Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sunday Salon: TBR in 2009

Here is a list of books I'd like to read in 2009:

The House of Mirth...Great Expectations...The Magic Mountain...James Thurber...Gulliver's Travels...Little Women...Rabbit, Run...Friday Night Lights...Farewell to Arms...Crying of Lot 49...Good Man is Hard to Find...Behind the Scenes of the Museum...To the Lighthouse...Invisible Man...Native Son...A Bend in the River...Pale Fire...Appointment in Samarra...Lucky Jim...Light in August...Passage to India...Palace Walk...People's History of the United States...Sun Also Rises...That Night...Waiting for Snow in Havana...Arctic Dreams...Fire in the Lake...The Elegance of Hedgehogs...Emerson Essays...Short History of Tractors...Old Man and the Sea...Quartet in Autumn...The Sea...Flaubert's Parrot...Once and Future King...The Yearling...Of Mice and Men...Black Beauty...The BFG...Three Men in a Boat...Suitable Boy...Love in the Time of Cholera...Miss Lonelyhearts...Yacoubian Building...Snow...Sound of the Mountain...Moon and Sixpence...Portrait of the Artist

Now...where to start?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Best Reads of 2008

I've read 314 books this year and there are still ten days to go.

I am a big reader.

It's time to list my favorites for the year.

Best Award-Winners

Things Fall Apart
The Things They Carried
The Great Gatsby
Wind in the Willows
One Hundred Years of Solitude

Best Books about Happiness
What Shamu Taught Me
The Geography of Bliss

Best Books about Books
Book Smart
The Uncommon Reader
The Book Stops Here

Favorite Newberys
The Westing Game
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Going Here and There
China Road
Voyage Long and Strange
Lost on Planet China
Queen of the Road
Ghost Train to the Eastern Star
Zen and Now

If You Want Bleak...
The Trick is to Keep Breathing
Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Out of the Dust
Last Night at the Lobster
One-Handed Catch
The Thing About Georgie
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
The Things They Carried
On My Honor
The Road
Acedia & Me

Practically Perfect in Every Way
Helping Me Help Myself
Reading the QED
Around the World in 80 Dinners

Garden Spells
When Will There Be Good News?

Newbery Books Sure to Offend
Daniel Boone
The Story of Mankind
Smoky the Cowhorse

Wonderul Kids' Books
The Hero and the Crown
Because of Winn-Dixie
A Single Shard
An American Plague
The Pepins and their Problems
Judy Moody Goes to Colege
(Cybils choices to be announced at the end of this month)

Wish I Hadn't Bothered
New Earth
Wishing Year
Art of Racing in the Rain
Zookeeper's Wife

Best Recent Nonfiction
Relentless Pursuit
Sundays in America
Beautiful Boy
Not Quite What I Was Planning
An Exact Replica
Cactus Eaters
When a Crocodile Eats the Sun
Reading the QED
Listening is an Act of Love
Proust and the Squid
Why We Hate Us

Best Recent Fiction
Olive Kitteridge
My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead
So Many Ways to Begin
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Last Night at the Lobser
Fire in the Blood
Unaccustomed Earth
The Road


My Top Ten for 2008
The Things They Carried
Things Fall Apart
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Olive Kitteridge
My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead
Relentless Pursuit
Beautiful Boy
Wind in the Willows
Not Quite What I Was Planning

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Will I Be Able to Read All My Cybils?

Three more read this week. I made two trips to the university library and one long trip to a branch of the Houston Public Library.

I've still got five left to read. All have been requested, but will they get here in time?

I have loved reading these Cybil nonfiction picture book nominees. Not a dud among them.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

My Wishlist Swells

These wonderful best-of-the-year book lists!

I've browsed several and my wishlist is swelling.

Here are some grownup books from best-of lists I want to read:

Personal Days by Ed Park
It was compared to Then We Came to the End, another book about the quirky world of office life.

The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby

The World is What It Is
An authorized biography of Naipaul.
The review called it one of the best biographies ever written.

My Jesus Year by Benyamin Cohen
The son of a rabbi wanders in search of his religious beliefs.

How to Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People (While They Are Still Alive)
This one sounds like it was made for me.

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
On almost every list.
It initially didn't sound appealing to me, but if this many people love it....

The Post-American World

The Big Sort by Bill Bishop
Bishop was at the Texas Book Festival, but I didn't get a chance to hear him talk. People are segregating themselves by education and interest and level of affluence, with consequences for America.

2666 by Roberto Bolano
Rave reviews everywhere for this book.
It doesn't sound like one I'd like and it's very long...but still I'm intrigued.

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
Setting in India.

The House at Sugar Beach
Had this one from the library and gave up on it, too soon, I think now.

Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
I bought this last week and I'm reading it next.

