My Reading Reports

I’m reading for you. That’s what I wrote in my VOYA article published earlier this year, and I really believe that as a librarian, I have a responsibility to read beyond my personal choices. That’s the nature of the job. But it’s not always easy. No matter how professionally I view my reading choices, there is an element of the personal in there as well. And personally… I sometimes get stuck in a reading rut.

In an effort to hold myself accountable for my reading, I started creating monthly reading reports. It was partly a desire to see what I could do with Adobe Spark, which I had just discovered, and partly a way to visually organize the group of books I chose for the month to see where I might have holes. These reports are more for my own benefit than anyone else’s, but I have been sharing them on the chance that someone might be interested.

Here’s what I’ve noticed: Without some kind of accountability, I would probably read 95% teen fiction with female protagonists written by female authors. Contemporary realism with a bias toward romance. Mostly written by white authors. Not too surprising, I suppose.

But, honestly, some of my favorite books this year has been outside of that particular niche. I read Adi Alsaid’s North of Happy because I realized I had read very little written by men. It was excellent. I read The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian Farrey because I was really lacking in children’s fantasy choices. It was easily one of the best books I read this year. The Diabolic and The Passenger were my attempts to read science fiction, and both were un-put-down-able, if I may use such a word.

While I’m not going to keep up these reading reports anymore, I will say that the last six months of making and sharing them has been helpful and educational. It has kept me on my toes professionally, and that’s always a good thing.

Here are the links to each month’s report along with the highlights:

January – Okay, okay… I know this month was too heavy on teen fiction. Note to diversify audience for next month. My favorite books for the month were The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon.

February – I was still stuck in my romantic teen fiction rut this month, but I managed to read more children’s books and a couple of mysteries. Favorites from the month: The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrill (historical teen mystery) and Alex Approximately by Jenn Bennett (contemporary teen romance).

March – So many different genres this month! Not terribly racially/culturally diverse this month though. My two favorites for the month were Posted by John David Anderson (children’s contemporary realism) and Eliza and her Monsters by Francesca Zappia (teen contemporary realism).

April – Focus is finally off teen fiction! I even included picture books and early chapter books. The focus on Latina authors was unintentional, but all four were good books. Favorite: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina.

May – I actually read some graphic novels for kids for a change. Favorite: Real Friends by Shannon Hale.

June – It was a busy month, and I was feeling a bit fickle as far as books were concerned. Favorite: The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian Farrey.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned here is that just because I have selected books more purposefully of late doesn’t necessarily make them into “assigned reading” that I dread reading or hate on principle. Does that mean I have finally grown up? Probably not, considering I’m reading 80% children’s/teen books. Still, I’m counting it as a win.  Honestly, forcing myself out of my usual has been full of fun discoveries and challenges. Six months into this, I am probably more enthusiastic than when I started.

A few recent reads

I don’t have the time to write something about each and every book I read.  I try to keep track in Goodreads, but I can never quite keep up.  In any case, here are a few sentences for some books I’ve read recently.

  • onceuponanorOnce Upon a Northern Night by Jean Pendziwol – I will freely admit that I have a particular weakness for winter-related picture books.  Like a good Minnesotan, I love to romanticize wintry weather for all the magic it offers.  This picture book turns the idea of winter into a lullaby.  The illustrations are striking and beautiful.  Well worth checking out.  Find it at your library or buy it at an independent bookstore
  • Emmaline and the Bunny by Katherine Hannigan – Technically, I suppose I still have a chapter left to read on this book.  I’m reading it aloud to my daughter, and we are quite enjoying it.  There are lots of fun words to say (dinglederrydoo and hoopalala) and plenty of alliteration, wordplay, and general silliness to make a good read-aloud.  Check out the author’s web site for instructions on drawing a bunny.  Find it at your library or buy it at an independent bookstore.
  • matteroflifeA Matter of Life by Jeffrey Brown – This graphic novel memoir of faith and fatherhood is a quick read full of real moments of life with a preschooler along with memories from Brown’s childhood.  He was raised in a religious family, but he has since moved away from his childhood faith, which makes for some awkwardness with various family members.  Brown won the Eisner Award for Best Humor Publication for his previous book Darth Vader and Son.  Find it at your library or buy it at an independent bookstore.

