Materials We Have

Back to School Reads

It’s hard to believe that summer is over and another school year is starting! Get back into the swing of things (or ready for your very first day) at elementary school by checking out our list of back-to-school picture books and early readers!

And remember that while we’re closed to complete the library renovation, you can still order books and pick them up from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, and our digital collections are always available at elpl.org!

Connect the Stars by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague

I’m always intrigued when an author whose books I enjoy as an adult reader ventures into the world of children’s fiction.  I like the book Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos, so I was anxious to read her second foray into children’s literature, Connect the Stars, which she co-authored with her husband, David Teague.  The cover art drew me to the book while I was putting some titles out on display!  The story is about two teens, Audrey and Aaron, who meet at Wilderness camp.  They are both struggling with life in general, due to parts of their personalities that don’t quite mesh with other middle schoolers.  Trying to find their way through the adventures of camp and working together to handle the calamities forms the basis for their friendship, even though Audrey has given up on friends and people in general.  I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good story, and also to someone who might need to know that things usually work out OK in the end.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Is there anything more exciting and more terrifying than when one of your favorite books (dare I even say, favorite book, full stop?) gets made into a movie? It’s either going to be amazing and wonderful and everything you’ve ever dreamed of, or a deplorable affront to something you love. I’m in the throes of that emotional roller coaster right now, with the news that Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle is currently being adapted into a movie -- although I am buoyed by the fact that it happens to be starring one of my current actor-obsessions, Sebastian Stan (or, the guy who plays The Winter Soldier in the Captain America movies). As you can imagine, I’m both incredibly excited and highly nervous to see the end product, but in the meantime, it’s a great excuse for me to reread the book for the (redacted)th time.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the story of 18 year old Mary Katherine (or Merricat) Blackwood and her older sister, Constance. They’ve lived in seclusion in their enormous family estate with their elderly uncle Julian for the last 6 years, ever since the rest of their family was poisoned with arsenic at dinner. Constance was arrested but acquitted for the murders, and ever since, their family has been ostracized from the nearby village. Merricat is the only one in the household who ventures into society for groceries and library books, and whenever she does she’s met with taunts and vitriol. Despite the animosity Merricat feels for their neighbors (she spends a lot of time wishing they would all die), she's very content in her life with her sister, uncle, and cat Jonas. She uses wards and homemade magic to protect them from intruders, but when one ward fails, she knows that change is coming -- which it does, in the form of their estranged cousin Charles Blackwood. Charles is determined to establish himself as the head of the family and draw the sisters back out into society, but Merricat is suspicious of his intentions, and as exposure and calamity inch closer and closer to her carefully safeguarded life, it seems like her suspicions will prove correct.

It’s technically a novella, so it’s a short read, but I swear, every time I read it I discover some new layer to it that I’ve never considered. Shirley Jackson is, in my opinion, one of the greatest writers ever (seriously, even if you didn’t love reading The Lottery in high school, check out The Haunting of Hill House, where she basically invents the genre of the haunted house ghost story). She does American Gothic fiction like no others, and for a book with absolutely nothing supernatural, it’s still deeply, eerily unsettling. Jackson puts forth the idea that the creepiest things in the world are both right in your own backyard while still being nothing you would ever suspect so gloriously and with the best turns of phrase that I’m now banned from reading any out loud to my husband for too many interruptions that start with “Okay but listen to this amazing sentence!” I could gush for many more paragraphs (the English major in me is showing), but I’ll just end by saying that you can find Shirley Jackson’s works, including Hoopla and Overdrive eAudiobook versions of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, here at ELPL.

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas

Thank you to Kelsey at ELPL for showing me The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas! This picture book tells the sweet story of a man who uncorks bottled messages set adrift in the ocean and delivers them to their destination, all while secretly hoping to one day find a message that’s meant for him. When he comes across an invitation to a party happening the next day with no name attached to it, he sets out to find the recipient – and finds friendship of his own in the process. It’s a sweet book with beautiful artwork, and although it’s definitely one of those picture books that was probably written with the intention to appeal foremost to adults, little ones will nonetheless enjoy this comforting, whimsical book and its gorgeous illustrations. Find it here at ELPL!

