Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Review of The Reading Promise, by Alice Ozma

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

The Reading Promise

My Father and the Books We Shared

by Alice Ozma
Narrated by the author

Hachette Audio, 2011. 7 hours on 6 CDs.
Starred Review

It should come as no surprise that I’m crazy about a book about a father reading to his daughter. Alice Ozma and her father Jim Brozina had “The Streak” going — he read to her for 3,218 days in a row, from a day when she was in third grade to the time she went off to college.

My initial reaction? I’m mad at myself for never counting the nights their Dad and I read to our sons. And what a brilliant idea! With a “streak,” the kids don’t decide they’ve outgrown being read to nearly as soon. Indeed, Alice’s father had exactly that in mind, because he didn’t want Alice to decide she was too old for this, as her sister had done. Obviously, the strategy worked beautifully.

Alice Ozma reads the audiobook herself. At first, I thought her voice sounded way too young for it, but as the book got going, since she’s talking a lot about when she was a child, that is perfect, and I got used to her voice by the time she was talking about being older. In a lovely touch, her father narrates the foreword he wrote, and reads all the sentence excerpts from classic children’s books placed at the beginning of each chapter.

This isn’t an outline of every book they read. They don’t talk about every day of reading. Instead, there are lovely vignettes about different times in Alice’s reading life and her relationship with her father.

And my goodness, they have some entertaining vignettes! I laughed and laughed over the way Alice’s father convinced her she could go out on a highwire act — except they didn’t have a costume the right size. Or the way the family accommodated her at the funeral of Franklin the fish. Or how her father convinced her that getting in the dreaded kiss-lock with a boy was life-threatening. But the funniest one of all (and I’m just a little ashamed of saying this) was when she talked about her terrible fear of the corpse of John F. Kennedy.

To be completely fair, it was not the person himself whom I was afraid of, initially. I was afraid of his dead body, and I had somehow become convinced that it would appear one night on my bottom bunk, all laid out and ready for a funeral. I don’t know where I got this idea, and I’m happy to report that today it makes me laugh. Then, though, it was a very grave and serious matter.

Every night, I would go through a huge ordeal to avoid the body. At first I tried going to bed while it was still light out, but because it was winter that only gave me an hour or so from the time I got home from school. And if I went to bed early, it meant waking up early, while it was still dark out. So the darkness was unavoidable. Instead, I tried turning on all the lights in my room and sleeping with them on. My parents didn’t even yell at me, but finally the overhead light in my room burned out and I wasn’t tall enough to replace it. My father was, but I think he made a conscientious decision not to do so. As I got older, contrary to my parents’ expectations, the fear actually got stronger. By middle school, avoiding JFK’s dead body, which was obviously lying in state on my bottom bunk, was the focus of my evening….

The fear soon shifted from JFK’s dead body to JFK in general and included even photos of or quotes about him. So it was with great terror that I learned my father was planning a family trip for my sister and me shortly after my mother moved out, and one of the stops was the JFK Memorial Library. My father tried to convince me that I liked libraries more than I feared JFK. I had to point out to him that he did not know his own daughter.

I like the way she finishes off that sad but hilarious chapter:

I couldn’t appreciate it then, but it takes creativity to lie shivering and shaking in your bed, wondering if your cats will know how to defend you, not against ghosts or the boogeyman, but against the immobile body of one of the most famous and beloved ex-presidents of the United States. Thanks to The Streak and my father, imagination was not something I lacked.

The book does progress beyond these vignettes to a sad story of its own. Alice Ozma’s father was a school librarian, and an outstanding one, who emphasized reading to children. In the name of “progress” he was ordered to stop reading to them, to emphasize computers, and his entire collection was put in storage. Here’s where he tells Alice, now in college, about it:

“Neither of them understand what I’m trying to do. [The principal] ordered hundreds of new books this summer without listening to my suggestions. He said we needed all new, current books because students like new things. He put everything but the picture books, fiction or nonfiction, in storage.”

I put up my hand to fight in defense of the collection my father had spent years building, but he raised his eyebrows and gestured his hands in agreement and continued.

“I know! It’s absurd! Here’s the worst, Lovie — the library already owned some of the books he ordered! We had them in hardcover, and he ordered them in paperback. I never order paperbacks because they fall apart in less than a year. He ordered flimsy, paperback versions of books we already had. After all the budget cuts, that is how he uses our precious library money. When there are things we really needed, books that the children would have cherished. And where is the collection I spent so many years putting together? In boxes, in the school basement.”

