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Saturday Book Review: “Property of the Rebel Librarian,” by Allison Varnes; “It’s Not the End of the World,” by Judy Blume; “Squirm,” by Carl Hiaasen; “Travels with Foxfire,” from Phil Hudgins and Jessica Phillips; “The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek,” by Howard Markel; “All Are Welcome,” by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman

September 8th, 2018

Yaquina Head, Newport, Ore. August 2018

Hermit Crab + Friend (Photo by Nancy Ellen Row Rawley)

Isn’t that crab cool? We found him at Yaquina Head, on the Oregon coast. OK, lemme get some coffee and I’ll be right back…


Saturday book review, baby. I have never read so many good books all at once in my life. I’m being serious here. I always have a stack of books next to my bed, and usually one is great, two are three are good, there’s my Kindle as back-up (Shakespeare and Dickens, you’re always there for me) but lately?

I always have a dozen good books close by, and they’re all excellent ones. Finish-in-one-day-or-two books, is what I’m saying.

So here we go with a selection of children’s, young adult and grown-up books:

“Property of the Rebel Librarian,” by Allison Varnes, took me by surprise. (Random House Children’s Books, 2018, ages 8 and older, 275 pages, $16.99.) This young adult novel introduces us to June Harper, and I hope she appears in future books, because she’s a great character. People in her life — parents, friends’ parents, some of the teachers, the principal, even some of her fellow students — lose their collective minds and ban pretty much every book in the school library, and at home.

But she has a secret evil plan and it just might work… Really good story, plot, characters, and the writing was on point. It’s a timely book, as well. #knowledgeispower #takealookitsinabook #readingrainbow

“It’s Not the End of the World” is Judy Blume’s classic young adult novel about how one family deals with divorce. Karen wants to stop her parents’ divorce, but her parents seem pretty set on the idea. Her younger sister, older brother, and nosy aunt and uncle aren’t helping the situation. Sometimes, you just need to call on Judy Blume for some answers. I’m glad that her books have enjoyed the shelf life they have over the years. Blume remains the best at dealing with domestic drama, puberty, conflicts, bullying and all things kid. (Dell Yearling, 1972, 169 pages.)

Carl Hiaasen’s latest, “Squirm” is another cool young adult novel. (Random House Children’s Books, 2018, ages 8 and older, 276 pages, $18.99.) Billy Dickens doesn’t really know his father, and doesn’t really care to, since he bailed out on the family several years earlier. He and his mom are nature freaks, and love bald eagles, golden eagles, all kinds of snakes and basically any critter they come across. He lives in Florida (Hiaasen’s stomping grounds, where most of his books are set) but when he decides to go visit his father in Montana, his whole world tilts.

I have never met a Carl Hiaasen book I didn’t love, so this should come as no surprise to longtime readers, but this really is one of his best titles yet. Billy is a great character, and he’s surrounded by women — and his dad — and it makes the book even stronger.

“Travels with Foxfire: Stories of People, Passions, and Practices from Southern Appalachia,” from Phil Hudgins and Jessica Phillips. (Anchor Books, 2018, 314 pages, $19.95.) Foxfire, in case you haven’t heard, is a heritage preservation organization that does good work with students and mentors who bring us stories and background on the traditions of the Appalachian people. I’ve followed their work for years — they’ve been at it for 52 years now (starting in 1966, with the first book released in 1972). As the writer Raymond Carver would say, it’s a small, good thing. (But it’s kind of quietly a big deal, truth be told.)

This book of stories introduces us to bootleggers; the drivers who turned stock car races into modern day NASCAR; the ancient art of water dowsing; bluegrass, country and shape note singing, and lots of other artists, workers and characters. I was glad to see it arrive in the mail, it was like having a longtime friend stop by for coffee.

For more information, go to Foxfire’s website.

“The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek,” by Howard Markel, is an offbeat book about a couple of knuckleheads, a foodie and a physician, who introduced us to Corn Flakes and the pursuit of wellness, in their own inimitable style. It’s different, but I think you might like it. Non-fiction rules, man. Go read a biography or autobiography today and get back to me. (Vintage Books, 2018, 544 pages, $18.00.)


“All Are Welcome,” written by Alexandra Penfold and illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman, is a perfect picture book for the start of the school year. (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2018, ages 4-18, $17.99.) Everyone at this school is welcome with open arms. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Pretty pictures, a sentiment we shouldn’t need to be reminded of (but still do) and a poster under the flap of the book. Excellent.

Bon appetit, babies. Have a wonderful weekend.


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