“The Time Lord has met many aliens, cyborgs, robots, and humans on his journeys through history and across the universe.”
Doctor Who has clocked almost eight hundred episodes over thirty-three seasons. If you add in the fact that the Doctor can travel to any time in history and any place in infinity, then it isn’t surprising that it can be a little difficult to keep all the characters straight. That is where the Doctor Who Character Encyclopedia comes in very handy. With more than two hundred entries from Abzorbaloff, the greedy shape shifting humanoid to the Zygons who met the fourth Doctor, it can’t claim to cover all of time and space, but it comes close.
November marked the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who–an extremely exciting event for Whovians. Those of us without BBC America on cable would have been left waiting for the Fiftieth Anniversary Special to come out on DVD except that, for the first time I have encountered, the Fiftieth Anniversary Special was kindly shown at movie theaters. Our closest movie theater showed it on IMax 3D on a Monday night, which is not my preferred format or time, but I had to go anyway. I didn’t dress up–unlike dozens of other Whovians young and old. They varied from around ten years old to well into their fifties or even sixties which is a very mixed fan base, but is not surprising for a show that started running before the moon landing and continues to attract fans.
The Doctor Who Character Encyclopedia is a well-organized book in which you can search for characters by name, or browse the Table of Contents where they are categorized by type such as “Alien,” “Companion,” “Cyborg,” or “Entity” with color coding matching their main entries. Each character gets a full page spread with a description, details about their origins, homeworld, which Doctors they met and how they fit into the stories. Sharp, bright photos, typical of Dorling Kindersley publishers clearly show the attributes of each character.
The BBC obviously saw publishing opportunity in the interest around the fiftieth anniversary and this is an official BBC publication. If this book is out, our library has other books of background for desperate Doctor Who fans, such as, Doctor Who: A History by Alan Kistler or Doctor Who Whology: The Official Miscellany, by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright.
The Doctor Who Character Encyclopedia is a must-read (or a must-browse) for Doctor Who fans. If you are not a fan and are wondering what all the fuss is about try my review of the TV series of Doctor Who and check out some of the series on DVD.
Check the WRL catalog for Doctor Who Character Encyclopedia.
Kate and her mother have just relocated to Eden, Michigan, the town where her mother grew up and where she intends to die after an unsuccessful battle with cancer. Kate is having trouble coming to terms with saying goodbye, and starting over as a senior at a new school compounds her worries. Ava, the school’s resident beautiful, blonde mean-girl, has taken an instant dislike to her and plays a prank that goes horribly wrong. Ava dies, and when a mysterious man suddenly appears saying he can bring her back to life— for a price— Kate is faced with a choice. Some people would think this was a no-brainer. Ava was awful to Kate, and deserved what she got. Kate, however, is wrought over the impending death of her mother, and cannot stomach someone else dying when she could prevent it. She agrees to the strange man’s request, and Ava is alive again. What has she traded for Ava’s life? The man tells her to read the myth of Persephone, and expect a visit from him on the autumn equinox. A man who has power over life and death, and has a connection with the mythical Persephone, Queen of the Underworld…three guesses who that could be.
As the story unfolds, we learn that Hades (or Henry, as he is known in this story) has been left alone and lonely in the Underworld. He always loved Persephone more than she loved him, and finally she fell in love with a mortal and Henry had to let her go. That means he’s looking for a new companion. He’s been searching for nearly a hundred years, with no luck. Love in the Underworld is harder to come by than it is on Earth. He’s not just looking for someone to love him and put up with him, he needs to find someone who can pass the seven tests, and gain the approval of the council. Eleven girls have tried, and none have succeeded. “Some of them went mad. Others were sabotaged. None of them reached the end, let alone passed the tests.” Henry is asking Kate to be his last chance. He must find a Queen soon, or fade from existence. What Henry offers in exchange is the only thing that could tempt Kate. He will keep her mother alive.
Carter takes some creative license with the traditional characteristics of the Greek gods and goddesses, but the mythological elements keep the story interesting. They’re what set The Goddess Test apart from the typical boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl stories. If you’re not too much of a stickler for accuracy, fans of Greek mythology will find this an entertaining read. Check out the sequel as well, Goddess Interrupted.
