If you like… A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

I almost never listen to audio books, but I happened to listen to A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris.  It was assigned in my Young Adult Literature class as our example of adult fiction with teen interest, and in my book buying haste, I accidentally ordered the audio version.

I felt like I was “stuck” listening, but I was quickly engrossed in a story of family secrets and generational rifts to the point that I wasn’t stuck anymore.  I was hooked.

I recently read A Grown-up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson, and I was struck by the similarities in the stories.  Three generations of women telling their stories, keeping their secrets, and watching as their mistakes affect the people they love the most.  Honestly, I think I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories.   There’s something like a mystery buried in the bonds of family that keeps me reading as the stories switch from character to character, each revealing a bit more than the last.  I can never really get into detective stories, but give me a family saga with secrets and intrigue at its core, and I am there.

Other books pictured that are also full of family secrets and multi-generational narratives: Learning to Lose by David Trueba, The Invisible Mountain by Carolina de Robertis, and The Favorites by Mary Yukari Waters

Want more reader’s advisory?  Check out previous “If you like…” posts.

Disclosure: Amazon.com links are affiliate links.   A portion of purchases made via these links earns a commission for this blog.  Thanks for your support!

If you like… Laura Ingalls Wilder

I’m a midwestern girl through and through.  Sure, I had a couple of brief forays to the West (Colorado and Wyoming) and the South (Kentucky, twice) in my childhood thanks to my dad’s job, but I’m a Minnesota girl (raised in Illinois & Wisconsin).

I fell in love with the prairie while in college in central Illinois, and I started reading everything Willa Cather had ever written.  But I’ve already blogged about that.  This post is about another prairie writer who has influenced midwestern girls for years: Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Two titles, in particular, stick out to me.  Borrowed Names looks at Laura Ingalls Wilder’s influence on her daughter in a novella-in-verse published with the stories of two other women of the time and their daughters.  Jeanine Atkins writes,

“These three women not only shared a birth year but also a devotion to work and motherhood. They raised daughters who lived in a world that changed as quickly as theirs had, and who changed with it. The only child of Laura Ingalls Wilder inherited the family wanderlust and became a world traveling journalist.”

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose is also a novel-in-verse that was inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Rose writes in the author’s note,

“Growing up, I fell in love with the Little House books and talked about Laura Ingalls Wilder as if she were someone I knew personally.  In the late nineteenth century, when Laura was a girl, schoolwork focused on recitation and memorization and favored students able to do those things well. When I became a teacher, I grew curious about what life must have been like for frontier children who found schooling a challenge. Would a girl who couldn’t read well have been kept out of school? “

In the book, May struggles with dyslexia, though it isn’t named, and it is a fascinating look at history through the lens of a strong, intelligent young girl.  Read more about it in Jen Robinson’s Book Page review.

Other books pictured: Addie Across the Prairie by Laurie Lawlor, Prairie Songs by Pam Conrad, and My Prairie Year by Brett Harvey

Want more reader’s advisory?  Check out previous “If you like…” posts.

Disclosure: Amazon.com links are affiliate links.   A portion of purchases made via these links earns a commission for this blog.  Thanks for your support!

If you like… Tree of Codes

I have long been infatuated with the possibilities of books as art.  Book artists have created landscapes and origami and all sorts of other interesting pieces out of books that create something new from something old.  Jonathan Safran Foer did this with his book Tree of Codes, which took an already existing book and carved a new story from it.

In I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail, illustrator Ramsingh Urveti brings an old poem to modern audiences by breaking from the usual.  Though this is a picture book technically speaking and it will certainly find a place in classrooms, it is not just for kids.  This is a book for poetry lovers of all ages, for design geeks, for artists.  It is a truly lovely look at what a book can be.

Read (and see) more about the book on Brain Pickings.

Want more reader’s advisory?  Check out previous “If you like…” posts.

Disclosure: Amazon.com links are affiliate links.   A portion of purchases made via these links earns a commission for this blog.  Thanks for your support!

If you like… Ender’s Game

After I posted about Hunger Games readalikes, I spent the next weekend devouring both Legend and Divergent.  It was a bit too much dystopia in one weekend for me, but I did enjoy both books.  If you like stories about child prodigies and militaristic training in the future, you might like one or both of these books.  In some ways, the books were like “Ender’s Game lite,” at least that’s how it felt to me.

Ender’s Game has been one of my favorite books for over ten years now.  On the surface, it doesn’t seem like something I’d ever pick up.  Military training for children?  Competitive war games?  Weird insect aliens?  Meh.  Of course, it is also about how we push ourselves to our limits in good and bad ways to accomplish something staggering.

That’s pretty much exactly what happened with Cory Doctorow’s For the Win.  At a quick glance of the back cover, it looks like a book about video games, economics, and China.  None of which really catch my attention.  But then I started reading.  Yes, there is a lot of detail about economics, labor issues, and video games, but somehow the book manages to make even long lecture-like tangents about economics amazingly fascinating by immersing readers in the emotional turmoil of the characters in the story–much like Ender’s Game did.

Give it a chance, even if it doesn’t seem like your thing.


Want more reader’s advisory posts?  Look here.

Disclosure: Amazon.com links are affiliate links.  A portion of purchases made via these links earns a commission for this blog.  Thanks for your support!

If you like… Willa Cather

“As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country as the water is the sea.  The red of the grass made all the great prairie the color of wine-stains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up.  And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running.”

