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Posts Tagged ‘Luis Alberto Urrea’

Books for Summer Camping: Kids and YA

It is that time of year: time for kids, young adults, and the adults who love them to read, read, read during these long summer days. Maybe it is because they have to for those back to school English assignments that loom in August and September.  Maybe it is because we all need some down time between summer activities. Or maybe it’s because vacation plans include long stretches of travel time that can not all be filled with electronic devices. Whatever the reason, we have compiled a list of books for Young Adults, kids who are reading chapter books, kids who are emerging readers, kids who are reluctant readers, kids who are not yet reading….  We hope somewhere in this list is the perfect book for the kids you love. (And honestly, we recommend all of them to adults as well.)

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YA: Young Adult fiction

FC9780062662804.jpgThe Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (2018) – Probably the best YA book I have read this year.  Reminiscent of Kwame Alexander’s style of telling stories in poetry, Ms. Acevedo uses poems to tease out the subtleties of her main character’s life in Brooklyn. In doing so has created a character – the fierce, gifted with words Xiomara Batista – who we care about, and whom we empathise with even if we are not a young black woman, even if we don’t live in Brooklyn, and even if our high school days are long behind us. The themes Ms. Acevedo intwines throughout this novel told in poems include, but are not limited to Latina culture, Catholicism, coming (or not) out, budding sexuality, high school teachers and curriculum, first romance, generation gaps, immigration, first gen issues, city life, poverty, music, and the power of words. Read this and rediscover the power of poetry, of youth, and of love – both first romance kind and the often much more complicated familial type. I find it hard to believe this was a first published novel for Ms. Acevedo; and, I thank children’s librarian extraordinaire Ms. Beth for bringing it to my attention. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062422651.jpgAllegedly by Tiffany Jackson (2018) – As a child, Mary B. Addison killed a baby. Or did she? The public thinks so and the many books and TV specials based upon her life definitely think so. However, maybe all is not as it seems. The answers didn’t matter until a teenaged Mary B. Addison is moved to a group home, gets pregnant, and wants to keep her baby. Ms. Jackson keeps you guessing as to Mary’s guilt or innocence throughout, but possibly most importantly, she shines a spotlight on the lives of young women and girls caught up in our legal system and prisons. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062422675.jpgMonday’s Not Coming by Tiffany Jackson (2018) – This novel takes on the heartbreaking reality of missing children of color, and does so with compassion and urgency. Monday Charles is missing and only her friend Claudia is concerned enough to do anything about it. Even well-meaning and caring teachers take too much time to hear Claudia’s concerns, and kind neighbors ignore signs something is amiss.  But, Claudia continues to be vocal that Monday is missing – even as she navigates high school placement tests and her shame that her learning disabilities are in the open.  Cleverly paced and plotted, and written with concern and compassion, Ms. Jackson highlights the fates of too many children of color in this country with a book teens and adults alike will be glad they read. Two books into her career, I am now officially a fan of this author and look forward to her next novel. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062330628.jpgFar From the Tree by Robin Benway (2017) – I loved this National Book Award Winner. The three bio siblings discover each other exists in their teens, when each is confronting a personal crisis in their adoptive and/or foster family. One is dealing with divorce and alcoholism, the other teen pregnancy, the third the foster system. They are all dealing with what it means to be family and how to become an adult.  Perfect really. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781481438254.jpgA Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017) – Mr. Reynolds tackles gun violence in an unique and powerful novel. The story unfolds in short bouts of powerful, insightful verse over the course of a 60 second elevator ride. During this ride, Will must decide whether or not to follow the RULES – No crying. No snitching. Revenge. – and kill the person he believes killed his brother Shawn. With this tale, Mr. Reynolds creates a place to understand the why behind the violence that permeates the lives of so many, and perhaps hopefully a place to think about how this pattern might end. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781101939499.jpgDear Martin by Nic Stone (2017) – A superb YA novel about being profiled by police for being black, and how current events, BLM, and politics affect black youth today.  In this excellent debut novel, a black student – Justyce McAllister, top of his class, captain of the debate team, and set for the Ivy League next year – is handcuffed by a police officer and released without physical harm. The psychological toll of being profiled is explored as this novel delves into his life at his mostly white prep school and in his mostly black neighborhood. To help cope, Justyce researches the writings of MLK and writes him letters asking for guidance about how to live today. While Martin obviously never answers, the letters provide a great premise for thinking about how MLK would have handled life as a black man today. The letters also provide grounding once the novel’s action turns extremely ugly. Read it and discuss. (It could be considered the boy’s perspective on the situations in The Hate U Give reviewed below.) ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062498533.jpgThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017) – Sometimes it takes a work of fiction to give life to current events. And sometimes it takes a book for children to give all of us a starting point for conversations about difficult issues. Ms. Thomas has done all of us a service by producing this fresh, enlightening, and spectacular book about the black lives lost at the hands of the police every year in the USA. Starr Carter, the teen she created to put faces on the statistics, straddles two worlds — that of her poor black neighborhood and  that of her exclusive prep school on the other side of town. She believes she is doing a pretty good job managing the differing realities of her life until she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by a police officer. As a description of this book stated, The Hate U Give “addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty”.  Just as importantly, it is a great story, with fully formed characters who will haunt you, told by a gifted author.  Please read this one! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780545320696.jpgCurveball: The Year I lost my Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick (2016) – How does an amazing pitcher deal with the fact he will never pitch again while simultaneously navigating his freshman year of high school? Mr. Sonnenblick offers a compelling answer in this tale of friendship, first love and change. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781250170972.jpgChildren of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (2018) – A TERRIFIC start to a new series of magic and danger, palace intrigue and adventure, and love and hatred.  I won’t say more about the plot as I really want you to discover this one for yourself.  Please pick it up and just enjoy!  ~ Lisa Christie

