Tuesday, January 31, 2012

REVIEW: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Rating: 5/5 Stars
Audience: Adult
Genres: Realistic Fiction

Summary: Henry Skrimshander’s life changes forever when he catches the eye of college sophomore Mike Schwartz at a no-name summer baseball tournament. The next school year, Henry finds himself at Westish College, a small liberal arts college situated on Lake Michigan. Under Schwartz's tutelage and with the guidance of his favorite book, The Art of Fielding, Henry hones his natural talent. By his junior year, the Westish Harpooners have become a solid ball team and Henry is attracting attention from the MLB scouts. But then a freak error injures a teammate, sends Henry into a spiral of self-doubt, and sparks changes in the lives of those connected to him. While recovering from his injury, Owen falls into a relationship that could end badly for both involved. Schwartz becomes jealous of Henry's success and feels uncertain about his own future. Affenlight, the college president, falls in love with someone he never imagined having feelings for. And Affenlight's daughter Pella, who has just left her husband, returns to her father in search of a new start.

Tracy's Thoughts:
Baseball and Melville in a single book? Sign me up! And I don't even like baseball. But anyone who can create a world where the two coexist, jocks aren't stereotyped idiots, and the characters read has my attention. Of course, The Art of Fielding isn't strictly about baseball (although sports-types will doubtless find much to enjoy here). So yes, it is about sports; and yes, it is a bit about academia and even literature. But at its core, The Art of Fielding is a quintessential coming-of-age novel: primarily character driven. And Harbach's characters are superbly drawn indeed. They are complex, intellectually engaged characters, but they are also grounded in the physical world. The novel rotates close, third-person perspectives from chapter to chapter, and each voice is distinctive and authentic. As a reader, I was predisposed to dislike certain characters who shall remain nameless, and yet once I got inside their minds, I understood them and worried about them as if they were real people. Of the five main characters, only Owen doesn't take a turn at narrating. Instead, he remains something of an enigma, but this perfectly suits his characterization.

The Art of Fielding is undeniably smart and yet it is also a fun, easy read. The pace is unhurried, almost leisurely, but the clear, unpretentious prose carries with it an energy that makes the novel utterly absorbing. Harbach's imagery is surprising and yet, in a way, obvious. So, too, the story itself: it holds endless revelations and yet, by the end, has an inevitability about it. It all fits together perfectly, and perfectly reflects Affenlight's own philosophy of writing:
It was easy enough to write a sentence, but if you were going to create a work of art, the way Melville had, each sentence needed to fit perfectly with the ones on either side, so that three became five and five became seven, seven became nine, and whichever sentence he was writing became the slender fulcrum on which the whole precarious edifice depended. That sentence could contain anything, anything, and so it promised the kind of absolute freedom that, to Affenlight's mind, belonged to the artist and the artist alone. And yet that sentence was also beholden to the book's very first one, and its last unwritten one, and every sentence in between.

Many novels—from disappointing sports novels to obscure literary tomes—purport to be the next Great American Novel. Having drawn comparisons to authors ranging from Jonathan Frazen to David Foster Wallace (though I would suggest Harbach is much more accessible), greatness perhaps loomed largely in Chad Harbach's mind over the nine years he spent on this first novel. And yet this book never seems to take itself too seriously. In fact, frequent references to Moby-Dick are but one example of the understated, unselfconsious humor that runs throughout. At the very least, The Art of Fielding is a Really, Really Good American novel, skillfully taking on both the Great American Pastime and a classic considered by many to be THE Great American Novel. I was sorry to see it end—though the ending was completely satisfying—and I suspect that I will visit the characters and Westish College once again.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

NEWS: Awards Round-up

Book awards season is in full swing. So, here we go: It's round up time!

