Category Archives: Books and reading

Starting with the Little Ones

Continuing the Best of EatReadSleep’s Tenth Anniversary!

I read everything, but children’s books are also my profession. I loved reading to my son when he was little, and now I have grandchildren to turn into bibliophiles. During the ten years that I’ve been writing EatReadSleep, I have been the children’s selector for a large library system. Here are some of my favorites from that time.

Board Books

I have only written one post about these sturdy little volumes, and it was meant to be funny. Seriously, though, Sandra Boynton, Michael Dahl, and others have poured their prodigious talents into books that will be slobbered and chewed on, and parents everywhere appreciate it.

Academic Board Books are a thriving industry. Lots of titles here. Also lots of snark.

Picture Books

Picture books! Those little artistic gems. How I love them. The best picture books convey oceans of meaning in just a few well-chosen words, along with gorgeous or hilarious illustrations. Here are some of my favorites over the years. Many of the reviews are grouped in the original posts. Click the links for full reviews!

Series:

How Do Dinosaurs…? Jane Yolen is one the most prolific living writers, and this continuing series never fails to teach lessons in the cleverest ways.
Pete the Cat is one groovy dude. James Litwin started the series, which was continued by James Dean. This is one of the most popular series going these days.
Olivia makes an appearance in the same post. She is one precocious little pig.
Duck and Goose are a charming pair, one more adventurous than the other. Tad Hills is also the author of the excellent Rocket Learns to Read and others.
Jean Reagan writes the How to Babysit a…. series, instructing children to allow grandparents naps and other helpful advice. Comedy that hits close to home.
Bonny Becker started the Bear series with A Visitor for Bear. Sweet, charming, and amusing. Large volumes just right for bedtimes.
What dog lover doesn’t sympathize with Carter Goodrich’s Mister Bud? Adorable.
Some children’s books, like Muppets movies, are at least partly written for grownups, even though they definitely work for the kids, too. I Am Otter is one of those.

Single Titles:

Oh, this poor, little penguin. Flight School will have you sympathetically laughing along.
The Tortoise & the Hare is a wordless wonder, just one of the Caldecott winner’s stunning creations.
There Might Be Lobsters is a summery title that will help timid children to overcome their fears.
Hum and Swish is another breezy, oceanside title. This one encourages children to stay true to their own vision.
Great Joy is not your usual Santa-and-his-reindeer Christmas books for kids. Enduring and gorgeous. Tissues not included.
I mean, seriously. Look at those ears and tell me you’re not in love. In a Jar is for every child whose friend has moved away.
Sweety is a confident little misfit. For every child who marches to the beat of her own drummer. Sweetness and naked mole rats. (That’s a species, not a state of undress.)
This Is My Home, This Is My School. A fond look back by a happily homeschooled author, for his younger fellow home educators and their friends in conventional school settings.
Everything about Madeline Finn and the Library Dog will make you say, “Awww.” There are other books that follow, but I love this one.
Watercress is a recent multi-award winner, a quietly beautiful book that packs an emotional wallop.
Clovis Keeps His Cool, but just barely. That huge bull with the petite feet! Hilarious with a message.
Achingly poignant, Boats for Papa is for little ones experiencing the loss of a parent, whether through divorce, abandonment, incarceration, or death.
The Steads can do no wrong. A Sick Day for Amos McGee was the first Caldecott winner for this married couple and features an old zookeeper and his loving animals.
Saint George and the Dragon was old when my son was young. A medieval myth retold and spectacularly illustrated by one of my favorite book artists.

There will be many more children’s books to come, so stay tuned!

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Books and reading

Favorite Young Adult Series and Titles

The next installment of The Best of EatReadSleep’s 10th Anniversary series!

For about fifteen years, I either worked with teens in a library or, later, selected teen books for the library system, and I really enjoyed this collection. Young adult literature is a thriving subculture. At conferences, these authors are rock stars, and their fans are not only teenagers, but plenty of adults, especially librarians and teachers. Young adult books are where all of the latest headlines go to live through stories, and there is some great and undervalued writing going on in this space. Some of my selections are a few years old, but definitely stand the test of time.

Beloved Series

If you’ve read EatReadSleep for any number of years, you know that I have covered some YA series every time a new volume comes out. Here are some of my favorites, although I am sure that I’m leaving out something fantastic. Click on the titles for the full reviews, and search the authors for more reviews in the series.

Megan Whalen Turner’s “Queen’s Thief” series starts with a teen-appropriate The Thief and then moves into complex and subtle intrigue with a hint of fantasy.
I will read anything by Maggie Stiefvater, but her “Raven Cycle” is a favorite fantasy series. It starts with The Raven Boys.
Another winning series is “The Lumaterre Chronicles,” by Melina Marchetta, which starts with Finnikin of the Rock, but I reviewed the second volume, Quintana of Charyn. High fantasy with some adult content. The writing is exquisite.  
My Plain Jane and others by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows are hilariously reimagined classics. These are delightful audiobooks, too, narrated by Fiona Hardingham.

