Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Josh Berk

Josh Berk lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and is a children’s services librarian at the Allentown Public Library. His new book, The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, is published by Knopf Books for Young Readers.

A week ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I was lucky enough to recently meet Rebecca Stead and have her sign When You Reach Me, this year's Newbery Winner, for me. I'm not bragging about how fancy my friends are! OK, I sort of am. But anyway, the book is great. I was completely enthralled. It has some fantastical elements, but somehow feels entirely real. The narrator is a sixth grader named Miranda who is completely convincing and likable. The story captured me from page one. I think I liked some of the small moments best, like when Miranda is learning the right way to cut bread at a deli. Maybe it's these small, almost mundane moments, that make the big, fantastic things work so well. It's also worth nothing that the adult characters are well-rounded and believable. This is hard to do in a children's book! Really a great book!

So although I usually read teen novels to stay abreast of my own field, I was then on a kick to read more great children's novels. I picked up The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochrane and it fit the bill perfectly. Here's another likable and realistic young heroine. The story is fairly simple -- a young girl named Molly learns to throw the knuckleball from her father. He dies tragically and Molly decides to join the baseball team. But Mick's writing is flawless and it filled me with envy. He found depth in all sorts of places, including a Zen analysis of the knuckleball. I'm a sucker for any "baseball as life" book and the knuckleball is one of those things that makes baseball so wonderful to me.

I also am a huge fan of audiobooks and pretty much always have one going in the car. It's such a great way to get extra "reading" done. I don't even know why I put "reading" in quotes. It totally counts as real reading! Right? Well maybe it's cheating a little. Anyway, right now I'm listening to Lowboy by John Wray. I picked it up just because I saw it at the library and I had heard about Wray through my father, who is a huge reader. Lowboy is such an odd book but totally compelling. The main character (known as "Lowboy") is a semi-psychotic teenager off his meds roaming the subways of New York. A missing persons detective named Ali Lateef is out to find him, and he's a very interesting detective but, it's not really at all a regular detective novel. It's beautifully written and quite funny in parts and also sort of disturbing and quite strange. I'm enjoying it a lot! It's a very modern work of fiction but I read someone compared it to Dostoevsky and it actually makes me think of James Joyce.
Read an excerpt from The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, and visit Josh Berk's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue