Joy's Top 10 Books That Made Me Ponder Humanity

Frances and the Monster (The Frances Stenzel Series #1) By Refe Tuma Cover Image
ISBN: 9780063085763
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: HarperCollins - August 23rd, 2022

This upper middle grade retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein simply blew me away. It’s nuanced and layered, and oh so very clever, with a proto-android tutor named Hobbes, references (some obvious; some subtle, Easter egg-ish treats) to not only Shelley’s original, but also to the various film incarnations from the Boris Karloff classic to Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein and tidbits from Shelley’s life and the people around her. 11-year-old Frances (nicknamed by some as Frankie) is a clear homage, as is her father being named Viktor. Dad’s shadowy, possibly nefarious friend is named Mr. Byron, clearly referencing Mary Shelley’s husband Percy’s profligate poet friend. The setting is late 30’s in Bern, Switzerland, so WWII is brewing in the background, adding to the underlying tensions as Frances follows in her grandfather’s footsteps and unleashes a monster that she must catch. But who are the real monsters and who are the heroes? A good question in the 1700s. A great question in our own tumultuous, increasingly violent times.

A Duet for Home By Karina Yan Glaser Cover Image
ISBN: 9780544876408
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Clarion Books - April 5th, 2022

Another middle grade that I can’t stop thinking about, Duet for Home is about so many things: homelessness and the struggles of being unhoused. It’s about grief, the power of both friendship and music, found families, and lots more. Karina Yan Glaser has managed to craft a story about all of this for middle graders, making it hopeful but not tied up in a pretty bow at the end. Say what you want about all the Booker prize winners and the like, then read Duet and see a gentle master at the height of her craft. Also, the main character, June, is a violist, and as I also played the viola all through high school and a bit beyond, let me say it’s a gorgeous alto key instrument that people often think is just a weirdly large violin, which it is NOT. Yup, 1st chair viola. My claim to fame. But Duet for Home is absolutely lovely and moving and gently but firmly questions how we treat our unhoused citizens and how we can do much, much better.

When We Cease to Understand the World By Benjamin Labatut, Adrian Nathan West (Translated by) Cover Image
By Benjamin Labatut, Adrian Nathan West (Translated by)
ISBN: 9781681375663
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: New York Review Books - September 28th, 2021

This book is absolutely NOT something I’d have picked up on my own. Colleagues kept nattering on about how it’s like a ‘fever dream,' a phrase that generally makes me NOT want to read something. But they wore me down, and so I dug in. I don’t know if I’d call it a fever dream. But it’s a highly disturbing, densely packed page-turner that mixes real life fact with fiction in ways that are almost impossible to unpack as it delves into the lives of people whose creations and inventions were ultimately used for evil, destructive purposes (like the guy who was inventing some sort of agricultural something or other that ended up as Zyklon B in the Nazi extermination camp gas chambers), and the rabbit holes of self-destruction and madness that followed. It’s mesmerizing and overwhelmingly sad and depressing and awful. It is a book I keep thinking about, but not one I’ll ever re-read. I don’t need extra reminding about how much we humans are capable of creating both wonders and terrors.

Home Is Where the Eggs Are By Molly Yeh Cover Image
ISBN: 9780063052413
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: William Morrow Cookbooks - September 27th, 2022

If you don’t know about Molly Yeh, her newest cookbook is a perfect way to discover her charm, appeal, and supremely workable recipes. Her Food Network series, Girl Meets Farm, is a charming, quietly subversive delight. Subversive in part because Molly can be impishly salty talking to the audience from her adorably cute farm house on the Minnesota/North Dakota border where her husband Nick farms (they met at Julliard, by the way, in case you have a different image) and to a larger degree because Molly is Jewish and Chinese and she cheerfully and casually celebrates both of those identities with the food she makes. I’d bet no one else in Grand Forks is hosting a cooking show that has had episodes for Shabbat, Purim, and Sukkot in addition to Chanukah! Where the Eggs Are is Molly’s recipes and chit chat and it makes me immeasurably happy!! Noodles! Kugels! Challah with potato flour added! Salads and handhelds and more. Plus a nifty Insta you can follow.

The Mosquito Bowl: A Game of Life and Death in World War II By Buzz Bissinger Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062879929
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Harper - September 13th, 2022

Bissinger made me fascinated about Texas football in Friday Night Lights (the non-fiction book about the Permian Odessa football team, although the fictional TV series is also spiffy. See: Coach Taylor. See: Tim Riggins. Oh,Tim Riggins. Dear Tim Riggins. See: “Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t Lose)

Now in The Mosquito Bowl, Bissinger has penned another amazing true story look at men and football and life and death, only this time in WWII, Christmas even 1944, with the 4th and 29th Marine regiments playing a football game just prior to the bloody battle for Okiwana. Their stories are both ordinary and moving. The knowledge that many of them did not survive the battle is heartbreaking.  That they were young and full of life, athletic and promising, makes it even more tragic. So yes, it belongs in this list I’ve created. The best and the worst all in one phenomenal read. 

