Twelve-year-old Tony was a paperboy in upper Shankill, a working class Protestant neighborhood in Belfast, during the Troubles, when fighting between Protestants and Catholics was at its peak. He had to deliver all over the neighborhood, rain or shine, despite bombings, shootings, and roadblocks. Street toughs would attempt to take his money on Friday evenings at newspaper collection time. (His solution was to hide the cash in his Doc Martens and insist that he didn’t have any money.) Tony didn’t understand why he was supposed to hate Catholics, but with the paramilitaries swaggering around, it was expedient to stay away from all things Catholic, especially the twenty foot tall “peace wall” because people often threw rocks and bricks over it.
Tony presents a nice remembrance of a childhood spent in a war zone, though it still had a first kiss, demanding bosses, and disco dancing.
Why I picked it up: I am familiar with the Troubles but I had never read a book about what daily life was like in Belfast at the time.
Why I finished it: Tony’s childhood was normal -- his girlfriend was rumored to be with him because she fancied his older brother, he saved up for ages to buy a new jacket that would make a hit with the ladies (then he accidentally threw up on it), and he was so excited to see a member of the Bay City Rollers rushing into a back entrance to the concert he didn’t know what to do, so he kicked him in the shin.
But not everything was normal. The Boy Scout troop he was in was once pinned down by small arms fire on the way to a meeting. Tony missed the excitement because he was delivering newspapers, though he desperately wished he’d been there. He had to hide his uniform on the way to school because it broadcast his religion, and he could be shot for just wearing it. On a school trip to Scotland, he raised his arms on entering a store because he expected to be patted down for explosives, like when he went into stores at home.
I'd give it to: Stan, my colleague who lived in Britain for several years, so he could help me figure out the British slang like “Scout Woggle” and “building a boney.”
Regina Calcaterra’s emotionally powerful memoir reveals her painstaking childhood, enduring a series of foster homes and intermittent homelessness in the shadows between Manhattan and the Hamptons. This is the true-life rags-to-riches story of how Regina rose above her past, while fighting to keep her brother and three sisters together through it all.
At the age of fourteen, Regina’s journey changed forever when she made the difficult decision to become legally emancipated from her abusive and mentally unbalanced mother. Although Regina’s emancipation helped saved her, it had devastating effects on those she loved the most.
With beautiful writing and heartbreaking honesty, Regina’s memoir is an unforgettable reminder that regardless of social status, the American Dream is still within reach for those who have the desire and the determination to succeed.
Watch a video where Regina discusses her life and the importance libraries had.
Bean Dog and Nugget are friends, even when they get into fights about “invisible” (pretend) donuts or the best way to share cookies. Together they jump and play and slay an evil, ball-stealing bush with super-ninja powers.
Why I picked it up: I liked Harper's previous graphic novel series, Fashion Kitty.
Why I finished it: It was so strangely random that it made me laugh. Bean Dog has a ball and when it ends up in a bush, he yells, "NOT THE BUSHES!" which, for some reason, I found hilarious. Further hijinks ensue after the ball is rescued from the bush. Bean Dog gets bored by the lack of danger and starts throwing things into the bush, hoping for more fun. But he goes one step too far, forcing Nugget to yell, "NO! Not the pants!" (Did I forget to mention that Bean Dog is a hot dog wearing tighty-whities?)
Plus I liked the off-kilter dynamic of Bean Dog and Nugget's friendship. They reminded me a bit of Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie, but with a slightly sharper edge. I know that my childhood friends and I were not always sunshine and friendliness to each other, so Bean Dog nailing Nugget in the head with a ball or Nugget complaining about him stealing a larger portion of cookie made them seem believable.
Harper's artwork is utterly simple, little more than shapes and lines. Along with lots of open white space, it made for a very easy-to-read title. And I loved the characters’ expressive faces -- Bean Dog and Nugget exchanged many significant glances.
I'd give it to: Sue, who, like me, loves P.D. Eastman's classic book Go, Dog! Go! and believes that all stories should end with cake -- or a cookie.
