Ridiculously Good Reads: May Edition
Happy Memorial Day! To honor the day, please also read my May 23, 2015 post for children’s books about Memorial Day. Memorial Day is first and foremost, a day to honor fallen servicemen and servicewomen. It is also the unofficial start to summer! And around here, summer = summer reading. Registration for our summer reading program opens on June 1 (you can register at any time during the summer), and our summer programs kick off June 11. If you need some awesome reads to kick off a great summer of reading, here are some titles that recently knocked my socks off.
Due to an unusual situation with the warden (who acts as his official foster parent), Perry has lived all his life at the Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility in Surprise, Nebraska. His mother entered the facility at age 18 due to a manslaughter charge, and he was born shortly after. When the new district attorney (and stepfather of his best friend) catches wind of this situation, Perry is immediately placed into foster care with the family. Missing his mother desperately, Perry seeks the truth behind his mother’s imprisonment, believing that the entire story has not been truthfully told. Although there are serious issues dealt with in the story (the justice system, foster care and good deeds sometimes being self-serving), this is a story full of love, forgiveness and second chances. Blue River is for non-violent offenders, so none of the prisoners are there for hard sentences. As Leslie Connor mentions in her afterword, 1 in 28 children have an incarcerated parent (and there are very few books that speak to this experience like this book). Although Perry’s situation is highly unlikely (as Connor herself points out, although prison nurseries do exist), her gift in imagining this unique, difficult, and complex situation makes this instantly believable. All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook is definitely on my list for 2017 Newbery hopefuls.
I love, love, love Allie, First at Last. This depiction of a high-achieving, successful, middle-class Mexican-American family will speak to many children, especially those who struggle with feeling not as successful as their A+ parents and siblings. Allie longs to have an achievement she can call her own; when her science project turns into a disaster, she becomes even more determined to win the Kansas Trailblazer Contest, for which she will make a project based on her bisabuelo’s (grandfather’s) World War II service. Unfortunately, her recently estranged friend, Sara, plans to do the same thing! For Cervantes’s pitch perfect depiction of a somewhat daunting but loving overachieving family that maintains roots with its Mexican culture and friendship issues that often arise with preteens, this is a must read for anyone who enjoys realistic reads that have drama (but not devastating drama!).
YA literature is slowly (quite slowly!) but surely making inroads into making science fiction more diverse. Set in 2050 Los Angeles, the characters in Bluescreen live in a world in which they are constantly connected to news, entertainment and advertising. A new digital enhancement called Bluescreen, marketed as being safe, knocks out Marisa’s friend, Anja. Their investigation soon catches the attention of Bluescreen’s makers, which lead them on a high-stakes adventure that includes gang wars and conspiracies. This ethnically diverse (Marisa is Latino) intense thriller is ideal for readers that like high-tech science fiction (if you enjoyed Feed, you’ll like this one). This is the first entry in the Mirador series, and I can’t wait to see where Dan Wells takes the story next!
When I heard that Kate Andersen Brower was working on a book about modern first ladies (from Kennedy to Obama), my reaction was this:
Presidential history nerds like myself know that The Residence, her somewhat gossipy but not trashy look at the men and women who make the White House run, is insanely enjoyable and accessible history at its finest. If you haven’t read it, and you have any interest in presidential history, you are missing out! First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies is just as engaging, moving and revealing as its predecessor. Brower’s access to former White House staff members makes this unique among presidential history books; although she is frank about both positive and negative attributes of each First Lady, there’s no denying that some ladies were more popular than others. Brower’s depiction of these women thrust into a role that most didn’t desire, is unpaid yet demands extraordinary sacrifices of both careers and personal time, and garners excruciating scrutiny and attention brings them to a new level of appreciation and empathy.
Jacqueline Kennedy’s despair after President Kennedy’s assassination and her constant desire to raise their children as normally as possible, Lady Bird Johnson bravely facing segregationists during her tour of the south during President Johnson’s presidential campaign, and Betty Ford revealing her breast cancer diagnosis and addiction during a time in which both conditions were not openly discussed are vivid highlights; the struggles of raising children, being married to the President, their relationships with their predecessors and successors, conflicts between East Wing staff and West Wing staff, and keeping their own identities are brought to life. One of my favorite reads so far this year (I was tickled by the fact that if a Bush grandchild arrived at the White House sans reading material, Barbara Bush would escort him/her to the White House library to choose a book; there are many….entertaining anecdotes about Mrs. Bush throughout this book)! If you’re a fan of women’s history titles like The Girls of Atomic City or The Astronaut Wives Club, you need to read this; I’m encouraged by the fact that we’re seeing an increase in women’s history titles that are accessible to the general public; judging by the holds for Rise of the Rocket Girls (cannot wait!), there’s a genuine desire for it as well!
Freedom in Congo Square is written by a master of African-American children’s literature; coupled with the fact that it is also New Orleans history made this a must-read for me. New Orleans’s Congo Square was a gathering place for enslaved African Americans. They met every Sunday to shop in an open market, to play music and sing songs that celebrated their African cultures (the evolution of jazz), and to visit with each other. Although the harsh conditions of the slaves are not diluted, this is entirely child appropriate for most young readers and listeners. R. Gregory Christie’s illustrations are somber and vibrant when appropriate; this is on my 2017 Caldecott hopefuls list.
Want an emotional YA thriller with lots of twists and turns? The Darkest Corners should definitely be on your summer reads list! Tessa hasn’t visited Fayette, PA since she moved to Florida. Hoping to see her father before he dies in jail, her trip back home stirs up a ton of difficult childhood memories. Tessa and her childhood friend’s testimony help convict a man of serial murders in their community; however, new evidence may prove that the wrong man was convicted. Moreover, Tessa has begun to question her memory of what she witnessed, which unnerves her now-estranged friend, Callie. When another girl in their community is killed in the same manner as the other victims were murdered, Tessa must decide whether or not to dredge up traumatic childhood memories and to admit that her memory might not have been accurate. Although the action doesn’t start immediately, it’s pretty hard to put it down once it starts.
Now that summer is upon us, our picture books about swimming are about to get super popular again! Leo Can Swim is a continuation of Anna McQuinn’s darling series about baby Leo. Leo is taking baby swim class with daddy; this simple story is rich in charming illustrations and a sweet depiction of a loving family.
All good things must come to an end, and thus it is with Mo Willems’s Elephant and Piggie series. Throughout the years, Elephant and Piggie have partied, learned about surprises, cheered up friends when they were sad and even appeared in the most meta reader that I’ve ever read. Now that their run has finished (*sob*), it is time to say thank you in their final book, The Thank You Book. I don’t want to give away too much, but long-time Willems fans are in for a huge treat. Like all other Elephant and Piggie books, there is a lot of humor, genuine heartfelt joy, and above all, the importance of treating others with kindness. I’m excited to see what Willems creates next, but I will miss this series very much.
Need more reading suggestions? Check out our weekly email newsletter, Wowbrary, or our staff-created reading lists.
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library