Another Hidden Gem

mrcleghornLast time I posted about books that were not getting enough love at the library, I featured cats. This time: a seal. There’s something about animal books, I guess. There are a lot of them, and maybe a few lovely little stories get overlooked. Well, here’s a delightful animal story to share with young readers.

Mister Cleghorn’s Seal has an old-fashioned look to it. Maybe that’s why it has been sitting on the library shelf for so long with no check outs. But I might point out that sometimes a good old-fashioned story is just right.

The story begins with Mr. Cleghorn’s first day of retirement, which is an unusual way for a children’s book to begin. He’s lonely and he doesn’t know what to do with himself without his work, so he decides to take a vacation to a seaside town. That’s where the seal comes in. The young seal is on his own as well, and Mr. Cleghorn decides to take it home and bring it to the zoo in the city. I love the line after he declares his intentions:

“He was as surprised as everyone else after he had said it, but when he examined the words he decided that he meant them.”

Of course, it’s not easy to care for a wild animal and all sorts of comical problems arise with a happy ending for everyone. It’s a sweet story that would make a great read aloud for a family with kids of multiple ages. At less than 100 pages long, it won’t even take very long to read.

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Immersing Yourself in a Fantasy World

goosegirlAnd then there are those sequels I can’t not read.

I just posted about making time for sequels (or not), and then I found myself devouring a complete trilogy in just a couple of weeks. That’s rare enough, but add to that the fact that it was a fantasy story (not my usual genre), and you have something so odd that I thought it deserved its own blog post.

It all started when I wanted to share one of my old favorites with my daughter. Goose Girl by Shannon Hale is a fairy tale retelling that I fell in love with years ago. In the story, Princess Ani is on her way to the Kingdom of Bayern where she will marry the prince. Because that’s what princesses do. Various things go wrong that I won’t spoil for you because you should read it for yourself, and Ani finds herself on her own and not sure who to trust.

kissofdeceptionAs I was reading Goose Girl aloud to my ten-year-old, I started thinking about all the stories that start with princesses (or other noble ladies) facing arranged marriages. The librarian in me thought that might make a good list or maybe display, so I decided to see how many I could find. Somewhere along the way, I came across a book called The Kiss of Deception by Mary Pearson. It sounded interesting.

The SLJ review was pretty glowing: “Romance, adventure, mysticism-this book has it all and it just may be the next YA blockbuster.” So I placed the library hold and waited.

When the book came in eventually, I shrugged. Why did I want to read this again? I couldn’t remember. I hardly ever read fantasy. But I gave it a chance. Why not?

It began rather ominously:

“Today was the day a thousand dreams would die and a single dream would be born. The wind knew. It was the first of June, but cold gusts bit at the hilltop citadelle as fiercely as deepest winter, shaking the windows with curses and winding through drafty halls with warning whispers. There was no escaping what was to come. For good or bad, the hours were closing in.”

Something about the richly descriptive prose or the fascinating world held me captive as a reader. I could hardly put it down. My heart pounded along with Princess Arabella’s as she fled an arranged marriage to someone she’d never met. I was riveted to the pages as she made a new identity for herself, and I stressed big time as I read about the two strangers who arrived in town since I knew what the princess didn’t: one was an assassin sent to kill her and one was the prince she might have married. Unfortunately, neither of us knows which is which for much of the book.

When the book ended, I felt like my interest in the story was far from sated. I needed book two like I’ve never needed a sequel before, maybe ever. The few days it took to get it from the library felt like a lifetime, and once I had my hands on it, I gobbled up the story as fast as I could. I was thrilled to find out that I didn’t have to wait for book three. It was checked in at my library. I was less thrilled to discover that it was nearly 700 pages, but that wasn’t going to stop me from following Princess Lia’s story wherever it took me.

Having finished the trilogy now, I’m left wondering what to do with myself. I’ve spent weeks immersed in this world of destiny, deception, and danger. How will I go on when this story has ended?

At least I still have Goose Girl and its sequels to read with my daughter as she discovers the magic of a story in which a girl makes her own way and doesn’t let anyone tell her what to do.

Perspectives on World War I

summer100 years ago today marks the end of the first world war. In the serendipity that is my library request list, The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson appeared on my hold shelf about a week ago. So it was that I found myself reading a story about the outbreak of the war while my community prepared to commemorate its end.

In truth, I had placed my name on the waiting list for the book because it was on an “If you like Downton Abbey…” reading list. And it is indeed Downton Abbey-like in its exploration of the way the war affected a small English town. We don’t get a lot of details about what’s happening abroad. The story focuses on the personal rather than the political aspects of the war. It’s about lack of food in the shops, inability to travel, and changed career plans. But the part of the story that fascinated me the most is the portrayal of women’s lives at the time, especially the twenty-three year-old Latin teacher who struggles to be independent from the oversight of the trustees who manage her inheritance. It was another world in terms of how women were permitted to live, but it was a time of change.

If you like gentle stories full of historical details and wry wit, this is a good choice for you. If you are more interested in an account of the war itself, try Through the Barricades by Denise Deegan, which I wrote about here. Or if you want to read about the American home front, don’t miss one of my favorite books Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larsen.

On Sequels

atthesignoftrueand.jpgI rarely read sequels. Who has time for that? (Says the person who has also posted about rereading books multiple times just ‘cause.) The truth is that no matter what I say about lack of time, if I really want to read something, I’ll make the time . . .eventually.  If I am being honest, I would say that I rarely bother with sequels because they are usually disappointing.