You can like this blog on Facebook for regular #Fridayreads posts.  As usual, it’s all over the map.  Some Fridays, it’s a picture book.  Other Fridays, it’s a teen novel.  Occasionally I even read books for adults. :)

Thursday 3: Great Read-alouds for Families

Recently I was in a bookstore.  You might not think that sounds like news, but it’s actually pretty rare.  Between working for a book company and being a regular library user, I don’t get to bookstores very often.  My daughter went directly to a spinning rack of easy readers with her favorite characters on the covers while I stood in the entrance to the children’s area taking in the view of all the books I have yet to read.  Frankly, it was even more overwhelming than the stack(s) of advance reading copies that are always piled on my desk at work or on the book cart that lives in my cube.  I mean, at least those books aren’t even published yet.  Here were all sorts of books old and new that either I want to read myself or that I want to read with my daughter.

Here’s the question that occurred to me as I stood there taking in all the books: How do you choose what to read with your kids?  It’s my job to know the good books, and I still felt overwhelmed.

In case anyone else out there is feeling overwhelmed, I thought I’d share a few recommendations for family read-alouds.

  • Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins – There are many, many books about toys that are secretly alive, but this book is near the top of that mountainous stack.  It’s funny and often insightful.  Not to mention, there’s the mystery of what Plastic could possibly be.  Why it Works as a Read-Aloud: There’s something about this book that appeals to a wide age-range, so for families with multiple kids of various ages, this is one you can enjoy reading with your preschooler and your primary grader.  
  • Violet Mackerel’s Remarkable Recovery by Anna Branford – I discovered this book at work and brought home the ARC to read to my five-year-old daughter.  We loved it!  Violet Mackerel is a delightful character with big ideas and creative problem solving.  We tracked down the first book in the series at the library, and we will likely keep up with the series.  Why it Works as a Read-Aloud: There are several instances of characters bursting into song that can be fun if you are willing to get into the spirit.  Also, the chapters are pretty short, so it isn’t a huge time commitment to read a bit when you can.
  • The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy – A cat who likes cheese who teams up with a bunch of mice to get what he wants?  It’s kind of silly, but it’s a lot of fun.  Why it Works as a Read-Aloud: There’s humor, wordplay, and references to Dickens and other British writers.  Some of it will go above the kids’ heads, but there’s a lot they will like here too.

Need more recommendations?  Check out this Family Reading Guide I created for a parenting group I attended.  Or the condensed version I handed out at the zine fest last year.

What have you been reading with your kids?  What have been some of your favorite read-alouds?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  A portion of purchases made from these links may benefit this blog.  Thanks for your support! :)

Happy Picture Book Month

Picture Book Month is almost over.  If you haven’t been following the “Why Picture Books are Important” series on the official web site, you have been missing some gems from picture book authors and illustrators as they write about what picture books mean to them or their readers.  Some of the authors have brought up visual literacy, inspiring imagination, and many other really great points.

I’ve been reading picture books as a librarian for nearly ten years now, but I’ve been reading them as a mom for just a few.  It’s mostly the same experience, with just a few differences.  The librarian in me is thinking about reading levels and audience, but the mom in me doesn’t spend much time with that.  My kiddo is her own girl.  Sometimes she likes books that don’t seem to be meant for her whether it be so-called “boy books” or sentimental picture books written with grown ups in mind.  You never can tell just what she will like.

For us, I guess, picture books are possibilities, adventure just waiting to happen.  They are the spark for learning, talking, and exploring.

Follow reading our adventures in my Picture Book Preschool posts, and stay tuned for books and activities related to colors, counting, and simple math!

