Tag Archives: reading

In honor of…

gone crazy in alabamaI’m not the biggest fan of all the special months.  Theoretically, they help highlight authors and issues affecting different groups (African-Americans, women, Latinx, LGBT folks, Asians, etc.), and I have no problem with that.  But shouldn’t we really be looking for more diverse books ALL year?  Of course.

Anyway, it’s February, so this year, I’ve decided that I’m looking at this as an EXTRA reason to highlight great African-American and African authors and characters.  Below are some of my favorites of the past few years:



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Dagnabit, lemmings! Pay attention!

lemmingsConsider the lemming and its stereotypes.  This could come in handy if you are a fox working on a fish trawler called the S.S. Cliff with a bear captain and three very impressionable lemmings.  Being illiterate and team players, the lemmings seem incapable of hearing anything but the word “jump.”   After several challenging water rescues, Foxy realizes that his lemming friends are not dim; they just don’t know how to read.  Whew!  Now there’s a problem we can solve, right?  Literacy for lemmings!  Go team!

Fun read.

Read the Book, Lemmings!  by Ame Dyckman and Zachariah OHora

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Love your books. Love your friends. Together.

hoorayTurtle loves a book and must read it now.  Just that one book.  Why are our favorites never where we left them?  What happens?  Do we lend them?  Do they move off on their own?  Seriously, what’s the deal here?

The search begins, and along the way friends will mention their own favorites.  And somehow we’ll all end up reading together.  Always a good thing.

Hooray for Books by Brian Won


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Books, France, underpants

you can readAny book that combines the love of reading with silly, imaginary book titles, clever rhyming, and underpants will always be loved by me.  I know I can speak for a small, not statistically significant group of kindergartners when I add that kids will love that book, too.  Here is that book.  Read it and smile.

For two more stories about stories, read this one.

You Can Read by Helaine Becker and Mark Hoffmann

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Circus Mirandus – B3 Winner!

Our Super 64 was whittled down to two the week before spring break – The Lightning Thief vs. Circus Mirandus.  It was a long road for both, past favorites like The One and Only Ivan, The Terrible Two, Smile, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Calvin & Hobbes.

The winner, finally, was Circus Mirandus, by four votes.  New pencils and a fun bookmark marked the occasion, and I talked with the kids about a brief email exchange I had with the author, Cassie Beasley, the day before.  They had talked about loving her book because of the depth of the characters and the great story, although I’m sure they also loved that it was something their teacher read aloud, so they experienced it together.  Without that added boost, it might not have made it to the finals.  As their teacher noted, classmates might have voted for or against books they’d never read.  Everyone knew and loved Circus Mirandus.  I mentioned some of this to the author, who commented on the great list of books and being excited about winning.  She promised there were books on the way from her.  Yay for all of us!

I wasn’t much of a fangirl when I was a kid, but as an adult, I’ve occasionally written authors to let them know how much their work means to me.  Authors spend a lot of time alone with their work before editors, agents, critics, and regular people ever get access to it.  I wonder sometimes how it feels to have your words picked apart, even when reviews are good.  Does the work even feel like your own at that point?

I look at things I wrote years ago, and it can sometimes be strange to imagine that I was the person who wrote it!  Hmm, I’ll think, that really was pretty good, even if it doesn’t seem like I could have come up with it.  I have to think that most writers appreciate the feedback when it comes from people who truly love their work, and if they don’t, well, they just won’t respond, will they?   Enough said.

Well done, Cassie Beasley.  Thank you for Micah, Grandpa Ephraim, Jenny, the Lightbender and even Aunt Gertrudis.

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The Talented Two – Mrs. B’s Book Bracket finally reaches the finals

B3 logoSo, I’m a little behind in reporting on our 5th graders’ book bracket…

Like I mentioned in the last post on our book bracket, I was sick. Then Mrs. B was sick. Throw in a field trip or maybe a family emergency to mess up the schedule and you’d have a typical month of Thursdays during the school year, right?

