Double Dose of Grief

The narrator of Meg Wolitzer’s novel Belzhar is a fifteen-year-old who has had a major emotional breakdown. Although Jam Gallahue and Reeve Maxfield knew each other for only 41 days, Jam is devastated after losing her first love. Jam sinks into a deep depression. Her parents decide to send her to The Wooden Barn, a private boarding school in rural Vermont known for treating depression and other mental issues. Mrs. Quennell, an English teacher at the school, chooses Jam and four other students to participate in her Special Topics English class. In addition to reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, the students are required to write in an antique journal twice a week. Through the journaling, the students encounter something unexpected that creates a strong bond amongst the group and activates the healing process for each individual. Wolitzer’s message is ‘words matter’; literature can be emotionally therapeutic. Unfortunately, the message is not cleverly weaved into the story so it sounds contrived and preachy. The characters are not very well developed and the ending is a little too neatly wrapped. Despite all that, the plight of each character draws the readers in this fast-paced story.

Cadence Sinclair, a teen from an affluent family, is the narrator of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Cady and her disturbingly dysfunctional family meet at a private island each summer where she and her cousins have grown up together. Their vacations on the island are carefree; except Cady cannot remember anything from the summer she was fifteen. One mystery changes all and nothing can ever be the same. The story is such that disclosing more spoils the fun of reading this book. The prose is rife with imagery, the plot is clever and some of the characters, often nasty, are painfully believable. There are allusions to King Lear and fairy tale segments retold and imagined by Cady; her attempt to face truths she is not supposed to notice or mention. This incisive story has many layers and as each layer unravels, there, in the center, is a mesmerizing tale of privilege, love and lies.


Best of 2014 - Our Top Five Teen Fiction

Here are the top five teen fiction titles chosen by OC Public Libraries' staff as the Best of 2014.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (audio)

Cress by Marissa Meyer (audio)

Panic by Lauren Oliver (audio)

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Join the fun and leave us a comment with your pick for the top teen title of 2014.


Best of 2014 - Our Top Ten Adult Fiction

Here are OC Public Libraries' staff picks for the Top Ten Fiction titles of 2014.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (audio)

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (audio)

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness (audio)

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson (audio)

One More Thing by BJ Novak (audio)

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (audio)

The Martian by Andy Weir

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (audio)

Summer House with a Swimming Pool by Herman Koch (audio)

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny (audio)
Join the fun and leave us a comment with your pick for the top fiction title of 2014.


Best of 2014 - Our Top Five Picture Books

Here are OC Public Libraries' staff picks for the Top Ten Picture Books of 2014.

Maple by Lori Nichols

The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak

Big Bad Bubble by Adam Rubin

I'm My Own Dog by David Ezra Stein

Hooray for Hat! by Brian Won

Join the fun and leave us a comment with your pick for the top Picture Book of 2014.


Best of 2014 - Our Top Ten Adult Nonfiction and Memoirs

Although we're already looking forward to 2015, here's a look back at some of the best nonfiction books of 2014, as recommended by our own OC Public Libraries staff:

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant: A Memoir by Roz Chast

Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton (audio)

Make it Ahead by Ina Garten

I'll Drink to That: A Life in Style, with a Twist by Betty Halbreich (audio)

The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison

Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade by Walter Kirn (large type)

Murder on the Home Front by Molly Lefebure (DVD)

The Meat Racket by Christopher Leonard (audio)

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel Levitin

Take This Man by Brando Skyhorse

Join the fun and leave us a comment with your pick for the top nonfiction title of 2014.


Holiday Cookbooks

During the holidays edible treats and goodies surround us. A home filled with the aroma of cooking and baking triggers holiday memories of favorite traditions and favorite recipes. Along with beloved family recipes, new recipes add spice to any holiday baking repertoire. Here are some great holiday cookbooks. Enjoy! 
Gluten-Free and Vegan Holidays by Jennifer Katzinger

This cookbook contains recipes for year round holidays and special days. Be sure and take a peek at the sections of the book on Hanukkah and Christmas recipes.

Very Vegan Christmas Cookies by Ellen Brown

This collection of Christmas cookies is unique in that all recipes are made without eggs or dairy products. There are some non-traditional cookies as well as versions of the classic rolled sugar cookie. This collection of yummy recipes will appeal to the vegan in the family as well as all your other guests.

