Tag Archives: 2012

Staff review: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

TKAMTo Kill A Mockingbird

Harper Lee

HarperCollins Publishers

$16.99

Available Now

The novel To Kill A Mockingbird, written by Harper Lee, is a classic because the values and morals displayed through out this novel will never grow old. Translated into more than forty languages, this novel transcends the American canon. To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in Maycomb County, in southern Alabama, and is told from the innocent eyes of six-year-old Scout Finch, a tomboy/rebel, who is the daughter of Atticus Finch, an open minded lawyer with good values and morals. Atticus agrees to represent Tom Robinson, a black man accused of rape. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus isn’t one to judge man by his skin color and race but rather focuses on the content of their character and who they are as a person.

To Kill a Mockingbird teaches the reader this important lesson: that you shouldn’t judge others based on appearances or what you’ve heard “until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” For example, Scout has encounters with many people who defy stereotypes such as Boo Radley. The story also circles around the important moral that everyone is created equal and that, as Atticus states, “whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.” Atticus’s comment implies that character outweighs skin color.

In my freshman year of High School, I read To Kill A Mockingbird for English class. I didn’t think much of it back then nor did I try to put it into context, analyze it, or to try and figure out what it really meant, because I wasn’t into it. Now rereading the novel almost two years later, I gained a lot more knowledge from the nuances of the story and insight into the morals that infuse the novel. I also gained insight into individual characters. I related more to Atticus in my second reading and I value the lessons he teaches Scout about not judging people. Re-reading increased my understanding of why To Kill a Mockingbird is regarded as an American classic.

Eryn~16

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Staff Display: Books in Translation

Booksintranslation3Booksintranslation2Booksintranslation1

I love translated fiction. I love reading about people from places other than the United States. Reading translated literature makes me feel connected to the rest of the world. But I always feel that I am missing something. While words can be translated, the same is not always true for the background of culture and history. Often there is subtext that lies beneath the visible words. So when I read translations, I try to keep in mind that I may not be truly understanding what the author is telling me, because I really am not a member of the club. I am an interloper, observing from afar.

I love the different sensibilities that exist in literature from another culture.  However, it is very easy to make assumptions about a culture that seems similar to ours. Like France. I am quite fond of French novels. They frequently surprise me. On the surface, they often look like lovely little confections. However, appearances can be deceiving. They often end badly. Issues remain unresolved. Characters remain in hopeless situations. Nothing happens. This existential mind-set would never fly with most American readers. We always think a situation can be improved if we just put on our happy face, preferably with the use of some good old elbow grease and some bootstrap-pulling. Other cultures are more fatalistic.

The darker side of the Scandinavians appeals to me. I am not so fond of some of the quirky Scandinavian literature. I like quirk as well as anyone (preferably with a touch of satire), but lately it verges on the edge of twee. Ick.

HistoryofMoneySome books I recommend:

Days in the History of Silence, by Merethe Lindstrom

Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson (and everything else he has written)

Hunting and Gathering, by Anna Gavalda

Austerlitz, by W. G. Sebald

The Possibility of an Island, by Michel Houellenbecq

And a new one coming out this June that I am beyond excited about, by Alan Pauls, a South American author: A History of Money!!

Lysbeth Abrams

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2012 Picks of the Year — Young Adult

9780062195180

The Peculiar
By Bachmann, Stefan
Greenwillow Books
9780062195180 $16.99

Teens are half child and half adult, which often makes them awkward and other people uncomfortable. In The Peculiar, Bartholomew has the additional handicap of being half human and half fae. His world is a grimy London existing in an uneasy balance of power between fae and humans. Someone is after Bartholomew and his sister, and it could be either side. Exceptional writing adds to the pleasure of the adventure.

9780399254598

Keeping Safe the Stars
By O’Connor, Sheila
Putnam Publishing Group
9780399254598 $16.99

The three orphaned Star siblings, Pride, Nightingale, and Baby, spent a short, awful period in the County Home before finding their way to the care of their grandfather, Old Finn, their only living relative. Old Finn is fiercely independent, but he becomes so ill that he’s hospitalized. 12-year-old Star takes charge to make sure nobody knows they’re on their own, and she’s not about to accept help.  10-year-old Nightingale isn’t so sure that’s the best way to help Old Finn or themselves, and 8-year-old Baby has a tendency to blow their cover, which would let others meddle.  Gathering bits of respect, bits of understanding, and bits of love, they manage to fashion a family.