 

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“Adult” Novels for Young Adults

FC9780316154529-1.jpgFC9780316025263.jpgInto the Beautiful North and The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea (assorted years) – I stumbled upon an interview with Mr. Urrea on NPR as I was linking our selections to the Norwich Bookstore’s Web site and was reminded how much I love Mr. Urrea’s tales, so I added this category to this post. (The Hummingbird’s Daughter made my most meaningful reads list.)  Mr. Urrea’s novels are funny, using humor to deflate explorations of horrific things (e.g., dangerous border crossings, poverty), and to explore wonderful things (e.g., love, family, friendships, movies).  Into the Beautiful North was reviewed by me previously as “the book Jon Stewart would have written if he ever wrote about crossing the Mexican border into the USA”. The fact these novels depict lives of Mexicans just adds a bonus during these times of immigration conflicts and politically polarizing actions at our southern border. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780142001745.jpgThe Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (2002) – This book has been around for awhile and is a movie with genuine movie stars, but the fact a friend just discovered and read it, reminded us that we all miss good books when they are first published.  So we review it here 16 years after it first hit our bookshelves. This novel is a coming of age story for Lily, a girl in South Carolina in 1960s, whose mother’s death subtly haunts her and whose African-American nanny raises her. When her nanny insults town racists, Lily decides it is time for the two of them to run away.  The tale lovingly unfolds from there. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Poetry

I’m Just No Good At Rhyming by Chris Harris and illustrated by Lane Smith (2018) – Funny poems for kids and adults who love them. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

One Last Word by Nikki Grimes (2018) – Ms. Grimes takes a few of the many poems penned during the Harlem Renaissance, prints them, and uses them to create her own poems of response for each one. The poems depict the lives of kids today, and offer a bit of inspiration, understanding, and often humor. Terrific illustrations and art are sprinkled throughout, and short bios, with resources, are offered for each featured poet and artist. ~ Lisa Christie

For Everyone by Jason Reynolds (2018) – This “advice book” is different and simple and profound and lovely.  Most importantly to me it shows Mr. Reynolds’ large heart and powerful prose.  A great gift for kids who may be worried about the upcoming school year. ~ Lisa Christieimages-2.jpg

Nonfiction

FC9780062748539.jpgNotorius RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik (2018) – This was the perfect counterpoint for me to absorb last winter/spring after another school shooting. Why you may ask? Well, it reminded me that there are fabulous people out there in high places looking out for people who don’t have voices. It also provided a superb look at the life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It would also be an excellent primer to read before seeing RBG in theaters. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781481463713.jpgThe Distance Between Us: YA version by Reyna Grande (2016) – This book seems especially important with the recent talk separations of families along the US border and burgeoning hatred towards illegal immigrants. Ms. Grande has adapted her adult memoir for young adults; in it, she tells of her life as a toddler in an impoverished town in Mexico, her three attempts to cross into the USA with a coyote as a young child, her life in LA as an illegal immigrant, how her family gained legal status, and how she managed college. This is not for the faint hearted due to themes of physical abuse and complicated relationships with parents who are always leaving. But it is important to be informed, and this book will put faces on any political discussions about immigration that the teens in your life might encounter. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781603093002.jpgMarch: Books One, Two and Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (assorted years) –  John Lewis, the Congressman and man who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., has, with two collaborators, written a memoir in the form of a graphic novel. This series begins with his childhood in rural Alabama and follows Mr. Lewis through meeting Martin Luther King and then his own student activist days in Nashville, and into his life as a Congressman. The pictures explore how his life must have felt during each moment in time.  The prose explains what he was thinking as each of the momentous moments of his life unfolds.  The 1958 comic book Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story was inspirational to Mr. Lewis and other student activists.  We hope March series proves as inspiring to future leaders.  ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

FC9780448467108.jpgWho is? What Was? Series by assorted authors (assorted years) – We really can not recommend these books highly enough for emerging readers and beyond. The topics are varied, the illustrations humorous, and the information fascinating (e.g., did you know that King Henry VIII was so large he fell out of his coffin?). ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

FC9780446677554.jpgCounting Coup by Larry Colton (2001) – Mr. Colton journeys into the world of a group of Crow Indians living in Montana, and follows the struggles of a talented, moody, charismatic young woman basketball player named Sharon. This book far more than just a sports story – it exposes Native Americans as long since cut out of the American dream.

