Friday, October 28, 2016

7 Quick Takes: The Quotable Little Miss Muffet

Little Miss Muffet, who is almost three, has a sassy personality and precocious vocabulary to match. I share a lot of her profound, bizarre, or just plain funny statements on Facebook, and I also save them all in a Google Document. Here are some of the highlights from the past month or so.

On Her Behavior

Sometimes I make a special day a long day by being naughty.

This kind of serious self-reflection is unusual for her, but no one can argue that she isn't right. We've had some very long days lately.

On How Babies Are Made

Get a baby, mush her up, and put her in a mama.

This was after I explained how apple seeds grow more apples and pumpkin seeds grow more pumpkins. She is very concerned lately about babies growing inside of mommies, despite the fact that we are not currently growing a baby. The other day, she shoved a baby doll up her shirt, then pulled it out and said, "He's being born head first." 

On Her Baby Sister

I love you, little sister, my dear little blue eyes.

She is generally sweet to Little Bo Peep, and I think "my dear little blue eyes" is an adorable nickname. 

Upon Hearing the Bells Ring During the Consecration at Mass

Time to get up!

This was, of course, the Mass in the extraordinary form, and she was the only person making any noise at all at this moment. Later, Bo Peep, also made an impression when she saw another blonde-haired blue-eyed baby and suddenly flung herself across my lap screaming, "Babyyyyyyyy!" I think she thought it was her reflection. 

On Being Left Home While I Teach CCD

When I grow up to be a Mama, I will teach the big kids. At night. And I will leave my baby alone.

She doesn't actually seem to mind when I leave to teach on Monday nights, nor is she left anything even close to alone, but I can see she has big plans for her future. She often talks about what she will do when she is a Mama, and it typically involves typing on computers and writing with pens.

On Belief...

Mama! All Saints Day is coming!

This is only funny because she shouted it out while we were walking with the stroller after several moments of silence. Later the same day, she also randomly called out, "John the 23rd! John Paul the 2nd!" while eating her lunch.

...And Unbelief

Santa Claus is not real, Mama.

I had to be told at age 10 that Santa does not exist, so naturally I have no idea how she arrived at this conclusion. When I expressed my unwavering belief in Santa, however, she just looked at me like I was a complete idiot. I predicted she would be hard to sell on this idea. I just hope she doesn't ruin it for her sister as the years go by.

For more Quick Takes, check out the link-up at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fumbling Through Fantasy: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (2009)

Minli's family lives in the valley of Fruitless Mountain, where they are very poor and must scrounge daily to have enough to eat. Inspired by stories her father has told and aided by such fantastical creatures as a talking fish and a dragon who can't fly, Minli sets off to find the Man of the Moon. She believes that when she finds him, he will be able to tell her how to bring about her family's fortune. In the meantime, Minli's mother, who has previously been very discontent and displeased with her husband's storytelling, comes to appreciate the treasure she has in a daughter like Minli while waiting for her safe return.

This attractively designed book combines a fairy tale quest with retellings of traditional Chinese folk tales to create a new story about storytelling, family, and true happiness. The folk tales are told by different characters Minli meets on her journey, and each tale is given a context that makes the telling rich and relevant. Young readers can begin to see the relationship between cultural experiences and the stories told in a culture, and because characters from the tales come to life on Minli's quest, they become much more real to the reader than they might if the tales were simply read in isolation. Illustrations in Lin's signature style, known to most from the Ling and Ting books, also complement the text nicely and provide visual context for Minli's journey.

The writing in this book is mostly very pleasing. The story moves quickly, and the text would make a strong family read-aloud. There are a few too many similes in the book for my taste, and sometimes the tone takes on a contemporary flair that doesn't match what I expect to hear in a fairy tale. Still, the story is compelling and it is a perfect gentle fantasy for kids on the younger end of the middle grade spectrum. I look forward to reading the companion titles, Starry River of the Sky and When the Sea Turned to Silver.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Reading with Little Miss Muffet and Little Bo Peep, October 2016

As October winds down, it's time to take a look back at what the girls have been reading this past month:

