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Despite everything that has changed in the year 2020, some traditions continue.
One such tradition is The Book Jam’s annual review of perfect summertime reads.
This is the first of two such lists for “summer campers“ and features books for the younger literary set, specifically toddlers through young adults. We sincerely hope these recommendations help you to find the right fit for your favorite children and teens to curl up with in their tents, by the lake, or under the branches of their favorite tree. After all, the temperatures are still warm, the days are still long and we can still camp (and read) - if only in our own backyards for now. If everything else about these months seems turned inside out this year, try turning the page of a great book!
And don’t forget to look to us in two weeks for our adult version of Books for Summer Campers.
Picture Books for the Smallest Campers
Be You by Peter Reynolds (2020) -- Another inspiring and lovingly illustrated book by the talented Peter Reynolds. This one directly inspires us all to just be ourselves. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Field Trip to the Moon by John Hare (2019) - A wordless book about exploration. In it, a young astronaut gets left behind on a school field trip to the moon. The pictures both tell a story and leave plenty of room for readers' imaginations to soar. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Saturday by Oge Mora (2020) - A story of a mother daughter outing gone awry. It may help us all better confront and deal with the cancelled plans and disappointments of COVID-19. ~ Lisa Christie
My Papi Has A Motorcycle by Isable Quintero (2019) - A color-filled motorcycle ride around a small California town illustrates that “home is a feeling you take with you”. Perhaps this sentiment will comfort readers as we traverse these uncertain times. ~ Lisa Christie
Great Books for Kids
Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker (2020) - I don't know how to begin to describe this fantastic book. It starts so gently that I wasn't sure what to make of it. Honestly, I wasn't sure I even liked it. (I think I was in the mood for ACTION.) And then it grows. It grows into a book for every kid who feels like they just don't quite fit in. It grows into a book for every adult who loves their kid, but is perhaps unknowingly giving them subtle messages we wish they would be just a little bit different, a little bit more like us/less like us, a little bit more understandable, or as someone says in this rich book "more normal". Luckily in this book, some key and wise adults (and a teen who defies the two young protagonists' expectations of what a rich kid will be in life) know that normal is overrated and that those who stay true to themselves are "going places" as another wise adult says. I didn't cry until page 282 and then I kept crying until it ended. I really hope the real world is as spectacular as the one Ms. Pennypacker's novel provides. Now, a quick plot summary for those of you who need one: Ware spends most of his days and nights "off in his own world" of knights and castles and other thoughts such as how ceilings look. The last thing he needs is to spend his summer at Rec camp. His parents wish he could focus a bit more, or like sports, or have "meaningful social interactions". Most importantly, they need him to be safely in Rec camp while they each work double shifts to create enough money to finally purchase their home; and, his grandmother can't help after she falls and needs both hips replaced. So off to Rec camp Ware goes. Luckily for him he meets Jolene, a tough-to-read girl who is creating a secret garden in the abandoned lot next to the Rec. They spend the rest of the summer together. Ware ditches Rec camp; Jolene accuses Ware of not living in the "Real World" and slowly reveals why the garden is essential. When their sanctuary is threatened, Ware's awareness of the Knight's code of chivalry - "Though shalt do battle against unfairness whenever faced with it. Thou shalt always be the champion of Right and Good..." - comes into play (with some key assists from a camera and those wise adults). Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie
Other Words For Home by Jasmine Warga (2019) - I love books by Jason Reynolds. Thus, the fact he blurbed this novel was the reason I picked it up. In this novel for kids, the main character, Jude, is introduced to us while living in Syria with her family - dad, mom, and an older brother. A few pages in, with her mother pregnant again, only Jude and her mom move to the USA so the baby can be born in a safer place. They land in the home of Jude's uncle, aunt, and cousin who is around Jude's age. The story follows what it is like for Jude to navigate her new school, being Muslim in America, and worrying about the family she left behind. The story is full of moments of sadness and warmth, told with great heart. Bonus -- the book is written in free-verse poetry meaning fewer words per page - helpful with reluctant readers. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie
Look Both Ways: A tale told in ten blocks by Jason Reynolds (2020) - As we mentioned Jason Reynolds in the review above, I should note that he was one of my now high school son's favorite authors from elementary school. His latest book for kids - Look Both Ways explores ordinary walks home, their humor, and how if you pay attention, they can be pretty spectacular - even the inevitable unsuccessful and often painful detours. (We have reviewed books by Mr. Reynolds on multiple posts - most recently this very book two weeks ago; you might want to also look at this 2019 post for additional kids titles.) Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie
The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay (2020) - A blended family in need of a home moves into an atmospheric house and strange things begin to happen, mostly when books are read. Abi, the now middle child of this new family, reads and reads and reads. As she turns the pages, she finds that the books in this new home become real and leave behind traces of each scene (the scent of salt air, damp books when reading about the ocean). Her new older brother Max loses his best friend and survives his first crush. Her younger brother Louis has a visitor in his room that is all too real. Their parents are too busy working (Dad is a nurse, Mom a relief worker) to notice any of this. Read it, escape for a bit and enjoy rooting for this new family. ~ Lisa Christie
Tyrannosaurus Wrecks by Stuart Gibbs (2020) - My sons aged out of this reading category awhile ago. Thus, I have not kept up with Mr. Gibbs's work. After reading his latest novel, I regret that fact. And, I am choosing to see this as an excellent opportunity to catch up on some fun reading. In this outing of Mr. Gibbs's FunJungle series, sixth graders Teddy, Summer, Sage, and Xavier once again brush off their sleuthing skills to discover both who stole a T-Rex fossil from Sage's family ranch and who is smuggling reptiles into Texas to be sold as illegal pets. There is a a lot going on and Mr. Gibbs handles it all with fast paced plotting and loads of humor. ~ Lisa Christie
The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate (2020) - This sequel to The One and Only Ivan follows Ivan's (a silver back gorilla) best friend Bob (a dog) as he navigates his new life as a house pet. A life he worries is making him soft. Throw in Bob's need to find his long lost sister Boss and an impending hurricane, and you have another adventure for Ivan, Bob, their friend Ruby (an elephant), and Bob's new humans in these lovingly told pages. Apparently The One and Only Ivan is also a movie scheduled for an August 2020 release; so read this sequel now before the mania commences. ~ Lisa Christie
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks (2019) - Ms. Marks's debut novel combines social justice issues - the number of black men who are incarcerated - with the more mundane concerns of being a pre-teen girl in this story of a 12-year-old Zoe and her quest to get to know Marcus, the father she has never met. He is incarcerated and her mom forbids contact. But when a letter from Marcus arrives on her 12th birthday, Zoe starts corresponding with him in secret. He says he is innocent and Zoe is determined to discover the truth, while learning to bake deliciousness in her summer internship and managing teen friendships. As Kirkus Reviews stated, “This powerful debut packs both depth and sweetness, tackling a tough topic in a sensitive, compelling way. An extraordinary, timely, must-read debut about love, family, friendship, and justice.” ~ Lisa Christie
The Next Great Jane by KL Going (2020) - A lovely tale about the coast of Maine and following your heart, with a bit of Jane Austen thrown in. Jane's parents divorced. Her mom moved to LA to find fame in Hollywood, leaving Jane with her oceanographer father in their small Maine town. This is fine with her as all she wants to do is write amazing novels, like her favorite novelist Jane Austen. As this novel begins, her mom and her movie producer fiance arrive for a visit and to take her back to LA. Luckily a famous visiting writer and her family just might provide all the answers Jane needs. ~ Lisa Christie
A Few Classics: because every year there are new eight-year-olds who may not yet have read these.
Will In Scarlet by Matthew Cody (2013) - Somehow Here in the Real World reminded me of this older FUN tale of Robin Hood and his merry men before they became famous. In this version of this timeless tale, you meet them as a gang of outlaws and watch them find their mission in life. A superb adventure for any middle grades reader and the adults who love them, or who love English legends. ~ ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
The Boggart by Susan Cooper (1993) – When Emily’s and Jess’s family inherits a Scottish castle, they travel to explore. Unbeknownst to them they also inherit a Boggart — an invisible, mischievous spirit who’s been playing tricks on residents of their castle for generations. When they accidentally trap the boggart in their belongings and take him back to Toronto, nothing will ever be the same. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Anything – and we mean ANYTHING – by E.L. Konigsburg (assorted years) – Ms. Konigsburg was truly a superb gift to young readers everywhere. Her books are fun, well-written, humorous, and help kids work through the issues they face every day. Our favorites – The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler and The View from Saturday. But please have fun discovering your own. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Frindle or Trouble-Maker or other titles by Andrew Clements – Mr. Clements is a former school principal and his love of kids – especially the ones who end up in the principal’s office – comes through in each of his books. He treats kids with humor and compassion and presents many real world dilemmas in each of his books for young readers. Pick one up and enjoy. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Books for Young Adults
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi (2020) - The YA version of Mr. Kendi's National Book Award Winning and bestselling book - Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America - is all you wish it to be. Very clearly and pointedly, Mr. Reynolds retells Mr. Kendi's work and in doing so tells story of racism in the world, the many forms it take, and offers ideas of how to deal with it all. A great book for any kid trying to gain some understanding and a great resource for any adult trying to help kids. As Publishers Weekly stated in their review "Reynolds (Look Both Ways) lends his signature flair to remixing Kendi's award-winning Stamped from the Beginning...Told impressively economically, loaded with historical details that connect clearly to current experiences, and bolstered with suggested reading and listening selected specifically for young readers, Kendi and Reynolds's volume is essential, meaningfully accessible reading." ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Catherine House: A Novel by Elisabeth Thomas (2020) - A gothic thriller about a three year "college" that promises if you spend three years forgetting everything you knew before you arrived when you leave you will be unstoppable. With alumnae in the highest echelons of every industry, the promise seems to be working. It is also a place where past scandal haunts everyone and things are definitely not as they seem. As one of the newest class members, Ines Murillo, trades her previous life of blurry nights of parties, cruel friends, and dangerous men for rigorous intellectual discipline, she discovers success at Catherine House has an unspoken cost. ~ Lisa Christie
