Thursday, August 16, 2018

An Interview with Children's Author Fred Bowen

All week, I've been sharing reviews of the books by Fred Bowen that I have read. Today, I'm happy to share an interview I recently conducted with Fred over email.

Read-at-Home Mom: One of the things I admire about your books is the way each story teaches a character-building lesson without preaching at the reader. When you're writing, do you set out to tell a story with a particular moral, or does the lesson present itself as you go?

Fred Bowen: First, thanks for saying my books are not preachy!  I think that any heavy-handed message would turn readers away.

My sports books for kids ages 7-12 are a balance of three major elements.  First, I want to tell a good story.  If you don’t have a fast-moving, interesting plot with sympathetic characters the kids will put the book down.

Second, I want to teach the kids something about the sports they love.  That’s why I weave some sports history into the plot and always include a chapter of real sports history at the end of the book.

Finally, I definitely want to include a lesson that kids can learn from the story.  But the lesson is always an intrinsic part of the sport.  So in Outside Shot (Peachtree 2017), for example, Matt sees himself as a shooter, the kid who is going to score a lot of baskets.  The lesson he learns over the course of the season is to not define himself so narrowly.  He can be more than he thinks.  Matt learns that lesson through playing basketball.

When I start a book I have a good idea of what the history and lesson contained in the story will be.  As I work out the plot I am always thinking about how to emphasize (without preaching!) the history and the underlying lesson.

RAHM: Each of your books involves scenes where kids play in sporting events, requiring you to describe a lot of physical action very clearly and concisely. Do you have a particular method you use to organize all the logistics of these scenes? Are some sports harder to capture on the page than others?

FB: I outline my books extensively before I start writing.  First, I develop the “arc of the story” by figuring out what has to happen in each of the chapters (my books are usually 15-17 chapters and about 120 pages).  That arc is usually a few typewritten pages.

Next, I write out (in longhand!) a first draft of the book using two, 100-page (6” X 9”) notebooks.  This is where I work out the dialogue and the details of the action, including the action in the games.  I am not trying to be perfect in this draft.  I am only trying to figure out what goes where and who says what.

After I have worked out those details in my notebooks, I begin to type up on the computer the first “official” draft of the book.  I am trying to be as perfect as possible with this draft.

I should emphasize that things are always changing in this process.  I am adding and deleting scenes, emphasizing certain themes more, developing the characters.  It’s a lot of fun!

And yes, some sports are harder to describe than others.  Baseball is easy because you can summarize the previous action quickly and then “drop into” a dramatic moment in the game and describe it in more detail.  Basketball and football are similar in this way.

I find soccer the most difficult to describe because so much of the action does not lead to any significant result.  Many soccer games are 60-90 minutes of barely differentiated action punctuated by one or two goals.   I played and enjoy the game but it is hard to describe.

RAHM: Your books also always include interesting information about sports figures of the past. When you were growing up, which sports heroes inspired you?

FB: I didn’t really have sport heroes in the traditional way kids have heroes.  I had favorite players and favorite teams – go Red Sox and Celtics! – but I did not have sports heroes as such.

I think I sensed (probably through my family) that just because someone was great at sports this did not make him or her necessarily admirable in every aspect of their life.

I have written a weekly kids sports column for the Washington Post since April 2000.  I have often tried to convey this truth to my readers.  Just because LeBron James is a fabulous basketball player does not automatically make him a good father, person or friend.  He may be, but that is a separate inquiry.  I think this is an important point to make to kids in our celebrity-crazed culture.

RAHM: I heard you speak at the Gaithersburg Book Festival several years ago, and I remember you commenting on the number of names you need for all the teammates, coaches, and other supporting characters who appear in your books. How do you choose the names for all those characters? 

FB: I do several things to name the characters in my books.  First, I check the Social Security website to see what names were popular ten years before the scheduled publication date of the book.  Those names will be familiar to the kids reading my books.

My wife teaches at a school in our neighborhood.  So I look at the names in the student directory and mix and match first names with different last names.

I also put in names of friends, friends’ kids and grandchildren, as well as kids who write me fan letters and emails.  Finally, I am a big jazz fan so I will sometimes sneak in the name of a favorite jazz pianist, bassist or sax player in a roster or as an opponent.

RAHM: Finally, for readers who have read all of your books, which authors would you recommend for them to enjoy while they wait for your next book?

FB: I have written 22 chapter books for readers ages 7-12 and one picture book, so it is hard for me to believe that kids have read all my books.  But I know kids have because I have met some of them.  There have been times that I have met kids who knew my books better than I did!

What I would encourage all kids to do is to read as often and widely as possible.  If they like sports, they should read the sports section in their local newspaper.  Get a subscription to Sports Illustrated or ESPN the magazine.

I remember when I was young, my father encouraged me to read the sports section of the Boston newspapers.  But after a while, he would only give me the sports section after I had read the front pages.  This helped me develop a life-long interest in politics and current events.

Finally, my parents always encouraged reading.  They said we (the 7 kids in the family) should always be reading something.  If someone asked us what we were reading we should always have an answer.  Sure enough, we all turned out to be readers.

My point is that kids (and their parents) should make a habit of reading.  Find what you are interested in and then find a book about that subject.  It isn’t hard but it takes more effort than turning on the TV or checking your phone.  There are so many terrific writers for kids these days that if kids say they can’t find anything to read they aren’t really trying.

If they like my books they should know my next book – a football book – will be published in the Fall of 2019.

Thanks to Fred Bowen for these wonderful answers! I know I'll be looking for that football book next year! 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Book Review: Lucky Enough by Fred Bowen (2018)

Lucky Enough is another great read from Fred Bowen, who consistently writes engaging sports stories for the middle grade audience. As he does in his other books, here Bowen combines real sports trivia (this time about the superstitions of famous baseball players) with an engaging life lesson (it's better to work hard than to rely on luck!) starring a child athlete who has been inspired by an influential adult (in this case, it's Trey's deceased grandmother). Trey is a sympathetic character, and the reader both empathizes with his desire to follow certain rituals during baseball games and understands his need to put in a bit more effort to improve his game. Supporting characters are also appealing, include Trey's well-to-do Uncle Dave who checks in on him and his single mom from time to time, and the groundskeeper at the ball field, Mr. Kiley, who is involved in the search for Trey's lost good luck charm, and Trey's realization that it may not hold as much power as he thinks.

This is a book with appeal to a wide range of ages. Advanced readers in the lower elementary grades who need novel-length stories with age-appropriate content won't find anything offensive in this book, but kids as old as middle-school age can still relate to Trey and enjoy all the sports action, and the details of things like player stats and batting rosters. I've never read a book by Fred Bowen that I couldn't wholeheartedly recommend, and this book is no exception. I'm already eager to read whatever he writes next!

