June 2001 – Recent Reading

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.

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