Books in the Park

suggestions from the Barbara S. Ponce Public Library at Pinellas Park


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The Baby-Sitters Club #1 – Kristy’s Great Idea by Raina Telgemeier

The Baby-Sitters Club #1 – Kristy’s Great Idea by Raina Telgemeier (Based on the novel by Ann M. Martin)

The Baby-Sitters Club has been revamped! The classic series has been re-imagined by Raina Telgemeier for a new audience. Kristy’s Great Idea takes the same story from the original Baby-Sitters Club book that many parents will remember and retells it as a graphic novel, or a very long comic book.

The story is about a group of girls who make spare money babysitting neighborhood kids and, in some cases, their own siblings. Kristy, the eventual leader of the club, has the idea to work with her friends so that parents can call one phone number to schedule babysitting and not have to call each of them to see who may be available. The book also introduces the girls’ family situations; Kristy is growing up with her mom and brothers after her parents’ divorce, Mary Anne’s mom died when she was a baby, and Claudia’s creativity goes against everything her parents want for her in life.

I read the original Baby-Sitters Club Books growing up and recommend these for upper elementary and middle school aged readers.

Check the PPLC catalog for The Baby-Sitters Club


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The Ables, by Jeremy Scott

ables-scottThe Ables posits a world in which superheroes are real. They call themselves Custodians and live secretly among us. Their powers manifest around adolescence and they live in cities comprised of other Custodians. Phillip Salinger is in the awkward position of having superpowers as well as a physical disability. In Phillip’s case, he can move objects with his mind but cannot see. The Ables tells the story of a group of young people with extraordinary abilities who are limited by their physical and mental disabilities. Or are they?

The author does an admirable job of creating a world of amazing super people and explaining how this society works. He even creates a fairly complicated history for this world that goes back thousands of years. Some bullies use derogatory words such as “cripple” and “freak” but it’s clear from the text that this is not acceptable behavior. The characters are fairly complex and portray a wide range of personality types, and the interactions between them are believable. There is a community of special education kids and they all use appropriate language when referring to each other’s disabilities.

I would recommend this title for anyone. I think it’s great that kids with disabilities can read a story in which people like them are front and center. The message of the book is that everyone is different and each person faces a unique set of challenges in their lives. The superpowers act as a metaphor for the talents that everyone has, and the book tells us that by working together we are all stronger as a whole rather than being merely the sum of our parts.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Ables.


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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

 

Ari Mendoza is fifteen years old during the summer of 1987. He lives in El Paso, TX and has few friends. His mother is a teacher and his older siblings are grown up and out of the house. His twin sisters are mothers and are 12 years older than him. His brother is in prison. His father is a Vietnam veteran, though he never speaks of his time in the war and he and Ari rarely speak at all. Life for Ari is pretty isolated until he decides to make a decision that is his and his alone after going with the flow or just doing nothing for his entire life. He rides his bike to the public swimming pool, despite not knowing how to swim. It’s there that he meets Dante.

Dante is unlike anyone that Ari has ever met. He is intelligent, kind, and adores his mom and dad. Like Ari, Dante is also Mexican-American. Their shared cultural background and loner status are just a few of the similarities that ignite their initial friendship. The relationship between Ari and Dante flourishes throughout the summer until they go back to school. They don’t attend the same school and won’t see each other again until the following year. During their time apart they grow in different ways. Ari has taken a job and has become an angry teen. He wants to know more about his brother, who he barely remembers. He learns to drive and spends time alone star gazing in the desert. Dante, spending the year in Chicago, starts to bridge the gap between childhood and adulthood.

During this gap between being a child and an adolescent, Ari and Dante learn about friendship, acceptance, sacrifice, and love. As a teen centered LGBT novel, it deals with the themes of coming out in a place and time where being gay was not seen as an easily acceptable concept. It also goes into gender roles, specifically masculinity, as well as artistic expression, family secrets, and intellectualism.

The book chronicles the summer, school year, and following summer from the perspective of Ari as he exists between the universe of being a boy and a man. It is one of the purest and most sincere relationships to have graced the pages of a YA novel.  Sáenz’s characters are well written and fleshed out and their story is so realistic that you might question whether or not you are truly reading a work of fiction.

The audio book is narrated by Lin Manuel Miranda, creator and star of the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton. The attitude and inflection with which he reads the story truly feels like an auditory glimpse at the life of two teens in 1987.

Check the PPLC catalog for Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. 


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The Smell of Other People’s Houses, by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

other-peoples-houses

I really enjoy books that take me to a time or place very different from my own. Medicine Walk, by Richard Wagamese is one such title, with its tale of a young Native American man reconnecting with his father.  The Smell of Other People’s Houses, by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock is another such book.  The setting in Alaska’s early days of statehood, its environment of rough-and-ready native hunting and fishing families, and its narrative related by four very different voices from four very different perspectives really succeed in placing the reader in that different time and place.

Four children’s perspectives are woven throughout this story, which is broken into the events of spring, summer, fall, and winter. Ruth suffered the loss of one parent to a plane crash, then another as her mother loses her mind from grief. Dora wants to get out of her life, but doesn’t trust her luck when it happens. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away from home than to stay, and Alyce works hard practicing dancing but her hard work on her father’s fishing boat threatens to keep her from her dreams—or does it?