Check the WRL catalog for The Goddess Test.
As a librarian, ”Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them,” may be the best advice I have ever heard. This sterling counsel comes from children’s book author Lemony Snicket. His slim volume of silliness, Horseradish: Bitter Truths you Can’t Avoid, is full of similar useful admonitions. Lemony Snicket (or his alter-ego Daniel Handler) is most famous for his bestselling Series of Unfortunate Events, where his humor is also off beat, and always unexpected. I thought at first that this was a book of quotes from his other works, but he seems to have created original aphorisms, such as, “After you leave home you may find yourself feeling homesick, even if you have a new home that has nicer wallpaper and a more efficient dishwasher than the home in which you grew up.” As a person who tends to get left with the dishes, I judge my many past homes on the remembered quality of their dishwashers, so I consider this quite germane.
The book is arranged into thirteen chapters of advice pithy or wordy, starting with “Chapter 1: Home” and “Chapter 2: Family” and going on to “Chapter 12: An Overall Feeling of Doom that One Cannot Ever Escape No Matter What One Does.” There are many truisms to pop in and visit, no matter how you are feeling. The back cover of this book promises that its contents will not help with life’s “turbulent journey” but I beg to differ; life is always helped by laughter and a fresh perspective and Lemony Snicket can be relied upon to provide both. Try Horseradish: Bitter Truths you Can’t Avoid if you are in the mood for some frivolous fun, or you want an axiom that is more apt than usual. And remember, ”A library is like an island in a vast sea of ignorance, particularly if the library is very tall and the surrounding area has been flooded.”
Check the WRL catalog for Horseradish: Bitter Truths you Can’t Avoid.
Things have changed. Even crickets don’t chirp like they did in the old days. If you think the beat of the summer insects doesn’t sound like it used to, you could be right because the high-pitched songs of insects become inaudible to aging ears.
This is where The Songs of Insects comes in. It is a gorgeously illustrated visual guide to crickets, cicadas, katydids and grasshoppers, with each insect photographed on a natural surroundings and also on a white background, making them very easy to see and differentiate. It also promises to “shower you with auditory pleasures untold” and it lives up to this promise very well through the enclosed CD with the songs of almost eighty species of insect. The authors’ system of “electronics and sensitive microphones” that they used to record the insect songs means that we can listen to insect songs that we can no longer hear in the wild.
Before the guide portion of the book there are several pages of enlightening information about the classification of singing insects and the biology of insect songs. It includes some fascinating tidbits, for instance that some insects are left-handed vs. right-handed singers and their handedness (or wingedness?) is determined by species. Although we call them “songs,” insects have no lungs, so most rub wings or bumps or other modified body parts together to produce their chorus. Cicadas are different because their sound producing organs or “tymbals” resonate like drums, which explains how they can be so loud.
Each insect’s page includes sonograms or “sound pictures” for the technically minded. I was delighted to learn that “each species has its own distinct song, which is recognized by all individuals of the same species” and that pulse rates of songs vary by temperature and songs tend to speed up as the temperature rises so you can use the song to estimate temperature! But the best tidbit of all is discovering that there is an insect enchantingly called the Slightly Musical Conehead (Neoconocephalus exiliscanorous).
The Songs of Insects is a must-read for nature lovers, especially those who like to use books to identify the wildlife around them, like Sibley’s Birding Basics, by David Allen Sibley, or more quirkily, Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds, by George W. Hudler. If you aren’t on the East Coast of North America you won’t necessarily be able to hear all these insects in the wild, but you can enjoy them on the CD. The authors’ ongoing project can be found at http://www.songsofinsects.com/
The Songs of Insects is also a wonderful book for photographers. The authors explain the equipment they used and how they photographed a living creature that isn’t interested in a modeling contract and may hop away at any moment (the answer is to use a custom made “whitebox.”)
Check the WRL catalog for The Songs of Insects.
Pay no attention to the top hat on the cover of this paranormal mystery; it looks Victorian, but the action takes place in the present day. And you’d think, if a Jack the Ripper copycat killer were going to strike in present-day London, he’d have no chance of escaping the CCTV cameras surveying the streets from every angle.
But he does.
