2015 Newbery Award Winner

The Newbery Award is the top honor for children's fiction awarded annually by the American Library Association. Looking through the list of past winners, I realized that the 2015 honoree, The Crossover
 by Kwame Alexander, is an unusual choice for a couple of reasons:
       1. It is a sports story.
       2. It is a novel in verse.

This basketball story captures the intensity, rhythm and drive of the action on the court by using font size, typography and imagery to marvelous effect. You could read the first poem aloud to a group of students as an effective "book talk," starting with:
"At the top of the key, I'm
              MOVING & GROOVING,
POPing and ROCKING--"
and ending with:
                  " ...I
to the finish with a fierce finger roll...
Straight in the hole:

What raises this book to award-winning level is the insight into family dynamics that Alexander illuminates with his spare verses. Twelve-year-old Josh (JB) and his twin brother Jordan are already six feet tall and both essential to their school's championship season. Besides their height, they have the advantage of being mentored by their father, Chuck "Da Man" Bell, who came close to playing pro ball. But things change. Jordan discovers girls and Chuck's health problems escalate.

JB writes:

"I don't think I'll ever get used to

walking home from school             alone
playing Madden                              alone

listening to Lil Wayne                    alone
going to the library                         alone

shooting free throws                       alone
watching ESPN                              alone

eating doughnuts                            alone
saying my prayers                          alone

Now that Jordan's in love
and Dad's living in a hospital."

The Crossover has appeal beyond sports fans or poetry fans, and could prove to be a Newbery winner that is popular with young readers.


Heart-Pumping Thriller

Acceleration by Graham McNamee is a fast paced book worthy of its title. Duncan works at the Toronto Transit Station’s lost and found; he sorts through lost items helping those who return to claim their misplaced objects. Bored out of his mind of being in the dungeon, what he calls his work place because there is no air or sunlight; sometimes he takes things for himself. One day, trying to pass the endless hours of his shift, he finds a little brown book that was turned in ten days earlier. The book turns out to be the diary of a psychopath, whom Duncan calls Roach. Roach has hung cats, started several fires, drowned mice, and is now stalking three women he is planning to kill. Sifting through the scrapbook like diary, Duncan takes it upon himself to put the pieces of this puzzle together, to stop this would-be stalker and murderer before he strikes. The quest to rescue the women, before it's too late, becomes personal for Duncan because of an incident the previous summer.
The book is short and in between the action pieces of stopping a killer, it changes to Duncan’s personal story: worrying about college, an ex-girlfriend, living in the projects of Toronto. Both plots are brought to life by vivid and concise writing. This quick read with a compelling ending, will please readers of crime and mystery.


Celebrate "Love Your Library" Month with Picture Books

February is “Love Your Library” month!  During this month, and all year round, we invite you to come in to your local OC Public Libraries branch and get a library card, attend an event or use our many online resources.  In honor of this themed month, I thought I’d share some of my favorite picture books which involve libraries.  However, this is just a small sampling of the picture books that OC Public Libraries has for you and your children to check out.  For the complete catalog of our collection, please click here.  Happy reading!

A Library Book for Bear by Bonny Becker
In lovely brown, rose and blue shades, Becker and illustrator Kady MacDonald Denton relate the story of Bear.  He already has a grand total of seven books at home, and thus in his mind, doesn’t see much need to go to the library.  But he reluctantly agrees to accompany his friend Mouse. Once they arrive, Bear is at first overwhelmed by the quantity of books inside.  Eventually a librarian approaches Bear and invites him to join her storytime, causing comical and delightful changes in Bear’s feelings and facial expression, from belligerent to shy to enthralled.

What first caught my attention about this book were Keith Bendis’ simple yet whimsical illustrations of the starlings that are its focus.  While Calvin’s starling brothers and sisters are into things like grass, worms and water, Calvin loves reading.  While his siblings are learning how to fly, Calvin spends his summer in the library. Because of this, however, when it comes time to fly south, Calvin’s siblings have to tow him along wrapped in string and cloth.  But when a hurricane comes into their flight path, it is Calvin who saves the day with the knowledge he’s gained from reading.

Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corinne J. Naden
This picture book, gorgeously illustrated by Don Tate, is based on a real childhood incident in the life of Ron McNair, the late astronaut.  When Ron was nine years old in South Carolina he was a dedicated regular of his local library.  However, because he was African-American, he was not permitted to get his own library card due to the discriminatory policies of that time.  Despite this, Ron decided that getting a library card was very important to him.  So one afternoon he bravely and persistently requested a library card in his name, even in the face of law enforcement.  Librarian Mrs. Scott decides to honor her “best customer” by issuing him a card.

