Libri Dilectio: June 2009

29 June 2009

Book Review: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman.
(Gr 4-6)

When a baby is left an orphan after his family is murdered, he is adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Owens, both of whom just happen to be dead. They name the baby Nobody and raise him in the graveyard among the rest of the ghosts. Nobody is told never to leave the graveyard because the man who killed his family is still out there…looking for him.

That’s all the synopsis I’ll give, since probably everyone has better time management when it comes to books then I do and has already read this.

I know, it’s shameful that I’m a librarian and I’ve just got around to reading this book! I’ve owned it for awhile now and therein lies the problem. As soon as I buy a book, I’ve pretty much guaranteed that I won’t read it right away. I’ve taken away the due date, the holds line, the sense of urgency. I need to stick to library books.

I decided to read this book AND listen to it on audio. I’ve heard such great things about the audiobook since it’s read by Neil Gaiman! I couldn’t just read the book and miss the audio, but I also couldn’t just listen to the book and miss the words/illustrations. It had to be a mixed media adventure.

Neil Gaiman has a fabulous voice. He reads his book so incredibly well that I was completely transfixed by the first paragraph. Usually it takes me a minute to get into audiobooks, sometimes I replay the opening tracks a few times to make sure I’ve really heard it. This one sucked me in right away and made me very angry to arrive at my destinations all week.

The book itself reminded me of a series of short stories. The main plot line of Nobody (Bod for short) living in the graveyard and that the man Jack is still out there wanting to kill him is there, but the book reads like a bunch of little stories. I love that it feels like a real life, with lots of events that tie up neatly and lead into more events. This is not a grand complicated epic, it is a refreshingly suspenseful set of stories. The whole time I was reading/listening to the book, I kept thinking how it is practically designed to be read aloud to students/patrons. You’d just have to be sure to share the wonderfully creepy illustrations.

I feel much better about myself now that I’ve actually read The Graveyard Book.

(p.s. rather unsurprisingly – it made me cry)

Book Review: If I Stay

If I Stay, Gayle Forman
(Gr 9+)

Mia seems to have it all; a loving family, a great boyfriend, a best friend, and she’s just auditioned to play cello at Julliard. After a brief snowstorm, schools are canceled and her family decides to use the day off to visit friends. The day quickly takes a turn when their car is hit by a truck, instantly killing Mia’s parents and leaving her younger brother and herself injured. From deep in a coma, Mia’s spirit is able to move free from her body. She watches her family and friends as they all ask her to wake up, but she isn’t sure she wants to. What will her life be like without her parents and is her brother going to be alright? It’s up to Mia to decide whether she wants to wake up and live or die.

This book sounded like the Lovely Bones to me, but it’s actually very different. Mia is not already dead when she starts to narrate her story from outside her body. There’s a sense of hope throughout the novel that she might not die at all. Mia’s narration is honest and will draw you in. She is watching her life unfold in the hospital, but also remembering past times with all the people she loves. The narrative switches easily from past to present and back again, without ever losing the reader’s interest.

The members of Mia’s family are all unique and interesting. Her parents are punk rockers turned family oriented parents, her brother is young, but full of personality. The reader will completely understand Mia’s desire to not live without her family. On the other hand, the family she has left is pretty amazing too. Her attentive grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends all wait in the hospital – hoping she’ll wake up and decide to stay with them.

This is a really fast read and a really good one. It made me cry at least twice, but maybe three times. Granted, when it comes to books, I’m a crier. Forman’s writing style is evocative and draws the reader quickly into the narrative. This is a great book for teens!

24 June 2009

Book Review: The Willoughbys

The Willoughbys, Lois Lowry
(Gr 3-5)

Tim, Barnaby A, Barnaby B, and Jane are the four old fashioned children of the Willoughby family. They do old fashioned things, think old fashioned thoughts, and decide that the most old fashioned thing they could do would be to become orphans. Thankfully, their odious parents are just as eager to be rid of their children as the children are of their parents. So begins a tale that reaches from an old fashioned home, adorned with Aphrodite statues, to the Alps of Switzerland. Lois Lowry uses The Willoughbys to showcase her talent for parody as well as her artistic skill.

I recently put this book on an If You Like The Series of Unfortunate Events… booklist and thought that I should probably read it before I start recommending it too much. Like most readers of children’s fiction, I was already a big fan of Lois Lowry, so I had high hopes for this novel. I can honestly say that I was not disappointed.