Rory Deveaux, fresh from Louisiana, is a little starry-eyed to be spending a year abroad at Wexford, a London boarding school. Jammy Dodgers! The Tube! (“Welsh is an actual, currently used language…. It sounds like Wizard.”) But when murder victims are found near campus, marking the anniversaries of the Whitechapel killings in 1888, English history starts hitting a little too close to home.
What’s more, Rory thinks she’s seen the killer—but her roommate, who was standing right next to her, didn’t see a thing. Whatever it means, her newfound ability to see the un-seen makes her really valuable to the police investigation, and especially to its ghost-hunting unit, the Shades of London (also known as Scotland Graveyard). Unfortunately, it makes her an asset to the killer, too. And the anniversary of the last Ripper killing is only a few days away…
A more serious, suspenseful read than Johnson’s screwball Suite Scarlett series, this adventure has ghosts, historic true crime, and confrontations in unused stations of the London Underground. It’s the first of a series, the Shades of London, and is followed up by The Madness Underneath
Check the WRL catalog for The Name of the Star.
You’d think that life as a carousel animal would be all silliness and games, but the carousel Duck in this story has a dream. She longs to fly. At night, when the carousel is still, she walks around (with a hole in her back where the pole would go) and gazes at the sky. She lies on her back (this time you can see the hole in her stomach) and dreams of soaring with the stars.
But one spring day, Duck’s life changes. A tiny yellow duckling–a real one– walks up to her and says, “Quack.” The kindly carousel animal adopts the little creature and teaches him how to play in the water and hunt in the grass for bugs. They play together and they dream together under the starry sky.
But little ducks have to learn to fly. How can an earthbound carousel animal teach her little one to do that? Duck needs to find a flock of real ducks to help her little one get off the ground. When the time comes, duckling turns out to be a good flyer–and an even better friend. Come springtime, Duck is going to get the ride of her life!
Cecil’s illustrations are enchanting, but because some of the pictures are small, this book is best shared one-on-one, or with a small group. But get ready to hold back the tears at the end! And if you enjoy this one, check out Cecil’s Gator, about another one of the animals from the carousel.
This simple story is best for preschool through school-ages. It’s so nicely done that older children, and even adults, will enjoy it.
Check the WRL catalog for Duck.
Everyone knows that the phrase “David and Goliath” means big vs. small. And everyone also knows that in this Biblical story, against all odds, small won. Malcolm Gladwell famously likes to stand things on their heads and look at them from a new perspective. He starts his newest book with a historically detailed retelling of David and Goliath, and uses his wonderful storytelling skills to take the familiar and make us look at it in another light, so we see that even this well-known Biblical story has been interpreted incorrectly for thousands of years and sometimes being small or weak is a big advantage.
Malcolm Gladwell interviewed and features an assortment of ordinary people who fought their own Goliaths in a variety of ways, such as a middle school girls’ basketball team in Chapter One. They were a weak team in terms of height and usual skills, so they changed the way they played rather than trying to be better at standard basketball play. I don’t understand the strategy, being ignorant about basketball, but it involved more running than usual so the players had to be very fit and put in more effort, as Malcolm Gladwell says, ”Underdog strategies are hard.“
In another chapter he controversially argues against affirmative action in college admissions, describing how getting into a difficult college can make a student perform worse. He argues persuasively in the cases of the individuals whom he interviewed that they would have been better off in a less prestigious school because they would have been able to continue studying science, because in a prestigious college, a formerly outstanding student can become overwhelmed and discouraged. Colleges are the perfect example of big vs. small ponds and “Small Ponds are welcoming places for those on the inside.” Apparently this is especially common for science students as “more than half of all American students who start out in science, technology and math programs… drop out after their first or second year.”
Malcolm Gladwell’s books are best selling but have been criticized for making overly-broad and simplistic conclusions from single scientific papers. David and Goliath is a series of personal stories, so each story carries the authenticity which each of our own stories necessarily carry–maybe what happened in my life isn’t likely, but it did happen. But in some cases it seems he has extrapolated a personal story to too general a conclusion. For example, the story of the development of a cure for childhood leukemia is an astounding and moving story, but it seems a stretch to claim that it depended on developer Emil Freireich’s tragically early loss of his father and grueling childhood. Most people with difficult childhoods don’t excel the same way.