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Kids

FC9781484746431.jpgBurning Maze: The Trials of Apollo Book Three (and other seriesby Rick Riordan (2018) – Once again Mr. Riordan delivers a wry adventurous tale of Greek and Roman Gods and their offspring. In this outing, the former god Apollo, cast down to earth by Zeus, is an awkward mortal teen named Lester Papadopoulos. Te become a god again, Lester must restore five Oracles that have gone dark and do so without the help of his godly powers and while bound in servitude to a cranky demigod named Meg. Things get more complicated from there. ~ Lisa Cadow (seconding the recommendations Mr. Riordan’s previous series as she has not yet read this one) and Lisa Christie

FC9780525429203.jpgFC9780803740815-1.jpgThe War I Finally Won (2018) and The War that Saved My Life (2015) by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley — The War I Finally Won, the follow-up to Ms. Bradley’s first book about Ada and her family, shows Ada just as feisty as she was in her debut. It also brings home the realities of war for everyone in the British countryside. This time heroes who are close friends die while defending Britian and her allies, rationing is tough, code breakers are introduced, prejudices against Germans spill over to refugee children, and personal lives continue to influence outcomes – even as the war intensifies. As I wrote before about The War that Saved My Life, when Gary Schmidt (one of my favorite authors) blurbs a book with the words “I read this in two big gulps” I pay attention. The initial tale about two of the many children who were sent from London to the countryside for safety (think The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe – which we also recommend) is also full of adventure, hardship, and ultimately love. In both novels, I especially loved Ada and here feisty fight for her place in the world. Please read them both! ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062499660.jpgSecret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins (2018) – Since Liza Bernard of the Norwich Bookstore put this book in our hands we will let her review speak for its selection in this list. “Sisters Alix and Jools, along with their parents, spend a summer week at the beach. We have the pleasure of experiencing the sea for the first time through their eyes – and ears and hopes and fears! A refreshingly wonderful interlude in the otherwise tumultuous array of chapter books written for this age group. No parent dies, no one is abused, there are no floods: just caring and sharing, learning and growing with wonder about the world around them.” We now add, it is a perfect pick for anyone wanting to remember that there is magic in the ordinary day, and how great vacations can be. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780763681173.jpgRaymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (2016) – Ms. Camillo returns to 1970s Florida and creates a superb tale of three young girls who discover each other and themselves over the course of a summer.  The plot centers around Raymie’s plan to bring her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, back — she will win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, get her picture in the paper and remind him he needs to come home. First though she must learn to twirl a baton and defeat the two other girls in her lessons. Delightful. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780451470348.jpgSoar by Joan Bauer (2016) – Many years ago, we fell in love with Ms. Bauer’s Newbery Honor Medal Winner Hope Was Here. But we haven’t read much of her work since. We corrected this awhile back when one of the Book Jam Lisas could not put Ms. Bauer’s latest novel – Soar – down, finishing it in one long swoop. Ms. Bauer’s main character and narrator of this tale – Jeremiah, is a heart transplant recipient and the world’s biggest baseball fan. He may not be able to play (yet) due to his transplant, but he sure can coach. And, he is just what his middle school needs after a huge high school sports scandal breaks his new hometown. Infused with humor, baseball trivia, and a lovely adoption sub-plot, this book is all about grit, hard work, and determination. It also does an amazing job of reminding readers that kids can be truly amazing people. We love all the books listed for this post, and we admit that some of Soar could be construed as corny, but we recommend it as an excellent (and possibly necessary) break from today’s politics. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781101934593.jpgFlying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh (2017) – Ms. Oh, the founder of We Need Diverse Books, has edited a collection of short stories by authors who happen to be persons of color. The group has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing as well as popularity as New York Times bestsellers. Each story is completely unrelated to the rest and totally fabulous. This collection is perfect for a reluctant reader as one of these stories is sure to be just right. (My bet is on the one by Kwame Alexander.) And as a collection it makes a great family read aloud. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780803738393.jpgThe Best Man by Richard Peck (2016) – This may be the best book I read last year. Mr. Peck’s superb sense of humor and his ability to remember what it is like to be a kid make this tale a memorable, smile-inducing novel. Somehow, without preaching, he manages to cover gay marriage, death, divorce, war, national guard service, reconciliation, bullying, bad teachers, social media, hormones, school lunches, middle school, the British Empire, and the Cubs, all in a tale about being a kid in the 21st Century.  Read it today; no matter your age, you will not be sorry. ~ Lisa Christie

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Older titles that are still great, because there are always kids who just turned 8 or 10 or …