9780307931887

Every Day
By Levithan, David
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
9780307931887 $17.99

A wakes up every day in a new body. Creating a personal code of ethics, A discovers what can (and cannot), should (and should not) be done when you’re living in someone else’s life. One day A wakes up as Justin, meets Justin’s girlfriend Rhiannon, and on that day A’s own life finally begins.

Every Day is a unique inquiry into the relationship between body and soul. Is ‘who we are’ distinct from ‘what we look like’?  Is love really blind or do we fall for the ‘package’ as much as the ‘person’ inside? What makes us human anyway? Perfect for the philosophical teen, who likes contemplating life’s mysteries.

9780375866562

Seraphina
By Hartman, Rachel
Random House Books for Young Readers
9780375866562 $17.99

In Seraphina, Hartman has created an alternative, fantastic medieval world. The Kingdom of Goredd contains the anticipated castle, cathedral, market, and university. The royal family prevails, religion is integral in daily life, and a host of saints are familiar to all. Goredd, however, is bound by a tenuous peace-treaty with the neighboring kingdom of dragons. The knights have been banished — there is no use for them now — and dragons and human live side-by-side. Despite the official treaty, tensions between humans and dragons are high in Goredd, especially after a member of the royal family is killed in a distinctly draconian manner. Seraphina, sympathetic to both sides and also feared by both sides, stands at the center of this story; a story that incorporates high adventure and courtly romance and is well on its way to creating a modern legend.

9780525478812

The Fault in Our Stars
By Green, John
Dutton Books
9780525478812 $17.99

John Green gets it. He writes characters that precisely capture the transitional voice of teenagers poised between childhood and adulthood. In Hazel, he has created a character who has endured more than most adults, but retains the snarky running commentary that is pure adolescence. Hazel has lived most of her life on the edge of death. Although a Cancer Survivor — she mocks the melodramatic weight that people often use when discussing Serious Medical Conditions — Hazel is perpetually aware of her truncated life-span. Reluctant to get too close to anyone, because she repeatedly witnesses the pain of those who have lost a family member or friend, Hazel is unprepared for one Augustus Waters to bounce into her life. Her attempts to protect him prove futile and she ends up discovering why it’s never worth denying someone the pain of loving you.

9780545424929

The Raven Boys
By Stiefvater, Maggie
Scholastic Press
9780545424929 $18.99

Blue lives in a house full of psychics. She doesn’t have the gift herself, but she possesses the ability to augment others’ gifts. Therefore on St. Mark’s Eve, when she sees the spirit of a boy who has not yet died, there can be only two possible explanations: either he’s her true love or she’s the one who kills him. 

Gansey is on a quest. A junior at the all-boys Aglionby prep school, he surrounds himself with the friends and resources he needs to uncover an ancient legend. He’s wealthy and charismatic: a little too pompous for Blue, but she is slowly pulled into Gansey’s obsession. She has no interest in falling in love, certainly not with a Raven Boy from Aglionby Prep, but then why did Blue see Gansey walking the copse road, and what exactly connects her spirit to his? The first in a quartet, The Raven Boys blurs the lines between mysticism and realism. It’s an auspicious start to what is sure to be an excellent series.

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2012 Picks of the Year — Middle Grade Chapter Books

9781452104676

Unusual Creatures: A Mostly Accurate Account of Some of Earth’s Strangest Animals
By Hearst, Michael
2012-09 – Chronicle Books (CA)
9781452104676 $16.99

Michael Hearst is a composer of unusual music, including “Songs for Unusual Creatures.” He gathered so much fascinating material that he also wrote a book about fifty very strange animals, their habits and oddities. As a man of imagination, he has included not only the weirder details, but also playful humor and wit.

9781423135005

Jepp, Who Defied the Stars
By Marsh, Katherine
Hyperion Books
9781423135005 $16.99

Jepp is a dwarf teenager, and in 16th century Europe a dwarf is a curiosity of economic value. A greasy nobleman promises Jepp’s unsophisticated mother good things for him, and carries Jepp off to court, where a world of capricious luxury awaits. The beds are soft, but full of humiliation, and after initial wide-eyed excitement, Jepp and a friend try to escape. They’re partially successful, but find themselves in an even stranger situation.

