Recommended Reading: Good Neighbors
Get ready to read! Here is a list of recommended books that address our Action Book Club theme: Good Neighbors. These books celebrate the power of community, kindness, and taking action where you live. Do you know of another great book that fits this theme? You’re welcome to read that instead; we’d love to hear your book ideas.
Everyone can take part in the Action Book Club program. That’s why this list of suggested books—recommended by Little Free Library stewards, communities, and advisers—includes options for young readers, middle readers, and adults.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson (32pp, G. P. Putnam, 2015). Fiction. Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car and why they always have to get off in the dirty part of town. Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty—and fun—in their routine and the world around them. Ultimately, their destination is a soup kitchen, and CJ is glad to be there. This is an excellent book that highlights urban life, volunteerism, and thankfulness.
Look Where We Live! A First Book of Community Building by Scot Ritchie (32 pp, Kids Can Press, 2015). Nonfiction. In this engaging nonfiction picture book, five young friends—Nick, Yulee, Pedro, Sally and Martin—spend the day traveling around their neighborhood and participating in activities designed to raise money for their local library. Along the way, they learn about the people and places that make up their community and what it means to be a part of one.
Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, illustrated by Rafael López (40pp, HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016). Fiction. What good can a splash of color do in a community of gray? As Mira and her neighbors discover, more than you might ever imagine! Based on the true story of the Urban Art Trail in San Diego, California, Maybe Something Beautiful reveals how art can inspire transformation—and how even the smallest artists can accomplish something big.
The Mitten Tree by Candace Christiansen, illustrated by Elaine Greenstein (Fulcrum Publishing, 2009). Fiction. One snowy day an elderly woman, Sarah, watches children gathering at the bus stop and notices one little boy who has no mittens. That night, Sarah knits the boy a pair of cozy mittens and places them on the blue spruce tree for him to discover. It soon becomes a game, with the children looking for new mittens on the mysterious tree every morning, and Sarah joyfully knitting new ones each night.
One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference by Kate Smith Milway, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes (CitizenKid, 2008). Fiction. This story of Kojo, a boy from Ghana, who changes his world with a small loan and one hen, is based on a real person. Kwabena Darko lives in West Africa and started a system of micro-loans in villages that would not otherwise have access. Additional resources and sources for further information allow readers to find out more.
Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson, illustrated by Fumi Kosaka (Gibbs Smith, 2002). Fiction. Can one good deed from an ordinary girl change the world? It can when she’s Ordinary Mary—an ordinary girl from an ordinary school, on her way to an ordinary house—who stumbles upon ordinary blueberries. When she decides to pick them for her neighbor, Mrs. Bishop, she starts a chain reaction that multiplies around the world. It’s a feel-good story that inspires and celebrates the power of ordinary deeds.
Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami (96 pp, Goundwood Books, 2016). Fiction. Every day, nine-year-old Yasmin borrows a book from Book Uncle, a retired teacher who has set up a free lending library next to her apartment building. But when the mayor tries to shut down the rickety bookstand, Yasmin has to take her nose out of her book and do something. But what can she do? The local elections are coming up but she’s just a kid. She can’t even vote! Still, Yasmin has friends. And she has grownup family and neighbors who, no matter how preoccupied they are, care about what goes on in their community.
Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer (186 pp, Puffin Books, 2005). Fiction. When 16-year-old Hope and the aunt who has raised her move from Brooklyn to Mulhoney, Wisconsin, to work as waitress and cook in the Welcome Stairways diner, they are introduced to new neighbors and a new way of life—and become involved with the diner owner’s political campaign to oust the town’s corrupt mayor.
It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired & Get Going! by Chelsea Clinton (416 pp, Philomel Books, 2015). Nonfiction. In a book that tackles the biggest challenges facing us today, Chelsea Clinton combines facts, charts, photographs and stories to give readers a deep understanding of the world around them—and how anyone can make a difference. With stories about children and teens who have made real changes big and small—in their families, their communities, in our country and across the world—this book will inspire readers of all ages to do their part to make our world a better place.
The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E. L. Konigsburg (304 pp, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006). Fiction. Margaret Rose Kane loves her uncles, their house, and their garden, but holds especially dear the magnificent artistic towers that they’ve built and added to over the past forty years. After her Uncle Alex rescues her from summer camp and her cruel cabin mates, Margaret Rose discovers even crueler forces at work—the city council has ordered the demolition of the towers. Growing used to the idea of standing up for herself and what she believes in, Margaret Rose launches a plan to save the towers and art for art’s sake.
Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman (70 pp, Harper Trophy, 2004). Fiction. A vacant lot, rat-infested and filled with garbage, looked like no place for a garden. Until one day, a young girl clears a small space and digs into the hard-packed soil to plant her precious bean seeds. Suddenly, the soil holds promise: To Curtis, who believes he can win back Lateesha’s heart with a harvest of tomatoes; to Virgil’s dad, who sees a fortune to be made from growing lettuce; and even to Maricela, sixteen and pregnant, wishing she were dead. Thirteen very different voices and perspectives—old, young, Haitian, Hispanic, tough, haunted, and hopeful—tell one amazing story about a garden that transforms a neighborhood.
