Jacqueline Woodson (winner of the Newbery and Caldecott awards) has written a warm, elegant memoir. This was one of my favorite reading experiences this year—through some writing alchemy, her specific story seems like my own. This will probably happen to you as well. Grades 5 & up.
A young Inuit child tests her mother, something that children do not infrequently whether they live in Alaska or Santa Cruz. What if, she asks her mom, I behaved in a less-than-admirable fashion: Would you still love me? The mother’s answers are wise and, indeed, loving. Striking watercolors and a rhythmic text charm in this new-at-last-in-paperback edition. Ages 2–5.
Twelve-year-old Summer and her Japanese-American family work every harvest season to earn money to pay their mortgage. But this last year, Summer has had malaria (she is now obsessed with learning everything to be known about mosquitoes and is both amazed and repelled); her parents have to travel to Japan to care for elderly relatives; her grandmother, now in charge of cooking for the combine crews, has intense spinal pain; and her grandfather is driving the giant harvesting machine all day and night and is getting very tired. Her brother, Jaz, amusing and puzzling, earnest and autistic, is, like Summer, attempting to maneuver within friendship and family ties. The Thing About Luck is heartfelt, perfect in structure and narrative, accessible, and very funny. Winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Grades 5–8.
In all good westerns, place is palpable. Placid, Wisconsin, in 1871 was the site of the largest passenger pigeon nesting ever, a flock covering 850 square miles. The birds in flight darkened the sky, soiled the town like dirty snow, and made wild pigeon pie a staple in most homes. Thirteen-year-old Georgie, living in Placid, is content to help Ma and Grandfather Bolte run the general store. Her older sister, Agatha, on the other hand, yearning to be accepted into a college that would allow a woman student, leaves town. When a body wearing her clothing is found, but in such poor condition that its identity cannot be confirmed, Georgie refuses to believe that her sister is dead, and taking her Springfield rifle (she’s the best shot around), hits the road. One Came Home is a gritty, engrossing mystery/western with superb comic relief. Grades 6–9.
A whole cast of native California animals (desert tortoise, jackrabbit, kangaroo rat), plants, and places (Napa Valley is the setting for “Fox and His Grapes”) are the colorful backdrop for this lavishly illustrated and bold retelling of Aesop’s fables. Kindergarten & up.
Laszlo, a small boy in blue pajamas knows that the Dark lives, mostly in the basement, its voice “as smooth and cold as the windows.” But one evening, the nightlight in Laszlo’s bedroom burns out and the Dark leads him to the cellar and from the dark chest of drawers produces…a new light bulb. The elegant humor and interdependence of their relationship is outlined be the sharp triangle of Laszlo’s flashlight against the inky black of the Dark. Laszlo’s fear has dissolved in the new light. Ages 4–8.
I spent some time and quite a lot of expletives attempting to write something very nice—something devout—in homage to God Got a Dog, Cynthia Rylant’s book of 16 poems, each one about God (the same God but different) trying on his or her humanity. Instead, I’ll give you a few parts of one poem. And a nod, no, a genuflection, to illustrator Marla Frazee, who knows it’s all in the details. I’d let her do God anytime.
God Got a Desk Job
Just to see what it
would be like.
Made Her back hurt.
She could feel the Light
inside Her grow
dimmer and dimmer
and She thought that
if She had to pick
up that phone
one more time
The only thing that got
Her through to the
end of the day was
She ate thirty-seven.
Plus thinking about the Eagle Nebula
in the constellation Serpens.