This book isn’t necessarily a “holiday” book but it will help you enjoy your holiday, or the day after the holiday, by showcasing delicious brunch recipes! This cookbook is filled with recipes and truly mouthwatering photos. I definitely plan on making some of the recipes in this book whether it’s for a holiday brunch or just a casual weekend brunch. From hash browns with goat cheese to cinnamon-apple French toast, this cookbook has something for just about everyone!
Fast & Festive Meals for the Jewish Holiday by Marlene Sorosky

This book includes not just recipes, but menus! This delightful holiday book allows you to select an entrée and then find an appropriate side, appetizer or accompanying dish. The author includes prep time, prep work that can be done in advance, and other information that will help make your busy holiday meal preparations fast and festive. This book also includes information on traditional table settings and background information about the holidays.

Try a holiday cookbook in e-Book format!

Holiday Dinners with Bradley Ogden by Bradley Ogden 

Holiday Crafting and Baking with Kids by Jessica Strand


Break Out the Better Hot Chocolate: Great Wintry Adult Fiction

I know it’s in your cupboard: the really decadent hot chocolate powder.  The tin that you received at the office party last year and have been hoarding at home.  Yes, that one.  Even your roommates don’t know about it.  Well, I won’t tell and you don’t have to share.  But you’re about to need to make a steaming cup of it – with marshmallows on top, don’t be chintzy -- because I’ve got a few titles to suggest, some great adult fiction in which winter plays a significant role. All are available for you to check out at OC Public Libraries.

Winter’s Tales by Isak Dinesen
I read this collection of short stories in college for a Scandinavian literature course and really loved it.  I remember my professor noting that the mood of Scandinavian literature can be influenced by authors’ perceived geographic isolation from the rest of the world and the often frigidly cold weather.  In Winter’s Tales, Dinesen (a.k.a. Karen Blixen) combines realistic fiction with elements of fairy tales and myth, creating stories which shed light on human strengths and foibles.  Love, in its various forms, is a common theme.

Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg
When I read this novel I was completely captivated by protagonist Smilla Jaspersen, a Greenlander with Inuit roots who lives in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Smilla, somewhat of a loner, is a scientist who is an expert on snow and ice. When the death of her six-year-old neighbor, another Greenlander with whom she was close, is determined to be due to an accidental fall from a rooftop, Smilla does not agree.  As the authorities will not help her, she begins to investigate on her own.  This is a truly suspenseful mystery with an independent main character that you will not forget.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
We read this enthralling story, the author’s debut novel, for our library’s book club.  In the 1920s, Jack and Mabel, a married and childless couple in their forties, move from Pennsylvania to Alaska to start a new life as homesteaders.  The Alaskan natural environment proves much more challenging than either had anticipated.  Their frustration is lifted, however, when a snow maiden that they build one winter day appears to turn into a real child.  Ivey very skillfully depicts the miscommunication that can occur between spouses and the potential for true mutual understanding and connectedness.
Almost, Maine by John Cariani (in New Playwrights: The Best Plays of 2006)
I saw this thought-provoking and charming play a few years ago at a smaller San Juan Capistrano theater, and am very excited to have just discovered that OC Public Libraries has the script in the collection mentioned above.  The play takes place on a cold winter night in the fictitious small town of Almost, Maine. In multiple storylines, characters fall in and out of love and events take unexpected turns.  The play contains a lot of humor as well as a bit of sadness, and is definitely worth reading, and watching if you ever get the chance.

After reading this hugely engaging and often hilarious novel for our library’s book club, I immediately added Semple to my personal top ten author list.  Bernadette is a brilliant former architect who loves her fifteen-year-old daughter Bee immensely, but has isolated herself in general and is unhappy being a Seattle housewife.  When Bernadette disappears close to Christmas Day, Bee decides that she and her father must search for her where the family was scheduled to travel, frozen Antarctica.  Narrated by Bee, the novel also contains emails, letters, FBI case notes and other documents.   For a more detailed review, please see my colleague’s blog post.

Hope you enjoy these suggestions!  What wintry adult fiction would you recommend?


Was it harder to die, or harder to be the one who survived?

