Books and Reading

All Things French for Bastille Day

    Bastille Day (July 14) provides a great excuse for sharing a few French-flavored books.  Ludwig Bemelmans’ “Madeline” series, set in Paris, is just the thing for preschoolers.  The rhymed story about “twelve little girls in two straight lines,” the daring Madeline (”to the tiger in the zoo Madeline just said ‘Pooh-pooh’”), and the dramatic appendicitis attack in the middle of the night (“Miss Clavel turned on her light and said, ‘Something is not right!’”) makes a read-aloud that children will ask for over and over. 

The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver

Just listen!  Barbara Kingsolver has earned a world-wide reputation for her writing, but who knew she is a fantastic reader as well?  Her performance of her newest novel, The Lacuna, kept me looking for errands to run so that I could hop back in the car to hear more.  The 16 CDs brought the story to life in a way I doubt I would have appreciated in reading the words without her voice in my head.

 The book jacket blurb summarizes the plot:

"BK takes us on an epic journey from the Mexico City of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of Pearl Harbor, FDR, and J.Edgar Hoover ... a poignant story of a man pulled between two nations as they invent their modern identity."

True enough, but doesn't get at the nuances of character development Kingsolver accomplishes in her extended portrait of protagonist Harrison Shepherd and the people impacting his life.

Harrison Shepherd is a writer, following from boyhood that compulsion common to many writers to chronicle their days. Year in and year out Shepherd fills notebooks comprising a detailed journal of his life.  How we come to read those journals and empathize with the writer and move with him from the "interesting times" he experiences in mid-1950s Asheville, North Carolina, back to his coming of age in Mexico is to acknowledge writer Kingsolver's extraordinary skill in structuring her narrative.  On paper,  the novel is 500 pages long, yet the tension as the story develops keeps the reader [or listener] hooked. As her protagonist says, more than once, "the most important part of the story is the piece of it you don't know" --- until the end!

Rebels and Traitors by Lindsey Davis

January 30, 1649, was chosen to be King Charles’ death day. Among the sober observers were tall, flaxen-haired Gideon Jukes, musketeer and spy for Cromwell’s New Army, and lovely Juliana Lovell, the still loyal though seemingly abandoned wife of a Cavalier officer.

Juliana has criss-crossed wartorn England and now lives in London on the brink of starvation with her two young boys. She has a lady’s manners but has had to develop cunning to survive her years alone while her husband serves in the King’s army. Her path crosses with Gideon’s when they both flee the Tower in the aftermath of the King's execution.
 
Their lives before the war were so very different. Gideon, rebellious son of a wealthy merchant, nonetheless was cheerfully apprenticed to a printer of many things, including seditious literature. When the call came to join Parliament’s cause with the London trained bands, he quickly volunteered, eager to get away from a strange and unpleasant marriage. Without family and in need of a protector, Juliana had wed a trickster, a lesser noble, who fascinated her and kept her true to him despite their years apart.
 
Rebels and Traitors is a massive novel—nearly 750 pages—set in a time most Americans know little about. But they should and this story is an engrossing way to immerse oneself in a time every bit as exciting and compelling as the American Civil War or the French Revolution. Those who enjoy James Michener’s historical sagas and Bernard Cornwell’s military tales of the British past should find summer solace in this lengthy tale. The pacing fluctuates between battles and sackings of towns--punctuated with periods of domestic normality, friendships, love, and even humor.

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

 by Jacob Puckett, an 11 year-old guest reviewer

 
"Deep within me, words pile up in huge drifts. Mountains of phrases and sentences and connected ideas. Clever expressions. Jokes. Love songs....
 
...But only in my head.

I have never spoken one single word. I am almost eleven years old." (Excerpt from Chapter 1)
 
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper is a striking book about a girl named Melody Brooks who has cerebral palsy, a disease that disables you so you can’t walk, can’t control your body movements, and, most frustrating to Melody, can’t talk. Every "normal" kid at school thinks that all the "special" kids are either dumb as dirt, crazy, or both! But most kids don’t know that just because you can’t speak or walk doesn’t mean that you’re not smart.
 
