Shelf Life Blog
One of the most popular humanitarian nonfiction books of the 2000s was Greg Mortenson’s best seller Three Cups of Tea. Three Cups of Tea was marketed as a call for humanitarian aid to impoverished Central Asian nations such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, but Mortenson’s life story of dedicating himself to providing education to the people of Central Asia was the emotional connection that sold many readers on the book. Mortenson traveled across the U.S., giving lectures, setting up charities to provide money for his Central Asia Institute (CAI), and appearing on numerous talk shows to promote his book. As beautiful as his humanitarian mission seemed, it was ultimately revealed as too good to be true by writer Jon Krakauer, whose expose Three Cups of Deceit explored the lies in Mortenson’s story and the lack of effectiveness in the CAI’s schools program. Although Three Cups of Deceit can be a depressing read at times, it also makes for a fascinating study in media awareness and image manipulation.
Sumo, by Thien Pham, is a quiet tale about a sport of epic proportions. Scott is a twenty-something football player who has missed his shot at NFL glory. Now that his girlfriend has left him, he has no sense of himself anymore. So like any lost youth pining for a change, he moves to Japan to become a sumo wrestler.
In Andrew Peters’ Salt Is Sweeter than Gold, an old king has three daughters, but only one will inherit his kingdom. Who should it be? When it’s time to decide, the king holds a grand ceremony and asks in front of huge crowd a simple question: how much do you love me? The first answer pleases him very much: “I love you more than all the jewels that encrust your fingers and all the gold that lies hidden in the vaults of this castle!” The second daughter also gives a charming answer: “I love you more than all the land that spreads like an ocean beyond this castle!” But when the youngest, who did truly love him, says simply, “Father, I love you more than salt,” the king is so insulted he banishes her immediately and tells her she is no longer his…. until the day that salt becomes more precious than gold.
You've seen the attention-grabbing headlines while you're standing in line at the grocery store. You know you look at them. In the tabloids there are always lurid accounts of death - gruesome, improbable, and even the ones that are funny-except-someone-died. So losing your mum in a botched hold up attempt really doesn't even rate. Sad, yeah, tragic even, but only to those directly involved.
In Life! Death! Prizes! by Stephen May, Billy Smith is 19, working at a social history museum for his gap year, when his mother is killed. He is suddenly responsible for his six-year-old half-brother, Oscar. He thinks they're doing fine, but his aunt, the social workers, Oscar's teachers and even his friends think maybe not. Even Oscar's dad shows up, which he's never done before.
When the courts decide that Oscar will be better off with his aunt, Billy decides there is only one way that he and Oscar can stay together forever.
The bare, forlorn branches and thorny sticks of her rose bushes give Galilee Garner something to look forward to all winter in The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns: “Something to hang my daydreams on like the ornaments on a Christmas tree. In the spring, they will bloom again.”
Roses have long been used in metaphors for love in literature, and Margaret Dilloway continues the tradition in her charming novel. Dig right in with Gal Garner as she grows and breeds her difficult and obstinate Hulthemia roses, which thrive under a set of specific and limited conditions. The roses she breeds pretty much describe Gal, who was born with kidney problems, has gone through two kidney transplants, and has been on dialysis for eight long years waiting for another donor. Learn about love, roses and thriving under difficult conditions as you read this sweet, beautifully-written story.
A lot of writers for teens have excellent memories for very painful things. Some remember what it was like to be a targeted teen--the dread of going to school every day knowing what would probably happen, whether it was going to happen in a hallway, a locker room, a classroom, or on a school bus. Being pulled apart emotionally and humiliated was often just an everyday occurrence for them. The usual.
But some writers remember high school very differently. They were the people who just stood to one side AND DIDN’T DO ANYTHING while watching their friends and classmates being bullied. And in a few, a very few, cases they did the bullying themselves. Dear Bully is a collection of reflections of writers for teens who share their true stories of hurt and regret and how these experiences changed them.
Everybody knows that rabbits love carrots. Jasper Rabbit, in Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds, is no exception. Jasper especially loves the carrots that grow in Crackenhopper Field. The problem is that Jasper can't get enough carrots, yanking and ripping them from the ground every chance he gets. That is, he did until the carrots started following him. Jasper is convinced that the carrots are creeping up on him.
Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman is the story of Rory Dawn Hendrix, a girl growing up on the Calle de las Flores, a trailer park on the outskirts of Reno, Nevada. The Calle is a neighborhood where people live from government check to government check. It is a place where a mother must take the night and weekend shifts because the tips are better and they need the money to survive, even though there is no such thing as reliable child care. It is a world where a mother's determination to spare her daughter the abuse she suffered as a child isn't enough to give her the skills to identify the true risks to that girlchild.
Modernized versions of traditional fairy tales have become popular in recent years, with television series such as ABC’s Once Upon a Time and graphic novels such as Bill Willingham’s Fables providing creative and original narratives utilizing characters and concepts from old folk tales. Although popular, these newer variations on older fairy tales have created controversy for altering the traditional characterizations and stories that many people grew up with. This exposes a major flaw in many people’s understanding of fairy tales and traditional folk culture—which versions are the “most correct” version of the story, and why? Maria Tatar’s The Grimm Reader is a collection of many of the traditional fairy tales recorded by the Brothers Grimm, providing an English translation of some of the oldest written versions of these stories. Notable for being far more violent than the “traditional” versions of the fairy tales popularized in the Victorian period (and later, by Disney films), the typical Grimm story is a combination of children in jeopardy, adults that range from neglectful to destructive, and flat narrative that is driven by plot rather than by characterization.
My favorite book when I was in high school was I Heard the Owl Call my Name, by Margaret Craven, so I decided to reread it to see how I related to the book now. Even though it is almost 50 years old, the book is still just as timely and beautifully-written as it was in the 60’s. Perhaps its message is even more important in today’s world. It is about a young Vicar, Mark Brian, who has been diagnosed with only a few years to live. His Bishop has been told his diagnosis, but the Vicar has not.
When the Bishop learns of the young Vicar’s diagnosis he says, “So short a time to learn so much? It leaves me with no choice. I shall send him to my hardest parish. I shall send him to Kingcome on patrol of the Indian Villages.”