ROBERT SIEGEL, host: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
Adam Mansbach is the author of a popular children's book for adults. It's about the struggle many parents have getting their kid to sleep. We can't actually say the whole title of the book on the radio, but it's essentially: go to sleep plus a vulgarity to get the point across.
Mansbach recently revisited some of his childhood favorites, and he found to his surprise, that they are still just as good as he remembers. Here he is for our series Three Books.
ADAM MANSBACH: If there's anything the writers I know share besides an unhealthy relationship to caffeine, it's a childhood spent immersed in books. All my young-adult favorites look more like accordions than novels, because they've been dropped into the bathtub so many times. They're also seared into my consciousness like few novels I've read since. I used to chalk that up to the impressionability of youth until I started revisiting those stories and realizing how well they stand up as literature. The ones I continue to love now tend to confront complex social issues bravely, convey emotions with tremendous empathetic clarity and rest on compelling narrative voices. In other words, the very elements that draw me into novels today.
In Bruce Brooks' "The Moves Make the Man," it's 1961, and Wilmington, North Carolina's white junior high school has just been integrated by exactly one student, our narrator Jerome Foxworthy, the Jayfox. Deeply observant, wise beyond his years and a basketball prodigy, the Jayfox befriends a troubled classmate. Bix is a baseball star who needs to master basketball in order to confront his stepfather and gain access to his institutionalized mother. But the concept of faking, though central to the game, is anathema to Bix's radical notion of honesty. Not only does this book deserve a place in the pantheon of great American race novels, it also features some of the most astute sportswriting I've ever read.
For the Carnegie-esque Pittsburgh clan in "Father's Arcane Daughter" by E.L. Konigsburg, time stopped years ago when the family's eldest daughter was kidnapped. Now, a grown woman claiming to be the long-gone Caroline has returned. She's embraced by the family, even as doubts linger in the mind of her young half-brother Winston. Soon, it becomes clear that Caroline is there to unlock the cage of fear in which Winston and his younger sister have been forced to live. Atmospheric but never stuffy, this is a finely wrought mystery as well as a meditation on the truths we choose to live with and the truths we choose to live without.
The narrator of John LeVert's "The Flight of the Cassowary" is a teenage boy with a keen interest in biology and a pet theory about evolution: that all the instincts and abilities we possessed as more primitive creatures are still inside us somewhere, waiting to be called to action. His friends and family don't take it very seriously until he starts accessing those talents: catching and recatching a fly with froggish reflexes, summoning gazelle-like speed during a football game and then channeling more aggressive powers when his skills gain him unwanted attention. LeVert juggles belief and disbelief, science and humor, pathos and romance with the dexterity of a - what kind of animal can juggle?
Returning to these three books reminds me of why I fell in love with reading. Pick one up and lose yourself in it. Why should kids have all the fun?
SIEGEL: Adam Mansbach is author of the book "Go the Blank to Sleep." For more on his reading recommendations, you can go to our website, npr.org.
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