Rabbit takes refuge in his rabbit home after being chased by a fox in the dark. Little does he know that he will have a stream of visitors also running from the fox. First to arrive is Duck, who is followed by Mouse, and then Lamb. They are all squeezed in together in Rabbit’s very small bed when there is another knock at the door. Duck opens it to find Baby Fox on the doorstep. Expecting to be eaten, the animals are surprised that Baby Fox also needs shelter because he lost his mom. Readers will not be surprised that the next knock at the door is indeed Mother Fox searching for her baby. They will be pleased at the nice ending when Mother Fox offers up her soft and snuggly body as a bed for all of the animals. Young readers will enjoy looking in the pictures at the beginning of the book to find the fox lurking in the dark background. The mixed media illustrations will certainly put readers at ease throughout this satisfying story.
Check the WRL catalog for The Fox in the Dark.
Violet Ambrose is the body finder. The bodies of dead animals and people call out to her. Sometimes she hears a sound, sometimes she sees an aura, sometimes she notices a smell, but she can always locate the dead. She can even locate their killers. Those who have killed something, or someone, in their lives bear a signature as well. Police officers, hunters, her mouse-hungry cat—marks on those are to be expected—but there are others who stand out to Violet for a much darker reason.
On one of the last nice days before Fall sets in, Violet’s relaxing day at the lake takes a turn when she comes across the body of a girl from the next town. Then girls from her own town and her own school begin to go missing. Violet knows there is a chance she could help find the killer. Even though her uncle is the chief of police, and she trusts him to do his job, only her best friend Jay can keep her from setting off on a personal investigation of the crime. Besides, there is the Homecoming dance to worry about, and the feelings she may or may not have for Jay, who may or may not feel something in return. High school is hard enough without a murderer on the loose.
Although our heroine does have a preternatural ability, this book reads more like a murder mystery than a supernatural fantasy. There are missing girls, a police investigation, and persons of interest. Author Kimberly Derting even gives us a few passages from the murderer’s point of view, which heightens the suspense.
Check the WRL catalog for The Body Finder.
Paige is despondent. Her family recently moved from central Virginia to Manhattan and she has to deal with acclimating herself to a new city and culture while her relationships with her parents, especially her mother, have been crumbling. She misses her old life, and her old friends, especially her best friend Diana. Paige floats around New York with a sensation of being lost, unsure of herself or what she wants.
Both her mother and father are writers (hence her unfortunate name, Paige Turner), but she is more like her grandmother, a painter. Introverted and quiet on the outside, Paige is full of life and emotions on the inside. She can’t express these feelings in words so she buys a sketchbook, determined to follow her grandmother’s rules that she came up with to teach herself to be an artist. Starting the first drawing is daunting, and brings to the surface more of her anxieties. Is she a good enough artist, what if she has nothing to draw about? Monologues of self-doubt constantly run through her head, even as the pages begin to fill up with sketches.
Entering her new school, Paige quickly falls in with Jules, her brother Longo, and his friend Gabe. The foursome is soon inseparable. Paige still struggles with self-doubt, and everything cool and fun she sees in her friends strengthens her inferiority complex, and fear that her lack of specialness will be discovered. Her inner voice promises that she can change. But how can she build a new self and remove those parts she dislikes most?
Ever practical, Paige makes a list of those aspects of her personality she dislikes the most and intentionally faces them with the help of her friends. She discovers that they too have things that they lack the courage to face, and she begins to coach them, even as she is developing and evolving herself. The image of a seed being planted and carefully tended to as it grows into a fragile shoot appears several times in the drawings and is particularly apt.
The writing is lyrical and evocative while being relatable to anyone who was unsure of themselves when they were a teenager. Paige has a knack of summing up complicated emotions using simple phrases. She states that “like fun house mirrors, different people reflect back different parts of me” and while mourning her loneliness early on, she states that she hates how all her “friends now live in picture frames.”
Recommend for young adults and graphic novel readers and anyone else who can relate to the heart wrenching process of finding yourself.