  • Lately I've been trying to make more of a concerted effort to select books specifically for Bo Peep and purposely make time to read them just to her. She's a much quieter child than her sister, and sometimes it really takes that one-on-one reading time to get reactions out of her. Her favorite book, by far, is Baby Faces, which we originally bought used for Miss Muffet. Bo Peep pores over every page of that book, and occasionally even leans down to give the little babies kisses. There's a new 2016 edition, which I just borrowed from the library,  but though she likes it, it doesn't seem to compare to the original. Another baby-themed favorite I recently pulled off the shelf for her is Ten Little Babies by Gyo Fujikawa. Bo Peep gets really excited about this one, and squeals and shrieks and grabs for the book.
  • The grabbing of books is an issue when reading to Bo Peep in general, so, if I want to get through a full story, I often have to put her in the playpen and read from the outside. This has worked especially well with books that are not in board book format, such as Hello, Day! by Anita Lobel, and You... and Sometimes... by Emma Dodd. (Those Dodd titles have different titles in the US, but we own the UK editions.) We also have to keep a constant eye on her, as she has taken to grabbing paper books from the shelves, picking the spines apart, and putting the little pieces in her mouth. (Miss Muffet is great at spotting this behavior, but not as great at gently stopping her sister from doing it.)
  • Miss Muffet is now just a month away from turning three, and she is finally old enough to appreciate some of the classic picture books I've been saving for her preschool years. In one week, I introduced both Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. Her reaction to Wild Things - which I believe is the most perfect picture book ever created - was perfect, and I was so pleased with myself for introducing it at just the right point in her development. She loved the "wild rumpus" and asked all kinds of questions about the forest in Max's room, and best of all, she sighed and smiled with contentment when she found that Max's supper was still hot. You can only read that book for the first time once, and it was wonderful to share that experience with her. The Little House also grabbed her interest and she sat attentively through the entire thing. I would bet that she didn't understand everything that happens in that book, but her appreciation of it was enough for me. We'll revisit it in many times in the coming years.
  • Miss Muffet also seemed to develop her first literary crush this month. In the October issue of Highlights High Five, there is a story about a boy named Anthony who is afraid to ride a pony. Anthony's story was not all that interesting to me, so after reading it a couple of times, I forgot about it. Apparently, though, Miss Muffet did not, because my husband heard her talking on her pretend phone (a wooden block) to Anthony. When asked, she said he was just a boy she talked to on the phone. I figured out pretty quickly that he had to be a magazine character, since we don't know anyone named Anthony, and hadn't been reading any Anthony-centric picture books, but it was too funny that of all characters, he is the one who made an impression. Then again, when she was a baby, she had an obsession with the boy in the JC Penney Christmas photo ad in Parents magazine, so I suppose we shouldn't have been too surprised.
  • Finally, we have been using books to help Miss Muffet make sense of Halloween. Thanks to Big Pumpkin, she is now aware of vampires, mummies, and witches, but because of the lighthearted tone with which I read the story, she doesn't realize these are meant to be scary, and she reminds me frequently that they are not real. She has also enjoyed my childhood copy of The Biggest Pumpkin Ever by Steven Kroll and, my favorite, The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Library Haul: Story Time Contenders, Fall Favorites, and More!

Today I'm linking up with A Gentle Mother, who has a new weekly Library Haul feature! We typically visit the library every three weeks and check out a ton of books. Here's what came home in my library bag(s) this past weekend.

  • What's An Apple? by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli 
  • Day and Night by Shira Evans 
  • Baby Faces by DK Publishing 
These three titles were chosen specifically because of the girls' current interests. Miss Muffet has been eating apples for snack nearly every day, so What's an Apple? seemed like the perfect book for her. I sought out Day and Night specifically to address her questions about the sun and the moon, and how it can be daytime here and nighttime on the other side of the world. I didn't realize until I browsed the new book shelf that there was an updated version of Baby Faces, but I knew right away that it would be a hit with Bo Peep, since she is such a big fan of an older version that we bought at a used bookstore.

  • From Head to Toe by Eric Carle 
  • Hello, Day! by Anita Lobel 
  • Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by James Dean and Eric Litwin 
I'll be starting a weekly story time at a local church in November, and I don't own all of my favorite story time books, so I needed to borrow a few. I'm not sure yet which ones I'll be reading for the first session, but I like to have lots of favorites on hand when I start doing story time for a new audience. 