Favorite Authors and Single Titles

Jason Reynolds has been the author of many of my favorite kids’ books. The first teen title I read by Jason was the stunning Long Way Down.
John Green had a lot of hits, such as Turtles All the Way Down, although his last work, The Anthropocene Reviewed, was for adults. His teens were always precocious and witty, like the kids I worked with in our library book groups.
Ruta Sepetys is another author who is consistently a winner, especially her first, Between Shades of Gray, and my favorite, The Fountains of Silence.
The Downstairs Girl, by Stacey Lee. A young Chinese woman in reconstruction Atlanta is determined to make it as a writer.
Everything Sad Is Untrue, by Daniel Nayeri. A true story about the Christian author’s family fleeing Iran, humorously told in the style of Scheherazade.
Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell. A brilliant teen romance made agonizing by family secrets and the helplessness of the young and dependent.

There are some excellent LGBTQ+ writers in teen literature, and they’ve been winning awards for decades. A few of my favorites include:

Darius the Great Is Not Okay, by Adib Khorram. Take a trip to Persia—Iran—with this vulnerable and sweet young man and his family. It won the Morris Award for debut novels.
I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson. A brother and sister work through dark secrets to live into the meaning of art. A Printz and Stonewall winner.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz. In 2013, it was the first LGBTQ romance I ever read. This beautiful and heartbreaking book won the Stonewall Award, a Printz honor, and the Pura Belpré Award.
I read the mind-bending We Are the Ants on my way to a Baker & Taylor conference in Orlando, where I met the kind author, Shaun David Hutchinson, and we wept together over the loved ones we had lost to Alzheimer’s.

In our next installment, we will venture into favorite children’s titles from the last ten years!

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Books and reading

The Best of EatReadSleep, Part 2

General Adult Nonfiction and Anti-Racist Reads

I love nonfiction so much that I am going to divide it up into categories. I read widely across the Dewey Decimal System (a little library lingo) because I am omnicurious. If you don’t see your interests in general nonfiction, I have a couple of specialized categories coming up in this post and the next.

Click on the title links for the full review.

General Nonfiction and Memoirs

Think Again, by Adam Grant. The review on this title has been very popular, with continuing interest over the past year or so. Grant examines the value of changing our minds in both business and personal decisions.
Deep Work, by Cal Newport. The most creative people guard their uninterrupted time. This book has brought about positive innovation in many lives and organizations.
Stolen Focus, by Johann Hari. A fantastic title that did not get enough love. Listen to the audio. Important and engaging.
Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution, by Dr. Richard Bernstein. This famous doctor is a pioneer in the field of diabetes research. Anyone with diabetes, type 1 or 2, should own this book.
A Craftsman’s Legacy, by Eric Gorges. I have a longer, related post on TheReaderWrites, and both have received tons of hits from mechanics to knitters. I think we humans love to create with our hands.
Salad Love, by David Bez. Of all the many cookbooks I’ve reviewed, this simple, thorough volume with a crystal-clear layout is still a favorite in our house after 7 years.
Educated, by Tara Westover. This harrowing memoir of a woman raised in the fundamentalist Mormon church was on the bestseller list for years. Riveting.
Vincent and Theo, by Deborah Heiligman. A young adult biography of the famous artist and his brother that won all the awards and is perfect for art-loving adults.
The Dark Queens, by Shelley Puhak. Two wild women of the Dark Ages whose stories had been nearly erased. Think Brunhilda and Circe Lannister.
Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance. A difficult American story out of Appalachia, honestly revealed by one of its favorite sons. Oh, I had such hopes for Vance before he sold out.

Anti-Racist Reads

A few years ago, David and I looked around at our very white world and realized that we lived in a bubble. We started intentionally reading as many books as we could on race in America. I began with White Fragility, which was a complete mistake, since I found it elitist and ridiculous. It is one of the very few negative reviews I’ve ever written. However, things improved greatly after that, and many of these books have been influential in our lives. Some are aimed at the white evangelical church and its members. These are all adult nonfiction, but many fiction titles in the blog, especially children’s and young adults’ banned book reviews, are also anti-racist.

Click on the title link for full reviews.

Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson. This is the most scholarly and thoroughly researched of all the anti-racist books we own. A must-read for everyone.
Rediscipling the White Church, by David W. Swanson. Written by a pastor for other church leaders, really. Wisdom for those seeking to be part of the solution.
Be the Bridge, by Latasha Morrison. This was the best book we read by a black Christian leader, compassionately targeted to white Christians. She has a network of discussion groups all over the country.
So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo. The best-organized anti-racist book we read. It is set up in question-and-answer format to make it easy to navigate and understand.
How the Word Is Passed, by Clint Smith. Learning racial history by geography. Very effective, and filled with surprises.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Books and reading

EatReadSleep is Ten Years Old!