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While watching the Avengers movie in the theater (I admit, twice), I was intrigued by the characters of Hawkeye and Black Widow. Not having much knowledge of the Avengers outside of Iron Man and Thor, I found it interesting that there were members of the team who did not possess any superpowers or special flying suits. Experience and training will only get you so far when facing a massive army of technologically superior aliens from another dimension. Hulk may smash, but normal humans should be running in the other direction while screaming.
As expected, when a movie piques the public’s interest in specific characters from a comic universe, new material often follows. I picked up a copy of the first volume of the new Hawkeye graphic novel series, titled Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon. The series covers Hawkeye’s life away from the Avengers, where he lives quietly as Clint Barton in a rather crummy apartment building. He is assisted in many of his exploits by Kate Bishop, who is a member of the Young Avengers, and had previously stepped in for Clint when he took some time off from the Avengers. She is an equal, if not better, bowman than Clint.
Unlike other human superheroes like Batman or Iron Man, Hawkeye isn’t angsty, and there is a lot of humor injected into his interactions, especially with Kate. He fights mainly with his bow and an array of sometimes ridiculous specialty arrows, a method which is used smartly against him by the authors in a humorous segment where he keeps firing random arrows with somewhat unbelievable abilities. He tries to live as normally as possible, enjoying rooftop BBQs with his neighbors, buying a used sports car, and practicing his archery, but generally finds ways to get himself in trouble much as he might try to avoid it. It seems once you are identified as a superhero, groups of ninjas can’t help but attack you.
This volume is a quick but fun read. Recommended for fans of the Marvel Universe and anyone who is tired of having perpetually disagreeable and tormented superheroes.
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This book is sure to appeal to picky eaters. It starts out by telling the reader about all of the things that Little Pea likes to do. He enjoys things like rolling down hills, hanging out with his pea pals, and snuggling with mom and dad. However, one thing that poor Little Pea cannot stand is being forced to eat candy for dinner. In case you didn’t know, it is what you have to eat for dinner every day when you are a pea! It doesn’t matter that each day is a different kind of candy – it is still candy, candy, and more candy day after day. Mom and Dad insist that Little Pea eat all of his candy or there will be no dessert. Of course, dessert just happens to be spinach, which Little Pea loves. Will Little Pea find a way to choke down the candy in order to get dessert? The ink and watercolor illustrations are charming, and children and adults alike will relate to this humorous tale of picky eating. Readers will never look at peas in the same way after reading this fun tale. Candy for dinner, hmmmmm is that a new diet fad?
Check the WRL catalog for Little Pea.
Samantha Kingston, the teenaged narrator of Lauren Oliver’s debut novel, is that girl you hated in high school. She is smart and attractive and popular; she has a hot boyfriend; and she has not one, not two, but three best friends—which would be forgivable, if she weren’t such a snob. The lesser kids in the social hierarchy are beneath her notice, unless she goes out of her way to make fun of them. Sam is superficial and shallow and completely insufferable.
Oh well, nothing like dying to get your priorities straight.
On the way home from a party one Friday night, Sam is killed in a car accident. Instead of heading to the afterlife, Sam wakes up in her own bed on that same Friday morning. She’s been given a second chance to live through the same day. Understandably, she goes out of her way to not die. It works. She goes to bed safe and sound.
…and then wakes up all over again on Friday morning.
It is a plot device very similar to the one from the movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and also Andie MacDowell, whom I met once, which makes me famous. You take an unpleasant protagonist, make him or her live through the same day over and over and over, and hope that he or she eventually becomes a nicer person. But the movie starring my close friend Andie is a comedy; Before I Fall is a sober read. There are weighty themes here, including sexuality, sacrifice, bullying, eating disorders, friendship and loss, and suicide.
But there are some happy parts that emerge during Sam’s seven trips through the same day. There’s a bit of romance, a bit of laughter and frivolity, and quite a bit of redemption. It’s lovely to watch Sam transform into a sensitive person who cares about someone other than herself. The concept underpinning the story is totally cool, but even though it falls outside the realm of reality, it’s not what you’d normally call a fantasy novel. Instead call it an intense coming-of-age story.