  • Halloween by David F. Marx 
  • Ollie's Halloween by Olivier Dunrea 
  • Fall is Not Easy by Marty Kelley 
  • Pumpkin Heads by Wendell Minor 
I tracked down these Fall titles, most of which I've read before, knowing they would be age-appropriate titles for Miss Muffet this year. The non-fiction title is to help explain Halloween in simple terms for Miss Muffet. I chose Ollie's Halloween because we love the Gossie series. It has already proven to be a good choice, as while we were still in the library, Miss Muffet plopped herself down on the floor, flipped the book open, and called out, "This has Ollie and Gossie!" I'm considering Fall is Not Easy for one of my upcoming story times, but it also ties in to Miss Muffet's fascination with the changing leaves. And I got Pumpkin Heads thinking that Bo Peep might like it too, since she loves faces.

  • Yellow Time by Lauren Stringer
  • Wonderfall by Michael Hall
  • Hocus Pocus, It's Fall by Anne Sibley O'Brien, illustrated by Susan Gal
These are all new Fall picture books I read about on various blogs and decided to try. I have liked Michael Hall's book in the past, and I really enjoy Susan Gal's illustrations, though not always the texts that accompany them. I can't recall how I found out about Yellow Time, but at first glance, I don't think I'll be too impressed,unfortunately.

  • Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Pak 
  • Pumpkin Moonshine by Tasha Tudor 
  • Halloween by Trudy Trueit 
  • Before Morning by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes 
This was my second time placing Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn on hold. Last time, it came in after we had just been to the library so it wound up getting sent back. This time around, I timed my hold-placing better, and it came in plenty of time. I've always liked Tasha Tudor, but have never read this Halloween book, so I'm excited for that, and I also love that the non-fiction title is a rebus, as I've been wanting to try those with Miss Muffet. I've been hearing a lot of buzz surrounding Before Morning, too, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it compares to Blue on Blue, also illustrated by Krommes.

  • Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin 
  • Thank You, Thanksgiving by David Milgrim 
I know it's a bit early for Thanksgiving books, but I knew they would probably be checked out by the time we go back to the library again in three weeks, and it's better to have them early than not at all. Thank You, Thanksgiving might make an appearance in an upcoming story time. I chose Cranberry Thanksgiving for nostalgia's sake. I loved the Cranberry series as a kid. 

  • Some Writer! by Melissa Sweet 
  • Wednesdays in the Tower by Jessica Day George 
  • The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness 
  • This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith 
  • Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley 
Finally, this is my to-read-on-my-own pile. Since my visit to the National Book Festival, I've been itching to try something by Patrick Ness, so I went with the title that sounded most interesting to me. I also really wanted to read Some Writer! after seeing Melissa Sweet's presentation. Wednesdays in the Tower and This is What Happy Looks Like have both been on my to-read list for a while, so I made sure to put them on hold, then I grabbed Gertie's Leap to Greatness from the new book shelf, since the reviews have been mixed and I'm curious.

And that's my library haul! What have you checked out recently?

Friday, October 21, 2016

7 Quick Takes About The Highlights Magazine Controversy

I have been aware of 7 Quick Takes, the weekly Catholic blogging meme, for years now, but it was only when I started this blog that I realized I could probably actually start to participate. Today I want to jump in with a post about a topic that I know will resonate in the Catholic world much better than it would in the book blogging or children's librarian world. It is the issue of Highlights for Children being bullied into including same-sex parents in their children's magazines.

This controversy erupted on Facebook early this week, after a same-sex couple contacted Highlights to ask why their family is not represented in any of the stories in any of the magazines Highlights publishes. Highlights then made a statement to its page, which appears to have been deleted, but screenshots of which are available in abundance online. In the statement Highlights tries to defend itself, saying: "For much of our readership, the topic of same-sex marriage is still new, and parents are still learning how to approach the subject with their children, even the very little ones. We believe that parents know best when their family is ready to open conversation around the topic of same-sex families." When this statement did not meet the standards of those commenting to the Highlights Facebook page, a second one was published to the Highlights website. The final sentences of the second statement read as follows: "This conversation has helped us see that we can be more reflective of all kinds of families in our publications. We are committed to doing so as we plan future issues." The conversation has continued on Twitter, and it appears that Highlights will now be actively seeking submissions that represent same-sex parents. As a Catholic mom whose preschooler is obsessed with Highlights High Five, I have a lot of thoughts on this topic:  

