Monday, February 1, 2016

Staff Favorites of 2015 - 31st in a Series

As a former chair of the Georgia Peach Book Award for Teen Readers and currently working with teens at Hampton Park Library, I continue to read a lot of books for high schoolers and middle schoolers. However, I’ve suggested Brown Girl Dreaming, a verse memoir of growing up in the two worlds of Greenville, South Carolina and New York City, to all ages from elementary school to my mother.

I love the immediacy and specificity of Jacqueline Woodson’s poems: about eating lemon chiffon ice cream with her grandfather and siblings, about being proud and jealous of her academically-achieving older sister, about trading collards for empaƱadas with the neighbor girl and making a lifelong friend, and finally about discovering and inhabiting her own voice, a voice on paper.

How It Went Down, by Kekla Magoon, begins with a street shooting. A small crowd watches as a young man bursts out of a convenience store, chased by an employee. A car drives up, a man gets out, and moments later, the teenager lies bleeding on the pavement. As one narrator after another unrolls what happened that night, the incident’s backstory, and what it will mean for survivors, the story proves anything but straightforward. This quick but thoughtful read yields a lot to ponder about perspectives, assumptions, and motivations--not only in this Young Adult novel but also in the daily news.

Out of all the fantastic, richly drawn (pun intended!) children’s Caldecott winners for 2015, the one that gave me the most sheer delight was Nana in the City, by Lauren Castillo. Maybe it’s because I’m a country girl, but I could sympathize with the young narrator, who worries that with all its “scary things,” the city is “no place for a nana to live.” Loving his grandmother, the little boy gives her cherished home the benefit of doubt. Wrapped in a bold red cape Nana knits overnight, he takes just a few pages emblazoned by bright crayon-colors to decide her city truly is “extraordinary” instead of frightening.

I tried to catch up on grown-up reading in 2015, after several years of reading teen and children’s books almost exclusively. I listened to the audiobook everyone was raving about, All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr—and I was so glad I chose the audio version, because listening seemed to sharpen my senses other than vision, so that I related even more closely to the blind heroine.

But because that one has been mentioned by several other staff, I’m going to “cheat” in favor of two highly-recommended books from the recent past that I just got around to in 2015. If you missed them when they first came out, like I did, you may want to give them a try. I wasn’t sure The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, would be for me, and so I waited seven years to read it. It was about car racing, rain, and dogs, for crying out loud! (Okay, I DO love dogs. But still.) Its narrator, a mixed-breed dog named Enzo with a temperament like a Zen master, won me over. Through his devoted eyes, the tragedies and triumphs of his owner, sometime race car driver Denny Swift, and Denny’s beloved wife and child, come to poignant life.

Cutting for Stone, by A. Verghese, got a lot of book-group attention when it came out in 2009. Infused with the author’s own experiences and narrated by Marion Stone, one of twin brothers growing up in an Ethiopian hospital complex in the second half of the twentieth century, it’s a remarkable blend of tragedy and humor. Beautifully and entertainingly written, this thought-provoking commentary on relationships, African politics, coming of age, vocation, and parenting has returned to my thoughts again and again throughout this year.

Vanessa Cowie
Information Specialist - Youth Services
Hampton Park Library

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