Check the WRL catalog for Before I Fall
I am the first to flee at the sight of blood. As such, I don’t watch boxing and I quickly switch the channel when watching football if the station decides there is a need to show slow motion replays of a player’s injury from EVERY ANGLE. But for whatever reason, I can stomach violence in graphic novels, as the images can be processed as art by my brain, conveniently disconnected from reality.
Browsing our shelves, I picked up a copy of Heart but almost put it back again when I realized that the story revolved around an MMA (mixed-martial arts) fighter. I ended up holding on to the volume, deciding that since I had been in a reading rut recently, something so far out of my normal comfort zone might be just what I needed.
The story throws you right into the middle of the octagon at the beginning of a fight between Oren “Rooster” Redmond and Mike “The Hooligan” Murphy. Glaring and tattooed with muscles tensed, they square off with the cheers, jeers, and bloodlust of the crowd in a roar around them. The story is narrated by Oren, and he baldly presents his adrenaline and bravado as well as his mistakes as he takes us through his journey from slightly overweight office worker to trained fighter. He’s inspired by his older brother, who started out as a college wrestler and progressed to MMA after graduation. From the drudgery of his data entry job, Oren enters a life that finally allows him to live life on his own terms.
It’s Oren’s honesty about how his fighting career progresses that really pulls the reader into the story. He’s not trying to fool anyone, not even himself. His frankness and honesty are refreshing yet surprising, since MMA promotion isn’t known for being austere or unembellished. Oren wryly confesses to prior unkind thoughts about “guys who wore too-tight t-shirts with shiny, metallic crap written on ‘em” before he entered and embraced the culture.
Heart is an engaging and powerful read. I would recommend it to sports fans, readers of graphic novels in general, or any reader who loves stories where the human element transcends the environment.
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Xander King’s family is moving, and he’s not happy about it. Pinedale, the town they will now call home, is in the middle of nowhere, far away from his girlfriend and friends, and the school doesn’t even have a soccer team. He’s even less happy when he sees the house they are moving to. It gives Xander the creeps. And well it should. Interspersed through the story of the Kings’ arrival in town are scenes set in the house they will soon call home. A presence is there, and terrible things happened in the house many years ago. When the Kings explore their new home, they find footprints in the long-abandoned house. They also discover that sound travels strangely within its walls. Still, Xander’s dad intends to stay.
When Xander and his brother David find a linen closet in the house that transports them into a locker at the local school, Xander begins to see that the house is even stranger than he thought. Soon they find entryways to other, even more amazing places… and times. One night, Xander’s sister Toria sees the outline of a large, hulking man in her bedroom doorway, and they realize that not only can they go out through the gateways— other people can get in.
House of Dark Shadows is just the first in Robert Liparulo’s Dreamhouse Kings series, and it is followed up by Watcher in the Woods.
Check the WRL catalog for House of Dark Shadows.
The Little Red Pen is a modern day version of the story The Little Red Hen. In this story The Little Red Pen needs help grading a mountain of homework so the students will learn. She calls on her school supply friends stapler, scissors, eraser, pushpin, and highlighter to help her with this task. “Not I!” they all reply. The Little Red Pen is left to work alone. Exhausted from all her hard work she rolls off the desk into the trash can aka “The Pit of No Return.” Her school supply friends organize a rescue to save her. Will the Little Red Pen be lost forever? Read this entertaining story to find out if they succeed. The cartoon style drawings and humor will delight elementary children. This is a great book for teaching the importance of hard work and teamwork.
Check the WRL catalog for The Little Red Pen.
I have a fascination for Swamp Thing that started a few years ago when I picked up a copy of one of the volumes penned by Alan Moore (he of Watchmen fame). Swamp Thing isn’t your normal Superhero. He doesn’t fight supervillians, although he has had occasion to save the earth and humankind before. He’s a conflicted creature, no longer quite human but not fully removed from the person he once was. He is pulled between two worlds, caught between his human memories and the pull of The Green, a force that connects all plant life on Earth. Swamp Thing generally keeps to his damp living space, communing with nature and trying to find a semblance of peace.
