This brief bath time tale is ideal for preschool through first grade readers. Little Dini Dinosaur loves to play and make messes. After dumping a bucket of mud on his head, it is time for Dini to hit the bathtub. However, poor little Dini just cannot remember to remove all of his clothes and take a bath the right way. After all, you can’t wear your socks if you want to scrub your feet! Mom has to keep reminding him that it is “back you go” so that Dini can “scrub-a-dub-dub” in the tub. The brightly colored illustrations are charming and the rhyming is fun. Young readers will relate to Dini’s struggles in the tub. Although Dini is eager to take a bath, this story could be used to help encourage those reluctant bathers out there.
Check the WRL catalog for Dini Dinosaur.
Beatle’s real name is John Lennon. For obvious reasons, everyone calls him Beatle. As the title suggests, Beatle meets a girl named Destiny. For a guy who describes himself as superstitious that would be reason enough to take notice, but her last name is McCartney— as in Paul. Beatle and Destiny keep running into each other at random places and Beatle is sure they are being drawn together by fate, much like the greatest song writing duo of all time. Unfortunately, Beatle already has a girlfriend. Cilla, in addition to being his girlfriend, is also the best friend of his twin sister, Winsome. If you think that sounds complicated, wait until the story really gets going. There are a lot of plot threads in this book, but they are all interesting, funny, and enjoyable. There is a curbside trash-to-treasure art project gone awry, a stalker, an eccentric mother who makes star charts, an astrology column, a stroke, a documentary, and a secret romance, just to name a few. Not to mention a few major misunderstandings. Pick up this book for the relationship drama, but read it for the quirky characters, unbelievable situations, and offbeat plot.
Check the WRL catalog for Beatle Meets Destiny.
It’s a big debate, no pun intended. When a person goes beyond fat to obese, beyond obese to morbidly obese, beyond morbidly obese to super obese, is it someone’s fault? Is it genetics, a moral failing, addiction, enabling? How do people around the morbidly obese see them, and see their own responsibility to them?
That’s the background against which Jami Attenberg sets the Middlestein family. What could be an ordinary family, living in the middle of the country, in the middle income bracket, middling careers and a middling set of unexpressed ambitions is distinguished by their wife and mother. At 300 pounds and growing, Edie plainly has an eating problem and it has taken its toll. Husband Richard, now in his sixties and presiding over a slowly declining family-run pharmacy, is surprised by his continued sex drive, but his distaste and her festering contempt have destroyed what little intimacy and attraction they ever had. Daughter Robin, who has her own addiction and relationship problems, is confronted with her own distaste and dismay over the surgeries that Edie’s weight now necessitate. Rachelle, their daughter-in-law, thinks that with her husband Benny’s help she can change Edie’s eating patterns.
So when Richard leaves Edie and tentatively starts dating again, all the family problems burst into plain view. Edie dredges up and recites her many grievances against Richard to Robin. Robin’s visceral anger puts her squarely in Edie’s corner. Benny internalizes the whole thing, stressed by his love for his wife and his obligations to his father to the point that he begins losing his hair. And Rachelle becomes a control freak, forbidding Richard contact with her children on the eve of their b’nai mitzvah ceremony and changing her family’s diet to kale and beets. She also decides that she can create a new diet for Edie, but in one painfully funny scene, she follows Edie from one fast food drive through to another, only to end up at restaurant where she heads in for a full meal.
With all that, you’d think the book is about food, but it isn’t. It’s about the relationships that ebb and flow, that start with sparkle or end with nerves exposed, that surprise everyone and astonish no one. The links among family, friends, and community at large may be built around meals, but they are sustained in between, and those are the times that Attenberg’s real sympathy arises. These aren’t bad people—Richard put himself on the line to found a temple in the new Chicago suburbs; Edie volunteers her time and skills in fundraising and in helping a family keep their restaurant. Robin carries scars and conceals emotions run so deep that they might destroy her if released. Benny is a good man who has found success, and Rachelle is fierce in her love for her family. Sure, they make mistakes, and yes, Edie and Richard probably should never have been together, but that’s the point. These are ordinary people—the middle, if you will—and Attenberg makes them real in every way.
