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Ask the Librarians: What Books Are You Most Thankful For This Year?

by John Schumacher, Cindy Dobrez, Lynn Rutan & Stephanie Squicciarini
 | Nov 21, 2012
John Schumacher

It is common to ask the following questions:

  • “What’s your favorite song/color/movie/animal?”
  • “Which book did you read over and over as a child?”
  • “What’s your favorite book published this year?”
The last question usually trips me up and fills me with dread. I read far and wide. How can I possibly narrow it down to one book? Just ONE BOOK? Really?

However, in 2012, I want everyone to ask me the last question. I want to climb to the top of the Chrysler Building and shout at the top of my lungs “Dear World: I am thankful for Katherine Applegate’s THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. If I were a rich man, I would give away ten million copies.” I want to plaster stickers all over my body that read, “Please visit your local independent bookshop to purchase a copy THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. It will touch your heart.” I want to hoist a billboard above Broadway that advertises Katherine Applegate’s masterpiece.

Above all else, I want every elementary school teacher to share this distinguished and highly satisfying novel. I want Ivan’s story to live on and inspire young readers to be thoughtful citizens and change makers.

John Schumacher is a K-5 School Library Director in Oak Brook, Illinois. Read his popular blogs, and for even more book suggestions.

Cindy Dobrez

I am thankful for books that make my middle schoolers wonder. And this year that is a book by the same title: WONDER by R. J. Palacio.

August Pullman, 10, is facing his first experience with school as he leaves the safety of homeschooling for a private NYC middle school. Augie has facial deformities that shock and disturb those who look at him. In one of the many strengths of the book, Palacio does not describe in detail what Augie looks like. We are given hints about some of Augie’s features, but mostly it is left to our imagination and that makes the portrayal stronger. And, I was disappointed in myself as I wondered just what he looked like…and then kicked myself for caring. The whole point is that we should not care what someone looks like. Palacio’s strategy did its job.

Middle school can be a brutal place, especially for those who are different, whether or not they are as different as Augie. But Palacio shows us a path through, a path for beyond middle school too. One of Augie’s teachers, Mr. Browne, starts each month of school with a class precept. He defines this for the kids as “rules about really important things.” The year starts off with this one:

“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”

The precepts could come off as didactic. But they didn’t feel that way. The book has a raw honesty about it that raises it above the norm of this type of book. And each of the characters learns something about themselves as they learn about Augie. Ultimately, the message becomes one of degree. Don’t just be kind. As Palacio writes, “It's not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed.”

There’s something to think about as we digest our turkey and tryptophan. Something to wonder about….am I kinder than necessary?

Cindy Dobrez
Middle School Librarian
West Ottawa Public Schools
Holland, MI
Bookends Blog

Lynn Rutan

With the Common Core Standards on everyone’s mind this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about literary nonfiction. What is it, how is it defined, how can we use it with students and what titles fit which curriculum? I’ve been a nonfiction reader all my life, but I know that many of my librarian and teacher colleagues prefer fiction and are uneasy about these new requirements.

So this year I’m especially thankful for BOMB: THE RACE TO BUILD—AND STEAL—THE WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS WEAPON (Roaring Brook, 2012) by Steve Sheinkin. This is one of my favorite books of the year for pure reading enjoyment AND it is a book that not only fits the definition of literary nonfiction but will also win over many doubters to the pleasures and of reading nonfiction.

Sheinkin is also the author of THE NOTORIOUS BENEDICT ARNOLD, which won the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults in 2011. In the stellar BOMB, Sheinkin’s versatility is truly on display as he deftly interweaves explanations of nuclear physics and the history of the early research effort, the history of WWII, a detailed description of the manufacturing processes and facilities required to produce the two bombs, and a lucid recounting of how Soviet espionage was organized and conducted in America. He then mixes in fascinating character studies of key individuals of the time and raises ethical questions which will generate wonderful discussions with teen readers.

Sheinkin does all this while creating a sense of breathless tension—even though we all know the outcome. My turkey drumstick is raised to this masterful and informative nonfiction that reads like a Ludlum spy thriller!

Lynn Rutan is a former middle school librarian and current book reviewer and blogger from Holland, Michigan. You can read more of her reviews over at Bookends: A Booklist Blog, which she co-writes with her longtime pal and fellow librarian Cindy Dobrez.

Stephanie Squicciarini

The two books from this year that I am most thankful for are THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green and LIFE HAPPENS NEXT by Terry Trueman. While they are vastly different books in terms of their plots and characters, they do each, for me, share some common themes. They both beautifully demonstrate the resiliency of the human spirit. That when you open yourself up to be truly known by another, when you admit that desire to be known not for what people think you should be or feel given your hand that life dealt you, but who you really are, that you might be able to find peace among the chaos.

Neither book sugar coats the sometimes harsh reality that life is, but both offer a sense of hope, as bittersweet as that hope can be. Both books also show that humor can be a powerful force in one’s life, allowing you to push through even the darkest of days.

And, to be honest, I am thankful that neither were dystopian, vampire, werewolf, or fallen angel in nature. Every so often we as readers need a good dose of realistic fiction…or at least I (and many teens who have left me comments in our feedback box!) do.

Stephanie Squicciarini
Teen Services Librarian
Fairport (NY) Public Library

© 2012 International Reading Association. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

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