Advanced and Adult Readers
In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time by Peter Lovenheim (256 pp, Tarcher Perigee, 2011). Nonfiction. Journalist and author Peter Lovenheim has lived on the same street in suburban Rochester, NY, most of his life. But it was only after a brutal murder-suicide rocked the community that he was struck by a fact of modern life in this comfortable enclave: no one knew anyone else. Thus begins Peter’s search to meet and get to know his neighbors. An inquisitive person, he does more than just introduce himself. He asks, ever so politely, if he can sleep over. In this smart, engaging, and deeply felt book, Lovenheim takes readers inside the homes, minds, and hearts of his neighbors and asks a thought-provoking question: do neighborhoods matter—and is something lost when we live among strangers?
LaRose by Louise Erdrich (372 pp, Harper, 2016). Fiction. North Dakota, late summer, 1999. Landreaux Iron stalks a deer along the edge of the property bordering his own. He shoots with easy confidence—but when the buck springs away, Landreaux realizes he’s hit something else, a blur he saw as he squeezed the trigger. When he staggers closer, he realizes he has killed his neighbor’s five-year-old son. Horrified at what he’s done, the recovered alcoholic turns to an Ojibwe tribe tradition—the sweat lodge—for guidance, and finds a way forward. He and his wife Emmaline will give their five-year-old son LaRose to the grieving parents. “Our son will be your son now,” they tell them.
The Little Free Library Book by Margret Aldrich (264 pp, Coffee House Press, 2015). Nonfiction. “Take a book. Return a book.” In 2009, Todd Bol built the first Little Free Library as a memorial to his mom. Five years later, this simple idea to promote literacy and encourage community has become a movement. Little Free Libraries—freestanding front-yard book exchanges—now number fifty thousand in seventy countries. The Little Free Library Book tells the history of these charming libraries, gathers quirky and poignant firsthand stories from owners, provides a resource guide for how to best use your Little Free Library, and delights readers with color images of the most creative and inspired LFLs around.
The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream by Courtney Martin (304 pp, Seal Press, 2016). Nonfiction. Are we living the good life—and what defines “good,” anyway? In The New Better Off, Courtney Martin puts a name to the American phenomenon of rejecting the traditional dream of a 9-to-5 job, home ownership, and a nuclear family structure, illuminating the alternate ways Americans are seeking happiness and success. “Her basic message is that community is everything. Success is measured not in money but in relationships, by economic and social ties in the places where you live and where you work,” writes Kirkus Reviews.
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald (400 pp, Sourcebooks Landmark, 2016). Fiction. Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her book-loving pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds Amy’s funeral guests just leaving. The residents of Broken Wheel are happy to look after the bewildered visitor—there’s not much else to do in a dying small town. You certainly wouldn’t open a bookstore. And definitely not with the tourist in charge. You’d need a vacant storefront (Main Street is full of them), books (Amy’s house is full of them), and…customers. A heartwarming reminder of why we are book lovers, this is a sweet, smart story about how books find us, change us, and connect us.
The Revolution Where You Live by Sarah van Gelder (240 pp, Berrett-Koehler, 2017). Nonfiction. America faces huge challenges—climate change, social injustice, racist violence, economic insecurity. Journalist Sarah van Gelder suspected that there were solutions, and she went looking for them. She bought a used pickup truck and camper and set off on a 12,000-mile journey through eighteen states, dozens of cities and towns, and five Indian reservations. From the ranches of Montana to the coalfields of Kentucky to the urban cores of Chicago and Detroit, van Gelder discovered people and communities who are remaking America from the ground up. Join her as she meets the quirky and the committed, the local heroes and the healers who, under the mass media’s radar, are getting stuff done.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (320 pp, Doubleday, 2016). Fiction. Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil.
When Strangers Meet by Kio Stark (128 pp, Simon & Schuster/TED, 2016). Nonfiction. Discover the unexpected pleasures and exciting possibilities of talking to people you don’t know. Threaded throughout When Strangers Meet are powerful vignettes from Stark’s lifelong practice of talking to strangers, along with a deep exploration of the dynamics of where, how, and why strangers come together. Stark renders visible the hidden processes by which we decide who to greet and trust in passing, and the unwritten rules by which these encounters operate. When Strangers Meet teaches readers how to start talking to strangers and includes adventurous challenges for those who dare.
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso (288 pp, Picador, 2017). Fiction. Hortensia James and Marion Agostino are neighbors. One is black, the other white. Both are successful women with impressive careers. Both have recently been widowed, and are living with questions, disappointments, and secrets that have brought them shame. And each has something that the woman next door deeply desires. Sworn enemies, the two share a hedge and a deliberate hostility, which they maintain with a zeal that belies their age. But, one day, an unexpected event forces Hortensia and Marion together. As the physical barriers between them collapse, their bickering gradually softens into conversation and, gradually, the two discover common ground. But are these sparks of connection enough to ignite a friendship, or is it too late to expect these women to change?
The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman (384 pp, W.W. Norton, 2008). Nonfiction. A true story in which the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands. After their zoo was bombed, Polish zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski managed to save over three hundred people from the Nazis by hiding refugees in the empty animal cages. With animal names for these “guests,” and human names for the animals, it’s no wonder that the zoo’s code name became “The House Under a Crazy Star.” Best-selling naturalist and acclaimed storyteller Diane Ackerman combines extensive research and an exuberant writing style to re-create this fascinating, true-life story―soon to be a major motion picture.