If These Wings Could Fly by Kyrie McCauley (2020) - This debut novel unflinchingly illustrates terrifying aspects of domestic violence, the fabulousness of the bonds of sisters, and the refuge school provides many kids. Leighton and her sisters are the only people in Auburn, Pennsylvania unbothered by the thousands of crows that have invaded their town. Leighton's a high school senior and dreaming of the college scholarship that will take her away, and also dreading that same scholarship for taking her away from protecting her sisters from the chaos and harm of life with their abusive father. ~ Lisa Christie
Again Again by e. lockhart (2020) - Adelaide Buchwald's summer finds herself living with her dad on the grounds of the prep school where he teaches and she attends (barely), while her mother is back in Baltimore helping her younger brother survive his addiction issues. Complicating matters, her first love of her life just broke up with her. She finds herself floundering, grounded only by the dogs she walks three times a day for her father's fellow teachers who are away for the summer. Told in the style of "Groundhog Day" with many outcomes for each scenario Adelaide finds herself in, this book has you rooting for everyone, and lovingly shows you the horrific aspects of teen addiction on family members. ~ Lisa Christie
The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert (2020) - Somehow this book manages to squeeze in voting rights, police brutality, gun violence, abortion rights, the problems of budding musicians and their emerging bands, and the trials and tribulations of teen romance all without being preachy or condescending. The romance will bring in the readers looking for a little insight into dating life, the political activism will hopefully attract many others, and the fact all the action unfolds on voting day highlights the importance of that one simple and profound act. (PLEASE VOTE In November and before if your state has primaries coming up.) Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie
Three YA books by Elizabeth Acevedo (assorted years) - Her books - Clap When You Land, With Fire On High, and Poet X are lyrical and infused with current dilemmas (e.g., racism, college applications, teen pregnancy, death, caring for aging relatives) faced by people everywhere, even while firmly grounded in NYC (and the Dominican Republic in the most recent outing). Just pick one and enjoy. ~ Lisa Christie
Some Historical Fiction for Young Adults
The Baker's Secret by Stephen Kiernan (2017) - WII, Normandy Occupation, D-Day and the way a young woman whose hope is absent still helps her neighbors survive. As I discussed when reviewing this for the Virtual Pages in the Pub in June, I feel today's events are particularly awful for teens, and historical fiction provides a way to make sense of them. Mr. Kiernan's (one of the June PiP presenters) work helps. ~ Lisa Christie
The Wolf Hall Trilogy by Hilary Mantel (assorted years) - This fabulous trilogy follows the life of Thomas Cromwell and his service during the reign of Henry the VIII. It is well-written, appears to be impeccably researched and plunges you into England of long ago. Bonus - the three books provide hours and hours of reading entertainment and education; they could consume a student's summer. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (2009) - To offer another piece of Historical fiction, Remarkable Creatures is a historical fiction based on the life of Mary Anning, a young woman who finds some of the first fossils, and even whole dinosaurs, on the beach at Lyme Regis, England. The story is told by both Mary and another woman in the town who becomes interested in fossils and befriends Mary. When I visited Lyme Regis a few years ago, I had only heard of Mary Anning through kids books or maybe a brief lesson at school. Visiting her town made me see how important she was to natural history and I soon realized that hunting for fossils on the beach was a true talent. When I read this book, Mary Anning came to life as a young, poor girl who spent her days searching for fossils on the beach for money, not realizing the importance of her work. ~ Selected by Lauren Pidgeon in her Guest BOOK JAM post and seconded by Lisa Christie
Some Classics for Young Adults: Fiction and nonfiction
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938) – This was the very first book that kept me up all night reading and for this pleasure I will forever be in its debt. Enter this gothic drama on the shores of Monte Carlo where our unnamed protagonist meets Max, the dashing, wounded, and mysterious millionaire she is swept away by and marries. The following pages whisk readers back to his English country estate “Manderley” where his deceased wife “Rebecca” haunts the characters with her perfect and horrible beauty. Can Max’s new wife ever live up to her memory? Will the lurking, skulking housekeeper Mrs. Danvers drive us all mad? How will the newlyweds and Manderley survive all the pressures pulsing in the mansion’s wings? If finding out the answers to these questions isn’t enough to entice you to curl up with this book right away, it also has one of the most famous first lines in literature. ~ Lisa Cadow
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1988) – Long ago in Colombia, the poet Florentino Ariza meets and falls forever in love with Fermina Daza. She marries Dr. Juvenal Urbino instead. Florentino does not give up easily and decides to wait as long as he has to until Fermina is free. This ends up as 51 years, 9 months and 4 days later, when suddenly, Dr. Juvenal Urbino dies, chasing a parrot up a mango tree. The tale is then told in flashbacks to the time of cholera and then again in present time. The words are perfect, the plot unforgettable, and the novel one you will not regret picking up. ~ Lisa Christie
