Richie's Picks: BLOOD BROTHERS by S.A. Harazin "Darkness, darkness be my blanket, Cover me with endless night." -- Jesse Colin Young "Don't die, don't die, don't die. Can't you hear me? You can't die when we're doing all we can to save you. "A few more minutes pass. The doctor tells me to stop. 'Still no pulse without CPR,' Guthrie says finally. "The doctor breathes in deep and lets it out slow. 'Let's call it.' He removes his gloves, his face mask, his gown. He slams them into the trash. 'We can't do anything more.' He frowns and his big brown eyes glisten in the bright light. "I don't want to stop. I want to tell the girl I'm sorry she's dead and won't ever go to college, or fall in love, or do anything she ever dreamed of doing. I'm sorry she won't ever be able to get mad over something stupid. I'm sorry, but we gave everything we had to give. " 'Thank you,' Dr. Murphy tells us. 'For all your help.' "I stand there and listen. All I can hear is a buzz from a machine. All I can see is the dead girl. She fills the room even though she's just a small, still body on the metal table. " 'I can't do this right now,' Guthrie says. 'I'll be back in a few minutes to finish up.' I pull the sheet over the girl. I won't leave her there lying naked. On the way out, I leave the door cracked just in case there really is a soul and it needs to escape. "I step into the waiting room in time to hear the wailing of the girl's mother, her father's anguish. Head down, I start thinking about Michelle, about Joey, about myself -- and it hits me. What right do I have to be so pissed about how they treated me? Everything that's happened with them seems as important as bird droppings when a teenage girl dies in front of you." Clay Gardener, Med Tech One, is the youngest employee in a Georgia hospital. Nearly eighteen years ago, Clay himself entered the world in a far away hospital in Endurance, Texas, where his mother died giving birth to him. For the past ten years Clay has been best friend and cycling partner to Joey Chancey. The pair met after the warehouse in Endurance, where Clay's dad had worked, burned to the ground and Clay's dad moved him and his sister to the Georgia town where his dad's old Vietnam War buddy -- Joey's dad -- lives. Clay, who with Joey, graduated from high school last month, has always wanted to be a doctor, but he doesn't have the grades or the money to pursue his dream. Instead, he's doing twelve-hour shifts at the hospital. Joey, the class valedictorian and football hero, is heading to Duke in the fall. But after Clay gets off the tough shift that was marked by the teen girl's death (after a car accident), he wearily enters the shed in Joey's backyard -- the shed that has always been Clay and Joey's clubhouse and sanctuary -- and finds Joey naked and in a violent, psychotic state. Apparently it has something to do with a party Joey had been at. After an intense struggle in the shed, Clay has to call 911 and soon Joey is on life support at the hospital. What has happened to the supposedly straight-arrow Joey and what is the deal with Michelle, the girl who was sort of with Clay but who has been coming on strong to Joey? BLOOD BROTHERS is a gritty mystery which is relentless in its pacing because Clay has to sandwich his attempts to figure out what happened to Joey into those all-too-brief periods of time when he is not either working at the hospital or watching his friend's struggle in critical care. The author's long career working in hospitals, beginning as a teenager, is clearly responsible for the vivid depictions of hospital work -- from the yucky and mundane tasks to the life-and-death climaxes -- which will hold the interest of all but the most squeamish readers. Chalk another one up to the Class of 2K7.