Check the WRL catalog for The Middlesteins
We’ve had plenty of blog posts about Robert Olen Butler’s work, and if you go check them out you’ll see the incredible range and imagination that characterizes his work. (We don’t yet have a post about A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, the short story collection that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993. Alas, another sign that none of us can read or write about everything we’d like to.) With The Hot Country, Butler’s narrative skill takes off in a new and wholly unexpected direction.
War correspondent Christopher “Kit” Marlowe Cobb has traveled to hot spots all over the world, but this time he’s covering one close to home. It’s 1914 and the U.S. has invaded Mexico in response to a diplomatic slight, and Kit is there to report on the heroic measures of the U.S. military. But Woodrow Wilson’s policy is to hold the port town of Veracruz, so there isn’t a whole lot for Kit and his colleagues to write about, except maybe the sporadic attacks on Marines visiting the local brothels. (He’s still got to get that one by the censor.) Unlike his more staid colleagues, he goes out looking for material, and finds a big story that illustrates the turbulent background of Mexican politics.
Kit also learns that a German ship anchored in the harbor and reputed to be carrying arms to the Mexican army may have a dangerous cargo. Keeping in mind events taking place far away, Kit decides to dig deeper. As the nature of that cargo becomes more and more apparent, he takes it on himself to investigate further, then to act on his discovery. His efforts take him out of the city and into the Mexican hinterlands, where he barely escapes with his life. The scoop he carries is so explosive that he must cross the desert into the United States one step ahead of Pancho Villa’s men, and file from the first U.S. telegraph office he finds. But the response is far different from the one he expects.
Although the story is a genuine thriller, Butler makes Kit a dynamic character changed by the events he is part of. Although he is a war correspondent, it isn’t until his Mexican experience that Kit understands that he isn’t an immortal bystander, and the realization humbles him a bit. Kit is also the son of a renowned stage actress and readers come to understand how his upbringing has created the man he is—a restless chameleon entranced by words, capable at fighting but incapable of long-term relationships. In the course of the story, he also comes to grips with the fact that his mother is aging, and that the path she’s chosen has led her into a situation from which he cannot rescue her.
The Hot Country is followed by The Star of Istanbul, which has Kit heading across the Atlantic to cover the Great War, but getting sidetracked by historic events. Its excellent reviews were what got me interested in reading the first of Kit’s adventures. At the same time, I’m hoping that Butler continues to allow his magnificent imagination to continue exploring the unexpected.
Find The Hot Country in the WRL catalog
You can’t go wrong with this Caldecott Medal winning picture book. Officer Buckle helps keep the children of Napville Elementary School informed about safety, even though they do not appreciate his boring presentations. All of that changes when Gloria, an energetic police dog, becomes Officer Buckle’s new partner and goes with him on the school visits. Suddenly, the children are mesmerized by the safety assemblies. Officer Buckle thinks that they really love him, even though it is actually Gloria that steals the show with her hijinks. It turns out that Gloria can do all sorts of tricks and acts out safety tips and accidents behind Officer Buckle’s back. Thanks to a TV news team’s recording, Officer Buckle eventually finds out what Gloria is doing. He becomes very dispirited and poor Gloria is forced to unsuccessfully host the safety presentations on her own. Things take a turn for the worst when Napville Elementary has its biggest accident ever. The two partners are reunited when they understand that they work best together as a team to promote safety. The cartoon style pictures are a delight to examine and readers will notice many details throughout the illustrations. The book also includes a variety of humorously illustrated safety tips that readers both young and old will enjoy. Highly recommended for ages 4 through 8.
Check the WRL catalog for Officer Buckle and Gloria.
I have been meaning to read some of the urban fantasy of China Mieville, if for no other reason than that someone with a name like that ought to be a great fantasy writer.
Certainly, all the reviews have praised Mieville’s characters and stories. Some time ago, I came across a copy of Mieville’s YA fantasy Un Lun Dun on display at an American Library Association conference, and I picked it up for the return trip. It proved to be all that I could want in a novel. Mieville has a deft hand for characters, and Deeba, the ultimate heroine of the story, can take her place with Phillip Pullman’s Lyra Belacqua and Francis Hardinge’s Mosca Mye in the ranks of tough, enduring characters who make their way through dangers that they never foresaw.