FC9781416949329.jpgFC9780689818769.jpgFrindle or Trouble-Maker or other titles by Andrew Clements – Mr. Clements is a former school principal and his love of kids – especially the ones who end up in the principal’s office – comes through in each of his books. He treats kids with humor and compassion and presents many real world dilemmas in each of his books for young readers. Pick one up and enjoy. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780689817212.jpgFC9780689711817.jpgAnything – and we mean ANYTHING – by E.L. Konigsburg (assorted years) – Ms. Konigsburg was truly a superb gift to young readers everywhere. Her books are fun, well-written, humorous, and help kids work through the issues they face every day.  Our favorites – The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler and The View from Saturday. But please discover your own. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780689844454.jpgFC9781534420113.jpgKing of Shadows by Susan Cooper (1999) – Nat is thrilled to join an American drama troupe traveling to London to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the famous Globe Theater. However, after being taken ill, he is transported 400 years to an earlier London, Will Shakespeare, and another production of the play. History, time travel, adventure, and family all propel this tale.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie (also reviewed in Books for Summer Campers and Classics for Kids).  And, The Boggart by Susan Cooper (1993) – When Emily’s and Jess’s family inherits a Scottish castle, they travel to explore. Unbeknownst to them they also inherit a Boggart — an invisible, mischievous spirit who’s been playing tricks on residents of their castle for generations. When they accidentally trap the boggart in their belongings and take him back to Toronto, nothing will ever be the same. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780803740013.jpgUnder the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (March 2014) – We agree with Publishers Weekly assessment – “Fans of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler will find this another delightful lesson in art history.” In this novel, Theodora Tenpenny of Manhattan tries to solve the mystery of a painting she uncovers (literally) once her grandfather dies. It includes her eccentric mother who has spent at least fifteen years doing nothing but completing her mathematical dissertation and consuming very expensive tea.  It also shows how two amazing, but lonely girls can make great friends. And, along the way it introduces young readers to the world of art and the importance of asking for help when you need it.  Not bad for an author’s first children’s book. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

FC9780375872921.jpgWill In Scarlet by Matthew Cody (2013) – An EXCELLENT and FUN tale of Robin Hood and his merry men before they became famous.  In this version of this timeless tale, you meet them as a gang of outlaws and watch them find their mission in life.  A superb adventure for any middle grades reader and the adults who love them, or who love English legends. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780547237602.jpgFC9780544022805.jpgThe Wednesday Wars (2007) and OK For Now (2011) by Gary Schmidt – These two books provide an excellent introduction to this era and some of the topics of the 60s and 70s – Vietnam, the women’s movement, environmentalism. They also tackle school bullies, poverty, joblessness, great teachers and hope. Both provide memorable characters in extremely moving moments. Both were award winners – OK For Now was a National Book Award Finalist and The Wednesday Wars was a Newberry Honor Book. Previously reviewed in Classics for children, young adults, and the adults who love them.

FC9780544570986.jpgBooked and The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (assorted years) – Yes, we love Mr. Alexander’s books. Yes, we have recommended both these books before. But trust us, the youth readers you love will love these books about soccer (Booked) and basketball (The Crossover). They are poetic,perfect for reluctant readers, and both address how life happens while you have your eye on the ball. (Also reviewed in Sports Books That are About So Much More and Classics for children, young adults, and the adults who love them.)

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Some Series for Kids Just Branching out of Early Readers and Needing Beginning Chapter Books

Calendar Mysteries by Ron Roy (assorted years) – Four young children – Bradley, Brian, Nate and Lucy (younger relatives of the A to Z Mystery kids) – continually unearth problems that need to be solved as they travel the roads and playgrounds of their home town. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

Capital Mysteries by Ron Roy (assorted years) – Pre-teens KC and Marshall uncover bad guys and save the world from their homes in Washington, DC.  KC’s home just happens to be the White House. ~ Lisa Christie

BallPark Mysteries by David Kelley (assorted years) – Two kids travel the country attending baseball games (one of their moms is a sports reporter) and solving mysteries. Reminiscent of those original “meddling kids” – Scooby’s gang. ~ Lisa Christie

Magic Tree House Series by Mary Pope Osborne (assorted years) – This seems to be the original model for this genre. It now bring over 50 titles with the adventures of young siblings Jack and Annie and their time-traveling adventures in their magic treehouse to young readers everywhere. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Picture Books

Otis and Will Discover the Deep by Barb Rosenstock and Katherine Roy (2018) – I am really claustrophobic and yet was still fascinated by this story of the first people to envision and build a device to explore the ocean’s depths.  And yes, Ms. Roy’s illustrations still have me feeling a bit dizzy, but the tale of these two boys who became the men who invented the Bathysphere is worth a bit of discomfort; it will also appeal to the adventurers, inventors, and explorers in all of us (even if only vicariously). We discovered Ms. Roy through her first illustrations in SS Taylor’s Expeditioners series; this provides us a perfect excuse to recommend SS Taylor’s series for kids who need a good chapter book or family read aloud. ~ Lisa Christie

7 ate 9 by Tara Lazar (2017) – Good puns are never done.  Clever Noir picture book playing on a classic preschool joke/pun. ~ Lisa Christie