I also found these kids' books I want to read:

What the World Eats by Peter Menzel
One of my all-time favorite reads is Material World. I've always wanted to share this book with the kids at school. What the World Eats is a kid version of Menzel's Hungry Planet.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Science fiction-ish book about an apocalyptic world.

The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West by Sid Fleischman
Two reasons for reading this: Love Sid and read Roughing It this summer.

How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz
Nazi Germany.

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever

Adele & Simon in America

Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein

Anyone have any other books from best-of-2008 lists they are dying to read?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

2 + 3 + 2 = Book Reviews

2 Cybils

Keep Your Eye on the Kid: The Early Years of Buster Keaton by Catherine Brighton

Two more Cybils read this week, leaving eight to go.

Keep Your Eye is the story of Buster Keaton's childhood and early days in film. It is told from a first person point of view, a more powerful way to take in someone's life, but also more difficult to write convincingly.

The pictures look like little movie clips. The illustrator effectively zooms in and zooms out just like a movie of a person's life might do.

Brighton, the author/illustrator, provides a nice source list and a list of movies for Keaton and also adds a short author note at the end about Keaton's life.

Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman's Race for the Presidency by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

If Hillary Clinton had won the nomination for president, this book would probably be on every library shelf in America.

It's a good book. Belva lived a big life. She went to law school despite terrible obstacles. She got her law degree despite terrible obstacles. She ran for president despite terrible obstacles.

She overcame the obstacles, time and again. What a great role model!

The book contains an extensive author's note and a selected bibliography along with a glossary.

3 More Picture Books

Up and Down the Andes: A Peruvian Festival Tale by Laurie Krebs and Aurelia Fronty

We in America seem to forget there are other countries, other people in the world.

We who are teachers should not forget this.

This book highlights the Peruvian festival held each year to honor the Sun God. The pictures and text combine to give children a little glimpse into the celebration that takes place.

The pictures are vibrant and show the colors and textures of the Peruvians who attend this celebration.

The author uses a long author note at the end of the book to explain more about the Festival of the Sun, other Peruvian festivals, a history of Peru, the people of Peru, Machu Picchu, the Andes, and cool facts about Peru.

I would rate this book a 4. Most children in the US have little exposure to Peru and this would be a welcome introduction.

Every Human Has Rights based on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adapted by the United Nations sixty years ago. The atrocious violations of basic human rights by the Nazis during World War II shocked the world. A need for such a declaration was seen.

Sixty years later, reading over the list of thirty basic human rights, I am surprised to see both how fundamental they seem and how often they are ignored.

How different the world could be if countries around the world united together to ensure that all humans have these rights.

I will add this book to my school library collection.

We Are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures
What a beautiful book! The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides the text and children's picture book authors from around the world provide the pictures.

I am so amazed that these basic human rights are not yet deemed valid for all peoples in the world. We continually see some humans are treated better than others. Sixty years have passed since these were adapted by the UN. Will they ever be universally adopted?

I will add this book to my school library collection.

2 Grownup Books

No Choirboy by Susan Kuklin

The true stories of young men who were sentenced to death as teenagers is the subject of this book. It is a brutal world, the life of a teenager on death row. How did these young men get there?

Most hardly remember the crime for which they were given the death sentence. Most show deep remorse. It seems obvious to me as a reader that all were immature and easily led.

It is a hard decision, I think: How do you appropriately punish young people who have done abominable things yet bear in mind their age?

And we must also hope to find a way to help these people back into productive lives or, at a minimum, find a way to keep others safe from them.

These are not happy stories. It would be interesting to see what teens might think of these stories.

French Milk by Lucy Knesley

I'd originally requested this book thinking I might share it with my eighteen-year-old niece who visited France last year with her mom.

After having read it, I think not.

While, for the most part, I enjoyed reading the fun combination of comic drawings and photographs detailing the author's month-long trip to France with her mom, I am always surprised to see books I'd see as for teens containing profanity and sex-references. I was surprised to see how blase Knisley seemed to be about the entire adventure.

I wish my niece had written this book. She'd have brought to the subject things I wish Knisley had: enthusiasm for the trip, a freshness of vision, a deeper look at France, greater appreciation for writing and art.

I liked best the way the graphics were laid out, in big, full-page rectangles instead of the usual small squares. The liked the juxtaposition of photos and drawings.

But I was disappointed overall.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

20 Books for Christmas

I already know what I'm getting for Christmas.

Well, not exactly.

But my husband did this last year and it was my favorite Christmas gift ever and it looks suspiciously like he is doing it again.

What did he do? He went to my wish list at Amazon and picked out twenty used books for me. Some cost as little as $.01. Some were newish. He tried to pick out a variety of books, some fiction, some travel, some books about books, some children's books.