Certainly try David and Goliath if you enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s other books, but also try it if you like to be challenged by ideas that you won’t necessarily agree with. Even try it if you are usually a fiction reader, because, as always, Malcolm Gladwell, brings together disparate, and sometimes dry, facts in a very readable and entertaining way.
Check the WRL catalog for David and Goliath.
People are thought to be pretty complex, but in the world of Divergent everyone is categorized into groups based on one of five personality traits. Each person is best suited to life in one group. If you are brave, you are Dauntless. If you are selfless, you belong in Abnegation. If you are smart, you are an Erudite. If you are friendly, you are Amity. If you are honest, you are in Candor. Your faction dictates where you work, what you wear, how you spend your free time, and who you spend it with.
Beatrice has turned sixteen and it is time for her to choose her faction. She has been raised in Abnegation, but never really felt like she belonged. That feeling is confirmed when her aptitude test reveals that she is an aberration, a Divergent, who is not well suited to any single group. Her results indicate she could be Abnegation, Dauntless, or Erudite. The Dauntless who administers her test instructs Beatrice never to reveal these results to anyone. Not even her family can know that she is Divergent. Her life may depend on it.
Nevertheless, Beatrice must still choose a faction. Without test results to guide her choice, or the ability to talk about her results with others, she must make the choice alone. Feeling that Erudite is not the faction for her, she is torn between her longing to be Dauntless and the pressure she feels to yield to expectations and stay in Abnegation with her family. She leaves her decision to the last minute. When the Choosing Ceremony begins, and her name is called, Beatrice makes the decision that will change her life. Will she be brave, or will she be selfless?
Choosing a faction is only the beginning of Beatrice’s story. Life in her chosen faction does not quite go as she planned. How can she learn more about what being Divergent means if she cannot discuss it with anyone? Divergent is the first in a trilogy and is followed up by Insurgent.
Check the WRL catalog for Divergent.
Six little bunnies are out playing, but they’d better watch out! A hungry fox is hot on their trail. Dinnertime!
One by one the bunnies disappear. Is the fox going to have a tummy ache tonight? The illustrations of this book are nice and big, and children will enjoy pointing out a few other animals that are watching the action on each page. The fox looks a bit scary to me, but I’ve used this book with toddlers, and it doesn’t seem to worry the kids at all.
Everybody enjoys joining in on the word, “Dinnertime!” Try this one with toddlers and even kindergarteners. The older children will especially enjoy the surprise ending.
Check the WRL catalog for Dinnertime!
Sometimes only cosy* will do. On occasion I feel like action and excitement from my literature, and I am willing to put up with violence and despair to get it, but sometimes life requires a more moderate gait. When you need a gentle tome, then Miss Read will deliver.
I am new to Miss Read, despite her first book being published in 1955. I was creating a “Curl Up With a Cozy Tale” display at the library and felt drawn to The Christmas Mouse. Being slightly obsessive, I have branched out into her other titles in myriad formats; as ebooks and as audiobooks on CD. Her basic postulation seems to be that nothing in life is so bad that the sadness can’t be lessened by time, a cup of tea and the warmth of family and friends, with special emphasis on the cups of tea.
For my commute, I grabbed the first CD that was checked in and plunged into the middle of her Thrush Green series. I discovered that there are a lot of characters, like when my Great Aunty Judith tells me long and involved stories about the internal workings and external marriage problems of distant cousins, and I am expected to keep them all straight. After negotiating a tricky intersection I’d hear something such as, “Betty, Maggie and Dotty all sat down at Betty’s scrubbed kitchen table for a nice cup of tea. Outside the birds hopped among the spring flowers and chirped cheerfully. ‘Tell me all about it,’ said Betty.” I would suddenly realize that I had no idea of the identities of Betty, Maggie and Dotty, but for the enjoyment of the story it doesn’t matter because it is like meeting real people; I am introduced to them as they are now, and then slowly learn about their pasts and how they interconnect to other people we know in common.
