Books in the Park

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

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Ghost, by Jason Reynolds

ghost-reynoldsMiddle schooler Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw is obsessed with two things: sunflower seeds and the Guinness Book of World Records. He knows a lot of the records by heart, including the fact that some guy named Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world—but that doesn’t mean he cares about track. In fact, running drudges up a traumatic memory: running for his life from his gun-wielding father.

His father has been in jail for three years now, but not a day goes by that Ghost doesn’t think about that horrible night. He can’t talk about it and puts up emotional walls that only alienate him from his peers. Despite being a good kid at heart, he gets into a lot of fights when his buttons are pressed. But his lonely, misunderstood life changes when the school’s track coach sees amazing potential in him and compels him to join the team.

Ghost doesn’t always make the right choices along the way to finding himself, which is what makes him such a great character to read about. His thoughts and actions ring true, and a lot of readers will be able to relate to his feelings. The fantastic role models in his life help to orient him morally with good advice and fitting punishments.

This is the first book in a series, so try not to be too disappointed when that ending comes up way too fast.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Ghost.

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The Creeps, by Chris Schweizer

creeps-schweizerCarol, Mitchell, Jarvis, and Rosario are not popular. Their investigations into the bizarre happenings of their sleepy town have raised the ire of their classmates, their teachers, and even the police. Throughout Pumpkins County they are known as “The Creeps”. Not to say their title isn’t apt; on any given day the gang could find themselves elbow deep in reanimated frog corpses or fighting a mutant pudding monster (creepy stuff), but the ill-will from the townsfolk is completely unwarranted! How many times have these kids saved the town? Lots, just ask them, they’ll tell you! But nobody seems to care about the monsters that threaten the fine folk of Pumpkins County, and so The Creeps will continue their thankless job.

This title currently consists of three volumes, and each one is amazing. The Creeps is marked as juvenile fiction, but I would strongly recommend it to all graphic novel readers. *This series is marked as “multi-cultural”, meaning that roughly 60% of the characters you see on the page are not white. This helps to make Pumpkins County an amazing display of diversity. The townsfolk come in every color, size, shape, and even social circle that humans can come in. You’ll see farmers, punks, jocks, little old ladies, and environmentalists walking the streets. Almost any reader could pick up this book and see a character that reflects them.

Additionally, Schweizer takes care to depict the townsfolk as people who are worth saving, even though they can be cruel. Even the most rotten school bullies are rendered likable to some degree. The most lovable characters of all, though are the Creeps. Each character has their own unique skills and hobbies that complement the group’s goals, making them the perfect mystery solving team. Possibly the very best part of the book, however, is the relationship the Creeps have with one another. Carol, Mitchell, Jarvis, and Rosario joke and pick on each other good-naturedly, but when the stakes are high, they are there for each other 100%.

Each volume of The Creeps is humorous, harrowing, a little bit touching, and completely charming. The volumes are episodic, and there is no need to read them in a certain order. So pick up a volume of The Creeps today!

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Creeps.

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The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown

wild-robot-brownWhen Roz the robot is shipwrecked on a tiny island, she has only her basic programming to guide her. Roz is not built for the outdoors, but she is designed to be adaptable, thoughtful, and intelligent, and she soon realizes that her best hope for survival is to learn and gain support from the island’s hostile animal inhabitants. Gaining the animal’s trust takes time and it’s only when she tries to care for an orphaned gosling that the other animals finally decide to help her. The island starts to feel like home to Roz until one day, the robot’s mysterious past comes back to haunt her.

The Wild Robot is author and illustrator Peter Brown’s first novel. Brown, known for his children’s picture books, such as Children Make Terrible Pets, has totally succeeded in producing an utterly charming first novel. Though The Wild Robot starts off slow, once Roz learns the language of the animals, the story flourishes. The animals of the island all have big personalities and Roz begins to form friendships with them, like with Chitchat the squirrel and Loudwing the goose. Roz solicits their help to care for the gosling Brightbill who she becomes a mother to. Roz and Brightbill eventually become invaluable members of the island community. Roz even helps the animals survive through a grueling winter by teaching them to make fire.