What’s notable in this book is the children’s assumption of agency. At some point, they take control of their lives. They have seen what their lives are and know it is up to them to embrace or reject the status quo. With this, the characters all play a role in other characters’ lives, whether it’s as an instigator, a beacon of hope, or a fellow traveler in their lives’ journeys. The gentle interaction between all their stories remind us that we can all be catalysts for each other, even though we suspect we have nothing to offer.

This book works as a coming of age story (well, four coming of ages) as well as a peek into another life and world that can illuminate our own. Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s narrative is well constructed and solidly grounded in Alaskan life. Good authors can make a setting feel real, but great authors make you feel as if you are there. Read this book and be transported to 1970s Alaska—you won’t regret it.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Smell of Other People’s Houses.


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Star Wars: Before the Awakening, by Greg Rucka

before-awakening-ruckaHave you caught Star Wars fever? Well then now is a great time to explore the new expanded universe with one of the first additions in the book series. Star Wars: Before the Awakening takes us into the lives of Stormtrooper FN-2187 (later called Finn), scavenger Rey, and Resistance pilot Poe Dameron before the events of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. This story is available exclusively to readers.

The book is broken up into three parts and has amazing illustrations of the main characters. It begins with FN-2187, who has received top marks in all of his training as a Stormtrooper, and introduces some of his comrades.

Next, travel to Jakku to learn more about the mysterious scavenger, Rey. She was deserted on the desert planet at a very young age and needed to learn to fend for herself. She finds ship parts and trades them for food and even builds herself a computer with a simulation program to learn how to fly spaceships.

The last character that we are introduced to is Poe, the best pilot in the New Republic Navy. Poe tells his commanders what a threat the First Order presents, but they dismiss his fears. Seeing what Poe is up to, General (formerly Princess) Leia Organa recruits him to fight for the resistance.

I would recommend this book for readers in middle or high school. It was definitely an entertaining read and it was nice to learn more about the new characters. Happy reading and may the Force be with you!

Check the PPLC Catalog for Star Wars: Before the Awakening.


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The Friends, by Kazumi Yumoto

friends-yumotoYamashita, Kawabe, and Kiyama are friends on the verge of adulthood, or at least middle school. With the future looming ahead, the three boys think it is high time they underwent a rite of passage, namely: witnessing a death. For this activity, the boys choose to watch an unkempt old man who looks as if he has one foot in the grave already. Their plans crumble when the old man realizes he is being watched. Proving to be very lively, he browbeats the boys into doing his house work. Yamashita, Kawabe, and Kiyama’s grand rite of passage is ruined, but their journey to adulthood is just beginning.

This book is a Japanese import. Fully translated, it still contains some concepts that may not be familiar to American readers. The text explains these things in a way that can be understood and is unobtrusive to the narrative. The Friends reads almost like a 1980’s film, making the text easy and enjoyable to read.

The story is simultaneously warm, and unsentimental. The harsh realities of life and death are examined realistically, but this is softened by the truly wonderful relationships that develop between the characters. As the story unfolds, the old man becomes a nurturing figure that the three boys never knew they needed. Conversely, the boys bring a spark back into the old man’s life, enabling him to face his past, and his quickly shrinking future. This is a book for readers 10 and up, but has applications for any reader experiencing grief, death, or the existential terror brought on by the passage of time.


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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, and J.K. Rowling

cursed child thorneFirst off, I’m a huge Harry Potter nerd. When I hear those first few musical notes at the beginning of each movie, I get goosebumps. I read my first Harry Potter book when I was 10, and 17 years later I’m still obsessed. Having said that, I was not at all excited for this new installment. I had come to terms with the end of Harry and was content just revisiting the original material. But for some reason when the library got our first copy in for circulation and I was holding it in my hands, I just had to have it. My mom bought me a copy (as is tradition) and I read it all immediately in one sitting. I know there is a lot of hate going around for Cursed Child right now. I’ve seen people refer to it as fanfiction. Honestly, I sort of agree, but it is really really really good fanfiction. It wasn’t written by J.K. Rowling, but it was written by an accomplished playwright who did wonders with a new storyline. Seriously, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany do a great job capturing character with only dialogue. I was beyond impressed.

The story is definitely fast-paced and at times a little confusing, but we’ve got to remember that it isn’t a book, it’s a play. You can’t expect the same level of detail that the rest of the series supplies. Only super nerds like myself would go see an 8 hour Harry Potter play.  What I’m saying with all this is that if you’re fan of the characters, the story, the message—you’ve gotta read Cursed Child. Love it, hate it, you feel how you want but you’ve just got to have this story in your brain. I don’t want to spoil anything so I won’t get into to specifics but TIME TURNERS. Guys, we get more details about time turners and MCGONAGALL. She’s back and just as awesome as before. Read it for her. Cursed Child got me back in the Harry Potter spirit and now I’ve got to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in November. Thanks J.K. Rowling for another great story.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.