But here we are.  After a second vote between Circus Mirandus and The Terrible Two because of a tie, Circus Mirandus won, with several kids apparently switching their votes. The Lightning Thief was the big winner against Holes. So for our final two, we’ve got:

Circus Mirandus vs. The Lightning Thief

A newcomer against an old favorite? A stand alone versus a series? Magic versus myths? What could be better? I can’t wait to hear the kids try to convince each other to choose their favorite. Ah, the joy of reading!

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The Final Four — Mrs. B’s Book Bracket

B3 logoSometimes getting a really nasty virus is a good thing. Well, sort of. I spent the better part of a week fighting something awful, so by the time I made it to Mrs. B’s room yesterday, I felt physically better, however, my brain was mush.

After telling the kids about the new match-ups, I encouraged them to come up and give their favorites in the Excellent/Elite 8 a boost. The verbal battles began. The Lightning Thief was ok, even good, but it didn’t match the fun factor of Big Nate, which was kind of similar to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a book which had narrowly missed moving on. Big Nate was fun, but really didn’t have the great characters and action of The Lightning Thief. Choosing between The One and Only Ivan and Circus Mirandus was tough, but  Ivan created such strong characters that it had to win out.  I want these kids on my side when I run for office!

Oh, the fun! And when the votes were counted, here’s the Final Four we ended up with:


The Lightning Thief

The Terrible Two

Circus Mirandus


We’ve come a long way…

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The pile of books I just can’t face


Where to begin? My shelves hold 43 books from the public library right now. Another five are on my iPad — checked out through Overdrive. I recently picked up two free advanced reader copies I’d really like to read, too. My library request list is at the maximum of 99. I’ve even got a back-up list going to use once my request list has dropped back to 80 or so. It would almost be funny if it didn’t happen every month or two. Sometimes the pressure of so many possibly great books is a little much, and I have a hard time choosing what I should read next.

But do I dare complain? It’s a problem which comes from privilege, really, having so many options and so many good options in front of me. I can’t possibly read everything I’d like to. Patrons I talk with at the library often suggest books they think I should or would like to read, but do I get to most of them? No. I stick with my middle grade, teen and picture books, although a good mystery can pull me away on occasion.

What to do?  I guess I’ll have to hold off on catching up on my TV shows and read during family movie night and use my early waking hours and lunches to catch up. Work, work, work. Joy, joy, joy.

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Awkward – where the middle grade meets the graphic (novel)

Chmakova_Awkward_HC.jpg-200x300Peppi Torres is the new kid at school, and it’s middle school. No matter how much she plans ahead to survive it all with grace, it seems like things go wrong in a big way. She drops all her stuff and gets lumped in with the school nerd. She gets away from him by being mean, regrets it, doesn’t say anything, and then ends up having him as her science tutor. Oh, the daily humiliation! Oh, the awkwardness of it all!

Awkward is Peppi’s story first, but the characters and situations ring true to anyone who’s had an unpleasant time of it at that age. There’s a boy obsessed with sunspots, a girl focused only on beating the science club at anything, mean kids, and quirky teachers. The story captures those intense moments when you think you know who you want to be, but you just haven’t gotten there yet. It seems like everything is ganging up on you to keep you from getting there. Waiting is not easy. (True for Elephant & Piggie in the Mo Willems’ book of the same name. No less true for a twelve year old.)

Comic books were not considered literature when I was a kid. It didn’t matter; I still loved what I loved — the thrill of getting a new comic book, reading the story, and looking at the weird ads. It was always over too soon. A few things have changed with comics and graphic novels since then, especially the quality of the storylines and the variety of topics. (There might well have been great storylines and huge variety when I was younger, too, but I was mostly a Richie Rich fan. Enough said.)

