I would not have picked this book except that it was a couple bucks on Kindle, and it turned out to be an enjoyable read. The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood is the story Ona Vitkus, a 104 year old immigrant woman who is assigned to the titular boy as a Boy Scouts project. The story revolves around Guinness world records, the complexities of family, and finding friendship even when you’re the outsider and a little different. It was a sweet book, in the vein of A Man Called Ove, and an easy read for late nights.
I really enjoy reading children’s books, and I thought Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult would be a love letter to those beautiful and magical books that capture our imagination as kids. Bruce Handy discusses many beloved authors and titles, starting with picture books for little kids and moving through novels aimed at older children. However, his essays are less about what adults can reap from these stories, and more a critical review of their content with some author and story background. Though different than I expected, it was still interesting, and I enjoyed his look at some of my favorites, like Where the Wild Things Are and The Chronicles of Narnia, and an introduction to some I’ve never read but now want to, such as the Ramona Quimby and Little House books.
Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool was a book recommendation I picked up in The Read-Aloud Family. Plus, I’ve already read Vanderpool’s second novel, so was excited to read her debut novel and Newberry Medal winner. Moon Over Manifest takes place in the Midwest depression-era of the 1930s and follows Abilene Tucker, a girl sent to Manifest, Kansas, by her father while he roams for work. She struggles with being separated from her father and is convinced her time in Manifest is temporary until he comes back for her. But while she lives with the bootlegger/Baptist pastor and works for the town fortune-teller, she begins to hear stories about the town and its inhabitants during World War I, forming an attachment she doesn’t expect. This book is wonderfully written with a rich, relatable story of longing for home and belonging. Vanderpool looks at how our past affects us and how community can become true family. It reminded me a bit of To Kill a Mockingbird with a young protagonist dealing with difficult themes of racism and oppression. Though labeled a children’s book, it’s a great book for adults too.
To round out my E. B. White reading, I picked up Stuart Little. This little book tells the story of Stuart Little, the second son of the Littles who very greatly resembles a mouse. Just going about his daily routine is an adventure for Stuart as he lives in a full-size world, but is only about two inches tall. He also travels out into New York City for boat races on the pond and bus rides around town. After his friend Margalo suddenly leaves, he sets out on a mission to find her. This is an odd, whimsical tale, from the first page where a human couple has a baby that resembles – is? – a mouse (Their first child was a human boy, why was their second a mouse? Why was it not just acknowledged they adopted a mouse?) to his odd experience as a substitute teacher. This was my least favorite of White’s three children novels; Charlotte’s Web is by far his best work.
I got on a bit of an E. B. White kick after Charlotte’s Web. The Trumpet of the Swan tells the story of Louis, a trumpeter swan born without a voice, which is a big problem. Without a voice, Louis can’t talk to his family or woo a lady swan. So he sets out on an adventure with the help of his human friend Sam Beaver to find ways to communicate with his fellow fowl. It’s a sweet story with some funny little characters, like Louis’ loquacious father and no-nonsense mother, though it didn’t resonate with me the same as Charlotte’s Web.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids by Sarah Mackenzie. This book discusses the many benefits of reading to children, from the tiniest of age when it seems they’re not paying attention to even after they can read for themselves. It delves into the cognitive development and academic achievement reading aloud can lead to, and how read-alouds can instill a lifelong love in your children for reading. What I found most compelling was her explanation of how reading with your children builds a unique family culture and can spark meaningful discussions about a wide spectrum of issues as children grow. She also gives detailed recommendations according to age which look very helpful. Some suggestions sounded so intriguing I’ve added several to my To-Be-Read list. Mackenzie’s website has more information on reading aloud to children and booklists.
How did I miss this book growing up? I remember watching the movie, but somehow I never read Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White until I was thirty-one; my husband thinks it’s a crime. I am glad to have finally read it, and reading it as an adult doesn’t take away any of the beauty and wonder of this book. The story of Charlotte the spider saving Wilbur the pig is so beautiful, and full of grand themes of sacrificial friendship, wonder in the ordinary, treating others well, and how seemingly insignificant people can accomplish important things. White is a masterful writer and I look forward to reading more by him – Ben has also shamed me because I have not read Stuart Little.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan was not quite what I expected. The novel is about Clay, an out-of-work guy in San Fransisco who ends up landing a job at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. He works the late shift and the very few customers that come in are odd. They don’t buy new books, but check out giant, odd tomes from the back shelves. Clay begins to investigate further and discovers a mystery within Mr. Penumbra’s store. The writing is not great and the characters are rather flat, but the mystery did keep me reading until the end.
My library request for My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout came in right after I finished The Burgess Boys. It was interesting reading the same author back-to-back; her writing has a certain intense tone and subdued atmosphere to it. This short novel is another examination of family and our complex bonds within it. Lucy Barton reflects back on her life – focusing on a long stay she had in the hospital, her childhood, her children, her later years in life – but all jumbled together, not in any chronological order. And it’s not a narrator recounting what actually happened, it’s Lucy recounting what she remembers. It’s very lifelike, as if you’re having a conversation with her and she talks about what comes to mind as the conversation goes, and circles back to different stories later on. She’s a woman scarred by her past who’s just looking for simple, pure human connection. Lucy struggles through this assortment of painful memories, trying to sort out who she is, how these experiences have shaped her. In the end, she grasps – or at least is closer to grasping – what it means to be Lucy Barton. Certainly not fast-paced, but beautifully introspective and well-written.
The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout is a beautifully written novel about the Burgess family. Bob has lived in the shadow of his older brother, Jim, his entire life. They both became lawyers and both escaped the small town in Maine where they grew up for New York City. But one day their sister Susan calls them back home to help get her son Zachary out of trouble. This crisis brings the siblings face-to-face with their true selves they’ve been running from all these years. Wonderfully written, Strout delves into how regret affects us, where home is truly found, and how people are capable of change. Her characters are incredibly complex and lifelike, and by the end of the novel you empathize with their struggles. I look forward to reading another novel by Strout I picked up at the library.