  1. The initial statement from Highlights about its readership's inability to discuss same-sex marriage with their children was an absolute cop-out that threw many of their loyal subscribers right under the bus. That second sentence, about parents knowing best, is completely negated by the first sentence, which essentially paints conservative parents as behind-the-times bigots. Thanks to the Church, I know exactly what I want to say to my children about same-sex marriage when I decide it is time for them to learn about it, and until this week, Highlights was a publication that could support that discussion. Now, not so much. It would be nice if Highlights could have responded to their critics without perpetuating the stereotype that people who hold these beliefs are just stupid. It just adds fuel to an ever-growing fire. 
  2. Privately owned companies should not make major business decisions based on comments from Facebook bullies. I don't respect people who post nasty family-unfriendly comments to a family-friendly Facebook page in order to shame an organization into complying with its demands. I also don't respect businesses who allow themselves to be shamed into changing their entire approach overnight by a handful of disgruntled Facebook users, many of whom are not even paying customers. Highlights would have done itself a lot of favors if it had just not responded to the drama at all. 
  3. I don't believe that all people must be represented in all things. There are many publications and other materials for children that do not represent my family's values. I don't go looking to pick fights with those publications, I simply spend my energy and money elsewhere. I would love to see a family praying in church in a mainstream children's magazine, but I don't take to social media to shame magazines into giving that to me. If I really need it, I'll find a Catholic magazine that can provide it. 
  4. I am really tired of conservative families being called bigots. When Scary Mommy picked up this story, it immediately jumped on the bigot bandwagon, saying, "If people boycott your brand because they’re bigots, that is a sword you have to fall on, as far as the rest of the population of decent, inclusive humans is concerned." Contrary to this statement, which will undoubtedly be embraced by many of Scary Mommy's readers, I am quite a decent person. I can be decent, and still want my children to be protected from messages that contradict their faith when their faith is still in the early stages of its formation. I don't treat people poorly when they're in same-sex relationships, but I also don't think the Church would teach what it does about marriage if it wasn't important for me to believe it and pass it on. 
  5. I am saddened over the loss of materials for children that promote traditional family values. If Highlights caves to their Facebook commenters, my Catholic family will no longer subscribe to High Five, and I imagine many other Christian families will cancel their subscriptions as well. Once Highlights caves, it will be just a matter of time before the pressure is on other publishers, and soon, there won't be any mainstream magazines I can share with my children. Magazines are not the most major thing in the world, but it troubles me that, while America is meant to be a free country, my freedom to raise my children according to my religious beliefs is becoming increasingly relegated to my living room and my parish. 
  6. As a Catholic mom, I will be carefully monitoring all Highlights publications that come to my mailbox over the next 15 months before my subscription runs out. If objectionable content appears during that time, the magazines will be recycled and my children will never see them. After that, we will no longer subscribe to any Highlights publication. It's a shame that Highlights couldn't be left alone to conduct business according to its own moral compass, but it's a bigger shame that it couldn't stand its ground as Hobby Lobby and Chick-Fil-A have done in the past. 
  7. Sharing about this controversy on my personal Facebook afforded me a wonderful opportunity to chat privately with a friend about my beliefs. Though we did not come to agree, it was a lovely conversation and I felt truly respected and listened to, and she also said she enjoyed the discussion. I imagine that some people who have only known me casually, or in a professional context, might be shocked to discover that I am "that sort of Catholic" (the Wrong Sort, as described by And Sometimes Tea), but I hope that this realization will prompt less vitriol and more friendly, well-intentioned conversation. 
Had you heard about this controversy yet? How will your family respond? I'd love to hear what others think!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope (1958)

Peggy Grahame's scamp of a father has just died, and on his death bed, he explained that she would be sent to stay with her Uncle Enos, an eccentric historian, on the allegedly haunted family farm near Goshen, New York. Peggy is skeptical of both her uncle and the supposed ghosts, but she is pleased to meet a young historian named Pat, who accompanies her on the last leg of her journey to the farm in hopes of meeting her uncle. Strangely, upon meeting Pat, Uncle Enos becomes enraged and forbids the young man to have anything more to do with Peggy. While Pat devises ways to see Peggy on the sly, Peggy begins experiencing visits from the ghosts of her ancestors, whose stories about the charming knave, Peaceable Sherwood, and his actions during the American Revolution, slowly shed light on the present-day problems between Enos and Pat.

