Caroline Parr

Fall on the Farm

          Before you take your children to pick pumpkins or enjoy a hayride this fall, be sure to check out picture books showcasing farm life.

          Elisha Cooper’s “Farm” focuses on the farm family as much as on their daily work.   The two farmers and their two children plus a house, two barns, four silos and lots more make up a farm where feed corn is the main crop.
Tractors rumble back and forth on the bare dirt in early spring, March brings mud, and later the children plant tomatoes and carrots. The children have other chores, too, of course: feeding the cattle (the girl) and the chickens (the boy). Summer brings heat, and fall brings the harvest, with the farmer in his combine checking the corn’s yield on his computer and talking with other farmers on his cell phone. 
 

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

What, another dystopian YA novel? Yes, but Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi is so fresh and involving that even the most jaded reader is sure to enjoy it. 

Teenaged Nailer is a ship breaker, one of the poorest of the poor who eke out a living dismantling rusting oil tankers along the Gulf. He’s still small enough to crawl through the ducts in search of copper wire, which he retrieves and turns over to his crew boss. His drug-addicted father is an unpredictable force, and Nailer considers his friend Pima and her mother the closest thing he has to a real family. 
 
After a hurricane sweeps over the coast, Nailer and Pima discover the wreck of a high-tech clipper ship hidden in an inlet. As they scavenge for food, money and anything else that can turn their luck, they discover the body of a beautiful and clearly rich young woman. Just as Nailer contemplates cutting off her finger to steal her rings, her eyes open.

A Trio of New Picture Books

    It’s no fair, Isabel complains, that the porcupines don’t get to have balloons at their class’s Graduation Day, as the raccoons, possums and other animals do.  But balloons are not safe around the porcupines’ prickly quills, Isabel’s porcupine teacher gently explains.  The porcupines will get bookmarks instead.


    Isabel and her friend Walter are not happy.  “I heard that after a few days a balloon floats halfway between the ceiling and the floor…it just hangs there like a ghost,” Walter says longingly. So Isabel makes a plan to do something about it in Deborah Underwood’s new picture book, “A Balloon for Isabel.”    

Babies Love Board Books

    Duncan and Samantha, our newest library babies, are just a few months old, but they’re not too young for books.  Board books, made of heavy cardboard with just a few words on each page, fit babies’ interests and attention spans perfectly.  They are just the right size for lap sharing, and their sturdy construction means you can safely prop them up next to a baby who’s too little to hold them but big enough to pick up her head and enjoy the pictures.


    My favorite board book to give to babies is Tana Hoban’s “Black & White.”  First published as two separate board books, “Black on White” and “White on Black,” the new edition includes both books in an unfolding accordion-style format, just right for standing up in the crib of a curious infant.

Summer Book Matches for Kids

      What have the thousands of kids in our summer reading club been reading all summer long? A quick look at our Book Match service, which connects readers with book recommendations via email, shows that series books continue to be popular.  (Find Book Match here.)

          Anna-Marie asked for more American Girl History Mysteries like “Ghost Light on Graveyard Shoal” by Elizabeth McDavid Jones because “I liked the pirates and the skull on the island. I liked trying to solve the mystery along with the characters.” We suggested another in the series, “The Smuggler’s Treasure” by Sarah Masters Buckey. Eleven-year-old Elisabet travels to New Orleans in 1812, determined to find a smuggler's treasure to ransom her father, imprisoned by the British.
 

The Lost Art of Walking by Geoff Nicholson

What makes good bedside reading? I’m talking about that particular kind of reading that consists of paying close attention for about ten minutes, dozing for ten more, then waking with a jerk as the book crashes to the floor. This is not the place for “War and Peace.” 

I’ve found that two kinds of books lend themselves to the bedside. The first are the tried and true books that I can happily read over and over, even re-reading chapters or skipping them by mistake with no loss to the reading experience. Thank you, Angela Thirkell, Margery Allingham, and Betty MacDonald.
 
The second kind of bedside reading consists of short pieces, such as stories or essays. They can’t be too demanding, of course – no Montaigne, no Faulkner. For this kind of reading, I thank authors like L. Rust Hills (“How to Do Things Right, or the Confessions of a Fussy Man”), Eleanor Perenyi (“Green Thoughts, A Writer in the Garden”), and James Thurber (just about anything). Each is entertaining, and each is forgiving – because of length or lightness of touch – of a short attention span.

My newest addition to the bedside table is of the second sort.  Geoff Nicholson’s “The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, Philosophy, and Literature of Pedestrianism,” despite its daunting title, is really a series of personal essays on walking. 

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

This is Week 12 of a 12-Week series of blog posts reviewing new young adult books. To see all of the reviews, click here.

In Kathryn Erskine's "Mockingbird," Caitlin’s world is black and white, and she likes it that way, whether it’s her view of life or her meticulous monotone drawings. Since The Day Our Life Fell Apart when her brother Devon was killed in a school shooting, she and her widowed father keep to simple routines. This is important to kids like Caitlin, a fifth grader with Asperger’s Syndrome. Clear boundaries make it easier to cope, especially when she’s trying hard to follow her counselor’s advice to Look At The Person and Mind Your Manners. 

As I followed Caitlin through her days at school – meeting with the school counselor when she has a TRM (Tantrum Rage Meltdown), trying dutifully to make friends even though she prefers to be a “team of one” – I began to see the world as Caitlin does. She may be socially inept and literal-minded, but she also has a startling gift for humor and truth-telling. 
 

The E-books Are Coming, The E-Books Are Coming!

 A friend witnessed the future of the book on the Metro the other day. A mother and daughter were sitting side by side, reading. Nothing unusual there – but my friend was amused to see that the mother was reading a book on her Kindle, the e-book reader from Amazon, while the daughter was listening to “Black Beauty” on her MP3 player. At one point, the girl’s face crumpled and tears sprang to her eyes as she listened, prompting the mother to reach out and pat her daughter’s hand. Clearly, “Black Beauty” can still reduce readers – and listeners – to tears, whether they are reading a physical book or listening to a digital audio edition.

Digital books are much in the news these days, with some pundits predicting that the ink-and-paper book is on its way out. Bookseller Andy Ross says, “There is going to be a tipping point where e-books become the dominant medium, thus ending 500 years of the Gutenberg Age." Nicholas Negroponte of MIT’s Media Lab proclaimed at a recent technology conference that “It’s happening. It’s not happening in 10 years. It’s happening in 5 years.”
 

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce

You know how, once in a great while, you finish a book and it was so good that you want to start reading it all over again? That’s what happened to me with Frank Cottrell Boyce’s “Cosmic.”

As the book opens, Liam Digby is explaining that he’s not really on a school trip, as he told his parents. Instead, he’s lost in outer space aboard the rocket ship Infinite Possibility and he’s “all right…ish.” How did he get there?
 
Liam is a twelve-year-old kid who’s so tall that he’s easily mistaken for an adult, as he discovers when he and his classmate Florida wander around town together after school. Stopping by a car dealership, Liam is approached by the salesman, who assumes Florida is his daughter. Soon enough Liam finds himself invited to take a flashy Porsche for a test drive. To his relief, his taxi-driving father brings this unnerving experience to an end before Liam has to actually put the car in gear.  

Beyond Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys

     Ask any group of school-age kids what kind of books they like to read, and one response comes up over and over again: “a mystery.” Kids who enjoy puzzling out mysteries have long been fans of Donald Sobol’s “Encyclopedia Brown” series. Ten-year-old Encylopedia’s head full of facts and his talent for noticing details make him a detective good enough to help out his father, the chief of police. Short chapters, a small-town ambiance, and finding the solutions to each mystery at the back of the book make this series a perennial favorite of readers nine and up.

 
          A new twist on the puzzle-solving genre is Michael D. Beil’s “The Red Blazer Girls: the Ring of Rocomadour.” Three seventh-grade girls at a Catholic school in New York City get caught up in a mystery when one of them spots the face of a woman high up in a window in the church opposite their school.