Melody is a genius, but nobody suspects it, except Ms. V, Melody’s sitter. Melody can see and smell different styles of music. For example, classical music appears bright blue and smells like fresh paint to her. Jazz is brown and tan and smells like "fresh dirt." Her favorite music, country, appears yellow and smells like sweet lemons. She also has a photographic memory and can outsmart her doctor, especially since he's not that smart.
 
Melody communicates through word cards, but she wants a more sophisticated way so she can be better understood. Eventually, she is given a special computer that lets her communicate with her thumbs. For me, this is the happiest part of the book.
 
This was not a book that I would have picked up off the shelf to read, but after we read it orally in class, all 26 of us loved it. We were begging our teacher to read more every day. I’ll say that there are some sad parts at the end, so more sensitive readers may want to be ready for some surprises!
 

Ripping Good Yarns for Summer Reading

    Take one poor but resourceful young woman from any number of Gothic romances; mix her with the wise governess from Eva Ibbotson’s “Journey to the River Sea;” fold in the Victorian flavor of Joan Aiken’s “Wolves of Willoughby Chase” series; add just a hint of Lemony Snicket’s narrator from “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” and you’ve got it:  Maryrose Wood’s new series, “The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place.”

The first book, “The Mysterious Howling,” introduces Miss Penelope Lumley, a fifteen-year-old graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females.  The governess position at Ashton Place sounds appealing to her, especially the notice that experience with animals is strongly preferred.  But to her astonishment, the animals in question are the three children she is to care for.  Raised by wolves and found in the woods by Lord Ashton, Alexander, Cassiopeia and Beowulf drape themselves in animal skins and communicate by howling.  Under Miss Lumley’s tutelage, they soon learn to wear clothes, bathe and even make a stab at learning Latin.

Helen Cresswell: Imagination at Play

"Log on to your imagination - that's the real internet - and you can access it just by opening a book." – Helen Cresswell

She is considered to be one of the best modern writers of English literature for young people. From folk tales to picture books to modern stories to screen plays, Helen Cresswell’s deft ways with words have made her works favorites of readers of all ages.

Summer Fun

    It’s high summer now, with the library’s summer reading clubs in full swing and the Fourth of July right around the corner.  Marla Frazee’s award-winning picture book, “A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever,” captures the best of summer from a kid’s point of view.


    James and Eamon are spending the week with James’s grandparents so they can attend nature camp.  While Grandfather Bill tries his best to interest the boys in Antarctica, and Grandmother Pam fills them with banana waffles and ice cream sundaes, the boys enjoy all kinds of fun, most of it unrelated to nature camp.  Identifying birds?  They have more fun training their binoculars on each other’s freckles.  Sleeping in the basement on the blow-up mattress, playing video games, and eating more banana waffles are the highlights of their week.

Bears Everywhere

    Children’s books are never too far from the minds of children’s librarians.  On a recent hiking trip to the North Carolina mountains, a phrase from a children’s verse got stuck in my head:  “We’re going on a bear hunt, we’re going to catch a big one, it’s a beautiful day, we’re not scared!”  Maybe our bear bells scared them away, but the black bears that populate the coves and ridges of the Nantahala National Forest never showed themselves to our group (thank goodness).

Cafe Book Top Teen Picks 2010!

Having trouble picking a good book for the summer? Relax and let the diligent Cafe Book readers help you out! 450 students from eight middle schools across Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, and Stafford voted this year to create a regional “Top Teen Picks” list worth sharing with the community. The twenty titles chosen this year include books that reflect the cultural, regional, and ethnic diversity of the community, as well as books that many teens would not pick up otherwise.

New eAudiobooks: June 2010

In June we added 33 adult titles, 29 of which are are available in MP3 format (suitable for iPods, iPhones, iPads, etc.). We also received 7 new children's/young adult titles (4 available in MP3). Check out our most recent additions!

Browse our newest downloadable audiobooks in the library catalog,  or go directly to the NetLibrary web site (free account needed) or Media Center (install required) to download. If you don't have a NetLibrary account, follow these simple instructions to create one.

New eAudiobooks June 2010