The story is complex enough to keep all readers interested, and Mieville mixes humor and wordplay in with a variety of intriguing plot twists. There are betrayals and failures here, and, as in all good fantasy, help often comes in unexpected ways and from unlooked-for quarters. Mieville conjures up an alternative London, where the unwanted debris of the real, contemporary London comes to life. This Un Lun Dun, or the Abcity as it is called, is threatened by the Smog, and it falls to Deeba to lead the struggle against this evil. There are puzzling connections between London and Un Lun Dun, and a sinister plot that involves the British government and those who would control the Abcity. Mieville blends a beautifully descriptive writing style with a flair for thrilling action, and I look forward to getting to his other novels soon.
Check the WRL catalog for Un Lun Dun
Jimmy Hoffa. Ambrose Bierce. D.B. Cooper. Amelia Earhart. Chances are anyone you ask can identify these famous missing persons. But have you heard of ”the most missingest man in America?” Once upon a time, Judge Joseph Crater’s 1930 disappearance captivated the country, and sporadic developments have still made news since. Ariel Lawhon doesn’t know what happened to Judge Crater, but her new book sure takes what we know and extends it just a little into a plausible and entertaining solution to the mystery.
What we know: Judge Crater had barely started his new job as an Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court and was at his summer cottage when he got a phone call. He returned to New York City, and did some work in his chambers. On the evening of August 6, Crater had dinner with a friend and a showgirl, set off to see a Broadway play and >poof<. It took a month for an investigation to start, because everyone thought he was somewhere else, but when he was officially reported missing on September 3 it became national news. Lots of tips, a grand jury investigation, and countless police hours trying to trace him turned up nothing. Whispers of corruption in the judiciary, of Tammany Hall politics, and of gangland involvement came out of the rampant speculation, but nothing was ever proven.
As you can tell by the title, Lawhon’s story revolves around the women in Crater’s life. Stella Crater’s money financed the Judge’s rise in the world, but he expects that she will comport herself as the political wife, representing her husband in public and keeping her nose out of his business in private. The Mistress is Sally Lou Ritz, a busty long-legged showgirl with a secret past and serious current problems. Despite the glamorous whirl of Broadway shows and speakeasies, Ritzi also learns to be where Crater wants her and to be gone when he doesn’t. Then there’s the Maid, Maria Simon. Maria works part-time for the Craters, and the Judge got Maria’s husband Jude his new job as a detective for New York City’s Finest. She, too, learns that keeping Crater’s secrets is the price she will pay for her husband’s advancement.
The story develops along the web of visible and invisible relationships created by these people. All of them dance on the strings pulled by the infamous gangster Owney Madden. Madden is Ritzi’s sponsor in the not-so-glamorous Broadway backstage world, where interchangeable showgirls often double as courtesans. He holds the mortgage on Stella’s family cottage, which Crater sold him in exchange for the cash the judge needed to run his election. And he’s the guy who tells the NYPD how and when to conduct their investigations, and it’s no accident that Maria’s husband is one of the guys chosen to look into Crater’s death.
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is set in the quintessential New York City depicted in the black and white movies of the era. It’s 1930, and the worst of the Depression hasn’t really become visible to these characters, although they see men in bespoke shoes selling apples. New Broadway shows are opening up all the time, speakeasies are thriving, the life and livelihood of the City is settled in the chophouses where the rich and powerful eat. Underneath that lighthearted bustle is the worm of the Big Apple – the flow of money and patronage through the political clubs, bribery from the station house to the courthouse, and the muscle to silence anyone who stands in the way.
Lawhon uses a bookend plot to set the stage for those not familiar with Crater’s story. Stella Crater made an annual visit to a Greenwich Village bar on August 6, where she would buy two cocktails, raise one in a toast, drink it and leave the other untouched. In the book, she invites Jude Simon to meet her there for one last drink, and presents him with a sealed envelope, the final word that explains everything to the last detective remotely interested in the case. The modern-day conversation makes an occasional reappearance in the story, as do flashbacks that establish Crater’s character or create a timely link between two characters. Added together, the three plotlines make a deeply satisfying resolution to one of the 20th century’s greatest unsolved mysteries.
Check the WRL catalog for The Wife, The Maid, and the Mistress
I wrote earlier about The Whistling Season and the singular character of Morris Morgan, the erudite and cultured man who wound up in the rough Montana town of Marias Coulee. Morrie was a memorable character from the start, and though the events of that story sent him away from Marias Coulee, Ivan Doig brought him back in Work Song. As important as he was to the first book, we still only saw him through Paul Milliron’s eyes; now we get to see the world through Morrie’s.