On July 21, 2012, I posted my first blog post. I wasn’t even sure what a blog was at the time, and one of my first stories was about the death of my dryer. After a while, a friend of mine advised me that most people enjoy blogs with pictures, so I had to figure out how to take and transfer photos, and we were off to the races. Over the course of ten years, EatReadSleep has reached 141 countries, with many tens of thousands of readers, although the lack of enthusiasm in Greenland is tragic.

The country with the greatest number of hits, of course, is the United States, followed by Canada. Rounding out the top ten are, in order, Germany, United Kingdom, Australia, Brazil, France, India, the Philippines, and Spain. As you can see, all of the European countries have logged in at some time, usually often, and in the last couple of months, a reader from Ireland often logs in before I wake up in the morning. I have regular Russian readers, and the People’s Republic of China has found ERS 27 times! Some of the interesting countries that have only found ERS once include St. Kitts & Nevis, Brunei, Yemen, New Caladonia, Curaçao, Zimbabwe, and Guernsey. I have really improved my geography skills!

EatReadSleep started out as an everything blog because I missed writing so much when I went to work fulltime as a librarian. Turns out that working full time and trying to keep up with the latest books made it impossible to write at any decent level, so I created a separate blog in 2016 called TheReaderWrites, but I rarely use it, unfortunately. After that, ERS became all about book reviews, which is a good thing, since I had started writing about politics in 2016 for some reason that we all know, and that’s just not good for my blood pressure. I will retire in a year or so, after which I hope to write more stories and memoirs on TRW.

TheReaderWrites lies fallow at the moment.

Are you dying to know which posts were the most popular? The first answer is disappointing from a data point of view: it’s just the home page and archives, which means people tuning in and just scrolling, which is awesome, actually. I’ve had tens of thousands of people doing just that. I have a confession to make: it was years before I knew to put individual URLs on the Facebook posts for each review. I just put the URL of the blog itself, so many of those Home Page/Archives hits are just from that! Hopefully, readers know how to use the search bar and are finding the posts they want.

As far as the most popular title, it’s surprising: Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan. I have a feeling that a lot of school librarians and teachers give out the web address to their students, not just for this children’s fiction title, but for many of them! Sometimes I seem to have a run on a particular children’s title for days on end. “Hm, thirty people read the review of Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate, today. Oh, and yesterday, too.” Of the top twenty posts, eleven of them are for children or teens. Four are spiritual books, and several are my own stories.

Blackmoor is one of the early Proper Romances by Shadow Mountain.

The third most popular post makes me laugh every time. I have had thousands of hits for the post “What Is a Proper Romance?” It is written about the Shadow Mountain adult series called Proper Romance, and I have searched their website fruitlessly to see if they have a link to EatReadSleep. I have no idea if people are truly looking for those books or if they are trying to inject virtue into their love lives or those of their teenagers, but I get at least a few reads of that 2015 piece every day.

As I noted above, before 2016, I had written posts that were not book reviews, and some of the most popular with readers and most important to me are the series of posts about my neighbors’ struggle to change North Carolina law concerning cannabidiol, the non-hallucinogenic oil from marijuana. Their daughter, Zora, has intractable epilepsy, and this natural drug had been shown to prevent seizures. I am happy to say that Zora is now a teenager and is living a much healthier life. Furthermore, North Carolina laws about medical marijuana continue to evolve.

Other popular non-book posts include my own— let’s say it— fabulous recipe for low-carb chocolate chip cookies and related cookbook and diet posts. The story about “Southern Guys and Knives” also gets regular hits all the time.

The Best of EatReadSleep series!!

While it is as impossible to choose my favorite pieces as it would be to choose your favorite children (I can’t relate; I have an only child), I want to put a few titles in each category, just for your entertainment and enlightenment. Sort of a “Best of EatReadSleep” so far. Today, we’ll start with adult fiction, with more genres in the coming weeks.

Favorite Adult Novels

Many Americans read mostly fiction, from thrillers to romances, but I have to know for sure that I will love a novel before I crack it open. This is not a problem, since I work in the selection department of a large library system, where I am bombarded by publisher marketing all day long. Plus, the adult fiction selector works just a few feet away, and she keeps us up to date.

Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell. My favorite novel of Spring, 2021

I can definitely say that in 2021, my two favorite novels were Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell, in the spring and Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Doerr, in the fall. They were both phenomenal and entirely different from one another. This year, Becky Chambers’ A Psalm for the Wild-Built is the best novel so far. Both Chambers and O’Farrell have new books coming out in the next couple of months, and I am looking forward to them. Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See should be on everyone’s “Books I Need to Read Before I Die” list.

Cloud Cuckoo Land was my favorite novel of Fall, 2021.