How do I know he is doing it again? Nearly every day there are rectangular packages for him and the return addresses are from all over the country.

I can't wait until Christmas!

Saturday, November 29, 2008


C.B. posted a video of the 77 books he has in his TBR.

"Does everyone else have this problem?" he asks in the video, as the camera pans his enormous stacks of books.

I had to know. So I counted.

And my total? 295. Absurd.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Tree of Happiness

Six things that make me happy. Six things for which I am thankful.






The beautiful world.

Monday, November 24, 2008

More Cybil Nonfiction Picture Book Nominees


Baby Polar Bear by Aubrey Lang

I was happy to discover that this book is not just about wonderfully cute and photogenic baby polar bears. It actually covers the entire life of a polar bear. The photographs are captivating and the text is kid-friendly, using comparisons with things children are familiar with and providing details children are interested in. Because there are so many photographs, many of them are very small, too small to share in a read aloud, but that is a small gripe.

The author and photographer are a husband and wife team who have worked on books and films about nature for eighteen years. Baby Polar Bear is part of a series including Baby Porcupine, Baby Grizzly, Baby Penguin, and many others.

Animals Robert Scott Saw: An Adventure in Antarctica by Sandra Markle

A better title for this book would be Scott's Adventures in Antarctica. I'm not really sure how "animals" got into the title, though the animals Scott encounters are a big part of the story. But the book is really about all the experiences Scott had in the Antarctic.

This is the kind of book my husband would have loved reading when he was a little boy. I am certain there are many readers today who would love hearing and reading about the dangerous adventures of these explorers. It is full of scary stories about Scott and his men while they were traveling in Antarctica. I couldn't stop reading to find out more about their frightening exploits. The use of a combination of drawings and actual photographs adds a lot to the book. The sidebars with interesting additional information were a plus.

It is not a simple read and there is a lot of text, so if it is to be an independent read, it would be best for older elementary readers or middle school readers.

Lincoln and Douglass: An American Friendship by Nikki Giovanni

The book opens at a big celebration at the White House. President Lincoln is there and he is watching anxiously to see if his friend will come. Then the story segues into parallel stories about Lincoln and Douglass's early years, their common struggles to learn and find out more about the world. The two men meet and form a friendship based on their common beliefs.

The most moving page of the book is a four page fold out; the two pages on top show the inaugural reception but the pages fold out to show what everyone is thinking about: the terrible war that is going on even during the celebration.
Then Douglass arrives and the two men speak together about their hopes and dreams for the future. Were the words the men speak on the pages actual words the men used or were they provided by the author? They are eloquent and inspiring; one can only hope they are genuine.

No information is given about source material.

We the People: The Story of Our Constitution by Lynne Cheney

I don't know about children and this book, but I will say that reading this book made the whole story of the creation of the Constitution very clear to me.
The war had been won and England was starting leave, but the people who had come together to fight a common enemy were not fighting amongst themselves. A need was seen to find a way to have bind the states together so that every state was happy.

It was a difficult task.

The men who worked to form the Constitution made compromise after compromise, sacrificing many individual wishes and dreams for the good of the one nation.

It is an inspiring story. The pictures add an air of authenticity to the book, with detailed depictions of costume and architecture. The author provides an exhaustive list of source material in the back of the book.

The Road to Oz: Twists, Turns, Bumps, and Triumphs in the Life of L. Frank Baum by Kathleen Krull

Kathleen Krull has never disappointed me; her biographies are fun and full of inside information about the people she writes about.

This biography of L. Frank Baum is no exception. Krull presents a picture of a boy lost in his imagination who grows into a man who never really wants to leave the world he loved as a boy. Baum tries to find a way to make a living as a grownup, and has many triumphs along with an equal number of abysmal failures.

I liked Krull's use of parenthesis as asides from the author, though I'm not sure they would be widely esteemed by academics. Krull provides additional information about Baym in a Storyteller's Note at the back of the book and she also briefly lists her sources. But the audience for Krull's book is not academics, fortunately, but children, and I think children would find this to be a fun read.

Smart-Opedia Junior: The Amazing Book About Everything

Kids are wild about this kind of book. I call it a browsable book, the kind of book you can spend hours reading through, though not really reading every sentence, every word. It is full of fun facts about the human body and the home and the city and school, starting with what children know and moving outward in concentric circles of wider experience. It manages to cover pirates and firefighters, insects and plants, ocean life and the planet, everything children want to know about, in 184 pages, with an extensive index.

I have one important question, however, and that has to do with the 184 pages. It was my understanding that this category of the Cybils was limited to books with 48 pages or less. Do we make exceptions for encyclopedic books?

