Saturday, December 26, 2009

Challenges for 2010

Many people make New Year's Resolutions. Over 70% never achieve them.

Every year I set goals. I accomplish them. (Okay, here's my secret: I make them easy enough to actually accomplish!)

Last year, I signed on for several book challenges. I finished all of them. In the process, I read award winning books, read lots of books from the library and my TBR, passed on books I'd read, wrote reviews for all my books, and read more books than I've ever read.

It was a good experience.

This year, I will try to finish eight challenges. What challenges are you trying this year? Are there any I missed that I should take on?

2010 Social Justice Reading Challenge


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Best Books of 2009?

It's that most excellent time of the year for me. I have time to read.

So, what to choose?

The best books, of course.

A simple Google search, right?

See for yourself.

Publishers Weekly Best Books 2009 Top of the top included Shop Craft as Soul Craft which bored me to tears. But it also had In Other Rooms, Other Wonders which I am reading and loving right now. Hey, all the authors are male. How can that be?

Library Journal Best Books 2009 I ought to like this one as I am in that occupational group. The librarians chose their favorite 31 reads of 2009. Though I have a goodly number on my wishlist, I've only actually read one, This is Where I Leave You. Not for all tastes; I wanted to wash the narrator's mouth out and send him off to timeout, but there is no denying that the book vividly depicts a young man's perspective.

Goodreads Best Books of 2009 If PW is all male, GR looks to be mostly female. And fiction. This list is based on votes by readers.

New York Times 10 Best Books of 2009 I've only read (well, I'm reading...only fifty pages in) one book, A Gate at the Stairs. Not much on this list pushes my buttons. I wonder why.

Best Books of 2009: NPR Lots of little quirky lists here. I went ga-ga over Best Books for a Book Club this morning and added almost everything to my Amazon wishlist.

Librarian Nancy Pearl's 2009 Under-the-Radar Books Truth is this is actually a subset of the NPR Best-of lists, but I love Nancy Pearl so much that I wanted to give her a spot of her own here. Not that I always agree with her, but she is Uber-Librarian, dedicated to helping readers find good books. I've only read one of this list, When Wanderers Cease to Roam, but it was very, very fun. Now adding a few of her other picks to my wishlist and reveling in the news that Pearl is working on a new Book Lust, Book Lust To Go, filled with travel picks. Good news.

Top Picks from Indie Bookstores Another from NPR. I've read an astonishing 4/15, so I like this list.

Amazon Best Books of 2009: Editors' Picks I've read 14/100 here so I'm feeling pretty bold. There is also Amazon's Customer Favorites, for a list of books you read, but never talk about at your book group.

The Atlantic Books of the Year These people only choose 5, but with 20 runners-up.

Washington Post Picks Its 10 Best Books of the Year

And, for a very comprehensive list, check out Largehearted Boy's Blog.

Soooo...What do I pick? What books from 2009 must I read?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Few Grownup Reads (For a Change)

The last two weeks have been so much fun. Making Christmas ornaments. Polar Express Day. Christmas parties. Caroling. Making Christmas cookies with my family. Reading The Night Before Christmas. Thirty-six times.

And I'm on one of those wonderful reading runs where everything I pick up is fantastic.

I think I can explain it. I've been reading mostly children's picture books (Cybils nominees and then Christmas books) for the past two months. I've had time to save up a nice little stack of good books.

Look what I'm reading:

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro (Halfway through...don't want this book to end...not much happiness, though)

Cold by Bill Streever (On lots of year end Best of 2009 lists and rightly so)

Gone With the Wind (Who's gonna argue with the amazing-ness of this book?)

Look what I just finished:

No Impact Man (Author Beavan decides to live without trash or electricity or non-locally produced food...really, anything that adversely impacts the world...for a year)

Super Freakonomics (Just as fun as the first book)

Look what just arrived for me:

How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly (ARC from the author)

Truly, Madly by Heather Webber (ARC from friend of author)

Now & Then (ARC from friend of author)

Stones Into Schools (Latest from Three Cups of Tea author from the library)

Lorrie Moore's A Gate at the Stairs (Another book I've been anxious to read from the library)

I've got some great books to read!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Best Decision I Ever Made

(Now that's a bold title. I want to make sure you are not thinking I'm going to pit other wonderful decisions in my life---my decision to marry my wonderful husband, or my decision to finish my master's degree before I had kids, or my decision to have my wonderful bambinos, or, mercy, my decision to follow Christ, for example---against this small decision. But this has proved to be a small, but an excellent decision for my life, and I want to share it with you.)

I am often asked, "How in the world do you have time to read SO many books?"

I have an easy answer: "I do not watch tv."

I gave up watching tv in 2003.

This is the decision that has changed my life.


