The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Review by Teresa Schmidt, librarian
When a man named Jack brutally murders his family, a young baby escapes his house and toddles up the hill to the local abandoned graveyard/nature preserve. Realizing that he is all alone, the "residents" of the graveyard take the baby in, giving him their protection and the Freedom of the Graveyard. What follows is the story of Nobody Owens, a child adopted by ghosts and creatures of the night.
Nobody ("Bod" for short) has a series of adventures as he discovers what it is like to walk the borders between the living and the dead. Since Jack is still looking for him, Bod is forbidden to leave the graveyard. He takes lessons from ghostly teachers, makes friends with those who visit the graveyard, and learns how to perform feats that only ghosts should do, like 'fading' from notice, opening ghoul gates, slipping through walls, and seeing in the dark. But a living boy can only hide among the dead for so long, and soon enough Bod goes into the world to learn what life is about, and to discover the secrets from his past.
I listened to the audio recording of this book read by the author, and I'd highly recommend it if you have the time to listen to a 7 CD set. Gaiman's mild English accent (he's been living in Minnesota for quite a while now) adds to the atmosphere of the book, and his talented performance gives each character a distinct voice without being irritatingly artificial. Combine Gaiman's reading skills with an appropriately spooky rendition of "Danse Macabre" performed by Bela Fleck, and you have a delightfully dark listening experience. I highly recommend it for older children (maybe 9 and up), teens and adults alike!
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Review by Teresa Schmidt, librarian
At first, Miranda seems like she's facing what any young teen in New York in the 1970s might deal with: not enough money, too much time on her hands, a single working mom trying to make ends meet, a best friend who's suddenly stopped talking to her, and the homeless man on the corner making her nervous each time she walks by. As her story progresses, however, we find that Miranda is looking at a situation altogether not normal.
When she receives the first note, Miranda thinks it must be a dark prank. "I am coming to save your friend's life, and my own." The notes keep coming, each containing details of events that haven't happened yet. Now Miranda doesn't just have to navigate the world of middle school: she has to worry about preventing a friend's death, too. But which friend, and how, and when? The mystery unravels slowly, leading to just the right ending that makes you wonder how you didn't see it coming all along.
The Mercer Library has this one filed under J F for "juvenile fiction," but I think it appeals to a wider audience -- late elementary school students will appreciate the mystery, middle school students will feel for Miranda as she struggles to fit in with her classmates and make a place for herself, and parents like me will be reminded of their own childhood as Rebecca Stead describes the autonomous world of kids in the 70s, a world that today's kids unfortunately don't get to explore. This is a book to share with those around you!
Looking for a way to showcase your talents? Need an outlet for your creativity?
Entering a competition is a great way to get yourself motivated to write and create. Entering your work also gets you a lot of experience in preparing your work for submission and in meeting a deadline, and might get you some publicity or even a cash prize! You might be interested in some of the contests listed below...
The Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets offers annual contests for adults and students, and for members of the Fellowship or the general public. Visit them online at wfop.org/contests.html.
Poetry Out Loud is a national recitation contest for students in grades 9-12. This competition is organized through schools, but more information on how to participate can be found at www.poetryoutloud.org.
Not up for any of these? Try Googling "Wisconsin student writing contest" for links to all kinds of writers' associations and organizations that sponsor contests, or any other kind of contest for your preferred art form. Don't be nervous about trying -- someone has to win, and even if you don't it's a great experience. Get creative!
The Wild Things by Dave Eggers
Review by Teresa Schmidt, Mercer Librarian
"Adaped from the illustrated book 'Where the wild things are' by Maurice Sendak, and based on the screenplay 'Where the wild things are' co-written by D.E. and Spike Jonze."
Dave Eggers' version of The Wild Things takes off from Maurice Sendak's beloved children's book and imagines a boy with modern problems and a wild solution.
Max is constantly frustrated from fights with his sister, his overworked divorced mother, and her irritating and embarrassing boyfriend. He finds comfort in the woods in his neighborhood and in creating "mischief of one kind and another." Dressed in his wolf suit and riled up one evening, Max finally pushes too far, and runs out into the woods to escape. He finds a boat and sails "in and out of weeks" to a far-away island, where he finds his Wild Things.
The creatures there are scary, threatening, neurotic, and fascinating. After Max is declared their king, he finds himself navigating the social life of these beasts, trying to find ways to keep everyone together and meet Max's ultimate goal: have fun all the time. Just like boys in the real world, though, Max neglects to look ahead and think through the consequences of his words and actions. The problem is, when you're dealing with creatures large enough to eat you up in one bite, not thinking ahead can get you into serious trouble.
The Wild Things is often dark, sometimes funny, and an interesting, quick read. If you remember Where the Wild Things Are from your childhood, pick up The Wild Things to get a whole new outlook on Max and the dangers of a little boy's imagination.
Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick
Review by Teresa Schmidt, Mercer librarian
Steven Alper is a typical 13-year-old boy: obsessed with the most beautiful girl in school, annoyed by his 5-year-old brother, Jeffrey, and more interested in playing drums in the All City Jazz Band than in homework. But his uneventful life is about to take a sharp turn into heartbreak, when Jeffrey is diagnosed with leukemia.
Suddenly all that was normal is not, and Steven finds himself immersed in overdue homework, lying to his friend Annette (who may be the only one interested in what's really going on with Steven), and surrounded by bald heads and hospitals.
Told from Steven's point of view, often from his school journals, Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie is a story that will keep you reading late into the night. It will make you laugh out loud and cry (sometimes at the same time), and it's one of the best books I've read this year.