Lessons in Chemistry: A Novel By Bonnie Garmus Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385547345
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Doubleday - April 5th, 2022

It’s probably enough if I just say that Elizabeth Zott is one of my favorite characters of 2022. But if that alone isn’t enough, Lessons in Chemistry, set in the early 60’s, is the story of a female chemist and her all male team who definitely don’t believe in equality of the sexes. And when through a series of circumstances Zott becomes not only a bereft single mother but also the host of an odd daytime cooking show called Supper at Six, the story speeds along from there. It’s funny. It’s irreverent. It’s deeply truthful and wonderfully readable. We all need an Elizabeth Zott in our corner. The world would be an infinitely better place. A true delight! 

Violet and Jobie in the Wild By Lynne Rae Perkins, Lynne Rae Perkins (Illustrator) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062499691
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Greenwillow Books - September 13th, 2022

Violet and Jobie in the Wild is a delight of a book--the perfect early middle grade, full of bravery and wonder, true friendship, and just the right amount of danger as the titular two house mice journey into the wider world, searching for home. In short, it’s the best of humanity, except with mice. It’s the perfect antidote for the world’s current state of mouth-foaming anger.

The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen By Isaac Blum Cover Image
ISBN: 9780593525821
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Philomel Books - September 13th, 2022

As most people know, I’m always on the lookout for sharply written, authentic Jewish rep in novels, especially for children and teens. I’m not always fond of diverse books having to be about ISSUES (I mean, can’t a Jewish character just be Jewish and solving a mystery or whatever?), but I’ll forgive this one because it’s not like anything else I’ve read. Hoodie Rosen has an ultra-Orthodox teen, begins on the obscure Jewish holiday of Tu B’Av (kind of a Jewish Valentine’s Day, but not really), a mayor who is openly antisemitic, or at least has never known Orthodox Jews before, and the mayor’s daughter who is not at all like her mother. It’s quirky and authentically voiced and the two teens work to combat hate. You’ll like Hoodie (Yehuda) Rosen. You’ll really like his older sister, who’s both devout and subversive in the best of ways. Hoodie has a giant family. They’re all great characters. Read this one. Trust me.

The Underpants By Tammi Sauer, Joren Cull (Illustrator) Cover Image
By Tammi Sauer, Joren Cull (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9781338740271
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Scholastic Press - October 4th, 2022

Okay, so this was where I was originally going to have John Irving’s The Chairlift. I’ve loved John Irving since I read The World According to Garp, and there was that line, “Beware the undertoad”--which if you’ve read Garp you probably remember, too, because while it was a character’s mishearing of the word undertow, it’s really, really true, that the cosmic anvil can drop on our heads at any moment. John Irving gets that about the universe and the life of people in it. That no one is ever protected, not really.

But as much as I adore John Irving, Tammi Sauer’s picture books always make me laugh and always make me smile, and these are two very valuable experiences in our endless trash fire of a world these days. The Underpants is about what happens when Kitty paws through Farmer’s fresh laundry and decides that his tighty whiteys are a coat, and then the rest of the farm animals squeeze in with her. It’s clever. It’s funny. It makes you forget that the Acme safe of life might crash on your noggin at any second. It’s a stellar read aloud. Really, what more do you need?

Creepy Crayon! (Creepy Tales!) By Aaron Reynolds, Peter Brown (Illustrator) Cover Image
By Aaron Reynolds, Peter Brown (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9781534465886
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers - August 23rd, 2022

If you’re looking for another super fun read-aloud, Aaron Reynolds has you covered with Creepy Crayon, which is possibly my favorite of the Creepy trilogy that began with Creepy Carrots, followed with Creepy Underwear (a title that ensures purchase for every little boy in the universe), and now has little Jasper Rabbit finding himself in quite the school conundrum in this very Twilight Zone-esque story. On his own, he’s been getting answers wrong, spelling words incorrectly. But the purple crayon (so purple! So pointy!) insidiously inserts itself into Jasper’s work. At first it’s great! A+! But soon the guilt begins to consume him, and something must be done. Peter Brown’s art work soothes things humorously, but the deeper question is underneath--weirdly not dissimilar to a very grown up novel I just read called The Plot. How far will we go for success that isn’t ours? And at what cost? And because it’s a picture book, it’s FUNNY. You all need this one.

Article Type Terms: