June 2015 Adult Fiction Pick

Man At the Helm  by Nina StibbeMan at the Helm

This proves once again there is nothing like British wit to make you grin, chuckle or laugh-out-loud.  Stibbe’s first novel (following her memoir Love, Nina) does it all and not just in the delivery of a full range of humor.   She is a master at creating sense of place and the voice of characters that you could befriend, foibles and all.
Reading a novel narrated by a child is a bit different… but then again nine-year-old Lizzie Vogel is no ordinary pre-teen.  She is not an omniscient narrator but a smart, unworldly youth whose family is headed towards catastrophe.  In the writing the author has succeeded in  making sure Lizzie is not too precocious and has just the right tone for a once-privileged, but-not-spoiled, middle child whose family has lost everything including a full-time father, financial comfort, and social status.  She and her sister make a plan to rescue their dysfunctional family.
They decide to find a new husband for their pill-popping, compulsive play-writing, demoralized mum.
To fill the vacancy they create a list from amongst the local population of males, and  in a letter-writing campaign they invite the culled eligibles for a visit with Mum.  Though the unsuspecting males should have found certain turns- of- phrase to be slightly “off”  in the letters they received, none seemed to notice. (This is not to diminish the collective astuteness of the gentlemen,  or the letter-writing skills of these youngsters, desperate to succeed.)  Using one ruse or another they get these men in the door. Mostly things don’t go well as kids know very little about adult relationships.  Paring down the list of sixteen makes for great hijinx and hilarity as you can well imagine.  But will they bring their family back to relevance in this Leicestershire town in England circa 1970?
The bottom line is that there is  plenty here to laugh at and the characters are charming and worth rooting for too.   This is a quirky read that will entertain and pull at your heart-strings all at the same time.

 

 

“The Chicken Squad” by Doreen Cronin

ChickenSquadDoreen Cronin—perhaps best-known for Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type–is one of my favorite picture book authors, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I also really enjoy her chapter books. First on the scene were books about a crime-solving, retired search-and-rescue dog: Her J.J. Tully series brings crime noir to the early grades in a hilarious way. Spinning off from those books are a new series: The Chicken Squad. Four feisty little chicks should be spending their days doing chicken things – like pecking at chicken feed – but instead their collective curiosity gets the better of them and they create much mayhem as they try to solve the mysteries of their backyard. In the first book, The Chicken Squad: The First Misadventure, they help a frightened squirrel (I use the word help quite loosely). The best part about these books is how engaging they are for kids making that brave step into longer chapter books. Both the J.J. Tully books and The Chicken Squad books can be found in our fiction section (J FIC Cronin). (2nd-4th grades)

–Marie Drucker, Children’s Librarian

October 2014 Staff Non-fiction Pick

Inheritance: How Our Genes Change Our Lives and Our Lives Change Our Genes  by Sharon Moalem, MD, PhD.

Inheritance by Sharon Moalem

     This best-selling author uses an entertaining, interdisciplinary approach to science and medicine to help us understand the impact of our lives on genes, and our genes on our lives.  New discoveries show our genetic strength is more than just a matter of receiving genes handed down to us from previous generations.  It is derived from transforming what we get and what we give and in so doing  we can change the course of our lives.  These lessons are demonstrated by the use of numerous anecdotes about people with rare genetic anomalies whose  lifestyle changes actually ameliorated the ill-effects certain genetic defects would normally produce! This gives promise of  a future where the expression of  genes can be turned on or off.

Well worth the read if you are interested in the human genome and the latest scientific knowledge available on gene expression.

 

“El Deafo,” by Cece Bell

ElDeafoLike any other kid, Cece Bell just wants to find friendship and happiness. But because she’s deaf, people treat her differently. In this very amusing graphic novel (that’s more than just a little autobiographical), Cece shares what’s it’s like to go from hearing perfectly to suddenly not being able to hear. She experiences the usual fun and difficulties of elementary school, including discovering best friends, feeling lonely, and having a first crush. All while she experiments with different hearing aids, lip-reading, sign language and even a phonic ear (which sort of gives her super powers). It’s a story you won’t want to put down. (Grades 2-6)

–Marie Drucker, Children’s Librarian

“How to Clean a Hippopotamus” by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

HippoWould you let a bird climb into your ear? Or let a crab crawl all over your skin? In How to Clean a Hippopotamus by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page you’ll discover which animals do just that as part of their daily lives. Giraffes and rhinos, for instance, regularly let birds eat insects off of their skins. The birds get fed and the bigger animals get clean. Sometimes animals will team up to hunt for prey or to fend off attackers. Even humans have special relationships with animals to help get jobs done. This is a fascinating book with great illustrations. And it’s perfect to use for a non-fiction book review for the youngest grades. Grades K-3, non-fiction.