ALA Awards/ Lists
On the 23rd, the American Library Association's Children's and Young Adult Services announced the winners for the coveted Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz Awards—plus several other annual awards and lists that they oversee. The winners of the major awards were as follows:

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka

Whaley's debut was certainly an impressive one, and easily made my list of top teen books of the year. In my recent Book Picks list, I mentioned that the book reminded me of Flannery O'Connor. I am not a bit surprised that it swiped not one—but two!—YALSA awards. I was also pleased to see Inside Out & Back Again listed as a Newbery honor book. On the other hand, I was somewhat shocked to see no love for Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls. Possibly, the intended audience skewed a little too old for Newbery and a bit young for the Printz.You can visit the ALSC website to see the full list of this year's award winners and honorees for children's and teen literature. (The Best Books for Young Adults list hasn't been updated yet.)
Edited to Note: The 2012 list is now up! The Top 10 List is at follows:
  • Carson, Rae. The Girl of Fire and Thorns.
  • Cohen, Joshua C. Leverage.
  • King, A.S. Everybody Sees the Ants.
  • McCall, Guadalupe Garcia. Under the Mesquite.
  • Myracle, Lauren. Shine.
  • Ness, Patrick. A Monster Calls.
  • Sepetys, Ruta. Between Shades of Gray. 
  • Stiefvater, Maggie. The Scorpio Races. 
  • Taylor, Laini. Daughter of Smoke and Bone. 
  • Zarr, Sara. How to Save a Life.
Several of our 2011 favorites made the top 10—A Monster Calls, Between Shades of Gray, The Scorpio Races, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

Edgar Nominees
The American Mystery Writers of America's Edgar nominees were also recently announced. There are multiple Adult Fiction categories, as well as categories for Juvenile and Teen literature. Martha Grimes was was named the newest MWA Grand Master.

Academy Awards
Last but not least, Oscar nominations were announced yesterday and it is interesting to note how many of the Best Picture nominees are based on books.

That's five out of nine! Other book-based films garnering nominations include The Adventures of TinTin, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, The Ides of March, The Iron Lady, Jane Eyre, My Week with Marilyn, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and War Horse.

If you are interested in more book-to-movie adaptations, see the Read It. Watch It. page on our library website.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Best of 2011: Young Adult/Teen Books

2011 was a great year for YA literature! In fact, we had a hard time narrowing down the list for our favorite books of the year. I can hardly believe that some of my favorite teen fiction authors didn't make the cut even though they had great books out this year that I highly recommend (ahem... Sara Zarr). But we had to draw the line somewhere.

Fiction Picks:

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
Cas travels from town to town with his mother and their cat Tybalt, killing homicidal ghosts and secretly preparing himself for the day that he will confront the ghost that killed his father. Now he has a new ghost in his sights: Anna Dressed in Blood. But something about her is different than the others. This is a creepy, vividly written tale with dynamic, complex characters.
Tracy's Review.

Ashfall by Mike Mullin
After a supervolcano erupts under Yellowstone, 15-year-old Alex, who has been left home alone for the weekend, treks through a dangerous landscape of ash and snow, trying to survive both nature and a new world in which all the old rules of civilization have vanished.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
When an airplane full of beauty queens from the Miss Teen Dream Pageant crashes on a remote island, the surviving girls are forced to push themselves to the limits in order to survive. This is a quirky, witty read filled with biting humor and hilarious "commercial breaks."
Lucinda's Review.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
It is 1941 and Stalin's reign of terror is in full dominion, but fifteen-year-old Lina  is stunned when Soviet officers invade her home to arrest her family and deport them from Lithuania to Siberia, giving them only twenty minutes to pack a few belongings. This is only the beginning of Lina's journey, filled with deplorable, life-threatening conditions. Both beautiful and powerful, this is a truly lovely book reminiscent of like Hautzig's The Endless Steppe and even The Diary of Ann Frank.
Tracy's Review.

Chime by Franny Billingsley
This darkly romantic historical fantasy is written in gorgeous, mesmerizing prose and features an unforgettable narrator in Briony, a 17-year-old who can see the spirits that haunt the marshes in the town of Swampsea. She blames herself for her stepmother's death and her twin sister's brain injury. But then a charming young man enters her life and exposes secrets even Briony cannot guess at.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor
This fantasy—artfully grounded in the real, macabre city of Prague—tells the story of a 17-year-old raised by four mysterious chimaera, beings made up of disparate human and animal parts. Karou leads two separate lives: art student and errand girl to the Wishmonger, who takes teeth in exchange for wishes. Then she meets a vengeful angel determined to destroy the chimaera, and Karou knows she must uncover the secrets behind Brimstone's work and those of her past.