(1) It is as if I have an extra four and a half hours a day (Yes, that is the AVERAGE time people watch tv every day. Mercy!)

(2) I am not subjected to the relentless call to buy, buy, buy, get, get, get, more, more, more and the cruel judgment that I am not as beautiful, as popular, as whatever, as others.

(3) I do not have to hear about all the disturbing details of celebrity lives.

(4) I do not have to hear about all the murders and abductions and stealings that go on.

(5) Facts about tv: Studies show that people who watch the most tv are the most depressed. Studies show that people who watch the most tv are the most overweight. Studies show that people who watch the most tv are paranoid about the world and think it is a terrible place, filled with people who are ready at a moment's notice to cut your throat. I do not want to be depressed or overweight or paranoid.

(6) I can do many things. I can read. I can cook. I can take pictures. I can rock on my front porch. I can visit with people. I can walk. If I want to try something I've never done---say, learn to hula---I can do it. I have time.

(7) And, finally, I am happier, much happier, without tv.

So, what do you think? Anyone else out there tv-free? Anyone else contemplating it?

(Note: I am not obsessive about this. If someone tells me about something fantastic on tv, I might watch it. And I watch movies now and then.)

Photo Credit: beedieu from Creative Commons Flickr

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday Salon---Readathon---Advent Tour Stop---Children's Christmas Picture Books

Am I a multitasker or what?!

I joined in with the lots and lots of children's Christmas picture books for school...was a stop of the Advent Tour...and now I'm combining all of this for my Sunday Salon post!

I was ready to go yesterday morning with Christmas music, candles, and heaps of Christmas books. Then I discovered a winter storm had knocked our Internet connection out! So I had to run up to Starbucks to post.

The Internet was finally restored yesterday afternoon. I had several other distractions, but I still managed to read 64 Christmas books and visit a lot of blogs and host a small Readathon contest.

BTW, I asked, in my contest, for readers to name five of their favorite Christmas children's stories. I will keep this open all day today if anyone else would like to join in. The winner will receive a $10 Amazon gift certificate. I will announce the winner tomorrow.

So, out of all those books, what do I recommend?

Mrs. Claus Takes a Vacation
A New, Improved Santa
Pooch on the Loose
Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas
Pirate's Night Before Christmas
Minerva Louise on Christmas Eve
Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake
Santa Claus, the World's Number One Toy Expert
Wombat Divine
I See Santa Everywhere

The Gift of the Christmas Cookie
An Orange for Frankie
Great Joy
Too Many Tamales
Santa's Book of Names
Santa Calls
The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy

Beautiful Illustrations:
What Dogs Want for Christmas
Waiting for Christmas
Bear Stays Up for Christmas
Drummer Boy

Snowmen at Christmas
How Santa Really Works
Uncles and Antlers
The Peterkins' Christmas
Merry Christmas, Merry Crow
Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree
Merry Un-Christmas

Learning Something Important:
The Wild Christmas Reindeer
Merry Christmas, Big Hungry Bear
All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll
Christmas Trolls
The Longest Christmas List Ever
Yoon and the Christmas Mitten

Different Ways to Celebrate Christmas:
Tree of Cranes
Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree
Night Tree
The Soldier's Night Before Christmas
Twelve Days of Christmas Dogs
Texas Night Before Christmas

Amahl and the Night Visitors
A Christmas Memory
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
A Christmas Carol
The Night Before Christmas
The Littlest Angel

A big thank you to my wonderful public library, the Brazoria County Library System, which let me go over my checkout limit for this readathon.

And because I am so full of Christmas cheer and because I might forget later:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Contest: Favorite Christmas Stories for Children

Readathon! I love Readathon.

And what do I have planned to read? Wonderful Christmas stories for children.

In the spirit of Readathon and in the spirit of Christmas, I will give a prize. It will be a $10 gift certificate to Amazon. It is open to anyone anywhere. I will randomly select someone who leaves a comment below, listing your five favorite children’s Christmas story books. Please include your e-mail address, with enough spaces to thwart those who would use e-mail addresses for their own purposes.

Here are mine, before the Readathon:

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
A New, Improved Santa
The Night Before Christmas, a pop-up book, illustrated by Robert Sabuda
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
Mr. Willoughby’s Christmas Tree

This contest will run the entire time of the Readathon.

NOTE: A winter storm has unexpectedly knocked out our Internet connection. I am posting this from Starbuck’s. I’m not sure when the connection will be restored.

Readathon: Last Christmas Picture Books

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

My favorite kind of story...bad guy sees the error of his ways and turns good. Ages 12 up. 10/10.

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas read by the author

Ages 12 up.

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote illustrated by Beth Peck

I read this every Christmas. Can't help but love this little tale. Ages 10 up. 10/10.