Mr. Brozina did fight back, but eventually, he retired. However, Alice got a front row seat on this battle and how much it hurt the kids in the school. By the end of the book, her dad’s reading to seniors and preschoolers and to children in hospitals.

But inevitably, his mind wandered back to the children he had left behind. After working in a school made up mostly of minorities and almost entirely of children who qualified for free lunches from the state, he always worried about the students who slip through the cracks. A library without books seemed like a nightmarish punishment for students who desperately needed literacy to move on in the world and rise out of poverty. I knew that he couldn’t settle with the injustice for too long. His announcement did not come as a surprise.

“I’m running for the school board,” he said one day, as though waking up from a long nap.

Alice Ozma ends her book with something of a manifesto.

We called it The Reading Streak, but it was really more of a promise. A promise to each other, a promise to ourselves. A promise to always be there and to never give up. It was a promise of hope in hopeless times. It was a promise of comfort when things got uncomfortable. And we kept our promise to each other.

But more than that, it was a promise to the world: a promise to remember the power of the printed word, to take time to cherish it, to protect it at all costs. He promised to explain, to anyone and everyone he meets, the life-changing ability literature can have. He promised to fight for it. So that’s what he’s doing.

She ends with a sample Reading Promise in which you can fill in your own name, with this explanation:

My father was not the only person to make this promise. I made it, too, just as millions of people have made it around the world. Since books were first created, copied by hand beside glowing firelight, many have recognized them for the treasures they really are. Men and women everywhere have valued and protected these treasures. They may not start a reading streak, but the commitment is still there. There is always time to make the commitment to read and defend reading, and it is a commitment that is always worthwhile. This is more important now than it has ever been before. Unfortunately, my father’s situation is not unique: day by day, literature is being phased out of our lives and the lives of our children. This is the time to act. This is the time to make a promise.

There you have it. This book includes heartwarming stories about a girl and her father, and it progresses to a call to action about the power of literature. This wonderful story will remind you of the power of reading together and stir you to action.

makeareadingpromise.com
HachetteBookGroup.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/reading_promise.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Conference Corner – 2012 Printz Program and Reception

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

2012 ALA Annual Conference is done, and I have lots of notes to share! Since I’m way behind on writing up my notes from Midwinter and from PLA, I decided to work backwards. When I finally get to notes I’ve already shared I’ll be done. The goal will be to post at least one Conference Corner post each week, but maybe I can do better. I’d like to catch up before KidLitCon in the Fall or maybe the Horn Book at Simmons symposium or maybe VLA Conference. (Now that my son will be in college, there are so many possibilities!)

The final event for me at ALA Annual Conference this year was the Printz Awards Reception. I always love the Printz speeches. I love it that everyone gives a speech, honor winners and the big honcho award winner. They always make sure to say nice things about libraries and librarians, so their words are treasured.

The night began, not surprisingly seeing who got the Honor award, with comedy. Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman gave a speech together thanking us for the Honor for Why We Broke Up.

Then Daniel Handler played the accordion and sang “Without Libraries We’d be Dum,” with special effects by Maira Kalman. This is worth experiencing!

I got a picture with Daniel Handler at the reception. He seemed pleased that he got it to come out looking like someone had pasted him in. (Maybe I did?)

Next Honor winner was Christine Hinwood for The Returning. She told a great story of finding out she’d won an Honor. She had been without internet access and found out on a train. She said she broke all the rules of British train riding and danced down the aisle.

She said, “Teenagers are people, too.” She writes for people.

She also spoke up for the power of fantasy novels. “The fantasy books she read as a child are not childish.” “Fantasy allows exploring issues. . . without baggage.”

The Returning explores issues about war. How do combatants go back to family and a day job once the war is over? So many are affected by war for so long after the war is over.

Craig Silvey was the next speaker, honored for his book Jasper Jones.

I got a picture with him. He has an adorable Australian accent. He said that YALSA has been “absurdly kind to Australians” in their award choices. Many of us firmly believe it’s to get to hear their accents at the Printz Program.

(Oh look! I think that’s Christine Hinwood right behind me.)