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is a novel of hope and survival in the face of heinous acts committed during WWII. Inspired by her family’s history in Lithuania, Sepetys integrates true accounts and experiences from survivors as she reminds readers of the ethnic cleansing of the Baltic States that took place under Stalin’s regime. Told from the perspective of a resilient 15-year-old, Lina Vilkas, the story begins with the night NKVD officers, a Soviet law enforcement agency, brutally take Lina and her family from their home. The two children have no idea why they are forced out of their home, but the mother ensures them they will be back. Separated from the father, the officers put Lina, her mother and younger brother onto a train bound for Siberia. The children quickly discover there are hundreds of others in their situation.
As Lina finds out where and why the Soviets annexed so many, so do the readers. The passages in the book alternate between the present and to happier times in the past. Through flashbacks, Lina realizes her parents and their friends foresaw the Soviet attack, but no one anticipated the gravity of the damage it would cause. While Sepetys does not delve deeply into political details behind the invasion, she does clearly describe the mistreatment of the Baltic people. The trains transport thousands of people to work in grueling labor camps. The NKVD condemns those who survive the horrendous train journey to manual labor to earn their rations, a piece of bread. Lina, in her happier past, was going to attend an intense summer program for bourgeoning artists. She secretly uses her artistic talents to find calm and solace while documenting  the atrocities. Since there is so much emphasis placed on Lina’s art, it would have been nice to see some illustrations. While Lina, her family and all those at the camp are in the most horrific situation imaginable, everyone tries to keep their spirits up as best as they can by sharing happy stories from their past. In the midst of all this is a small love story. Lina and Andrius’ friendship and gradual understanding of each other turns into an everlasting hope. It is a bleak story and it gets worse as it progresses, but it is definitely worth reading.


Something Silly

As our November Picture Book Month draws to an end, I would just like to observe that 2104 has been a good year for very silly stories. Children love a giggle, and these books are great for curling up with someone small for read aloud fun.

Let's start with No Nap! Yes Nap! by Margie Palatini, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino. Read this to the very youngest, whose own vocabulary may consist largely of "No no no!" A patient mother chases Baby all over the house trying to persuade him that it is nap time. Baby can think of plenty of things he'd rather do instead. Clap, sing, get a drink, etc. The dialog is completely at the toddler level. Yaccarino's retro-feeling illustrations have a lively palette that matches the manic mood.

Now let's consider Big Bad Bubble by Adam Rubin. This may be the truly silliest title I will list today. The far-fetched but charming premise is that when bubbles pop, they do not disappear, but turn up in a special place called La-La Land, whose residents are easily frightened monsters. Based on his unfortunate experience with bubble gum, one of the monsters has persuaded the others that bubbles are dangerous. It takes a calming narrator, with help from young readers, to empower the monsters to use their teeth, horns and claws to attack the fragile invaders. Perhaps this book could be used to encourage youngsters to confront their own fears, but really I don't think Rubin has anything that serious in mind!

Froodle by Antoinette Portis, appeals to kids' love of imitating animal noises. The catch here is that, starting with a small brown bird, the critters get bored with their usual sounds and start speaking very creatively.  The crow starts out stiffly resisting the changes, but in the end even he can't resist joining in.

Now that we're heading into holiday craziness, take a minute or two now and then to read to your kids!


Picture Book Month: Favorite Thanksgiving Picture Books

We have been celebrating Picture Book Month all month long. This week is extra special because not only is it Picture Book Month – but it’s also Thanksgiving! Libraries and librarians give thanks for picture books and the authors and illustrators who create them. Visit the Picture Book Month website and read a series of articles about why picture books are important. 
To celebrate Thanksgiving and Picture Book Month, I thought I’d take a moment to highlight my two favorite Thanksgiving themed picture books. Both books are humorous and silly rather than serious, and both books are best appreciated when read-aloud.

‘Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey is a play on the classic Christmas story by Clement Moore. This rhyming book follows a bus filled with children as they take a school field trip to a turkey farm on the day before Thanksgiving. The children tour the farm and fall in love with their new feathered friends. When the turkeys’ fate is revealed, the children create a heartwarming plan to save the turkeys. The book ends with a Happy Thanksgiving for all. This book is funny, witty and surprisingly sentimental. The bright and festive pictures ensure this delightful picture book will be enjoyed by both younger and older children, and even adults!

I Know and Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie by Alison Jackson chronicles the antics of one very hungry Thanksgiving guest as she eats the ultimate Thanksgiving feast. This amusing story will make you laugh and giggle. Children devour this book and can’t wait to turn the page to see what the very hungry house guest will eat next. Page after page, the feast continues! Judith Schachner illustrated the book, and her drawings are the perfect complement to this story. Older and younger children will be thankful for this Thanksgiving tale.