Richie's Picks: WE ARE THE SHIP: THE STORY OF NEGRO LEAGUE BASEBALL by Kadir Nelson, Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, January 2008, 88p., ISBN: 0-7868-0832-2 "We didn't really know how rough it was in the Negro Leagues until some of our guys went up to the majors. Play was a lot 'nicer' there. In our league, everything was legal. We would do whatever it took to win. Pitchers threw anything and everything. Spitters, shine-balls, emery balls, cut balls -- you name it. They cut that ball to pieces and had curveballs breaking about six feet! Throw a new white ball to the pitcher, and it would come back brown from all the tobacco juice and what-have-you. You never knew what the ball was going to do once it left the pitcher's hand. And throwing at the batter was common. The pitcher would knock you down just to mess with your head. Look up at the umpire, and he'd just say. 'Get up and play ball, son.' That's why the batting helmet was invented. When Willie Wells was just a rookie, he found the ball was making its way toward his head a little more often than he liked, so he decided to wear an old miner's helmet when he stepped up to the plate. Boy, did they laugh at him! But today, you won't find a ballgame played without batting helmets." A lot of hurt resulted from the evils of segregation in America. But when it came to so-called "black" music and "white" music, wasn't it ignorant whites who got the short end of the stick if they failed to experience the music being created by Black Americans whether it be the musicians of the Harlem Renaissance or Marian Anderson or 'Train and Miles or the stars of Motown or George Clinton or Tupac? "Oscar Charleston was a mean son-of-a-gun. He would just about go looking for trouble. One time he snatched the hood off a Ku Klux Klansman." Sure, there were a host of indignities experienced by the black Americans who took the field in Negro League Baseball and then had to find places to eat, sleep, shower, and pee. Kadir Nelson does an excellent job of illuminating those difficulties. But after reading WE ARE THE SHIP, there is no doubt that -- just as with the music -- those who wasted opportunities to experience Negro League Baseball were the ones who was poorer for it. WE ARE THE SHIP is a raucous, joyous, visual and textual celebration of Negro League Baseball that will leave its readers wishing that there was a stash of vintage film somewhere that we might all have a chance to view the long-ago hijinks and incredible skills of black ballplayers who were every bit as good and better than the white guys in the so-called major leagues. America did belatedly got a look at a number of veteran Negro League stars who were eventually permitted to join the majors. Unfortunately, in contrast to the few like Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella who got to spend many of their prime years in the majors, the majority of the stars whom we meet in WE ARE THE SHIP were either too old to follow Jackie there or merely got to play out their final years, long beyond their best seasons and the heroics (and antics) that Kadir Nelson speaks of here. "Umpiring wasn't always that great, either. Some of those guys wouldn't have known a strike from their left foot. At one time, the league had official umpires, but they couldn't travel with the teams. It was too expensive. A few of the umpires were former players. Pop Lloyd and Wilber 'Bullet' Rogan used to ump later on in their careers. Those guys were tough. They had to be, with guys like Oscar Charleston and Jud Wilson in the league. At one game in Kansas City, there were three umpires. Rogan was behind home plate, and the other two were at first and third. A play took place at third base, and Rogan ran down the line. He called the man out, and the base umpire called him safe. They started to argue and got into a fight. Bullet Rogan pulled out a knife, and the other guy panicked and took off running toward the center-field fence and climbed over it. The next day it was in the papers. Rogan had a bad temper. We wouldn't argue too much with him about balls and strikes. Whatever he called you, you would just let it go. He was old, but he'd fight you anyway. Some guys even played with a gun in their uniforms. It was a rough league." Sure, I, myself, had read some book about the Negro Leagues back when I was a kid. I knew the names of Sachel Page and Josh Gibson. But Kadir Nelson truly brings the wild scene to life. WE ARE THE SHIP is a celebration that you must not miss.
Richie's Picks: BINK & GOLLIE by Kate DiCamillo, Alison McGhee, and Tony Fucile, ill. Candlewick, August 2010, 92p., ISBN: 978-0-7636-3266-3 "'Bink,' said Gollie, 'The brightness of those socks pains me. I beg you not to purchase them.'"'I can't wait to put them on,' said Bink." "'I love socks,' said Bink."'Some socks are more lovable than others,' said Gollie." I am seriously not a television person, but I am always hearing friends talking about this TV series or that one, and how they are waiting for the new season to arrive. And now I know what they are talking about. I was quite disappointed when I reached the end of the first book in the upcoming new series that is being written for early readers by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee. BINK & GOLLIE features two girl friends, one small (Bink) and the other one tall (Gollie) . I'd had a great old time sitting in the Candlewick booth at ALA, reading the first episode in the BINK & GOLLIE series. In writing for emerging readers, the authors succeed in creating stories that are fresh and snarky, subversive and sophisticated. But now I have to wait a whole year to see the next episode! That's terrible, because I could merrily devour episodes of Bink and Gollie one after another all day long -- they are that much fun. "'Hello, Gollie,' said Bink. 'Do I smell pancakes'"'You do not,' said Gollie."'Will I smell pancakes?' said Bink." I like many things about what this talented trio is creating here. Without the imposing visual borders of a graphic novel, they are, nevertheless, often fitting more than one scene on a page, providing a lot of action and story in 92 pages. The two friends are -- at least in this first book -- pretty much in a world unto themselves. The authors are also quite innovative -- given this format and audience -- in their adoption from reality shows of the use of asides, where -- in a break in the action -- each of the girls will talk to themselves and to the audience about their reaction to the behavior of the other: "'The problem with Gollie,' said Bink, 'is that it's either Gollie's way, or the highway.'" "'The problem with Bink,' said Gollie,' is her unwillingness to compromise.'" Despite the issues that arise between the two girls, you can, in the end, really feel the bond that exists between the pair. Illustrator Tony Fucile may be a relatively newbie when it comes to children's book illustrating, but he's got a mega-impressive background, having designed and animated characters in the films The Lion King, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. Right off the bat, he does a great job of creating the pair of personas and bringing the two friends' attitudes to life. And I absolutely love how those socks Really Stand Out on the page so that you can so easily understand Gollie's ongoing issue with them. This first episode won't be available until the fall, but it, too, is a Real Stand Out and well worth watching for. Richie Partington, MLISInstructor, San Jose State UniversitySchool of Library and Information ScienceFTC NOTICE: Richie receives free books from lots of publishers who hope he will Pick their books. You can figure that any review was written after reading and dog-earring a free copy received. Richie retains these review copies for his rereading pleasure and for use in his booktalks at schools and libraries.
