Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai B.L. 4.8
Newbery Award and honor books are regarded as high quality writing for a reason. They often address issues that adults and, maybe especially children, face. This book discusses what it is like to be a refugee, however it is formatted differently than what would be considered normal. It is from the perspective of a 10-year-old girl whose family has to flee Vietnam during wartime. It is not only from her perspective, but is written in verse, which is different and attention getting. This does not have to be read at a certain pace or rhythm like other types of poetry. The format of the writing is mean to communicate a feeling and perhaps some underlying message, but this can be read exactly like any other book!
This novel discusses really difficult issues such as living in a war zone, escaping, and trying to make a new home in a place where not everyone is accepting. This is a great read for all ages, though the issues may be more difficult to grasp for younger readers. This can also be a good way to broach subjects such as empathy and acceptance.
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage B.L. 3.9
Three Times Lucky is a really interesting novel from the perspective of 11-year-old Moses LoBeau. Mo (as everyone calls her) is a very intelligent little girl who washed up in a stream in North Carolina as a newborn after a hurricane upstream--no doubt prompting the name “Moses.” Mo is taken in by the Colonel and Miss Lana who raise and love her.
The summer before Mo goes to 6th grade a new man comes to the tiny town of Tupelo Landing-- detective Starr-- as well as a murderer. Mo and her friend Dale start on the journey of finding the killer, while Mo continues to search for her Upstream Mother. Mo and Dale are caught up in a murder and kidnapping with some great twists and reveals in the novel. There is also some internal growth for Mo as she learns what her family in Tupelo means to her.
While this book is a 3.9 level, I would recommend it to slightly older readers. It may be difficult to grasp some language and terminology that is colloquial in North Carolina, but relatively foreign in this part of the country. It may also be difficult for younger readers to grasp the relationship dynamics between Mo, Colonel, and Miss Lana, as well as the abusive relationships in the Johnson family. Having said all of that, it was a really enjoyable book and will keep young and old readers entertained!
Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm B.L. 4.8
There is a lack of punctuation such as parenthesis during conversation, as well as commas. There is also an increase in capitalization that should normally only exist at the beginning of sentences and with proper nouns. This lack of adherence to common English rules and punctuations exists in order to emphasize that the story is being told by a 12-year-old pioneer with limited education. In her storytelling, things such as parentheses and commas don’t matter as much, and she capitalizes for emphasis rather than in adherence to any rules. This is a great facet of this book! The storytelling is not just through the words, but through the appearance and organization of the book as well, making it feel more genuine.
As for content, this book is really about May Amelia finding her place as the only girl among so many men. She-- like most children-- feels restricted in what she can do, mainly because she is told that she is not allowed to do the same things as her brothers. She is constantly testing her boundaries in order to find out who she is and what is going to be best for her. These issues are similar to those faced by many children and therefore I feel the book level is mostly appropriate. I say “mostly” because the book also addresses the topic of loss very poignantly. There is a lot of grief that May Amelia comes to terms with-- even though she may not fully understand it. This topic may be sensitive for some readers, but it is also important that it be addressed. Overall, this was a wonderful book for fifth grade readers and older.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate B.L. 3.6
This is a novel about a silverback gorilla, Ivan, who for decades is kept in a small cage in a roadside mall. Ivan begins the novel as a calm and patient gorilla surrounded by other animals who are attractions in the roadside mall. Ivan is not at peace with his situation, but has blocked out memories about where he came from and his former life in the wild. However, as he talks with Stella-- an elephant in a nearby cage-- and connects with a new addition to the mall, Ivan uses his love for art to fulfill a promise and save his friends.
This novel is based on a real-life gorilla who was kept in isolation for decades, and while it is a 3.6 reading level, and can be understood at that level, it is an emotionally mature story. There is some violence and a lot of heartache and sadness. However, this book does bring up good points about not settling for what you have always known, but aspiring to something more. It can also teach about using your talents and work to benefit others and improve yourself. This novel has great content and is a quick read. It may be best for readers who are a little older and able to understand and deal with the emotional turmoil in the book.
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham B.L. 4.1
Jean Lee Latham put an extensive amount of research into this historical fiction novel. It is about Nathaniel Bowditch, the man who wrote “The American Practical Navigator” which greatly improved the safety and accuracy of sailing. Mr. Bowditch is portrayed as an extremely intelligent man who has a passion for learning and sailing. There is some information that may be difficult for younger readers to fully grasp, but it is not overly technical. While there is mention of family members and spouses, these details fade into the background of the story. The main focus of the story is sailing and the study and learning of Nathaniel Bowditch which allow him to improve sailing for everyone. There is also a strong focus on Mr. Bowditch’s teaching efforts. He endeavors to teach those on the ship who are not well learned. Through this he learns how to explain sailing concepts and the mathematics involved in different and simpler ways in order to allow many people to learn and understand.
One overarching lesson that can be taken from this book is: Anyone can learn and improve themselves and their lives through hard work and dedication. This book might be a little difficult for younger readers to understand specifics, but it is a historical adventure that can be appreciated in some way or another by readers of any age.
