“Memoir is a strut and a confession, a whisper in the ear, a scream.”
–Beth Kephart in Handling the Truth
I sometimes think I have a story to tell about my life, but then I’m not entirely sure I’m ready strut, scream, or, worse, confess. If there is a book that can turn off my doubts about my story, it is Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart. The book ranges from practical to motivational, and I finished reading it feeling like I’d received a crash course in the art of memoir. Not to mention I had a huge reading list of all the memoirs referenced and quoted in the book.
There was so much in this book that went beyond writing, beyond memoir. It was a book about seeking truth and love, about telling stories in a way that connects readers and writers. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in telling true stories. Perhaps you will find your strut in its pages.
Find this book at your local library or indie bookstore.
I won’t have a Book Pick for December. Instead, here are the books I’ve featured throughout the year:
Hello, My Name is Ruby by Philip Stead – A little bird makes friends and finds her people.
Wild by Emily Hughes – An quirky and delightful look at what cannot be tamed.
Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo – Funny and philosophical novel for kids
Mouse Bird Snake Wolf by David Almond – A dark fable exploring human nature.
The Fairy Ring by Mary Losure – Do you believe in fairies?
Formerly Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham – Challenge your assumptions about people who look different.
Just One Day by Gayle Forman – For the romantic in you…
Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler – Glimpse a strictly religious childhood in this memoir that is funny and fascinating.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – For the romantic nerd in you…
The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout – A novel about family relationships and bridging cultures.
Goliath by Tom Gauld – In case you’ve ever wondered about Goliath’s side of the story…
Book Picks resume in January. I also hope to have an updated list of my favorites from 2013. My favorites from the first half of the year are here.
I was all set to write about a proper adult nonfiction titles as my November Book Pick when a package arrived at my door that set aside my well laid plans for something completely different. There was just something about Wild by Emily Hughes that made it stand out in the sea of picture books that I see or read about. The 100 Scope Notes review called it “Sendak-ian,” and I couldn’t agree more. Maurice Sendak’s books might have been full of the fantastic, but there was a level of truth to them that not every book even tries to reach. Wild reaches right for a truth that might not seem terribly kid-friendly–that some things cannot be tamed–and makes a story that will almost certainly get kids thinking.
There might be something in the timing of my discovery of this picture book. You see, it arrived (courtesy of the publisher; see the disclaimer below) just after I’d finished reading an advance copy of Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter Sieruta. I’m sure I’ll be blogging about this one again closer to it’s 2014 publication date, but for now I’ll say that it is a kidlit geek’s must-read. For all those readers who think that books for young people are full of sunshine and lollipops, Wild Things will clue you in to all the subversive books in kidlit history and the stories behind them. It will whet your appetite for something that seems to break the rules the next time you’re browsing in the children’s section. I think that’s a good thing.
Wild breaks some rules. Grown-ups might not completely appreciate it at first, but I hope you’ll give it a chance.
Find Wild at your local library or indie bookstore. Wild Things will be published in April 2014. More about it here.
Disclaimer: Wild was reviewed from a copy courtesy of the publisher. Wild Things was reviewed from an ARC via my employer.
Miss last month’s Book Pick? Check out Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.
A “nerd power ballad.” I really can’t do any better explaining this book than that New York Journal of Books did with that descriptor. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is a love story about a girl who was too busy writing fan fiction to see love in front of her face. No, wait. That sounds too cheesy. I’ll stick with “nerd power ballad.”
I guess I am a little bit of a nerd still, and I related to Cath as she fumbled her way through her first love. It reminded me of being in college. I was not a fangirl, but I did spend a lot of time in my dorm room writing endlessly. I couldn’t help but cheer for Cath, and I can’t help but recommend her story.
Find it at your local library or at an indie bookstore.
Miss last month’s Book Pick? Check out Flora & Ulysses
Kate DiCamillo has won a Newbery Honor for Because of Winn-Dixie, the Newbery Medal for The Tale of Despereaux, the Geisel Honor for Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride, and more. So when she publishes a new book, the kidlit world pays attention. Flora & Ulysses has only been on shelves for about a week, and it already has four starred reviews and a spot of the National Book Award long list. That’s a good start, I must say.
