Ten Books My Friends and Family are Tired of Hearing Me Recommend by Jake Nuckolls
I am often used as a library both physically as well as mentally. “What should I read next?” or “Is there a book like….?” are both questions I field from friends and family who know my love of literature and specifically children’s literature. But everyone knows that they may get an unsolicited recommendation that has nothing to do with what they are asking for. Here is a list of books that are unsolicited recommendations. What’s that you say? You want something like The Mouse and the Motorcycle? Great, what a wonderful book, but have you read….?
Okay for Now – Gary Schmidt
Gary Schmidt’s master work (opinion!) was a darling of the awards season a few years back, yet never garnered the shiny award label. How did Schmidt weave a tale of family, shell shock, displacement, growing up, and Audubon’s Book of Bird together into a poetic whole? Good golly. Talent. Doug Swiateck’s journey from zero to compassionate hero is epic to say the least.
The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
It would be easy to lump The Book Thief into a category with other top best sellers that have snagged such immense public appeal that their charm has worn off. It took me far too long to get over my “Billboard Hits!” bias and let Zusak’s words and images sound the depths for me. Death as a narrator, the incredible Hans Hubermann, Rudy Steiner – a white German boy pretending to be Jesse Owens, and Leisel… Leisel and her words.
A Wrinkle in Time – Madeline L’Engle
L’Engle’s gem of a novel has lost its luster I think. When I was younger it was still fresh and amazing, but when I share books at a local middle school, the kids don’t know it. It’s been tried as a movie, which should have never happened and the covers that it’s been graced with over the years are abominable. Thus my joy in seeing Hope Larson’s vision for the novel in graphic style. True to the original work and just as amazing as I ever remembered.
June 29th, 1999 – David Wiesner
Could this be a plea for vegetarianism? I’ll let you decide. A genius girl prepares a science experiment and sends planted vegetable seeds into the stratosphere. What is the effect? Could it really be the massive veggies floating down into backyards and cities all over the world? Wiesner’s illustrations are fantastical, colorful, and give me the answer to the unasked question of what would happen if Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs had a baby with Weslandia.
The Magician’s Elephant – Kate DiCamillo
To me, personally, DiCamillo’s finest work. Do I love all the others? Yes of course, don’t be silly, but this is a “Lord of the Rings” among “Roverandom’s.” Short, beautiful, full of wonderful names, an improbable plot quickly accepted, and simply heartbreaking. A mysterious fortuneteller appears and changes Peter Augustus Duchene’s life forever.
Storm in the Barn – Matt Phelan
A dust bowl era family struggling to get by and a boy desperate to find his place and to show his father that he’s “enough.” Matt Phelan’s watercolors and limited color palette emphasize that unending hope for water and as the “Storm” comes, the colors change. It’s understated, gorgeous, and the ending will leave you with tears in your eyes.
The Yearling – Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
I was late, late to the story of Jody Baxter, a growing boy in the early American south. He and his family survive off the land and when he can, he escapes his chores to run down to the water holes and play until the day he stumbles across a baby deer without its mother. Rawlings coming of age story is full of gorgeous and terrible imagery. Her beautifully written words are chosen carefully with a deft hand.
Stuck – Oliver Jeffers
A minimalist masterpiece. Oliver Jeffers burst onto the scene a few years back with his childlike illustrations and clever storytelling. Stuck is my argument for his best. A kite gets stuck in a tree and Floyd will do everything in his power and within his evident superpowers to get it down. One of our family’s favorite read alouds.
The Book of Three – Lloyd Alexander
This falls into the same category as L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Not beloved enough by a new generation and plagued with bad covers. When I was in elementary and middle school, these books were go to novels for me. Especially Lloyd Alexander’s fantasy trilogy. Steeped in Welsh mythology and, I would argue, darker from the outset then any of the Narnian books. We follow Taran, the assistant pig-keeper from Dallben’s farm, into manhood as he does battle with the Horned King, the rise of a deeper evil, and his own failings. This one is also a brilliant audiobook.
A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness
Ness’s fleshing out of an original idea by the vaunted Siobhan Dowd is heartbreaking (as I write those words, I’m realizing that might be an undercurrent of this list… heart-moving stories). Nightmares plague young Conor O’Malley as he struggles with his mother’s sickness and what feels to be the weight of the world on his shoulders. One night a yew tree is wakened, summoned by Conor and a bargain is reached, but not without deep consequences. Not a book for the faint of heart or for the young. Make sure you get a copy with the illustrations by Jim Kay.
When not recommending books that you are tired of hearing about, Jake Nuckolls can be found pushing any of his four kids on the swings, hacking back the blackberries getting too close to the chicken coop, and making eyes at his wife. He’s the proprietor of a storytelling challenge over at bellinghamstoryhunt.wordpress.com and welcomes all entries regardless of where you live! He’s on Instagram as Stuffofstories and on Twitter as @thestoryhunt. Oh he wonders if you have read The White Mountains?