Tomorrow, I'll be posting my interview with Fred Bowen, in which we discuss the lessons in his books, how he names all of his characters, and when his next book will be available.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Book Review: Out of Bounds by Fred Bowen (2015)

This week, I'm posting reviews of books by children's author Fred Bowen in anticipation of an author interview with him that will be published here on the blog this coming Thursday. This review was originally posted on Goodreads in 2015.

Nate Osborne and his teammates on the Strikers soccer team want nothing more than to beat their rival team, the Monarchs in this year's championship. While it feels like the boys might be willing to do anything to win, Nate learns from his aunt, who is also a soccer player, that there are certain unspoken rules in soccer about fair play and good sportsmanship, including a tradition where game play stops when an injury occurs. At first, when Nate tries to put his new-found knowledge into action in a game, his teammates and opponents scoff at the idea, but ultimately, they all realize it is better for the best team to win based on ability alone, not because of the other team's misfortunes.

This book is another great addition to Fred Bowen's series of middle grade sports books. Like the others, Out of Bounds uses a sporting experience as a means of teaching an important life lesson, and in an afterword, ties the story to real-life examples from sports history. This formula works so well, and Bowen's writing is engaging, lively, and easy to read. What stands out most in this specific story is that Nate's role model is not an older brother or a famous soccer player, but his aunt. There aren't many books where female athletes mentor boys, and it is an interesting dynamic to explore. Especially fun is the bet Nate and his aunt have about who will score more goals in the season, the loser of which has to bake cookies for the winner. There is also a greater focus on statistics and standings in this book than in some of Bowen's other stories, which gives it a nice STEM connection, and also appeals to kids who like both sports and math. Also notable is the dialogue, which rings true as the real talk of middle school boys, but without a lot of the vulgarity and toilet humor that is often associated with this age group. Bowen's books are not just interesting, but wholesome too, which means parents are likely to appreciate them as much as their kids.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Book Review: Double Reverse by Fred Bowen (2014)

This week, I'm posting reviews of books by children's author Fred Bowen in anticipation of an author interview with him that will be published here on the blog this coming Thursday. This review was originally posted on Goodreads in 2014. 

Ninth grader Jesse has never seen himself as a quarterback. That position belongs to his older brother, Jay, who looks the part. When Jay is not named quarterback on his college team, however, Jesse begins to question whether players should be pigeonholed and takes on the challenge of playing quarterback for his own freshman team, while also encouraging a female classmate to join the team as kicker.

Fred Bowen writes a regular sports column for children in The Washington Post, and his background in newspaper writing definitely shows in his fiction. The writing in this book is concise, easy to read, and never dull. Bowen has a knack for moving scenes along using dialogue, and for moving quickly through long periods of time without making the reader feel rushed. Jesse's story spans an entire football season, but Bowen only writes what is absolutely necessary. Very few words are spared for details like setting and physical descriptions of characters; instead, most of the text focuses on football itself, with plenty of scenes from games, and including only those other events which enable the characters to play or watch the game.

Though the main character is a teenager, this is very clearly a middle grade book, and one that could be read by kids as young as 7 or 8. The relationships in the book are all very supportive and healthy - even the ones between characters who may be rivals - and Savannah, the would-be kicker, is treated quite fairly by her teammates, and by the author, who does not exploit her character as a token girl in any way. The story conveys a clear lesson, as does the historical content provided at the back of the book, which highlights various famous sports figures who were hugely successful despite not always looking the part.

Fred Bowen is to this generation what Matt Christopher was to children of previous generations: a reliably talented teller of sports tales that will appeal to reluctant readers who like sports as well as sports-lovers who like to read. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

All You Need to Read Aloud

It seems like everyone these days is talking about reading aloud. There is so much advice and information out there about it that it can easily start to seem like reading aloud is a complicated activity that requires a lot of specialized knowledge and diligent practice to be done correctly. But really, when it comes down to it, successful read-alouds only require three things: a good book, an engaged adult, and a receptive child.

A good book: 

  • is well-written.
  • has beautiful illustrations.
  • upholds (or at least does not undermine) your family's values.
  • appeals to the adult reader.
  • appeals to the child listener.

Though you can certainly find book lists and reviews aplenty online, and these are useful when you are designing a homeschool curriculum or building your family's book collection, you don't have to have a lot of expertise in children's literature to choose good read-alouds. Reading a book to yourself even just once can give you a good idea of whether the writing flows smoothly or not, whether the pictures contribute to the story, and whether you like the book and approve of its content. (For longer books, pre-reading a couple of chapters can usually give you the same information.)

An engaged adult: 
  • gives read-aloud time her undivided attention.
  • pushes through feelings of awkwardness about reading aloud for the sake of the child's experience. 
  • models a positive attitude regarding books and reading.
  • selects books not at random, but with intention. 
  • presents a read-aloud with an invitation ("Let's see what this book is about") and not a command ("We have to read this book now.")

There are some parents who do silly voices and put on puppet shows, or who (like me) are former children's librarians and tend to turn read-aloud time into a full-blown story time. Rest assured, the parents who do these things are not inherently better at reading aloud than parents who do not. They do those things because they enjoy them, not because they are essential to the read-aloud experience. All that is truly essential is that you are ready and willing to read aloud. Anything else is gravy. (Also, don't worry if you don't sound like an audiobook narrator. Your kids still prefer your familiar voice over that of a stranger, no matter how unpolished it is.)

A receptive child: 
  • is calm and not in the midst of a meltdown.
  • is not already deeply engaged in another activity. 
  • may already be looking at books or asking you to read aloud.
  • does not turn down your invitation to hear a story. 

Good books are steadfast and reliable; the moods of human beings (especially young ones!) are much less so. Though some experts suggest that you must read aloud for a certain number of minutes every day lest your child not get into a good college (!!!), it is much better to prioritize quality over quantity. Suggesting a read-aloud when your child is in a particularly ornery mood or tearing him away from his cool LEGO creation to read when he'd rather not just causes him to develop negative associations with reading aloud that can easily be avoided if you just wait for windows of time during which he is clearly receptive to hearing stories. Watching for those opportunities is a much better way to spend your energy than trying to force a regular reading schedule.

Want to see how reading aloud looks in my family? Check out the Read-at-Home Kids Report, my monthly-ish feature where I share the books my three girls are enjoying. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Reading Through History: Front Desk by Kelly Yang (2018)

In 1990s California, Mia is the daughter of first generation Chinese immigrants. Though her parents were professionals in China, jobs are harder to come by in the  U.S., and the family finds itself managing a hotel whose cruel owner treats Mia's parents very poorly, often failing to keep his word and exploiting their desperation for work for his own gain. Because her parents don't make much money, Mia doesn't have many of the luxuries enjoyed by her classmates, which can be painful at times, but she makes the most of her situation, often manning the front desk at the hotel and becoming friends with the "weeklies" who live there all the time and with the various Chinese immigrants her parents secretly allow to stay there without paying. At school, she also makes friends with Lupe, a fellow immigrant and tries to steer clear of the hotel owner's son, Jason.

