Sunday, September 30, 2018

What I'm Reading

I'm in the middle of a bunch of great books again! Here's what I'm reading right now:

American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures edited by America Ferrera (Gallery Books, 336 pages). This collection of essays features tons of star writers like Roxane Gay, Diane Guerrero, and Lin-Manuel Miranda addressing the topic of culture in America. America Ferrera writes the opening essay and it's super, talking about where her name comes from and her struggle to find a place for herself as an actress in the stereotyping landscape of American film and TV.

New Poets of Native Nations edited by Heid E. Erdrich (Graywolf Press, 2018). I am NOT a big poetry reader, but I have been trying to read more Native authors this year. I picked this one up and have already fallen in love with some of these poets and sought out their individual publications. There are some really powerful poems in here, worth perusing for poetry lovers and poetry dabblers alike.

Temper by Nicky Drayden (Harper Voyager, 2018). I picked this up to peruse it* and fell in love with the world-building. It's set in a magical Africa where (for some reason I don't know yet) people are born as twins and get proximity symptoms if they're too far away from their twin. The seven deadly sins are divided up among each twin. And there is magic and machinations are banned and... I just can't wait to figure out more of this intriguing world.

And of course I've got an audio going:

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King, read by LeVar Burton (Oasis Audio, 2018). I needed a new audiobook for a couple of short road trips this week and when I saw that LeVar Burton narrates this biography I've been meaning to pick up, I was SOLD. It's a genius pairing: the voice of Reading Rainbow reading a biography of a man who affected millions of children's lives through television. The 80s kid in me is very pleased.

*I've been taking a leaf from Robin's book and checking out tons of new books to peruse, knowing I'm not going to fully read all of them. The ones I love and want to finish, I'll hold on to. The rest I'll read the first chapter or so and return with a better idea of what's new in our collection.

What have YOU been reading lately?

Monday, September 24, 2018

Small Spaces

Kids love scary books. It's a thing. And if you're looking for a great scary book to hand to middle grade readers, I have one for you.

In Small Spaces by Katherine Arden introduces us to Olivia, an eleven-year-old girl reeling from the loss of her mother. Ollie's pulled away from everything - she avoids the other kids at school, she's quit all the activities she used to do. Ollie just wants to be alone with her books, and on this last glorious, sunshiney afternoon of the fall, that's what she's headed to do. But when she stumbles across a distraught woman about to throw a book - a book! - into the river, Ollie stops her and takes the book.

As Ollie becomes entranced by the story in the book - a story about two brothers and a sinister deal made with a man called "the smiling man" - she starts to realize that the story might be based in reality. Her sixth-grade class is taking a trip to a nearby farm and when their teacher reluctantly tells the class about some of the ghost stories surrounding the farm, they sound eerily familiar.

And then on the way home from the field trip, the bus breaks down close to dark. The creepy bus driver warns Ollie "Best get moving. At nightfall they'll come for the rest of you." And Ollie's long-broken digital watch, a keepsake from her mother, starts displaying a countdown and one word: RUN.

(Is there anything creepier than someone in a story getting a message that just says RUN? Instant panic, amiright?)

If you've read Katherine Arden's adult fantasy novels The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, you know she is a master at creating atmosphere and she brings this mastery into this middle grade story as well. From the weather changing to the descriptions of small creepy things like the leering scarecrows in the field and the recalcitrant new bus driver, Arden paints a picture for the reader. There were so many passages that I just read over and over for the shiver down my spine before I raced on, needing to know what happens next.

And the level of scariness is a good fit for this age group. This is a book that I wouldn't hesitate to hand to upper elementary students looking for a scare but not yet ready for the violence that often comes with scary stories. It delivers a good eerie, sinister vibe without getting graphic.


Readers who enjoy a scary story with tons of atmosphere might also enjoy The Riverman by Aaron Starmer (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2014).

The tone and atmosphere of this book also really reminded me of a couple of my favorites: The Thickety by J.A. White (Katherine Tegan, 2014) and Doll Bones by Holly Black (McElderry, 2013).

Book info: 

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden. Grades 4-6. Putnam, September 2018. 224 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.