Kiddosphere: Random Reads: Check Them Out!

Posted by Aaron on

I haven’t written a “Random Reads” post since early February, so I have lots to share with you! Random Reads posts include a mix of children’s, young adult (YA) and adult books, so if you’re not looking for anything in particular, I hope you’ll find something here that captures your interest!

Picture Books

Knitters will sympathize with the grandmother in Leave Me Alone, who just wants enough peace and quiet to finish her knitting. A large family and a small house preclude that, so she takes drastic measures to ensure that she can finish her project. Unfortunately, bears, goats, and even…aliens pester her tranquility! Luckily, Grandmother perseveres and returns just in time to clothe her family with beautiful warm sweaters for a cold (presumably Russian) winter. This is one of the 2017 Caldecott Honor recipients, and definitely well deserved!

Speaking of the Caldecott Medal, A Perfect Day went on my 2018 Caldecott shortlist the second I turned the last page. What constitutes a perfect day? Well, that would mean something different for every person…and a cat, a dog, a squirrel, a bird and a bear (who arguably has the better day of everyone in the book). This is gorgeously illustrated and has a story line with a funny surprise ending, which is always a winner!

Sweet, sweet, sweet, but not saccharine. The Ring Bearer is a tender, funny, and joyous celebration of new beginnings. Jackson is a ring bearer at a very important wedding–his mom’s! He’s quite nervous because it’s a big job, but new stepsister Sophie doesn’t seem to take her flower girl responsibilities as seriously as he thinks she should. As with most weddings, there’s some unexpected drama, but Jackson saves the day, making his mom, new stepfather and new stepsister very happy!

I adore Big Cat, Little Cat (it’s also on my Caldecott 2018 list), and for cat fans that have been looking for a sweet cat story (instead of a crafty or aloof cat), this is for you. When little cat moves into Big Cat’s home, Big Cat teaches him the ways of being a cat. Be ready for a lump in your throat in the middle of the story, but rest assured that the ending is well worth it!

Lucia loves to race around in her superhero cape, but is discouraged when she is told that “girls aren’t superheroes.” Luckily, her grandmother explains that she is actually descended from a line of luchadoras, who like the Mexican professional male wrestlers in lucha libre, wear dazzling masks. Lucia the Luchadora is a stunningly illustrated and charmingly told salute to the vibrant traditions of lucha libre!

Young Adult

After Fabiola’s mother is detained when they enter the United States from Haiti, she must adjust to Detroit life (and her American aunt and cousins) on her own. Fabiola desperately misses her mother and her life back in Haiti, but she copes as best she can with different food, attitudes, school, friends, and even a relationship, which drags her unwittingly into the illegal drug trade. American Street is a powerful, gripping, and unsettling read that will linger with you long after you finish it.

If you love fantasy but have had enough of rebellious princesses and whatnot, Vassa in the Night might be for you. But be warned–this modern urban fantasy based on the Russian Baba Yaga folktales is quite strange, as a dangerous shopping center ruled by Babs Yagg takes center stage. I’ll confess that I didn’t wholeheartedly love it (it gets a little out there and gory at times), but it was definitely a welcome change from princesses who are tasked with saving the world (it also received a ton of starred reviews, so many love it).

On the other hand, if you can’t get enough of princesses saving the world, Caraval might be for you. Scarlett flees her island community after her father arranges her marriage, as she’s convinced that she will never see Caraval, the famous audience participation extravaganza produced every year. When her sister is kidnapped at Caraval, she is drawn into the Caraval game in a way that she never expected. I didn’t love this one either (I’m not a big fantasy fan, but I read it every now and then because so many patrons love fantasy), but the worldbuilding is pretty cool, and the relationship with the sisters is just as important as the romance with the mysterious, aloof, and sometimes cruel stranger at Caraval. This gets a little breathlessly romancey at times, but nothing beyond passionate kissing (but there’s quite a bit of violence instead, so there’s that). If you’re into magnificent costumes and Gothic atmospheres, you’ll devour this Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland meets The Night Circus story (I loved “The Night Circus” and can’t wait for Erin Morgenstern’s new book). This is #1 in a series and has been a huge hit among our YA readers.

Adult Fiction/Nonfiction

I devoured The Bear and the Nightingale, and it’s not exactly my style. As I said, I’m not a huge fan of fantasy. However, this is historical fantasy, and I’ve really liked the few historical fantasy books that I’ve read (The Golem and the Jinni, which is for adults, and The Crown’s Game, which is YA), and I love love love stories set in Russia, so I had to try this out. This book is pretty wild–there’s lots about the struggle between Russian Orthodoxy and the old pagan traditions, the role of women in medieval Russia, Moscow life vs. Russian country life–but it’s mainly about a very unusual girl (later young woman) who must fight powers threatening her village (there’s also a marvelous magical horse as well!). This is #1 in a trilogy (second is out in January 2018, and I can’t wait!).

I’m drawn to books that are set in foreign countries or are about foreign countries, and even more so if the author is embarking on a personal journey to the country, so My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq was a natural for me. Author Ariel Sabar grew up in Los Angeles, far from his father’s tiny village in Zakho, high in the mountains of northern Iraq. In Zakho, Kurdish Jews spoke a form of Aramaic (the same language Jesus spoke) and lived in harmony with their Muslim neighbors, until the community left their homeland for Israel (and other parts) in the 1950s, discarding their dialect for Hebrew and English. Ariel’s father, Yona, became an academic superstar for his preservation of the ancient language and its oral traditions and traveled with his son to postwar Iraq to visit the village and find out the truth behind Yona’s missing sister. Life for the Kurdish Jews in this isolated village was undeniably harsh (more so for the women), but community ties and traditions were strong, and the niceties and respect expressed by both Jewish and Muslim villagers during that time were moving. This reminded me very much of Dawn Anahid MacKeen’s The Hundred Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey and Daniel Mendelsohn’s The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, which are also outstanding reads.
Historical fiction is obviously my bag (most historical fiction is, save for a few eras).

I’m always interested in Russian historical fiction, but a lot of it tends to take place in Tsarist Russia. However, it would be great to have more post-Revolution stories. Thankfully, The Patriots is an incredibly gripping read that alternates between 1930s Russia and contemporary Russia. Young Florence Fein leaves Depression-era Cleveland for a new job in Russia (and to follow a new Russian paramour who has fled the States); she has a romanticized (and inaccurate) idealization of Communist Russia, to her Jewish parents’ horror. When Russia declares her stateless, she is trapped in a nightmare that even the United States embassy can’t solve. Years later, her son Julian immigrates to New York, later taking an oil industry job that involves frequent trips to Moscow, in which he both attempts to find his mother’s KGB file and to deal with his debaucherous nouveau riche colleagues in Russia. If you like sweeping historical sagas, you want to read this!

Did you know that April is Month of the Military Child? I blogged about books featuring children in military families on the ALSC (Association for Library Services for Children) blog.

Looking for more great reads? Check out current and back issues of Wowbrary, where you’ll find the latest orders for our collection!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

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