Into the Beautiful North and The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea (assorted years) – I stumbled upon an interview with Mr. Urrea on NPR as I was linking our selections to the Norwich Bookstore’s Web site and was reminded how much I love Mr. Urrea’s tales, so I added this category to this post. (The Hummingbird’s Daughter made my most meaningful reads list.) Mr. Urrea’s novels are funny, using humor to deflate explorations of horrific things (e.g., dangerous border crossings, poverty), and to explore wonderful things (e.g., love, family, friendships, movies). Into the Beautiful North was reviewed by me previously as “the book Jon Stewart would have written if he ever wrote about crossing the Mexican border into the USA”. The fact these novels depict lives of Mexicans just adds a bonus during these times of immigration conflicts and politically polarizing actions at our southern border. (Yes, this book has appeared often in BOOK JAM posts.) ~ Lisa Christie
East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952) – While Grapes of Wrath (1939) is probably assigned more often by English teachers everywhere, this book reads like a soap opera told in excellent prose. I also think that one can learn all the nuances of good and evil from this tale of Mr. Steinbeck. And I can say that almost 40 years later, I still remember how I felt reading this book as a teen. ~ Lisa Christie
A Hope In the Unseen by Ron Suskind (1998) – Using actual people, this book clearly illustrates the obstacles faced by bright students from tough neighborhoods. As a Wall Street Journal reporter, Mr. Suskind followed a few students in a high school in a struggling, drug-riddled neighborhood in Washington, D.C. for a few years to see what happens to students in schools that lack the resources to effectively serve them. The true story of one of these students, the heart of this book, will haunt the reader long after the last page is turned. ~ Lisa Christie
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (2004) - As most people in the planet know, this is the biography that inspired the Broadway blockbuster (if musicals can be blockbusters) which will soon be available to all with Disney Plus. In this bestseller, Mr. Chernow outlines Mr. Hamilton's life from his start as an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean, following him (and the people around him) as he became George Washington’s aide-de-camp in the Continental Army, coauthored The Federalist Papers, founded the Bank of New York, led the Federalist Party, and served as the first Treasury Secretary of the United States. Read it and learn a bit more about Mr. Hamilton and the people who shaped the United States. This seems especially apt as we approach the Fourth of July. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Many, many great lists of books have been curated to help us all better understand racism and how we each need to be and do better. And, we have noticed many of them focus on non-fiction works. So rather than recreate those great lists - including this one from the Norwich Bookstore, we thought we'd share some great works of fiction that we believe can help us all learn from people whose experiences differ from our own (in our case, as two white women living in New England). We offer this in the sincere hope that the experience of reading these books creates empathy, understanding, and change (and brings some of the joy possible from reading a good book).
Some Fiction for Adults
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson (2019) - In this compact and powerful novel, National Book Award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson deftly explores issues of race, class, identity, and sexuality. In just under 200 pages she manages to convey generations of information about Iris and Aubrey, two Black teenagers in New York whose families are brought together by an unexpected pregnancy and the birth of their daughter Melody. It is narrated in alternating chapters by Melody, Iris, and Aubrey, as well as their parents who have among them survived race riots in Tulsa, rebuilt lives, struggled with poverty, attended college, and landed in very different economic locations. What results is a moving portrait of two families whose members both young and old have disparate voices, varied dreams, and whose identities have been shaped by very different influences. This complicated past converges in the no less fraught present at the beginning of the novel on the eve of Melody’s fifteenth birthday in a brownstone in Brooklyn. These beautifully drawn characters are sure to stay with readers long after they have turned the last page. When interviewed by Trevor Noah in October 2019 on “The Daily Show,” Woodson offered that she hoped for readers of her book to “fall in love with the characters and [that] it makes them want to create some kind of change.” I share her hope. Highly recommended. ~Lisa Cadow
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (2019) - One of the most devastating and beautiful books I have read in a long time. I knew I would emerge from these pages troubled from the very first description of Elwood (the very first boy described in this novel) and his arrest. I was also troubled knowing the stories in this book are based on true stories of a reform school in Florida that operated for 111 years. So like Millie in the final chapters, I took breaks from learning about what happened to Elwood and Turner (in my case by reading magazine articles and children's books). Please don't let this deter you from picking this novel up and reading the tales of The Nickel Boys - boys sent to a fictional juvenile reformatory during the Jim Crow era in the South. ~ Lisa Christie
