Book Hints From the People Who Know How to Pick 'Em
Librarians' choices for great reads for kids and adults
Yesterday, young and old across the country sat down and opened up a book or two in recognition of National Read Across America Day, created 14 years ago by the National Education Association and timed to coincide with the birthday of the late Theodor Geisel, better known as the beloved Dr. Seuss.
But just because the book-centric celebration is behind us doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pick up a new title or two this weekend.
Here are some staff picks and recommendations from librarians in the Ocean and Monmouth County library systems for readers of all ages.
The first two of these choice books for kids come from Monmouth County librarians' lists of great reads for different age groups – kindergarten through second grade and third through fourth grade, respectively. The last three, geared toward older readers, come from the Ocean County librarians' roundup of books bound to captivate elementary kids.
- White is for Blueberry, by George Shannon. This picture book brings an element of drama to its exploration of nature. Each object or phenomenon is described as being an unexpected color, and on the following page the mystery is revealed. When the author tells us “Pink is for crow…” we see a nest full of newborn birds and read “…when it has just hatched from its egg.”
- The Spoon in the Bathroom Wall, by Tony Johnston. A fun take on the sword-in-the-stone legend, this book follows fourth-grader Martha Snapdragon and her dad, a janitor, who live in the boiler room of the school Martha attends. When Martha stumbles into the boys' bathroom and finds a jeweled spoon stuck in a wall, the adventure begins.
- Wings: A Fairy Tale, by E. D. Baker. When Tamisin discovers she is half fairy, she decides to find out more answers directly from the fairies themselves, including her mother, the fairy queen.
- Star Jumper: Journal of a Cardboard Genius, by Frank Asch. Determined to get far away from his evil little brother, Alex works to design a spaceship that will take him so far away from Earth that not even the NASA experts can find him, yet when his brother catches on to his plan, Alex fears that his nearly finished project may be ruined before he gets his chance to take-off.
- Attack of the Mutant Underwear, by Tom Birdseye. Fifth-grader Cody Carson keeps a journal of his hopes for a fresh start in a town where nobody knows about his humiliating mistakes of the past, but before school even begins so does his embarrassment.
The first three of these titles for adults come from the staff selections list drawn up by Monmouth County librarians, a wide-ranging collection of picks with something for everyone. The last two are a pair of books chosen by the Ocean County Library’s Readers Services Committee to be part of the library's Big Read initiative, which wraps up this month.
- Little America, by Henry Bromell. An unusual literary thriller set in a fictional Middle Eastern nation in the late 1950s that follows the efforts of a CIA agent to develop a relationship with the newly crowned king. The story moves effortlessly between the past and present day United States as the agent’s son (the novel’s narrator) who grew up in Kurash during this time, seeks to learn about its secret history, his father’s role in those events and, inevitably, how it affected him and his “Vietnam War generation.”
- Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, by Geraldine Brooks. When the bubonic plague hits the isolated hamlet of Eyam, the townspeople make the extraordinary decision to quarantine their village to prevent the spread of the disease. This novel of seventeenth century England is told from the point of view of a young widow.
- The Zero: A Novel, by Jess Walter. A finalist for the 2006 National Book Award, Walter’s dark surreal political satire paints a vivid picture of New York in the days following The World Trade Center bombing without ever mentioning it by name or invoking any important personality, place, or thing associated with that infamous day. It is the story of Brian Remy, a policeman and a witness to the horrific events of that day who tries to piece together his life in the aftermath.
- The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien. Considered one of the finest books about the experience of combat, it traces the tour of an American platoon in the Vietnam War. It is a brutal, sometimes funny, often profound narrative of the human heart under pressure and what it can endure.
- A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest J. Gaines. A frustrated schoolteacher in 1940s Louisiana tries to give a condemned black man his dignity before he dies. Vivid and compassionate, this novel asks “knowing we’re going to die, how should we live?
Still stuck for something to read? Check out long lists of great suggestions on the websites of the Monmouth County Library and Ocean County Library, or stop in and ask a librarian for a few hints in person.