Both of these picture books are fun to look at and fun to read. These are two of my favorites, but take the opportunity to seek out some of your own favorite Thanksgiving themed picture books. You may also enjoy – Clifford’s Thanksgiving Visit and Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving. If you get a moment this week or weekend, get everyone together, grab a great picture book and settle in for a different type of Thanksgiving treat.


The Ruby in the Smoke, Classic Young Adult Historical Thriller

After years of being urged to do so, I’ve just finally read Philip Pullman’s The Ruby in the Smoke.  It was originally published in 1985 and is the first of the Sally Lockhart Mysteries quartet.  Let me start by saying that you’ve got to read it.  And, there’s a reason why books like these are classics.

It’s 1872 in London and sixteen-year-old Sally Lockhart, our protagonist, has fairly recently lost her father, a shipping agent, to drowning in the Far East.  Although briefly forced to live with a distasteful aunt and prevented from getting at some of her inheritance, Sally has a head for financial matters and devises a plan to make the most of her immediate family’s investments.  Sally is intelligent, practical, conscientious, a bit shy and a tad self-conscious about the untraditional education she received from her father, which did not include classic literature.

One day Sally receives a mysterious letter from Singapore which warns her to “beware of the seven blessings”.  When she mentions this odd message to her father’s company’s secretary, the man has a heart attack and dies.  It is here that she meets Jim, a smart and straightforward boy a few years younger than Sally who takes it upon himself to help solve the mystery surrounding the letter.

Sally shortly receives a note from a Mr. Marchbanks asking her to come see him.  When she does, this frightened man warns her of the presence on his property of Mrs. Holland -- one of the novel’s principal baddies –  and hurriedly gives Sally a diary to help her figure everything out.  Although all but a page or two of this diary is shortly stolen from Sally, she manages to escape Mrs. Holland’s pursuit of her by hiding out in the tent of Frederick Garland, a talented young photographer.  The two strike up a friendship and Sally eventually moves in with Frederick and his sister, repaying them by using her business acumen to revive their photography business. 

This is just the beginning of a novel filled with suspense and adventure, all centered around the priceless gem mentioned in the title and Sally’s father.   Characterization is rich and varied and there is honest self-reflection on the part of Sally.  The Ruby in the Smoke is a true page-turner with a capable but real heroine who does feel fear but decides to take thoughtful action.  I recommend this novel for middle schoolers, teens and adults.

I actually “read” the audiobook and I very highly recommend this format.  Anton Lesser’s nuanced vocalization of the text brought so much to the story and all of the characters’ personalities  – you’re tempted to listen to the whole thing at once.  It was hard to believe that I was listening to just one reader, so varied were the voices and tones that he leant each character.  This Random House/Listening Library edition actually won an AudioFile Earphones Award and was recommended by the American Library Association for both young adults and children. 

At OC Public Libraries, we have the print version of The Ruby in the Smoke (and its sequels), the audiobook and the film, all available for you to check out.  Also, here is a Booklist article about additional Victorian mysteries for young people in our Literature Resource Center database.


Title Drop! A Plenitude of Picture Books

Reading books has long been known to be important in developing language, comprehension, and creativity, for anyone of any age.

The benefits of reading out loud to children are not as well-known, but are possibly even more crucial; children form many of their life-long habits towards literacy when they are young. Children can also learn more advanced vocabulary and nuances of communication by being read to from books, which tend to have a much more varied and rich language than everyday speech. Having well-developed vocabulary, comprehension and communication skills has been found to help children do much better when first starting school.

And it’s fun! There isn’t one negative effect of reading out loud to children, unless you count them wanting you to read another book, then another, and another, until they learn to read, and then they’ll want to read a book to you, then another one, and another, and then they’ll start reading books to themselves, then another one, and another…

Who really wants to be the reason their child is curious, expressive, imaginative and thoughtful? That’s a trick question, don’t answer that.

Start reading aloud with one or more picture books from this list of some of my favorite recently published titles.

Dojo Daycare, by Chris Tougas
Six little daycare ninjas kick and KAPOW! with impunity, despite the poor daycare dojo master’s dismayed attempts to instill in them the tenets of all good ninjas. Bright illustrations, great read-aloud effects, told in clever and fluid rhyme, with a warm message of respect, responsibility, and teamwork! And ninjas for the win! Ages 3 and up.