The Travelers: A Novel by Regina Porter (2019) - This book has an energy I can't describe adequately. However, my inadequacy is irrelevant as what matters is that this energy and Ms. Porter's prose had me rapidly turning pages of this debut novel; I really, really wanted to know what happened to each of the many characters. And by "many characters", I mean that the cast list at the beginning of the novel, reminiscent of the copy of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead one of the characters keeps carrying around, proved extremely useful in tracking who is who. Ms. Porter deftly moves her plot and her abundance of characters between decades in a delightful, surprising, and circular motion while she portrays two main families - one black and one white - navigating the decades from the Civil Rights Movement to Obama's presidency. Ms. Porter's tale employs wit and compassion, two things I believe we can call use more of these days. But, perhaps most importantly, as The Guardian Review of this debut states, this novel reminds us that "we are all both the heroes of our own stories and the extras in other people’s". ~ Lisa Christie
There There by Tommy Orange (2018, paperback 2019) - The writing in Tommy Orange's debut novel is forceful and builds a percussive momentum as the story progresses, perhaps not unlike the beat of a drum at a Native American Powwow. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that the author himself majored in sound engineering as an undergraduate before working in a bookstore and falling in love with reading and writing. There There explores identity and sense of place, telling the story of twelve characters, mostly urban Native Americans, all living in Oakland, California. Their lives are braided together though it is not until the end, at the Oakland Powwow, that the reader understands just how. From the outset, it is clear that things won't end well. However, the beauty of the prose, the poignant stories of the individuals it tells, and the insights and honesty it offers into the Native American experience compel one to read to the painful, shocking finish. Orange's work has received a great deal of publicity since it was published in 2018. Margaret Atwood and Pam Houston have both sung its praises. The New York Times named it one if the "10 Best books of the Year" in 2018. It was even a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. These kinds of reviews can be off-putting to the casual reader, the hype overwhelming, the literariness of it all stopping one before the first page can even be turned. Don't let this get in the way of reading such an important and accessible book. For me it was one of those "shape shifters," a work that helped me to understand our culture and history in a different, richer (though not easier or more comfortable) way. ~ Lisa Cadow
August Snow and Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones (2019) - I am a HUGE fan of Mr. Jones's debut August Snow. So I was excited to see that Lives Laid Away brings August Snow, a superbly wrought ex-police officer turned “fixer” - of neighborhoods, of people and of mysteries - back. His own background as a biracial individual adds nuance to the unraveling of various mysteries. I was also thrilled that I liked this second in what I hope is a long series. (Book #3 Dead of Winter arrives in the Spring of 2021.) Detroit itself is a character in both books I've read thusfar, with its gentrification and the tensions that causes front and center. ~ Lisa Christie
Some YA Fiction
Dear Martin by Nic Stone (2017) – A superb YA novel about being profiled by police officers for being black, and how BLM and politics affect black youth. In this excellent debut novel, a black student – Justyce McAllister, top of his class, captain of the debate team, and set for the Ivy League next year – is handcuffed by a police officer and released without physical harm. The psychological toll of being profiled is explored as this novel delves into his life at his mostly white prep school and in his mostly black neighborhood. To help cope, Justyce researches the writings of MLK and writes him letters asking for guidance about how to live today. While Martin obviously never answers, the letters provide a great premise for thinking about how MLK would have handled life as a black man today. The letters also provide grounding once the novel’s action turns extremely ugly. Read it and discuss. (For shorthand, it could be considered the boy’s perspective on the situations in The Hate U Give.) ~ Lisa Christie
Clap When You Land by Elisabeth Acevedo (2020) - This book, told in alternating chapters to ensure we see each of the main character's perspective, shares the stories of two girls (one in NYC and one in the Dominican Republic) who discover they share the same father when a plane he is on plunges into the ocean. As could be predicted, the half sisters are different. Yahaira is a dark skinned chess champion living with her parents in New York with a girlfriend who conveniently is also her next door neighbor. Camino is tethered to her love of the ocean, living with her aunt, and navigating the exclusive prep school her father pays for with money from his work in the USA. The book explores, secrets, differences, and love. This is the third YA book by Ms. Acevedo that I have read and LOVED, moving her into favorite author territory for me. ~ Lisa Christie
Frankly In Love by David Yoon (2019) - I was surprised how this apparently simple (and familiar - hello Romeo and Juliet) story of first love that does not meet with parental approval, as well as of navigating the final year of high school made me smile and tear-up a bit. Some plot points: Frank Li and Joy Song have been friends since childhood, attending regularly scheduled dinners with a larger group of Korean-American families in Los Angeles for as long as they have a memory of any event. As they navigate senior year, they are both in love with the "wrong" (not-Korean) person. They decide to fake that they are dating each other to keep their parents happy, while still seeing their true loves. Their elaborate scheming provides the plot for this novel's terrific cast of characters. (I truly loved Frank's superb best friend.) And while Buzzfeed aptly stated, “Yoon's stellar debut expertly and authentically tackles racism, privilege, and characters who are trying to navigate their Korean-American identity”, I would argue you should read it for the fun. Give it to your favorite teen or your favorite adult in need of a smile or two (and distraction from the news). ~ Lisa Christie