9780385737432

Liar and Spy
By Stead, Rebecca
Wendy Lamb Books
9780385737432 $15.99

Georges (the s is silent) isn’t thrilled about his family’s move to a smaller apartment, but he understands his dad is unemployed, his mother is working extra shifts at the hospital, and he should do his bit to help. So Georges explores and meets Safer and Candy, two kids on another floor. Safer is a self-appointed spy looking for an assistant, since Candy is goofy and unreliable. Georges is wary but polite, and the results are funny, touching, and surprising.

9780375869020

Wonder
By Palacio, R. J.
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
9780375869020 $15.99

Human kindness isn’t simple, as Auggie Pullman learns when he leaves the safety of homeschooling for a regular fifth grade class. His severe facial deformity gives everyone pause.  Among his family, classmates, and teachers, some are able to recognize the smart, funny, brave boy beneath the odd features, and some can barely tolerate him.  When the chips are down, when kids from another school start picking on Auggie, will anyone stand up for him?  The answer will sing out like a Handel oratorio.  In the few months since it was published, we already see schools taking up the book as a must read.

9780374350956

Fourmile
By Key, Watt
Farrar Straus Giroux
9780374350956 $16.99

Foster and his mother aren’t able to keep up the farm since his dad died, and his mother is trying to sell it, although she knows 12-year-old Foster wants to stay. Dax, the man who calls on her, is no friend to Foster, and Dax positively hates Foster’s dog Joe. Things are tense and getting worse when a stranger walks up the road. The stranger is Gary, an Iraq war vet who asks to trade barn shelter for chores. In Foster’s eyes Gary is a model of strength and masculine virtue. But Gary seems to have something to hide, and Dax would love to see Gary gone. The fiery climax reveals several things, including a more mature Foster.

9780547738475

The Last Dragonslayer
By Fforde, Jasper
Harcourt Children’s Books
9780547738475 $16.99

Reading Jasper Fforde is like listening to Spike Jones: serious sounding stuff except that there’s always one more outlandish boink and tootle where you least expect it. It works so well in Fforde’s Thursday Next mysteries that he’s now created the character of Jennifer Strange, a teenage foundling, who heads up Mystical Arts Management and keeps a knife-toothed Quarkbeast. Mystical arts and their practitioners were once revered, but lately they’re lucky to get paid for rewiring houses and unblocking drains. The less people believe in magic, the lower its powers ebb. The impending death of Maltcassion, the last dragon, is about to reduce it even further, as humans scramble to claim the valuable real estate that belonged to Maltcassion. And what does that have to do with the prediction of Big Magic? Jennifer Strange will be at the center of the coming changes, changes that are surprising to the end.

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2012 Picks of the Year — Picture Books

9780763656010

Step Gently Out
By Frost, Helen
Candlewick Press (MA)
9780763656010 $15.99

Young children examine small worlds intently, sometimes frustrated by things too busy or tiny to see well. This quiet poem is illustrated with remarkable close-up photos of delicate insects on stems, leaves, flowers, and dewy twigs.  Back pages give additional information about the eleven different insects.

9781419701078

Get Dressed!
By Chwast, Seymour
ABRAMS
9781419701078 $12.95

New Yorker cartoonist Chwast provides plenty of flaps to unfold and lift. Most kids start with getting up and dressing in the morning, and end with pajamas and bed. But in between the book offers all kinds of fun prompts and attire: dragons, hiding in the jungle, cold weather, sand castles, making believe, rock star performing.

9781935954149

Happy
By Van Hout, Mies
Lemniscaat USA
9781935954149 $17.95

Once a child learns the basic nouns, verbs, “no!” and “please,” the way is cleared for expressing emotions. The more the emotions can be verbalized, the less they need to be acted out. Happy! is a series of colorful drawings, each of them of a fish that perfectly expresses a given emotion: happy, curious, nervous, brave, shy, surprised, and 14 others.

9780547610832

More
By Springman, I. C.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH)
9780547610832 $16.99

Inspired, clever, elaborate illustrations make this the perfect book for a bright child who may or may not be reading fluently.  Those sharp young eyes will detect the visual puns as a magpie collects compulsively until its excess brings down the entire overloaded nest.Luckily, the magpie has friends who help it downsize to the final pages: “Enough? Yes, enough.”

