The Year in Books

I won’t have a Book Pick for December.  Instead, here are the books I’ve featured throughout the year:

Picture Books:

Wild_by_Emily_HughesHello, My Name is Ruby by Philip Stead – A little bird makes friends and finds her people.

Wild by Emily Hughes – An quirky and delightful look at what cannot be tamed.

Children’s Books:

floraFlora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo – Funny and philosophical novel for kids

Mouse Bird Snake Wolf by David Almond – A dark fable exploring human nature.

The Fairy Ring by Mary Losure – Do you believe in fairies?

Teen Books: 

rapturepracticeFormerly Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham – Challenge your assumptions about people who look different.

Just One Day by Gayle Forman – For the romantic in you…

Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler – Glimpse a strictly religious childhood in this memoir that is funny and fascinating.

Adult Fiction:

FANGIRLFangirl by Rainbow Rowell – For the romantic nerd in you…

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout – A novel about family relationships and bridging cultures.

Goliath by Tom Gauld – In case you’ve ever wondered about Goliath’s side of the story…

Book Picks resume in January.  I also hope to have an updated list of my favorites from 2013.  My favorites from the first half of the year are here.

Keeping Christmas Simple

We’ve taken a step toward a more traditional holiday this year. Our DIY Christmas tree has taken several different forms over the last few years–some of which barely resembled a tree at all–but the same idea was behind them all.  We wanted to use what we had to celebrate.  We wanted a holiday that focused on creative reuse rather than consumerism.  This year we were given a hand-me-down artificial tree, and we have a small collection of ornaments that have been gifted to us, so our tree is pretty traditional.

In keeping with the DIY spirit of our holiday, we made a few ornaments out of wrapping paper glued to cardboard.  A pre-publication copy (F&G) of Holly Hobbie’s new version of The Night Before Christmas made for a few cute ornaments in the same way.  They were simple enough for our almost six-year-old to do with minimal frustration, and I think they look charming too.

xmastree

 

In all honesty, my favorite traditions are the ones that are different every year.  They are familiar without being tired.  They grow with us, but keep us grounded to our values.  That’s all I really want in a holiday.  More than elaborate decor or expensive presents, I want to spend time with the people I love, share what I have, and think about what we value.

May your holidays be full of love, hope, and happiness. :)

This blog will probably be fairly quiet this month, but you may check out previous years’ posts for more holiday related content:

November Book Pick: Wild by Emily Hughes

Wild_by_Emily_HughesI was all set to write about a proper adult nonfiction titles as my November Book Pick when a package arrived at my door that set aside my well laid plans for something completely different.  There was just something about Wild by Emily Hughes that made it stand out in the sea of picture books that I see or read about.  The 100 Scope Notes review called it “Sendak-ian,” and I couldn’t agree more.  Maurice Sendak’s books might have been full of the fantastic, but there was a level of truth to them that not every book even tries to reach.  Wild reaches right for a truth that might not seem terribly kid-friendly–that some things cannot be tamed–and makes a story that will almost certainly get kids thinking.

wildthingsThere might be something in the timing of my discovery of this picture book.  You see, it arrived (courtesy of the publisher; see the disclaimer below) just after I’d finished reading an advance copy of Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter Sieruta.  I’m sure I’ll be blogging about this one again closer to it’s 2014 publication date, but for now I’ll say that it is a kidlit geek’s must-read.  For all those readers who think that books for young people are full of sunshine and lollipops, Wild Things will clue you in to all the subversive books in kidlit history and the stories behind them.  It will whet your appetite for something that seems to break the rules the next time you’re browsing in the children’s section.  I think that’s a good thing.

Wild breaks some rules.  Grown-ups might not completely appreciate it at first, but I hope you’ll give it a chance.

Find Wild at your local library or indie bookstore.  Wild Things will be published in April 2014.  More about it here.

Disclaimer: Wild was reviewed from a copy courtesy of the publisher.  Wild Things was reviewed from an ARC via my employer.

Miss last month’s Book Pick?  Check out Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

Humanism, perspective, and being a joiner

More people are leaving churches these days than are joining them.  There has been a fair amount of media speculation on “the rise of the nones.”  I’ve followed it all with some curiosity as a “none” myself.  Little did I realize when the study was published in late 2012 that I would be trading in my non-affiliation for a church membership just one year later.

The first Sunday of 2013 I decided to try a new church.  It was a bit of a whim.  I was interested in exploring my options, and a new year seemed like the right time to test drive a new Sunday morning routine at the nearest Unitarian-Universalist society.  It was nice.  The sermon was about new beginnings, and it incorporated a guided meditation mini-session, which I thought was pretty cool.  But it didn’t stick.