Usually is not always, of course. I recently reread a book and its sequel that I’d read years ago and wanted to revisit. It turned out that At the Sign of the Star was just okay, in my opinion. I almost skipped reading A True and Faithful Narrative even though I had Inter-Library Loaned both of these books since my library system no longer owned them. But I’m so glad I gave it a chance. A True and Faithful Narrative told Meg’s story as she grew into herself, into the writer she had always imagined herself to be despite the obstacles before her as a female in the 1680s. It was one of those very rare situations where the sequel was actually better than the first book.

All in my own opinion, of course. But there you have it. Not all sequels are terrible. Some of them are even really good.

Other YA sequels you might want to make time for:

thunderhead.jpgThunderhead (sequel to Scythe) by Neal Shusterman – Both Scythe and Thunderhead were rather outside of my usual choices, but I could not put either of them down.  Seriously, if you like dystopian novels that explore ethics and ideas while telling a story that is brutal and compelling, you need to read both of these books. Actually the School Library Journal called Thunderhead, “A rare sequel that is even better than the first book.” I’m not sure I’d go that far myself, but I will say that I will absolutely be reading the third installment as soon as it comes out, which is a super rarity for me.

empress.jpgThe Empress (sequel to The Diabolic) by S.J. Kincaid – Perhaps a bit like Scythe and Thunderhead, this science fiction story explores big ideas (what is personhood, science vs. religion, etc.) in a world that is harsh and full of deception. But here the focus is on the political intrigue at the emperor’s court where Nemesis, a genetically engineered bodyguard, is sent to impersonate a Senator’s daughter to protect her. There are unexpected twists and turns in both books, and by the end of The Empress, I am not even sure what to expect for the third book.

I’m considering reading The Rose and the Dagger (sequel to The Wrath & the Dawn, which is excellent), and I’ve been saying I’ll get around to A Torch Against the Night (sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, which was an unexpected favorite of mine) for ages.

Sequels I plan to read for kids: Patina and Sunny (sequels to Ghost) by Jason Reynolds. If you have yet to read Ghost, start there. You’ll thank me, I promise.

What other sequels should I be sure to make time for?

Happy Belated Dot Day

You may not have heard of International Dot Day before, but every year around September 15th many schools and libraries celebrate this holiday that focuses on creativity and connection. This year, I celebrated at the Twin Cities Zine Fest by inviting people to decorate their own dots and add them to our mural.  It was great fun to see how people decided to make their mark. My daughter and I had cut circles from all sorts of sources, so people could choose to build from a picture or words that was already there or start fresh on a plain dot. Either choice led to some fantastic pieces of art for our mural. Thank you to all who participated. <3

Some highlights below:

 

Let’s look at the Weather

Look at the Weather by Britta TeckentrupI found this book shelved with the nonfiction picture books at my library. Next to books offering information about weather for preschoolers and young children. This 100+ page volume stood out as different from the sea of 32 page picture books. At a glance, I thought perhaps it might be misshelved. Looking further into the book, I thought perhaps there was no section for this book in my library. No one place it belonged.

It is not quite a picture book, but it contains illustrations on each spread. It is not full of facts about weather so much as it is an invitation to observe and experience the weather as it happens. To reflect and consider. There are more questions in this book than there are facts.

It is not a book that is only for children, by any means. I often say that picture books are for everyone. My fifth grade daughter is probably sick of me reminding her that you never grow out of picture books. This is a book that proves the point. Hand this book to anyone of any age and let them savor the art and the text. It is sure to speak to readers of a far greater variety of ages than will discover it in the nonfiction picture book bins at the library, which is why I share it with you today. Don’t miss this one. Don’t let it sit in the bin and eventually be weeded from your local library. It is far too lovely for that fate.

The Summer of Stories

I didn’t manage to post anything on this blog all summer long, but I did manage to write this summer. The credit goes to my ten-year-old daughter. Story Club was her idea.

Story Club met on Friday afternoons this summer, usually in our backyard. It was just the two of us with our notebooks sitting in the sunshine. My daughter decided how it would go: guided meditation to relax, poem collaboration to get started, a reading of writing advice or a particularly good bit from a book, then ten minutes of free writing.

It was simple. The whole thing usually only took about an hour, though sometimes we got really into the poem and went long. But it was the best thing about my summer. Easily so.

I won’t lie. When my daughter put forth the idea of Story Club, I went along with it for her. It’ll be good for her, I thought. She loves to write, and I don’t want her to lose track of that while school is out.

It probably was good for her, but it was even better for me. I used to love to write. I wrote almost constantly. I was always scribbling in my journal or clicking the keys on my computer. Somewhere along the way I lost track of that. I still kept a journal, but the little books took longer to fill. I still collected story ideas, but the ideas never went anywhere. Those Friday afternoons in our backyard changed that for me. Story Club reminded me of something that I truly loved. And it gave me a chance to share it with my daughter.

Perhaps I still don’t write as much as I used to, but the creative energy I found at Story Club this summer led me to tabling at the Twin Cities Zine Fest this year, which I hadn’t done in a few years. Plus my daughter joined me at my Zine Fest table with her own zine this year. We spent the day surrounded by writers, artists, and zinesters, and we left buzzing with ideas and excitement for what we might do next. So many people who came by our table encouraged my ten-year-old to keep writing, keep making zines. They would tell me to support her in whatever she did, and I would think, Is it strange that she is helping me stay creative as much I am helping her? I don’t know the answer, but I’m glad we have each other.