Lowry points out something that has always bothered me (and a good many others I think) about classic children’s fiction. The parents are always dead! Why do children have to be orphans to have adventures? A close friend of mine once gave a book talk entitled, “Our Parents are Dead – Let’s Go Have an Adventure” and his big problem was limiting the number of books to talk about! The Willoughbys lovingly parodies this, and other characteristics of old fashioned stories. There were parts of this book that made me laugh out loud. Particularly a character who believes he can speak German, but really just speaks English in a German accent, randomly adding vaguely Germanic sounding suffixes to his words.

I love that Lowry doesn’t write down to children. She isn’t afraid to fill her novel with SAT words that they will not know, but that do not detract from the narrative in anyway. The addition of this vocabulary only adds to the overall feel of the novel and makes it more engaging. Lowry does provide a glossary at the end of the novel for children that is just as entertaining as the story itself.

I have to bow down to Lois Lowry’s unending imagination.

23 June 2009

Book Preview: The Magician’s Elephant

The Magician’s Elephant, Kate DiCamillo
Coming September 2009.

This month’s School Library Journal came with an extra nice surprise, the first chapter of The Magician’s Elephant! I didn’t need any help to get excited for this book. I’ve been salivating since I first heard about it. The first chapter, as expected, completely sucked me in and made me want to know more about Peter, Adele, and, of course, the elephant.

Right away we meet Peter Augustus Duchene, a boy with a lot on his mind. Is his sister still alive, where is she, can a fortune teller answer his questions? When the mysterious fortune teller says that an elephant will lead him to his sister, Adele, Peter isn’t sure what to believe. How will this story end up? I can’t wait to find out!

You can read the first chapter of The Magician’s Elephant on Kate DiCamillo’s website, in case you missed it in School Library Journal.

22 June 2009

Book Review: Wintergirls

Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson
(Gr 9+)

Lia’s ex-best friend, Cassie, has just been found dead, alone, in a motel room. Before Cassie died, she left Lia 33 voicemails that are now haunting her. Lia and Cassie were always competitive friends, but not about sports or boys. They competed to see who could be the skinniest. Now Lia is trapped inside herself, fighting the numbers on the scale, and counting every calorie that passes her lips. The more weight she loses, the more she wants to lose. Told from Lia’s perspective, Wintergirls, is an intense portrayal of one girl’s battle with anorexia.

I sat down to start this book and ended up finishing it the same day. As someone who knows very little about eating disorders, I was fascinated by the way Lia viewed herself and the world. Her story was believable and haunting. I found myself empathising with her and being very angry with her at the same time.

The most intriguing relationship in the book, to me, was the one between Lia and her step-mother, Jennifer. Jennifer is the one who weighs her every week, takes care of her, and seems to interact with her the most. Her father and mother are both very busy and career oriented, but her step-mother is loving and attentive with her. Lia also has a very positive relationship with her younger step-sister Emma. I saw Emma as the light at the end of the dark tunnel for Lia, a reason for her to try to get better.

This was an intense book that I would not recommend to young readers, but it would be a great book for high school age readers. Laurie Halse Anderson has yet to disappoint me.

First Blog Post!

I’m super excited about my first ever blog post. I’ve tried blogs before, but I usually get distracted/forget about them so hopefully this one will have more staying power. I’m a brand new librarian (just one month old!). I graduated in May and now I’m working as a youth services librarian. I love my job since it lets me talk about/think about/read about books all day while hanging out with lots of great kids.

Not every book I write about will be new. Lots of them might be old…really old…super old, but I like to share my opinions on the books that I read and I really love reading other people’s opinions. Although, it’s becoming a problem. I read all these great book reviews on other blogs and then I want to run out and read the book! The only problem is that I haven’t always finished the one (or three) that I’m already reading. Like now for instance. I have 5 library books and probably a dozen or so of my own that are just waiting for me to read them. For every book off my to be read list that I finish, I seem to add 4 more!

My taste in books is wide, varied, and always changing. Ask me on Monday and my favorite genre will be historical fiction…specifically princesses. Tuesday I’ll say realistic fiction, the funnier the better. Wednesday I’ll be jonesin’ for some big fantasy epic adventures. Thursday I’ll wander through science fiction, Friday it’ll be romance, and over the weekend I’ll probably want classics with a dash of non fiction. Although, I may have more uniform tastes for the summer. Something about summer brings out an obsessive need for fantasy in me. I just want to read about adventures, preferably with swash buckling or other sword play. I love a good battle scene especially if it has swords. I don’t know what it is about swords, but any story that’s full of swords will probably spark my interest big time.

I’m hoping this blog will eventually take on a life of it’s own, but mostly I’m just looking forward to having some fun with it and using it as a way to interact with other cool book lovers!

Long story short…these are the tales of a librarian with a need to read!

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