Saturday, January 23, 2010

For those of you who take more than a passing interest in political science and history...

I am going to recommend...a middle grade novel. That's right. Not even Young Adult. And you are going to love it.

That's because Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief is smart, tricky, and fun. It kicks of a series that only gets better as it goes along. As it does, Whalen Turner weaves in serious questions around diplomacy, leadership, and ethics. And it's so good. So good! However, before I get ahead of myself, let's talk about The Thief.

The story of Gen, a thief stuck in a king's prison, who gets taken out and then on the journey of a lifetime, seems simple enough. It's a road story of a band of unlikely companions (um all human, no hobbits) on a mission of political significance to the middle of nowhere. I know I'm not giving very helpful details. I just can't. So much of the joy of this book is letting the story unfold.

But I can say it's incredibly clever and grounded in a somewhat fictional historical and political reality that leads to much of the action in the next two books (I say "somewhat fictional" because while the setting is very reminiscent of Renaissance Greece, there's different geographical names, gods, and political landscape).

I've mentioned the next two books in the series, The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia. Do not read anything about these two books before starting The Thief. Jacket copy is not your friend. Just read the three books in order. You'll notice I'm not even linking to the next books in the series, so you won't be tempted.

In March, the long-awaited fourth installment in the series, A Conspiracy of Kings, comes out. I actually have the date marked in my planner and will probably be camped outside Elliot Bay Books on March 23rd, waiting for my copy. As March weather in Seattle is pretty much the most depressing thing ever, I could use company. And I'm quite sure, once you've read these three books, I'll have some.

Is Elizabeth Psychic?

I don't know. Maybe it's some sort of secret librarian hotline thing.

All I know is, two weeks ago, Elizabeth posted on the many wonders of When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.

This week, When You Reach Me won the Newbery Medal.

Needless to say, my very own copy is winging its way to my house as I type.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

So You Think You're Too Good For Children's Books...

Believe me, you're not. And to those of you who adore children's books, I apologize. As a librarian I met so many adults who refused to read children's books, which is super silly because children's literature is just as good as adult literature.

My latest favorite novel was, as you may have guessed, written for children. Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me is a coming of age novel and an homage to Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. (If you haven't read A Wrinkle in Time, I am appalled. Read it immediately.) Set in New York in the late 1970s, When You Reach Me perfectly captures that horribly awkward and amazing time of life when childhood is left behind but still within reach.

After twelve-year-old Miranda's best friend Sal gets punched on the way home from school one day, nothing is the same. New friendships are made, there's a mystery to solve, and a game show to prepare for. When You Reach Me is one of those novels that is fascinating to read yet frustrating to review because describing the plot in detail would ruin the mystery. I probably shouldn't have even mentioned A Wrinkle in Time. Stead's prose is excellent and I actually had to reread some of the scientific passages, which illustrates for you children's literature doubters out there that books meant for children can indeed be intellectually stimulating.

Please read this book. As soon as I finished it, I immediately turned to the first page and began reading it again. This is a rare reaction for me, as I have a pretty short attention span, and thus high praise indeed. Once You Reach Me has the makings of a classic and shouldn't be missed.

Plus it has a pretty nifty cover.

Other Children's Books That Are Fabulous and Should be Read Immediately:

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
A mouse saves a beautiful princess from the clutches of an very unpleasant rat. The moral of the story? Everyone has feelings--complicated, confused feelings, and within us all there is the possibility for good and bad, and redemption. The drawings are also adorable, and, you know, it did win the Newbery in 2004.

The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book One
by Rick Riordan
Riordan's Percy Jackson series is so popular that a motion picture is coming out soon, so please read the book before the movie comes out. Not that the movie will be bad--in fact the trailer indicates it might actually be good--but I hate seeing a movie before reading the book it's based on. It ruins all my ideas of who the characters are. Anyway, The Lightning Thief is about Percy's realization that he is half god and half human: a hero. Before you can say "Zeus" he's off to hero camp, battling monsters, and discovering who his Olympian father is. Completely addicting.