Front Desk has all the qualities of an excellent middle grade novel: a strong plot grounded in the author's real-life experiences, a believable protagonist who infuses the story with hope, despite the many hardships she must endure, a mostly black-and-white sense of right and wrong and a great setting with lots of lively supporting characters. I sat down to read just one chapter of the ARC (from Edelweiss) before bed one night, figuring I'd read the book over a period of several days. Two hours later, it was 2 in the morning and I'd read the entire book. It is absolutely engaging from start to finish, and absolutely worthy of the praise it has been receiving from reviewers.

In recent years, I have been fairly disgusted with the way ALA has politicized its awards, but while I have mostly lost faith in that organization, I do think this book is as worthy of recognition as many of my favorite Newbery-winning titles from decades past. Kelly Yang is an excellent writer, and she manages to make a grim set of circumstances fun and entertaining to read about in a way that still feels respectful of the seriousness of the situation. She also keeps everything age-appropriate and mostly avoids preaching at the reader. It's definitely in the top 5 books I've read so far this year, and I will cross my fingers that it receives some formal recognition. 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Book Review: Goodbye, Chicken Little by Betsy Byars (1979)

Ever since his father died in a coal mining disaster, Jimmie Little has been very fearful. When, on a dare, his uncle Pete drunkenly walks out on thin ice and drowns, Jimmie witnesses the whole thing, and he and his mother both blame Jimmie for not stepping in to prevent the accident. When the surviving family members gather in memory of Pete, however, it becomes clear to Jimmie that he doesn't need to be afraid of facing life head-on because he can draw strength from his relatives.

This book is one of the author's weakest. Though the subject matter should be very emotional, the writing style feels very detached, and it's hard to get into Jimmie's mindset. I was thankful in some ways that she didn't dwell more on the horror of Jimmie's uncle dying before his eyes, but I also felt that for an author who usually shows such empathy for her young characters, she didn't really have any for her protagonist this time around. While it is certainly comforting to surround oneself with family, it seems like, after losing both his dad and his uncle to accidents, Jimmie should probably need something more than a single family reunion to bounce back. The stakes were just too high in this book; Byars does better when the drama of a story takes place within typical everyday occurrences.

If you need a book about grief and loss for kids, you're much better off with either On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer (which is short like this book,  but deeper) or the quintessential Bridge to Terabithia. Even big Byars fans, of which I am one, will find this book difficult to like.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Book Review: Why Can't I Be You by Melissa Walker (2018)

Like last year's Let's Pretend We Never Met, Why Can't I Be You is another strong and engaging middle grade friendship story from Melissa Walker. Claire and Ronan, who live in the same trailer park, have been friends for a long time, but this summer things feel different. Ronan's dad, who has been away from the family for a while, has now returned, but his mental health is questionable. Claire's other good friend, Breanna, has recently moved to a fancy big house with a pool and other amenities of which Claire can only dream, and she has started hanging around with her cousin, Eden, who acts much more sophisticated than Breanna despite being only one year older. Claire is worried about Ronan, jealous of Breanna and both irritated and fascinated by Eden, and she finds herself feeling more and more isolated as the summer wears on, leading her to question whether it might be easier to be someone else.

As the title suggests, this book focuses a lot on the idea that "the grass is always greener on the other side." Each of the characters sees something desirable in another character's life. Claire longs for Breanna's material goods, while Ronan wishes his dad was more like Claire's. Claire wonders if boys will ever look at her the way they look at Eden, and Breanna longs for the simplicity of her former life, when wealth didn't dictate her family's every move. While the characters each grapple with their desires to be someone else, they miss opportunities to show empathy toward one another and to support each other as friends during their times of difficulty. In middle school, kids often feel as though the events of their lives are completely unique to them, and that everyone around them is perfectly happy and well-adjusted. I appreciate that this book shows that every kid has something that makes them insecure and that recognizing that and seeking to help each other through it is the best way to handle it.

I also thought it was interesting to explore how changes in socioeconomic status can affect friendships at this age. So many middle grade friendship stories exist in a vague middle class universe where the characters seem to have whatever material objects the plot deems necessary. This book felt a little more real because the characters did feel the limitations of their financial situations. It was also nice not to have the novel consumed by a lot of romance. Eden is the only character who seems really interested in dating, and Claire finds this puzzling. Often boy/girl best friendships in books like this devolve into ill-fated dating relationships; the friendship at the heart of this book felt all the more believable because that doesn't happen.

Melissa Walker has really hit a sweet spot at the middle grade level with this believable story of how friendships often change as adolescence hits. I hope there will be more books like this from her in the future! (Thanks to Edelweiss for the digital review copy.)

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge: July 2018 Link-Up

I took this month off from book reviews, but here is the link-up post for your "old school" book reviews from July. Leave your links in comments!

Monday, July 30, 2018

The RAHM Report for 7/30/18

It's moving week! But first, here's what I read last week. (I'll be back with another RAHM Report in two weeks. I doubt I will get much reading done during the move.)

Finished Reading

  • No Biking in the House Without a Helmet by Melissa Fay Greene ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I stumbled upon this book when I was looking for titles starting with N that would count for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge. I ended up finishing it in two nights. I tend to enjoy parenting memoirs and this one, about adopting five children internationally after raising four biological kids, was one of the most engaging I've read. 
  • Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen, read by Taylor Meskimen ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I liked this book  even more during this re-reading than I did when I read it the first time. I was so stressed out by Sidney's parents' questionable decisions (including inviting an obvious predator to stay alone with her in their home!) but I think it might be the best-written Dessen book. 
  • Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens (ARC) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I love this series so much, and I'm always disappointed when each book goes by so quickly. I read this for a Christmas in July read-a-thon at Seasons of Reading, and though it wasn't quite as good as the previous volume, it was still another great addition to a wonderful series. I'll post a review on Goodreads when the publication date gets a little closer.
  • Katie's Rescue by Pamela Tracy ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I needed a book to fulfill the letter K for Alphabet Soup and found this on Hoopla. I think it's the best-written Harlequin Heartwarming book I've read to date, and I actually liked that it focused on a lot of other things besides the romance. The animal rescue park setting was also very appealing. I much prefer reading about wild animals and zoo animals than house pets.

Currently Reading

  • Listen to Your Heart by Kasie West, audiobook read by Nora Hunter 64%
    I wanted to start a quick audiobook since I won't have time to finish a long one. Kasie West reminds me of Sarah Dessen, so I decided another one of her books would be a good choice. This story about a girl who reluctantly co-hosts her school's advice podcast is well-written and even after reading more than half the story, I'm still not sure how things will turn out. 
  • Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres 62%
    I am not as into this book as I'd hoped, but I've read so much of it at this point, and it's so quick, that I've decided to stick with it. There's nothing really wrong with it; it's just like a lot of other middle grade novels. 
  • Dim Sum of All Fears by Vivien Chien 32%
    I'm still enjoying this one, but I'm reading it slowly to make it last a while. 
  • By Invitation Only by Dorothea Benton Frank 30%
    I kind of forgot about this book for most of the week, but I got back into it a little bit over the weekend and I really do like the characters. 
  • Read and Gone by Allison Brook (ARC) 2%
    I've only just started this ARC, but I'm hoping to finish it before the end of the Christmas in July read-a-thon tomorrow. 
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Sarah Dessen's Summer Spirit

I first discovered Sarah Dessen at the age of 15 when I found That Summer on the shelf in the young adult section at the Wallkill Public Library. I checked it out (and read it) multiple times, and I loved it so much that when it came out in paperback, I made sure to get a copy for myself. I also wrote to Sarah Dessen who, at the time, had only published one novel and therefore had time to write back to me. (I still have her letter, which I recently shared on Instagram.) For the past 20 years, I have read every one of her books as it has been published, but I had never gone back to re-read any of them. This summer, I decided to revisit a selection of the books by listening to their audio recordings. Today I want to share how each of these books perfectly captures the spirit of the summer season. (This post was inspired by Blog All About It's July prompt of "spirit.")

Keeping the Moon introduces Colie, daughter of fitness guru Kiki Sparks. While her mom is on tour, Colie comes to the beach town of Colby, North Carolina, to stay with her eccentric Aunt Mira. Here she meets 20-something best friends Morgan and Isabel, who work at the Last Chance diner, and Norman, a talented artist who is misunderstood by his family.  This book highlights summer as a time during which great changes can occur. During her summer in Colby, Colie overcomes the anxieties that have been with her since the days when she and her mom were overweight, and she learns to accept the imperfections of life as her Aunt Mira has done. There is also an important scene set during a fourth of July fireworks display which, for me, brings back all the excitement and anticipation of being out with friends on a summer night.

In The Truth About Forever, Macy is trying really hard to be the perfect, practical, and reliable girl both her mom and her boyfriend, Jason, expect her to be. This has been her persona ever since her dad died suddenly of a heart attack, but lately, she has found herself wishing she could have grieved him a bit more instead of having to be the strong and steady member of the family. When she meets the employees of Wish Catering, Macy sees an opportunity to relax a bit and have fun without always being reminded that she is fatherless. As she is swept up in catering jobs, and also into a bit of a crush on Wes, she starts to get over her loss, but she also upsets her mom and jeopardizes her relationship with Jason. This one is a great summer employment story, which shows how coworkers can become like family, and how stepping outside of one's comfort zone for a summer can provide a new perspective on life. There is also a great scene in which Macy tells off her coworkers at the library job she took on as a favor to Jason that will satisfy anyone who has ever worked in an environment she hated.

Another book set in the beach town of Colby is Along for the Ride. Auden's dad has recently remarried to a younger woman, Heidi, and the two now have a newborn baby. Auden is spending her summer with her dad and his new family, but things aren't going so well, mostly because her dad is very selfish and refuses to disrupt his routine to care for the baby in any way. In the meantime, Auden's professor mom is worried that Auden, who has started working at Heidi's boutique and has made some new friends, is changing and becoming less of the studious and serious daughter she has worked so hard to raise. Auden also spends a lot of time with Eli, who has been distant from his friends since the death of his best friend Abe a year ago. The summer spirit in this book comes across the most in the preparations for an annual celebration called The Beach Bash, and in Auden's late night wanderings with Eli. I also love the role of bicycles in the story, and the fact that Auden has never learned to ride while Eli is afraid to take up riding again without his friend. Riding bikes is a great summer pastime and even just the cover of this book makes me nostalgic for the days of riding my bike everywhere. 

Finally, The Moon and More is also set in Colby, but it's from the point of view of a girl who has lived in Colby her whole life and wants to get out and see the rest of the world. Emaline's family owns a realty agency that rents summer cottages, so there are lots of descriptions of vacation-related problems. There is also a strong emphasis on transition and change, as Emaline's biological father and half-brother are in town visiting in the weeks just before her father's divorce from his son's mother, and Emaline herself is preparing to go to college, something for which her father had originally said he would pay, before taking back the offer without explanation. The Beach Bash also turns up again in this book, as do references to many of the businesses mentioned in Along for the Ride.

I know some of my readers are not big Dessen fans, but if you are, I'd love to hear which books of hers are your favorites. Which ones help you capture the spirit of summer?

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Memories of a Former Teen Librarian

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is a good one: books with sensory reading memories. I often find that when I look at a book cover, I am reminded of certain aspects of the story, and of where, when, and with whom I enjoyed that particular story. This seems to be especially true of the books I read during the three-and-a-half years I worked as a teen librarian (2007-2010).  So my list today is of the memories associated with some of the YA books I read, recommended to teens, and purchased for my library's collection during that time.

  • Dream Factory by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler 
    Though librarians like to say they don't sit at their desks and read all day, there were many days in this job where I did just that. This book - about teens who take jobs at Disney World after the regular workers go on strike -  was one that I distinctly remember finishing in one sitting on a particularly slow day. 
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher 
    All the teen employees at the library as well as their teen patron friends could not get enough of this book. I had multiple kids recommend it to me, which is probably the only reason I actually read it. I loved it back then, but I would like to revisit the book now that I'm a parent to see if my perspective has changed.
  • The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin  
    I read this book for an annual local conference called Fall Into Books. The basic plot revolves around two kids dealing with their abusive mom. I remember that one of the teen boys who hung out at the library a lot also read it, and it seemed to put his issues with his own mom into perspective.

  • Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer  
    This book made the rounds of the staff, and we were all just totally blown away by the concept - that the moon is knocked out of its orbit and Earth is affected in unexpected ways. For days after reading it, my coworkers and I would look up at the moon on our way out the door and comment on how realistic the book had been. I did read the second book, but somehow never finished the series.
  • Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
    My memory of this book is of wanting to throw it across the room, (and of actually doing so at the children's circulation desk at the moment when Jacob imprints on Reneesme.) I was worried the teens would disown me for hating it, but it actually sparked a lot of good discussions and quite of few of the kids wound up not liking it either. [My scathing Goodreads review from August 2008].
  • If I Stay by Gayle Forman 
    I read the end this book during my lunch one day and had to keep myself from crying so I could go back out the desk and resume my duties. I never did read the sequel because I was afraid it would be too emotional, and I gave the book a fairly negative review! [My Goodreads review from December 2009.] 
  • The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti 
    This was another book that sparked some great discussions with the teens who hung out at my desk during the summer. It was interesting to me how cynical fifteen-year-olds already were about dating, but I also remember them having very astute observations about the way men were treated in the story. [My Goodreads review from July 2009.]

  • Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan 
    I got permission to take one of my teens to New York City for a Young Adult Author Night at the Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library. (We were an 80-minute train ride from New York City at the time.) That night, David Levithan read from this book, and I was completely blown away. To this day, it remains my favorite novel about September 11, 2001, even if not all of the content matches my personal values. [My Goodreads review from September 2009.]
  • Marked by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast
    One of the quieter teen girls who used to read several books per week asked me to read this so I could talk about it with her. I remember not being thrilled by the idea because it was fantasy, but then I did end up enjoying several of the series. That teen was so happy, and it opened her up to talking books with me every time she came in. [My Goodreads review from December 2009.]
  • King of the Screwups by K.L. Going 
    K.L. Going's mom was the children's librarian at my library growing up, and she was my coworker in this position. When this book came out, I received an ARC, which I was encouraged to pass around to the teens. We all loved it, and the kids were excited when K.L. Going came and did a writing program for them. 
Just seeing all these covers together takes me right back to my old library, and to the late 2000s. Have you read any of these? What do you remember?

Monday, July 23, 2018

The RAHM Report for 7/23/18

Finished Reading

  • A Mother's Rule of Life by Holly Pierlot ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I finished this in time for book club, and we had a good decision about how we might apply at least some of the suggestions in this book to our own lives. While I don't necessarily agree that a mom needs to routinize everything, I do like the general idea of trying to organize life according to the demands of your particular vocation. I will certainly have this book in mind as we set up at our new house in a couple of weeks.
  • The Losers Club by Andrew Clements ⭐⭐⭐
    This felt like a very different book for Andrew Clements. I liked that it was about kids reading for pleasure, but the details of the plot felt very forced in some sections. I'll collect my thoughts and post a review on Goodreads later in the week. 
  • The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, audiobook read by Allie Gallerani ⭐⭐⭐
    My original Goodreads review of this book from when it came out suggests that I thought it was great, but even though I loved the audiobook narrator, the story just didn't do much for me this time around. It especially paled in comparison to the other Dessen books I've been re-reading. It was worth it, though, because I finally got my 2013 book for the Family Tree challenge!
  • Tangled in Magic by Kim Ellis (review copy) ⭐⭐⭐
    A friend of a friend of my dad's wrote this book, and my dad's friend passed it on to me for review. I just finished it, so I'm still mulling it over but I plan to get a review up on Goodreads in a few days.

Did Not Finish

  • Decked by Carol Higgins Clark
    I so wanted to like this book, and I tried really hard to get into it. But there were just too many characters, and I wasn't invested in any of them, so after about 60 pages, I gave up. I feel guilty because I bought the book (though it was used), but I'm donating it to the Friends of the Library so they can find it a new home.

Currently Reading

  • By Invitation Only by Dorothea Benton Frank 18%
    I was looking for a women's fiction book that wasn't just a romance, and came across this on Cloud Library. I've never tried this author, and this seemed like a good light read to start with.
  • Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen, audiobook read by Taylor Meskimen 14%
    I only seem to remember one major plotline from this book, so it's probably good that I am re-reading it. It's not my favorite Dessen, but I'm enjoying revisiting it so far.
  • Dim Sum of All Fears by Vivien Chen (ARC) 9%
    I was so excited to be approved for this book on NetGalley! I've read two chapters, and it's every bit as well-written and engaging as the first book, Death by Dumpling. I'm sure I'll finish it quickly. 
  • Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres 8%
    I missed reading this when it came out, so when I saw it on Cloud Library, I decided to check it out. It looks like it will be a quick read and a good palate cleanser before I jump into my middle grade ARCs for August and September.
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The RAHK Report for 7/19/18

The first part of our summer has mostly been focused on our upcoming move to a larger townhouse, which will be happening between August 1 and August 6. But even in the midst of packing our books into boxes, we still find time to read a few here and there. Here are some of the titles we have recently enjoyed.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

I will readily admit that I strongly, strongly disliked this book. Pippi irritated me, and I really just wanted an adult to come along and straighten her out. But both Little Miss Muffet (age 4 years, 8 months) and Little Bo Peep (age 2 years, 10 months) absolutely loved her. We read one chapter after lunch each day, and there were times when they literally cheered when I picked up the book. Bo Peep now frequently announces that she wants to be called Pippi, and Miss Muffet has expressed interest in the other books of the series. I've decided it's fine with me if they want to read the rest, but it will either have to be an audiobook or my husband who provides the narration. I've had all I can take!

The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner

When I was cleaning out some of my childhood possessions during a visit to my hometown in June, I came upon the set of Boxcar Children paperbacks my mom read to me and my sister when we were kids. Knowing that Miss Muffet has been enjoying the Happy Hollisters books, I decided to let her try the first book of this series. It is now six weeks later, and she has read the first two books and listened to the first five in audio format. I am borrowing the audiobooks from Hoopla, where I have a monthly limit of 10 items so I've had to limit the audiobooks a little bit, since I also get music and books for myself from there. I have asked her to read the physical copies of the books she has listened to before we move onto the next set of audiobooks, and she seems agreeable to that.

Mitch and Amy by Beverly Cleary

Another audiobook that Miss Muffet has been enjoying a lot is Mitch and Amy by Beverly Cleary. Each time she listens to it, she seems to pick up some new turn of phrase. This week, it was "odd's bodkin," which Mitch uses as an example of the kind of fun language he likes to hear in books. She also marched up to me after being asked to do something and said, "You can count on me, Mom!" When I asked her where she got that, she said, "Mitchell!" For some reason, he, much more than Amy, has been the character to make an impression on her. I remember borrowing this book from the library again and again as a kid, so I'm thrilled that she is enjoying it so much. If she's going to keep quoting such specific passages to me, I'll probably need a re-read myself!

Gyo Fujikawa's A to Z Picture Book

Bo Peep is going through a stage where everything falls into one of two categories: "my favorite" and "not my favorite." This book, and specifically the page of babies for the letter B, has been placed firmly in the favorites category. She is constantly pointing things out in the book, and if she's not sure where she had it last, we all have to look for it until it's found. She doesn't really have the patience to sit and listen to the actual printed words, but she does like to discuss the details of every picture at length. She also enjoys showing the pictures to Little Jumping Joan (9 months).

The Complete Book of Flower Fairies by Cicely Mary Barker

I started reading a few poems from this book each day after lunch, and the two big girls have become completely obsessed with the different fairies. We have read the entire section about summer fairies as well as the A to Z fairies, and we spent a lot of time looking at the illustrations to determine which fairies looked the most like which of our girls, and which flowers we recognized. Last week, we even made some fairy wings for the girls to wear around the house. We'll be revisiting this one again and again as the seasons pass.

Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I hesitate to even mention this series right now, after the recent kerfuffle over the renaming of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award (which, for the record, I oppose), but it has been a major part of my girls' imaginative lives this year so far. It has been months since my husband read aloud Little House in the Big Woods, but there is not a day that goes by where Miss Muffet and Bo Peep do not play "Laura and Mary." This game usually consists of holding hands and walking down the street together or curling up together under a blanket. I don't see my kids echoing any racist ideals they may have heard in the books; what they have learned is the value of siblings, and how to be kind, loyal, and loving toward their own sisters.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The RAHM Report for 7/16/18

Finished Reading

  • The Rolling Stones by Robert Heinlein ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I really enjoyed this one. I think I should read more science fiction. I don't have the same problems with this genre as I do with fantasy.
  • Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, audiobook read by Stina Neilsen ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I am having a great time re-reading these Sarah Dessen books. Since I won't get to all of them this summer, I've decided to focus on the ones set in Colby, and it has been fun seeing all the connections between the characters. My review of this book is on Goodreads
  • The Summer of Mrs. MacGregor by Betty Ren Wright ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I saw this book on Instagram and borrowed it from Open Library. It was interesting and different than I was expecting, and now I want to read more books by this author.  
  • The Animal, The Vegetable, and John D. Jones by Betsy Byars ⭐⭐⭐
    I loved the writing and the character development in this book, but the plot was very thin and predictable. It is set at the beach, though, so it was a good choice for a summer read.
  • Midnight Snacks Are Murder by Libby Klein ⭐⭐⭐
    I had a hard time getting into this cozy mystery to the point that I considered marking it DNF around the 40% mark. But things picked up a lot at the halfway mark, and I wound up reading the remaining 60% in less than two hours. I'll be reviewing this one on Goodreads and NetGalley.

Currently Reading

  • Decked by Carol Higgins Clark 8%
    I was just not in the mood for this book this week and didn't read a single page. I feel like it might be a good one to take to the pool if we take the girls this week. 
  • The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, audiobook read by Allie Gallerani 22%
    I jumped right into another Sarah Dessen book literally 2 minutes after finishing Along for the Ride. I have enjoyed all the audiobook narrators I've heard so far, but I think Allie Gallerani is my favorite. She sounds exactly like I would expect Emaline to sound, and her voice still sounds normal even when I listen at 2x speed.
  • A Mother's Rule of Life: How to Bring Order to Your Home and Peace to Your Soul by Holly Pierlot 46%
    Book club is Thursday, so this book is the priority for the next couple of days. I'm enjoying it,  so unlike the last couple book club books, I am sure I will finish it. 
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Monday, July 9, 2018

The RAHM Report for 7/9/18

What I Finished Reading

  • The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis by Max Shulman ⭐⭐⭐
    I finally finished the last story in this collection this week. The stories were pleasant diversions and it was fun to see the inspiration for the sit-com, but the jokes are all very similar and after a while, they did get old. I don't feel the need to read anymore Max Shulman. 
  • One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both by Jennifer Fulwiler ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    This is my new favorite book. Jennifer Fulwiler's sense of humor really resonates with me and I related to her struggle to balance her interest in writing with the demands of a young, growing family. I both laughed and cried while reading and I think every Catholic mom should read this book.  (Also, the negative comments about natural family planning in the Goodreads reviews make me cringe. NFP Awareness Week is coming up, and apparently we need it!) 
  • So Done by Paula Chase (ARC) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    This forthcoming middle grade novel is really excellent. I will have a review on the blog in August after my reviewing break is over.
  • Revolutionizing Education in America: The TOTIL Method by Doris Leclerc Ball ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    My husband read this and then suggested I read it quickly as well. The author focuses on time on task and the ability of students to learn mostly independently once they can read. It was interesting information to file away for future homeschooling use. 
  • The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen, audiobook read by Stina Neilsen ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I loved this book much more on the second reading. There was so much I didn't remember, including the amazing character development and the issues between Macy and her mom. 
  • The Happy Hollisters at Sea Gull Beach by Jerry West ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I started reading this aloud to my four-year-old in May, but we sort of forgot about it for a while. Finally, I sat her down and read her the last three chapters in one sitting so we could finish it out.  

What I'm Currently Reading

  • Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, audiobook read by Rachel Botchan 50%
    I'm on a roll with these Sarah Dessen audiobooks. Because it has references to both Keeping the Moon and The Truth About Forever, which I just read, it wound up being the perfect follow-up to those even though I mostly just chose it because there were no holds on it at the library. 
  • A Mothers Rule of Life: How to Bring Order to Your Home and Peace to Your Soul by Holly Pierlot 19%
    Book club is coming up a week from Thursday, so this book will be more of a priority as that gets closer. I really like it, but I don't want to finish too early and forget everything by the time the discussion takes place. 
  • The Rolling Stones by Robert Heinlein 18%
    The dialogue in this book is really great, and the story moves quickly. I hope to be able to devote enough time to it in the next couple of days that I can finish it.  
  • Decked by Carol Higgins Clark 8%
    This has been on my nightstand for months, and I finally picked it up over the weekend. It's decent so far.
  • Midnight Snacks Are Murder by Libby Klein (ARC) 6%
    I started this because I thought I was ready to dive right into another cozy after finishing Italian Iced But it turns out I need a bit of a palate cleanse. Hopefully I'll be more in the mood for it by the end of this week.

I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Monday, July 2, 2018

The RAHM Report for 7/2/18

What I Finished Reading

  • Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen, audiobook read by Stina Neilsen ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I so enjoyed revisiting this old favorite which I read when it first came out and had never re-read. Sarah Dessen will always be one of my favorite authors. The narrator was also perfect for the story.
  • Italian Iced by Kylie Logan (ARC) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    This was a great cozy mystery: good writing, interesting characters, and a well-structured plot. My review is on Goodreads.
  • Why Can't I Be You? by Melissa Walker (ARC) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    Melissa Walker's books are consistently great, and I really enjoyed this one. I'll be reviewing it on the blog, probably in August.
  • On the Fence by Kasie West, audiobook read by Shannon McManus ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    After I finished Keeping the Moon, I wanted another quick YA audiobook. This was a perfect choice, and now I want to listen to all of Kasie West's books.
  • The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    This is my favorite Armand Gamache book so far. I'll post a review on Goodreads soon. 
  • The Sparrow Child by Meriol Trevor ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    This book really picked up after about 75 pages, and was really good from there until the end. I'll be reviewing this one on the blog in August. 

What I'm Currently Reading

Seasons of Reading's month-long High Summer Read-a-thon started yesterday, and I was having trouble deciding what to read, so I started a bunch of different books to work on during this week to kick things off. Here they all are:
  • The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis by Max Shulman 76%
    This one is a holdover from last week. I haven't quite gotten back into the mood for it, but when I do, it will be a quick finish.
  • One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both by Jennifer Fulwiler 46%
    Jennifer Fulwiler is an atheist-to-Catholic convert who writes about pursuing her personal dreams while also raising six kids. I saw her speak a while back, but I've been waiting for the book to go on sale for Kindle. It finally did this weekend, and I'm already halfway through it. It sounds like my book club might read it this fall, but I'm going to finish it now anyway.
  • So Done by Paula Chase (ARC) 24%
    I'm enjoying this story about middle school friendship set in a housing project. It's different from a lot of the friendship drama books out there and feels like it will be a very quick read.
  • A Mothers Rule of Life: How to Bring Order to Your Home and Peace to Your Soul by Holly Pierlot 16%
    This is my book club book for July, and I'm loving it as much as the Fulwiler book. It's the exact kind of book I need to be reading as we prepare for our move. (One month to go!!!)
  • The Rolling Stones by Robert Heinlein 11%
    My husband is listening to the full cast audio recording of this 1952 science fiction novel, and I caught a snippet on our ride home from church on Sunday. I can't stand full cast audiobooks so I borrowed the book from OpenLibrary instead. I've only read one chapter, but I'm already fully invested. 
  • The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen, audiobook read by Stina Neilsen 6%
    This is my next Sarah Dessen audiobook. I didn't feel like re-reading Someone Like You or Dreamland, and This Lullaby had holds on it on Overdrive, so I just skipped ahead to this one. I read it for the first time back when I was in library school, so it's been 13-14 years, and nothing feels all that familiar so far.
  • Midnight Snacks Are Murder by Libby Klein (ARC) 2%
    I'm not sure if I will really get to this one this week. After just finishing two mysteries in a row, I need a bit of a break before diving into another one. 
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Friday, June 29, 2018

Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge: June 2018 Link-Up

This is the Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge link-up post for June! Please share your reviews and posts about any "old school" books you have read this month in the comments. (Even if you haven't signed up for the challenge you're welcome to participate with anything you've posted about a book published in the decade of your birth or before.)

I reviewed one "old school" book this month:

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Mid-Year Goals and Challenge Check-In

This year is already half over! Here's how things are going with my reading and blogging goals and the challenges I'm participating in.


Read fewer books. So far, so good. I'm mostly keeping up with my goal to read 500 books.  I am generally between 15 and 20 books behind, but nothing so terrible that I can't catch up. I am definitely glad I didn't set a goal of 800 again this year.

Review more books overall, but fewer books on the blog. I have definitely reviewed fewer books on the blog so far this year, and will in fact not be posting any blog reviews in July just to give myself time to catch up. I haven't tallied it up, but it does feel like I have posted more Goodreads reviews this year than in the past.

Review books in a more timely manner. I still have some room for improvement here, but it's gotten much better. I have really been making an effort to review ARCs as I read them and to decide right away if  I'm not going to review a given book. .

Branch out from book reviews. I'm still working on this. The Blog All About It challenge has been helping.

Post blog posts to Facebook regularly. Right after I set this goal, Facebook changed its algorithm and I pretty much abandoned my page. I post here and there, but there is nothing regular about the schedule. They just make it too hard to build up a meaningful following.

Host a #bookstagram challenge.  I'm doing this in July! Check out #picturebookpicnic, which will run from July 1-31 on my Instagram @mrskatiefitz.

Keep a bullet journal. This hasn't been successful in the way I intended, but I have enjoyed having one book to keep track of reading, tasks, packing lists, moving stuff, etc. I may start using it more after we move and start homeschooling.

Stop getting the news from social media.  I don't follow any news sources on social media anymore and it has been great. I get the major headlines here and there and occasionally look up more information if I feel the need. But otherwise, not knowing what the Internet at large thinks of every news story has been a huge relief and I waste much less time in "someone's wrong on the Internet" mode.



A to Z Challenge hosted by Ginger Mom and the Kindle Quest I've read children's books for 20 letters. I have J, N, O, Q, V, and X left. I wish I could participate more in some of the mini-challenges and things, but there's just so much going on all the time that it's hard to keep track of.

Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas into a Good BookFor this one, I'm focusing on adult books. So far, I've crossed off 17 letters, but still need to read books for K, N, Q, R, U, V, W, X, and Y.

Author Love Challenge hosted by Berls @ Fantasy is More Fun and Michelle @ Because ReadingI've read 10 of the required 15 books, but if I'm truly going to complete the entire list of this author's books, I have 22 to go.

Blog All About It hosted by Herding Cats & Burning SoupI've blogged about all six topics so far. It's been nice to have some prompts to help me brainstorm new post ideas.

Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts at MidnightI feel like I can't break into this community. I comment on posts at different times during the month, but I don't seem to get a lot of visits to my posts in return. I'm going to keep working at it over the summer.

Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge hosted by Stormi @ Books, Movies, Reviews! Oh my! and Barb @ Booker T's FarmMy goal is to reach the Inspector level, which is 26-35 books. As of today, I've just hit 26, so I could technically be finished, but I plan to keep counting.

Craving for Cozies hosted by Escape with Dollycas into a Good BookI've read 20 cozies. I'm shooting for at least 28, so I have several more to go.

Family Tree Reading Challenge hosted by Becky's Book Reviews. I've read books for the years 1933, 1982, 1985, 2015, and 2017. I'm still looking for books published in 1946, 1959, and 2013.

Library Love Challenge hosted by Angel's Guilty Pleasures and Brooke BlogsI've been making decent progress on this thanks to ebooks and audiobooks downloaded through Hoopla and Overdrive. I need to read 16 more library books to meet my goal.

Linz the Bookworm hosted by Linz the BookwormMy goal is just to finish level 1, but it sure is taking a long time. I have these categories left: A comedy or a satire book ; Read a book by Nora Roberts; A book on a best seller list

Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge hosted here at Read-at-Home Mom. I've read 40 of the 52 "old school" books  I pledged to read, but I haven't reviewed them all as I had originally planned. There just is not enough time to review everything!

Writing Reviews Challenge hosted by Delighted ReaderI wanted to write 100 reviews this year, and I'm already up to 83.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Paging Through Picture Books: Seed School (2018); Do Re Mi (2017); My Favorite Things (2017); Poetry for Kids: William Shakespeare (2018); Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (2017); Swim Bark Run (2018); How to Catch a Mermaid (2018)

Here are some reviews of some recently published and soon-to-be published picture books (and board books!), review copies of which I downloaded from Edelweiss. 

Seed School: Growing Up Amazing by Joan Holub, illustrated by Sakshi Mangal

This book follows a group of young seeds (including one acorn) as they prepare to bury themselves in soil and wait to grow. The illustrations are very charming, the scientific concepts are explained really well, and the jokes included in the text are mostly pretty funny. I read this aloud to my four-year-old and two-year-old and they were completely enamored of it, and asked a ton of questions. For the preschool and kindergarten audience, this is a great way to introduce concepts related to planting and growing seeds. 

Do Re Mi illustrated by Miriam Bos
My Favorite Things illustrated by Daniel Roode

My middle daughter (the two-year-old) loves books that can be sung, so I knew she would enjoy these Broadway Baby board books. I was really impressed myself by how well the illustrations brought the songs to life even for kids who don't yet know The Sound of Music. Of the two, Do Re Mi is my favorite, but both have wonderfully bright illustrations in bold colors and remain true to the spirit of the original songs without spoiling the movie. 

Poetry for Kids: William Shakespeare edited by Marguerite Tassi, illustrated by Merce Lopez

My four-year-old recently memorized just a snippet from The Tempest ("Where the bee sucks, there suck I..."), so I shared this book with her, just reading the poetry aloud as she played on the floor. The selected passages are a good mix of the ones everybody knows ("Romeo, Romeo;" "To be or not to be;" "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" etc.) and some that would not necessarily be readily recognizable to the average casual reader. Most of the content went over her head, but I think the rhythm and cadence of the language was pleasing for her to hear. The illustrations are also well-done, and they match the mood and time period of each play and sonnet mentioned. I think this would be a nice introduction to Shakespeare for most kids, and even for adults!