Divergent by Veronica Roth
In a not-too-distant future Chicago, everyone is divided into five factions with five different belief systems. Now that she is sixteen, it is finally time for Beatrice Prior to choose her permanent faction. But her choice won’t be easy. When she takes her aptitude tests, Beatrice learns that she is a Divergent, someone who does not fit easily into any of the predetermined classifications and whose very existence threatens her society. Smart, gutsy characters and a sweet romance subplot add depth to this addictively fast-paced read.
Tracy's Review.

Dust & Decay by Jonathan Maberry
Six months after the events in Rot & Ruin, Tom, Benny, Nix, Lilah, and Lou Chang leave Mountainside in search of a better life. Upon returning to the lawless land of the great Rot and Ruin, they are pursued by murderers and the living dead and face the horrors of Gameland—where teenagers are forced to fight for their lives in the zombie pits.
Lucinda & Tracy's Dual Review.

I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Two brothers, kidnapped by their mentally unstable father a decade, get a taste of a normal life after seventeen-year-old Sam befriends a preacher's daughter. But what will happen when their criminal father discovers their secret? Intertwining a gripping survival story with a sweet tale of first love, this is a memorable, heartfelt story about the connections that people make and the brief intersections that can change your life
Tracy's Review.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Every November, someone dies in the Scorpio Races, a dangerous horse race unlike any other because the horses are unlike any others. The water horses, both terrible and beautiful, rise from the ocean every autumn to terrorize the people of Thisby. And every year, the people—both awed and afraid—prepare for the traditional race along the beach. This year, Puck—the first female to ever enter the Scorpio Races—is determined to win even though it means taking on the four-time champion, Sean Kendrick. This is an eerie, romantic adventure that is completely unlike anything else you’ve read.

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppell
Science, history and a spot of horror merge in this gripping gothic prequel to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. At 16, Victor Frankenstein already shows signs of the “mad scientist” he will become: he’s obsessive, temperamental, and wildly jealous of his twin brother Konrad. But when Konrad becomes dangerously ill, Victor will do anything—even defy his beloved father to investigate the forbidden practice of alchemy—to save his brother.

Where She Went by Gayle Foreman
Love, heartache, betrayal, and music intertwine in this emotional sequel to If I Stay. Told from Adam’s perspective, it details his breakdown after Mia dumps him in favor of a future in New York. Now, stranded in in New York in between flights, Adam decides it is time to confront the girl he can’t get over. The majority of the story takes place in a single day, and readers experience each moment right along with Adam, unsure how it will end until the very last page.

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
Cullen Witter is a sardonic, imaginative 17-year-old who fills his journal with the titles of books he might someday write and thinks about leaving his Arkansas hometown, a “black hole” that no one can escape for long. Then the town becomes obsessed with the sighting of a supposedly extinct woodpecker and his younger brother Gabriel vanishes without a trace. Juxtaposed with Cullen’s story is the seemingly unrelated tale of a teenage missionary who travels to Ethiopia and back. Cullen’s is a wry, compelling narrative, interwoven with 3rd person accounts that seem unrelated at first but gradually coalesce into a single story with unexpected connections.

Winter Town by Stephen Emond
Evan and Lucy, childhood best friends who now see each other only during Christmas break, struggle to preserve their relationship in the midst of family expectations, bad choices, and a budding romance. Interspersed throughout are both realistic sketches and drawings of the comic strip that Evan and Lucy create together. This is a real and honest look at relationships, growing up, and self-discovery.

You Against Me by Jenny Downham
When Mikey’s 15-year-old sister accuses an older boy of rape and refuses to leave their apartment, he’s not 100% sure he believes the story but feels obligated to avenge her. He’s also dealing with work, an alcoholic mom, and a confused 7-year-old sister. Meanwhile, Ellie wants more than anything to believe that her brother Tom is innocent, and her wealthy parents have launched a full-scale campaign to clear her brother’s name. Then Mikey and Ellie meet. This is a suspenseful, unforgettable novel with strongly drawn characters and complicated emotions.