Before We Were Free by Julia Alverez (2002) - By now perhaps a classic, this slim novel explores revolution, dictatorship, and immigration. Set in Trujillo’s Dominican Republic, this novel is told through the eyes of Anita, a pre-teen whose uncle has disappeared without a trace, whose other relatives have mostly left for life in the USA, and whose immediate family is being closely watched by the government. The tale follows the decisions she must make to find freedom. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Here to Stay by Sara Farizhan (2018) - In this great book about high school life, the main character, Bijan Miajidi, is pulled from the obscurity of JV basketball to the varsity limelight, which he hopes will help make it easier to talk to his crush Elle. Instead, he is targeted by an internet photo doctored to make him appear as a terrorist. As he tells the story of what happens next, his narrator voice is joined by his internal narrators - ESPN commentators Reggie Miller and Kevin Harlan - providing color commentary and comic relief to the often difficult events of the novel. In short, Ms. Farizhan compassionately and effectively covers coming out stories, cyberbullying, pressure to get into the right colleges, sports, and racism, without preaching, in a true page-turner. ~ Lisa Christie
Counting Coup by Larry Colton (2001) - Ok this is non fiction but we snuck it in as its exploration of life for many Native Americans in the USA through the lens of a basketball playing teen, has stayed with us for almost 20 years. In this book, Mr. Colton journeys into the world of Montana’s Crow Indians and follows the struggles of a talented, moody, charismatic young woman basketball player named Sharon. This book far more than just a sports story – it exposes how Native Americans have long since been cut out of the American dream. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
A Few Titles For Younger Readers
Look Both Ways: A tale told in ten blocks by Jason Reynolds (2020) - One of my now high school son's favorite authors from elementary school was/is Jason Reynolds. His latest book for kids - Look Both Ways explores ordinary walks home, their humor, and how if you pay attention, they can be pretty spectacular - even the inevitable unsuccessful and often painful detours. (We have reviewed books by Mr. Reynolds on multiple posts; you might want to also look at our 2019 post - https://www.bookjamvermont.com/kids-at-heart/ya-for-all-who-love-good-books for additional kids titles.) Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie
Who Is What Was series (assorted years) - This series for early readers offers biographies and historical stories highlighting many individuals from many backgrounds and cultures. Enjoy working your way through them. (Bonus: many titles are available in Spanish.) ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Stella By Starlight by Sharon Draper (2015) - My family discovered this book on a 2015 trip to DC with a visit to Busboys and Poets on 14th Street, showing that exploring an indie bookstore can lead to amazing things. (The audiobook version was our soundtrack for the car trip back home to Vermont.) We have since recommended it to every kid we know. Stella lives in segregated North Carolina. There are stores she can enter and stores she can not; people are kind or they are not. But the Klan hasn't been around for awhile. Then late one night she and her brother see something they are not supposed to see and her world is forever changed. I also recommend Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming for a look at being a kid with brown skin in the 1960s and 1970s. The New York Times also curated a great list of other books to help you speak with kids about race. ~ Lisa Christie
For those of you trying to find a good place to explore privilege, we recommend Peggy McIntosh's short 1988 essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, as a good starting point for understanding white privilege. We also highly recommend Emily Bernard's 2019 book Black Is The Body, whose essays pointedly unfold the effects of racism in white spaces (like Vermont).
Again, we sincerely hope these title help you find great books to read, as well as resources to navigate racism, inequity, and difference.
Last Thursday evening, during another "Pages in the Pub" we gathered and we talked and we laughed and we shared reviews of great books to read this summer. Like so many activities of late, this happened not in person, but on ZOOM. And now with today's post, we all have access to the great books our presenters recommended.
The presenters - Michele Campbell, KJ Dell'Antonia, Stephen Kiernan, and Sarah Stewart Taylor - did an incredible job of telling us about the books they hope we all read this summer. One of the Book Jam Lisas - Lisa Christie - reviewed the great new books each presenter has written for us to enjoy this summer. Natasha Leskiw, provided amazing tech support and linked each presenter's selections to The Norwich Bookstore website (our indie bookstore partner), allowing audience members to purchase books as the event unfolded. Lucinda Walker, the superb Norwich Librarian, used the event chat room to link to other books we might wish to read as each book was discussed. As a bonus, through the generosity of The Norwich Bookstore and audience members, the event raised money for Upper Valley Strong, a nonprofit now providing COVID-19 related relief services. For today's post sharing their picks, the presenters confined their reviews to six words (harder than it sounds), giving all of us a GREAT list of books to give and get. We also include the bonus selections from Lucinda Walker (in parenthesis) at the end of each presenter's review.
Bios for all the great people (OUR THANKS TO ALL OF THEM) who helped our Virtual Pages in the Pub are listed below the presenters' recommendations, so that you can know a little bit more about the people who gave us all such a great list of books to read. There truly is something in this list for just about every type of reader. And don't forget you can pre-order the summer releases by each of the four presenters today and have a steady stream of great books by KJ, Michele, Sarah, and Stephen delivered to you all summer long.
