Monday, May 11, 2015

Who is this bald guy and what book is he talking about?

If I was your third grade teacher at Park View, you know how much I love to read. If someone else was your third grade teacher, well, you need to know, I love to read. Books have nourished me, supported me, and taken me on adventures my entire life. My mom began sharing stories with my sister and me when we were very young. She read aloud to us every night and two special books were Charlotte's Web and The Secret Garden, stories that we happily heard over and over. When I could read on my own, I became a big fan of the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, and Encyclopedia Brown. In fifth grade my friend Stacy and I challenged each other to read all of the books in the series The Childhood of Famous Americans, short biographies of American presidents, explorers, inventors, writers, and athletes, just to name a few. The old-fashioned covers didn't do justice to the books' ability to transport me to eventful and exciting times in American history. And I hadn't even heard of some of these "famous" Americans, so our challenge taught me a lot.

As a teacher, reading aloud is what I love the most, and I shared many favorite stories with you, my former students, because, let's face it, everyone needs nourishment, support and a whole lot of adventure.

Reading for pleasure remains an enormous part of my life. I probably spend way too much money on books, but they're difficult to resist. And I love visiting independent bookstores around Chicago and across the country, and I can't leave without buying a book...or two...or, well, you get the point. I mostly read new fiction for adults and poetry. And I also keep up with as many new books for kids and young adults as I can. I'm talking about books for fourth graders and up. I'm still sharing great read aloud classics with the third graders I teach, and now with my blog A Bald Guy with a Book, I want to share the new books I've been reading with former students and other Park View readers and book lovers. So let the adventures begin.

we were liars by e. lockhart, delacorte press, $17.99, ages 13 and up

A popular sub-genre in adult fiction right now is the suspense story told by an unreliable narrator, with a shocking! surprise! twist revealed mid-way through or at the end of the story. Think Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. You can experience the pleasurable feeling of uncertainty created by an unreliable narrator and the pulse-quickening jolt to your system a surprise twist delivers right now with we were liars. Cadence (Cady) Sinclair Eastman tells this dark tale of a family torn apart by tragedy and the horrible accident that destroys the bonds between a group of friends. These are rich, prominent, beautiful people. The story takes place on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts and evokes the type of life I imagine the extended family members of the late President John Kennedy lead in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.  How do we endure after devastating tragedy? Do our family mythologies support or crush us? we were liars is a page-turner. Don't miss it!

The Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson, Random House, $16.99, ages 11-14
This was my FAVORITE book of 2014 and this book stinks. It's filled with the stench of muck, fire, smoke, sugarcane, decay, death, zombies, the Everglades, vultures, crows, rabbits, and long-buried secrets. 12-year old Charlie Reynolds moves with his family to the middle-of-nowhere Florida and stumbles upon a CRAZY world hidden in the depths of the sugarcane fields. This is ancient crazy. The weirdness of the plot hooked me at once. Wilson's absolutely stunning writing brings it to rich, full life. At times the prose is so emotional I felt like I was having a sensory experience. This is a book about small-town southern life. This is a book about football ( I hate football and did I mention this was my FAVORITE book of 2014). This is a book about fathers and sons and overcoming and righting mistakes, both your own and a family member's. It's a book about friendships and new family connections. Oh, and in all the onslaught and devastation, there is humor. Charlie is funny, even when he's scared and running for his life. 

Julia and the Art of Practical Travel by Lesley M. M. Blume, Random House, $16.99, ages 10-13

Julianna, one of the amazing booksellers at bbgb books in Richmond, Virginia personally recommended this book to me. I told you I always buy books on my travels (practical and otherwise) across the country, especially books that a trusted book-lover recommends. Julianna knows I love books that take place in New York City, and a significant part of Julia and the Art of Practical Travel takes place in Greenwich Village, just about the coolest neighborhood in NYC. It's 1968 and 11 year-old Julia Lancaster and her Aunt Constance take to the road in search of Julia's long-lost mother. Julia brings her treasured Brownie camera and documents their stops in New Orleans, Texas, Nevada, and San Francisco. They meet some peculiar characters on their cross-country journey, including a voodoo queen and the sheriff of Gold Point, Nevada (population: 1). Can you be practical when your whole your family is gone?  How do you know when you've found your home? Some folks say it's the journey, not the destination, that matters. Find out for yourself in this quirky, heart-felt novel.

I'd like to pause for moment and share a big problem that I have. I want to read EVERYTHING and I want to read it RIGHT NOW. Whew. It felt good to get that off my chest. 


Greenglass House by Kate Milford, Clarion Books, $17.99, ages 10-14

The back and front covers of this book are so awesome that I included a picture of both. Greenglass House is a smugglers' inn sitting high atop Whilforber Hill, overlooking an inlet of harbors connected to the Skidwrack River. The inn is owned by and the residence of Nora and Ben Pine and their adopted Chinese son, 12 year-old Milo. It's winter and the beginning of the holiday season and Milo is looking forward to relaxing at home with his family on his school break. Historically the inn is quiet during the winter, but suddenly guests are arriving like clockwork (and the weather is terrible) and any chance of quiet family time vanishes. And these aren't just any guests; they're a quirky ( I love this word) and secretive bunch, all of whom are searching for something in Greenglass House. Pretty soon things are disappearing and the guests are barely speaking to each other. And the winter weather just keeps getting worse. 

Milo and Meddy, the cook's daughter, decide it's up to them to figure out who's who and what's what in this glorious, compelling mystery/ghost story. As he discovers more about each guest and Greenglass House, Milo also discovers a confidence he thought he lacked and talents he is surprised he has. He is a real hero, and on his journey Milo comes to terms with being adopted and learns and embraces more about his Chinese heritage. 