Craig Silvey was quite ill when the Printz call came. He “let it ring out” twice, but finally answered this persistent caller. In his brain-addled state, his first thought was, “Oh my goodness. I’ve been honored by Prince.?” Fortunately, the committee gave him more information before he could follow up on this thought.

Like so many Printz Honorees, he talked about growing up in the library. I liked this line about reading fiction: “The truth, I found, was hidden in the lies.”

He talked about accidentally checking out A Clockwork Orange when he was ten years old. “I learned a very valuable lesson: Stories were powerful.”

Next up was Maggie Stiefvater, honored for the book I loved so much, The Scorpio Races.

Maggie Stiefvater also talked about the power of Fantasy. She began with a reading from Diana Wynne-Jones. 10-year-old Maggie thought the food described was wonderful. And yet it didn’t exist. It was imaginary.

For a truly great book, Maggie Stiefvater wants a book with another world inside it.

What makes us believe in a place? Diana Wynne-Jones showed the symptoms of a culture. It was the little things.

“Thisby is a big place made of tiny little sensations.”

Last of all was the acceptance speech from Printz Award Winner John Corey Whaley, still incredibly cute and still incredibly young.

He, also, had some great things to say about books, reading, teens, and libraries.

“You connect teens to worlds beyond their imaginations.”

John Corey Whaley found the story he was supposed to tell. “Listen closely when you open the book and you may hear the faintest sound of banjos.”

His book asks the question: “Is it possible to grow up in an impossible world?”

Talking about writing, he said, “Don’t we all want to make some dent in the side of the world?”

“Teens want the truth about everything, and they know exactly when they aren’t getting it.”

And he closed off with a rallying cry for libraries:

“Close our libraries, and you close our lives.”

“Tweet this: #SaveALibrary”

Librarians Help! – Book! Book! Book!

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

It’s been a couple weeks since I did my last Librarians Help! feature. I chose the title because of my very favorite incident in the library this week.

A mother was walking into the library with her toddler son in tow. Now, from a toddler’s eye level, there’s not a whole lot going on at the entrance to the library. The shelves aren’t facing out, and mostly what he’d see are desks. But we do have two book displays just before you get to the information desk, and one of those I had just stocked with children’s nonfiction, trying to put the simplest books on the lowest level.

I didn’t notice the mother until she passed the children’s books display on her way to the nonfiction. I heard, “Book! Book! Book!” Mom had already passed them on her way to the nonfiction, but the son was holding back, pointing happily at the books on the display. I knew there was a family that used the library often and a little boy who already knew that books are objects of delight.

I don’t have a picture of that incident, but thought this was a good excuse to insert a picture of my Dad reading to my son, many years ago. What’s better than helping make books objects of delight?

In these last two weeks, I got to help people in lots of ways:

— Made English tutoring appointments
— Booked meeting rooms
— Helped a little boy visiting the Virginia Room with his Grandma find his home on a map
— Showed a man the website telling about the Sherwood collection so he could match the items in the display case up with his memories
— Put creative books about Math on display
— Helped people with e-books

And I helped people find lots and lots of books:

— Books on Liberal Arts Math
— Easy readers for a preschooler
— Fairy tales
— Science books for a 1st grader
The Pioneer Woman Cooks
— Books about Kookaburras
— Books about Venice
Brunetti’s Cookbook
Tunnels
— Books about Chinese dragons
Into the Wild
The Anglo-Saxons
— Specific issues of Science Magazine
Magic Tree House books
— Books about the history of oil usage
— Books and resources for a retiree wanting to become a government contractor
— Video and books about Vermeer
A Little Princess
— Books on starting in real estate
— Books on Windows 7
— Books on basic math
— Books on fractions for a Kindergarten class

Here are a couple books on fractions I pointed out to that Kindergarten teacher that she didn’t already know about:

The Doorbell Rang, by Pat Hutchins (not specifically about fractions, but a good tie-in)
Piece = Part = Portion, by Scott Gifford

I really wish I had found Eating Fractions, by Bruce McMillan.

She did have a list of several books, we found several on the shelf, and I showed her those ones I knew about. Those kids are in for a treat!

One more thing I want to do with this Librarians Help! series is provide a link about other librarians helping.

This link provides statistics from Snapshot Virginia Day, when we counted the basic ways the Fairfax County Library helped people.