Duck Mouse Wolf by Mac Barnett (2017) – SUPERB fun tale of interspecies cooperation and making the best of a situation. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

What Can a Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers (2018) –  Picture books for young activists and the adults who love them. ~ Lisa Christie

a house that once was by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Lane Smith (2018) – Awesome illustrations by Mr. Lane provide a great opening into this book about what makes a home and how a kid’s imagination is THE BEST. A winner of a picture book. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima (2018) – AWESOME tale of imagination and love.  A little girl’s mission is simple – to find party hats; how she gets them so complicated. We also are hoping the fact her adventures include two dads and a lot of penguins is a shout out to And Tango Makes Three, a great picture book based upon an actual penguin at the Central Park Zoo with two dads. ~ Lisa Christie

Alfie by Thyra Heder (2018) – This picture book shows how there are two sides to every story.  In the first we see Nia’s perspective of how her beloved, but rather boring turtle Alfie disappears one day. In the second we see Alfie’s perspective of why. Bonus: All the action revolves around birthday parties, which we know kids love to talk about. ~ Lisa Christie

Ada Twist Scientist by Andrea Beaty illustrated by David Roberts (2018) – Ada’s curiosity is unending and leads her to great big messes.  Doe sit also make her a great scientist?  We all can learn from Ada’s fearless explorations, and the rhymes and illustrations are fun. ~ Lisa Christie

We also recommend you visit our previous summer reading picks for YA and kids.

 

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Well, it has been quite the week or two regarding immigration, immigration reform, and real life consequences of immigration policies and executive orders. It has ushered in a time where many Americans don’t recognize their country — the one of “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”(from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus). But, it is also a time in which many other Americans, afraid of terrorism and terrorists, are acting and reacting from a place where immigration restrictions feel protective and correct. Since none of us have all the answers, nor all the righteousness, nor all the facts, we thought we would turn to the voices of immigrants – to those who have lived and are living lives directly affected by what to many of us are only policies. To find these voices, we turned to books. We hope the list we collected helps you put faces on the headlines and perhaps inspires action; but most importantly, we wish these books will create empathy and compassion towards all of us living in this great world of ours.
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The Distance Between Us: Young Readers Edition Cover ImageThe Distance Between Us: YA version by Reyna Grande (2016) – With this book, Ms. Grande has adapted her adult memoir for middle grade readers and young adults. In it, she tells of her life as a toddler in an impoverished town in Mexico, her three attempts to cross into the USA with a coyote as a young child, her life in LA as an illegal immigrant, how her family gained legal status, and how she managed college. This is not for the faint hearted due to themes of physical abuse and complicated relationships with parents who are always leaving. But it is important to be informed; and, this book will insert faces into any political discussions about immigration that the pre-teens and teens in your life might encounter. ~ Lisa Christie

Brooklyn Cover ImageBrooklyn by Colm Toibin (2009) – Brooklyn is a coming of age story about a girl, Eilis, who leaves Ireland post World War II to travel to New York for better prospects. She arrives alone, leaving behind her beloved sister, Rose, her mother and brothers. Brave, smart Eilis carves out a life for herself and even finds a beau in sweet Tony before tragedy calls her unexpectedly back to Ireland. Brooklyn is a complicated love story, one that also paints one of the most poignant pictures of homesickness and a rough transatlantic journey that we have ever read. It is definitely a book that will stay with the reader and generate plenty of discussion for lucky book groups that have yet to select it. Also, this is one of the rare instances where the movie is as good as the book (see Book Jam review February 29, 2016). ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Into the Beautiful North Cover ImageInto the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea (2009) – Inspired by “The Magnificent Seven“, 19-year-old Nayeli goes north from her small town in Mexico to recruit seven men to save her village from ruin at the hands of drug dealers, and to find her father who disappeared north years before. Beautifully written and funny — think of this novel as the book Jon Stewart would have written if he ever wrote about crossing the Mexican border into the USA. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided Cover ImageIn The Country We Love by Diane Guerrero (2016) – One of the stars of “Orange is the New Black” penned this memoir (with some help from a co-author) about her life as the USA-born daughter of undocumented immigrants from Colombia. Her story hinges on the day her parents were deported while she was at school, after which she was left to fend on her own, relying on her friends for places to live so she could finish High School in the USA. She is now using her fame to help shed light on the lives of the undocumented in the USA. While the prose may not sing quite as well as some of the other books on this list from award winning authors, I, for one, was appalled at some of the more surreal aspects of her story (e.g., she was completely forgotten by the US government which never checked on her, or helped her in any shape or form). And, I am very grateful she broke years of silence to put her face on many nameless Americans, and on a problem we all need to help solve. ~ Lisa Christie