The farther we’ve gotten from the magic and mystery of the past, the more we’ve come to love Halloween—the one time each year when the mundane is overturned in favor of the bizarre, the “other side” is closest, and everyone can become anyone or anything they wish . . . and sometimes what they don’t. Eighteen original stories from mistresses and masters of the dark celebrating the most fantastic, enchanting, spooky, and supernatural of holidays. - See more at: http://www.prime-books.com/2013/05/21/cover-contents-halloween-magic-mystery-the-macabre/#sthash.XVAZKjzh.dpuf
Journalist Adharanand Finn ran from middle grade on. He still trained and entered local races in England, and even won the men’s division once. However, he was working and raising three small children, and he felt his time as a runner ticking away. With a supportive wife, Finn packed up the family and moved to Kenya to discover the secret of the barefoot, indefatigable, distance running Kenyans. In addition to trying barefoot running and a forefoot landing style, Finn wanted to run the Lewa Marathon -- a dusty, hot race where helicopters hover over the course to keep the lions away from the participants.
Why I picked it up: I have also wondered what it is about Kenyans that makes them such elite runners. Is it the altitude? Their determination? A secret training regimen? The ugali they eat before each race? The author states on the book jacket that he went there to find the secret. I wanted to know it, too.
Why I finished it: I was flabbergasted to discover that Kenyans have run seventeen of the twenty fastest marathon times ever. The other three belong to neighboring Ethiopians. Finn speculates at length about their running ability, with anecdotes about his opinions on why this particular part of the world is so successful. Hint: morning fifteen mile runs are a daily occurrence, and camps full of world-class runners predominate. I enjoyed both the details of Finn’s pre-dawn runs with cheerful Kenyans, when he struggled to keep up with back-of-the-pack runners, and the stories of his wife and three small children adjusting to life in Kenya.
I'd give it to: My friend Robb, who runs multiple marathons a year. He struggles with injuries, and Finn spends a lot of of time discussing heel-first running versus the forefoot landing style, and the relative benefits of each. Finn opted to retrain himself to run in the forefoot landing style the Kenyans use. Maybe Robb will be able to stay healthier if he tries it, too.
Fifty leading writers retell myths from around the world in this dazzling follow-up to the bestselling My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me.
Icarus flies once more. Aztec jaguar gods again stalk the earth. An American soldier designs a new kind of Trojan horse—his cremains in a bullet. Here, in compelling guise, are your favorite mythological figures—Narcissus and Echo, Orpheus and Eurydice, Pygmalion and Galatea, even Argos, Odysseus’s faithful dog—alongside characters from Indian, Punjabi, Inuit, and other traditions. Featuring talkative goats, a cat lady, a bird woman, a beer-drinking ogre, and a squid who falls in love with the sun, these are stories of boundless wonder and invention.
If “xo” signals a goodbye, then xo Orpheus is a goodbye to an old way of mythmaking, a book that boldly heralds a new beginning for one of the world’s oldest literary traditions.
A collection of short poems about a variety of animals and their behaviors.
Why I picked it up: The wrinkly-faced collage art pug on the cover. Even though his eyes were made of circles of felt and paper, they were alive, and I knew I had to take a closer look.
Why I finished it: The poems in this collection cover animals that are not often seen in children's books: an opossum, a fly, and even a dead mouse (a gift from a cat). The collage art is especially intriguing.
I'd give it to: Max, a young patron who won't read the puppy books his mom brings home for him. (He told her puppies are boring.) There are dog poems to appease his mother plus rats and cicadas for Max.
Edward is a hamster—yet he contains multitudes. Trapped in a cage with a wheel that taunts him with its meaninglessness, Edward records the existential ennui that is the sum of his short life. His diary is an extraordinary work, filled with profound meditations on the nature of captivity, the emptiness of life, and the irrational will to live. This dark, pithy, irresistibly witty diary, with illustrations by acclaimed artist Miriam Elia, makes the perfect gift for pet lovers and anguished existentialists of all ages. It won’t take long before readers recognize that Edward is not just a hamster—he is a state of mind.
“Mashed hay into a fine powder, and snorted two lines. Eyes watering, can’t stop sneezing. Feel alive.”—@EdwardHamster
“Why write? Life is a cage of empty words.”—Edward the Hamster
Matilda is a nice little cat who’s always well-behaved. Hans is a naughty little cat who always causes trouble.
Why I picked it up: Cute cats on the cover, including a shifty one wearing a black mask.
