Posted by Nancy Novak, Children’s Librarian
Meg asked me to name a few of the best books I have read in 2011. Talk about an impossible task!!! But, brave soul that I am, I will try to pick out some clear winners, the books I didn’t want to end, or ones that made me want to look further into the subject matter.
Thunderstruck by Erik Larson: If you loved Larson’s Devil in the White City, you will equally love this book about a murder in London, with the apprehension of the criminal enabled by Marconi’s emerging wireless technology. Larson excels in blending true crime of a particular period with a major historical event. I learned so much about Marconi himself and his death defying efforts to develop wireless communications. The crime itself was wrapped in a lot of intrigue, which just made the tale more fascinating.
1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart: Goodheart takes part of 1860 and part of 1861 and digs into events and people that are not normally front and center of Civil War history. He provides great insights into the country’s feelings about slavery at the time, both in the North and the South. And if anyone continues to insist this war was NOT about slavery, hopefully reading this book will finally disabuse them of that belief, given that slavery drove not only the economy in the South but in the North as well.
It was interesting to follow the North’s movement toward a collective belief that slavery is truly wrong, and how certain people/events in 1861 were pivotal in that movement. I never knew about Benjamin Butler until I read this book. His lawyerly decision regarding three slaves who escaped to Fort Monroe at the beginning of the war was truly a catalyst for much of the transformation.
Fiction (Young Adult)
The Curse of the Wendigo (Monstrumologist #2) by Rick Yancey: Yancey has crafted a tale of horror that characterizes vampires as human nature’s tendency toward insatiable desire for someone or some thing. There are lots of wonderful historical facts about New York and other areas of the 19th century woven into the narrative. I am not one for horror novels, but Yancey’s Monstrumologist trilogy is one that I am enjoying immensely, not only for the high quality of the writing, but the themes Yancey presents within, which elevate the horror above the sensational.
The Memory Bank by Carolyn Coman: This would be a great book for a kid who does not feel loved to pick up and read. The story of a girl, who has never experienced parental affection, searching for her sister, who has literally been abandoned by the parents, is touching. I loved the illustrations and how they were so integral to the story. A reader will come away with this: dreams in life are paramount, hope must spring eternal, and we all must be loved in some way in order to do well in life. Makes you just want to put everything down and hug your kids as if it might be the last time.
The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone: This is a delightful story about the magic of imagination, as well as the magic that can happen when you help others. I lived most of my life in the Chicago area, have been to the Art Institute dozens of times, but never discovered the Thorne Rooms, if you can believe that. I only knew about Colleen Moore’s miniature dollhouse rooms at the Museum of Science and Industry (and those I would see every time I went there). So the Thorne exhibit is now definitely on my bucket list.
It’s a simply written story. I like the way Malone explains things that a younger reader might not understand, from certain words to feelings you have at certain times. I also enjoyed the weaving of historical events into the story – and I hope young readers will see how history can come alive when you look into the stories of the people who lived at that time.
The magic of course is improbable, but it was sweet, and in the end helped a lot of people in Ruthie’s and Jack’s time begin new and exciting adventures.