Sunday, April 19, 2020

Tim's Comfort Books

It’s Tim again. My last Boswellians entry was all about American history, and I mentioned that our history can be both glorious and terrifying. We’re certainly living with unexpected and scary twists of fate these days, so I think it’s a good time to remember that, along with taking care of our responsibilities, we stay healthier if we can laugh and have some fun. Let the kids be kids and the adults feel a little like kids, too. With that in mind, I have some book suggestions for children and adults that have made me laugh or just been comforting and warm. The characters still live with life’s serious issues, but an uplifting spirit prevails, along with some belly laughter that we can all use right about now.

For letting the kids be kids.

My favorite recommendations for the youngest kids and earliest readers (up to age 5 or so) are Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books. These sweet, silly, themed books about play and friendship have enough snarky humor to make the adults laugh along. And there are many books in the series to keep you going, including two recent Biggie volumes (#1 and #2 here) with five stories each.

For middle grade fun and suspense (up to age 12 or so) , there’s nobody I turn to more than Carl Hiaasen. (He writes for adults, too! But I’ll get to that below.) Squirm is his latest kids novel, about a boy who knows how to handle snakes. His father has started a new family out west and is apparently a spy. Meanwhile, his mom keeps moving him and his sister around in Florida, resettling wherever she can currently find an eagle’s nest to watch. It all comes together, in typical Hiaasen fashion, with wacky characters, environmental themes, mystery, suspense, and quick chapters. What could be better? Try his Hoot, Scat, and Chomp, as well.

I also love Chris Grabenstein's Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library, an exciting and literary tale of a rich, eccentric game designer who builds the coolest interactive library ever and holds an overnight contest for kids. It's a wonderful series of books. Grabenstein has done a lot of fun middle grade work, and just recently he collaborated with his wife, JJ, to write the book she always wished she'd had as a child, called Shine! It's a warm, uplifting story of a middle school girl entering a Prep Academy and wondering how she can possibly fit into a place where wealth and talent look so intimidating. Can her love of astronomy and her loving heart be enough to let her shine?

And don't ever forget about the book that just became a film, Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl! It's about a high school girl and the boy who falls for her, but I read it to my fifth graders every year because it's so wonderfully appropriate. Stargirl is a home-schooler who arrives at an average high school, and is toooootally different. She defines "random acts of kindness." It's one of the great books of all times!

For letting the grown ups feel like kids again.

As I mentioned, Hiaasen is where I often turn for adult fun. He’s been a Florida journalist for a long time and has seen a lot of development, so his characters often exact hilarious revenge for environmental destruction. His Sick Puppy got me started, opening with a front end loader of dung beetles being dumped into a developer’s expensive convertible car. And his adult novels are mysterious, too! Skinny Dip is about a man who throws his wife off an ocean liner, but the former Olympic swimmer survives and ends up on an island, where she plots her revenge with a reclusive ex-cop. There are many more adult Hiaasen novels to keep you laughing, too! Next up on my to-read list is Razor Girl, highly recommended by readers I trust.

My favorite comfort book for adults is Leif Enger’s Virgil Wander. This novel, by the author of Peace Like a River, is also a favorite of our owner Daniel, a young Boswell bookseller named Kira, and many of our customers. Virgil lives in a small Lake Superior town that needs a comeback. He needs one too, as he's recovering from brain trauma after accidentally driving his car over a barrier and into the lake. The book gets mysterious when a Norwegian man with a talent for making and flying unusual kites arrives, looking for a son who was much loved before disappearing from the town. There's a quirky quality to the story, equally matched by its warmth and wisdom. One of my all time favorites!

Finally, perhaps you'd like to have an appropriate reason to chuckle at "Uncle Joe" Biden.  Andrew Shaffer's Obama and Biden mysteries, Hope Never Dies and Hope Rides Again, are a lot of fun and also solid whodunits. The dated puns, the snarky political references, and the reluctant, eye-rolling friendship that the Obamas have with Biden just might be a salve for the political ugliness we're enduring these days.

Take care, and best of luck with finding a smile!

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