The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt
With warm, adorable illustrations by the amazing Oliver Jeffers, this title explores what happens when a boy’s box of crayons revolt, leaving him letters explaining their various grievances (Black wants to do more than outlines, and White wants to be used more, period!) with hilarious (and color coordinated) results. Ages 3 and up.

Stuck, by Oliver Jeffers
New York Times best-selling illustrator and author Oliver Jeffers explores how one boy tries to solve the problem of retrieving his kite, stuck in a tree. With each escalation, his situation gets more serious (and more hilarious), and the end will leave you laughing (but maybe a little concerned). Ages 3 and up.
The Numberlys, by William Joyce
Award-winning author of The Guardians of Childhood novel and picture book series (which inspired the film The Rise of the Guardians), Joyce presents an original, engaging tale of how the alphabet was first invented, back when everything had a number instead of a name. No letters meant no words, and no words meant no colors, or desserts, or fun!  Ages 3 and up.

The Book With No Pictures, by B.J. Novak
A picture book with no pictures, say whaaaa-? A New York Times bestseller, this title encourages children’s interest in textual content with its humorous, clever approach to reading.  The premise is that whoever is reading the book (usually a very serious adult) has to read WHATEVER the book says, no matter how silly.  With illustrated words in different fonts and bright colors for added visual interest. Ages 5 and up.

New York Times’ bestselling peas star in this delightful introduction to some of the most common colors. Each page is illustrated with a BIG eye-catching word spelling out its color, surrounded by dozens of the cutest “little green peas” in various acts of color-coordinated activities and paraphernalia. Kids will love pointing out all the little details. For ages 4 and up.

Mix it Up, by Herve Tullet
Author of the marvelously inventive New York Times bestseller Press Here, an interactive picture book relevant to today’s iPad-savvy kidsters, this innovative title takes the same concept and adds more COLOR, with gorgeous photorealistic textures and illustrations. By the end of the book kids will either want to read it again, or reach for real paint to mix! Ages 3 and up.

Journey, by Aaron Becker
A 2014 Caldecott Honor book, Becker’s wordless yet engrossing story follows a lonely little girl who, with a red marker in hand, draws herself a red door into another world, and a series of magical adventures marked by her red-hued creations. Without words, but beautifully illustrated, it still manages to convey its messages of friendship, determination and imagination. Ages 4 and up.

Going Places, by Paul A. Reynolds
A fantastic story of teamwork, creativity, and the joys of not quite staying inside the lines, illustrated by New York Times bestselling illustrator Peter H. Reynolds (Judy Moody, The Dot). When a class of students receive identical kits for building a go-cart for racing, two children, one who excels at following instructions and another whose bright imagination is tempered by practicality, work together to build something that may not be exactly what everyone else has, in the best way possible. Ages 4 and up.

Uni the Unicorn, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
With Disney-worthy huggable illustrations, this title takes an old tale and spins it into an adorable new story about friendship and believing in the impossible (also, unicorns!). A young unicorn is told there are no such things as little girls, but he believes there are no matter what the adults say.  Coincidentally, far, far (but not that far) away, a little girl believes that unicorns exist, no matter what they tell her. Ages 4 and up.

The Most Magnificent Thing, by Ashley Spires
A brilliant, encouraging story of ingenuity, failure, perseverance, and creativity, from an award-winning author and illustrator. A little girl, with the help of her best friend (her dog) decides to make “The most MAGINIFICENT thing!” but even with the best-laid plans, failure happens. And happens again. And again. Then you get mad. And want to quit.  Then actually quit.  But sometimes all it takes is a little time (and a little help), and a lot of tinkering, before truly magnificent things can happen. Ages 3 and up.

My Teacher Is A Monster!, by Peter Brown
From the New York Times bestselling author and illustrator of quirky giggle-inducing favorites like The Curious Garden and Creepy Carrots comes an endearing story that many children with intimidating teachers will relate to.  A little boy claims that his stomping, roaring, anti-paper airplane teacher is a monster (with reptile-like snout, and huge clumping pumps), but a chance encounter outside of the classroom reveals that there's more to a person, once you get to know them, from both perspectives, high and low.  Ages 4 and up.

Click on any of the titles to visit the OC Public Libraries website and reserve a copy today!