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star by Joe Rhatigan, illustrated by Caroline Farias

This was a quirky take-off on the song in which some cats wish to visit a star they have nicknamed Twinkle., so they make plans to go to space. The concept felt a little too weird and silly for my taste, but my girls seemed to find it amusing, and they talked about it a bit at the dinner table the evening after we read it. For me, I think the story would have been more interesting had it not piggybacked on a favorite song, but instead just told the story without that gimmick. I probably wouldn't seek out others from this particular series.

Swim Bark Run by Brian & Pamela Boyle, illustrated by Beth Hughes

In this book, some dogs decide to participate in a triathlon similar to the one their owners are doing. That concept is already pretty thin, and this book doesn't do much with it. The illustrations are bright and cheerful, which did appeal to my girls initially,  but the "everyone gets a trophy" message didn't get far with my four-year-old, who said, "Mommy, they can't all win. That's silly." I also wasn't fond of the writing, which felt mostly flat and generic. 

How to Catch a Mermaid by Adam Wallace

I ordinarily avoid very commercial-looking picture books like this one, but my girls have been really interested in mermaids so I decided we'd give this book a try. Unfortunately, the rhyme scheme didn't quite work for me, and the focus was more on designing ways to capture the mermaid than on actually spending time with her. (I also thought it was weird for people to be trying to capture a creature that is at least half-human and looks like a person from the waist up. I feel weird thinking about the dignity of a mermaid, but it felt odd to me.) Good mermaid books are hard to find; alas, this book does not alleviate that difficulty.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Cozy Mystery Series to Make Your Stomach Growl

Though recipes in books are a major pet peeve for me, I do enjoy a good food-themed cozy mystery from time to time. Here are several of the cozy mystery series I enjoy that involve cooking and/or eating good food. (This post is in response to Blog All About It's June prompt of "growl.")

The Cat Who... series by Lilian Jackson Braun

While this series is not directly about food, its protagonist, Jim Qwilleran, does do a brief stint as a restaurant reporter in one of the early books. Later, when he moves to Moose County, Qwilleran dines at many interesting places, always bringing home some leftovers for his cats Koko and Yum Yum. Braun always includes detailed descriptions of these meals and the atmosphere in which they are eaten.

Noodle Shop Mysteries by Vivien Chien

Death by Dumpling, the first book of this series, was just published in March, and the second one, Dim Sum of All Fears, will be out this August. Main character Lana Lee is in her twenties, and she works at her family's noodle restaurant, which is part of a larger shopping center devoted to Asian cultures. In the first book, the murder victim is allegedly poisoned by a lunch ordered from the restaurant, but otherwise, the descriptions of food in this book will make you hungry for Chinese food.

The White House Chef Mysteries by Julie Hyzy

Olivia "Ollie" Paras is a chef at the White House in this series, which came to an end in 2016. In addition to compelling mysteries, this series includes fun details about working in the White House kitchen, catering to the needs of the First Family, and dating a secret service agent. The writing is consistently great as well.

Supper Club Mysteries by Ellery Adams

This series originally published under the pseudonym of J.B. Stanley focuses on five friends who form a supper club to help each other lose weight. The series has been rereleased in ebook and audiobook recently and a new title, Pasta Mortem, cowritten by Rosemary Stevens has just been published. The "flab five" enjoy a different type of food in each book, usually while trying to solve a murder that impacts the life of one of their own. 

Ethnic Eats series by Kylie Logan

There are three books in this series about a Hollywood personal chef turned small-town restaurateur. (Book 3, Italian Iced, will be out July 3rd.) I've only read the third book, but the writing is excellent and the plotting of the story is handled especially well. Like the Supper Club mysteries, these books focus on a different type of food each time so there is always something new to focus on.

Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny

These books are not quite cozies, but they are gentle enough to almost match the genre. They make this list because of all the delicious meals Gamache and others enjoy at Olivier's Bistro and at Clara's house. In fact, food plays such an important role in the series, that a while ago the publisher put out a Three Pines recipe book called The Nature of the Feast.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The RAHM Report for 6/25/18

What I Finished Reading

  • Our Library by Phyllis R. Fenner ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    This was a fascinating look at schools and school libraries of the 1930s. I enjoyed reading all the anecdotes about using the card catalog, luring kids to the library with the victrola, and storytelling. Though times have changed, much about libraries has not, and it was fun comparing the similarities and differences between then and now.
  • Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren ⭐⭐
    I tried a few times to read this as a kid and never got into it. As an adult, I just flat-out disliked it. Pippi is an obnoxious child and I don't find any of her behavior funny. My kids, however, loved her, and I had to read the entire book aloud. The rest of the series they'll have to read on their own when they're ready because I don't plan to read anymore myself.
  • Back Yard Angel by Judy Delton ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I found this book on Open Library after seeing a post from @yearlingreads on Instagram. It's a little slice of life story about Caroline, known as Angel, who must often look after her brother, Theodore, who is nicknamed Rags, because their mother is a single mom who is very nervous about her kids' safety. Angel was a believable and sympathetic character, and I'm excited to read more from this series.
  • My Backyard History Book by David Weitzer ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I read this book in two sittings as part of my preparation for homeschooling kindergarten starting in the Fall. We're going to introduce history by exploring our family tree and the memories of our relatives.

Did Not Finish

  • The House that Lou Built by Mae Respicio
    The writing style in this book was just too flat and straightforward for me. I didn't feel any warmth or humor, and then the main character and her friends started lecturing the boys in their class about the contributions of women throughout history, and it began to feel too preachy. I wasn't invested enough in the story by that point to stick it out, so I put it on the DNF shelf.

What I'm Currently Reading

  • The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis by Max Shulman 76%
    These stories are clever, but a lot of them at once gets old, so I'm still just reading a story now and then. I expect to finish the book this week. 
  • Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen, audiobook read by Stina Neilsen 49%
    Listening to this audiobook has been such a great dose of nostalgia for me. The story really holds up well, and I'm remembering how much I loved the book the first time I read it, almost 20 years ago. 
  • Italian Iced by Kylie Logan (ARC) 34%
    This is a well-written and tightly plotted mystery. I haven't read any others from the series, but that hasn't been a problem so far, and I'm enjoying all the characters.  I've been curious about this author for a while, and I think I'll be looking for more of her books after this one. 
  • The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny 28%
    I haven't been in a Louise Penny mood lately, but I am intrigued by this mystery and will get back to it soon. 
  • The Sparrow Child by Meriol Trevor 17%
    This is not my favorite Trevor book so far, but it does seem to forecast the themes that make her The Rose Round  such a perfect book. I'm enjoying it mainly because of that connection.
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?