The character of Swamp Thing has been reinvented and restarted many times over the years, with admittedly varied success. When I saw that Scott Snyder was taking the helm for the new Swamp Thing series I was excited. Snyder is one of my favorite current graphic novel writers (see my review of American Vampire) and I was confident that the story would be done justice to in his hands. Rather than ignoring the past incarnations of Swamp Thing, Snyder was able to build upon the legend, keeping the past intact while carving out his own unique storyline. He is even able to pull in the character of Abigail Arcane who is typically the partner/wife of Swamp Thing and helps to ground him and keep him connected to his human past.
Swamp Thing has always been most easily classified as horror, although that seems unfair as it classifies him more by how others react to him than how he actually conducts himself. Snyder has always shown himself to be remarkably adept at this genre. He is able to build an atmosphere of eerie menace in even the most mundane scenarios but also doesn’t shy away from gore or shock. This is the first of two published volumes in the DC Comics New 52 Swamp Thing series. The third volume will be released in November.
I would recommend this book to anyone who reads horror, especially graphic novels.
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In As You Wish, by Jackson Pearce, Viola is having a hard time getting over her last break-up. Her ex didn’t callously dump her and never speak to her again–that, she might have been able to handle. Instead, her boyfriend of two years and best friend of even longer told her that he’s gay. They are still best friends, but Viola feels like she doesn’t fit in at school anymore. She’s no longer Lawrence’s girlfriend, so who is she now? She wants to feel like she belongs again. So, sitting in Shakespeare class, pondering her problems, Viola makes a wish. She really means it, and really wants it; “I wish I didn’t feel invisible.” We have all had wishes run through our heads, but Viola gets lucky and an actual genie comes to her aid.
Viola calls him Jinn, since genies don’t have names, and he promises to grant her three wishes. He’ll even be nice about it and not try to trick her or grant her wishes in ways she didn’t intend. All he wants is for her to be quick about the wishing. Genies age on Earth, and the longer he spends with Viola the older he will become. Jinn is anxious to return to his home, called Caliban, but Viola wants to get her wishes right and is taking her time about it. This gives Jinn a chance to become more familiar with Earth, and for him to get to know Viola better. Ultimately, they get used to having each other around, and Jinn grows to like Earth better than Caliban. After all, Earth is where Viola is. Sparks are flying, but Jinn has a mission and he is shirking his wish-granting duties. He’ll have to answer for that, and for his growing feelings for Viola.
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For me, a pie is an object about which there is much to be crazy. Or perhaps that is not quite right, as pies are not “objects,” rather they are as manna contained within their own plane of being. To me, this isn’t so much a cookbook as a blueprint towards a better life.
Metaphysics aside, this is a great book that makes me hungry just looking at the pictures. It is beautifully illustrated with glowing photographs of creations that I know I could never bake as perfectly. The author, Krystina Castella, is an industrial designer as well as a successful cookbook writer, so it is not surprising that her pies are visually stunning. Crazy About Pies even has a section on “The Pie Decorator’s Tool Kit” although decorating pies is not something that had previously occurred to me beyond cutting out some leaves and an apple from left-over pastry or poking the vent holes in the shape of an “A.” Whether or not I would ever get around to putting a marzipan butterfly or a fondant blackbird on a pie, it is still lovely to look and dream…
Over the years I have perfected my one apple pie recipe to exactly how I like it, so I thought I would try something savory in the form of Bacon and Egg Pocket Pies. They took an unexpectedly long time to make, but the results were fabulously rich and incredibly yummy. Mixing little bits of bacon into pastry is not something that ever occurred to me before, but it worked out to be such a splendid idea, that I will have to try it again (but maybe not with apple pie). I managed to sneak one out of the fridge before my ravening hoards of teenagers pillaged them and (once warmed in the microwave), my colleagues agreed that they were just what we needed for breakfast.
For the sweet pies I am not sure whether to go with Mocha Pie or Cheesecake Pie with Marzipan Butterflies. Since I am at work, in the meantime, I will have to content myself with flicking through the book and drooling.
Definitely try Crazy About Pies if you want to expand your pie repertoire—you’ll get lots of great ideas. Or you can just look at it for the glamorous photographs of Pie Perfection.