Interpreter of Maladies Cover ImageInterpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (1999) – If you somehow missed this collection of nine short stories about Indian-American immigrants, fix that now and read these Pulitzer Prize winning tales. Ms. Lahiri’s prose is gorgeously crafted, and her characters and their trials and tribulations – both the mundane and the incredible – will stay with you long after you finish the last sentences. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Dreaming in Cuban Cover ImageDreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia (1992) – Reaching far back in our bookshelf, our memories, and into the Caribbean Sea, our hands land on Garcia’s 1992 novel of the Cuban immigration experience. Told from the perspective of three generations of strong women, this lush narrative will be appreciated by lovers of magical realism. Strong female characters tell the story of the experiences of being political expats in New York City, and also of the ones left behind in Cuba. Moving between the United States and Cuba, and the present and the past, this book creates a sensation of dreaming but also of the very real situation of a country and its people experiencing turmoil and change. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Sympathizer: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) Cover ImageThe Sympathizer  by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015) – The Pulitzer landed on an important book in 2016. The narrator, a Vietnamese immigrant to the USA, was rescued by the Americans during the fall of Saigon due to his work with the US military and diplomatic corps. His life further unravels from this relocation to LA. His tale provides a superb entry into conversations about the Vietnam War, as well as the lives of all the Vietnamese immigrants to the USA who followed the soldiers and sailors across the Pacific to life in America. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Home of the Brave Cover ImageHome of the Brave by Katherine Applegate (2007) – My 11-year-old read this for school earlier this year, and I am so glad he did. I borrowed it and devoured it in one sitting. A great book about the complicated lives of immigrants to the USA. It weaves the tale of a boy, from an unnamed country in Africa, adjusting to cold days and nights in Minnesota and wondering what happened to his mother, the only other person from his family to have survived the genocide there. ~ Lisa Christie

Before We Were Free Cover ImageBefore We Were Free by Julia Alvarez (2002) – We finish with a Vermont author who has penned so many great tales (e.g., How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, In the Time of Butterflies), and highlight Before We Were Free her award winning novel for older children. In this tale, by the 12th birthday of the main character Anita, most of her Dominican relatives have emigrated to the United States, a few have disappeared without a trace, and the police continually terrorize her family remaining in the DR all of whom are suspected of opposing el Trujillo’s dictatorship. A heartrending tale of growing up based upon the author’s extended family’s own experiences. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

OK, two more….

Americanah Cover ImageAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013) – Before she wrote We Should All Be Feminists, Ms. Adichi earned our reading loyalty with this incredible novel of love and culture clash. As Maureen Corrigan of NPR stated, “Adichie has written a big knockout of a novel about immigration, American dreams, the power of first love, and the shifting meanings of skin color . . . Americanah is a sweeping story that derives its power as much from Adichie’s witty and fluid writing style as it does from keen social commentary. . . . ”

Ghana Must Go Cover ImageGhana Must Go by Taiye Selasi (2013) – When a renowned surgeon dies suddenly outside his home in Accra, his family, which is scattered across the globe, suddenly learns much more about him and what his choices meant for them. Beautifully rendered, this novel takes you from Accra to Lagos to London and to New York. It also shows us the power of love, family, and choices as we figure out who we are and where we come from.

 

 

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imgresAfter our last post, a few subscribers wrote us looking for “happy” stories. They were clear these should not be poorly written tales or romance novels or self-help, but just great books that as you close their last pages you feel good about the world.

Since these requests came from parents (each mentioned they read with their kids), we picked “happy books” as our theme for our annual Mother’s Day gift guide.  Don’t worry, if you are not a Mom or someone in need of a Mother’s Day gift for the moms in your life, these are all very good books we frequently recommend to many readers with great results. So, please pick one (or two) for yourself and/or your mom, and enjoy a well-told tale that will leave you feeling happy.

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Books That Just Leave You Feeling Good When You Close Their Pages

Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda (2007) . Truly an original, uplifting (though it may not seem so at first!) book set in modern-day France and translated beautifully. It is a story of friendship and connection despite the busy life that swirls all around us. And, most importantly for this post, it leaves you feeling good about life. Basically, who would not want to spend time in a Parisian flat with memorable characters? We promise you will enjoy every moment you spend with this novel. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011) – While the title refers to the sisters in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, this story is actually about three very modern-day siblings, Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia (they grew up with a Shakespeare professor for a father, hence their names). The tale begins with them all returning home to Ohio from their rather messy adult lives to help care for their ailing mother. Their uncanny ability to quote the Bard at every twist and turn makes for fun, smart dialogue, but it is their very present day struggles that make this story relevant. There is some romance, but most of all it is the sisters’ love for and understanding of each other that makes this book endearing. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Funny Girl by Nick Hornsby (2015) – A fun look at life in 1960s Britian through the eyes of a gorgeous girl who just wants to be funny.  Mr. Hornsby delivers in this tale of a group of people (two male writers, a male producer and a funny girl) who meet and create an iconic BBC sitcom, and then must deal with all the fame that it brings. Fans of “I Love Lucy” or BBC sitcoms will be charmed, as will fans for Mr. Hornby’s humor and wit.

