My bulletin board holds notes to myself, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, computer printouts and many little slips of paper. All of these have one thing in common: They contain suggestions of books to read. Today I took down 53 pieces of paper, each containing up to 10 titles. I’ll never get to them all, but here are some that I have been able to enjoy.
The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje is about the particular table reserved for the less "acceptable" passengers on a cruise ship. The adult narrator, nicknamed "Mynah," delivers an amused reflection on his adventures on a voyage from Sri Lanka to England.
He and his two young comrades establish one rule for themselves: "Each day we had to do at least one thing that was forbidden." This includes spying on a mysterious, shackled prisoner as well as invading the first class breakfast buffet. (Knopf, 2011; $26)
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett could be called this century’s Heart of Darkness as it depicts a journey to a remote jungle (this in Brazil) to "rescue" a mysterious individual.
In this instance, the individual is a renowned scientist, Dr. Annik Swenson, doing research on a potential solution to female infertility. There is a mystery surrounding the death of one Minnesota researcher, and Marina Singh is dispatched by the pharmaceutical company to recover his body and return with Swenson and her findings. (Harper, 2011; $26.99)
If you can’t be on the beach, at least you can read about some in The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World by Carl Safina with drawings by Trudy Nicholson. Safina actually covers a large part of the globe examining the intricate balance of nature. He is concerned about how human pressure is changing various ecosystems.
His observations are both scientific and philosophical: "The geometry of human progress is an expanding circle of compassion, and … the world exists as the one true sacred place." The good news is that nature continues to demonstrate a resilience that will give readers hope. (Henry Holt, 2011; $32)
In Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Katherine Boo shares her intimate knowledge of the lives of slum-dwellers who struggle to raise and support their families within sight of an avenue of luxury hotels. Rarely are they able to find employment in these palaces, and so they occasionally have to resort to stealing and other shady practices.
The central figure in this narrative nonfiction is Abdul, an idealistic Muslim teenager, who sees "a fortune beyond counting" in the garbage of the rich, and labors almost unceasingly to sort and recycle many objects that you and I would shudder to touch.
Like the movie "Slumdog Millionaire," this nonfiction narrative exposes the police brutality and political corruption that make life even more difficult for Indians of the lowest economic class. (Random House, 2012; $27)
To encourage cultural diversity in summer reading, share Baba Yaga: A Russian Folktale with your pre-reader. Retold and illustrated by Katya Arnold, it will introduce your youngster to a famous figure in Russian folklore.
The brightly colored illustrations are based on a type of 17th-century woodcut and perfectly match the mood of the story. In it, Tishka is taken by the evil Baba Yaga to her hut (which stands on chicken legs.) There he outwits her with a Hansel and Gretel-type of strategy, but his adventure doesn’t end there. (1993, North-South Books; $14.99)
Two other picture books with a purpose are The Alphabet War: A Story about Dyslexia by Diane Burton Robb, and Ian’s Walk: A Story about Autism by Laurie Lears.
Each begins with a note from children’s specialists who explain the subject and why it’s important for school children and their families to recognize and accept children with these disabilities.
The narrator in Ian’s Walk, Ian’s older sister, Julie, is lovingly bemused and then angry at how her brother refuses to enjoy the typical sights, smells and tastes of a visit to the park. The portrait-quality watercolor illustrations by Karen Ritz show the curious stares on the faces of the characters, and Ian’s body language is captured eloquently.
Julie eventually realizes that Ian is tuned in to things that she has failed to appreciate. (1998, Albert Whitman and Co.; $6.99)
If you are able to read this column, you and I would have difficulty living in the reality depicted in The Alphabet War. Imagine loving listening to stories, but having them turn into torture when the time comes to read them yourself.
At the end of first grade Adam began to "pretend he was being held prisoner in the castle of an evil king, who tormented him with vowels." Gail Piazza’s pastel chalk illustrations sympathetically depict many of the imaginary scenes to which Adam escapes, and several of his real-world struggles. (2004, Albert Whitman and Co.; $16.99)
Similarly, 7 x 9 = Trouble! by Claudia Mills, with pictures by G. Brian Karas, depicts a third-grader struggling to master the times tables.
The loving support of his parents and sometimes distracting suggestions by his little brother help Wilson study for the quizzes, but he meets with only limited success. The plot is complicated by the disappearance of Squiggles, the class hamster. (Farrar, Straus, 2002; $5.99)
100 Days and 99 Nights by Alan Madison is recommended for grades 3-5 and records the creative ways 7-year-old Esme copes with her father’s deployment. Central to her coping mechanisms is the "bedzoo" of stuffed animals from A to Z whose stories begin each chapter. Julia Denos’ pencil drawings of each animal delightfully capture each toy’s personality.
For Esme, "every day passed at a hippo’s clumping pace." but she gamely tries to help her little brother live by her Dad’s rules and to recreate his "extra tasty, top-dog pancakes." (Little, Brown, 2008; $14.99)
So, cut out this column and put it on your bulletin board. Better yet, go online or to the library and pick out a couple to start reading right away.
Palma is an adjunct assistant professor of English at Monroe Community College in Rochester. She has a master of science degree in education from Nazareth College and master of arts in theology from St. Bernard’s Institute.