Here are some of my other favorite novels over the last few years, in no particular order. Links to the reviews are in the captions.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. Absorbing with a twist. I do love a twist.
Lila (and others in the series), by Marilynne Robinson. Deep, deep, deep, and fine writing.
The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett. Listen to the audio read by Tom Hanks and read These Precious Days to find out how that happened.
The Personal Librarian and others by Marie Benedict. I’m a librarian, and I’ve been to this library, so of course, but Marie Benedict is bringing many women’s stories to life.
Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng. I can’t speak for the tv series, but this novel made me identify with someone who is nothing like me.
Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens. It’s been a bestseller ever since it came out for very good reason. Let’s hope the movie lives up to it. One of my lifetime favorites.
The Almost Sisters, by Joshilyn Jackson. Most people know her for Gods in Alabama, but I like this one so much more.
The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. Historical fiction with a soupçon of scifi/fantasy.
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, by Grady Hendrix. I usually run away from horror novels, but this one had me laughing through my screams.
The Half-Drowned King and sequels, by Linnea Hartsuyker. This series is so underrated. It’s historical fiction, but if you like Game of Thrones, you will like Linnea Hartsuyker.
Uprooted and Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik. Classic fantasy. Grimm’s fairy tales for grownups.

________________________

Stay tuned for more from “The Best of EatReadSleep”, including faith-based nonfiction, books for teens and kids, anti-racist reads, and more!

2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Books and reading

December Reading

December passed in a blur of decorating and frantic knitting, but there was also reading! Audiobooks are perfect for needlework and cooking times. Here are some fiction and nonfiction adult books, two of which were terrific on audio. Someday, I may blog about podcasts, which accompany hours of my handcrafts, too.

How the Word Is Passed, by Clint Smith

The history of our nation cannot be told without talking about slavery, but a great deal of that history is hidden by the “official” story we all learn in school. Clint Smith takes a unique approach to the history of slavery by traveling to various locations that are integral to the story, interviewing local people, and relating the memories passed down by the slaves’ descendants as much as possible. Some of the places are well known, such as Monticello and New Orleans, but it may be a surprise to find out that the second-largest slave market in America—second only to Charleston, SC—was in Manhattan, and that, at a certain point in time, the rate of slave ownership in New York was higher than in the South. Smith also visits such places as Blandford Cemetery, a resting place for Confederate soldiers, during a remembrance ceremony where he holds very difficult conversations with those who cling to memories of the Old South, and Angola, a maximum-security prison that used to be a plantation and now houses thousands of black prisoners. Their unpaid labor blurs the line between slavery and incarceration.

We visited Monticello for the first time in late November on the way home from my niece’s wedding, and this book—along with other excellent new works on the topic— was prominently displayed in the gift shop. We were impressed by the Jefferson Foundation’s ability to continue to showcase the great accomplishments of the former president while being completely open about his unapologetic enslavement of hundreds of human beings. Jefferson may have written about the horrors of slavery, but he did nothing to free the slaves that he owned, except for his own children. Great care has been taken to represent Sally Hemings’s life and the stories of all her children and their descendants. In the 1990s, the foundation started the Getting Word project to gather the life stories of the 607 enslaved people of Monticello and their descendants. We hoped that Clint Smith would talk about Monticello in his book, and indeed, it is the first chapter. Smith agreed that the Jefferson Foundation was making progress in opening up the history of slavery in our country’s founding, but apparently, this has not always been the case. Until the DNA results of the Hemings descendants were confirmed to be related to Jefferson in 1998, the Monticello guides would not discuss the possibility of the president’s relationship to an enslaved woman.

We listened to an audiobook edition of the book, which is read by the author. Some of the chapters show hopeful progress in our reckoning with our past, while others reveal the dark underbelly of our history, still churning with hatred and division to this day. Fascinating and important.

Once Upon a Wardrobe, by Patti Callahan

Megs’s little brother, George, has a weak heart, and in 1950s England, there is no treatment. George has just read the new book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and his greatest wish is to find out where Narnia comes from. Megs is a brilliant maths scholar at Oxford, and she sets out to find the answer to her brother’s burning question. Walking to The Kilns in the middle of winter, Megs meets the Oxford professor, C.S. (or Jack) Lewis, and his brother, Warnie. Over many chats by the fireside, Jack and Warnie tell the tale of their sometimes difficult childhoods, their early stories, and the fantasy world they created. The next Narnia tale is coming out soon, but George will probably not live to read it. Her parents worry that George gets too excited about this fantasy land, but the stories that Megs retells from her notebook are the very things that give George’s life meaning.

Solitary walks in the snowy wood, cozy teas at The Kilns, and an impetuous trip to a ruined Irish castle: this is a perfect winter’s tale with a sweet romance mixed in. Callahan’s Becoming Mrs. Lewis (reviewed here) is probably a stronger story, but Once Upon a Wardrobe is a sort of prequel that fills in the blanks in Lewis’s young life.