Zorro by Isabel Allende (2005).  While Ms. Allende is best known for magic realism, this novel offers a more straight forward narrative than found in most of her books. Ms. Allende’s account of the legend begins with Zorro’s childhood and finishes with the hero. We think you will just have fun with this book. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (2015) – As people who love bookstores and booksellers, it is hard not to like this charming novel about a bookseller and his store, the love found when a baby is left among his shelves, and the love life of one of his publishing reps. We recommend this to anyone in need of a story that leaves you smiling, or for anyone needing a book to give someone who loves a sentimental tale (e.g., your Mom). ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

A Little Less “Happy”, but Truly Great Books 

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (2008) – Many characters intersect in this tale of New York and love and life and redemption. Beginning in August 1974 as a man walks a tightrope strung between the Twin Towers, this ambitious and well done novel follows the stories of many New Yorkers, including, but not limited to, an artist, an Irish monk, a group of mothers mourning their military sons, and a prostitute. This won the National Book Award, please read it to discover why for yourself. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell (2002) – A look at China and USA through the eyes of a young woman whose life is greatly affected her American father’s fascination with China. Not necessarily light, but truly a great, great “coming of age” book. We have been recommending this to men, women and young adults for years and have never had a disgruntled customer.  One all male book club declared it led to their best discussion book ever. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Unusual and Interesting Books – Fiction and Non-fiction

How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (2012) – Through truly funny and often painful humor,  Mr. Thurston makes readers think hard about their own racist tendencies.  He even has a focus group, with a token white person, to help him think through many of the items he discusses.  Whether you agree with him or not, for me, any time I am thinking about how I could better interact with the world, I am truly appreciative of the source that started me thinking about improving my actions. Bonus – this book makes you laugh out loud. ~ Lisa Christie

The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea (2005) – This saga, written in gorgeous/lyrical prose, with a bit of magical realism, shows a history of Mexico that until this book was unknown to me. Reach for it when you are looking for a reason to sit down with an engrossing book for a few days. ~ Lisa Christie

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An email from one of our great friends in need of perfect books for her soon-to-be-High-School-Senior to read this summer led to this post.  Since this student is an avid and discriminating reader, she wanted well-written books. However, since this student’s summer plans include attending a challenging academic camp, she wanted our picks to be “fun” to read.

What follows is based upon the list we created for her.  Since we think it is pretty good list for anyone (adult and young adult alike) looking for good books to read this summer, we share it now with you.

Before we begin our reviews, we would like to note two things about this list. 1) Most of the titles were published years ago. We list them now because people currently in high school were too young for these novels when they initially appeared on bookstore shelves, and we don’t want them or anyone to miss a chance to read these titles. 2) Most of these picks, while selected for readers who are YA’s target audience, are not books that most publishers would label as YA. Two 2014 YA titles finish out our list for anyone looking for a purely YA read.

What Could Be Called “Coming of Age” Novels 

Zorro by Isabel Allende (2005).  While Ms. Allende is known for magic realism, this novel offers a more straightforward narrative than found in most of her books. Ms. Allende’s account of the legend begins with Zorro’s childhood and finishes with the hero. Have fun with this book. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell (2002) – A look at China and USA through the eyes of a young woman whose life is greatly affected her American father’s fascination with China. Not necessarily light, but truly a great, great “coming of age” book. We have been recommending this to men, women and young adults for years and have never had a disgruntled customer.  One all male book club declared it their best discussion book ever. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea (2005) – Mr. Urrea creates a history of Mexico as seen through the life of one of their saints (who happens to be one of his distant relatives). This saga, written in gorgeous and lyrical prose, shows a Mexico that many might otherwise miss. ~ Lisa Christie

Some Novels with an Adventurous Bent

Death Comes To Pemberley by PD James (2011) – This mystery revisits at the characters and places from Pride and Prejudice six years after Darcy and Elizabeth are married. Their lives are rambling along quite well until a murderer enters their realm. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Department Q mysteries by Jussi Adler Olsen (assorted years) – All the Department Q mysteries take place in Denmark. They all involve a lovable and unique cast of police detectives. They all teach you a bit about life in Scandinavia. They are all well-written and fun, with some gory details periodically inserted. ~ Lisa Christie

A More Serious Novel with International Overtones

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (2001) – This well-written novel tracks the lives of partygoers when an event honoring a Japanese businessman visiting an embassy in an unnamed South American country goes terribly awry. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Some Non-Fiction Choices 

On Writing by Stephen King (2000) – His attempt to show people how to write well, is really an autobiography about a writing life. Well-written, fascinating look at an American author that happens to have some good tips on getting better at writing. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

In the Sea There are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda (2011) – This short book follows an Afghan refugee through the countries he must cross, and shows what he must do to survive and achieve political asylum. The fact that he was ten when his journey began, and he did it all alone, makes it a truly thought-provoking read. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Counting Coup: A True Story of Basketball and Honor at Little Big Horn by Larry Colter (2001) – An amazing tale of a gifted young basketball player named Sharon LaForge. Mr. Colter follows her and her team as they navigate the challenges of their basketball season and their home lives on an Native American reservation. I still remember passages thirteen years after reading it the first time. ~ Lisa Christie