The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby by Crystal Hubbard

The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby is a beautifully written story about a man who won the Kentucky Derby two times, Jimmy "Wink" Winkfield. Wink was a jockey during the time in American history when most jockeys were African-American, though that began to change rapidly during Wink's lifetime. Wink grew up poor, one of seventeen children, the son of a sharecropper. His dream was to become a jockey. He worked hard and achieved his dream.

But Wink suffered greatly from the prejudice of the day against African-Americans. He was treated shabbily time and again. Eventually he went to live in Europe where people were less cruel to nonwhites.

I found it fascinating to see that twice Wink did not achieve his goals and both times it was because he pushed too hard too soon.

Wink achieved great victories and suffered great defeats. The struggles of a jockey is depicted in clear detail; for the first time, I could see the terrible difficulties of riding horses.

The author provides a note at the end of the book which gives more information about Wink's life, but little is provided about where she drew her information outside interviews with Wink's daughter.

March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World by Christine King Farris

Christine King Farris tells the story of her brother, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s March on Washington. She tells the story from her own point of view, relating the events of the day as King and five prominent civil rights leaders helped change America by showing the support of millions for equal rights.

The pictures look like photographs. The text, with some words presented in caps, emphasizes the oratory styles of the speakers of that day.

One small irritation to me was that Farris was not there for this day, though she writes of the day as if she were. A small irritation.

Gone Fishing: Ocean Life by the Numbers by David McLimans

McLimans presents a beautiful look at our oceans and ocean life. But it is a beautiful look with a dark underside; the oceans, he writes, are threatened. His book is a look at both the natural beauty and wonder of the oceans and ocean life, but also the dire need for saving our oceans from the dangers that confront them and the creatures that inhabit them.

This book is a counting book and an artistic wonder and a wealth of information about our oceans and ocean life. Delicious and nutritious.

Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter

Two books on our list of nominees for the Cybil nonfiction picture book award are about the same person, Wangari Maathai, an environmentalist and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. That is a testimony to the worth of her work.

This book features Winter's characteristic simple drawings and simple text to create a beautiful picture of a life.

The author adds a final page of text to provide detailed information about Maathai's life.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Salon: Christmas Book Recommendations for Kids

I'm crazy about the idea of giving everyone you know a book for theory....The truth is the whole thing could backfire and you could end up with fifty friends and relatives who are furious, quietly steaming because they didn't get anything they wanted for Christmas.

But can you really go wrong giving a kid a book? A book and a toy, of course.

And I've got just the list of kid Christmas book recommendations for you.

First, some words of advice:

(1) No big enormous chapter books you loved as a kid. You giftee may be a poor reader and this will just drive him farther and farther away from Book World.

(2) No big enormous classics. See above.

(3) No books made from popular tv series or celebrities (for example, skip all the awful Hannah Montana books). The cover is great, but it's the only good thing about the book.

(4) No books to teach lessons. Please don't make kids think books are just another way to sneak up on you and try to talk you into following our rules.

(5) Funny is usually best if you are not sure.

(6) The truth is there are boy books and there are girl books.
Girls will read girl books or boy books, but boys rarely read girl books. Just look at the cover. Read the title. You know the difference.

(7) Thinner is better than thick. Lots of pictures is good.

(8) Just because the book says it is a level 1 book doesn't mean
it is a level 1 book or that your giftee can read it. Read it to him one time as part of the gift (or, even better, start reading it and then leave him hanging..."I'm so sorry, but I'm out of time.")

(9) With boys, if you are not sure, stick to nonfiction with lots of pictures. Scary, if possible.

Now, the ideas:

Ages 3-8...Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus...Fancy Nancy...How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night by Jane Yolen (any of this series)...If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (any of this series)...Diary of a Worm...How I Became a Pirate...The Kissing Hand...any dinosaur book...any true book about
animals...Biscuit...No, David!...books about trucks and cars...David Scarry books...princess books...Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?...fairy tales...short Seuss...

Ages 6-9...Frog and Toad books...Henry and Mudge books...Mr. Putter and Tabby series...Magic Tree House series...Junie B. Jones series...A-Z Mystery series...Secrets of Droon series...Horrible Harry series...Arthur chapter books...still with the animal books or dinosaur books...joke books...fairy tales...princess on CDs...In a Dark, Dark Room...

Ages 8-12...Judy Blume books...Roald Dahl books...Harry Potter series...The Lightning Thief series...Andrew Clemens
books...My Weird School series...Diary of a Wimpy Kid series...Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark...Series of Unfortunate Evens books...Tale of Despereaux...Spiderwick experiment books...joke books...Where the Sidewalk Ends...I'm Still Here in the Bathtub...Guinness Book of World Records...Ripley's Believe It or a book for his Ipod...Jack Prelutsky poetry

I'm sure I left some great choices out, but this should be a pretty good place to start.