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Pete the Cat is one cool blue cat and a favorite with young children. In Pete’s latest adventure he is wearing his favorite shirt with four, big, round, groovy buttons. Pete loves his shirt so much he sings a song about it. But one by one his buttons fall off his shirt. “Did Pete cry? Goodness, no! Buttons come and buttons go.” Count down with Pete as he discovers a very special button at the end of the story. As with many of Eric Litwin’s books, the repetitive text and bright, colorful illustrations will delight beginning readers. This book is a good educational tool for teaching rhythm, rhyme, and number concepts. Great read aloud or sing aloud for a large group reading.
Check the WRL catalog for Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons.
“The dread had not left my soul. But there was a kitten on my pillow, and it was purring in my face and vibrating gently with every purr.”
Neil Gaiman has a great talent for seeing the sinister and malevolent under the everyday and mundane. But he also has a talent for pointing out the beauty and wonder that simultaneously exist in the same everyday and mundane things. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told mainly through the eyes of a seven-year-old boy, which gives the book a simple, direct style as the boy is without preconceptions. He reports matter-of-factly that his new nanny is an evil monster who rode out of another dimension in a worm hole in his own foot, but this is not the sort of thing that adults believe.
The book starts as a middle-aged man returns to his childhood village to attend a funeral, so we know that the narrator survives (something I would not have been sure of otherwise). Forty years ago, the tragic suicide of an almost-stranger and a series of seemingly small, but bad, decisions, lead to dramatic and possibly world-ending events, all under the eyes of oblivious adults.
Neil Gaiman has created a complete, but never fully explained, fantasy world living just under the surface of the world we see. His Hunger Birds are close to the creepiest fantasy creatures I have ever encountered. I can see glimmers of the best of other British fantasy. The woods that the boy first enters with Lettie Hempstock reminds me of the damaged, dimensionless woods in Diana Wynne Jones’s The Pinhoe Egg. Lettie Hempstock herself, being a non-human in human form, with her Universe-saving sentiments, reminds me of Doctor Who. These may be plausible connections: Neil Gaiman knew Diana Wynne Jones and considered her his mentor, and he has written for Doctor Who.
This book is being marketed as an adult novel and lots of adults and teens love it. I think older children who are strong readers and fantasy fans will also enjoy it. They will appreciate the main character’s impotence in the face of the seamlessly complacent adult world. It has a few oblique references to sex, but they will probably go over the heads of many children. Simply, but poetically written, this a beautiful short book that I wanted to come back to and immerse myself in. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and have heard several read by the author. Neil Gaiman is by far the best reader of his own work that I have come across. From his pleasant English accent to the menace in the voice of the monster, I can’t wait to hear more.
Check the WRL catalog for The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
Chu is a panda bear whose sneezes cause bad things to happen. His parents are worried he is going to sneeze so they keep asking him if he will. Chu keeps saying no as his parents take him to a library and then to a diner. Finally Chu and his parents arrive at the circus, but they don’t ask him if he is going to sneeze. Chu’s sneeze blows down the circus tent and sends everything in the library and the diner flying!
The text is fairly simple and minimal, and as such is best suited for younger children ages 2-6. What truly makes this book special, however, are the illustrations by Adam Rex. They are absolutely gorgeous, extremely detailed, and light up every page. Children will especially enjoy being able to pick out the various animals that are the patrons of each establishment that Chu visits, and they will surely laugh when Chu finally sneezes. Chu’s Day is also a great storytime pick because kids love predicting whether they think Chu is actually going to sneeze or not.
Check the WRL catalog for Chu’s Day.
In an ideal world, somebody would have already written a comic book in which Sarah Palin, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Caroline Kennedy decided to suit up in spandex and fight crime. This has not been done yet. I am waiting.
Meanwhile, Neal Bailey has delivered a collective graphic biography that explores the lives of these four American public figures. There are no invisible helicopters* like Wonder Woman drives, but there’s plenty of intrigue and drama and at least one scene with a gun. (Spoiler: it doesn’t turn out well for the moose.)