For example, more than 16,000 people visited our branches that day. Librarians answered more than 1,700 reference questions. We offered 13 programs or classes that day that were attended by 385 people. What’s more, that was a Saturday, when our hours aren’t as long as other days and our staffing is not as good.

Spread the word: Librarians Help!

Battle of the Kids’ Books is Coming!

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

My post is up on School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kids’ Books (SLJsBoB) website!

In that post, I told my reasons for loving SLJsBoB and how much fun it is to participate through reading the books and commenting.

Here, I will point out that you still have time to read the books before the competition begins on March 13th! Don’t delay! It’s lots of fun! Here are the Brackets with the books that will be competing.

Now, I hadn’t seen the Brackets before I wrote the post that’s up today. So now I will point out that Amelia Lost, Chime, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Drawing from Memory, and Okay for Now are all 2011 Sonderbooks Stand-outs.

Interesting! I only now noticed that all of these Sonderbooks Stand-outs are in different first-round pairings from each other. So I don’t need to tell you which book I will root for in those pairings. I’m going to go with my Stand-out every time.

Now, I only have four more books to read before the Battle starts. Most of them I will try to review before March 13th. Based on what I’ve read now, my picks for the remaining pairings will be:

Match Two: Between Shades of Gray vs Bootleg. I haven’t read Between Shades of Gray yet, and Bootleg was very good, so I’ll pick Bootleg with the caveat that this pick may very well change after I read the other book. I think that judge Gayle Forman’s books are more similar to Between Shades of Gray, but I have found that often judges pick the book least like the ones they write. (With lots of exceptions, though.)

Match Six: Heart and Soul vs Inside Out and Back Again. Again, I haven’t read Inside Out and Back Again, and Heart and Soul is amazing. So I’ll go with Heart and Soul unless Inside Out and Back Again blows me away, which it may.

Match Seven: Life: An Exploded Diagram vs A Monster Calls
This one there’s no question in my mind: I’m rooting for A Monster Calls. I’ve read both, and while Life: An Exploded Diagram was good, A Monster Calls was dazzling. Also, Life felt much more like an adult book to me. I think if I’d chosen to read it as a piece of adult literary fiction, I would have known what to expect and enjoyed it a lot more. My main reasons for not naming A Monster Calls a Sonderbooks Stand-out were personal. I read it when having mysterious health problems, and it’s about a mother dying. But the book is outstanding!

So, those are the only matches that don’t have a Sonderbooks Stand-out competing, and I’ll go with my Stand-out for all the others.

Meanwhile, you can already take part by participating in the Undead Poll. In this, you vote for your favorite title and, if it has been knocked out earlier in the competition, it will come back from the dead in the final round.

I decided to vote for Okay for Now, because I was sad it didn’t get any Newbery recognition. I’ve also found that a lot of people, like me, love it, but also a lot of people really don’t like it. So, in case it gets knocked out by a judge who falls into that second camp, I want it to have another chance.

Thinking about it later, I kind of wish I’d voted for Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Because two of my favorites, Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Chime are in the same half, one of them is definitely not going to make the Final Round. So I should have voted for the one that I like a tiny bit better than the other, to give it another chance. Oh well! Here’s hoping it makes it to the Final Round despite me! And I won’t mind if it’s Chime either, though my ideal final round would be Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Chime, and Okay for Now. But the only way that will happen is if one of those first two wins the Undead Poll. So get out there and vote!

PS: HOW much fun is it to have an SLJsBoB icon?!!! Monica and Roxanne told me I could post it on my site.

Gained in Translation

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Last Thursday, I posted about how happy I was to receive a copy of Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge direct from the author, James Kennedy. The first thing both he and I noticed about the translation was that it appeared much longer than the original book, The Order of Odd-Fish.

Now, I suspect this is simply because German takes more letters to say the same thing. James expressed the suspicion that perhaps they had gotten carried away and added episodes when translating (which you must admit would be quite interesting).

It occurred to me that I did have an easy method at hand to test my hypothesis. You see, when we moved to Germany, my very first purchase was a copy of one of my very favorite books, Momo, by Michael Ende, in its original language, German.