The Christmas Mouse tells the story of Mrs. Berry who lives with her widowed daughter and two small grandchildren. Despite the tragedy of the daughter’s young widowhood, the book gently and with quiet wit paints a portrait of a close and stable family. On Christmas Eve, Mrs. Berry must face her fears–of mice and other stray creatures. The line drawings by J.S. Goodall add to the warmth. The little boy in the frontispiece exudes contentment, sitting in an overlarge armchair, wrapped up in a voluminous coat and slippers, and eating a warm bowl of bread and milk.
Try The Christmas Mouse if you are in the mood for cosy. Try it if you are tired of the commercial fuss in the lead up to Christmas, as The Christmas Mouse’s characters don’t have much material stuff, but still make Christmas a warm, loving family affair. And just in case you think this sort of book isn’t intellectually stimulating, I learned a new word, which doesn’t happen frequently in my fiction endeavors: wayzgoose, which is a printers’ outing. Literary quotes at the beginning of each chapter, from Robert Burns to William Wordsworth add to the appeal.
* And this is definitely cosy and not cozy because this is a Very British Book.
Check the WRL catalog for The Christmas Mouse.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, and by that I mean 1980, most of us were shocked to find out that (gasp!) Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father and Princess Leia was his sister. Now that spoiler is such a ubiquitous part of culture that I don’t even feel nervous about dropping it on you in the first paragraph, but back then it was kind of mind blowing, especially for those of us who thought Luke and Leia were going to get together despite the attentions of the brooding Han Solo.
Graphic artist Jeffrey Brown takes the idea a step further, imagining Vader as the struggling parent of the two moppets in two small but wonderful comic collections Darth Vader and Son and Vader’s Little Princess. The result is precious but droll, a keepsake that would make the perfect Christmas gift for any parent or any Star Wars fan.
In Brown’s imagination, Vader tries to use his Jedi tricks to get Luke to eat his breakfast and go to bed, but young Skywalker is having none of it. He’s even more exasperated when teenage Leia wants to go out in her gold bikini. His dark manner and high-blown speech patterns are no match for a child’s inquisitiveness or tantrums. Faced with his children, Vader really isn’t such a bad guy. It’s a testament to the power of the original design of Vader’s dark costume that despite his unchanging mask the reader can see Vader rolling his eyes, giving into frustration, or unable to do anything but smile at the antics of his little ones.
These little books only take a few minutes to flip through, but you’ll want to share them with everyone you know who knows Star Wars. And who doesn’t know Star Wars?
Check the WRL catalog for Darth Vader and Son
Or try Vader’s Little Princess
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce, illus. by William Joyce and Joe Bluhm
Morris Lessmore loves words, stories, and books, and in William Joyce’s poignant The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, Morris learns important lessons about the nurturing power of words, stories, and books.
Morris Lessmore lives a quiet, orderly life surrounded by his beloved books. Indeed, Morris’ own life is described as a “book of his own writing, one orderly page after another.” One day, his comfortable existence is disrupted by a violent storm that scatters everything familiar about his life, including the words of his book. Lost, Morris begins to wander until he comes across a woman being carried away by a group of flying books. She sends Morris a flying book and this book leads him to a building that houses countless flying books. Morris stays and becomes a loving caretaker to these books, filing them, repairing them, and sharing them with others. As the months and years pass, the books begin to take care of Morris the way he took care of them.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a lovely story highlighted by William Joyce and Joe Bluhm’s lavish illustrations. Books are the focus of nearly every picture, including a very animated version of Humpty Dumpty. The most visually striking sequence is a two-page illustration showing Morris lost in the pages of a book.
This story is also the basis for an animated short film, written and co-directed by William Joyce, which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2012.
Whimsical and charming, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore will appeal to fans of Chris Van Allsburg’s books.
Check the WRL catalog for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.
Kyle’s story begins with what is expected to be just another annual Millgrove talent show. Things begin to take a strange turn when Danny Birnie, “The Great Danielini,” takes the stage to perform his new hypnotist act. Danny, who’d never been particularly successful at anything, claims he was actually able to hypnotize his sister only a few days earlier, and now he intends to hypnotize four people from the audience. Kyle is surprised to find himself volunteering, along with Lilly (his best friend’s girlfriend), Mrs. O’Donnell from the Happy Shopper convenience store, and Mr. Peterson the postman. Kyle is even more surprised to find that Danny is really able to put his volunteers into a hypnotic state. What he finds when they all wake up, however, is not surprising. It is terrifying.
