Kiddopshere: Ridiculously Good Reads: December Edition
It’s time for the final Ridiculously Good Reads of 2015! I’ve read some incredible reads since the last RGR post, so let’s dive right in:
Before I started So You Want to be a Jedi? (a retelling of The Empire Strikes Back), I read a book that I had eagerly anticipated by an author I like very much. I was extremely disappointed with that book (to the point that I actually said, “are you KIDDING me?!” out loud at the end). Every year, there seems to be a children’s/YA book that gets a ton of stunning reviews that drives me bonkers. The tradition continues.
ANYWAY. I have a ton of books to get through before the year’s end, but I was in no mood to start anything new. I’m reading my way through the new Star Wars books, so I grabbed Adam Gidwitz’s new retelling of The Empire Strikes Back. Oh, wow. I really enjoyed Alexandra Bracken’s take on A New Hope, which is a fairly straightforward but insanely fun, revealing, and fabulous retelling of the first Star Wars movie. Expecting something similar from Gidwitz, I was blown away by his innovative and moving retelling of the second movie. As Star Wars fans know, TESB is the darkest and most somber movie of the original trilogy. Gidwitz addresses the reader as “you” and puts him/her directly in Luke Skywalker’s journey along the Jedi path. There’s also tons of humor to balance everything out (there’s quite a bit of kissing in TESB compared to A New Hope, which Gidwitz handles hilariously and age-appropriately). Gidwitz’s explanation of Jedi values and training is quite touching, especially as he applies it to everyday situations that young readers will understand. I am just absolutely bowled over by what Disney/Lucasfilm Press has assembled via this series. Don’t miss Tom Angleberger’s equally fun take on Return of the Jedi (with hilarious annotations–especially about Ewoks.)
I am an entertainment/pop culture history junkie, so I immediately grabbed The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy when we received it. Kliph Nesteroff’s overview of American comedy (mostly featuring the darker side of the industry) begins with the near lawless days of vaudeville, which met its demise when radio became prominent. Nightclubs and Las Vegas bookings took over, followed by comedy clubs and late night TV. Nesteroff ends his highly entertaining (and occasionally shocking) account with a look at how the Internet has changed the industry. (adult nonfiction)
Margarita Engle is best known for her YA historical fiction novels set in Cuba. Although Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music is a change in format, this picture book tale about a young Cuban girl who broke barriers in Cuban music by breaking the 1930’s taboo of girls playing drums (based upon Millo Castro Zaldarriaga). This would be an excellent read-aloud choice for elementary school students.
If you want a light read during your Christmas break, take a look at The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s been twenty years since Scrooge had his entire outlook on life changed, and he’s still celebrating the Christmas spirit each and every single day. Which is lovely in theory, but has long passed the point of being charming to his acquaintances, resulting in them being as irritated and crabby as his former self was. Not to mention that Scrooge is actually giving away money to charity that he no longer technically has. Jacob Marley is still a restless spirit and wants to make amends to the people he wronged during his time on earth; Scrooge wants to help, but it involves the assistance of the very people who are aggravated by his insistence on spreading Christmas cheer 24-7. This is a fun and funny short read (barely over 100 pages) for any time of the year (it takes place during the summer). (Adult fiction)
I am fascinated by books that take a historical and cultural look at the way certain conditions have been treated over the years. Readers that snap up books like The Emperor of All Maladies, The End of Memory, The Evil Hours, I Can Hear You Whisper, or the incomparable Far From the Tree definitely need to put Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity on their list. This history of autism is harrowing and heartbreaking to read at times (especially when it turns to Nazi Germany), but it is engrossing and even hopeful at the end. (Adult nonfiction)
As Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library is published by an academic press, its audience is not aimed at general readership (we’ll have to wait for Susan Orlean’s forthcoming look at the 1986 Los Angeles Public Library fire for that), but anyone who is deeply interested in the roles public libraries have played in the lives of ordinary American men and women would want to read this. Although there are indeed moments of proud history, the snobbery of the profession in its early days toward series fiction (Nancy Drew and such for children) and popular novels in general is exasperating (especially since this largely ignored the reading interests of children, women, the working class, and just about anyone else who read for pleasure and escape rather than “improvement”); interestingly, the larger urban libraries were more resistant to fulfilling the demand for series fiction and popular novels than were the libraries in much smaller communities. More regrettably is the segregation that existed in public libraries before the Civil Rights era. Happily, the importance of libraries as community partners and centers is ever-present throughout, despite weaknesses and barriers that existed throughout history. (Adult nonfiction)
Jennifer Donnelly is the author of one of my all-time favorite YA novels, Revolution (and the superb A Northern Light), so I tore through These Shallow Games like nobody’s business. Jo Montfort is a member of New York’s 19th century aristocracy, but she longs to be an investigative reporter like her hero, Nellie Bly. When her father mysteriously dies, she enlists the help of an up-and-coming young journalist to discover the truth, which thrusts her into the tragic and seedy underworld of New York’s most unfortunate citizens. Young women yearning to break free of 19th century New York society is a trademark of Edith Wharton novels (and Edith Wharton’s life), which Donnelly brilliantly pays homage to (she even name drops her at one point). Fans of epic historical fiction (even if YA is something that you normally don’t read) should absolutely read this (and Donnelly’s other works). Donnelly’s depiction of New York’s underclass is heartbreakingly portrayed. Mature situations tip this toward the older end of the YA spectrum, but it’s an honest look at the brutal life lived by orphaned/homeless/runaway children and young girls during this specific time, as well as the limitations and expectations placed upon the young women of New York’s elite society. (It would be a great way to hook readers onto Edith Wharton’s novels as well!)
Mitali Perkins is one of my favorite authors; her books are always engaging and eye-opening stories set in unique cultures. Tiger Boy features Neel, an impoverished young boy living in a rural Bengal village. Neel is the carrier of his village’s hope and pride, as he is studying for a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school. Although Neel is well aware of the opportunities such an education would provide, he longs to remain in his village, which is threatened by the ruthlessness of a real estate developer. When a tiger cub escapes from a nearby nature reserve, Neel knows he must return the cub to the reserve before it is found and claimed by the corrupt developer. Like the very fine The Lion Who Stole My Arm (set in a nameless African village), this carefully balances the desire to protect natural habitats with the desire of the villagers to better their lives (at one point, Neel’s father joins the developer’s search team in order to earn more money). This imparts wisdom about education, family, and community without being preachy. (Juvenile fiction)
Next week, I’ll tell you all about my favorite reads of 2015!
More Ridiculously Good Reads:
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library
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