That did start a trend. Here are some of the books in my German collection (though none of these have “Sonderling” in the title!):

I especially liked getting books originally written in German, which is why you’ll find Drachenreiter (Dragonrider) and Tintenblut (Inkblood, translated Inkheart), by Cornelia Funke, and Die unendliche Geschichte (The Neverending Story), by Michael Ende, as well as the original version of my childhood beloved book Heidi. Der kleine Prinz (The Little Prince) was given to me by my German landlady as a favorite book of hers (with cassette to listen to it), and I purchased Püh der Bär and Stolz und Vorurteil (Winnie-the-Pooh and Pride and Prejudice) because it’s so much fun to have such great classics in another language. Besides, I have the originals just about memorized, so I can easily understand the German.

Then there’s ourHarry Potter collection:

We own the American edition, British edition, and German edition of all of the first six books. (And I definitely need to make a trip back to Europe to purchase the seventh in the UK and in Germany.)

As for the first book:

My husband did a lot of traveling with the Air Force Band, and soon buying a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the local language became a souvenir to get excited about. We have Book One in American, British, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Bulgarian, Czech, Chinese, and French. Okay, I’ve only actually read the editions in American, British, German, and French. But the others are fun to look at!

So, this seems like a pretty good sample to me. Do Germans need more pages to tell a story?

We already found the page counts for James Kennedy’s book:
The Order of Odd-Fish: 403 pages.
Der Orden der Seltsamer Sonderlinge: 511 pages.

Just for fun, let’s check all the editions of Harry Potter Book One first:

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (original): 223 pages.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: 309 pages. (Looks like the Americans dragged this one out.)
Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen: 335 pages.
Hebrew version: 321 pages.
Japanese version: 191 pages.
Bulgarian version: 264 pages.
Harry Potter a Kámen mudrců (Czech version): 285 pages.
Chinese version: 462 pages.
Harry Potter à L’École des Sorciers (French version): 232 pages.

Interesting. They are totally different lengths, and German is the second longest, beaten only by Chinese. (I’m surprised that Chinese and Japanese are so different, but it looks like Chinese doesn’t use as much of each page. Maybe they start a new line for a new paragraph?)

How about the rest of the Harry Potters?

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (original): 251 pages.
American version: 341 pages.
Harry Potter und die Kammer des Schreckens: 352 pages.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (original): 317 pages.
American version: 435 pages.
Harry Potter und der Gefangene von Askaban: 448 pages.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (original): 636 pages.
American version: 734 pages.
Harry Potter und der Feuerkelch: 767 pages.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (original): 766 pages.
American version: 870 pages.
Harry Potter und der Orden des Phönix: 1021 pages.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (original): 607 pages.
American version: 652 pages.
Harry Potter und der Halbblutprinz: 656 pages.

Those books are certainly consistent! Interesting how much longer the American books are than the British ones. It definitely looks like less words on a page. But the Germans still manage to be longer, every time.

Let’s check some more books translated from English to German:

Winnie-the-Pooh: 148 pages.
Püh der Bär: 157 pages.

Pride and Prejudice (my fancy edition): 367 pages.
Paperback at the library: Also 367 pages.
Stolz und Vorurteil: 452 pages.

The Little Prince (Okay, this one was originally in French): 97 pages.
Der Kleine Prinz: 125 pages.

Maybe it’s different if the book starts out in German, so let’s check those:

Momo (original): 285 pages.
Momo (fancy American hardback, with illustrations): 227 pages.

Die unendliche Geschichte: 428 pages.
The Neverending Story: 384 pages.

Heidi (original): 333 pages (with illustrations).
Heidi (American paperback): 198 pages.

Tintenblut: 707 pages.
Inkheart: 576 pages.

Drachenreiter: 448 pages.
Dragon Rider: 536 pages.

What’s this? My last example is the only one where the English version turns out longer. Looking inside, it does seem to pretty clearly have less words on a page.

Now, those math nuts among us could have further fun determining the percentage each German book is longer than the English one, but it’s getting late. Despite the one very last exception, it looks like it is perfectly normal for German translations to contain more pages than English ones. So I will still look sharp for cleverly concealed additions, but I think this is simply a case of needing more space. I would be very interested to find out if the German books also take longer to read. I suspect that would be much closer, but that one, I’m not going to sample.

Now, having sized up the task, in my next installment, I will tackle Kapitel Eins.