Enjoy this list and happy reading! (NOTE: We are heartsick about the events unfolding across the nation and plan to focus on this more fully in an upcoming post. In the meantime, we hope for healing and fair treatment for all. We will also use FB to highlight some great books that address race and racism.)
Cookbooks: For anyone looking for summer inspiration
The Outdoor Kitchen: Live Fire Cooking from the Grill by Eric Werner and Nils Bernstein (2020). Inspiration for our new entertaining normal. ~ Selected by Sarah Stewart Taylor (A fine pairing with this book might include: Fire & Wine: 75 Smoke-Infused Recipes from the Grill with Perfect Wine Pairings by Mary Cressle & Sean Martin)
Non-fiction Or Reference Book: For people who like to ponder large tomes from their front porches while watching neighbors in masks stroll by
The Address Book by Deirdre Mask (2020). Mapping houses is mapping (unwitting) people. ~ Selected by KJ Dell‘Antonia (We’re spending so much time at home let Bill Bryson teach us so much more: At Home: A short history of private life.)
A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols (2001). First global solo sailboat race. ~ Selected by Stephen Kiernan (Add to the adventure by reading Coyote Lost at Sea: The Story of Mike Plant, America's Daring Solo Circumnavigator by Julia Plan.)
Adult Fiction: For a woman who only has time for the best fiction after hiking while remaining physically distant
The Chicken Sisters by KJ Dell Antonio (2020). Social media and small-town life collide. ~ Selected by Lisa Christie (A great read alike is The Grammarians: A Novel by Cathleen Schine.)
There's a Word for That by Sloane Tanen (2020). Harry Potter's crazy writer
mom + Hollywood. ~ Selected by KJ Dell‘Antonia (Who doesn’t love a little family dysfunction? The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney.)
Adult Fiction: For anyone who only has time for the BEST fiction
Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (2005). Ignore title, an old man's love story. ~ Selected by Stephen Kiernan (Also try The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright.)
Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry (2019). (And bonus – Love by Roddy Doyle). Dry, funny, touching. Irish writers do it better. ~ Selected by Sarah Stewart Taylor (While not a laugh riot, it’s truly worth your time. The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne.)
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (2017). Angsty writer’s doomed affair, literary setting. ~ Selected by Michele Campbell (A fresh take on Irish love is Eggshells by Caitriona Lally.)
Dominicana by Angie Cruz (2020). Dominican girl’s difficult immigrant experience — lyrical. ~ Selected by Michele Campbell (Also try Shanghai Girls by Lisa See.)
Thrillers to Help You Forget the News
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson (2019). Cold War Spy Thriller with modern twist. ~ Selected by Sarah Stewart Taylor (Family secrets abound in Red, White, Blue: A Novel by Lea Carpenter.)
The Mountains Wild by Sarah Stewart Taylor (2020). Terrific atmospheric thriller. Ireland. Complex Detective. ~ Selected by Lisa Christie (May also like The End of Everything by Megan Abbot.)
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix (2020). Sexism, racism, friendship, selling out—AND vampires. ~ Selected by KJ Dell‘Antonia (Read the book the women in the book club are reading before the vampires show up…The Stranger Beside Me by Anne Rule.)
Long, Bright River by Liz Moore (2020). Dark, lyrical: female cop, opioid crisis. ~ Selected by Michele Campbell (Could also like The Wolf Wants In by Laura McHugh.)
A Stranger on the Beach by Michele Campbell (2020). Betrayed spouses, lovers, families mean trouble. ~ Selected by Lisa Christie (Described as a twisted and deliciously thrilling - The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks.)
Books From A Genre You Don't Usually Read
The Passage Trilogy by Justin Cronin (assorted years). Global pandemic scarier than the current one. ~ Selected by Stephen Kiernan (Perhaps a bit too close to our reality right now but a classic: The Stand by Stephen King.)
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (2016). Finding family, understanding others, including aliens. ~ Selected by KJ Dell‘Antonia (A hilarious, offbeat debut space opera Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes.)
Books for summer campers/ young readers in Tree-houses (ages 8-12): Or, put another way, books for those beyond tonka trucks and tea parties but not yet ready for teen topics
The All-of-a-Kind Family books by Sydney Taylor (assorted years). Loving family's adventures in early 20th century New York. (With hope in the midst of scarlet fever and polio.) ~ Selected by Sarah Stewart Taylor (Might also like The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser.)
Books For Your Favorite High Schooler: “not required” reading for teens to ponder during the long hours of summer vacation
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins (1990). Funny, sexy, subversive, greatest hitchiker ever. ~ Selected by Stephen Kiernan (May also like The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey.)
Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (2019). “The West Wing” as snarky romance. ~ Selected by KJ Dell‘Antonia (Also try Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner.)
The Baker’s Secret by Stephen Kiernan (2017). Historical fiction teaches, entertains. Bread unites. (Bonus picks Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Aceveda and Stephen's new release - Universe of Two.) ~ Selected by Lisa Christie (If you like The Baker’s Secret, also try The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson.)
