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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Librarian Nancy Pearl is here again with some recommended reading for all ages. Books to keep you content over the holidays on a plane or a train or curled up in an armchair at home. She calls it books under the radar, books that might have slipped past you during the year. Hi, Nancy.

Ms. NANCY PEARL (Librarian; Book Reviewer): Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: The first book on your list is called �Spooner� by Pete Dexter.

Ms. PEARL: This is Pete Dexter's newest book. I think it's the best thing he has written yet. And, you know, he's the author of one of my favorite books, �The Paper Boy� with its fabulous first line: My brother, Ward, was once a famous man. And I never thought he would ever write anything that I would really appreciate more than �The Paper Boy.� But �Spooner,� as someone said to me, is the book that Pete Dexter was born to write.

INSKEEP: This is the title character here Warren Spooner is...

Ms. PEARL: Warren Spooner is - had not a particularly normal childhood, and it's the story of a boy growing up and becoming a man and learning to live in the world as it is. And it's very autobiographical, as I understand. So it's a way of meeting this character that you won't forget.

INSKEEP: You also have a book that you consider unforgettable here called �The Good Soldiers� by David Finkel, which is brutally true.

Ms. PEARL: And sadly true and a book that really, I think, helps us understand all of those brief stories we get in the newspaper about soldiers coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq. And David Finkel is a Washington Post reporter, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter who is embedded with a Ranger Group.

INSKEEP: These are relatively elite troops. They may be doing especially difficult jobs, okay.

Ms. PEARL: Yes. Yes. And he talks about their experiences as they go day by day. And their experience, I mean, it's like dull, dull, dull, dull, panic or terror, dull, dull, dull, dull, terror, and it's not like those terror episodes are regular so you could come to expect them. It's just their unexpectedness that just grasps you and grasps them. And makes them become something that they weren't when they went to war. And I think there have been so many books about Iraq and Afghanistan. I think this is, if not the best, I think it's certainly one of the best that I've read.

INSKEEP: Nancy Pearl is giving us books under the radar. And we have a stack here that takes us in a different direction. This book here is �Bubble Trouble.�

Ms. PEARL: Yes, it's by Margaret Mahy, a very, very well-known picture book writer. This book began as a poem that she wrote and then they found the perfect illustrator, Polly Dunbar, to turn it into what I think is the most adorable picture book of the year. And it's about a little girl named, Mabel, who blew a bubble that caused a lot of trouble.

INSKEEP: Read it. Read it, read the first, read the first page.

Ms. PEARL: Okay.

(Reading) Little Mabel blew a bubble and it caused a lot of trouble. Such a lot of bubble trouble in a bibble bubble way, for it broke away from Mabel as it bobbed across the table where it bubbled over baby and it wafted him away.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PEARL: And then the town, who all have such wonderful, wonderful names and there's a Greville and Neville and Sybil. If you're a grandparent or a mother or father, and you have kids who just like the same books over and over and over again, this is one. First of all, you'll have to be on your toes because�

INSKEEP: Tongue twisters.

Ms. PEARL: �there are very much tongue twisters, and it doesn't get boring, because there are so many wonderful, wonderful little jokes that Margaret Mahy has put in here. I love this book.

INSKEEP: You've got another book here on your stack. Rebecca Stead �When You Reach Me.�

Ms. PEARL: This is, I think, one of the best books for middle-grade readers for this year. And two of my librarian friends both said if this book does not win the Newbery Award this year, which is the award given for the best children's book, then there's something very, very badly askew, because it's that good. And partly what's good about this book is that it's a homage to Madeleine L'Engle's �A Wrinkle in Time.�

And I know there are many, many listeners out there who remember what great -and you remember what great fun �A Wrinkle in Time.� Well, this is a book that plays off that whole notion of time travel and trying to understand physics in a way that will make it real for fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth graders. One teacher told me that she read this book to her class, and as soon as she finished it, they said we want to hear it again right now.

And that was exactly the experience I had with that book. I read that book. I loved it, and then I went back to the beginning and started it all over again to see the clues that Rebecca Stead had put out for us that maybe we didn't realize were clues at that moment.

INSKEEP: We have one more book here that's called �When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler's Journal of Staying Put.�

Ms. PEARL: Vivian Swift for many years worked for Sotheby's for more than two decades and she traveled a lot, doing a lot of their buying�

INSKEEP: For auctions.

Ms. PEARL: �for auctions and things like that. And then what she decided to do a few years ago was to buy a very small place on Long Island Sound and just settle down. Illustrated with fabulous enchanting water colors, there's one picture in there which has 10 or 11 or maybe even more pictures of different kinds of mud, like oozing mud, dried mud and that kind of thing. There's also a picture of all the mittens she found. The one - how everybody loses just one mitten.

And then you learn so much from that book. And one of the things I learned was about Alexander von Humboldt who spent five years in Latin America, and then he spent the next 30 years writing 20 books about those five years in Latin America.

And you just get this sense of Vivian Swift as somebody that you wish lived next door to you, so you could be infected with her joy in living in the world and staying put. And the best thing you learn is once you do give up travel, what to do with your suitcases.

INSKEEP: Such as?

Ms. PEARL: Oh, such as piling them up and using them as a table. You can store knick knacks on there. She collects teacups, so there's all of those things. And these are really beaten up suitcases. It's a charmer.

INSKEEP: Nancy Pearl, I'm glad you've traveled the library shelves once again to bring us more books here.

Ms. PEARL: Thank you, Steve, my pleasure.

INSKEEP: She's a charmer too. Librarian Nancy Pearl is author of �Book Lust.� Excerpts from her under-the-radar picks with npr.org, and you will also find recommendations for great reads and gift books in our end of the year series, The Best Books of 2009.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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