I really enjoyed The Sherwood Ring's blend of fantasy, mystery, and American history. Having ghosts appear to tell their own pieces of the story is a very effective plot device, and I like the ease with which the author slips from the main character's narration into each ghost's monologue. The straightforward and predictable structure of each chapter really makes the story move along swiftly, and Peaceable Sherwood himself is the perfect likable villain, like Westley from The Princess Bride, or an American Robin Hood. (I wonder, in fact, whether Robin Hood's Sherwood Forest was the author's inspiration for the name.) Peggy herself is not that exciting, but that doesn't really bother me, as it is easy to imagine myself in her place and therefore feel closer to the action of the story. The ending, though somewhat predictable, is really satisfying as well, and though not every segment of the story is happy, I felt a sense of lightness and amusement at its conclusion.

Peggy is seventeen, and there is quite a bit of romance in this book, but nothing that would make the story inappropriate for some kids as young as nine or ten. Though some of the history is personal to Peggy and her family, all the details about George Washington make it a nice tie-in for lessons on the Revolutionary War. I also think this book would be fun to read aloud, especially if different members of the family could take on the different ghosts' voices. This book was a really pleasant surprise for me, and I'll be looking for this author's other novel, The Perilous Gard (1974.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Holling Hoodhood, Skeezy Tookis, and Other Ridiculous Character Names

This week, Top Ten Tuesday's focus is on names, and specifically on characters for whom one might like to name a child, pet, or car. One of my children was named in part after a Madeleine L'Engle character, but aside from that one name, there aren't many I would want to use for real people (or animals). In fact, one of my major reading pet peeves is quirky character names. So that's what my post is about today - the names in children's literature that annoy me.

Here is just a selection of names from some of the middle grade and teen books I have read within the past few years:
  • Truly Lovejoy, Cha Cha, and Erastus (from Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick) 
  • Galileo Galilei (Gigi) and Delta Dawn (Didi) (from The Truth about Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh) 
  • Skeezy Tookis (from The Misfits by James Howe)
  • Meadow Lark (from Found Things by Marilyn Hilton) 
  • Dickory Dock (from The Tattooed Potato by Ellen Raskin)
  • Quinny and Hopper (from Quinny & Hopper by Adriana Brad Schanen )
  • Sunny Holiday (from Sunny Holiday by Coleen Murtagh Paratore)
  • Sweet William and Agapanthus (from Cupcake Cousins by Kate Hannigan) 
  • Holling Hoodhood (from The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt)
  • Tink (from The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers AND Hundred Percent by Karen Romano Young) 
  • Silver (from The World from Up Here by Cecilia Galante)
  • Taco (from Anything You Want by Geoff Herbach
  • Chollie Muller (from Me and Miranda Mullaly by Jake Gerhardt)
  • Macallan (from Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg)
All of these names, except Dickory Dock, are used in realistic novels, not fantasy stories. In fantasy, names like Willy Wonka, Severus Snape, Bastian Balthazar Bux, and Bilbo Baggins work fine because the stories are set in their own worlds, and, generally, the names have significance within those worlds. But in realistic stories, it just does not ring true to encounter so many unusual names. It's worse yet when the characters in the story behave as though being named something like Sweet William or Skeezy Tookis is nothing out of the ordinary at all. I can only guess that authors choose these names because they are trying to make their characters stand out. And I can only argue that this is decidedly unnecessary. 

What makes a character unique and interesting is not his or her name. It is the character's voice, personality, quirks, and worldview that engage me as a reader. Some of the most memorable and beloved characters in children's literature have plain, ordinary names: Meg Murry, Claudia Kincaid, Bud Caldwell, Katie John, Nancy Drew, Billy Miller, Alice McKinley, Henry Huggins, etc. We remember their names because of the interesting things they thought, said, and did in their stories. Those things would certainly not be any more exciting if the characters had audacious names. If anything, I might take the characters less seriously and find their thoughts and words less sincere if they had names that sounded silly and served no purpose beyond quirkiness.