Richie's Picks: CASTAWAYS OF THE FLYING DUTCHMAN by Brian Jacques, Philomel, March 2001 An orphan in 1620 escapes enslavement at the hands of his stepbrothers when he falls into the harbor and ends up on the legendary soon-to-be ghost ship, the Flying Dutchman. Along with the faithful black Labrador he adopts, the boy is saved from the fate of the scoundrels on the ship when he is washed overboard. Washed up on Tierra del Fuego, the boy and the dog begin a series of adventures around the world to the benefit of those good souls with whom they come in contact. Filled with the excitement of Jacques' strorytelling style, but moving me to the extent that the Redwall books never did, I believe this to be the finest thing he's written
Richie's Picks: CHARLOTTE'S WEB by E.B. White and Garth Williams, ill., 1952I was the new kid at school in January 1964 when my new third grade teacher read this aloud. That I have forever loved reading, that I have both raised dairy goats and been a vegetarian for more than three decades, that I have pursued a series of careers involving children's books, all of these aspects of my life have roots in this book.
Richie's Picks: THE SEA OF TROLLS by Nancy Farmer"He dragged Jack to the campfire and selected a knife for him to carry. 'This is for your protection. You're not to join in the fight,' Olaf said. " 'Don't worry,' said Jack. " 'I know how exciting pillaging is,' the giant said fondly, ruffling Jack's hair. It felt like a blow. 'No matter how much you're tempted, just say no.' " 'Just say no to pillaging. You got it.' " Despite reading some of her consistently award-winning tales, many of you may not be aware of how funny Nancy Farmer can be. But for those who have gotten to spend any time around her it's no surprise to encounter all sorts of terrific humor in her fabulous, fantastical new adventure, THE SEA OF TROLLS. And for anyone who has read Gordon Korman's SON OF THE MOB, with all of Vince's so-called "uncles" bearing wacky names, you'll understand why that book comes to mind as Nancy Farmer introduces us to the likes of Ivar the Boneless, Einar the Ear-Hoarder, Pig Face, Dirty Pants, Eric Pretty-Face, Eric the Rash, and Magnus the Mauler. Eleven-year-old Jack, who had been happily apprenticing with The Bard, and Jack's five-year-old sister, Lucy, are captured and enslaved by the Northmen and head off in their custody to destinations unknown. The Holy Isle that Jack sees through the haze is Lindisfarne. The Holy Isle's destruction in A.D. 793, which marked the onset of two hundred years of Viking raids on Great Britain, provides readers with a historic reference point for this year's great epic adventure story. Farmer packs THE SEA OF TROLLS' 450 pages full of humor, history, mythology, and adventure. This is a deceptively complex story, beyond the mere fact that readers encounter Vikings, trolls, dragons, Beowulf, big-mouth fathers, and all sorts of other good stuff in the same book. What readers (and Jack) are left to sort out at the end of the odyssey are their feelings about the berserkers--those Northmen invaders with whom Lucy and Jack spend all of that time. On one hand, the siblings and the berserkers have all become so close to each other as they share stories, meals, and life and death struggles of immense proportion. Through those experiences, and despite their beliefs and customs being so different from his own, Jack has repeatedly seen and felt their humanity. As readers, we come to know and love the violent and smelly Olaf and Thorgil, and their wild and wacky comrades. On the other hand, even as Jack has to steel himself for having to say good-bye to them, he has to recognize (as we also have to) that the berserkers' intent--indeed their need, if their civilization is to survive--is to return to Jack's Britain again and again, robbing and pillaging and enslaving and murdering and partaking in those other activities that my eighth grade science teacher would repeatedly tell us about. "That's why you're genetically all a little bit of everything!" insisted old Mr. Max Krenis in his white lab coat and spectacles. So how do we as readers feel about the berserkers' need to invade in order to survive? How would we feel if we were Jack? How does "Love thine enemies" relate to the story? How does the Stockholm Syndrome fit in? How will readers relate all this to our being at war right now, and to the widespread suspicion of all people from that part of the world? But there's still more to THE SEA OF TROLLS. In fact, there is a whole 'nother story before Olaf One-Brow and his homies even show up in Britain the first time. The tale begins with Jack and Lucy, their family, and the Bard. Jack's a bright kid with an overbearing father who dotes on little Lucy. The Bard is a mysterious old guy who showed up a couple of years earlier, moved into the ancient Roman house overlooking the sea, and is provided for by the community. One day when Jack is delivering provisions to the Bard, he invites Jack back for lunch. The relationship that develops between Jack and the Bard is so heartwarming that I'd be happy to just keep going back and reading the first portion of the book again and again. The old man takes the beaten-down boy and, as he teaches him song, story, nature, and wisdom, he works to make Jack understand what a special kid he really is. And, oh what stories the Bard does tell him. Then, that time as an apprentice ends for Jack with the arrival of the long ships. And the real journey begins. THE SEA OF TROLLS nearly defies categorization, there are so many sides to it. And I couldn't begin to recount what Shari tried to explain to me about all of Nancy Farmer's allusions to traditional mythologies. But the humor, the excitement and danger, the history, and the characters who are real enough to cause you to really mourn the end of the book make THE SEA OF TROLLS the latest success in the career of one of the great storytellers of our time.
