Sunday, February 14, 2016

February Recommendations

It’s time for Recommendations, and a few thoughts about book awards:

There’s a definite downside to them, in that many amazing books don’t win the big awards, and maybe because of that they don't ever get the readership they deserve. Which is sad, considering how subjective awards are.

Conversely, I am very, very grateful to this year's awards for helping me get to some wonderful books I might not otherwise have read.

Here are my favorite recent post-award picks:


BONE GAP, by Laura Ruby, is both lyrical love story and chilling mystery. Finn is a moony kind of dude, and when beautiful Roza disappears, Finn has trouble identifying her kidnapper even though he was with her at the time it happened. Without any clues, people stop believing him, including the police and brother Sean, who has lost more than any brother deserves to lose. Yet the town of Bone Gap is full of secrets and magic, including talking corn, a huge black horse that appears out of nowhere, and the terrifying man lurking at the fringes of Finn’s vision. Mythic yet pragmatic, and wholly original. (YA)

THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, is a wonderfully moving novel reminiscent of Michele Magorian’s classic, Goodnight, Mr. Tom. Ten-year-old Ada, born with a club foot, is kept prisoner in her cruel mam’s tiny apartment. When brother Jamie is evacuated from London to avoid Hitler’s bombs, Ada makes sure she’s on that train, too. Reluctantly taken in by Susan Smith, in a small village in the Kent countryside, Ada’s world begins to expand in unimaginable ways. But trust is hard to learn, especially since Ada knows what awaits her when the war ends. Yes, I cried. (MG)

WINTER, by Marissa Meyer, is a satisfying conclusion to The Lunar Chronicles, which began with the groundbreaking cyborg Cinderella story, Cinder. In this one, Princess Winter is breathtakingly beautiful, and beloved by the people of Luna. Is it any wonder that her evil stepmother, Queen Levana, wants her dead? But, instead, Princess Winter finds herself swept up in a revolution in which she herself will play no small part. Reuniting in this volume are Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Emperor Kaito, and all of the cast of memorable characters who populate this series. (YA) 

Picture books:

LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET, with words by Matt De La Peña and pictures by Christian Robinson, surprisingly won the Newbery Medal this year, as well as a Caldecott Honor. Young CJ and his Grandmother travel across town by bus, recognizing the beauty in their lives. and celebrating the small things which might otherwise go unnoticed. It’s a stunning combination of text and image.

FINDING WINNIE: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, Is the 2016 Caldecott Medal winner. A charming story about the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh, the illustrations are terrific, and the layouts particularly caught my eye. I’ll be spending some time studying them.

PEPPER AND POE, by Frann Preston-Gannon, is an adorable tale of one happy cat whose life turns upside down when a new kitten shows up. Distinctive illustrations and spare prose make this new sibling story completely accessible.


Monday, February 1, 2016

February's Book of the Month--Echo

February’s Book of the Month is the luminous ECHO, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, which recently won a Newbery Honor. When Otto gets lost in the forest, he meets three otherworldly sisters who infuse his harmonica with magic, and the tale begins.

We follow as this harmonica touches the lives of three children who could all use a little magic: First there is Friedrich, who must save his father from one of Hitler’s concentration camps, then orphaned Mike in depression-era Philadelphia, and finally Ivy, daughter of Mexican American farmworkers in World War II California. All three children build better lives through their love of, and talent for, music.

Structurally, this novel comes full circle, with the different narrative segments held together by the same magical harmonica. As each owner passes the instrument along, so do readers follow the path of this story.

The writing is lovely, and while the vehicle is music, this novel celebrates art and artists of all kinds, as did the author’s previous work, THE DREAMER.

Read ECHO and prepare to be inspired, energized, and enriched.