I would like to see more authors use the names of real kids in their books. That way, readers can get to know the characters for who they are, not what they're called, and there is a chance that every now and then a child will get to fall in love with a character who shares his or her name.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (1979)

The Neverending Story is a book that has been on my radar for a long time, but that I never really wanted to read. One major reason is that I didn't like the film, which I only saw as an adult, when it was shown on my college campus for Founder's Day one year. The other reason is that it was read aloud to me and my classmates on my first overnight class trip in fifth grade, on my very first night away from home, just after I was told that, contrary to what I had been promised on the bus, I would not be allowed to call my parents. For a long time, I have had a vague sense of this book as creepy and unsettling, probably only because the situation in which I first encountered it was so uncomfortable.  In any case, reading Momo last year changed my opinion of Michael Ende for the better, and I decided to give this, his most well-known book, another chance. I was definitely not disappointed.

The Neverending Story begins in a book shop, where Bastian Balthazar Bux, an average boy who has recently lost his mother, feels a mysterious book calling to him. Playing hooky in the attic of his school, Bastian begins to read the story, becoming more and more engrossed in the fictitious world of Fantastica as the hours tick by. It becomes clear, as the story goes on, that characters in the story - namely a boy named Atreyu, and Fantastica's leader, the Childlike Empress - can see Bastian, and that they need him to come into the story and help save Fantastica. At first Bastian does not see himself as a hero, but after he is eventually convinced to enter the book, his self image begins to change until he nearly loses his identity altogether. As the reader watches Bastian gain his heart's desire, she also worries that he may never be himself again.

One of the many great things about this book is that the text is printed in two different colors: red for the events of the real world, and green for happenings in Fantastica. This is an excellent way of portraying Bastian's gradual entry into Fantastica, and also very helpful to a reader like me, who always feels slightly out of her element in a fantasy novel. Following Bastian slowly into Fantastica, and knowing the exact moment that he crosses from the real world into the fantasy world made me like this book a lot more than I might have otherwise.

I also love that this book speaks intelligently to young readers (and adult ones, too) about the importance of imagination and the dangers of wishing and wish fulfillment. Anyone who reads this book can come away from it with something new to think about or discuss, and there is enough depth that a re-reading of the story could only enrich that experience further. There are enough unusual characters and strange events to keep the regular fantasy reader engaged, but there are also many layers that can appeal to very academic-minded readers as well.

Overall, I would recommend this book to readers ages 10 and up, and I would definitely urge kids to read it before they ever see the films!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

All About Book Recommendations

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is All About Books You Read Because of Recommendation. I don’t tend to read many books based on the recommendation of specific individuals, so instead I thought I’d share where I do find out about the books I choose to read.

My Husband

Probably the most frequent recommender of books in my life is my husband. (We are both librarians, for the record.) As I type this, I am sitting face-to-face with a stack of 30 or so titles that he has read and would like me to read before they get packed away until our kids are old enough to enjoy them. These are mostly vintage middle grade novels, with a few contemporary titles and even some professional books thrown in. I am tackling the stack slowly but surely, but it seems to grow taller by the week, and since there are also plenty of other books I want to read - books with library due dates attached to them - I don’t expect to get to the bottom of the pile any time soon. Still, his tastes are quite different from mine, and I’ve read a lot of books at his suggestion that I would otherwise have skipped, including Momo by Michael Ende, The Mitchells by Hilda van Stockum, and the works of Kate Seredy.

Book Blogs

When it comes to the books I borrow from the library, both for myself, and for the girls, I tend to rely pretty heavily on blogs. I would say that a majority of the holds I place at the library are a direct result of reading blog posts from either Jean Little Library or Ms. Yingling Reads, and the rest come from a random sampling of other kidlit blogs that I follow through Feedly. Typically, I will save the posts for later in Feedly, then periodically go through and add the titles to my to-read shelf on Goodreads. When I place holds, I just go down the list, searching the catalog for each title. It’s the best way I’ve found of keeping up with newer releases.


Another good way to learn about new books is through Booklist webinars. Booklist offers a few different free webinars each month, and often, at least one of them features a group of publishers giving booktalks about new and forthcoming releases. I don’t always end up reading the books I hear about in these presentations, but I like having the heads-up when a new title by a favorite author is about to be published. I also always enjoy it when Booklist invites authors to read from their new books.


The only person who really recommends books to me using the “recommend” feature on Goodreads is my husband, but even without a lot of recommendations being sent directly to me, I still find out about books this way. At least a couple of times a week, I scan the updates feed to see what my friends are reading, and if I see something interesting, I’ll click to add it to my to-read shelf. Goodreads is sometimes also how I find out that a book (particularly an older title) has a sequel, or is part of a series.


The final way that I seek out suggestions for what to read is through the NoveList database. I have access through several of my local libraries. By searching for certain keywords and subject headings, I can track down books on the topics that currently interest me. I can also look up a book I have already read and see if there are any others like it. I don’t do this a lot, but if I find myself dying to read a book for adults, this is often how I will hunt one down, as my own readers advisory skills are much better suited to children’s literature.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Fumbling Through Fantasy: Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George (2011)

Celie is the youngest daughter of King Glower the 79th, and the member of the family who feels most comfortable in Castle Glower, the family's home. The castle is confusing, to be sure, considering it can add new rooms and take them away at will (something that frequently happens on Tuesdays), but Celie, who feels that the castle is very much a living being, has an uncanny way of navigating the ever-changing hallways. This ability becomes a matter of survival when, suddenly, the king and queen and their oldest son, Bran, are presumed dead after a robbery on the road to the castle, and Celie's fourteen-year-old brother Rolf is named King. Because Rolf is so young, several parties become interested in overthrowing him and stealing Castle Glower away from its rightful owners. In the meantime, there are several signs to indicate that the King and Queen and Bran have not perished after all, but only Celie, Rolf, and their sister, Lilah, seem interested in pursuing the truth.

I really enjoyed this fast-paced story, where the setting is as much a character as any of the humans. A blurb on the back of the book mentions both Howl's Moving Castle and Hogwarts as a means of describing the Glowers' castle, and these are apt comparisons, but Castle Glower is also very much an entity unto itself, with its own quirks and mysteries that I imagine will only become clearer in the sequels.

The plot of political intrigue is easy to follow, even for kids who have no knowledge of monarchies, and readers will be fascinated by the idea of a child their own age being crowned king, and by the notion that kids their age could potentially save their home and family members without adult intervention. This is probably the most appealing aspect of the book: that kids, using their own wits, and the occasional immature prank, are able to overcome truly formidable and dangerous opponents.

If all fantasy novels were as quick and fun to read as Tuesdays at the Castle, I'd probably read a lot more of them. Happily, there are three sequels to this book: Wednesdays in the TowerThursdays with the Crown, and Fridays with the Wizards, with another, Saturdays at Sea, due out in 2017. I will be eagerly snapping them up sooner rather than later!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Reflections on the 2016 National Book Festival

On September 24th, I took a mom's day out and went alone all day to the National Book Festival at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., which is about a thirty minute Metro ride from where I live. Over the course of the day, I saw eight different presentations from children's authors. These are my reflections on each of those sessions.

Calvin Trillin

I first saw Calvin Trillin at the New Yorker Festival when I was a teenager. My father always liked his writing, and he really wanted to see him speak, so I tagged along. Trillin's deadpan sense of humor won over both of us, and we still frequently talk about that day, and repeat some of the stories he told. So when I saw that Trillin would be at the National Book Festival to promote his new collection of children's poetry, I knew I wanted the chance to see him again. Though he is clearly 20 years older now, that was about the only change I noticed. He was laugh-out-loud funny, even though a couple of jokes flopped, and despite accusations of "casual racism" in one his poems a few months ago, he does not seem to have censored himself at all. I think I was the only 30-something-year-old in the audience - most seemed to be people in their 50s and 60s - but I really enjoyed his talk and was not at all disappointed.

Doreen Cronin & Betsy Lewin

Of all the authors I saw, these creators of Click Clack Moo and its sequels were the ones I would most want to hire for a school visit. They were the only presenters I saw who tailored their presentation toward the kids in the audience, and they made a great team. Doreen Cronin is not at all what I imagined. In fact, before they introduced themselves, I actually mistook them for each other, but Cronin turns out to be a Long Islander with no farm experience, while Lewin is quite familiar with farms. As part of the presentation, Lewin took requests for non-farm animals from the kids and drew them on the spot, which is something I always loved as a kid. Of all the presenters I saw, these two seemed the most comfortable on stage and the least obviously rehearsed. 

