Sunday, March 23, 2014

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

I discovered Lucy Knisley's graphic novel Relish on the latest list of Alex Award Winners.  The American Library Association gives Alex Awards each year to adult titles that are likely to appeal to teens.  It's been a long time since I was a teenager, but I have found a lot of good reads on these lists-- a new author with a fresh perspective, in innovative spin on the art of fiction.

When I took Relish to the check-out desk, the friend and co-waorker who was working there picked it up and flipped through the pages and shrugged.  She said she liked graphic novels where the artwork really stood out.  I can't say that about this book.  The images are skillfully rendered, colorful and balanced, but they are not breaking new ground. 

So why am I recommending this book (and why did it win an award)?  Is it simply the writing?  Would this book work just as well as a short story?  I think there is something about that graphic novel format that makes it not just about writing and not just about art that has to do with the pacing and the package and the experience. 

Relish is a book about an American kid coming of age, surrounded by a whole wonderful world of food.  It's about comfort and tradition and travel and trying new things.  Perhaps Knisley uses her drawings more to explain and illustrate than to impress or inspire her audience. Often the images convey humor.  Each section ends with a recipe that is depicted partly in diagram and partly in illustration, making it clear to the novice exactly how to recreate the item in question, whether wrapping sushi rolls or sauteing mushrooms.

--E.M., Reference desk

Monday, March 17, 2014


Whenever I have a friend whom I both love intensely and who can really get me mad, I say she is like a sister.  I have a lot of sisters; it's a relationship dynamic I'm very familiar with.  Perhaps that is what drew me to Curtis Sittenfeld's latest novel, Sisterland.

Sittenfeld takes the relationship a step further and makes her characters twins.  Twins who share psychic abilities they refer to as senses, as in "I have a sense about" anything that might happen.  Their senses, however, seldom help them make good choices.

The novel begins with an argument between sisters in a restaurant.  At first it seemed that the things said would cause irreparable damage to their relationship, but then I realized, no, their relationship is much stronger than bickering they engage in.  Which is part of the pleasure of reading this book.  Sittenfeld seems to have deep understanding of how people can fail and still endure in their personal lives.  The course of this novel follows their relationship through childhood, adolescence, college and early adulthood.  By the end of the book there is a strong sense of lessons learned and unbreakable bonds.  

--E.M. Reference Desk

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

New nonfiction for children

The year 2013 saw the release of several great children's books, including a handful selected for the 2014 Great Lakes Great Books list, recently released by the Michigan Reading Association. These two are favorites:

He didn’t speak until he was three. He was a disruption to his class. And he didn’t like to wear socks with his shoes. Read about how one boy's curiosity changed science forever in On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne. This endearing story chronicles the life of the most famed scientist of the 20th century in a fresh and fun way. The light colored backgrounds reinforce Einstein as the creator of the theory of relativity, but offer text and a story young readers can relate to. Einstein was simply a man who asked questions, again and again, dreaming about the possibilities of the universe. What child doesn’t do the same?

All aboard! “Clang-Clang! Clang-Clang! Hissssssss. Huff, huff, huff!” Jump
on the iron horse for an adventure.  Winner of the 2014 Caldecott Award, Locomotive by Brian Floca offers stunning illustrations of a family moving cross country from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California on a steam locomotive. Hear the sounds, smell the smells as Floca paints the plains, deserts and mountains of the U.S. interior with his words and drawings. Chocked full of facts on the mode of transportation that connected the country for the first time, this non-fiction book will appeal to train aficionados and all audiences that enjoy a good trip.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Three titles for young adults

The outstanding books on the Michigan Reading Association’s Great Lakes Great Books list are chosen by a committee of teachers and librarians from throughout the state, and that committee meets right here at the Peter White Public Library. This year in particular, the Young Adult (YA) books on the GLGB list are wonderful choices for high school students as well as adults far beyond their teen years. Here are three of the books nominated for students in Grades 9 to 12 to read and evaluate before voting for their favorites. All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry is a book full of mystery.
Though it feels like historical fiction, Berry cleverly left her story’s time and place undefined. Four years ago, Judith and her best friend disappeared from their small town. Two years later only Judith returned, mutilated, shunned by everyone in her puritanical town and unable to speak. Luckily for the reader Judith’s narrative voice remains strong, clear and full of passion as she silently tells her story to the young man she has secretly loved since childhood. Touching on the power of language, the right to education and the horrors of war, Berry delivers a powerful and disturbing book.

Boy21 by Matthew Quick was my hands-down favorite YA book published in 2013. Its multi-layered story of redemption through basketball and friendships deep and true is beautifully told by Finley, a self-described “minimal talker.” Finley’s life is colored by past tragedy and the grim reality of life in his hardscrabble town where the Irish mob, drugs and racial violence rule; basketball is his escape. His position on the team is threatened when a very troubled but extremely talented basketball player who calls himself Boy21 arrives in town just before their senior year. At their coach’s request, the eternally loyal and goodhearted Finley applies himself to helping Boy21 overcome his intergalactic obsession and return to the basketball court.

 If you enjoy a fun story with plenty of food for thought, check out Every Day by David Levithan. Everymorning “A” wakes up in a different person’s body, living that person’s life, with no warning or control over which body and life he’ll assume. Even under the circumstances, “A” has developed a strong sense of self and a good moral compass. He has figured out the rules and has come to accept this existence, until the day he assumes Justin’s body and falls head over heels in love with Justin’s girlfriend Rhiannon. Can Rhiannon love him back? Is it possible to truly love someone no matter what they look like on the outside?


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Tales of Two Cities from Michigan Notable Books 2014

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Charlie LeDuff returns to his hometown
to uncover what destroyed his city.  He beats on the doors of union
bosses, homeless squatters, businessmen and woman as well as struggling
homeowners.  What he reveals is a story of ordinary people holding the
city together with sheer determination.  Detroit: An American Autopsy is
filled with some of the strangest and strongest people this country has
to offer.

Tear-Down: Memoir of a Vanishing City by Gordon Young is another story about a city ravished by poverty and crime.  Gordon Young grew up in Flint.  After 15 years in San Francisco, he found himself interested in what was happening in his hometown.  What he found was a city that could once boast that it had one of the world’s highest per capita income levels, but is now one of the most dangerous places to live.  A city where an exotic dancer can afford a lavish mansion, speculators scoop up cheap houses by the dozen, and where arson is often the quickest way to improve a neighborhood.