Book of the month:
Enchantress from the Stars, by Sylvia Engdahl
YA science fiction. A ‘first-contact’ story. Wonderful characters: the heroine Elana and her supporting cast are so skillfully fleshed out that I truly believed in them and their world. Newbery Honor book and Phoenix Award title. The Phoenix Award is given annually by the Children’s Literature Association to a book that has remained in print for at least twenty years and did not win a major award at the time of initial publication. I wish this award were better known; it seems a most worthy one, recognizing books that have endured with minimal fanfare, and this title is a great example.
- Heaven Eyes, by David Almond. MG fable-esque tale about three runaways who meet a strange girl on the tidal flats of a river. I am an Almond fan and have loved his previous books (Skellig and Kit’s Wilderness); what I like most is the unique otherworldly quality of his work, quite unlike anyone else writing today.
- Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher. Contemporary YA. The first book I’ve read off the lists of ‘most memorable books’ from visitors to the site–many thanks to Toni Buzzeo for the recommendation! A boy-girl friendship between fat Eric and scarred Sarah. A little too much plot toward the end for me, but few writers portray teens as well as this author.
- The Giggler Treatment, by Roddy Doyle. Younger MG, fantasy. My pick for summer readaloud. Doyle began as a playwright, and his adult books (The Commitments, The Snapper, The Van, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha) contain some of the best dialogue I’ve ever read. He puts that to good use in this silly story of magic, hilarity, and dog poop– what more could a child want?
- No More Dead Dogs, by Gordon Korman. YA contemporary humor. A great first-person voice and lots of laughs: If you know teens who are into football or drama club (an unlikely combination that Korman pulls off with aplomb), give them this book or read it aloud with them.
- The Graduation of Jake Moon, by Barbara Park (no relation!). Contemporary MG. The author of the popular Junie B. Jones books for younger readers writing for an older crowd here, about what happens to a boy whose beloved grandfather develops Alzheimer’s disease. Park’s humor is still much in evidence here, but tempered by tenderness and compassion.
- The Bad Beginning, by Lemony Snicket. The first in the hit series. Not particularly memorable, but great fun. Three orphaned siblings face endless disaster: It never feels real, which is why it works.
Adult title: Home Body, by John Thorne. Brief essays on domestic surroundings by one of my favorite writers, who proves that food is not the only subject he can explore. Read this book and you will never see closets or cellars or a chest of drawers in quite the same way again.