Ten years after the events of The Whistling Season, Morrie gets off the train at the go-go town of Butte, Montana, thinking he’ll get an accounting job with the Anaconda Copper Mining Company and start the path to his certain fortune. But little in the town is as direct as the railroad tracks coming and going from the depot. In Butte, you are on one side or the other and even outsiders have to pick, as Morrie learns when he takes a room at Grace Faraday’s boarding house. The sides? Anaconda, which runs the town, or the union, which struggles to represent the miners.
Grace, the young widow of a miner, has two boarders, Griff and Hoop, both veterans of the mine and stalwart union men. They quickly set Morrie straight about “wearing the copper collar”, so he stoutly declares that he won’t work for the Company. Which leaves him jobless and mostly broke, because the trunk with his possessions vanished on the train.
After a brief stint as a professional mourner, Morrie discovers the Butte’s true prize: the public library and its priceless collection of exquisitely bound first editions. As intimidating as the Anaconda Copper Mining Company can be, though, they have nothing on the head librarian, Samuel S. Sandison. Former cattle rancher, book collector, and professional grouch, Sandy is also swayed by anyone who believes as he does in the narrative genius of Robert Louis Stevenson. Morrie easily talks himself into a job, and winds up doing anything Sandison doesn’t want to.
But trouble is coming to Butte. Wage cuts and safety issues put the miners on edge, and Anaconda puts their thugs to work on anyone who might be an outside agitator. Before long, Morrie finds himself dodging strikebreakers and helping the union with an essential job: finding a work song.
In a community subdivided into different nationalities with their own musical traditions, finding a tune that can inspire the miners to pull together is no easy task. Morrie can go into an unconventional classroom (think 3000 feet under the surface), teach them about rhythm, rhyme, and melody, but if they are to be as effective as the Wobblies Little Red Songbook, the words have to come from the miners.
As he did in The Whistling Season, Doig seems to go right to the edge of creating an unwieldy cast of characters, but manages to have each one precisely delineated and in the perfect place to play their roles. Along with a lively young teacher from Morrie’s past, a young union leader toughened in the trenches of World War I, and the towering and haunted Sandison, he includes a starveling boy nicknamed Russian Famine, the fastest thing on two feet in Butte. But Doig is most tender in developing Grace Faraday, the young woman trying to survive on her own in the face of company harassment and her precarious status in a town where unattached females are usually prostitutes. Measuring his worldly ambitions against such people makes Morrie a (slightly) better man, and we are pleased to be along for his self-discovery. And though I haven’t read it yet, Morrie’s journey continues in Sweet Thunder. I have a feeling I will be reviewing it in the near future.
Check the WRL catalogue for Work Song
There are all sorts of materials that can be checked out from a library. The most typical, of course, are books, but some libraries circulate items such as maps, art prints, even toys. Elizabeth’s new job is as a page at a very different type of library, The New York Circulating Material Repository. This library circulates objects. Some objects, like one of Lincoln’s hats or Marie Antoinette’s wigs, are particularly valuable. Others have little intrinsic value, but are no less important to have in the collection.
“Some of the more popular types of items we loan out these days include musical instruments, sports equipment, and specialized cooking tools. Many New Yorkers like to give the occasional fondue party, for example, but they don’t want to devote the cupboard space to a lot of fondue pots. Or if you’re thinking of learning to play the piccolo, you might want to borrow one to see how you like it. In the late nineteenth century, specialized silver services were very popular. In the 1970s, it was wood lathes.”
Now, the idea of such a library is so incredibly cool that it prompted me to immediately Google “New York Circulating Material Repository” just to be sure it wasn’t real. The realization that this library was fictitious was a blow, but the author had even more up her sleeve. My longing for this library to be real grew as Elizabeth began to uncover its secrets. In the Dungeon are sections with names such as the Grimm Collection, the Wells Bequest, the Gibson Chrestomathy, the Garden of Seasons, and the Lovecraft Corpus.