*Actually, there may have been invisible helicopters. I didn’t see any, but that’s the point of invisible helicopters.
Biographies often leave me bored, but Bailey homes in on the interesting parts and leaves out all the mind-numbing details that plague so many life stories. He touches lightly on the family, childhood, and backgrounds of the four women, deftly weaving in threads of modern American history, but the focus is on the women’s careers: Clinton’s tenure as First Lady, presidential candidate, and Senator; Obama’s legal work and First Lady activities; Kennedy’s intensely private work in law, politics, and charity; and Palin’s service as mayor, governor, and would-be Vice President. (Bailey wrote the section on Clinton prior to her appointment as Secretary of State, so those bits aren’t in here.)
This is suitable for tween and young adult readers, though I recommend it for adult readers who want to know more about some of the most powerful and influential women in the country. I would also encourage teachers to let their students use this text as a resource for school reports. It’s true that it’s a comic book graphic novel, but don’t let the pictures fool you: this is high-quality, well-researched biographical writing.
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Bo Whaley lives on an Air Force base in North Carolina. His father is the base commander, which just makes life complicated, especially when most of the kids in his class also live on base. To make life even more convoluted, his cousin Gari arrives from Seattle to live with him because her mother is being deployed to Iraq. They are assigned to the same class to help Gari fit in, but things go badly between them from the start.
The only good thing that is happening to Bo is his new teacher. Ms. Loupe, who is in her first year of teaching, has a tattoo and is young enough to have been taught by the principal. For Bo the best thing about her is her passion for theater. She engages the class in improv involving a beaten up couch, and Bo discovers in himself a talent for acting that previous teachers had seen as a propensity to talk and goof-off in class. His enthusiasm grows until he discovers that the big theater camp that the teacher is planning will be held next summer. He will be gone then, when his family is sent to their next military assignment, which makes Bo furious with the military lifestyle.
Ms. Loupe also gets the class working on a project to send supplies to her brother, who is stationed in Afghanistan. When her brother is declared missing in action, Ms. Loupe is understandably distraught, and Bo’s whole class want to help. In the most moving part of the book Bo, his cousin Gari, Ms. Loupe’s entire class and finally the whole community find a way to work together and, if not fix the unfixable, at least make things better. In the process they learn about each other, themselves, friendship and community.
In turn hilarious and heartbreaking, Operation Yes is aimed at middle grades, but has a lot to offer adults. As a librarian I love the literary profanity that the school librarian indulges in : “‘Frog and Toad!’ Miss Candy said. ‘Not again!’” or “Green Eggs and Ham!” I am doing a project on books featuring children with parents in U.S. military, and some of these books are impossible to get through without crying. Operation Yes is definitely in this category. Read it for a moving portrait of a community coming together or an accurate depiction of the military family lifestyle.
Check the WRL catalog for Operation Yes.
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.”
“The meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour.”
If you feel your life is short on meaning, a book club might help. Book clubs are great. I trust the members of my book club to recommend books that sound wonderful— for example I realize I really like character-driven, women’s, historical fiction and I am always keen to hear about the new titles they suggest. But my book club may be even better for getting me off my chuff to read things that I wouldn’t have gotten around to otherwise. Man’s Search for Meaning is a book that may have intrigued me enough to pick up in the library, but it would have sat unread on my bedside table for weeks if not for my upcoming book club meeting.
It is a dense and sometimes disturbing read, but my head was bursting with ideas after getting through it. And then after discussing it with my book club, my head and heart were even closer to bursting. The cover of the copy I have says that there are over 12 million copies in print, so it is a book that has spoken directly to millions of people.
The author, Victor Frankl, was a psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor who attributed his survival in part to his abiding belief that, even in a concentration camp, his life had meaning. He wrote Man’s Search for Meaning in nine days in 1945 and it is remarkably without bitterness for a book written so soon after the horrific events that he describes. Viktor Frankl developed a form of psychoanalysis called logotherapy, which literally means the therapy of meaning. This is a book whose message can be interpreted in religious terms, but it is also extremely meaningful to people without a stated belief or formal religion. In modern times, perhaps more than ever in human existence, we are expected to be happy all the time, and increasingly if we are not happy, then we are seen as ill. To this idea Viktor Frankl said:
I would strictly deny that one’s search for a meaning to his existence, or even his doubt of it, in every case is derived from, or results in, any disease. Existential frustration is in itself neither pathological nor pathogenic. A man’s concern, even his despair, over the worthwhileness of life is an existential distress but by no means a mental disease.”
