Okay, so how many more reading days are there before Christmas?? In this last post of the year, I want to thank the readers and subscribers for joining me in this cyber conversation! I have learned a lot—for an old broad—and look forward to becoming more educated about blogs and books so we can more successfully spread the word about how fun reading can be for kids.
Before we sing auld lang syne, I want to share with you two of my most favoritest books this year! Caveat: both these authors are known to me and are my friends. So you can take it with a grain of salt if you want, but, honey, these are good books no matter what kind of rabble they hang around with.
The first is Laurie Keller’s Do Unto Otters (Holt, $16.95). If you don’t know Laurie’s work, get thee to a bookstore or library and start reading! Her Scrambled States of America is the ur book on geography. The thing about Laurie is she has that wonderful brand of humor you see in good kids’ movies. Makes kids giggle and grown-ups chuckle, too. And reading is fun when it’s funny! Laurie manages to convey funny, educational content in a zany package with about a thousand things going on in each page. It really appeals to me.
The delightful story begins with a hare that has some new neighbors. They are not hares just like him. They are—gasp!—otters. The hare doesn’t know anything about otters. What do they like? Will they be good neighbors? What if they don’t get along? An owl—in plaid pants and a maroon jacket—reminds the hare of an old saying: “Do unto otters as you would have otters do unto you.” The result of this advice puts the hare in a zany reverie, wondering just how he would like to be treated, and how otters would like to be treated as well. It’s fun and funny and thought-provoking, and will bring spark great conversations with kids.
The other book that really struck me this year is Linda Urban’s first novel, A Crooked Kind of Perfect (Harcourt, $16). Life is not perfect. The heroine is ten-year-old Zoe Elias, who knows from the get go that life is not exactly perfect. Her father has problems leaving the living room; her mother is a nit-picking controller for the state of Michigan who preaches fiscal responsibility at career day and outs the class tough-guy for keeping the quarter she loaned him for a budget demonstration. Joella Kinsella, whose father is a radio disc jockey, embodies hip and thinks Zoe is not. She feels free to share this opinion. Zoe would just like to get out of fifth grade with one teensy little fantasy intact—that of being a piano virtuoso who plays at Carnegie Hall. Is that too much to ask? But before you can say “learn your scales,” her father has left the house, and, in an angst-filled trip to the mall, purchased Zoe a wheezy Perfectone D-60 wood-grain organ.
It just figures.
In short, fast-paced chapters, Zoe rolls out life as usual for the Elias family. Her Perfectone instructor is not a former concert pianist whose only goal is to nurture young undiscovered prodigies. It is Mabelline Person, whose lessons come FREE for the first six months and who is prone to exploding with phrases like, “Great Mother of Mozart!”
Urban’s book is so delightful, warm and wise. I keep calling it “The Little Miss Sunshine of the Year,” and I’m not the only one to make that analogy. You’ll want to read it yourself before passing it on to your kids.
My reading list for the break includes Thirteen Reasons, What is the What?, Jackie Woodson’s After Tupac and D Foster, and The True Meaning of Smek Day, sent to me by my beloved friend at the Ann Arbor library, Ieva Bates. When I asked Sally Bulthuis at Pooh’s Corner if she liked it, she just got a big goofy grin on her face. Now that’s a good recommendation.
Oh, the power of a story. Kids who are at-risk just don’t have much access to the stories that might touch their souls and comfort or inspire them. But they are out there! These two books will appeal to the ‘mythic self’ in a child. And for a child who is in foster care, or whose parents are not providing the proper care or any child who feels left out and abandoned, they speak to the need to go on despite one’s troubles and hardships and give the message that things will work out in the end.
Written by a veteran stage actor and writer, The Curious Adventures of the Abandoned Toys (Henry Holt, $17.95) by Julian Fellowes is a touching chapter book about what it means to be hurt and to recover. Doc is a toy bear who spent many years comforting the sick in a children’s hospital. One day, he’s tossed out in the garbage and wakes up in the local dump. What seems the worst that could happen turns out to be not-so-bad when Doc meets up with a mostly merry band of other lost, abandoned and unwanted toys. Together they muse about the nature of devotion while strapped to the grille of the garbage truck. It’s an odd book, but very comforting in its own way. Even when things seem at their worst, they can get better in the company of friends. Great color illustrations by S.D. Schindler.
Bearskinner (Candlewick, $16.99), a Grimms’ fairy tale retold by Laura Amy Schlitz, is another moody mythic tale that kids will be entranced by. It tells the story of a poor soldier who is approached by the devil. The devil loves to make deals and he tells the soldier to kill a bear and wear the skin for seven years. If the soldier can do that, without ever bathing, cutting his nails or hair, and without ever praying to God, he will be rich beyond measure. If he cannot, the soldier’s soul will belong to the devil. The soldier soon finds out the difficulty of the task because he becomes more like an animal than a man and he disgusts people. But he also discovers that the bottomless pocket full of money inside the skin allows him to do some good in the world. His dearest wish is that someone see the good—the human—in him. Someone special does and this book has a satisfactory ending for the soldier. Schlitz, a librarian and storyteller, loved this story that showed that “no matter how bad things get, you hold on.”