Nonfiction Picks:

It Gets Better edited by Dan Savage and Terry Miller
This collection of essays and testimonials from celebrities, political leaders, and everyday people stresses to gay and lesbian teens that they can overcome bullying and lead fulfilling lives.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

DUAL REVIEW: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Rating: 5/5 Stars
Audience: Adult/YA Crossover
Genre: Fantasy/Magical Realism

Summary: The Cirque des Rêves arrives in the night, without warning, and captivates its audience from dusk till dawn. What the audience—and most of the performers—do not know is that the circus is merely the arena for a much grander scheme. Two magicians have set their protégés on a collision course, a deadly game where not even the participants themselves are sure of the rules—or the consequences. Celia, the daughter of Prospero the Enchanter, is a performer in the circus, pretending that her magical feats are mere illusion. Marco, an orphaned boy trained by Prospero's greatest rival to defeat Celia, is more covert in his strategy. The Night Circus spans decades and continents as the game plays out slowly—until the two competitors finally meet and fall in love, putting the circus itself at risk.

Lucinda's Views:
This is a beautifully written intricate tale that seems to be a tale of star-crossed lovers, but is so much more than it seems. The intricate tale weaves in and out of the lives of Celia and Marco effortlessly, while also supporting the depth of the other characters that are inherent to the development of this wonderful story.  I must say that the ending was not what I expected, but was extremely satisfying for all that is was unexpected.  Even the supporting characters were extraordinarily well-developed. Each character was intriguing and kept the story moving towards its penultimate conclusion.  If you haven't yet had a chance to pick this up, it should be a must on your list.

To see Tracy's earlier review click here:

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

GUEST REVIEW: Along Wooded Paths by Tricia Goyer

Our adult/teen programmer, Allison, is back with another guest review! This time she delves into adult Christian fiction.

Allison's Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Audience: Adult
Genre: Christian Romance/Amish
Series: Big Sky #1

 In lieu of a summary, I found this book trailer:

Allison's Guest Review:
I had all but given up on Amish fiction. After having read scores of the same old storyline (Amish girl falls in love with someone from outside her world; someone has a horrific buggy accident; another Amish girl is pregnant before her marriage; family secrets are revealed), I was hesitant to delve into this one. Imagine my surprise when Tricia Goyer changed all that. 

Granted, all those elements that usually make up the storyline of an Amish romantic fiction are there, but they are not the storyline in this particular book. Goyer uses descriptions of the Montana town where Marianna is living that allow the reader to form a mental picture of the town and its inhabitants. I could actually see Sarah and Marianna conversing in the kitchen of the country store where they worked. More so than other Amish fiction books I have read, Along Wooded Paths delves deeper into the thoughts and hopes of a young girl, the struggle she has with her faith, and the choices she ultimately makes. 

I can honestly say I am looking forward to reading the next installment, Beyond Hopes Valley. And, Goyer certainly intrigued me with her teaser chapter! This was a great read, full of all those elements necessary to draw a reader into its fantasy world. I would highly recommend it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

DUAL REVIEW: Dust & Decay by Jonathan Maberry

Lucinda's Rating: 4/5 Stars
Tracy's Rating: 4/5 Stars
Audience: Young Adult
Genre: Zombie/Dystopia
Series: Benny Inmura #2; sequel to Rot & Ruin

Six months have passed since the terrifying battle with Charlie Pink-eye and the Motor City Hammer in the zombie-infested mountains of the Rot & Ruin. It’s also been six months since Benny Imura and Nix Riley saw something in the air that changed their lives. Now, after months of rigorous training with Benny’s zombie-hunter brother Tom, Benny and Nix are ready to leave their home forever and search for a better future. Lilah the Lost Girl and Benny’s best friend Lou Chong are going with them. But before they even leave there is a shocking zombie attack in town, and as soon as they step into the Rot & Ruin they are pursued by the living dead, wild animals, and insane murderers, and face the horrors of Gameland—where teenagers are forced to fight for their lives in the zombie pits. Worst of all…could the evil Charlie Pink-eye still be alive?

In the great Rot & Ruin, everything wants to kill you—and not everyone in Benny’s small band of travelers will survive….

Lucinda's Views:
This novel tells the tale of the further adventures of Benny Imura and his friends in their zombie-infested world. As they set out on their quest to locate the mysterious jumbo jet seen in Rot & Ruin,  the reader will see many changes in Benny, from his blossoming romance to his new found respect for his brother, Tom.  Within we also see ethical dilemmas that pose such questions as, "Does the good of the few outweigh the good of the many?" Also posed is the question of what really constitutes a "good" person?  Is someone who professes to be a preacher automatically a good person?  Should their word be more valuable than that of a layperson? This tale offers many twists and turns and an ending that may be very surprising to some. An ending that leaves one character dead and another completely altered for life. If you liked Rot & Ruin you will love Dust & Decay.