Everyone in the audience is frozen in place, their mouths open in a look of horror and shock. Bees still buzz, the wind still blows, but nobody moves. It is the same all over town. Then they discover that the phones, computers, radios, and televisions don’t work. Something terrible must have happened while Kyle and the others were under hypnosis.
Mr. Peterson takes it particularly badly:
They’re gone,” he said. “Changed. All of them. You hear me? I …I SEE THEM!” His words sent a physical chill down my spine. “See what?” I demanded. “What can you see?” “All of them.” His eyes were stretched even wider now, and his voice was little more than a rasping whisper as he said, “They are to us as we are to apes.”
No sooner do they begin to formulate a plan of action than everyone wakes up, acting like nothing out of the ordinary has happened at all. But no one is behaving like themselves, and when Kyle tells his parents what happened, they phone Dr. Campbell. Only Kyle was sure the phones still weren’t working. Kyle’s suspicions that all is not back to normal are confirmed when he overhears Dr. Campbell’s advice to his parents: “I’m sorry, but it is clear that he is one of the zero-point-four. There is nothing that can be done for him. He will have to be dealt with.”
Check the WRL catalog for Human.4.
First-hand knowledge of a novel’s setting can be a double-edged sword. If the author portrays the location ineptly, the reader that knows the place may find it impossible to enjoy other aspects of the book. On the other hand, if the author brings that setting to life, the local reader may be willing to forgive other flaws.
Such is the case for me with City of Saints, a mystery novel based on a once famous but now forgotten historical murder in 1930s Salt Lake City. I lived in Salt Lake for almost ten years myself, and although Hunt depicts a period long before my birth, I could picture my grandparents rubbing shoulders with Sheriff Art Oveson as he tried to solve the killing of an adulterous socialite.
At first, this Salt Lake City may surprise you. It’s grittier than one might expect, especially for the 1930s, but I always found the Utah capital to contain more cultural diversity and more big city problems than its squeaky clean Mormon image might imply. With mines and railroads in full flourish by 1930, and with the glitz and controversy of Southern California a day away, it makes sense that Salt Lake City has contained that diversity for a long time. That’s the tension that underlies Hunt’s story: Oveson is a practicing Mormon, but he comes from a law enforcement family. He knows there’s a darker side to his town. His partner is about as rough as men come and may have different allegiances than Oveson. Departmental politics and powerful men trying to protect clean public personae taint his case from the beginning.
As a mystery, Hunt’s tale is average, but because it captures an unusual place in a complicated time so well, I think you’ll enjoy it, even if Salt Lake City is new and exotic to you.
Check the WRL catalog for City of Saints
One thing that seems to be drawing readers to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is the bizarre vintage photography that author Ransom Riggs has integrated into the book. It is definitely the first thing that caught my attention, and it does give the book a little something special. You might think that a novelty such as this would overshadow the story (or be compensating for a weak plot) but I found that the characters and plot were my favorite part. The photographs were just icing on the cake. It’s not often that an author’s inspiration is shared so directly with readers, but Riggs has crafted a whole world which revolves around the subjects of these unusual pictures.
Jacob grew up hearing his grandfather tell stories about his youth. The most interesting stories were about the time he spent in a Welsh home for orphaned children during World War II. The home, his grandfather claimed, was full of children who could do peculiar things. One could float, one was incredibly strong, one was invisible, and others had even stranger abilities. He said they were all living in the home, under the care of Miss Peregrine, to hide from monsters that were after them. That’s not the sort of thing even a young boy would believe outright, but Jacob’s grandfather had proof. He had photographs of all his old friends. Unfortunately, as Jacob got older he became more skeptical, and eventually stopped believing in his grandfather’s tales altogether. That was a mistake.
Now Jacob is almost sixteen. When he receives a frantic call from his grandfather in which he sounds agitated and delusional, Jacob goes to his home to check on him. He finds the house has been ransacked. There is a large gash in the screen door and a bloody trail leading into the woods. Jacob races into the forest, and finds his grandfather dying from what appears to be an animal attack. His grandfather lives long enough to give Jacob some final instructions (which Jacob doesn’t understand in the least) and then succumbs to his wounds. Jacob senses he is being watched, and sees something moving in the trees. His flashlight catches a glimpse of the creature. It’s a monster from out of his grandfather’s stories. Jacob has a horrible realization: everything his grandfather told him was true. Now he must decipher his grandfather’s last words before the monsters come for him.