And to find more recommended titles, visit our Book Lists tab (above), or click here.


More Toddler Favorites

About a year ago, I shared some of my favorite books for reading aloud to toddlers. If you want to read that blog again, click here . That time around, I was looking for titles that I had read over and over (as toddlers like to do).  Since then, I have come across more books that have gone over well with toddlers that I would like to share.  They aren't all necessarily new, but were new to me.

Be sure to try Baby Parade by Rebecca O'Connell. This book appeals to tiny tykes' love of waving hello and good-bye. Readers are encouraged to wave to babies passing by in the illustrations, who ride in wagons, rest in backpacks and so on. So simple, yet so inviting of active participation.  These are some cute babies!

Another book with a simple, yet satisfying concept is Hooray for Hat by Brian Won. Grumpy Elephant is so cheered by a surprise gift of a box of hats on his doorstep that he ends up sharing them one-by-one with a succession of his similarly grumpy friends. Readers can join in by exclaiming, "Hooray for Hat!"

Let me just say flat-out that I think Mo Willems is a comic genius. He has written best-selling picture books (Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Knuffle Bunny) and readers ( the Elephant and Piggie books). He has also started a series for the youngest readers: the Cat the Cat books. The first is called Cat the Cat, Who is That?  In Cat the Cat's world, everyone has a name that reflects who they are: Cat the Cat, Mouse the Mouse, etc. Not only that, everyone is her friend, even the mysterious critter who says "Blarggie! Blarggie!"  Every one of the books in the series has a humorous twist. For example, in Let's Say HI to Friends Who Fly all the friends are sure Rhino the Rhino can't fly -- until he shows up in an airplane!

Karen Katz is a prolific author whose many books are geared to toddlers. Here's one of her newer titles: Now I'm Big! A number of children with Katz's signature large round heads, stubby arms and cheerful wardrobes list all of the things they can do now that they are not babies any more.  Best of all, now they can help their baby brothers and sisters.

If you have any favorite books for toddlers, please list them in the comments below. We want to keep our youngest readers happy!


Every Choice Has A Price

I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister by Amélie Sarn, translated by Y. Maudet, is a short novel about teenage sisters living in a Muslim community in France. Sohane and Djelila are very close until they reach high school. Since they are the second generation born in France, their parents allow many liberties customarily not permitted in a Muslim household. Sohane embraces Muslim traditions. In contrast, Djelila elects to become secular which allows her to dress as she wants and socialize with her non-Muslim friends. Because of her choices, a local Muslim gang bullies Djelila. Sohane dislikes her sister’s decisions so she watches on as the bullying continues; hoping Djelila will learn a lesson. Conversely, when Sohane publicly pronounces her religion by wearing a scarf, her school expels her when she refuses to remove the scarf. Djelila may not agree with her sister’s beliefs, but she supports Sohane’s pursuit to express her individuality.
The simple prose is in Sohane’s voice, following her train of thought as the chapters alternate between past and present events. This heartbreaking story raises the issues of freedom of religion and expression, individual values, family relations, feminism, guilt, grief, morality and what it is like to be a Muslim woman in a secular society. Seemingly torn from the headlines, this book is ripe for a thought provoking discussion in any book club.


Picture Book Month

November is Picture Book month! Join us in celebrating this month-long celebration of picture books. How many picture books will you read this month? 

Picture books are essential for early literacy. The best way to help children get ready to read on their own is for children and their families to read together! Reading picture books aloud to your child teaches them concepts such as, print awareness, letter knowledge and print motivation. Learning to recognize letters, hold a book and follow words on a page are all skills that will help your child get ready to read on their own as well as help instill a lifelong love of reading.


There are many ways to find picture books you and your children might like to read. One option is to search the OC Public Libraries’ catalog and utilize the “power search” option. Under power search, locate the “Reading Level” tab and select Children’s Primary Fiction. You can then search all the OC Public Libraries branches for books or limit your search to an individual branch of your choosing. This is a great way to search if you just want to browse picture books. You may find your next favorite picture book!

Another option is to use Book Talk as a resource to find great picture books recommended by OC Public Libraries’ staff. Look to the right side of your screen and you will see the subject tags in the margin. Locate the Read Aloud Picture Books link. Click this link and view all the Book Talk posts about picture books! There are a lot because we love picture books and are so excited to share them and recommend them!