Elizabeth, being a fairy tale fan, is most interested in exploring the Grimm Collection. She learns that it contains objects related to the Grimm brother’s stories and that many of the objects are powerful, even dangerous, and as such are kept under lock and key. Her coworkers are hesitant to reveal any other details, however, as other library pages have recently disappeared, and Grimm objects are going missing as well. Elizabeth is still learning her way around this mysterious new job, and she doesn’t know who to trust, but the lure of working among genuine Grimm Collection items is too great a prospect to resist. Sounds like a dream job to this librarian!
Check the WRL catalog for The Grimm Legacy.
Popular illustrator Ed Young tries his hand at writing by creating a children’s version of the Chinese epic Journey to the West. This Chinese fable set in the 600s A.D. revolves around a monk who travels with the Monkey King and other animals on a quest to bring Buddhist scriptures from India back to China. Young’s version focuses on the creation story of the Monkey King and the events that lead up to him protecting and joining Monk Tang on his journey.
Older elementary-aged children and middle school children will have a better understanding of this complex tale, while younger children can enjoy Young’s bright and simplistic illustrations. The “Author’s Note” and “List of Characters” give a more complete picture of the story. The book ends with a moral: “By learning that there was strength in admitting weakness, Monkey had saved the day. Did Monkey’s humility last? That’s another story for another book.”
Check the WRL catalog for Monkey King.
Sophie is a teen witch who doesn’t have much experience with spells. She was raised by a mortal mother, and her warlock father has never been in the picture. Despite her lack of expertise, or perhaps because of it, Sophie has cast one too many spells in front of her mortal classmates. Her punishment is to be sent to Hecate Hall, a reformatory boarding school for witches, shapeshifters and faeries. Hex Hall, as it is called by these magical teen delinquents, is to be her home until she shapes up, or she turns eighteen (whichever comes first).
While Sophie doesn’t fit in the regular world very well, she doesn’t exactly fit in the magical one either. In addition to being behind in her magical abilities, there turns out to be a few things that her classmates know about her father that she doesn’t. Her ignorance of the magical world leads her to say and do many wrong things, and prevents her from making many friends. She has drawn the ire of the resident mean girls by declining to join their coven, and she has a crush on the head mean girl’s boyfriend. On top of all that, her roommate, Jenna, is a vampire. She is the only vampire student at Hex Hall and her last roommate was found exsanguinated in the bathroom from two puncture wounds on her neck. Although Sophie has been assured that Jenna was cleared of any wrongdoing, the culprit is still at large.
As Sophie is finding out, the magical world, and her place in it, are much different than she ever could have dreamed.
Check the WRL catalog for Hex Hall.
For starters, it is simple enough that even your dog could read it. That’s because Rrralph is the story of a dog that can talk. The narrator asks Ralph his name, and he replies, “Ralph! Ralph!” He goes for a walk past a tree covered in, “Bark! Bark! Bark!” And later he encounters a scary, “Wolf! Wolf!”
You get the idea. Children love joining along with Ralph. And Ehlert’s dog, with button eyes, an aluminum pop-top nose and mouth made out of a zipper, is wonderful to watch romp across the page.
This story is perfect with a group or one-on-one. I’ve shared it many times with babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use it with kindergarteners or first-graders.
Check the WRL catalog for Rrralph.
Priceless is a memoir about the true crime undercover investigations carried out by FBI Agent Robert K. Wittman. Since the late 1980s, Bob Wittman was the original solo art crime investigator for what became the FBI’s Art Crime team in 2004, now numbering 14 agents who are well-versed in the fine arts, skilled with undercover work, and are prepared to rapidly deploy to any worldwide site for art theft recovery work and sting operations, often in cooperation with international law enforcement agencies. The FBI updates an online top-ten listing of art crimes and maintains a database of stolen art.
The book is arranged so that you’re following developments in FBI Agent Wittman’s career as well as some pivotal events in his personal life throughout the book. However, each chapter neatly portrays a particular case and its wrap-up. There is one thread running from the beginning through the end, the notorious unsolved 1990 case of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft. Wittman’s frustrating battle with the restrictions under which he had to work in the FBI’s bureaucracy, including power struggles with senior officials, seems to provide some clues as to why this case might have been solved long ago had it not been so botched by red tape.