The Teachers' Night Before Christmas by Steven Layne illustrated by James Rice

More for teachers than for kids. A big thank you, teachers. Ages 8-12. 7/10.

Mooseltoe by Margie Palatini illustrated by Henry Cole

Moose is practically perfect and he's ready for Christmas. Almost. Oops. He forgot one thing---the tree. What to do? Ages 6-10. 8.5/10.

The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy by Jane Thayer illustrated by Lisa McCue

This puppy wants a boy for Christmas. But all the boys appear to be taken. Ages 6-10. 9/10.

I See Santa Everywhere by Glenn McCoy

Santa is watching. All the time. Everywhere. Best part: end. Ages 6-10. 8.5/10.

Santa Calls by William Joyce

A box arrives; Santa calls. Art, Spaulding, and Esther head off to the North Pole. Best part: Letters at the end. Ages 8-12. 9/10.

Brave Santa by Nancy Poydar

Jack's too shy to talk to Santa. He finally gathers up his courage to approach Santa, but where is he? Santa, too, it seems, is shy. Ages 4-8. 8/10.

Texas Night Before Christmas written and illustrated by James Rice

Cowboy Santa arrives on the ranch. Ages 6-10. 8/10.

Drummer Boy by Loren Long

The little drummer boy gets knocked about, carried off to a garbage dump and the top of a big city, until he finally returns back home. Ages 5-10. 9/10.

I Wish Santa Would Come by Helicopter by Amanda Haley

A boy has lots of wishes about Santa, but his mom shows the down side of his dreams. Ages 3-8. 8/10.

Santa's Crash-Bang Christmas by Steven Kroll and illustrated by Tomie DePaola

It's one of those days and Santa keeps banging into things. And how did a polar bear end up in his bag of toys? Ages 5-10. 8/10.

Santa's Book of Names by David McPhail

Santa needs a little help reading his book of names and gifts. Edward has trouble reading. Can he help Santa? Ages 5-10. 9/10.

Merry Un-Christmas written by Mike Reiss and illustrated by David Catrow

Noelle gets a new doll and a new bike and a pony every day. Every day is Christmas where Noelle lives. Every day except one. The day Noelle looks forward to. Un-Christmas Day. Ages 6-10. 9/10.

NPR Holiday Favorites

Doubtful if there is much here for kids. But I wanted something to end my day of reading that would send me off to sleep. Perfect end to a busy reading day.

Readathon: More Christmas Picture Books

I'm hours and hours into the Readathon. Here are a few more Christmas picture books I've read and reviewed.

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert Barry

Mr. Willowby's Christmas tree is too tall for his house, so the tiptop must be cut off. And it's just right for the upstairs maid, but it's just a wee bit too tall. So the tiptop must be cut off and that's just right for...and so on, and so on. Ages 4-10. 9/10.

Wombat Divine by Mem Fox and illustrated by Kerry Argent

Wombat really wanted to be in the Christmas pageant, but what part could he play? Ages 4-8. 9/10.

Henry and Mudge in the Sparkle Days by Cynthia Rylant with pictures by Sucie Stevenson

Three little stories about Henry and his dog and his parents. Ages 5-8. 8/10.

Make a Joyful Noise: A Pop-Up Book of Christmas Carols by Francesca Crespi

Beautiful pop-ups for four Christmas carols. Ages 4-12. 9/10.

Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto and illustrated by Ed Martinez

Oh dear. Maria just wanted to try on Mama's ring while they were making tamales. Trouble. Ages 5-10. 9/10.

The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet & Allan Ahlberg

The jolly postman delivers delightful Christmas mail to fairy tale characters. Ages 5-10. 8.5/10

Where Did They Hide My Presents? Silly Dilly Christmas Songs by Alan Katz and David Catrow

Little songs set to the tune of Christmas carols. Ages 6-10. 8/10.

Froggy's Best Christmas by Jonathan London and illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz

Froggy wakes up and experiences his first Christmas. Ages 4-8. 8/10.

The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell and illustrated by Sergio Leone

A four-year-old boy enters heaven and turns everything upside down. But he atones for it all and bestows a treasured box up on the infant King. Ages 5-10. 8.5/10.

Yoon and the Christmas Mitten written by Helen Recorvits and illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska

Yoon tries to find a way to have Santa visit her, but her father insists that her family is Korean and not a Christmas family. Ages 5-10. 8.5/10.

Merry Christmas, Merry Crow by Kathi Appelt and illustrated by Jon Goodell

A crow gathers this and that. Best part: the ending. Ages: 4-10. 8.5/10.