Richie's Picks: UNDER THE PERSIMMON TREE by Suzanne Fisher Staples" 'So,' she says, wiping the tears from his cheeks with the flat of her hand, a gesture that seems so motherly that her throat closes. 'Do you need a place to stay?' The boy nods his head slowly. "Nusrat reaches into a bowl on the table that stands in front of the window beside their chairs and picks up a bright orange persimmon that sits on top of a pyramid of ripe fruit. She takes the boy's hand and turns it palm up to place the fruit in it. She runs her finger over the calluses at the base of his fingers and below the center knuckles and looks up into his eyes, which watch her intently as she places the fruit in the cup of his palm and curls his fingers up over it. " 'Well,' says Nusrat. 'Don't worry.' " If you want some basic information about a foreign country, one place you can find it online is in the Central Intelligence Agency's "The World Factbook." In looking up Afghanistan in the CIA's "The World Factbook" I learned that as of 10 February, 2005 (which was when their facts were last updated), the population of Afghanistan was around 28 and a half million people. I also learned that the life expectancy at birth in Afghanistan as of 10 February, 2005 is 42 and a half years. (This compares to California with a population of 35 million and a life expectancy at birth of 79 and a half years.) So, if I lived in Afghanistan, the odds are that I'd currently be dead for the past 7 and a half years. Earlier this year I wrote about PINNED, a terrific story about two high school wrestlers from two different towns in New Jersey (where the life expectancy at birth is two years less than in California). As I explained in my write-up of PINNED, "In alternating chapters we get to know about complications in the lives, the loves, and the families, as well as the fears of these two young men who are clearly destined to meet at the season finale." Well, in Suzanne Fisher Staple's latest book UNDER THE PERSIMMON TREE, there are also a pair of main characters--young women who are clearly destined to meet up--and we similarly "get to know about complications in the lives, the loves, and the families, as well as the fears" of these two characters. And since these are young females in post-9/11 Afghanistan--one there by birth, the other by choice--the complications and fears we're talking about are off the charts as compared to the average character in New Jersey, California, or just about anywhere else in the world. "I know you're out there somewhere Somewhere, somewhere I know you're out there somewhere Somewhere you can hear my voice I know I'll find you somehow Somehow, somehow, I know I'll find you somehow And somehow I'll return again to you." --The Moody Blues To see your father and brother conscripted at gunpoint into the Taliban, your opium poppy-growing uncle scheming to take away your family's land, and then watch your mother and newborn baby brother get blown up in a bombing by your so-called "liberators," seems like more than enough "complications" for three or four stories put together. But for Najmah (whose name means "Star"), a tweener from a shepherding family from Kunduz Province in Afghanistan, this is just the beginning of her story. Then there is Nusrat. Nusrat was originally named Elaine. She grew up in Upstate New York. Years after the only person in the whole world who really knew her died, her sister Margaret, Elaine had immersed herself in a teaching job and a second job at an animal shelter. But she still couldn't get past the pain of Margaret's inexplicable death until she fell in love with her fellow Manhattan apartment dweller, Faiz, a handsome young doctor from Afghanistan who said her name should be Nusrat (which means "Help"). . Now Faiz is off trying to save lives in a clinic deep in the war zone of Afghanistan, and Nusrat is just over the border in Pakistan where she spends her days teaching writing and 'rithmetic to refugee kids. Because of the chaos of war, neither young woman has any idea whether their loved ones are dead or alive. UNDER THE PERSIMMON TREE is an uncompromising look into the lives and hearts of these two young female characters from the other side of the world. As she did many years ago in writing the Newbery Honor SHABANU, Suzanne Fisher Staples calls upon her experiences as a UPI reporter in Afghanistan and Pakistan to bring readers as close to that world as they're likely to get in their (relatively long American) lifetimes.