Classic literature does not have to be limited to adult fiction or a classroom. Here are ten great classic works for young readers.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women follows the four March sisters in a coming of age tale about growing up, love, and individuality. The sisters have unique personalities that make them easy to identify with, even centuries later. It is an interesting insight into life for young women in the 19th century, but also a moving story about family and budding identities.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Black Beauty is the life story of a horse with the same name. The story follows his life from a colt to retirement as he learns important moral lessons. It is a great story to teach young readers about empathy and care for animals. It is also one of the biggest selling books of all time!
A Little Princess and The Secret Garden by Frances Hogdson Burnett
Frances Hogdson Burnett is responsible for a few of my favorite childhood stories. A Little Princess and The Secret Garden. Sarah from A Little Princess is a naturally caring and generous girl who goes from wealth, poverty, and back to wealth. Along the way, she makes friends with the underdogs and teaches others (even adults) the value of empathy. Mary in The Secret Garden, on the other hand, was an ignored child who grew up spiteful and uncaring. She eventually learns a lesson on empathy and gains what she’s always craved, love and friendship.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Charlotte’s Web is another classic that teaches young readers about the importance of caring for others. Especially those who can’t speak for themselves (like animals). The story follows Wilbur the pig as he and his barnyard friends try to keep him from the slaughterhouse. With the help of Charlotte the spider and her miracle webs, Wilbur learns about the challenges of growing up (and apart) and death.
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
For most of us, Where the Red Fern Grows brings up memories of the tearfilled afternoon we finished it in elementary school. The story follows Billy and his two hunting dogs as they chase down raccoons and win hunting championships. It is a timeless classic, but will probably make young readers a little weepy.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
A Wrinkle in Time follows siblings Meg and Charles Wallace on a quest to find their father who has been trapped by “The Black Thing.” With the help of a human boy named Calvin and the three supernatural Mrs. Ws, the children go on an adventure through space and time to save their father (and the universe) from the evil “Black Thing.”
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl is responsible for numerous childhood classics but Charlie and the Chocolate Factory might be his most famous work. The book follows Charlie’s adventure through Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. The characters in the story learn valuable lessons about greed. Matilda is another favorite classic of Dahl’s. It is the story of a very intelligent little girl who develops telekinesis due to the neglect and mistreatment from her family and school headmistress.
Holes by Louis Sachar
Holes may not have been around as long as the other books on the list but it is another personal favorite. Stanley Yelnats’s entire family was cursed with bad luck, thanks to his “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.” When Stanley is falsely accused to stealing an expensive pair of shoes, he’s sent off to Camp Green Lake to dig holes for the Warden. Though the holes are supposed to “build character” it seems that the Warden is actually after the infamous treasure buried in the desert by the outlaw Kissin’ Kate Barlow.
With all of the books that are available I can never seem to find enough time to read, which is why I love audiobooks. Suddenly boring tasks like driving, cleaning, and getting ready in the morning become prime listening time and a way to sneak in those extra must read books. The library makes it super easy to access audiobooks as well by offering them through several formats. With your library card, you can access a wide selection of books on cd in both non-fiction and fiction titles. Also available are the Cloud Library and RB Digital apps. Hoopla is also a fantastic app, but is only available if you are a district resident (not a Pocatello resident, sorry!)
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
If you or the child in your life have ever listened to the audiobook editions of Harry Potter than you are already familiar with the wonder narrations of Jim Dale. The Night Circus is a wonderfully magical tale about a duel of destiny between two magicians who are bound to battle until the complexity of human emotion ruins the game. Throughout all of the varied characters in the world of The Night Circus, Dale makes it easy to forget that you are listening to one solo narrator which, in my opinion, makes this the best kind of audiobook.
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
I loved watching Aziz Ansari as Tom on Parks and Recreation but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I saw that he had written a book about love in modern times. This is definitely a book that benefits from being read by its author because throughout his observations on love and life, Ansari mixes in funny personal anecdotes as well as ridiculous voices, and special call outs to listeners. I really enjoyed this book because while many celebrities these days are writing books about love, Ansari actually collaborated with social scientists to take the recurring incidents from his show and see how they fit into a wider picture of love in the twenty-first century. Because this book does talk about love, there is some sexual content listeners should be aware of.
Beartown by Fredrik Backman (Cloud Library)
Fredrik Backman, the author of library favorites such as A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry is back with Beartown, a moving story of a town that’s all about hockey until a tragic incident forces the residents to look off the rink and inside themselves. If you’ve ever watched Friday Night Lights, then you will be familiar with the setting of a blue collar town that lives for sports, but with a narrative that doesn’t revolve around them exclusively. When I began Beartown, I almost stopped listening because I know nothing about hockey. I was glad that I didn’t however, because Beartown is actually a story about the things in life that keep us going; family, friends, and those special passions that make life worth living. Because of the inclusion of rowdy teenage boys and the nature of the town tradgedy, there is langauge and sexual content throughout this book. Beartown can be found on the Cloud Library app.
