peck (2001 Newbery Medal, Depression-era in a small town in Southern Illinois)
- Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli (contemporary YA about teen peer pressure)
- Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild (classic MG, three orphan girls who train in the theatrical arts)
- The Queen of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner (MG adventure set in ancient Greece, sequel to the Newbery Honor title The Thief)
- Go and Come Back, by Joan Abelove (MG/YA)
- On a Wintry Morning, by Dori Chaconas (picture book)
- What Jamie Saw, by Caroline Coman (YA)
- The Ballad of Lucy Whipple, by Karen Cushman (MG)
- The Everything Book, by Denise Fleming (picture book)
- Snowdrops for Cousin Ruth, by Susan Katz (MG)
- Anastasia Krupnik, by Lois Lowry (MG)
- The Ruby in the Smoke, by Phillip Pullman (YA)
- The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner (MG/YA)
- Kit’s Wilderness, by David Almond (MG/YA)
- Matilda Bone, by Karen Cushman (MG)
- Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo (MG)
- Eleanor Roosevelt, by Russell Freedman (MG)
- Silent to the Bone, by E.L. Konigsburg (YA)
- John Riley’s Daughter, by Kezi Matthews (MG)
- Silverwing, by Kenneth Oppel (MG)
- Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen (MG/YA)
- Freak the Mighty, by Rod Philbrick (MG)
- Never Trust a Dead Man, by Vivian VandeVelde (MG/YA)