The stories truly bring the high-stakes investigations of art theft to life for the lay reader, and open up our eyes to the realities of art crimes. The biggest revelation in this book is the fact that those who steal art are seldom glamorous, handsome and powerful art connoisseurs, as they have been portrayed in films such as Dr. No or The Thomas Crown Affair. That characterization may be true in some cases, although they are usually your typical thugs who can’t resist taking something that seems incredibly valuable yet easy to steal for even the dumbest of crooks. Some of the book’s photos of captured thieves make that contrast startling. As security systems and staffing have become more sophisticated today, even better organized art theft rings have staged some thefts on the level of Ocean’s Eleven style drama, but most of the crimes investigated by Wittman and told in Priceless are more a case of your average guy taking advantage of an opportunity to get away with something for money.
These are very interesting and sometimes thrilling tales. They’ll take you behind the scenes of the FBI and around the world to exotic locations and scenarios, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
Look for Priceless in the WRL catalog.
Thrillers rarely come along that are created with as much verve as Headhunters, a standalone novel by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø, who also writes the Harry Hole series. The crafty, intelligent plot has a bit of noir as well as some jaw-dropping comic moments; you won’t believe the literally sticky situations that come up amid Hitchcockian twists and turns. You’ll also find well-developed characters despite the book’s brevity (less than 300 pages), which I always appreciate.
Roger Brown is a corporate headhunter who moonlights as an art thief to maintain a lavish lifestyle for his wife. He is also clearly trying to compensate for his short height and his insecurity about having such a gorgeous wife, terrified that she’ll discover his true colors. In Roger’s misguided drive to supplement his already lucrative work and preserve his marriage, he suddenly finds himself caught in a web of unclear motives and loyalties, with no one to trust. He wonders just how long he’s been the target in someone’s larger scheme rather than solely the mastermind of his own crimes.
Clas Greve is not only a brilliant and devilishly handsome corporate icon, he’s also a tried and tested covert special forces operative skilled as another type of “head hunter.” His history with GPS tracking technology landed him the CEO position with a major corporation rumored to have lost him following a takeover. Roger Brown’s wife Diana, who meets Greve through her art gallery, tips Roger off to Greve’s availability as a potential CEO candidate, and Roger thinks he is perfect to head a competing GPS technology firm. Diana also tells the tale of a missing masterpiece by Rubens that was found in Clas Greve’s grandmother’s apartment in Oslo. Not only does Roger think he has found the perfect executive for his client, he plots to steal the work of art that might set him up in luxury for life.
Pampered, polished Roger, a sophisticated businessman and very classy thief, may be in over his head, but in the course of an adventurous and outrageous series of circumstances, he reveals his true grit. The reader will end up rooting for this undeserving hero. Fans of Stieg Larsson, Elmore Leonard, or Carl Hiaasen are likely to be enraptured.
“MPAA rating: R; for bloody violence including some grisly images, strong sexual content and nudity.” If you are over 17, and know that you could at least stomach Pulp Fiction or Fight Club, don’t let this intimidating film rating prevent you from viewing the riveting Norwegian film version of the novel. Despite the rating, I found it less disturbing than expected, not as violent or brutal as your average Tarantino flick—the murders in Headhunters come across as rather accidental, not cold-blooded or ultra-disturbingly violent. Yes, there are some graphic scenes, but you’ll be so caught up in the unexpected plot twists that I doubt you’ll find them too extreme—well, except for one scene reminiscent of the unforgettable outhouse scene in Slumdog Millionaire. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed suspense this much since Fargo. What you should know is that the details in some scenes are so much more graphic in the book that you’ll be glad that the director chose to leave them out!
The DVD has settings for viewing in Norwegian with subtitles or with English dubbing. I enjoyed it in Norwegian more because the English was dubbed with American accents. Roger Brown’s character is British and all the other characters are either Norwegian or Dutch, so it just made more sense to use the English subtitles.
Check the WRL catalog for the book
Check the catalog for the ebook
Check the catalog for the DVD
How certain are you that the things you do in life matter? A heavy question, I know, but then this is a heavy book.
One day, Pierre Anthon announces to the rest of his 7th grade classmates that nothing matters. The students take his comments, in a word, badly. His announcement flies in direct opposition to everything their parents have taught them and everything they believe. Pierre, however, is adamant in his belief and will not be swayed. He settles himself in the branches of a plum tree and is content to let life simply pass by. This does not sit well with his classmates at all. They endeavor to prove to Pierre that there is something, anything, in the world that matters.