Books That Will Always Remain On Your Shelves: No matter how many times you purge them as part of Covid-19 stay at home projects
Dune by Frank Herbert (1965; timely because there is a new film adaptation in the works). Classic fantasy: young messiah, desert planet. ~ Selected by Michele Campbell (A classic in the making - The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin.)
Our Terrific Presenters - Four authors with books out this summer
Michele Campbell is a graduate of Harvard College and Stanford Law School and a former federal prosecutor in New York City who specialized in international narcotics and gang cases.
A while back, she said goodbye to her big-city legal career and moved with her husband and two children to an idyllic New England college town a lot like Belle River in It's Always the Husband. Since then, she has spent her time teaching criminal and constitutional law and writing novels. She has had many close female friends, a few frenemies, and only one husband, who – to the best of her knowledge – has never tried to kill her. Ms. Campbell's latest novel, A Stranger on the Beach, can be pre-ordered now to ensure you have it for its July 23rd release.
KJ Dell’Antonia is the author of The Chicken Sisters, her debut novel, as well as How to Be a Happier Parent. She is the co-host of the #AmWriting podcast, the creator of the #happyendingsplease series on IGTV and the former editor of the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, and is never happier than when she's getting to tell somebody about a book she loves. She lives in Lyme with her husband, 4 children, 3 dogs, 2 cats, 8 chickens, 2 mini-ponies and an ever-changing line-up of other horses. The Chicken Sisters is available July 1st, and available to pre-order now.
Stephen Kiernan - Between his newspaper career and his novels, Stephen Kiernan has had more four million words in print. He’s a doting dad, an outdoor exercise addict, and a decent guitarist. His new book, Universe of Two, comes out August 2nd, and is available to pre-order now.
Sarah Stewart Taylor is the author of the Sweeney St. George series and the Maggie D'arcy series. She grew up on Long Island, and was educated at Middlebury College in Vermont and Trinity College, Dublin, where she studied Irish Literature. She has worked as a journalist and writing teacher and now lives with her family on a farm in Vermont where they raise sheep and grow blueberries. The Mountains Wild is available via pre-orders right now, with a June 23rd release date.
Our Amazing Emcee
Danielle Cohen is an audiobook narrator and actor, living in Norwich, Vermont. She grew up in Manchester, England, reading anything and everything aloud, and at the age of eight dreamed of being a news reader, or later, a stand-up comedian! Neither of those ever happened, but she did pursue an acting career for many years and has performed in many productions at Northern Stage in White River Junction, VT. She loves telling a good story and being an audiobook narrator has been a natural progression. When she is not narrating audiobooks, she can be found walking or running with friends, playing board games with her husband and teenage daughters, or baking and eating cake!
The Superb Librarian Providing Expertise with Additional Recommendations
Lucinda Walker is the Director of the Norwich Public Library. In the words of Eloise, she “loves, loves, loves” her job, her colleagues and the Norwich community (pandemic be damned!) She is addicted to podcasts (Ear Hustle, Jill Lepore's The Last Archive & Staying In with Emily & Kumail are current favorites), popcorn and dark-roasted coffee. Recently, she’s discovered the joys of the co-working space at her dining room and birdsong. Lucinda lives in Brownsville with her writer/librarian husband Peter and two kids, Hartley & Lily.
Our Outstanding Tech Support
Natasha Leskiw runs her own company, Personally Yours, doing social media and online community management for indie bestselling authors, charities, and local businesses. When not locked in her office she can usually be found wandering around the hundred-year-old house she shares with her boyfriend in Bradford Ontario, being overly caffeinated and yelling at cats.
Pages in the Pub INDIE Bookstore Partner
The Norwich Bookstore is full of stories: for adults and for children; some true, many fictional; tales of joy and sorrow, intrigue and inspiration. The bookstore has its own tale of connections and personalities, of visions and hard work. Since August 1, 1994 the great booksellers at The Norwich Bookstore have been helping readers find perfect books for all occasions.
The Book Jam Lisas
Lisa Christie, co-founder of the Book Jam, was in previous times the Founder/Executive Director of Everybody Wins! Vermont and USA, literacy programs that help children love books. She currently works as a part-time non-profit consultant, can't believe she recently finished her work as a Dartmouth graduate student, and is an all-the-time believer in the power of books. She lives in Norwich with her musician husband, two superb teenage sons, and a very large dog. She often dreams of travel; and she is trying to figure out how to turn her recent Dartmouth thesis looking at race and racism in white spaces into a play.
Lisa Cadow is the co-founder of the Book Jam. When not reading or experimenting in her kitchen, she is a full time student of counseling at the University of Vermont. She fervently believes that health outcomes would improve if doctors could prescribe books to patients as well as medicine. Lisa lives in Norwich with her husband, three cats, and a fun border collie and loves it when her three adult children visit. She is currently a full-time graduate student at the University of Vermont hoping to become a full-time therapist one day soon.