YA Saves, Revisited

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

On Saturday night, I posted about the frightful (in more ways than one) Wall Street Journal article that was creating a stir by saying Young Adult books have gotten horribly dark and subversive. The response on Twitter was beautiful with people tweeting about how dark and light YA books have enhanced and even saved their lives, using the hashtag #YAsaves.

Since then, there have been many, many insightful articles on the topic. Two that I especially enjoyed, yes, put in a plug for libraries — where it will never be a problem to find a book for a reader, no matter how picky they are. That’s what we do. That’s what we’re good at. (Today, in fact, I had fun finding a book for an eight-year-old who didn’t like any of her grandmother’s suggestions and introduced herself by saying, “I DON’T want a princess book!”)

First, I loved Cecil Castellucci’s article on the Los Angeles Review of Books blog, “Better to Light a Candle Than to Curse the Darkness.” One thing I loved about this blog post was that it gave me a new motto: “Putting the right book in the right kid’s hands is kind of like giving that kid superpowers.” Yes!

Today I read a parody of the original article, written by Sarah Ockler on her blog. The blog post is called, “All This Darkness! What to Buy the Grownup Reader? (A Parody)” This parody was completely successful with me once I read this paragraph right at the start:

I recently stood slack-jawed in the adult fiction section of my local big box book store, having decided that supporting my community while getting personalized recommendations by professionals who generally adore books and make it their business to know exactly what sorts of things a reader will love was just not on my to-do list this year, feeling stupefied and helpless.

I love it!

Of course, it’s a little ironic that even as I’m defending dark books, I stopped listening to an adult book on CD because it was too dark for me. But I simply wasn’t in the mood for it today. And the difference is that I understand that the particular book I stopped listening to is considered great literature by many, and is a popular book club choice. I’m fine with that. I tend to like lighter books, but that’s exactly how I knew that the mother in the Wall Street Journal article would have been able to find all kinds of great, current, light, uplifting, well-written books for teens if she had only gone to a library and consulted with a professional.

Award Announcement Excitement

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Tomorrow the ALA media awards will be announced, including the well-known Newbery and Caldecott Medals. I’m definitely planning to watch the webcast.

I think the time posted is wrong. It will start at 7:45 PST, which I believe is 10:45 EST, but it says 11:45 EST. I hope that I am right, because if it starts at 11:45, I will have to get to work.

I posted my Newbery predictions below, under my post on 2011 plans. Today I went to a meeting of the DC KidLit Book Club (for adults who love children’s books), and we talked about Caldecott possibilities. The discussion got me behind a book I’d already looked at recently, because it’s on the Cybils shortlist: Chalk, by Bill Thomson. It is truly a brilliant book, and Pam Coughlan of Mother Reader pointed out that all the exquisite illustrations are hand-done, not computer generated. And what’s nice is that it isn’t only pretty pictures — they tell a compelling and excellent story.

So we shall see.

I do love it that the country is talking about children’s books for awhile when the awards are announced. I wonder how many authors and illustrators will sleep with a phone right by their beds tonight?

Oh, check this fun poem by Susan Kusel about the anticipation!

Review of Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book

Life Lessons from Notable People from All Walks of Life

edited by Anita Silvey

Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2009. 233 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a fabulous and thought-provoking celebration of children’s books. I read it slowly and savored it, enjoying a few pages a day. I definitely want to purchase my own copy so I can go through it again many times.

In the Introduction, Anita Silvey explains what she has accomplished with this magnificent book:

“In this book 110 society leaders from various areas — science, politics, sports, and the arts — talk about a children’s book that they loved and its impact on their lives. Funny, insightful, and inspiring, these stories testify to the amazing power of the right book for the right child — at the right time.

“A single illustration from Treasure Island created by N. C. Wyeth made his son Andrew want to become a painter and inspired Robert Montgomery to become an actor. Sometimes a specific book sent an individual on a career path: Steve Wozniak of Apple Inc. read the Tom Swift books, knew he wanted to be an inventor, and eventually created Apple I and Apple II. Characters became role models; Jo March of Little Women inspired actress Julianne Moore, television commentator Judy Woodruff, and writer Bobbie Ann Mason. A book revealed a truth about the person’s character, as Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel did for Jay Leno. At times single lines from a book have resonated for a lifetime: William DeVries, the cardiothoracic surgeon who implanted the first artificial heart, has thought about a statement from The Wizard of Oz all of his career — ‘I will bear all the unhappiness without a murmur, if you will give me a heart.’…

“All of the essays reveal interesting details about the person who wrote them. Many of the people in this volume remember the name of their librarian or teacher, the bookstore they frequented, or the person who handed them a beloved book. When we give children books, we become part of their future, part of their most cherished memories, and part of their entire lives.