–from My Antonia by Willa Cather

I fell in love with the prairie when I read My Antonia several years ago, and I quickly read several more of Willa Cather’s books in search of more.   Years later, I find myself still drawn to books that seem like they will capture the same depth and beauty that Cather portrayed in her books.  I read A Lantern in her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich only to find a story, less of the prairie, and more of a woman’s choice to give up everything for her family.  It wasn’t quite what I was looking for.  Later I read Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker.  This was closer to what I wanted.  This coming-of-age novel follows a young girl as she determines what is important to her and gets to know her parents for who they are.  It was a good book, but not quite it either.

Then I found Giants in the Earth.  In this story, which feels like a saga but only covers about 4 or 5 years, several Norwegian families settle in an isolated area in the Dakotas.  The struggle of life on the prairie is particularly illustrated in one family in which the father/husband seems almost manic in his drive to success and the wife/mother falls deeper and deeper into depression due to loneliness.   It was quite powerful, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a story to explore the pioneer life further after reading Willa Cather.

If you want to put a visual to the quote above from My Antonia, you might take a look at Elsie’s Bird by Jane Yolen.  This picture book, illustrated by David Small (I blogged about his memoir here), follows a young girl adjust from city life to pioneer life.  Small’s illustrations really capture the movement and beauty of the prairie.  The book is perfect to share this particular time and place with elementary school age kids. (It was a bit long for my preschooler.)  Highly recommended.


You may also be interested in some previous If You like… posts.

FCC Disclaimer: All books mentioned were reviewed from library copies.  All book links are Amazon Affiliate links.

If you like… Geek Love

I read Geek Love as a teenager, but it is not a book I generally recommend to teens.  This story of a sideshow family confronts that dark fringes of the human experience and insists on a new definition of “normal” in a way that spoke to the teenage me very strongly.  The book is a staple in Disability Studies courses, and it was a National Book Award Finalist in 1990.

Perhaps teens who aren’t quite ready for the quirky macabre of Geek Love might like Dreamland Social Club by Tara Altebrando.  This novel, set on Coney Island, also addresses life as a sideshow “freak” but from a more comfortable distance.  Chasing Ray speaks highly of Dreamland Social Club in this post.

Big Girl Small by Rachel DeWoskin proves that you don’t need a sideshow to address issues of pity and isolation. You just need a high school.  This novel, published for adults, is narrated by a 16 year-old dwarf, who is a very talented singer enrolled at a performing arts high school.  Judy’s first person narration reminded me a lot of Olympia’s in Geek Love.  Both are witty observers of human nature and sardonic commentators on their shared stature.  They both reveal the meat of their stories slowly, but they bring an extraordinary amount of emotion to what otherwise might read as a cliche.

I highly recommend Big Girl Small to readers (adults or mature teens) interested in exploring the vulnerability in being different.

If you like… Sufjan Stevens

Take one small Arkansas town and add one unusual woodpecker and you have the Sufjan Stevens song “The Lord God Bird.”  You also have a quirky new novel by John Corey Whaley.  Where Things Come Back is about second chances and the search for meaning.  It’s part mystery, part coming-of-age novel that explores small town dynamics with astute sarcasm.  Publisher’s Weekly named John Corey Whaley a Spring 2011 Flying Start author.  PW had this to say about the book in their starred review:

“The portentous tone and flat affect of Whaley’s writing is well-suited to the story’s religious themes and symbolism (Gabriel, the Lazarus woodpecker, the apocryphal Book of Enoch), as Whaley gradually brings the story’s many threads together in a disturbing, heartbreaking finale that retains a touch of hope.”

In addition to being inspired by Sufjan, Whaley wrote with a motto in mind: “How does one grow up in an impossible world?”

A song and a question in the hands of a promising debut author have created a captivating novel.  I recommend the book and the song.

If you like… Jonathan Safran Foer

Vaclav and LenaI finished Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner on the bus to work this morning.  As I read the last few pages,  I was tearing up.  Okay, crying.  It was a mix of happy and sad, very similar to the feeling I had when I finished Extremely Loud and Incredible Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.    Some of the same themes are present as well (young protagonists, a search, emotional trauma). The Publisher’s Weekly review of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close said this:

“Unafraid to show his traumatized characters’ constant groping for emotional catharsis, Foer demonstrates once again that he is one of the few contemporary writers willing to risk sentimentalism in order to address great questions of truth, love and beauty.”

This sentence is where the similarity lies.  Vaclav and Lena takes risks to seek truth, love, and beauty.  Sentiment and catharsis play a role, as they usually do.  The result is lovely.  Highly, highly recommended.


(Want more reader’s advisory?  Previous “If you like…” installments: The Grapes of Wrath and Kurt Vonnegut.  More to come!)

If You Like… The Grapes of Wrath

Whose Names are UnknownSanora Babb began writing Whose Names are Unknown in the 1930’s.  She worked for the Farm Security Administration, and she based her novel on first-hand experience working with migrant farmers and their families.  Whose Names are Unknown was slated for publication when John Steinbeck’s book hit the best-seller lists and eventually won the Pulitzer Prize.  The publisher pulled Babb’s book saying that there was no room in the market for another book on the same subject.

Whose Names are Unknown was finally published in 2004 (only two years before Sanora Babb died at the age of 98) to much critical acclaim.  The book is less a competitor to The Grapes of Wrath and more of a  counterpart to it.  Steinbeck created an epic fable-like masterpiece that is still one of my favorite books while Babb took a more journalistic approach.  Her characters are not archetypes; they are people.  The Booklist review put it this way: “A slightly less political, more female-oriented, companion piece to The Grapes of Wrath.”

Read more about Sanora Babb and her work in this online exhibit from the University of Texas at Austin.