Richie's Picks: INSIDE OUT by Terry Trueman." 'Zach, you're a stupid wong-gong, a long-gone wong-gong.'"I ignore this, but while I'm sitting here being quiet, my palms are sweaty and my throat is dry. I need to decide if this situation is real or not; I need to decide that right now. Sometimes I understand what's going on, and other times I don't have a clue. If I don't figure this one out, I could be in trouble." According to the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression: "Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe brain disorder which affects approximately 1 percent of the world population. Approximately 2 million people in the United States suffer from the disease in a given year. Schizophrenia is characterized by positive and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms include delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking and markedly disorganized behavior. Negative symptoms include reduced emotional expression, social withdrawal, loss of pleasure, difficulty concentrating and/or thinking, and a lack of energy, spontaneity or initiative. Treatment is aimed at reducing symptoms and preventing psychotic relapses. Schizophrenia is usually treated with antipsychotic medication, and may be used in combination with psychosocial therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Many scientists believe that schizophrenia results from a chemical imbalance in the brain, and are investigating various neurotransmitters in determining this imbalance." Sixteen-year-old Zach Wahhsted suffers from adolescent onset schizophrenia. He waits at the coffee shop after school each day; him mom picks him up there up at 3:30 and gives him his medication. It is imperative that he get his twice-daily medication on time so that Rat and Dirtbag--the worst of the voices in his head that have tortured him in the past--don't come back. Today, Zach will not get his medication on time. "All I want is a maple bar, but I don't think these kids with the guns care about what I want." Today, as Zach waits for his mom's arrival, a pair of teenagers, "Frosty" and "Stormy," come in to rob the coffee shop and the situation disintergrates into an armed standoff with hostages. "I look around at everybody else in this place, and they all look scared, so I'm trying to look scared too. I mean, I guess I'm scared, but this all seems so normal to me. The thing is, I'm used to seeing and hearing really weird stuff, so this doesn't feel that strange to me at all." As a schizophrenic, Zach tends to react differently--some would say inappropriately. "One of the kids with a gun, the older-looking one, says, 'Nobody's gonna get hurt if you just do what we tell you!'"I say, 'Okay.'"He seems surprised at the sound of my voice and looks at me real fast, then away again."He says, 'We don't wanna hurt anybody.'" 'Good,' I say."He looks at me again, 'You gotta problem?' he asks. I think he sounds mad." 'Yes,' I say."This surprises him too. 'Oh, yeah?' he asks, then he points his gun right at me. 'What's your problem?'"I'm sort of surprised that he wants to know."His gun is big and black, with a wide hole in the end of the barrel. It's like a tunnel."I answer him as truthfully as I can. 'I'm sick, that's my problem; I take medicine two times every day, thanks for asking.' " "The lunatic is in my headThe lunatic is in my headYou raise the blade, you make the changeYou re-arrange me 'til I'm saneYou lock the doorAnd throw away the keyThere's someone in my head but it's not me"--Pink Floyd INSIDE OUT is a tense and often comic tale that plays out inside the back room of the coffee shop and inside Zach Wahhsted's head as 3:30 comes and goes... "I wonder if Frosty and Stormy are going to shoot me. Like in that movie Pulp Fiction. The bad guys shoot lots of people in that movie. I'm definitely NOT going to ask them about Pulp Fiction or about shooting us. I don't want to give them any bad ideas."I don't even want to think about getting shot, and so I try to be real quiet..."After whispering to Stormy, Frosty says, 'Okay, everybody, we've got an announcement.'"All of us look at Frosty, but before he can say anything else, I hear words flying out of my mouth..." 'Frosty,' I ask, 'did you ever see that movie Pulp Fiction?' " This story of how the kid with all the voices in his head turns out to be the voice of reason in a tense life-and-death situation is a spectacular read. And while there is great levity in the unique rapport that develops between Zach and the armed teens, beneath the hostage situation is the realization that no matter how the standoff ends, Zach will forever be hostage to those voices in his head.