Six months into the year, whimsy struck again.  I found myself sitting in the last pew back at that same Unitarian-Universalist church listening to a sermon about change–about life as a series of changes.  After a moment of silence, the congregation stood to sing a haunting melody in four parts.  The words “Who are we? Where are we going? Life is a mystery” seemed so light they could float.  It was really quite beautiful, and I decided in that moment that I was going to be back the next week.

duckrabbitSince then I’ve hardly missed a Sunday.  The sermons have addressed all sorts of topics from climate change and other social justice themes to various aspects of humanism.  I always leave feeling inspired.    “No two Sundays are alike,” the minister says almost every Sunday.  While that statement may stay the same, he’s right about the larger point. It’s always something new on Sunday mornings. This past week, for example, the children were invited to the front for a story, which was projected for the rest of us to enjoy as well.  They read Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and talked about how we disagree with people when we see things differently.  Do you see a duck?  Or a rabbit?  It could be either, and you don’t get an answer in the book any more than you do in a lot of real life situations.  You only have your perspective–unless, of course, you can listen to the people around you and consider their perspectives.

Have I really found a church that shares humanist values, embraces questions rather than answers, and uses picture books during the service as a learning opportunity for all ages?  I’m in.  I’m officially a Unitarian-Universalist.

Of course, regardless of my religious affiliation or lack thereof, the only thing I’ll be preaching about here is books.  Duck! Rabbit! is a good one for sure.  Highly recommended for families who are all about life’s journey with all its mystery.

Find Duck! Rabbit! at your local library or buy it at an indie bookstore.  Check out my For Secular Families page for more posts about children’s books supporting humanist values.

October Book Pick: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

FANGIRLA “nerd power ballad.”  I really can’t do any better explaining this book than that New York Journal of Books did with that descriptor.  Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is a love story about a girl who was too busy writing fan fiction to see love in front of her face.  No, wait.  That sounds too cheesy.  I’ll stick with “nerd power ballad.”

I guess I am a little bit of a nerd still, and I related to Cath as she fumbled her way through her first love.  It reminded me of being in college.  I was not a fangirl, but I did spend a lot of time in my dorm room writing endlessly.  I couldn’t help but cheer for Cath, and I can’t help but recommend her story.

Find it at your local library or at an indie bookstore.

Miss last month’s Book Pick? Check out Flora & Ulysses

Slowing Down & Looking Closely

“Let’s all slow down,” I said as I introduced one of my favorite picture books  in a recent presentation to a group of librarians and teachers.  I always seem to have a weakness for picture books that focus on little things.  Simplicity.  Patience.  Observation.

I suppose I wish my life were simpler and that I were more patient and observant.

I was reminded of how much I value slowness and observation as I listened to a recent episode of Pratfalls of Parenting in which visual artist Karen Kasel spoke of the role that slowing down played in her life and art–having kids forced her to slow down.  Now that her kids are school-aged, she wants to share the idea of slowing down and looking closely with them.  How do you convince a kid that slowness and patience are worth it when you have to compete with tech and all the other distractions we have?

I don’t know.  But I know that I would start with a few good picture books.

how-to ifyouwanttosee LittleBird

  • How To by Julie Morstad is one of my favorite picture books of the year for its look at the everyday beauty that we often overlook.
  • If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano is another good one for reorienting your perspective to the small joys.
  • Little Bird by Germano Zullo reminds us to cherish small things.

And for you?  Once you’ve let the picture books settle a bit, stop by the Hidden in Plain View exhibit–currently at the Minneapolis Central Library through October 26th–for several perspectives on everyday beauty from local photographers.  The exhibit is quiet and thoughtful.  The photographs contain people and places we’ve probably seen-but-not-seen a million times.  Here is your chance to stop, to remind yourself that there is much to see if we take the time to look.

hidden

Books, art, music.  These are my touchstones.  When I need to reorient my perspective to my values, I turn to these things.  How do you recharge?  What reminds you to live your values?

Thursday 3: New Teen Fiction

Teen fiction is my preferred reading material, and I’ve been rather immersed in it in recent weeks as I prepped for a presentation at the Minnesota Educational Media Organization Conference in which realistic teen fiction was my responsibility. Here are a
few of my favorites from my part of the presentation.

  • Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon – It’s a novel set in hospice care, so be ready to cry. But it’s also pretty funny.
  • The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider – This romance/coming-of-age novel reminded me a bit of Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas, which I loved.
  • Hostage Three by Nick Lake – I read this modern day pirate thriller in one sitting. It doesn’t come out until November, so add it to your library hold list now.

  • My apologies for the lack of links and pictures in this post. I am having some computer issues, and I used the WordPress app on my phone to write this post.

    It’s okay to notice

    “You probably noticed what’s different about me,” I said to a group of second and third graders this weekend. Their Unitarian-Universalist Sunday School class is celebrating differences this quarter, and I was invited to talk to them about my difference.