The Night She Won Miss America by Michael Callahan
On the surface, The Night She Won Miss America might look like your usual chick lit read, but it quickly becomes a suspenseful drama instead. Suspense stories are usually not my cup of tea but the historical and romance novel elements of this one really piqued my interest and made it so I couldn’t stop listening. This audiobook would be a good car trip listen. The Night She Won Miss America does have some adult content. This audiobook can be downloaded from the Hoopla app if you are a district resident.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
When you first look at this book it looks like historical fiction about the worlds fair, but the interwoven true crime narrative brings in a thriller element which kept me listening.
This book is great for those who are reluctant about true crime and non-fiction! This book unfolds more like a simmering thriller than non-fiction and the historical elements make it a good transition into the true crime genre. Plus, you can get ahead of the game by listening before the movie adaptation with Leonardo Dicaprio is made!
One of the library displays this month is staff favorite standalone novels. To go along with that theme I decided to pick out a few of the books on display to talk about for the staff picks blog this month! Okay, okay, they might be some of my favorites… but hey! who wouldn’t take the chance to gush about their favorite books when an opportunity like this presents itself?
So right to business. We’ll start with #1.
I Am the Messenger By Markus Zusak
A lot of you might have heard of Zusak from reading or watching, one of his other popular works, The Book Thief (A great book), and maybe came across this book already when perusing what else Mr. Zusak had written. If you haven’t already heard of this book, I’m here to tell you that you should definitely give it a look. I Am the Messenger is a wonderful read. Its opening scene is one of the best I’ve read, and Zusak’s writing style never fails to catch me. I Am the Messenger is about an underage cabby named Ed Kennedy. Ed has his dog, his friends, and a nice routine…until the first card arrives in the mail… DUN DUN DUN. Okay, seriously though, the plot of the book is funny, at times serious, and it’s well conceived. It isn’t pretentious and has depth that might surprise you. It does have strong language, violence, and frank talk about sex. The recommended age for reading this book is 15 and up due to some gritty and mature content according to commonsensemedia.org.
For #2 I’ll go with…
The Supernaturalist By Eoin Colfer
Eoin Colfer is also a well-known author because of his Artemis Fowl series. I’ve given them a go and they’re pretty good, but The Supernaturalist is an old and all-time favorite of mine. The main character is a parentally challenged boy named Cosmo Hill. The Supernaturalist is a funny and unique science fiction set in the third millennium. The characters and descriptive world Mr. Colfer creates are well worth the read. It does have some violence and is recommended for age 10 and up according to commonsensemedia.org.
If you like this story, a few other books I would recommend are Steelheart, By Brandon Sanderson, Holes, By Louis Sachar, and of course Artemis Fowl, By Eoin Colfer
On to #3…
One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies By Sonya Sones
Sonya Sones is one of my favorite underappreciated authors. Seriously though, the book isn’t even on the review site, commonsensemedia.org. The main character in this story is Ruby, and the book is about her being sent to live with her estranged father after her mother dies. This book is written in verse and it really works well for the story. I really enjoyed the character development in this book and Ruby’s ongoing story. This book is a quick read with a nice meaning behind it.
If you like this book, a few other books I would recommend are Love and Leftovers By Lisa Scott, Cinder and Ella By Kelly Oram, and Lock and Key By Sarah Dessen.
Ok, #4 is really one of my favorites on this list (Ask my coworkers. I won’t stop talking about it).
Stitching Snow By R.C. Lewis
Stitching Snow is one of my favorite books and it tops a few of my lists: fairytale retelling and young adult literature to name a couple. Stitching Snow was one of the first fairytale retellings I read, and the first one retelling the story of snow white that I had seen. It is wonderful. Snow white is one of my least favorite fairytales, but the way R.C. Lewis tells it made me reconsider. It is a science fiction version set in a different universe (Or maybe the same just a long way down the road), and it takes place on multiple planets. This book is a really unique retelling of a classic fairy tale. I love this book. It was the first one I ordered in when I started working at the library and the one I get all giddy about when someone tells me they liked it. The author is definitely one I keep an eye on for any upcoming new releases. She is creative, and aside from a slightly sappy scene that seemed more for form rather than plot, I have no complaints. There is some violence in this book but no language problems. The recommended age would probably be 12 and up for interest and reading level.
If you like this story, a few books I would recommend are Rapunzel Untangled By Cindy C Bennett, The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Myers, Beastly By Alex Flinn, and Ella Enchanted By Gail Carson Levine.
Last, but not least, # 5.
What the Night Knows by Dean Koontz
What the Night Knows is part crime drama and part supernatural thriller. The main character is a police officer that has a personal history with a multiple homicide case in which he found the killer. Things start to go awry when similar murders start occurring again with the original killer now dead. The writing, like most of Koontz’s work, is quick and thrilling. It leaves you wondering just what is actually going on. There are intensely graphic descriptions of material not suited for kids as well as strong language. This is most definitely an adult fiction.
Until next time!
Looking for some inspiration on what to read next? Who better to ask then the people who work around books for a living!? Each month we will post a "staff picks" blog post written by one of our staff members. These posts will vary in genre, theme, age appropriateness, etc. If you have any requests on a genre or age category you would like to see, submit a comment here and we will get it on the list!