Check the WRL catalog for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
As you open Grandpa Green, get ready to step into a secret garden, filled with treasured memories. Grandpa Green is the touching tale of a young boy’s adventures through his great-grandpa’s garden, where the topiary trees recreate memories and tell the story of his great-grandfather’s life – growing up on a farm, getting chicken pox, going to war, and building a family. It is a whimsical, unassuming little story that tugs at the heartstrings.
The book features delicate, line-drawing illustrations mixed with sponge paintings, all done in varying shades of verdant green. This color theme gives the book a classic, timeless feel and the sketches have a poignant, fairy-tale-like quality to them.
This elegant picture book explores themes of aging, memory, and family connections and would provide an excellent jumping-off point to discuss your own family history and that of the grandparents and great-grandparents in your family. It offers an intriguing glimpse into Smith’s softer side – many readers will be more familiar with his sly, witty creations with Jon Scieszka, or individual offerings, such as It’s a Book and The Happy Hocky Family.
There is a double-page fold-out at the end of the book, which acts as a concise summary of the story. This gives parents the opportunity to ask questions about the story, in order to test memory skills and comprehension. This Caldecott Honor Book is best read by, and to, children aged five to nine. The book rewards close and repeated reading, as you pore over the illustrations, talk about the story, and discover new visual connections.
Check the WRL catalog for Grandpa Green.
As Beautiful Ruins opens it is 1962, and tourists have begun to find the beautiful towns of Italy’s Ligurian Coast, but in a quaint village called Porta Vergogna, Pasquale Tursi has inherited a seldom-visited hotel from his father. He’s laboring to carve a sand beach out of the rocks and create a clifftop tennis court that he’s sure will draw visitors to the Hotel Adequate View (named via an awkward translation). He can see his dreams beginning to come true with the arrival of a beautiful American starlet, only to discover that she has been sent away from the set of the epic film Cleopatra with a cancer diagnosis.
The story jumps forward to the present day, where Claire, a young production assistant, has had her fill of the inane pitches for films and television shows that she screens in her work for Michael Deane, a once-influential producer now sunk to backing lower fare. She promises herself that if she doesn’t hear a good pitch today, she’ll quit her job and take a position as an archivist in a new film museum (even if it is run by the Scientologists). Her last meeting is running late, and her fate seems sealed when two mismatched men finally arrive, one a young man pitching an unfilmable historical adventure called “Donner!” and the other an Italian who can’t speak much English… Pasquale Tursi, now much older and in search of the lost piece of his past.
Walter’s story continues to jump from episode to episode, key moments in the lives of his vivid characters. This kind of story only works if almost every scene is vivid. Otherwise the reader resents giving up a vivid section for one that is more drab. Walter makes it work though, as he stops in with an American singer trying to make a comeback on the fringes of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; with a community theatre production in Northern Idaho; with a cynical American soldier in a Catch 22-like WWII Italy; and on a manic day with a drunken Richard Burton. Like a jigsaw puzzle, each set piece adds a little to the mysterious picture, and the sad but beautiful lives of the protagonists are revealed, the beautiful ruins of the title.
Someday someone will make a beautiful film from this book with great characters, beautiful settings, and equal touches of comedy and drama. You don’t need to wait. Read the book and you’ll soon have a lovely movie vividly screening in your own head.
Check the WRL catalog for Beautiful Ruins
Enjoy Beautiful Ruins in large print
Or try it as an electronic audiobook
In Matt Haig’s The Humans, the aliens are watching us, and when a Cambridge math professor makes a discovery that will lead to the advance of the violent and unstable human race, they send one of their own to intervene. Professor Andrew Martin is removed and his life subsumed by an alien who is equal parts arrogant and bewildered. This narrating alien is from a collective society (think Star Trek’s Borg and you’ll have the general idea). He doesn’t even have his own name, and so the interpersonal communication and self-motivated actions of humans are largely a mystery to him, but he’s a quick study, especially after a trip to jail for indecent exposure. Besides, the man he’s replacing wasn’t exactly beloved or normal, so while his wife, son, and other contacts notice a difference, they don’t find his eccentric behavior completely unexpected. In fact, they find it an improvement on the old, self-absorbed Andrew Martin.