Adorning the Dark, by Andrew Peterson

Since I am a children’s book selector, I knew Andrew Peterson as the author of the wildly popular “Wingfeather Saga.” His book for adults, Adorning the Dark, is a meditation on the creative imagination and an encouragement for those who wish to be sub-creators, as Tolkien would say, after the great Creator of all things. It is also a memoir of someone who considers himself primarily a songwriter, recounting his struggle to put words and melodies together in a way that would support himself and his growing family. He and his wife found an idyllic piece of land outside of Nashville, Tennessee, and one of my favorite stories is of an English master gardener who came to stay with them during a conference, then mailed back a detailed schematic of their property with outdoor “rooms” designed to make even more beauty in the wilderness. This volume is an inspiring, thoughtful read.

N.D. (Nate) Wilson is one of the contributors to the latest addition to the saga, Wingfeather Tales. If you can find it on YouTube, Wilson’s conversation with Betsy Bird and Jeanne Birdsall on this topic of creativity is not to be missed. Ditto Wilson’s children’s books, beginning with 100 Cupboards.

If you have children in late elementary or middle school, the “Wingfeather Saga,” beginning with On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, is a fantastical yet homely tale in the style of C.S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia.” Peterson is also the founder of the Rabbit Room Press, publisher of the beloved book of everyday liturgies, Every Moment Holy.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of Adorning the Dark, and I listened to library audiobook copies of the other two books. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Books and reading, Christian Life

Academic Board Books

War and Peace BBIt all began with literary classics, and I said “Are you kidding?” to War and Peace for infants. The only people who want their six-month-old to read Tolstoy on 32 board pages are yuppies who are obsessed with getting Suzie into an Ivy League college before she can tie her own shoes. Wuthering Heights BBI mean seriously, Wuthering Heights? Babies need time to understand that most people—hopefully including Mommy and Daddy—have nice, normal relationships before they learn about creepy guys who dig up their beloved’s grave in order jump into her moldering, beetle-crawling arms. Call me old-fashioned, but I think kids should at least be toddlers before they are confronted by such deviance.

RNA BBSo I ignored the whole phenomenon of academic board books for a long time. Not ABC’s and 123’s, which are the traditional domain of board books, but nuclear physics, engineering, and the intricacies of manipulating RNA, for sure.

Astrophysics BBThen one day, I received a request for Astrophysics for Babies. Really? I thought, but I bought it.  “Who will check this out?” I wondered.

Everyone. Everyone checked it out. All of the excellent, education-minded parents where I work checked it out. My friends with little ones checked it out, too. I tried a few more: organic chemistry, robotics. Forty copies of every title, all checked out.

Blockchain BBPublishers knew that they had struck gold and launched new series, and I kept buying. Finally, one day, I took a look at the books that had just been unpacked and thought, “Blockchain for Babies. I have never understood blockchain.” So I opened the book and read 32 board pages about it, and now I get it. No kidding. I couldn’t work with it professionally, but I get the concept and can discuss it without embarrassment. Now I’m a believer. All adults should read board books about Ph.D.-level topics.

Simone de Beauvoir BBOur latest batch of board books is about famous philosophers: Aristotle, Socrates, and so on. I checked out the one on Simone de Beauvoir, who, according to this volume, believed that everyone is equal, that everyone should be free to be themselves, and that everyone should be nice. In children’s biographical literature, all heroic people of all times thought that everyone should be nice. To the relief of parents, nothing is mentioned of Simone’s eclectic romantic pursuits, including her humiliating relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre, who was repeatedly unfaithful to her and seemed to undermine everything she had to say about women’s equality. (French wine, berets, and cigarettes sold separately.) However, let me point out that Sartre is not one of the philosophers highlighted in this series (so there), perhaps because his existentialist viewpoint is difficult to explain in 32 or even 3200 pages, but has lately come to have some connection to climate change.

I highly recommend that parents of precocious children should acquaint themselves with world philosophy by reading board books and children’s nonfiction in general. That way, when your seven-year-old comes home from Harvard for Christmas break and mentions studying Descartes, you can nod sagely and intone, “I think, therefore I am,” and he will believe that you know what you’re talking about. It’s not until he is ten that he will roll his eyes, take a drag from his Turkish cigarette, and groan, “Oh, Dad. I know you read that in a board book.”

Disclaimer: I have read a boatload of these adorable little books as library copies. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Books and reading

A Child’s Calendar, by John Updike and Trina Schart Hyman

Child's CalendarOur library system runs a report to find titles that are getting low on copies, and we selectors review it to find the gems that need to be re-ordered. Some titles and series are deservedly going out of print, but others are beloved classics that every library should keep forever. I was intrigued to find A Child’s Calendar— which I had never read— on that report, so not only did I order more copies, I also checked out a copy for myself.

I knew John Updike as the celebrated author of adult books like Rabbit, Run or The Witches of Eastwick, and many others, and was unaware that he had written this collection of poems for children. Originally published in 1965, Updike made many changes and reprinted the volume in 1999. There is a poem for each month of the year, sweet and nostalgic, with traditional families and realistic humor. Here is the last stanza of the March poem:

The mud smells happy
On our shoes.
We still wear mittens,
Which we lose.