This book has been compared to Hatchet and My Side of the Mountain. Readers who enjoy these types of survivalist stories will definitely be drawn into Roz’s tale. It could also be compared to Stuart Little. Both are stories about extraordinary protagonists who don’t quite belong and through adventure and perseverance make a life for themselves. Lovers of these types of stories as well as both robot and animal lovers will find something to delight in here. For adult readers, The Wild Robot makes a great parenting story and the philosophical questions that naturally arise between robot Roz and living animal Brightbill can be in turns both fun and thoughtful. With such a wide appeal, Brown’s book can also be enjoyed together as a read aloud for younger children. No one should miss out on this sparkling book!

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Wild Robot.

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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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Under the Egg, by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

undereggThirteen-year-old Theo Tenpenny has a lot on her shoulders. A few months ago she watched her grandfather, Jack, collapse in the street and die. Ever since then it has been her primary responsibility to feed the chickens, tend the garden, repair the house, and pay the bills with the meager $463.00 remaining to the Tenpenny family. Theo has a mother, of course, but she stays locked in her room all day, compulsively working out math problems and drinking expensive tea.

Theo doesn’t complain, though, because she knows that if she doesn’t buckle down, everything Jack worked for will come to ruin. She does wish however that she knew what Jack meant in his last words: “Under the egg… a letter… and a treasure.” Theo couldn’t care less about a letter, but she could really use that treasure right about now. Little does she know that right around the corner lies the meaning of Jack’s words—and a discovery that will change everything.

This story could be described as The DaVinci Code for middle-schoolers. Under the Egg was masterfully written, fast-paced, and full of amazing details. There was a great deal of knowledge imparted to the reader in the form of small asides that made the story educational as well as entertaining. It is not difficult imagine a person following up on one of these asides and beginning a brand new hobby in research.

The story is set in New York, and every character jumps off the page. The cast is wonderfully diverse, and each individual is unique and memorable, even if they only appear for a moment. Of course, Theo is the real stand-out. In the beginning she is a surly, do-it-yourself-er who is closed off from the world and unwilling to ask for help. Her transition into the local community is subtle and fantastic. There are no true villains in the story, merely people living out their lives, and, in the end, the reader will warm up to even the worst of the lot.

In short, Under the Egg is the whole package, and readers of any age should check it out.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Under the Egg.

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Bindi Babes, by Narinder Dhami

bindi babes dhamiAmber, Jazz and Geena are three sisters on top of the world. They wear designer clothes and always have the latest tech; it is obvious why they rule their school. The girls have everything they could ever want, except for maybe their mother. Last year, after their mom passed away, their dad fell into a stupor and started working long hours, leaving the run of the house to his daughters. The girls opted to take advantage of dad’s new pushover status and now do whatever they want, as long as they keep their grades up. To the girls, the situation is ideal, except… they do miss their mom. The silver lining to all this is that whenever they get sad, they can always fill that raw gaping hole in their hearts with more new clothes!

Unfortunately for Amber, Jazz, and Geena, a dark cloud looms over the horizon that threatens to spoil their new lifestyle. The cloud comes in the form of their overbearing Auntie, who has flown all the way from India with the intent of whipping her widower brother, and her sassy nieces, into shape. The girls have only one option: Convince some patsy to marry their terrible Auntie and get things back to the status quo ASAP!

The best part of this book is how well the characters were written. Dhami does a masterful job of painting each character so delicately that it is hard for me to really dislike any of them, even when they are at their worst. The story is told in a way that hints to something more just beneath the surface of the words. The characters’ materialism, stubbornness, or stoicism never seems one-dimensional. This propelled the plot forward, getting me hooked, and keeping me wondering “what else are they thinking?” The story in narrated by 12-year old Amber, the middle child. She is wonderfully childish, immature, and the perfect narrator to appeal to younger kids and pre-teens alike.

This is a light-hearted story with some bittersweet moments. It concludes with a predictable happily-ever-after-ish ending, but I loved every minute of it and recommend it to anyone aged 10 or up wanting a good read.