“Children’s books change lives. Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book provides insight into how they do this. I hope the essays in this book will inspire you to find great books for the children in your life and move you to read to them. The act of reading to a child is the most important contribution to the future of our society that adults can make.”

The large format of the book includes a one-page excerpt with a picture from the book that the famous person is remembering. On the page about their remembrances, there is a sidebar about the background of the book and the person who was touched by it.

The books chosen and remembered present an amazing range of titles. There are picture books, chapter books, and even books considered adult books. Given the ages of the contributors, many of the books were written long ago, but a large number of them are still in print and much beloved today.

Here’s a passage that I enjoyed from Kyle Zimmer, who talked about falling in love with The Hobbit as a child and later reading that same book to his own son. Perhaps I especially loved that essay because the same is true of me and that very book. But his summing up applies to so many more books and so many more people:

“When we read great books with our children, we teach them to turn to great books throughout their lives for comfort, humor, and for illumination of the human experience. The most influential leaders and thinkers in the world have consistently relied on literature for inspiration at their most difficult moments. Nelson Mandela turned to Steinbeck during his imprisonment and says it changed his life. Lincoln was criticized for reading novels in the middle of the Civil War; he defended himself by saying that it kept him sane.

“Whether we are called upon to govern a nation or organize a birthday party for too many children, the key to both surviving our days and cultivating our next generation of leaders is many books, well chosen.”

In many ways, that sums up why I love being a children’s librarian and think of it as more of a calling, than a job. (So I am still a children’s librarian, even though I am currently not employed as one.)

As Jerry J. Mallett says in the very last essay, “It is never too late to have your life changed by a children’s book.”

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life, by Steve Leveen

Monday, February 1st, 2010

The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life

How to get more books in your life and more life from your books.

by Steve Leveen

Levenger Press, 2005. 123 pages.

This book is a celebration of reading. Steve Leveen talks about how to get more books into your life, with ideas like making a personal lifetime reading list, listening to audiobooks, and sharing books with others in book clubs. As an avid reader myself, most of his ideas were not new to me, but I did enjoy reading the ideas of another book lover for savoring books.

Some of his writing is a celebration of the reading life:

“Book love is something like romantic love. When we are reading a really great book, burdens feel lighter, cares seem smaller, and commonplaces are suddenly delightful. You become your best optimistic self. Like romantic love, book love fills you with a certain warmth and completeness. The world holds promise. The atmosphere is clearer and brighter; a beckoning wind blows your hair.

“But while romantic love can be fleeting, book love can last. Readers in book love become more skilled at choosing books that thrill them, move them, transport them. Success breeds success, as these lucky people learn how to find diamonds over and over. They are always reading a good book. They are curious, interested — and usually interesting — people.”

I especially like his conclusion:

“On the first page of this little guide, I suggested that I could help you find more time to read. I hope that by employing some of the ideas in this little book and others you discover, you’ll fall deeply in book love — not once but perpetually. Then you will not have to worry about finding the time to read; that time will come to you. You will naturally do some things less as you read more. What those things will be is obviously your decision.

“Finally, I hope you read some books for no reason other than pure enjoyment. Let a fine story grab hold of you, let yourself be embraced in this uniquely human pleasure with sweet abandon. As you collect books for learning, also collect books that make you laugh and cry and shudder and forget the real world completely. It is good for us in more ways than we know.”

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Review of Shelf Discovery, by Lizzie Skurnick

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

shelf_discoveryShelf Discovery

The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading

A Reading Memoir

by Lizzie Skurnick

With Meg Cabot, Laura Lippman, Cecily von Ziegesar, and Jennifer Weiner

Avon (HarperCollins), 2009. 424 pages.

This was the perfect book to read slowly while I was taking an online class given by the Association for Library Service to Children called “The Newbery Medal: Past, Present and Future.” Because this book was, also, about the books of childhood. Okay, maybe not all the childhood reading this book covered was necessarily “distinguished,” but it was truly memorable. And a whole lot of fun to stroll down memory lane with Lizzie Skurnick and some guest writers, talking about the books we loved as teens. As a matter of fact, a lot of Newbery Medal winners and Honor Books were included, so it was truly pertinent to the class.