Why I finished it: Matilda looked just a little too pleased by Hans’ misbehavior, particularly when he set all of the animals in the zoo free. (I find nice cats suspicious.)
I'd give it to: Our friend’s kid Seong-hui, who is a bit of a tattletale. She’d like it when Matilda tells the police where to find Hans, and I’d like watching her face at the unexpected reversal after Hans is caught.
When Tyler Churchill pricks the leg of a voodoo doll, the last thing he expects is for his teacher’s leg to shoot across the room. After the teacher dies, a second doll turns up in Tyler’s likeness, and he is more than a little concerned. Fortunately all he has to do is return the doll to Esmeralda’s House of Jewelry and have its power removed -- assuming he and his friends survive the carjacker, gangsters, Rottweiler, zombie teacher, cannibals, exploding body parts, and Red Bull-fueled taxi driver they encounter along the way.
Bulldozing the fourth wall, author Jeff Strand makes the reader an integral part of the mayhem in this hysterical look at one teen’s very bad day.
Why I picked it up: I was looking for a YA book that wasn’t going to take itself too seriously. When I read the FAQ at the beginning (aloud, to everyone within earshot), I knew this would be the literary equivalent of a cupcake binge.
Why I finished it: Honestly, I almost didn’t. The bonuses are fun -- an intermission, a ghostwriter, alternate scenes -- but the story is relentlessly absurd. About two-thirds of the way through the binge, my brain started craving nutrients. But other librarians raved on and on about it, and I didn’t want it to wind up like the time I didn’t read The Hunger Games and then spent the next four years completely out of touch.
Appropriately, when I picked it back up I hit chapter twenty. It thanks the reader for sticking it out and suggests that if you are reading the book for a report (or a review?), “you’re probably sweating and thinking, Aw man, did I ever pick the wrong book! There’s no literary value at all! How am I going to write a report on this thing?“ Then it crams in helpfully labeled examples of foreshadowing, personification, simile, hyperbole, product placement, and more. Caught up in the silliness again, I read the rest in one sitting.
I'd give it to: Joey, my partner in actual snack cake binges, because Tyler’s girlfriend Kelley is exactly the kind of girl he needs in his life right now (even if she only exists on paper). The voice of reason in the story, she’s sassy, smart, and not at all afraid to take a bullet or punch out a psycho wielding a pizza cutter.
Ari Seth Cohen pays tribute to his fabulous grandmother by photographing the elderly women of New York City in all their fashionable glory.
Why I picked it up: I came across Cohen's Advanced Style blog and loved his portraits.
Why I finished it: Lots of inspiration for great outfits. Plus the quotes from Cohen’s favorite models were delightful: "You don't want to look crazy. The object is to look as chic as you can -- but your average person in the street would never wear this."
I'd give it to: My fellow thrifter and estate-sale enthusiast, Sara, who has never discouraged me from buying the sorts of crazy pants, outrageously bold scarves, or the sorts of ridiculously fluffy coats these ladies pull off with panache. This book makes me look forward to growing old.
During a game of Never Have I Ever, Finn (a human) and Jake (a stretchy dog) find out that Flame Princess (made of fire) has never been to the Carnival Kingdom. They take her there for some fun. While she’s getting her fortune told, Finn is kidnapped. Jake and Flame Princess set free Finn, but he’s really a jerk, so then they have to find his Finn-ness (which is still missing).
Why I finished it: The romantic relationship between Finn and Flame Princess is complicated. Not only is it unclear if she can kiss him without burning him, when she loses her temper, which is often, she becomes chaotic and gives in to her evil side. (But when she’s calm she’s sensitive and very, very cool.)
Also, I loved that this is black and white and makes full use of screen tones throughout. It’s beautiful, and doesn’t look like any of the other Adventure Time stories we’ve read, though it maintains the same juvenile, playful tone.
I'd give it to: My wife, Silver. When Jake and Flame Princess are trying to solve a Puzzle-Cave, Flame Princess loses it. She’s impatient and burns her way through most of the puzzles. I have a feeling Silver will identify with her. (Before we were married, she tried to blackmail me into telling her the ending of Maeve Binchy’s Circle of Friends. I refused, despite how scared I am of her evil side.)