Things start off innocuously enough. It is almost like a game of truth or dare. The children build a “heap of meaning” and each child is required to contribute the item that means the most to them. What that item must be is decided for them by their classmates. The pile builds as the children take turns chapter by chapter. With each item the stakes get raised. No one wants to sacrifice their beloved item. After a child makes a sacrifice, it is their turn to demand a meaningful object from someone else, and they begin to take their revenge. Each time they go for the jugular, choosing more and more valuable things. Disturbing things. Horrific things. In the end, someone pays the ultimate price.
Nothing was originally published in Denmark and has been translated into English. A 2011 Printz Honor book, it is dark, thought provoking, and not for the faint of heart. It is for older teens and a crossover title for adults.
Check the WRL catalog for Nothing.
Junie, Jakie and the baby beg Papa to take them to the lake, but he’s worried about their rattletrap car, because “it doesn’t go fast and it doesn’t go far.” But they load it up anyway with a surfboard, toy boat, a beach ball and a giant tub of chocolate marshmallow fudge delight and off they go. But they don’t get far when, Boom—ssssss! A tire goes flat.
But remember that beach ball? It’s the perfect spare, and they glue it on with handfuls of chocolate marshmallow fudge delight. And off they go again, until . . . another part of the car dies or falls off. Along the way the car gets noisier and noisier, with sounds like wappity bappity, lumpety bumpety, clinkety clankety, bing bang pop!
And all those toys and the chocolate marshmallow fudge delight come in very handy!
This is a great read for preschoolers through kindergarten. The large illustrations are wonderful to use with a class.
Check the WRL catalog for Rattletrap Car.
Shapiro uses a true crime event, the 1990 theft of priceless works of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, as the backdrop for this engaging novel about a young artist with outstanding talent but a soiled reputation whose susceptibility gets her neck-deep into a forgery scheme. Cleverly, author Shapiro inserts a fictional masterpiece by Degas that, of course, was not among the 13 works stolen in real life. This way she is able to weave an entirely new provenance, history, and fate for her invented painting for the sake of this story, which includes a fictional alleged relationship between the museum’s founder Isabella and Edgar Degas. Clues are slowly revealed to the reader through the inclusion of a mysterious collection of undiscovered letters composed by Isabella, telling all to her favorite niece.
Reluctant at first, but eventually coerced into accepting that her part in copying the painting is innocent—it’s apparently legal to copy art as long as one doesn’t try to pass off the forgery as the original—Clare Roth feels safely distanced from any related criminality. She convinces herself that it’s legal to create a fine copy of an original masterwork; after all, she legitimately copies masterpieces for a fine art reproduction business. She’s in denial, however, that storing the stolen art in her studio home or developing a romantic attachment to the art dealer makes her an accessory to the crime. Feeling removed from the Gardner theft, and unconnected to any of the buyers or sellers interested in the proposed forgery, Clare still becomes increasingly enmeshed as the plot unravels, family secrets are uncovered shedding new light on the museum’s history and benefactor, and the authenticity of a valuable masterpiece is questioned.
Those who love true crimes and/or mysteries with a sprinkling of romance (that doesn’t dominate a story) are likely to enjoy this novel. It will also appeal to those who like contemporary novels based around true events.
Information on the real art theft in the wee hours following Saint Patrick’s Day reveling is described on the Gardner museum’s Website and also in The Gardner Heist, by Ulrich Boser. Art investigators are still trying to recover the stolen artworks, and a $5 million reward is offered for information leading to their safe recovery.
In The Art Forger, the device of using a bolder and smaller font to distinguish sections in the novel that describe events that occurred years earlier helps to keep time and details straight. Unfortunately, this technique was lost on me as I was reading the e-book version; it’s there but I just didn’t notice it easily on my particular device—just thought I’d mention that for those of you with e-readers.
I was instantly absorbed in this fast-paced, detective-style investigation of the mysterious manuscript, the “Crown of Aleppo.” Parchment fragments of the ancient codex are still unaccounted for today, so those who want the book to end with a nice neat conclusion or happy ending should not even get started. However, those who love a good unsolved mystery and a series of unreliable accounts from multiple viewpoints, perhaps reminiscent of Iain Pears’s novel, An Instance of the Fingerpost, are likely to love this story. One after the other, we read contradictory accounts of the same event in Aleppo, Syria. In 1947, anti-Jewish violence protesting the creation of the state of Israel endangered the sacred texts, which were housed in the Jewish synagogue in the city; consequentially, most of Syria’s Jewish community fled. Amid the chaos, parts of the document disappeared. Various individuals closely associated with the synagogue claimed credit for protecting the codex.