Child's Calendar interiorPerhaps the best part of this discovery was that Updike chose one of my favorite illustrators for the updated edition. Trina Schart Hyman uses rich colors and black outlines to create busy, charming family scenes. Her diverse children and adults live in mostly rural and small-town settings, displaying both the labor and laughter of everyday life. There is usually at least one hilarious detail in each tableau, and despite the beauty of the illustrations, they are miles away from treacle.

Snow WhiteHyman illustrated more than 150 books in her lifetime, many award winners. She won a Caldecott Medal for her version of Snow White, a more traditional and serious rendition than the Disney story, with heartbreakingly beautiful pictures. A Child’s Calendar won a Caldecott Honor. My first introduction to her work was as a homeschooling mom when we read Margaret Hodges’ St. George and the Dragon, a selection from Spenser’s Faerie Queen, in which England’s patron saint rescues Una, the one true faith, from the evil dragon of heresy. St George and the DragonBut your child doesn’t need to know all that. It’s just a great adventure story, with a handsome knight, a beautiful maiden, and a scary dragon. Besides the full-page paintings, Hyman decorates the text in the fashion of a medieval manuscript. Poring over the details is a delight.

 

Surprisingly, Updike and Hyman were both born in Pennsylvania and later moved to New England. As a result, there is much more snow in their calendar than we will ever see in North Carolina, but our warm children can experience sledding and icicles in these pages. Other scenes of planting, raking leaves, and going to the beach may be more familiar. This is a book to treasure for generations.

A lovely way to feed little souls.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Books and reading

A Library for Juana: The World of Sor Juana Inés, by Pat Mora

Library for JuanaWhen she was just a little girl in Mexico City in the 1600s, Juana Inés wanted to read all of the books in her abuelo’s library, but her mother said that she was too young. She asked endless questions, and skipped along making rhymes all day long. When her older sister went to school at her neighbor’s house, Juana begged to go, too. Her parents relented, and soon Juana was studying everything she could find and writing poems for her mother’s birthday. Later, living with her aunt and uncle in the big city, she kept her tutor busy teaching her Latin and many other languages. At fifteen, she became a lady-in-waiting at the palace, writing poems and riddles for the amusement of the court, amazing scholars with her learning, and reading as much of the royal library as she could. Eventually, the young woman decided to become a nun, changing her name to the now well-known Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.

When someone mentioned her in a library meeting recently, I had never heard of Juana Inés, so after looking her up on Wikipedia, I checked out this children’s biography. I have often found children’s biographies to be quick, introductory sources of information that avoid getting bogged down with all the tiny details of a person’s life. They convey the central importance of the subject and are often very beautiful, as is the case with this volume, illustrated by Beatriz Vidal. Of course, Pat Mora could not delve deeply into the struggles that Juana had with the men over her in the church hierarchy who did not accept a woman speaking and writing about theological issues. Eventually Sor Juana was severely punished and lost everything. Today, she is known as one of North America’s greatest poets, earning the nickname “Mexico’s Tenth Muse.” Probably the most famous book for adults exploring Juana Inés’ philosophy and theology is Sor Juana: Or the Traps of Faith, by Nobel laureate Octavio Paz. Juana Inés is widely revered for her lifelong support of female education. Imagine the riches we have forfeited through the centuries because women were kept from learning.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

1 Comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Books and reading, Men and Women

The Queen’s Thief series, by Megan Whalen Turner

the-thiefThis is a public service announcement from Reading Central. Megan Whalen Turner writes what is quite probably the best current series of books for young people. In any case, it is certainly my favorite. And while other authors put out a title every year—or in the case of James Patterson and his committees, a book every two weeks—Ms. Turner only publishes every four or five years, so when she has a new book, it is An Event. So, I am hereby announcing that the fifth volume of “The Queen’s Thief” series is due to come out this May.

Why am I telling you this now, rather than just writing a book review in May? Because you need to catch up! There are four books to read in the next two months, so get to it! I am just about to start re-reading the second one. In order, they are:

  • The Thief
  • The Queen of Attolia
  • The King of Attolia
  • A Conspiracy of Kings

Only the first volume, The Thief, seems to be a book for teens. The main character, Eugenides, who has been in prison for theft for several months, is suddenly yanked out into the screaming light of day and conscripted for a special mission with the Magus. A small group of men travel for weeks through rough terrain so that “Gen” can break into an ancient temple and retrieve a stone with mystical powers that can confer immortality on the sovereign who holds it, but can kill anyone who tries to steal it.

The setting is a group of small countries that resemble Greece several centuries after its golden age, with ruined temples and olive groves. So, although it has horses and warring monarchs, it is not at all like the scores of faux-medieval fantasies on the market. Furthermore, it is set in a re-imagined past, with bits of supernatural elements, such as gods and goddesses, but there are no vampires, zombies, or fairies. Rather, it is more a book of political intrigue. After The Thief, the series is more adult than teen, with marriages, diplomacy, spies, and assassinations. This is the perfect series for your kids who are advanced readers if you do not want them exposed to the more seamy side of young adult literature. The language is fine, there are no explicit sex scenes, and Turner does not seem to have an agenda of any kind. So refreshing! On the other hand, the vocabulary is rich, and the plot is complex and challenging.