The setting of the entire book is Greenglass House. There are a finite number of characters. A wicked winter storm rages outside, trapping everyone in the inn. I feared that I might feel trapped in the book after awhile. Well, I can assure you that this is something you need not fear! Milford skillfully provides each of the guests with the opportunity to tell the story of their connection to the inn. Their tales are colorful threads that when woven together create a rich narrative tapestry. One day you might read Agatha Christie's mystery And Then There Were None. In fact, if you haven't already read it, do so. Greenglass House is reminiscent of Christie's classic whodunnit. Kate Milford has written other books and I want to read them all. Of course I do!

And Then There Were None has also been made into a movie, several times. It's also known as Ten Little Indians. The 1940-something version is quite clever and fun. 

You're wondering what I read when I was your age. 

If you're a writer, you need to read Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, 
 If you plan on being a writer, you need to read Harriet the Spy. If you love New York City...yup, you do, too. Ages 11-14

All the books ( Half Magic is the first and there are seven in the series) by Edward Eager are witty, full of adventure and written by a guy who understood that kids are as smart as adults. Ages 10-12

Mrs. Pace, my sixth grade teacher, read The Phantom Tollbooth aloud to us. It's about another Milo. It's about words and numbers and puzzles. It's smart. It's a classic. Go read it right now! 
Ages 11-14

Okay, you CANNOT read Love Story by Erich Segal.  Just because Miss Lampkin, my fourth grade teacher, gave me a copy at the end of fourth grade (What was she thinking?! It was her first year teaching; she didn't know any better), you cannot read this book because no fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade or any grade teacher at Park View is going to give you a copy. I had to sit a few yards away from my parents in our backyard, hunched over this book, swiftly turning the pages, yelling "Nothing! I'm not reading anything, Mom!" 

You shouldn't read The Other by Thomas Tryon either. At least a teacher didn't give this book to me. And remember, I'm just sharing what I read when I was your age. When I was young I really loved scary books. If you love scary books then read this when you are not this young. 

As a boy, I used to retreat up to our attic to dig around in two large metal storage bins filled with my mom's mass-market paperback novels. She read all the time and rarely discarded any of her books. I was too young to read her books then, and we eventually got rid of them. Now I'm semi-obsessed with visiting used bookstores and rummage sales to track down copies of as many of those books (in their original paperback edition) as I can. And, yes, I've found some of them!

Okay. Back to business.

Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, Disney Hyperion, $7.99, ages 10-14
I have not read any of the several books in Stroud's The Bartimaeus Books, and The Screaming Staircase is the first in his new series, Lockwood and Co. I can tell you right now that I want to read each book in this new series! I can also tell you that it took me longer than usual to read The Screaming Staircase. I could put the book aside and pick up something else to read, but each time I came back to The Screaming Staircase I immediately fell under the spell Stroud has created. In an alternative, and richly specific, London (another favorite city of mine) a nasty, malicious Problem plagues the good citizens. Ghosts! A whole bunch of disturbed and decidedly unfriendly ghosts! So, who ya gonna call? Lockwood and Co. 
The story is told from the perspective of teen-aged Lucy Carlyle, recently arrived in London and newly hired by Lockwood and Co., one of many psychic investigation agencies established in response to the Problem. Young people are the ONLY ones equipped with the psychic abilities needed to see, hear, sense, and obliterate the supernatural foes. Lucy's boss is teen-aged Anthony Lockwood, he of the "very bright, dark eyes, and...nice lopsided grin", and research-oriented, sarcastic, chubby and somewhat slovenly George Cubbins rounds out the firm's agents. 
When one of  Lockwood and Co.'s assignments ends disastrously, jeopardizing the agency's very existence, Lucy, Lockwood, and George are compelled to investigate one of England's most notoriously haunted houses. One of the cool things about this book is that our heroes operate without any adult supervision. They are smart, brave, dedicated and funny. 
Be prepared for a final hundred or so pages brimming with grisly, horrific chills and a nearly unbearable level of suspense. 
And remember, a cup of good tea matters the most. 
This book trailer nearly does justice to the spookiness of the novel. 

This is only the first post of my blog A Bald Guy with a Book. If you read it, or any of the books I've written about, I'd love to hear from you. Also, you can let me know what you're reading and recommending. I'll be back. Now I've got to go read.


  1. Wow! How am I going to find time to read all of these awesome books? Thank you for compiling them and putting together your reviews - it's so helpful for me personally and me as a parent. Thanks, Bald Guy!

  2. Great reviews! Thank you for sharing these!!

  3. These are all really good sounding titles! I reccomend "The War That Saved My Life." It's a great story that I finished yesterday.

  4. Tara, thanks for the book recommendation. I've read about it but I want to read it now since you recommend The War that Saved My Life.

  5. I just ordered we were liars on my Kindle and can't wait to read it! Thanks for the recommendation!
    Mrs. Debes

  6. Me, let me know what you think of we were liars. I love the possibility for book conversations on this blog.

  7. I read Liars recently and totally agree with your comments. Great read. It's on my 13 year old's summer reading list -- and we're going to Martha's Vineyard....

  8. I will look forward to looking at this blog over the summer for suggestions, but just in case you run out of ideas here are a few
    ~ Not that Kind of Girl
    ~ Lovely, Dark, and Deep

    P.S. They may be a little girly but I think you will enjoy them

    1. Cool! I will find both books. Thanks.

    2. And by the way, " a book with a long haired girl" is pretty funny! Is the first title the book by Lena Dunham?

  9. Hi Mr. Kennelly Im a student of yours my names Fiona your a great teacher and your blog is great. 👍🏻

  10. Hi Mr.K ! I really like your Blog i will make sure to check it for book recommendations!

  11. Hi Mr. Kennelly your blog is still awesome have a good summer