Choose the right book to go places this summer - Catholic Courier

Choose the right book to go places this summer

From the beginning of the 20th century, to the end of the world as we know it, time travel can supplement your vacation travels. And you don’t need to load up the car; all you need is the right book. Competent readers of all ages can enjoy the first four books.

One Summer: America, 1927 (Doubleday, 2013.) What do Al Capone, Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford and Al Jolson have in common? Bill Bryson shows how each of these men, and many more who aren’t as memorable, all had a hand in changing American culture, technology and way of thinking between May and September 1927.

Readers who do not usually enjoy history books will find that Bryson’s breezy style carries one along from one jaw-dropping event to the next. We have no trouble keeping track of the multitude of names and dates, because the author connects each to the previous and the following episodes, emphasizing the frequent irony.

One gets the feeling that America was a much smaller place where celebrities and the working man and woman brushed elbows on a daily basis, and one is left with a sense of awe at the momentous changes that were wrought in the summer of just that one year.

Set in the same era, but fictionalized, is Diamond Ruby by Joseph Wallace (Simon and Schuster, 2010.) The first gem in the title refers to the playing field for baseball; the second, Ruby, is the name of the main character. She is based on an actual teenage girl, a Tennessee pitcher who struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and was subsequently banned (along with all women) from the sport.

At one time Ruby had been mocked for the unusual length of her arms, but now their strange anatomy allows her to throw stones, balls, any object, with tremendous force and speed. This skill wins her a job in a Coney Island sideshow, which in turn brings her to the attention of various professional baseball players. Unfortunately, it also makes her the target of bullies and sexual predators.

How Ruby navigates the fate that the times and the stars have determined for her is a riveting tale.

A very different fate awaits another girl, 12 years old and living in Paris during the Nazi occupation. In All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr creates a suspenseful story that focuses on Marie-Laure LeBlanc. In a parallel plot, he introduces us to Werner Pfennig, a young German orphan with an uncanny aptitude for science, especially for radios (Scribner, 2014.) A third plotline follows a Nazi officer on the hunt for a fabulous diamond.

As the war unfolds, the lives of the two young people are drawn inexorably closer and closer. Werner is drafted and sent east; Marie-Laure and her father escape Paris and travel to the coast where they endure bombardment from the Allies as well as from the Germans. Doerr’s prose is poetic in places, and the characterizations humane and sympathetic.

The next young person presented for your enjoyment is Julia, an 11-year-old Californian who narrates her own experience in The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (Random House, 2013.) This is not just another example of the popular teen dystopian fiction genre, although the events unfolding around Julia are apocalyptic, and there’s plenty of angst.

At the same time as Julia’s tumultuous arrival into puberty, the Earth’s rotation begins to slow down. The disruption of society that results from the change in the lengths of day and night produces new groups of marginalized people, an actual disease that disables Julia’s mother, and the dying off of vegetation, and thus food sources.

Julia’s adult voice reflects on the incongruence of the real, life-threatening natural environment and the soul-threatening pressures of friends’ betrayals and a crush on Seth, who sits in front of her in math class.

I’ll finish with a gem for children. Little Red Writing by Joan Holub is illustrated with intricate pencil drawings by Melissa Sweet (Chronicle Books, 2013.) This takeoff on a popular fairy tale features a little red pencil whose teacher assigns the class a story to write.

During Little Red’s adventure, she uses verbs and other parts of speech to get herself out of sticky situations. The book is loaded with visual puns and basic writing terms that will enchant older children, and ready the youngest reader for school.

Enjoy a lazy afternoon or a cozy stolen hour with any of these excellent books.

Palma is an adjunct associate 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.


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