The alien’s job is to eliminate anyone who might have come in contact with the breakthrough, and driven by his idea of the collective good he at first has no qualms about ending the lives of innocents. Over the course of the book, however, encounters with human pleasures like peanut butter, the Beach Boys, a dog, and (strangest of all) emotions, leave him torn about what to do and baffled by the first strange stirrings of feelings toward others. As one might expect, the results are hilarious in a daft English way, but on a less expected level, the story is also insightful and touching.
I recommend The Humans to science fiction fans, humor lovers, or anyone looking for a fast-paced book that is unusual and diverting.
Check the WRL catalog for The Humans
The Nights of the World tells the story of the days and nights of five children who live in five very different parts of the world. The book travels from North Africa, to sub-Saharan Africa, to the Caribbean, to Alaska, and finally Asia, This allows young readers to learn that although we are all very different, we share many similarities. It demonstrates how we all share similar rhythms of night and day, but we do so in very different ways.
The focal point of the book is the interactive illustrations with multicultural, albeit a simplistic multicultural, appeal. The Nights of the World includes window shutters with images of how each child spends their night on top. Their day-time activities are hidden underneath. This structure allows for discovery and will engage young readers. The illustrations are done in bright, bold, vibrant colors that help make this book stand out from so many similar stories.
This picture book is a perfect selection for bedtime reading. The rhythmic text and repetitions are soothing and the repetitive structural pattern – night and day, night and day – will calm and prepare children for their own bedtime.
The Nights of the World is ideal for children, who are able to read the text along with you, as well as those who have not yet begun to read, who will happily help you pull the tabs to reveal each new image. I would recommend this book for ages four and up.
Reading this book can facilitate discussion with your child about what they did during the day and what they do at night. (Hopefully you’ll get the right answer – “Sleep in my comfy bed!”)
Check the WRL catalog for Nights of the World.
Charlie Huston is an Elmore Leonard for a new generation. Or you might think of him as a writer like Carl Hiaasen or Tim Dorsey, but with occasional influences from other pulp genres. Like all of these great noir writers, he writes fast-moving, violent stories that make readers laugh at the dark comedy at the same time he makes them understand how regular folks with basically good intentions take a tumble down the moral staircase. I’ve written previously about his Joe Pitt series, in which a fixer works New York City’s streets in an alternate future overrun with vampires. Now let’s turn to his first series of books, the noir trilogy that begins with Caught Stealing.
Hank Thompson is a sympathetic narrator, a former baseball star who felt his whole life change when the weight of a third baseman came down on his ankle during an attempted steal. Now he’s tending bar on the Lower East Side and working on a second career as an alcoholic. Fate isn’t done with Hank though: with a few more bad decisions, he will find himself left with one working kidney, with himself and his loved ones in danger, and on the run from criminals and cops alike. Huston shows how with some small mistakes and some bad luck, a regular guy gets pulled into a life of minor crime, then even murder.
Caught Stealing is a clown car that opens to reveal one eccentric character after another: Tweedle-dum and -dee Russian mobsters, an extravagantly crooked cop, a pair of sadistic but self-improving bank robber brothers, a bevy of low life friends and other thugs, and a cat named Bud who uses up several of his lives during the course of the narrative. Everyone’s in search of a mysterious key, and New York City becomes a pinball machine where all of these crazy characters careen around, slamming into each other until only a few are left on the table.
Hank is both believable and entertaining because in the middle of all the disaster and violence, he can’t help but let normal thoughts intrude: What will his mother think? Will his beloved San Francisco Giants make the playoffs? Just how cool is this cat?
If you don’t care for language or violence stay away, but if you read this series, I guarantee quick reading and an equal share of laughs and moments when you think about the potential consequences of life’s smallest bad choices. The series finishes with Six Bad Things and A Dangerous Man.
Check the WRL catalog for Caught Stealing
Or try Caught Stealing as an audiobook on CD