Tracy's Thoughts:
I am so glad I decided to stick with this series. At the same time, I am seriously mad at Jonathan Maberry for putting his characters through such hell and even (gasp!) killing off a couple of the good guys. In Rot & Ruin, I never quite managed to connect with the heroes. But they really grabbed me in Dust & Decay—and then Maberry pretty much tortures them. I couldn't put the book down. What that says about me, I'd rather not contemplate.

Anyway, I was very pleased with the character development in Dust & Decay. Benny has evolved into a slightly tougher, more balanced (and likeable!) character, though he is still flawed and recognizable as the same guy from Rot & Ruin. He has matured as a result of his experiences, and I could really feel the struggle between the kid his is and the adult he is becoming. And Tom, well he's still awesome...only now we get to see his skills in action. We also discover more about Lilah's past; even Benny's friend Chong gets new layers (actually, his is one of the most relatable character arcs). I did get rather sick of Nix—IMHO, she seems more than a little crazy at times—but she was an interesting character and I cared what happened to her even though it was difficult to like her at times. Even better, Maberry brings the Zombie Cards to life. We meet fascinating new characters straight from the Cards—Preacher Jack, Sally Two-Knives, and J-Dog and Dr. Skillz (who bring a welcome dose of humor to the mix).

I also found the storytelling more vivid and less clunky than in Rot & Ruin. In book one, the POV was mostly 3rd person from the perspective of Benny. There were a few brief shifts to other characters' perspectives, but I found this quite jarring. In the sequel, these transitions are more frequent and feel more natural, allowing for a fuller, richer story. This also advances the pacing, which is fast and absorbing. The action scenes (of which there are many) have an immediacy I felt was lacking in R & R, and the villains have more flavor. Horror aficionados will love the increased gore-factor, and Hunger Games fans will be intrigued by the Gameland scenes. But this novel isn't all blood, guts, and fight scenes; there is also love, heartbreak, hope, and real ethical questions to consider. For me, Dust & Decay has the feel of a good Western (with zombies!). The story touches on themes of loyalty, obligation, and courage in a world where lawlessness is rampant and the good guys are struggling with their own inner demons. There are lots of twists and turns, and a new development in the mystery of zombie reanimation raises questions that have me hungry for the sequel. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Best of 2011: Middle Grade/Tween Books

Here are our favorite 2011 books for middle-grade readers and tweens! A few of the titles skew a little older (10/11+).

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy
It's 1952, and fourteen-year-old Janie isn't happy when her family moves from sunny Los Angeles to dreary London. Then she meets Ben and his father—an apothecary with a secret book of "scientific magic"—and becomes involved in a mission to save the world from nuclear war. This is a fast-paced historical fantasy/adventure.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
Fifth-graders Hazel and Jack are best friends. Together, they prefer imagination and fantasy over reality. So when Jack suddenly stops talking to her, Hazel becomes convinced that something magical is at work and embarks on a quest into the woods to rescue her friend from an evil Snow Queen.

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: 14 Amazing
Authors Tell the Tales
by Chris Van Allsburg

An inspired collection of short stories by an all-star cast of best-selling storytellers based on the thought-provoking illustrations in Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.
Lucinda's Review.

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens
Three siblings who were separated from their parents under mysterious circumstances a decade ago discover a magical book in their new orphanage. When the book transports them into the recent past—where an evil witch holds an entire town captive in search of the very book they hold—they must find a way to save the town and keep their family together.

Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri
Twelve-year-old Cole is dumbfounded when his mother dumps him on the doorstep of the father he's never met. Even worse, his father thinks that he's a cowboy—in the middle of the Philadelphia ghetto!—and expects Cole to learn the "cowboy way."

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
This novel in free verse follows a year in the life on ten-year-old Hà and her family, from their life in Saigon, to their flight from their home in the wake of the Vietnam War, through the difficult transition to life in America. This is a quick and surprisingly lighthearted read, filled with perception and humor.

Jefferson's Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Everyone at Montecello knows that Beverly, Harriet, Madison, and Eston are the children of Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings, though it can never be spoken of. But what does it mean when the man who wrote "all men are created equal" is your father—and also your slave master?