In striking acrylic on board illustrations, Brown and artist John Parra tell the story of a little girl named Ana who lives in a Latin American village far from any traditional library.  Because she only owns one book, she creates her own stories, which she tells her brother at night.  One day a wonderful thing happens, and the Biblioburro librarian arrives in town.  His two donkeys, Alfa and Beto, carry lots of library books which children can borrow and then exchange for new books the next time the librarian returns.  The book was inspired by an actual librarian in Colombia, Luis Soriano Bohórquez, whom author Brown came to know.

B. B. Wolf, who has just received an invitation to the library’s Annual Storybook Tea, doesn’t think he even likes tea.  But his friend, a crocodile, gives him the priceless advice that you don’t go to an afternoon tea for the tea, you go for the cookies.  Thus inspired, B. B. Wolf begins prepping himself by consulting an etiquette book.  Determined not to burp or bite anyone, he joins all the other storybook characters at the tea. Unfortunately, however, he does commit a potentially ungraceful misstep. But the librarian is so impressed by the wolf’s attempt to handle the situation politely that she rewards him with a delicious treat. The story is humorously and brightly illustrated by J. Otto Seibold.

The Little Red Fish by Taeeun Yoo

This story is beautifully illustrated in brown and creme drawings etched and hand-colored by the author herself.  JeJe is a little boy whose grandfather is a librarian at a library inside a forest, a place the child is one day allowed to visit.  Carrying his red fish in a bowl, JeJe explores the library, eventually falling asleep.  When he awakens, he notices that his fish is no longer in its bowl.  JeJe begins searching for his fish, finally opening a book from which a whole school of red fish jumps.  When JeJe realizes that his own fish could be inside this book, he enters the book and embarks on a wonderful adventure.


If bad luck knows who you are, become someone else.

Jude Sweetwine is the superstitious one, carrying a bible of anecdotal instructions to get of rid of bad luck; her fraternal twin, Noah, sketches in his mind. Both are artists, Noah paints and Jude sculpts and sews. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson begins with Noah, who at 13 is a shy oddball obsessed with drawing. Jude, at the same age, is a popular daredevil. Despite their differing social statuses, they are very close; they know each other’s thoughts and keep each other safe. They even lightheartedly divide the world between them, trading trees, flowers, and the sun back and forth for favors as if they are the only two people on the planet. Then something unthinkable happens. Moreover, in an instant, according to Jude, “our twin-telepathy is long gone….he hung up on me.”
The story unfolds from the point of view of each twin. Noah’s chapters take place in the past and Jude’s perspective is the present, age 16. In the present, the twins have stopped talking to each other and have inadvertently exchanged personalities. Jude has intentionally cut herself off from the world, is on a "boycott" from boys, and converses with the ghost of her dead grandmother. Noah used to love drawing, but now he is busy jumping off cliffs. The prose is lyrical, beautifully describing the bliss of creating art and the frustrations of lost relations. The self-discovery of each twin happens poignantly throughout the story. Secrets are unraveled in the alternating voices; telling a story of betrayal, grief, art and love.


A Tale of Two Women

Did you get any new books for Christmas? I did, and one of them challenged me to read a genre that I haven't tried much lately. The book is Her: a novel by Harriet Lane and the genre is psychological thrillers.

Set in London, the novel alternates chapters from the points of view of two women who would seem to have little in common.  Nina, a successful, well-dressed and "put together" artist, and Emma, a former television producer who is drowning in the everyday details of life with two small children.

From the first chapter, it is evident that Nina recognizes Emma from the past, but Emma does not remember her. From the second chapter, we know that, instead of approaching Emma directly, Nina has schemed to insinuate herself back into Emma's life by "finding" and returning her wallet, which Nina has herself snatched. She seems determined that Emma not recognize her.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but I can report that the reader experiences a growing sense of dread.  What did Emma do to Nina in the past? How far will Nina go to seek revenge, all the while posing as a new and dear friend? The alternating chapters often repeat the same dialog and actions from the other point of view. We know that Nina is bitter and can't believe Emma is so naive and trusting, though we can sympathize with Emma's desire to be appreciated as more than Christopher and Cecily's mother. Lane advances the story with carefully nuanced language about everyday scenes and events.

So am I a convert to psychological thrillers? Not wholeheartedly.  Maybe other readers will say about this book that they "couldn't put it down." I must say that I did put it down for a few days because I could guess where the plot was going (I turned out to be right) and found it disturbing. Yet I recommend it for the clearheaded look at the lives of women and for some of the best descriptive language you will find.

If this book catches your interest, you also might want to read Harriet Lane's debut novel, Alys, Always.