How to Cat-sit (Picture Book Preschool)

We are cat-sitting, so it seemed like a good time to revisit one of Ladybug’s favorite books: Take Care, Good Knight by Shelley Moore Thomas.  In this story three little dragons take care of their friend’s cats.  Their friend left a note with instructions that included pictures, but the little dragons can’t read and they try to guess from the pictures what they should do for the cats.  Hilarity ensues.

For us the book was a way of talking about what cats like and don’t like.  The little dragons learn that cats do not like swimming, for example, and I had Ladybug come up with things that cats do like.  But you might also have kids try to interpret a set of instructions with just the pictures like the little dragons did.  Find other ideas here from the United Way’s Ready for School Initiative.

See the author read the story in this video:

Also, here are some tips from Cats International for those considering introducing a cat to a household that includes kids.

You may also be interested in my previous Picture Book Preschool post.

FCC Disclaimer: Take Care, Good Knight reviewed from personal copy.  Amazon links are affiliate links.

What Changed (Or What I’ll Be Doing Tonight)

They say motherhood changes you. “They” say a lot of things, but they seem to have this one right.

It isn’t like it was totally unexpected.  I had read Deborah Copaken Kogan’s memoir of going from hard boiled photojournalist on the frontlines of news to a woman all but completely immersed in the “mommy wars.”  And I’d read Alice Flaherty’s The Midnight Disease, which includes a candid discussion of her post-partum hypergraphia. I felt like I knew the risks.

(Do you ever really know the risks?)

My risks turned out to hit very close to my heart.*  For one–this is perhaps the least life changing–it altered my perspective on the books I read.  Children’s books had been my chosen career for years before I had a child, but once I became a mother, the stories had a new life.  I was not only in the young protagonist’s perspective, but I also keenly felt the mom’s point of view even if it wasn’t strongly present in the story.  Teen novels, in particular, often delve into mother-daughter relationships in ways that can be hard for me to read.

Bitter End by Jennifer Brown didn’t even get into mother-daughter drama, and I still struggled with it.  For those not familiar with the book, it is the story of a teen girl in an abusive relationship.  As I read, I kept thinking how unrealistic it was. She’s a smart girl with strong friendships. It wouldn’t happen to her. Or, at least, it wouldn’t happen that quickly.  Eventually, I had to admit to myself that it wasn’t that the book was unrealistic.  I didn’t want it to be real.

Books were the least of the changes though.  I wrote about some of the other changes in a zine (pictured right with another zine) called Will There Be Smoking? and other questions.  I’ll be selling this zine and others tonight at the second installment of a summer music series called Genrebeast, which brings together a diverse lineup of musicians.

If my writing isn’t enough to entice your attendance tonight, there will also be The Idle Hands, 2012, Dewi Sant, and FDR.

If you can’t catch the show tonight, I will be participating the the Twin Cities Zine Fest in September. Be sure to mark your calendar.


*I am not remotely implying that motherhood isn’t worth it. It is.  The zine actually focuses on what was a difficult but very positive change.

Wildly Happy Read-Alouds

Ladybug helped me out with my Books in Bloom post last week, which featured Read-alouds for Your Littlest Listeners.  I wrote,

In Reading Magic Mem Fox advises parents to “Spend at least ten wildly happy minutes every single day reading aloud.”

With this quote in mind, I set out to find some happy picture books to recommend as read-alouds to Books in Bloom readers. My three-year-old very graciously agreed to help. Her job was to listen and weigh-in on the “read-aloud-ability” of the picture books I chose. You should know that she is very serious about the “wildly happy” aspect of reading.

We shared a couple of our favorite authors, Karen Beaumont and Marsha Wilson Chall, along with a few others that were new to us.    Check it out, and be sure to tell us what some of your favorite read-alouds are.

Teachers, librarians, and anyone else who reads books to groups may also be interested in my list of Great Picture Books for Groups.  They all have big, bold illustrations that work even from a distance.  Most are fun–perfect for a group storytime at a library or preschool.

As I said in my Books in Bloom post, “Whatever you choose for your next read-aloud, be sure to enjoy it. Don’t worry about counting the minutes. The important thing is the ‘wildly happy’ part.”