Summer Reading Suggestions
We all love to talk about books we’ve read, and at this time of year many of you may be dreaming about beach reading. Here are several titles related to children’s and young adult literature that I can recommend to you.
Most recently, I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, the current Caldecott Medal winner. Unlike the majority of Caldecotts from the past, this book is not for the usual picture-book crowd. I bought it for my 11-year-old nephew, and “pre-read” it for him. The intriguing format is somewhere between an intermediate children’s novel and a graphic novel. The story is about an orphaned Parisian boy, who lives in the city train station and minds the clocks. At first, I thought this novel was going to incorporate fantasy elements, but instead it is more of an adventure. I’m not sure if it would make a good read-aloud because of its small size, and the wonderful pictures are critical to the story. My nephew enjoyed it, as I did – and I believe this is one of those good “boy books” although girls will love it, too. It contains a significant amount of science and history from a curriculum point of view.
My second title is The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. Like many of you, I began to hear about the controversial nature of this book as the movie was released around Christmas time. I love to read controversial titles to find out what the fussing is all about. I began by reading as many online reviews as I could find. For the first time, I appreciated the Amazon readers’ reviews for this purpose. So often, professional reviews give a rather elite and adult point of view, while many down-to-earth points of view could be found among the “amateur” ones. It was quite valuable to read the many different perspectives.
I found the book to be “un-put-downable” and quickly bought and read the final two in the trilogy. The storytelling is compelling and as I reader I found that I had to know how the outcome for the children in the story. From a collection development point of view, however, I have a very different opinion.
It’s true that the religious themes in these books are controversial – with the potential for conflict growing as the series develops. However, I found this angle to be uninteresting; the religious ideas are vague, confusing, and a little difficult to compare to standard religious ideas because of their fantastical presentation. I think most young people would barely notice this aspect of the book. On the other hand, I found elements of the story to be extremely frightening. The first book, in particular, has some terrifying scenes – so much so that I had to break my normal rule of not previewing the end of the story. Pullman’s effective characterization made me care deeply about the central character; then, he placed her in extreme danger, to the extent that I couldn’t bear not knowing if she and her companion would survive. While appropriate for an adult or for a YA audience, I found the books to be far too scary for the preteen crowd.
Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed the book March by Geraldine Brooks, winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Although this is most definitely an adult’s novel, it develops the story of Mr. March, the father of the family in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. In it, we follow the Civil War misadventures of the rather heroic March and view the issues of the day through his eyes. The story is powerful, disturbing and told incredibly well. I especially like how his point of view is displaced by his wife’s (Marmee), during the period of his illness; she is given the opportunity to voice her opinions about his heroics, and we get to see the feminine side of the story. The excellent writing of this book led me to try Year of Wonders by the same author, another compelling work of historical fiction, and Eden’s Outcasts by John Matteson, a dual biography of Louisa May Alcott and her father, Bronson Alcott.
With a little time off just ahead, I hope you can look forward to catching up on some reading. These titles are all worthy of your precious leisure time – enjoy.
Mary Ann Fitzgerald
University of Georgia