Investigative reporter Matti Friedman bravely followed an obfuscated trail, having to carefully negotiate his way into archives, museums, and libraries, and into the trust of those who may harbor what truths still exist in living memory regarding the codex. Along the way, he discovered a number of cover-ups, suppressed documentation, and red herrings, yet he relentlessly and obsessively pursued the previously untold story.
The tenth century “Crown” is the oldest Hebrew Bible manuscript, considered the authoritative text from which all copies of the Torah were meant to be hand copied in the old days. All sorts of legends and pesky rules, not very well suited to the preservation of disintegrating, aging old manuscripts, surround the “Crown,” including the stipulation that it was never to be moved from its location in Syria (riot, fire, and political unwelcome brought an end to its residency of over a thousand years), and that no one would be allowed to photograph or scan it (a rule certainly not instated before its most recent centuries). Therefore, when leaves of the folios went missing, no photographic images existed to at least preserve their memory, such as those we have to remember many stolen artifacts and fine art these days.
I just loved reading about this great mystery, and it kindled in me a new interest in other investigations of manuscripts with storied pasts.
Check the WRL catalog for The Aleppo Codex
Check the catalog for the ebook version
I don’t generally use cumulative tales in story time, because they bore me. But The Napping House is one, glorious exception.
This is the story of how a wakeful flea disrupts the slumbering mouse, on the snoozing cat, on the dozing dog, on the dreaming child, on the snoring granny, on a cozy bed in a napping house where everyone is sleeping. It works so well because Audrey Wood’s text sounds so good, and her husband’s pictures are so big and funny.
Like all good illustrations, Wood’s images give observant children the chance to find more in the story. The next animal to climb on top of the bed is always waking up on the page before. And if you’re sharing the book one-on-one, you can even see the flea hopping closer to the bed page by page.
This is the perfect story to read and then share again as a flannel board. And if you go to the Woods’ web page, you’ll find printable coloring pages for the story. You’ll find that page here:
Check the WRL catalog for The Napping House.
All this week, Mindy reviews books about art theft, starting with two titles about some of the more sensational cases:
Museum of the Missing (2006) and Stolen (2008) are very similar books—both have introductory material written by Julian Radcliffe, chairman of the Art Loss Register, a tool used worldwide to authenticate artworks and aid in the recovery of stolen art. Some of the true crimes described in the earlier work are also in Stolen. Both include pages filled with color illustrations of lost art and the fascinating stories detailing what is known about their thefts. (Those who are tracking the fluctuating state of art theft cases may also want to follow current events. One way that I have been doing that is with a Google alert that sends newly published articles and blog posts to my email inbox daily.)
These art crime stories range from sad, disturbing, and shocking losses of our cultural heritage to hilarious and often audacious stupid-crook capers. The good news is that a number of stolen works of art have been recovered by art crime investigators, often working in undercover sting operations designed to thwart criminal schemes. It’s delicate work, often prioritized in favor of recovering works of art unharmed rather than on locking up the culprits who stole them. Appeals to the public are often made, with rewards offered, without fear of prosecution if involved.
The reality is that the high-priced art world often makes the headlines with record-breaking art sales. This attracts thieves who can’t seem to resist. What thieves unfortunately fail to calculate is the market for fencing their loot. Thus, they’re sometimes stuck with stolen art, and without backgrounds in art history or an acquired taste for fine art they seldom show any concern for its preservation. Thieves who couldn’t find a buyer have sometimes destroyed the stolen art in order to eliminate the evidence of their crime. Sculptures are stolen for their metal content and melted down for scrap.
Houpt and Webb each do an excellent job of storytelling about these intriguing art thefts. They also provide a great deal of insight into the history of art and what has made stealing it such an irresistible crime. A nice shelf to browse for more titles like these is located in the true crime area of 364.162.
Check the WRL catalog for Museum of the Missing
Check the catalog for Stolen