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Conor is plagued by a recurring nightmare, but when a real monster appears in his room one night, he isn’t afraid—until the monster demands to know the secrets of Conor’s dream. This is a powerful, timeless book full of sharp humor, insight, and a dark eeriness that is echoed perfectly in nightmarish pen and ink drawings.

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmid
In this companion book to the award-wining The Wednesday Wars, Doug Swieteck is bummed when his blowhard dad loses his job and the family has to move from Brooklyn to small-town Marysville, NY. It is obvious that the town sees Doug as a criminal-in-training, but after discovering drawing and making a friend, Doug begins to feel okay—for now.

Small Persons with Wings by Ellen Booraem
As a child, Mellie’s best friend was a Small Person with Wings (not a fairy!) named Fidius. After years of ridicule from her classmates, she stopped believing in their existence. That is until her family inherits her grandfather's run-down inn—overrun with bickering, demanding Parvi Pennati (aka Small Persons with Wings)— and she is pulled into a series of magical misadventures in search of a magical ring that has linked her family to the Parvi for centuries.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
In 1977, shortly after his mother’s death, 12-year-old Ben runs away from his Minnesota home to seek the father he never knew in New York City. Fifty years earlier, in 1927, a young deaf girl named Rose runs away from her father’s New Jersey mansion to track down her favorite silent film star. Ben’s story is told in words; Rose’s is revealed through a series of richly detailed pencil drawings.

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann
In a society where creativity is a crime, thirteen-year-old Alex is separated from his twin brother and sent for Elimination. Instead, he finds himself in a wondrous place where the “Unwanteds” hone their artistic abilities, learn magic, and prepare for an inevitable battle.

Late additions:

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

REVIEW: Tiger, Tiger by Margaux Fragoso

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Audience: Adult
Genre: Memoir/Adult Nonfiction

Summary: Margaux Fragoso was seven when she met pedophile Peter Curran at a neighborhood swimming pool. Peter was 51. Quickly, Peter's world—a wonderland of exotic pets and play—became the center of Margaux's life. Her mentally ill mother thought Peter was practically "Jesus in another life" and for Marguax, Peter became the all-consuming person: friend, playmate, father... lover. Their relationship lasted 15 years. This memoir is absolutely gut-wrenching, and a fearlessly honest account of sexual abuse and family dysfunction.

Tracy's Thoughts: 
This is a difficult book to read. Descriptions of the physical relationship are graphic at times, but not nearly as sensationalistic as one might fear. No, the real horror here is the way Fragoso manages to humanize a child molester, showing his perspective while laying bare the destruction of her childhood without self-pity or judgement. It is this last point—the lack of outright condemnation—that is astonishing. I was awed by Fragoso's storytelling, which skillfully allows readers to experience Curran as the object of a young Margaux's adoration even as we recognize the calculating manipulations of a predator. It is an uncomfortable balance at times—Fragoso is too candid to deny her love for her molester—but it provides important and fascinating insight into the mind of a victim. The erosion of Margaux's sense of reality is devastating, and at times I was horrified to catch myself almost sympathizing with Peter. Peter insidiously worked his way into Margaux's world, and as a writer Fragoso is equally skilled at pulling the reader into the world that they shared. This is an intensely disturbing book, but also a beautiful one.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Best of 2011: Our Favorite Easy Picture Books

I've been working to compile a list of the Best Books of 2011 and have asked our entire library staff to participate. I hope to make this an annual event. So, without further ado... Here is part one of our series: Picture Books.

The Babies on the Bus by Karen Katz
This book gives new life to the classic "Wheels on the Bus" song and makes for a happy, loveable read-aloud and sing-along. The bright, colorful illustrations will hold toddlers' attention. Ages 3 to 5.

Blackout by John Rocco
Told through a series of graphic novel–style panels, this is the story of an ordinary summer night in the city. A little girl is eager to play a game, but everyone in her household is too busy. Then there is a blackout; with the power suddenly out, no one is busy at all and the the neighborhood comes alive. The visual images are bold and striking, and small details add a lot to this story about family togetherness. The contrast between light and dark plays an important but subtle visual role. Ages 4 to 8.