Amahl and the Night Visitors written by Gian Carlo Menotti and illustrated by Michele Lemieux

Amahl must walk with a crutch and he and his mother struggle to survive in the desert. One night they are visited by three kings and three shepherds who are following a star in search of the King. Best part: Amahl and his mother talk back and forth. Ages 8-12. 8.5/10.

Careful, Santa by Julie Sykes illustrated by Tim Warnes

Santa has lots of troubles delivering presents. Ages 4-8. 8/10.

The Twelve Days of Christmas Dogs by Carolyn ConahanA friend keeps giving dogs as gifts. Best part: the show at the end. Ages 5-10. 8/10.

The Christmas Train by Ivan Gantschev

A boulder falls on the train tracks and a girl must save the train using her Christmas tree. Best part: the lamb the girl’s father had for her. Ages 5-10. 7/10.

Readathon: Christmas Stories (More)

A few more hours have passed and I've finished lots more children's Christmas picture books....

The Soldier’s Night Before Christmas written by Trish Holland and Christine Ford and illustrated by John Manders

Sergeant McClaus arrives at the army camp with presents for all the soldiers from those who love them safe at home. Best part: The last line: ‘As the camp radar lost him, I heard this faint call: “Happy Christmas, brave soldiers! May peace come to all.”’ Ages 5-12. 7/10.

Ten Little Christmas Presents by Jean Marzollo

Ten Christmas presents sit in the snow for the animals. Best part: Anticipating what was in the packages. Ages 2-5. 7/10.

Heart of a Snowman by Mary Kuryla and Eugene Yelchin

Owen builds a snowman every year on Christmas Eve, only to see it melt by Christmas Day. Owen finds himself taken away to space where he is studied to find out why his snowmen are so perfect. Best part: the illustrations. Ages 5-10. 7/10.

Reindeer Christmas written by Mark Kimball Moulton and illustrated by Karen Hillard Good

Every year two children and their grandmother leave treats for the woodland animals. One Christmas they are visited by a reindeer who brings a special reward. Best part: the wish. Ages 5-10. 7/10.

Bear Stays Up for Christmas written by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman

Bear, with the help of his friends, tries to stay up for Christmas. Best part: the illustrations. Ages 2-8. 7/10.

The Longest Christmas List Ever by Gregg and Evan Spiridellis

Trevor always forgets to put something on his list. He decides to start early, the day after Christmas, and he writes down everything he wants on a list that stretches from his house all the way down the street. Best part: writing his long list. Ages 4-10. 7/10.

Mrs. Claus Takes a Vacation by Linas Alsenas

Mrs. Claus is tired of never getting to go anywhere and so she decides to travel around the world. Santa worries about her while she is gone, but his worries are unnecessary; Mrs. Claus is having a wonderful time. Best part: Mrs. Claus sunbathing. Ages 4-10. 9/10

Santa Claus, the World’s Number One Toy Expert by Marla Frazee

How does Santa manage to find just the right gift for every child? Well, it takes a lot of work. Best part: Santa’s extensive files. Ages 4-10. 8.5/10

Christmas Trolls by Jan Brett

Treva notices things are missing as Christmas approaches. She discovers the culprits, two trolls, and teaches them what Christmas is really all about. Ages 5-8. 8/10

Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Arthur Howard

Mr. Putter and his cat, Tabby, decide to bake a cake for his friend and her dog. Best part: When Mr. Putter buys the the things he needs for the cake and he spends $100 before he ever buys the flour. Ages 4-9. 9/10.

Minerva Louise on Christmas Eve by Janet Morgan Stoeke

Minerva Louise, a plump white chicken, is very confused about Christmas. Best part: humor. Ages 4-8. 8/10.

Waiting for Christmas written by Monica Greenfield and illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist

A brother and sister wait for Christmas to arrive. Beautiful illustrations. Ages 4-8. 7.5/10

Night Tree written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Ted Rand

A family goes out to decorate a tree for the animals who live in the forest. Best part: When the children sing Christmas carols and one child picks “Old MacDonald” and Mom says that okay because it’s a good song, too. Ages 4-10. 8.5/10.

The Santa Clauses retold by Achim Broger with illustrations by Ute Krause

A slow news day causes a reporter to write there is no Santa. All the Santas (and there are a lot of them) decide to go on strike. Best part: Santas sunbathing in Miami Beach. Ages 4-10. 8.5/10.

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree written by Gloria Houston and illustrated by Barbara Cooney

It’s Ruth’s family’s turn to give the perfect Christmas tree for the village and it’s Ruthie’s turn to be the angel in the Christmas play. But how will this happen when Ruthie’s father is away at the war and there is no money for angel clothes? Best part: when Ruthie thought the doll felt just like the silk stockings her father had sent her mother. Ages 5-12. 9/10.