Why is this the best series out there?

  • Eugenides is one of the most incredible heroes in literature. He has likeable and unlikeable characteristics, is much smarter than he lets on, and is completely unpredictable. In short, he is wickedly cool.
  • Nothing, absolutely nothing, is as it seems. You will be surprised. Turner’s writing is so complex and subtle that you will miss the hints she puts out there and will suddenly be shocked and need to go back and re-read. And…
  • It completely stands up to re-reading. I just finished The Thief for the third time, and I picked up details that I had missed before. It is such a pleasure to read.
  • It is appropriate for everyone, adults and teens, male and female. The only reason that tweens and younger may not be the best audience is because they may not understand it. Otherwise, it is fine for a family read-aloud.

I hope that is enough to send you to the bookstore or library. I was so thrilled to find out that I will have an opportunity to meet this author at SLJ’s Day of Dialog in May, and I hope to post a review of the latest volume, Thick as Thieves, before then!

Read on!

2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Books and reading

Book Expo 2016

 

BEA vendor hall

Just a Tiny Corner of the Vendor Hall

Vast spaces with advertising banners flapping overhead, thousands of vendors tastefully hawking books and book-related technology, and many more thousands of women and men setting up appointments with their chiropractors on their cellphones as they juggle canvas bags of heavy books that they couldn’t resist adding to the piles of unread galleys they already have at home: it’s another Book Expo America.

BEA venueMcCormick Place in Chicago—the West Building, specifically—hosted us this year as we attended excellent sessions with esoteric names such as “Innovation in Children’s Publishing” and “The Story Starts Here: Humor Edition” while navigating escalators and paying outrageous amounts of money for water. BEA started as a conference for publishers and booksellers, particularly for the adult market. However, over the years they seem to be catching on to the fact that libraries spend a lot of money on books, and that the children’s market—especially the exploding YA segment—can be lucrative, too. Two years ago, in New York, there were just a few valuable events for me, but this year, I had a hard time getting to the vendor floor between sessions, although two exceptional events were added the very week before the conference.

Kwame Alexander hug

Kwame and me: we’re best buds.

By the late afternoon on Thursday, the day after the Day of Dialog and Children’s Author Dinner, I was beginning to flag. I had been rained on during the river architecture tour in the morning, had attended several good sessions at McCormick Place and had even done a conquering tour of the vendor floor. Somewhere along the way, I got wrapped up in a bear hug by the amazing Kwame Alexander, Newbery-winning author of Crossover. He’s expanded to picture books now! At the end of the day, the thought of walking across the indoor bridge to the Hyatt Regency for Scholastic’s Picture Book Event was daunting, but I figured I could nurse my blisters later. I’m so glad I made the effort! Three outstanding authors and illustrators greeted us there: David Shannon, Tom Lichtenheld, and Kate Beaton. All of these are much-loved authors, and you can imagine how much fun picture book folks would be.

Picture Book Panel

Kate Beaton, David Shannon, and Tom Lichtenheld

There were musical numbers with audience participation, reader’s theater, and hilarious slide shows. We received galleys of Shannon’s new Duck on a Tractor, Lichtenheld’s Groovy Joe: Ice Cream & Dinosaurs, and Beaton’s King Baby. I had to laugh when Kate Beaton talked about the stages of life on Facebook: you go for years in college when you have nothing but pictures of young adults partying, etc. Then suddenly, your friends get married and their posts are nothing but baby pictures, and you roll your eyes in disgust. Then your sister has a baby, and your Facebook page is nothing but baby pictures, too—but nobody else’s baby is as cute or smart as yours. They left us with terrific gifts, including a signed and illustrated print of all three book covers in a wooden frame, which is now hanging near my desk.

Thursday evening was all about the Sourcebooks cocktail party in the Hancock Tower that I wrote about in my first Chicago blog, so it was serious work, of course.

Torch Against the NightFriday started early, back at McCormick Place for the Children’s Author Breakfast. Let me just state here that the fees for the meals at BEA must go to the speakers, because the menus are a low-carber’s nightmare. Mini-bagels, sweet breads, and fruit. I had had some yogurt back at the hotel, just in case, so I started off this breakfast by popping the top off the coffee carafe and pouring it all over the tablecloth, my purse, and my slacks. I did manage to miss my colleague, thank goodness. The day did improve. Jamie Lee Curtis, who is one of the few celebrities to write children’s books that are truly literary, hosted a panel that included Dav Pilkey, Sabaa Tahir, and Gene Luen Yang, all of whom are brilliant and gave fascinating speeches. Ms. Curtis shared with the audience that her severely challenged son, who is now twenty, could not read until he met Captain Underpants, and so now she has a soft place in her heart for Dav Pilkey. She choked up, they embraced, and the audience wept and had more coffee. Ms. Tahir spun stories of her childhood as a bullied Muslim girl growing up in the American western desert, where her father owned a hotel. I achieved my objective of acquiring an additional copy of the much-anticipated A Torch Against the Night for a certain teen girl that I know who passionately adored Tahir’s debut, An Ember in the Ashes. Gene Luen Yang gave a rousing speech as this year’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, encouraging us to read outside of our comfort zones. I agree with him that our entire world would be a more peaceful place if we lived inside one another’s stories for a while and broadened our worldviews. In all, this author’s breakfast encapsulated the heart of children’s literature: innocence, suffering, laughter, and compassion.