Blue Chicken by Deborah Freedman
This deceptively simple farmyard caper is filled with bold splashes of color (mostly blue) and the discoveries of a curious chicken who accidentally spills some (blue) paint. Ages 3 to 5.

Bumble-Ardy by Maurice Sendak
Sendak's (Where the Wild Things Are) latest is a raucous tale populated by pigs, and his signature subtly sinister style is in full force. Ages 4 to 7.

Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld
This solo effort from the illustrator of Amy Krouse Rosenthal's Duck! Rabbit! is utterly charming and not a bit condescending to children despite the little "life lesson." This is a lovely book about self-determination and overcoming obstacles as Cloudette, a very small cloud, looks for a way to contribute. Side chatter from the bigger clouds provides comic relief, and the illustrations are surprisingly sunny and cheerful.

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith*
A boy follows his grandfather though his topiary garden in this moving and clever story about art, family stories, and memory. The gorgeously verdant illustrations are the star here, though the special relationship between the boy and his grandfather is touching. Ages 5 to 8.

Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator by Mo Willems
This playful collection of "6-1/2 stories" gives kids the feeling of reading their first chapter book. The highs and lows of Amanda's friendship with her pet alligator are treated with honesty and humor, and the text and simple illustrations provide occasional moments of real poignancy.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
The bear's hat is gone, and he wants it back. Patiently and politely, he seeks out his fellow forest creatures to inquire "Have you seen my hat?" It's like a sly game of clue, with clever visual hints. It's an adorable tale with a delightfully wicked twist at the end. Ages 4 to 8.

Little Owl's Night by Divya Srinivasan*
Little Owl is darned adorable, and this book provides a clever twist on the traditional bedtime story. Gorgeous, both visually and verbally. Ages 3 to 5.

Melvin and the Boy by Lauren Castillo
This quiet tale of companionship and compassion has a bit of an ecological message, but it is not overblown. The marker-edged watercolor illustrations are beautiful and echo and the book's gentle tone. Turtle FAQs at the end will appeal to budding scientists and animal enthusiasts. Ages 4 to 8.

Neville by Norton Juster, Illus. by G. Brian Karas
This is a one-of-a-kind picture book about about friendship and the trauma of moving, from the author of The Phantom Tollbooth. The illustrations are whimsical and nuanced despite their simplicity, and the story has a great payoff at the end. It should work well as a read-aloud with lots of opportunities for audience participation. Ages 4 to 8.

A Pet for Petunia by Paul Schmid
Petunia desperately wants a pet skunk, and she would do anything to get one. She wheedles, begs, and then lets loose with a rant that will delight children and feel all too familiar to parents. Think Viorst's Lulu and the Brontosaurus or Willems' Pigeon stories. The spare illustrations—in a limited color palette of black, white, purple, and hints of gold—perfectly reflect the childlike tone of the book.

Press Here by Hervé Tullet*
This ingenious, interactive picture book will incite wonder and delight in children ages 2 to 200. It doesn't require batteries or have any fancy flaps or tabs. Instead, Tullet asks kids to suspend belief and participate by pressing on dots, shaking the book, turning it, and blowing on it—gently of course. When they turn the page, they see the results of their actions. The illustrations—somewhat reminiscent of Lei Lionni, without the personification—are simple, leaving room for the reader's imagination. Ages 2 to 5.

Stars by Mary Lyn Ray, Illus. by Marla Frazee*
In direct and poetic language, Ray explores stars both heavenly and symbolic. This is a quiet, gentle read and the taller than average dimensions and gorgeous artwork by Frazee (All the World and A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever) help create a feeling of awe. Ages 3 to 7.

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers*
After he gets his kite stuck in a tree, Floyd heaves his shoe up there in an attempt to dislodge the kite. When that doesn't work, he tries something else, and then something else, each new rescue object becoming increasingly ridiculous. Jeffers's (Lost and Found) illustrations are vibrant and deceptively simple, leaving a lot of white space to keep the reader's focus on Floyd, his latest object, and the progressively overstuffed tree. This is an absurdly funny foray into logic and problem solving that is sure to elicit giggles and eager suggestions from the kiddos. Ages 4 to 7.

*Bullitt County Public Library copies have been ordered. If you are interested in placing a hold if/when the item is processed, you may fill out a patron request form at any Library location.
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