Some Actual YA Titles For Young Adults (and adults – let’s be honest here)

Like No Other by Una LaMarche (July 2014) – West Side Story with an African-American as the male lead and a Hasidic girl as the female lead.  Set in modern-day Brooklyn, this tale explores the feelings one’s first true love brings, and what it means to make your own way into the world — even if it requires navigating respecting one’s parents while rebelling from their rules. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (May 2014) – I can not say much about the plot as it will ruin the book.  But this story of a privileged family summering on an island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard is a page-turner. The plot revolves around decisions leading up to a tragedy, and then focuses on how the decisions made after the tragedy affect the family, particularly the 18-year-old narrator. ~ Lisa Christie

This list is not meant to be a one size fits all recommendation.  If you have trouble matching the young adults in your life to any of these books, please send us a comment and we will try to find a book to meet your needs.

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With the news from Crimea and Venezuela lately, we have been thinking a lot about revolution, protest, democracy, refugees, as well as about daily life for those who live during political uprisings. So, to help us all work our way through the news, we have selected three books to share with you — two books for younger readers and one for adults.  (One other superb pick – A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon – was slated to be part of today’s post, but will be reviewed instead in a post later this spring.)

Yes, our three picks take place in Latin America. However, wherever these books are located, we honestly believe the empathy they elicit transfers — to the Ukraine, Syria, the Congo and many other areas of conflict.

Yes, we highlight these books with hope that we all learn something to help us process today’s news.

Yes, (and this is a very, very important point) we also recommend ANY one of these three choices as a SUPERB book for you to read.

I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin (2014) – Celeste Marconi is eleven and has bigger problems than many pre-teens.  Her country – Chile – is in the midst of being overtaken by a military dictatorship.  As events unravel, 1) one of her best friend is among those “disappeared” by the General, 2) her parents go into hiding to protect her from their now dangerous support of the previous leader, and 3) her “grandmothers” send her to far-away Maine to live with her Tia (aunt) and escape the problems the dictator has brought her family in Chile.  Yet, throughout this novel she becomes more than her circumstances.  This is an excellent introduction both to South America and to all that being an exile entails. The Book Jam recommends this both to middle grade readers and adults who love them. And to be honest, parts of this novel have remained with me long after I closed the last pages. ~ Lisa Christie

Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez (2002) – Do not let the small size of this novel fool you; it appears sparse, but says so much about what happens to families when a country’s politics take a dangerous turn. In this novel (based upon Ms. Alvarez’s own experiences in the Dominican Republic), the young protagonist, Anita (named in honor of Anne Frank), is coming of age in a Latin American dictatorship. Most of her relatives have already emigrated to the United States, a few of her relatives have disappeared without a trace or gone into hiding, and the government’s secret police are terrorizing family members who remain because of their suspected opposition of the dictatorship. The power of family and the danger of politics hit home with the slim volume for middle grade readers. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea (2005) – With a bit of magic realism, Mr. Urrea tells the story of Mexico’s expansive history, beginning in 1889 with civil war brewing. Around this time, a 16-year-old girl, Teresita, the illegitimate daughter of the wealthy rancher Don Tomas Urrea, woke from a strange dream that she has died. Only it was not a dream; this rebellious young woman actually woke with a power to heal. What she did with this power shapes Mexico even today. Mr. Urrea took twenty years to complete this novel based on his great-aunt Teresita, who possessed healing powers and was acclaimed as a saint. The Book Jam hopes you enjoy every aspect of his labors. As a fan of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, I certainly did. ~ Lisa Christie

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LISTEN NOW to Books That Made Us Think in 2009 or download the jamcast  Books That Made Us Think in 2009 Podcast –Lisa and Lisa choose three books each that they read in 2009, not all were published in 2009, that made them think.

Our Choices are:

A masterpiece known to few.

Go ahead, think!

Lisa Cadow– West With the Night by Beryl Markham, Book of Ebenezer Le Page by GB Edwards, and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Lisa Christie — Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea, This Must Be The Place by Anna Winger and Indigo Notebook by Laura Resau

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A Lisa Christie summertime – or anytime – pick.

Without Lisa LC, J Lisa C picks two books she recently finished and loved – Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea and This Must Be the Place by Anna Winger.

Into the Beautiful North – Nayeli, a lovely young girl this new novel, works and lives in Tres Camarones, a town in Mexico devoid of men – all of whom have gone north to find work.  When gangsters threaten the town, Nayeli takes inspiration from a screening of The Magnificent Seven in the town theater. She travels north, with three young friends to convince seven Mexican men to return with her to Tres Camarones and save the town.  The situations and characters they encounter are memorable.  The author’s gorgeous prose, ability to place social commentary without preaching, and subtle, yet pointed humor turn this tale into something very special.

This Must be the Place – I am surprised at how much I like this novel. Nothing much happens, yet a lot takes place at the same time. No matter the plot, I enjoyed the time I spent with the characters. And, I loved learning more about and thinking more about the former Eastern Block countries.

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