After meeting a favorite author by chance on the vendor floor, sharing stories at a session with the Unshelved guys and other librarians, and setting up a shipping box to send all of my loot home ahead of me, I went to the ABA-CBC Children’s Author Speed Dating Lunch, and this, as mentioned in my last post, is where I geeked out. Here is how author speed dating works: all the participants are assigned to a numbered table, and the authors move from table to table, pitching their latest works for five minutes until the bell rings and they move to the next table and start again. Often, the authors are fairly new or even debut authors. It’s fun, and the tables are piled high with gift copies of their books, just in case you haven’t set up that appointment with your chiropractor yet.

David Arnold.jpg

David Arnold

I had never eaten a meal during speed dating before, and it was tricky. You can’t put food in your mouth while the author is talking, since that seems rude, so you’re stuffing forkfuls of salad in while they walk to the next table. Our second author had just sat down and was plunging into his spiel in a panicked manner, since he had just realized at his first table that the bell rings far too soon. Something he said made me think, “Oh, my gosh, is this…?” as I craned my neck to see his nametag while frantically trying to swallow my lettuce. Then I blurted out, “Oh, my gosh, are you David Arnold?” He stopped talking and nodded, wide-eyed, as if caught in the act of being himself. “Oh, I just loved Mosquitoland so much and forced so many people to read it!” KidsLogoORIGINALFILEI gestured to his new book, Kids of Appetite, and he started talking again. At the end, I asked him if he was signing galleys and got all the info about where he would be. In the meantime, the very dignified woman to my right took over all author comments, since I’m sure she was convinced that I could not behave in a professional manner. This turned out to be a good thing, since I could not say a word later when Arthur A. Levine, a publisher himself, sat down to talk about his new book, What a Beautiful Morning. I could not help crying the whole time, which made him tear up, so the woman on my right was probably in despair that our entire table would be disgraced. This luncheon turned out to be much more wonderful than I expected, so Friday was becoming an excellent day.

Kids of AppetiteAfter this event, I hauled my armloads of books up two flights and immediately got in line at the Penguin booth to get David Arnold to sign Kids of Appetite. There was another line for Sabaa Tahir, but when asked if I wanted to join it, I said, “Oh, I’ve already seen her” in a lofty manner and went to Arnold’s line. I was probably the oldest person in either line, but I probably spend more money on books than any of them, so I felt justified. When I got to the front, he remembered me from the luncheon, since I was so memorable to all the witnesses, and he asked me if I wanted the book to be personalized. I said, “Hey, I did not walk all this way and stand in a line for just a signature!” So he very nicely wrote a bit in it. (I have already finished this book and will post a review later. Hint: thumbs up.)

Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater

The very last session I attended at BEA was the APA Audio Authors’ Tea. Do you know what they served at this tea? Tea. Lipton’s. Regular or decaf. There were also some cookies that I ignored, but seriously, Lipton’s? When I went to Orlando for the Baker & Taylor Vendor Summit, they had a glorious selection of teas set out all the time between sessions. Here, I actually paid for the session and got Lipton’s. Oh, well, I really paid for the event because it featured (drumroll…) Maggie Stiefvater! There were others, too, of course: Terry McMillan, John Scalzi, and Michael Koryta, so no small potatoes. All were great, and discussed the special considerations that go into making recordings of books, which I have found fascinating since touring the Recorded Books studio a couple of years ago in New York. Maggie looks like a character in one of her books, and I hung on her every word. I am so glad that I was able to finish The Raven King—the last of the “Raven Cycle”— before seeing her, and I can’t wait to see what this amazingly creative author serves up next.

And that was it! I shipped off my box of goodies and joined my group of colleagues and my husband for that boisterous final meal of octopus that I wrote about in my first Chicago post. I was able to meet so many of my favorite authors, confer with other professionals, and continue to increase my respect for hardworking publisher reps, and throughout the week, several themes seemed to come to the forefront over and over again. I hope to write about those in a later post.

Thanks to all who made Book Expo America possible!

__________________

The very sophisticated photos of David Arnold and Maggie Stiefvater are from Google searches, probably by very expensive professional photographers. The photo of Kwame Alexander and me is from Baker & Taylor’s Facebook page, courtesy of Jill Faherty of Baker & Taylor’s Children and Teen Services.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Books and reading