There are many other great ways to find picture books. Each year the prestigious Caldecott Medal is awarded and honors the artist of one exceptional children’s picture book. The Caldecott Medal was first awarded in 1938 and you can find the entire list of award winners from 1938 through the present on the OC Public Libraries’ website. Some of my favorite Caldecott winners include, This is Not My Hat, Lon Po Po, The Polar Express, and Where the Wild Things Are. In honor of Picture Book Month, take a look at this list and find your favorite Caldecott winner!

Each year the publication School Library Journal puts out a best picture books list. Take a look at the SLJ Best Books 2013 Picture Books and keep an eye out for the upcoming 2014 list. The editors of School Library Journal who select the books on the list describe this list of picture books as being the year’s “best of the best”. The Picture Book Month website has lists of picture book authors and illustrators along with a variety of information and literature about the importance of picture books. This site also has a variety of fun activities for children, families, and teachers. Take a look at this website to learn more about Picture Book Month.

Don’t forget! You can always visit or call one of your OC Public Libraries branches and ask for a picture book recommendation. We all have our favorite picture books and are happy to share. Think of the month of November as a special time to devote to gobbling up these beautiful books. Let’s all celebrate Picture Book Month!


Halloween Reads for Little Ones, Kids & Middle Schoolers

It’s that wonderfully spooky time of year again!  We wanted to share with you a sampling of the many great and recent Halloween-themed books and ghost stories for youth which you can check out at OC Public Libraries.  We’ve got fun picture books for young ones, more-giggly-than-scary “beginning readers” for children learning how to read, thrilling tales for school-age children and slightly to quite scary novels for middle schoolers.  All treats, no tricks -- we promise!

PICTURE BOOKS (Toddlers through Grade 2)

Black and Bittern Was Night by Robert Heidbreder
When skeletons take over a small town, the grown-ups call off trick-or-treating, but the kids in town vow to save the day.

In this Halloween countdown book, ten orange pumpkins are each carried off by a witch, a ghost, a spider, and other Halloween creatures until there's just one.

Dog and Bear: Tricks and Treats by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Dog and Bear are back in three new stories, all with a Halloween theme.  This book is part of a series.

BEGINNING READERS (Preschool through Grade 3)

Katy Duck’s Happy Halloween by Alyssa Satin Capucilli
Katy Duck is excited about Halloween…until she sees Alice Duck dressed up in a shimmery, glimmery outfit.  But with a little help from Alice and Ralph, Katy realizes that her costume is still very special.  And besides, she can be shimmery and glimmery next year. This book is part of a series.

When Petal admits that Halloween is too spooky for her, Poppy helps her understand that it's all pretend.  This book is a part of a series.

As Halloween nears, Captain Awesome and Nacho Cheese Man set out to protect Sunnyview from monsters.  But when they encounter what may be a real haunted house, they suddenly remember that they have homework to do.  This book is a part of a series.


Home Sweet Horror by James Preller
After the death of his mother, eight-year-old Liam and his father and sister move to a new house for a fresh start.  However, Liam soon discovers that the house is haunted.

The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud
Lockwood & Company are hired to investigate Edmund Bickerstaff, a Victorian doctor who reportedly tried to communicate with the dead.  Meanwhile, Lucy is distracted by urgent whispers coming from the skull in a ghost jar. This book is the sequel to The Screaming Staircase.


Irish orphans Molly, fourteen, and Kip, ten, travel to England to work as servants in a crumbling manor house where nothing is quite what it seems to be.  Soon the siblings are confronted by a mysterious stranger and the secrets of the cursed house.  This book is the sequel to Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes.

Constable & Toop by Gareth P. Jones
In Victorian London, an undertaker's son can see ghosts and is haunted by their constant demands for attention.  He must decide whether to help when a horrible disease imprisons ghosts into empty houses in the world of the living.

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage
When Miss Lana accidentally buys a haunted inn at the Tupelo Landing town auction, the Desperado Detectives agency -- a.k.a. Mo LoBeau and her best friend Dale -- opens up a paranormal division to figure out the ghost's identity before the town's big 250th anniversary bash.   This book is the sequel to Three Times Lucky.

In a seaside New England town in the 1920s, twelve-year-old Clare finds refuge from the cruelty of her society friends in a mysterious glass house.  The house is also inhabited by Jack, a charming and playful ghost who cannot remember his real name or how he died.