Teen Book Reviews

As the summer draws to a close, we are proud to unveil two shiny new book reviews from a couple of our teen patrons! As you may recall, participants of the 2016 Teen Summer Challenge had the option of submitting reviews for fame (a spot on our blog) and fortune (a chance to win one of our ossm prizes). So, without further ado:

 

Rick Yancey's The Infinite Sea, review by Anonymous
[Also available as an audiobook, Hoopla audiobook, e-book, and e-audiobook]

I read the book The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey. This book was filled with action packed, intriguing scenes and also many scary ideas of a world in which aliens (really just enhanced humans called the 'others') invade in a series of 5 different waves of destruction. Overall, I think that this book definitely keeps your attention while you are reading and is interesting to read but I don't really appreciate the ideas that the author comes up with with all of the destruction and distorted thinking that this book instigates. This book also seemed to just be a prolonging of the ending of the story and did not really move the plot on much from the ending of the fifth wave. This book was interesting to read but I felt that it brought about a lot of imprudent thinking and definitely would not be appropriate for younger children. You could argue that this is a science fictional book and none of these events would ever occur but some of the ideas still seem as if they could bring about and suggest bad ideas.

 

Soman Chainani's The School for Good and Evil, review by Ren M.

“In the Forest primeval 
A school for Good and Evil

Two towers like twin heads
One for the pure
One for the wicked
Try to escape you’ll always fail
The only way out is… through a Fairy Tale”

-Soman Chainani

The School for Good and Evil is not the usual Fairy Tale everyone expects… With many twists and turns, the book is never a bore.

Let us start from the first book of the trilogy. The Fairy Tale starts in the town of Gavaldon, a small town just outside the Endless Woods…

Sophie, a girl with a reputation for the love of pink, frills, and even glass slippers, had been waiting her whole life to be kidnapped and swept into the magical school for Good. She just knew she would earn top marks in the Good school, find her Prince Charming and graduate as a beautiful, Fairy Tale princess.

Agatha on the other hand, with a greasy dome of black hair, shapeless frocks as clothes and a life inside a house in the middle of a graveyard, everyone, including herself, always believed she would be kidnapped into the school for Evil. She would then graduate the school as a witch that boils children into stew…

However, when they are kidnapped and thrown into the Endless Woods, they find themselves in the wrong schools! Will the two friends be able to survive the classes of the opposite schools?

Or, is it possible that the two girls are actually in the right schools all along…?

Theodore Boone series by John Grisham

If your child is looking for a new series to read, I recommend giving one of John Grisham’s Theodore Boone novels a try.  They are fast paced and have interesting characters.  Each story is self-contained so you do not need to read them in order!  The stories revolve around Theodore, a lawyer-in-training.  His mother and father are lawyers and he sometimes is asked to use his knowledge of the law to help his classmates when they get involved in situations.  He has his own little office in the law firm his parents own, and a trusty dog!  There are six books in this very popular series.

The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

As a children’s librarian, I read (and love) tons of books for kids and young adults, but I still find myself needing to return to my English-major roots and pick up a long literary novel from time to time. And I’m so glad that I happened upon Elena Ferrante’s series The Neapolitan Novels as my most recent choice. I’ve heard them hyped up for a while, but didn’t know much about them going in, and yet from the first 20 pages of the first installment, My Brilliant Friend, I was hooked.

The series of four books follows two childhood friends, Elena and Lila, as they grow up together in Naples. The scope of all four books – a daunting 1,700 pages between them that I nevertheless cruised through entirely in under a month – is massive, and follows the trajectory of their entire lives. Through this, they deal with an enormous swath of issues: family, education, marriage, motherhood, class, politics, personal and professional achievement, female identity, violence, socio-political upheaval, what it means to be from a place, what it means to be. The writing itself is brilliant, insightful and incisive, and completely unflinching –Ferrante refuses to pull even one single punch. There’s a reason so many reviews have referred to this series as a “masterpiece.”