I was won over immediately by Laura Lippman’s Foreword to this book, because I have always been a rereader. My father is not a rereader. My sister is not a rereader. They are proud not to be. My sister does not buy books, because she is not going to read it again, so why spend the money? My father is embarrassed when he forgets he’s read a book before and accidentally starts on it again. I, however, have always taken great delight in rereading old friends, and love C. S. Lewis’s essay, “On Rereading.” I knew I would enjoy this book when I read Laura Lippman’s words:

“Some people are baffled by re-reading in general, the re-reading of children’s books in particular. What’s the point? Why waste time revisiting the books of childhood when there’s so much else to read? With these essays, Lizzie Skurnick has answered those questions far more eloquently than I ever could. It’s as if a kindly psychiatrist suddenly appeared with a sheaf of missing brain scans…. By the time we realize the profound influences of our youthful reading lists, it’s too late to undo them. Yes, if I knew then what I know now, I would have read more seriously and critically during those crucial years that my brain was a big, porous sponge. But I didn’t and my hunch is that you, dear reader, didn’t either. So stretch out on Dr. Lizzie’s couch… Contemplate the fact that Ramona Quimby may be a fictional creation on a par with Emma Bovary. We should not be ashamed of re-reading our favorite books, only of re-reading them thoughtlessly.”

But I especially liked what Lizzie Skurnick said about how the books themselves brought her right back to her own experience of reading them:

“When I first started doing reviews of classic young adult literature for Jezebel’s Fine Lines column, I was amused and surprised by the odd, visceral details that returned to me with every work: Pa bringing the girls real white sugar wrapped in brown paper in Little House in the Big Woods, Sally J. Freeman having a man-o’-war wrapped around her foot (who even knew what a man-o’-war was?), Claudia choosing macaroni at the Automat in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. These strong, charged images that have never left me — they’re often even stronger than memories I have of my own life. I simply see the cover, and they come back — like fragments of a dream I can’t quite remember, Proust’s madeleine, but even stranger, since I’ve never even tasted one.

“Some of the lives I read about were very similar to mine (I could see a lot of my own camp life in There’s a Bat in Bunk Five, minus the cute boyfriend, natch), and some couldn’t be more different (despite my best efforts, I have yet to achieve psychic synergy with a dolphin). But it wasn’t about finding myself — or not finding myself — in the circumstances of a girl’s life, as much as I might be fascinated by it. It was about seeing myself — and my friends and enemies — in the actual girl.

Ah, here is writing a kindred soul, who, like me, was pulled from childhood into the lives of girls in books.

And now the fun comes in to hear her telling about those lives. Some are the same books I loved and cherished myself. Some are quite different. Judging by the copyright dates, Lizzie Skurnick is several years younger than me. She also got hold of some raunchier material than came my way, for whatever reason. (You mean to tell me that’s what’s in Flowers in the Attic? Lauri Ann, you read that? Okay, well.)

But most of it is simple good clean fun. I laughed at some of the themes she found. For example, all the books that describe living off the land. She says:

“I am convinced more than ever that once the great global climactic catastrophe has destroyed the earth, when the stragglers dig themselves out from their damp bomb-shelter hovels and go hard-core low-tech, readers of young adult fiction will make up the core of the new society . . . because we are the only ones who will find living off the land fun.”

Some other chapters’ themes are tear-jerkers, coming of age, danger, runaways, romance, paranormal, and old-fashioned girls, though Lizzie Skurnick has much classier ways of wording them. She really covers a wide variety of titles. Just a smattering of some favorites of mine that she covers are: A Wrinkle in Time, A Ring of Endless Light, Jacob Have I Loved, Bridge to Terabithia, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Understood Betsy, In Summer Light, The Moon By Night, An Old-Fashioned Girl, The Secret Garden, and A Little Princess.

She covers 73 titles, so, obviously, there are many more. I had not read most of them, but somehow half the fun is the fondness and the spirit with which she tells about them. And I will definitely have to look some of these up.

I recommend doing like I did and reading a chapter or so a day. I am going to start following her blog, Old Hag.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.