Melissa Sweet 

There was a technical glitch at the start of Melissa Sweet's talk about her new kids' biography of E.B. White, and it seemed to throw her off her game a bit. She seemed very nervous and spoke quickly, as though just trying to get through the presentation, and she didn't really seem to want to engage with the audience in any way. The visuals in her Powerpoint presentation were gorgeous, but there were too many, and she ran out of time to get to them all. I left wanting to read her book, but I just felt uncomfortable throughout the whole presentation, like I wanted to jump up there and save her.

Aaron Becker

I was curious about Aaron Becker after reading the third title of the Journey trilogy, and I was really hoping to hear more about his thought process as he created these wordless titles. He did touch on his vision a little bit as he "read" Journey to us, but then he also seemed to run out of time before he could say all that he wanted. Since I'd already read Return, I was kind of disappointed that the whole presentation was basically a teaser for it, but the presenters do come to the festival to promote their books, so I don't think I can really blame him for that. Like Cronin and Lewin he was very comfortable on stage and seemed interested in engaging kids - and encouraging them in their art.

Raymond Arroyo

I really wanted to see Raymond Arroyo because of his new middle grade book, Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls. The supernatural elements of this adventure story are all connected to actual relics of real saints, and though the writing isn't really that great, I was thrilled to know that a novel inspired by the Catholic faith was being published by a mainstream publisher. Therefore, I was really disappointed when two people in a row asked Arroyo about the connection between his faith and his book and he just flat-out denied that there was one. I can't tell if he truly doesn't believe there is a connection, or if he has decided to downplay those elements to reach a wider audience, but I felt let down either way. He is the only author I know of with any kind of platform to represent Catholic values in mainstream fiction, and in my opinion, he blew it. I couldn't help but wonder if his answer to those questions would have been different during a visit to a Catholic school.

Sophie Blackall

Sophie Blackall was the absolute highlight of the day for me. Her presentation about Finding Winnie was well-organized, engaging, and even emotional at times. She shared a lot about the process she underwent in order to create the artwork for the book, and she also talked about her personal relationship to the Winnie-the-Pooh stories. I have always loved her artwork, but knew very little about her as a person, other than that she is Australian, so it was so nice to put a personality to the name, and it was wonderful to discover that she is just so lovely. I also appreciated the fact that she included A Fine Dessert in the portion of her slideshow where she spoke about her other books. After all the controversy surrounding that title, she could have chosen to leave it out, but I admired the fact that she stood by her work and didn't disown it. I would absolutely want to see Sophie Blackall again - and I'm definitely going to read Finding Winnie now! 

Jo Knowles

Jo Knowles was the only "teen" author I went to see, and I chose to do so only because she was talking about a middle grade novel, Still a Work in Progress. She told a great story about the influence of Robert Cormier and The Chocolate War on her writing career, which was fabulous, and would make wonderful school visit material, but toward the end, she became sort of overwrought about diversity issues, especially when it comes to getting LGBT books into the schools. Since she was mostly preaching to the choir, it just felt uncomfortable to watch her getting so emotional, even though it was clear she strongly believed in what she was saying. I want to read The Chocolate War now, though, so that's something.

Books to Movies (with Katherine Paterson and Patrick Ness)

The final session I attended was an hour-long evening panel about turning kids' books into movies. The guests were Katherine Paterson and her son, who have adapted The Great Gilly Hopkins for the big screen, and Patrick Ness, who developed his own book A Monster Calls, into a screenplay, and then a film. I went solely because I wanted to see Katherine Paterson, and to find out more about the Gilly Hopkins film, but I ended up being really intrigued by Patrick Ness. We did get to see clips from both movies, which was great, but I really just loved hearing Patrick Ness talk about writing - and shutting down a ridiculous question from the audience, to boot. Ness doesn't write anything that I would ordinarily consider reading, but hearing him speak really made me want to give one of his books a try.  

Overall, this was a great experience. I'm not sure I'd want to do it every year, but if there was another great collection of authors like this, I would absolutely go back next year. It was nice to just be immersed in a world of books and authors for the day, and to blend into the crowd and enjoy what they had to say.