I’d heard some of the buzz about the book, but I hadn’t yet had a chance to read it until I happened to catch Cathy Wurzer’s interview with Kate DiCamillo on MPR. The author read the first several chapters of Flora & Ulysses. I listened as the story began with a vacuum cleaner, then we were introduced to Flora Belle Buckman–a natural-born cynic–and the squirrel who may or may not be a superhero. I found myself laughing out loud while listening to the program at my desk via headphones, and as soon as it ended, I went in search of a copy of the book.
It was, indeed, quite funny. But it was also pretty serious, in a way. Philosophical too. I mean, how many children’s books talk about Pascal’s Wager? No matter where one falls on the believer/nonbeliever spectrum as far as Pascal is concerned, this book sets out to remind readers that it is worth it to believe in love, to be open to wonder, hope, and poetry. I was quite charmed. I hope you will be too.
Find this book at your local library or at an independent bookstore.
Did you miss last month’s Book Pick: Hello, My Name is Ruby by Philip Stead
My daughter is different from me. She is our neighborhood welcoming committee. She never misses an opportunity to meet a new friend at the park, at the store, or through our living room windows. Frankly I get a kick out of it.
That isn’t me. In classic librarian fashion, I’m more introverted. Sure, I’ve gotten pretty decent at faking extroversion over the years. I can hold my own in a trade show booth and enjoy it, and I’ve done a fair amount of public speaking. But I’m far from greeting random passersby out my windows. And given the choice, I’d probably sit in the grass with a good book rather than approach strangers at a park.
My daughter’s extroverted tendencies–and I always speak of these traits as tendencies rather than absolutes–are delightful and at times nerve-wracking. Sometimes putting yourself out there can hurt. Sometimes people are mean. Usually, though, saying hello is great. You might make a new friend, learn something new, or travel on an adventure. Like Ruby in Philip Stead’s new picture book Hello, My Name is Ruby.
Ruby is a little bird who says hello to every bird she meets. Usually, it’s awesome.
But every once in a while, it isn’t, and Ruby feels a bit sad.
It’s an ode to the extroverted. Just like Eileen Spinelli’s When No One is Watching is an ode to the introverted. Together, the books make a an opportunity to appreciate everyone’s tendencies.
Miss last month’s Book Pick? See Mouse Bird Snake Wolf by David Almond
Check out Hello, My Name is Ruby at your local library or buy it at an indie bookstore. You might also be interested in When No One is Watching from a library or bookstore.
In an empty world with lazy gods three children decide to fill in the gaps by creating their own animals. They start with a little mouse, and when that doesn’t cause any trouble–or rouse the gods from their naps–they create progressively larger animals. David Almond and Dave McKean create an unusual story that won’t appeal to every reader, much less every child. Because despite it’s dark tone, scary moments, and philosophical musings, it is a book that is aimed at children, ages 8 to 12. Though I think that anyone with an interest in fantastic storytelling or McKean’s art will want to give this book a chance.
Mouse Bird Snake Wolf is a fable that opens up more questions than it answers. The power of imagination, the nature of evil, taking creative risks. These aren’t easy ideas, but Almond and McKean have a way of making them really quite beautiful–if a bit dangerous. Not for sensitive readers, most likely. Nor for anyone who doesn’t like the idea of lazy gods or alternative creation stories. I’ll also note that the female gods are topless, and in a couple of illustrations there is a glimpse of boobs. Assuming none of those things are an issue, this is a must read.
Other reviews: The Guardian and Waking Brain Cells. You might also be interested in this post about what we can learn from fairy tales.
Miss last month’s Book Pick? Check out Rapture Practice.
I wanted to read Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler as soon as I saw it. I was also raised in a strict religion, and I figured I would relate to Hartzler’s memoir of his childhood in an evangelical family. I imagined bonding with him over not being allowed to watch The Smurfs or read fantasy novels. But Hartzler’s religious childhood put mine to shame.
For example, in the religious community of my childhood R rated movies were taboo (even for adults) and PG-13 movies were subject to debate (for adults and definitely for teens). For Hartzler? No secular movies or television at all. Movies, it turns out, were one of his first Big Rebellions. There were many more rebellions along the way, as you might imagine. Music. Drinking. Girls.
