October 2001 – Recent Reading

Book of the month:

We Were There Too! by Philip Hoose

MG nonfiction, National Book Award nominee. Profiles of young people who were present at important events in U.S. history. Did you know there were 12-year-old boys on Columbus’ ships? Or that a 15-year-old girl was the first to refuse to move to the back of the bus—months before Rosa Parks? If you need ideas for writing historical fiction, this book is simply bursting with them. Wonderful archival artwork and photographs–the one of a slave’s back is unforgettable. Informative sidebars, like the collection of quotes about inventions that would never succeed–the telephone, the airplane, the computer . . . A gem of a book.

  • The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares. Contemporary YA. Over the course of a summer, four best friends share a pair of jeans that magically fits each of them perfectly. Four protagonists–not easy to pull off, and two of the characters were more vivid than the other two for me, but I liked them all and think this book will be a sure hit with young teen girls.
  • The Tiger Rising, by Kate DiCamillo. Contemporary MG, National Book Award nominee. A short novel with two well-drawn characters–lonely Rob and strange Sistine. Favorite moment: Rob trying to fold a girl’s dress.
  • Troy, by Adele Geras. Historical fiction YA. What a great idea for a book–an account of the battle of Troy told from the points of view of several young Trojans! The gods flit in and out of the story (annoyingly at times, it must be said), but overall this book brings those distant Greek myths to vivid and immediate life.
  • Rocks In His Head, by Carol Otis Hurst. Nonfiction picture book. A tribute to the author’s father and his consuming interest in geology. I love this book for its simple but elegant homage to an ordinary man’s passion, and for the expressive line drawings by the great James Stevenson.
  • The Last Book in the Universe, by Rodman Philbrick. MG science-fiction in the not-too-distant future: Earth after ‘The Big Shake’ destroys most of civilization. A clash between two societies, dystopian and utopian. A resourceful protagonist and two great sidekicks, a fun and un-put-downable read.
  • Rain Is Not My Indian Name, by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Contemporary YA. Use of journal entries to play with the time frame in a deft depiction of small-town life. Cassidy Rain Berghoff finds that becoming involved in her community helps heal the pain of losing her best friend in a car accident. Terrific website activities, including a tour of the town, at www.cynthialeitichsmith.com

Adult mystery: A Traitor to Memory, by Elizabeth George. The most recent in a classic English mystery series–written by an American. In this title, Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and Sgt. Barbara Havers are less in evidence; it’s more psychological thriller than detective novel. But the quality of George’s writing stands out from the crowd, in my opinion. Start at the beginning (with A Great Deliverance)—if you’re a mystery fan, you’ll want to read these straight through.

Adult fiction: Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald. I’m not usually a fan of slice-of-life books—unless the slice is taken from a strange part of the cake. Fitzgerald has that knack. In this book, we’re on the Thames with a small community of barge-dwellers. I read Fitzgerald and shake my head in awe and appreciation for her understated but powerful work.


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