Adding to its impressive impact is the fact that Ferrante writes under a pseudonym; she gives no clues to her identity, nor any in person interviews, and so no one is quite sure of who she is, save for that she is a woman from Naples. It’s an intriguing mystery, but I tend to agree with the idea that I’ve heard Ferrante quoted on – that once a book exists in the world, it doesn’t need an author, it needs only to tell its story. These books do exactly that, and near perfectly.

The series starts with My Brilliant Friend, followed up by The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child. Find all of Ferrante’s works here at ELPL.

The Thank You Book by Mo Willems

As a huge fan of the Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems, I have to admit I was sad when the latest book came out, which is the last one for Gerald and Piggie.  It is called The Thank You Book and it does not disappoint!  These books teach great lessons and are just plain fun!  I highly recommend them for any early readers, or parents reading aloud to their children.

Saving Lucas Biggs

Saving Lucas Biggs is the first book by the writing partners, husband and wife team of Marisa de los Santos and David Teague.  It is a well-written, captivating book that involves the O’Malley family and their “quirk” – the ability to time travel.  Margaret O’Malley learns that “history resists” when you are going back in time to change the past, but she desperately wants to help her father who has been found guilty of the crimes of arson and murder and sentenced to death.  The chapters alternate between present day 2014 and 1938.  It was a good escape from recent news, and this quote from the book even helped me put things in perspective:

“For every big, bad, attention-getting thing that happens, there are thousands of small good ones, acts that might even seem ordinary but really aren’t, so many that we can forget to notice them or to count them up.  But it’s what has always amazed me:  not how terrible people can be to each other, but how good, in spite of everything.” 

So, I will keep that in mind when the news is full of the big, bad attention-getting things, and I will be thankful that the library is full of books that will help me escape for a little while.

As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds

When I read something by a “new to me” author that I really like, I want to read all of the books that they have written!  So this weekend after reading As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds, I put myself on hold for his book All American Boys, and checked out The Boy in the Black Suit and When I Was the Greatest

I liked everything about As Brave as You – the characters, plot, writing style, even what the author had to say about himself on the flap!  The story centers around two brothers who go to stay with their grandparents while their parents go on a vacation to try to work out some of their issues.  The youngest, Genie, is worried about them getting divorced. 

The boys get to know their grandparents and life in Virginia, which is very different than life in Brooklyn!  Ernest and Genie have a whole list of chores to do every day and they don’t even have an internet connection!  The story takes a lot of different twists and turns, and focuses on the sweet relationship that is blooming between Genie and Grandpop.  I don’t want to give out too many details, but I highly recommend this book.  I'll keep you posted on his other titles.

There Is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith

I picked this book up as I was going through my semi-regular scouring of the lists of potential 2017 Caldecott Award contenders (which is a great way to stumble across new and wonderful picture books). Out of the most recent stack I checked out, There Is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith was by far and away my absolute favorite. I expected to like it (I’ve been a fan of Lane Smith’s work since my own childhood when he teamed up with Jon Scieszka to illustrate several of his books, including The Stinky Cheese Man and The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs), but even with that expectation, I was blown away by just how beautiful and touching this book turned out to be.

The premise of the book is straightforward enough: we see an unnamed, leaf-clad child in nature as he encounters different groups of animals and learns the names for their various communities (a pod of whales, an unkindness of ravens, and so on). We watch him join in with these different communities and take part in their rituals and experiences before moving onto the next. What initially seems like it might be a disparate set of encounters turns out to be his journey as he eventually makes his way towards his own group, a – you guessed it – tribe of kids. And although it’s clear that his path is designed to take him towards this tribe where he belongs and recognizes himself in its others members, we still see him joyfully experiencing life among the other groups of animals as he makes his way there, even if they aren’t his own tribe.

The text is sparse while still being engaging, and the illustrations elevate this book to something really beautiful and immersive. They are rich, textured, and whimsical, with so many things to discover that you almost have to go back to certain pages. From his very first meeting with a colony of penguins, I was hooked on this gorgeous celebration of nature, communities, and the joy we can feel while immersed within both those things.

Find it here at ELPL.

Beginning Reader Kits

The transition to easy readers can often be difficult for young children who are reading their very first words.

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