But here is what really stood out to me about Rapture Practice: I didn’t finish the book hating Hartzler’s parents. Yes, they made him destroy his secret collection of secular music, and they punished him for really ridiculous things. But you can tell that Hartzler doesn’t hate them. Actually, he said in this Kirkus article that the book is a love note to his parents. It says, “To date, he’s unsure if his parents have read his book or ever will.”
I started reading expecting to compare notes on what we weren’t allowed to do as teens. Instead I found a thoughtful memoir about growing up and away from your family’s way of looking at the world. I think most people will be able to relate to that.
If I have anything bad to say about the book, it’s that it ended too soon. It ends as Hartzler is just beginning to question his faith and confront his sexuality (spoiler: he’s gay). I want that story too.
The Kirkus review says, “A hilarious first-of-its-kind story that will surely inspire more.”
I agree. I feel inspired. Perhaps I’ll share bits of my own story, which is odd by many standards though not quite as odd as Hartzler’s turned out to be. I only hope I can do it with the tact and balance that Hartzler did.
Miss last month’s Book Pick? Check it out: Formerly Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham
When I’m talking to people about my prosthetic arm, I am quick to point out that I was born this way and that I’ve been wearing a prosthesis since before I can remember. Most people assume that there was some kind of accident and subsequent rehabilitation, and they often ask questions around that assumption.
Then since I’m a children’s librarian by trade, people will bring up Izzy Willy Nilly–a book in which a teenage girl loses a leg in a car accident–and I try to differentiate my experience from this classic teen novel that tends to be a lot of people’s only context for limb deficiency. Izzy’s situation in the book is just as different to me as it is to anyone else. There isn’t as much in common as you might think. I’ve said those sentences many times over the years.
But, honestly… I’m kind of lying. Well, let’s call it exaggerating. I do have a few key commonalities with Izzy in that book and with Jane, the main character in my Book Pick for May, Formerly, Shark Girl. Izzy, Jane, and I all live with a lot of assumptions about who we are and what our lives are like. We are heroes or victims. Inspirations or curiosities. But we’d like to be more.
This is an uplifting novel about the big life decisions that will appeal to fans of realistic teen fiction, especially if you like novels in verse. But it’s also an opportunity to challenge your assumptions about people who look different.
If you are curious about my story, you can check out Fake Arm 101 for answers to some frequently asked questions. You can also find more reading material on my list of books about various disability experiences.
Did you miss last month’s Book Pick? Check it out: The Fairy Ring by Mary Losure.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. A portion of purchases made from these links may benefit Proper Noun Blog. Thanks for your support! :)
Do you believe in fairies? Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did. The man best known for creating the greatest fictional detective of all time, Sherlock Holmes, but he also wrote a book called The Coming of the Fairies. Twin Cities writer Mary Losure came across The Coming of the Fairies book in a local independent book store and became intrigued with the story of the Cottingley Fairies featured in Doyle’s book. Two young girls apparently photographed the fairies, and these photos were seen as proof of the existence of fairies by some. A photograph is proof, right? In the 1920’s, cameras were still a pretty new technology. Not many people had the equipment to take a photo much less alter a negative to create a fake photo. Still, it was hard for many people to believe.
The Fairy Ring by Mary Losure explores the story behind the photographs. It is a fascinating piece of narrative nonfiction that looks at how a hoax might begin very innocently and spiral out of control quickly. It is written for kids (middle school age, primarily), but I recommend this book even beyond that audience. After all, we live in a world of fake photos and fake news and hoaxes of every sort. Sometimes the fakes are easy to spot. But sometimes they are much more difficult. It might seem impossible to kids that these photos were ever taken as proof of fairies, but we’ve probably all been taken in by some online hoax at some point. This is a book that will have you thinking about proof and asking yourself: Would I have believed?
Mary Losure’s newest book, for which I am on a library waiting list, is called Wild Boy. It was recently featured of the Daily Circuit.
Did you miss last month’s Book Pick? Check it out: The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. A portion of purchases made from these links may benefit Proper Noun Blog. Thanks for your support! :)