Man’s Search for Meaning is a book that I recommend for everyone. At some time or another most of us suffer from some form of existential angst and this is a wonderful book to put things in perspective. It is dense and full of weighty philosophical insights, but it is very readable, and if you are lucky, you may even have a book club to discuss it with.
Check the WRL catalog for Man’s Search for Meaning.
What happens after you die? Where do you go? What is it like? The Everafter, by Amy Huntley, has its own theory. Our guide through the afterlife is Madison Stanton. As the book begins, Madison is sure she is dead, but she doesn’t know anything more than that. She is floating in a vast emptiness, unsure of who she is, where she came from, or anything else about herself. It is only when she notices other things floating in the abyss that things begin to come back to her. The other things are seemingly unrelated objects: “A spoon. A pair of socks, hair clips, pieces of paper, peas, a cell phone, keys, flowers, a handbag, a doll’s shoe.” But each is special to Madison in a particular way. They are all items she had lost throughout her life.
As Madison gets closer to each object, she is thrown back into the time and place she lost it. In this manner she is able to relive events from her life. She can act as an observer, or become a participant by reentering her body. Madison can even change the events of her life by choosing to find the object, although that prevents her from returning to the moment. And some moments, those with her mother, father, best friend Sandra, and boyfriend Gabe, are times she wants to be able to relive again and again. Madison must decide how to use these objects, and determine if they can help her learn how she died.
Check the WRL catalog for The Everafter
Suzanne Collins achieved fame through her dark and dystopian Hunger Games series. Her latest offering is neither a dystopian tale nor a children’s fantasy series; instead she has written a picture book. Year of the Jungle is four-year-old child’s view of Suzanne Collins’s own experiences when her father was deployed to Vietnam in 1968.
Because Year of the Jungle is the newest book from a bestselling author, it has garnered a lot of attention. One review said that it would “bewilder” its intended audience of small children. Considering that over two million American children have had a parent deployed since 9/11, it must be a familiar story to many. Of course not all of them had exactly the same experience as Suzanne Collins, but many have had similar enough experiences that they will not be bewildered by this book.
Suzy hears that her father “has to go to something called a war,” leaving her not knowing “what anybody’s talking about.” She also learns that he will be in a jungle. Suzy knows about jungles from cartoons so she pictures her father in a happy place among her favorite cartoon characters. In a strong portrayal of a small child’s misunderstanding of the passage of time, Suzy is confused about the length of the year he will be away. The book portrays Suzy’s growing unease as adults give her unlooked-for sympathy, showing how adults can make things worse, even though they are trying to be kind. Suzy loves getting her father’s postcards, but they start coming less frequently and start to change. But for a child about to turn five the most devastating thing is the realization that he sent a birthday greeting to the wrong sibling. In the illustrations the cartoon jungle full of round and smiling animals changes into a far more sinister place with images of violence and fear.
It is hard not to speculate how Suzanne Collins’s early experiences influenced her imagination when writing her undoubtedly dark and violent Hunger Games series. As an excellent writer she has captured and condensed a world of childhood experiences into a very few words. James Proimos’ illustrations are of a rough cartoonish style that at first glance I didn’t find very attractive, but they do a great job of capturing Suzy’s innocence and her unusually early realization of the dangers of the world.
This is a picture book designed to be read aloud, and a parent or caregiver can judge if it is the right book for their child. I think it could be useful for young military children as it is ultimately comforting when her father returns safely, although it is so dark in places that an adult should read it first and decide if it is appropriate. I also recommend it for adults who are interested in Suzanne Collins, military children’s experience, or a darker picture book.
Check the WRL catalog for Year of the Jungle.