9781442450271

Olivia and the Fairy Princesses
By Falconer, Ian
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
9781442450271 $17.99

Possibly the most amusing Olivia book yet: Olivia is having an identity crisis: what will make her special if everyone is a princess! Olivia decides she’s done, done, DONE with pink. She’s seeking a “more stark, modern style.” It involves lots of black jersey, a la Martha Graham. After considering several possibilities, Olivia arrives at her latest and most definitely appropriate persona.

9780061915161

Cat Tale
By Hall, Michael
Greenwillow Books
9780061915161 $16.99

Three cats, Lillian, Tilly, and William J., start on an outing. Word play is part of the adventure: “They flee a steer.” “They steer a plane.” “They plane a board.” “They board a train.” In the middle the cats become confused for a couple of pages, but the tail/tale homonym sets them back on track to a comfy ending.

9780811876896

MOMA Color Puzzles: 4 Double-Sided Puzzles
By Komagata, Katsumi
Chronicle Books 
9780811876896 $10.99

Four reversible puzzles offer hundreds of ways to re-combine the few pieces, to explore the visual impact of shading, line, and contrast. Created for the Museum of Modern Art.

9780062104182

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs
By Willems, Mo
Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
9780062104182 $17.99

Mo Willems is as irrepressible as ever. Three Dinosaurs , Papa, Mama, and “some other Dinosaur who happened to be visiting from Norway” make a great show of setting out bowls of chocolate pudding, making their beds look comfy, and leaving the  doors open as they pretend to head out into the forest. Along comes Goldilocks, “a little girl who never listens to anyone or anything.” She ignores the many warning signs, and thing are looking ominous until she hears gloating outside the window and realizes she needs to scram.

9780316045476

The Monsters’ Monster
By McDonnell, Patrick
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
9780316045476 $16.99

Three little monsters, Grouch, Grump, and little Gloom ‘n’ Doom (he has two heads) squabble over who’s the biggest, baddest monster of all. Finally they decide to pool their efforts to make a MONSTER monster, using “tape, tacks, staples, and glue, gunk, gauze, and gobs of goo, bolts, wire, and a smelly old shoe.” When the huge creation comes to life its first booming word words are “Dank you!” because he’s thankful to be alive. The little rascals chase along behind as he crashes through the walls, marches down the mountain to the bakery, nad buys jelly doughnuts. Everyone shares them happily on a beach, completely forgetting to be monsters.

9781596435490

Mousterpiece
By Zalben, Jane Breskin
Roaring Brook Press
9781596435490 $16.99

By age 6,7,8, many children have visited an art museum. Like Janson, the mouse who lives in a museum, they may resonate to certain artists. Janson paints herself again and again in the styles of Albers, Rousseau, Warhol, Seurat, Braque, Picasso and 16 other major artists. Eventually she is discovered, and given an exhibition of her own. The book is a great way to introduce the idea of different styles, and associate names with them.

9780803737129

Duck Sock Hop
By Kohuth, Jane
Dial Books
9780803737129 $16.99

Rhythm and bounce will capture everyone’s silly sense as the catchy rhyme rolls along. This is a wake-up-and-get-moving book, not a nighty-night one. Today’s children will need a little clarification from grandparents as to the meaning of “sock hop,” and that’s likely to lead to demonstrations and imitations — in other words, a party.

9781596437111

A Home for Bird
By Stead, Philip Christian
Roaring Brook Press
9781596437111 $16.99

Vernon the frog is pleased to find Bird, whom he welcomes as friend, although bird says nothing. Vernon introduces Bird  to his friends, but Bird says nothing. Vernon is concerned that Bird might be lost, so he sets out to find Bird’s home. After an arduous journey that tests Vernon’s determination, they stumble into a little house and Bird speaks one word at last: “Cuckoo!”

9781423145622

Otto the Book Bear
By Cleminson, Katie
Hyperion Books
9781423145622 $16.99

Otto is a bear who lives inside a book, and is always happiest when children read his book. He has a secret: sometimes he leaves his book and goes exploring. One day while he’s out, the family moves, taking his book but forgetting Otto! Otto makes a plan, packs a bag, and sets off on a new adventure. The world is a little larger than he had expected, and he’s becoming discouraged when he sees full of light and hope: a library! There he not only finds another book bear, but also, best of all, children reading.

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