For some area eighth grade students and their school librarians, summer didn’t just mean relaxing by the pool and catching up on sleep. Instead, they attended biweekly meetings to discuss forty-one nominated titles for the public library’s 2013 Cafe Book classes --book discussions for seventh and eighth graders in area schools. This committee provides a rare opportunity, as adults and teens serve side by side, brought together by a shared passion--books. Teens told us they appreciated that their “opinion was encouraged and taken seriously” and “valued” by the adults. It all came down to a final meeting with the goal to choose only twenty titles. You can imagine the debate that ensued as each book’s plot, characters and appeal were considered. Finally, the list was decided, unfortunately leaving behind some wonderful titles. Here are some of my favorites that were “left on the cutting room floor.”
“Rebel McKenzie” is set in Virginia and written by local author Candice Ransom. Twelve-year-old Rebel wants to spend the summer digging up prehistoric animals, but instead ends up living with her recently divorced sister, Lynette, to provide free babysitting while Lynette works and attends beauty school. Suddenly, life is different and definitely more interesting. Her nephew Rudy only eats a concoction called hot dog spaghetti and talks to God at lunch. The cat that came with the trailer, is called Doublewide because of his size, and knows how to use the toilet. A fact Rebel learns the hard way when she sits down in the bathroom one night without turning on the light. Bambi, the girl across the street, is a beauty queen, she loves to tell everyone how she “is the star of the universe and everybody else is ugly as a mud fence.” If there’s advice she feels someone needs, like how to dress for piano legs, she tells them in the latest installment of her expert beauty tips newsletter. Ransom has created a delightful cast of characters all of whom you would love to meet, even the unpleasant ones. There were many laugh out loud moments that added to the fun.
“Around the World,” a graphic novel by Matt Phelan, is a fascinating look at the adventures of three world travellers. The first, Thomas Stevens, was a miner who quit his job and travelled by bicycle. Not the kind we ride today of course, but a Columbia Standard with a fifty inch wheel in the front. Nellie Bly’s familiar story was next and filled with surprising details. Her dress was designed to stand up to 3 months of constant wear and she carried only one small suitcase for the entire trip. Her goal was to complete the journey in only seventy-four days, less time than it took Jules Verne’s fictional character, Phileas Fogg. She wasn’t in such a rush that she couldn’t make a detour to meet the famous author though. Luckily it didn’t hurt her success--she came in two days ahead of schedule. My favorite tale was also the most tragic. Joshua Slocum, an elderly New England sea captain, restored a dilapidated boat and sailed around the world alone. Despite several life-threatening encounters, he was successful in completing his 46,000 mile journey, but not in returning to his old life. Years later, he set sail again, this time never to return. Phelan does a wonderful job capturing the courage and fortitude of these brave adventurers.
Sara Pennypacker, author of the Clementine series, has written “Summer of the Gypsy Moths” combining subtle humor with serious subject matter. While her mother’s in rehab, Stella is living with her Great-aunt Louise and Angel, a foster child. Used to taking care of herself, Stella isn’t sure how to handle Louise’s mothering and Angel and she are like oil and water. One day the girls return home to discover that Louise has died. They know what they should do, but they also know what awaits them if they tell the authorities; new foster homes and in Stella’s mind, no way for her mother to find her. Their life experiences have made them resourceful and the girls use those skills to prolong the inevitable. As they keep their secret, they discover new strengths and the value of each other.
This was originally published in the 8/27/12 Free Lance-Star newspaper.