–Marie Drucker, Children’s Librarian

“The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill” by Megan Frazer Blakemore

The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill gives a well-thought-out slice of the Cold War in America in the 1950s. It takes place in 1953 in a small Vermont town. Hazel Kaplansky, the protagonist, is described by some as “relentless” and “a little spitfire,” but she’s lonely. An outcast at her school because her parents run the local cemetery and she plays there most afternoons, she’s also a bit of an outcast at home because her parents don’t seem to pay much attention to her. Oh, she’s also the smartest girl in her class and loves the library, which just adds to heSpyCatchersr differentness. When Randall Butler moves to town and outdoes her in class she fears the one thing that kept her happy in school – being brighter than everyone else – will disappear. Instead, though, she and Randall become best friends. Randall is lonely too. Over the course of the novel we find out why (no spoilers!). For most of the novel, Hazel is sure she has stumbled upon a communist spy ring. When McCarthyism rears its ugly head in the town, Hazel is doubly certain she is right. I like the way Blakemore has packed so much into this story: lonely children, mean girls, friendship, the way lies and rumors can hurt people, the Cold War, and even the changing roles of women (Hazel’s mom was going to go to graduate school, but she couldn’t have a career and a child and chose to be a mom). And none of it seems forced. I think it’s because Hazel is likeable and often funny. There’s no didacticism and that is always a plus. (For kids in 4th-6th grades.)

–Marie Drucker, Children’s Librarian

“The Night Gardener” by Jonathan Auxier

NightGardenerA spooky house, two orphans, and a family slowly losing their lives. Are the house and its inhabitants cursed? And why is there a tree growing right into the house? It’s up to Molly and Kip, newly arrived from Ireland and working as servants for the strange Windsor family, to find out what’s going on and to help rescue everyone from the mysterious and malevolent Night Gardener. This book is filled with adventure and secrets. And shows us why stories can help our lives, but lies do nothing but destroy people. It’s an engaging tale that will keep you interested throughout. (Grades 4-6.)

–Marie Drucker, Children’s Librarian

“Stubby the War Dog,” by Ann Bausum

StubbyRead about World War I from a different perspective: That of a dog who fought right alongside American soldiers. Stubby the War Dog by Ann Bausum takes readers on a unique journey. Stubby was a homeless terrier who befriended and adopted (as well as became adopted by) Bob Conroy. When Conroy became a member of the infantry and traveled to France to fight in the Great War, Stubby went right along with him. Some members of the unit considered Stubby a good-luck charm, others were just warmed by his presence. The devoted dog learned to salute, could warn his fellow soldiers of incoming artillery fire, and even captured an enemy with a strategic bite. After the war, Stubby became a popular symbol of bravery. Bausum’s book lets you experience the story of World War I from an unlikely source. (Non-fiction, for kids 10 years old and up.)

–Marie Drucker, Children’s Librarian

June 2014 Staff Adult Fiction Pick

 The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry  The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry  by Gabrielle Zevin

     ‘No man is an island,’ “Every book is a world” is the sign over the tiny bookshop, “Island Books” in a Massachusetts island beach town and that about sums up this delightful read.  You will find it filled with references to favorite “stories,” a philosophy for thriving in a treacherous world, and the awareness that a story will be different each time it is read.  Each chapter begins with an insight into a short story, which  perhaps is a bit of a gimmick, but we eagerly take advantage of the opportunity to glean some understanding of who the proprietor, A.J. is as a man.

     All lovers of books and the “story” will be smitten with this lovely, quiet but memorable tale that is bound to resonate on many levels.

 

 

“What We Found in the Sofa and (How It Saved the World)” by Henry Clark

WhatWeFoundIt’s not every day you find a sofa that that moves through time and space and helps three kids save the world from a tyrant bent on making all the citizens of Earth his subjects. But the sofa in Henry Clark’s new book does that and more. River (our narrator), Fiona, and Freak (he dislikes his real name) are lured not only by the sofa but the extremely rare and valuable crayon they find amid its cushions. The discovery brings them to the attention of Alf, who is actually a denizen of another world and striving to save our world from an evil dictator. It’s fun to read a science fiction novel that takes place in our time and world, especially one that makes so much fun of our reliance on cell phones. River, Fiona, and Freak are bright and likable and, I hope, coming back for more adventures. (Science fiction, grades 5-7)

–Marie Drucker, Children’s Librarian