Monday, January 25, 2010

A Few More Kids Books of Note

I'm still going through the library and trying to catch up on things I probably should have already read, but I haven't for one reason or another. Because one of our focuses is encouraging kids to read, I've been spending some time with kids books, from picture books to YA, so that I have recommendations when people come in. They're not all new, but they are to me, so maybe they are to you, too.

We all think more kids reading is a good thing, so when something like Harry Potter comes along, we embrace it hope to get kids hooked so hooked on it that they continue to read either between volumes or even after the series ends. The current must-read is Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga, and if you or someone you know has read all of Meyer's books and is not-so-patiently awaiting the next installment, do them a favor and recommend Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's Beautiful Creatures.

Beautiful Creatures is the story of star-crossed lovers, a terrible curse, and their modern-day descendents. It's about family and loss and destiny and has enough paranormal activity and teen romance angst to satisfy the most ardent Twilight-er. It's also really well-written, starting off with a terrific prologue and never letting up from there. There's a host of new books hoping too latch on to the paranormal trend, and this is an excellent place to start.

Carl Hiaasen is a popular and successful adult writer, famous for his Florida settings, humorous characters, and strong belief in the conservation of those few remaining wild spots in Florida. Unsurprisingly, his first YA book, Hoot, is set in Florida, has humorous characters, and has a strong, anti-development/pro-conservation message. It is also, and I apologize in advance for this, a hoot and a half to read.

Hoot tells the story of Roy Eberhardt, recently moved to Florida from Montana. Roy is a smart, well-adjusted kid, able to make friends in new places and deal with bullies(and recognize when further dealing is pointless). While being attacked by a bully on the bus, Roy sees a kid, about his own age, running down the street wearing no shoes. He becomes curious about this mysterious boy and tries to track him down, managing to run into the school's tough girl and get knocked out by a flying golf ball in the process.

While Roy tries to find out more about the kid, we meet the foreman of a construction crew planning to build a Mother Paula's Pancake House on a vacant lot, who's having some problems with survey stakes being pulled up, leading to construction delays while everything is re-surveyed. He reports this officer Delinko, who agrees to try and catch the vandals. Instead, he dozes off and the culprit spraypaints the windows of his patrol car black and goes on about his business. In the process of these fiascos, we learn that small Burrowing Owls have made their home on the vacant lot, and that Mother Paula's is adamantly denying their existence.

These two threads come together in a story that's both funny and thought-provoking and which is well worth a read.

Many things can lead me to pick up a book, but I am a total sucker for a sense of humor. So when I come across a book titled Next to Mexico whose cover carries the tagline “Two countries. Two girls. One Tuba.” I know I've got to see what that's all about. And what that's all about is Lylice (pronounced like Phyllis) Martin, one of the most irrepressible and charming narrators I've run across.

Lylice has just been skipped from 4th grade straight to 6th. She's dealing with a new school and a new principal who she's convinced is out to get her. She is also assigned to be the English Buddy for a new student recently arrived from south of the border named Mexico Mendoza. Lylice and Mexico become fast friends, and this friendship helps them get through school troubles like cliques, mean girls, crushes on boys, bad boys who maybe aren't so bad, budget cuts, protests, and detention, as well as family troubles like separation from family, diabetes, unemployment, and alcoholism.

Lylice is hilarious, and there are some great messages here about friendship, loyalty, and standing up for what's right. Plus tubas are inherently funny. They just are.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Childhood Magic

I have a special place in my heart for books that feature a kid who reads and loves books. Any story that extols reading is aces in my book, but those that encourage and celebrate it for kids are especially fine. Since one of my duties is going up to the local elementary school and reading to the pre-K through 3rd grade kids, I've been spending a lot of time reading kids books (everything from picture books to YA) to find new stuff to share. I've been lucky enough to find some real gems, some old favorites that hold up well and some new finds that more people should be familiar with.

How long has it been since you read Madeline L'Engel's classic A Wrinkle in Time? Trust me, friend, that's too long. L'Engel's story of some special kids who band together to rescue their missing father is a stunner. A Wrinkle in Time has lost none of its power to amaze and enthrall. It's funny, heartbreaking, and pure magic.

How about Roald Dahl's Matilda? Dahl is a master of stories with all of the magic and humor and cruelty of childhood left intact. Mean headmistresses, awful parents, a kind teacher, and a very special girl combine for a tale of neglect and special powers that only Dahl could tell.

More recent but no less worthy is Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted, which is a great take on Cinderella with a fabulous teen protagonist and a lot of humor. Girls especially will identify with the smart, funny, and very competent Ella.

On another level entirely is Marcus Zusak's extraordianary The Book Thief. The story of Liesel Meminger's life in Nazi Germany is narrated by Death himself and is a testament to the power of books to help us through hard times.

But perhaps the bookiest book of all is Cornelia Funke's amazing Inkheart. The story of a man (who binds and repairs books by trade) who reads aloud so well that he actually brings forth characters from the book he's reading and the book-loving daughter who tries to save him is so saturated by a love of books and reading that it practically drips from the pages.

So please, folks, give these books a try, or even better, share them with someone you know who can't get enough of the written word.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Friendly Word of Warning

Even if, for some odd reason, you should be searching for a book about giant carnivorous crabs rampaging through Scotland, by all that is holy do not pick up this one and give it a read.

Or any of its sequels.

Not that I've read them, or anything, because I would never...I mean, well...I just thought...damn.

(Thanks to Rick for the link to I Was A Bronze Age Boy.)