And there are still people who don’t feel that the work counts as “good” reading. I frequently have parents come in to the library who don’t want their kids to read graphics, because they need to be reading “real” books. Really? Not even for fun? With video games, Netflix, and distracting apps, you’d think people would be happy to have kids read anything. Have they even picked up a graphic novel in the last ten years?

I think they’re just assuming they know what graphic novels are all about. And they’d mostly be wrong. Graphic novels might not be for everyone – some people just don’t really like the visuals along with the text – but there is such variety and such good stuff that it seems nuts to take away the option from any young readers. Svetlana Chmakova’s Awkward fits right in there with the best of them.

Some other favorites:

Amulet series – Kazu Kibuishi

Zita the Spacegirl, Ben Hatke

El Deafo, Cece Bell

Babymouse, Squish series, and Sunny Side Up – Jennifer Holm

Big Nate series – Lincoln Peirce

Roller Girl – Victoria Jamieson

Smile, Drama, Sisters – Raina Telgemeier

Jedi Academy series – Jeffrey Brown

Also graphic versions of The Graveyard Book, The Lightning Thief, The City of Ember, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Wonderstruck, The Invention of Hugo Cabret – Brian Selznick (a text/graphic blend)

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Reading and listening, listening and reading

book-692575_1280I’ve always considered myself a reader, since the first books I can remember – Dick and Jane, Dr. Seuss, Golden books. After years reading novels and “literature” in school, my reading life as an adult has taken me back to children’s books. Mostly, I read for pleasure, but in my work at the library, it helps to be on top of what’s just come out and what’s popular for young readers and teens. Occasionally I do a storytime, so it’s also great to have some fun books to use for that.

Lately, though, I’ve been struggling a bit as a reader. I spent most of last week re-reading a Harry Potter in French, an exercise I do occasionally to try to hang onto vocabulary I learned eons ago. For reasons I have never been able to figure out, it’s actually easier for me to read in German than in French, despite the fact that I studied French much longer, so it was an enjoyable week, but I wasn’t always entirely sure what was happening. When I faced my stack of middle grade to-be-reads on Sunday, though, I couldn’t really connect with any of them.

I tried, oh, I tried, but even the one I finished kind of annoyed me. Somehow, every single one had a parent who was terminally ill, very ill, missing, an alcoholic, recently deceased, or in prison. (It was a big stack.  Some of those categories fit more than one book. Yikes.) The circumstances surrounding the characters were so unreal and fantastical (and they were supposed to be realistic fiction, I think) that I finally decided to take the whole lot back and start fresh. I had about 10 picture books coming in yesterday, so I thought I’d take a little break, maybe read some adult nonfiction – is this the third time I’ve come up on the list for Dead Wake or the fourth? Part of me wondered, though, if I’d hit the end of a long reading phase.

Then I went to visit two of my homebound patrons. J is losing her sight but still able to read large print. She was happy with everything I’d brought the month before but felt like every book she read might be her last. I suggested she think about having her son get her a CD player so she could try out some books on CD, but she didn’t think it would be the same. She didn’t want to lose the feeling of holding a book in her hands and escaping to another world.

Next I visited my favorite, who is 102 and only listens to books on CD. She considers herself as much a reader as I am. She misses the printed page, but she likes reading too much to let that get in the way. She’s willing to try about anything, although she’s often noted that she favors the male voice in narration and feels a little like a traitor to her sex for it. Since her tastes run mostly to inspirational fiction or family stories, it’s not as easy as you’d think to find books she’ll like — so many are narrated by women. I always schedule extra time when I’m visiting her, since we often talk for a while, mostly about books, but sometimes about why she’s an Anglophile or the Lutheran church or her past life working for the public schools. Even when I’m in a bad mood – like yesterday – I feel better after I’ve talked to her.

So, in the end, I can’t complain about my reading, writing, or listening life. Like everything else, this will pass. I’ll find the next wonderful book I can bother people about, even if it takes me a week or two or even more.

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