    I had two main points I wanted to share with the kids. It’s okay to notice, and it’s okay to ask. But kids always have their own concerns. This group wanted to know how my fake arm worked and how I could do stuff with it. Are you left handed? Can you ride a bike? Can they make a robot arm for you? Yes. Yes. I wish! :)

    It’s funny how the concerns tend to correlate with ages. Younger kids–the preschoolers and kinders in my daughter’s class–are less concerned with the mechanics of my prosthesis and how I live my life. They stick to the basics. How did this happen? Are you okay? These are more difficult questions to answer because the answers seem so incomprehensible to them. The idea that someone can be born without a body part just doesn’t make sense. And it often takes some convincing to get them to believe that my little arm doesn’t hurt.

    “Everyone is born differently,” I say. “This is just another kind of different. Like hair or skin.” Sometimes kids will ask the same question again and again with slightly different phrasings. Parents cringe with each question, but I keep smiling. I’ve been through it before.

    Back to this weekend, I read a book to the kids to close. Harry and Willy and Carrothead is about a boy who was born with one arm too. He’s a regular kid, of course. He even plays baseball. It’s odd at first, but by end end of the story, his limb deficiency is no different than another kid’s red hair. It’s my go to book for normalizing my difference.

    I recently found another book to add to my first choices to talk about being different. Maybe next time I find myself in front of a group of kids I will read Jacob’s Eye Patch. It is essentially the book I’ve always said I would write one day. Instead of being about a little girl with one arm, it’s about a little boy who wears an eye patch. He gets lots of questions, and usually he’s happy to answer them. But this one time he’s in a bit of a hurry. (I’ve been in that situation, and I always feel bad when I can’t answer a question.)

    It’s a great book, but I especially recommend checking out the website linked above for the extra material aimed at teachers and parents. It’s an insightful resource for potentially avoiding the awkward situations when kids notice someone’s difference in public and you want to sink into the floor because they’ve pointed and loudly asked “What’s wrong with that lady’s arm?” Now that I have a kid myself, I’ve been on both sides of that situation, so there’s no hard feelings when it’s me the kid is pointing at. I promise.

    It’s okay to notice, and it’s okay to be curious. Everyone is different in some way. Mine is just a little more obvious that most.

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    Thursday 3: New Picture Books (and one bonus)

    Fall is a great time for books!  My Thursday Three for today features three newly available picture books:

    welcometo whenlions tortoiseandthehare

    • Welcome to Mamoko by Aleksandra Mizielinska – I love wordless picture books in general, but this is especially cool.  It gives a cast of characters at the beginning, and teh book is part seek-and-find, part story starter.  My daughter and I have had lots of fun with this one. :)
    • When Lions Roar by Robie Harris – Robie Harris is best known for her sex ed books for kids.  Here she teams up with one of my favorite illustrators to look at the things that scare us–from lions roaring to parents yelling–and how to calm down when we feel afraid.  Great for preschoolers.
    • The Tortoise and the Hare by Jerry Pinkney – This nearly wordless version of a familiar story is just as good as the author’s previous Caldecott-winning work.  Beautiful.
    • Bonus: Moo! by David LaRochelle – Technically this book isn’t on shelves until next week, but it is one you’ll want to watch for.  Super cute and fun.  Also minimal words, which seems to be a theme with me lately.  Here’s a trailer:

    Miss the last Thursday 3 post?  Check out Three Recent Reads

    September Book Pick: Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

    floraKate DiCamillo has won a Newbery Honor for Because of Winn-Dixie, the Newbery Medal for The Tale of Despereaux, the Geisel Honor for Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride, and more.  So when she publishes a new book, the kidlit world pays attention.  Flora & Ulysses has only been on shelves for about a week, and it already has four starred reviews  and a spot of the National Book Award long list.  That’s a good start, I must say.

    I’d heard some of the buzz about the book, but I hadn’t yet had a chance to read it until I happened to catch Cathy Wurzer’s interview with Kate DiCamillo on MPR.  The author read the first several chapters of Flora & Ulysses.  I listened as the story began with a vacuum cleaner, then we were introduced to Flora Belle Buckman–a natural-born cynic–and the squirrel who may or may not be a superhero.  I found myself laughing out loud while listening to the program at my desk via headphones, and as soon as it ended, I went in search of a copy of the book.

    It was, indeed, quite funny.  But it was also pretty serious, in a way.  Philosophical too.  I mean, how many children’s books talk about Pascal’s Wager?  No matter where one falls on the believer/nonbeliever spectrum as far as Pascal is concerned, this book sets out to remind readers that it is worth it to believe in love, to be open to wonder, hope, and poetry.  I was quite charmed.  I hope you will be too.

    Find this book at your local library or at an independent bookstore.

    Did you miss last month’s Book Pick: Hello, My Name is Ruby by Philip Stead