ALA Annual Conference 2011 Day One

Friday, June 24, 2011, was the first day of this year’s ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans. I had a 6:00 AM flight, and ended up getting up at 2:30 in order to catch it in plenty of time. This was probably my worst bit of planning for the whole weekend, since I was tired the entire weekend, and never did make that up.

Still, I woke up super excited, so it was actually easy to get out of bed. Unfortunately, in order to get to New Orleans, I had to go to Boston first. The Dulles to Boston flight wasn’t bad at all, only an hour, and then I had a 3-hour wait in the Boston airport, and then a longer flight. Unfortunately, somewhere, either on the plane or in the airport, I left behind the book I was reading on that first flight, Daughter of the Forest, by Juliet Marillier, which was proving to be very captivating even though I hadn’t gotten very far. Fortunately, it was an inexpensive paperback, so I’ve already ordered a replacement copy.

In the Boston airport, I saw lots of librarians, including Martha Parravano from The Horn Book Magazine. I also saw author Nancy Werlin, whom I’d met at the Printz Awards Reception last year, and her husband. Book people tend to be very nice people!

The next flight was much longer, and by then I was exhausted and tried to sleep, which just gave me a crick in the neck. When I landed, around 3:00, I was starving. I passed several restaurants on the way to the baggage claim, but once you got your baggage, there were no restaurants at all. So when the shuttle got me to the Holiday Inn French Quarter, I tried to nap and utterly failed, and went to get food instead at the Checkered Parrot next door — before I fell over.

After being revived by eating, I went with my roommates to the Convention Center and got ready for the opening of the exhibits, aka “The Running of the Librarians.”

Now, since I didn’t drive to the Conference this year, I was telling myself that I would show restraint. HA! Once I got into the exhibits and the scent of books was in the air, I couldn’t help myself!

I picked up some Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) I’m tremendously excited about:

Bigger Than a Bread Box, by Laurel Snyder
Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor
The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, (based on The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, by Chris Van Allsburg)
Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick
Under Dogs, by Markus Zusak
Seriously, Norman! by Chris Raschka
True Blue, by Jane Smiley
An Elephant in the Garden, by Michael Morpurgo
as well as lots of other books that look interesting.

And I purchased a copy of Divergent and got it signed by the author, Veronica Roth.

In the exhibits, I ran into Laini Taylor, her husband Jim DiBartolo, and her editor Alvina Ling. I was thrilled to meet her and got my picture with her. Today I got an additional thrill when my roommate tweeted that Laini Taylor posted a picture with me on her blog! (In fact, that picture’s better.) I was looking like someone who only got a few hours sleep and then spent all day on airplanes, but I was having a great time.

Laini Taylor and me

Also in the exhibits, I took pictures of my friend Kristin Wolden Nitz’s books displayed in the Peachtree booth. I liked it that they are getting publicity even though they are no longer brand new.

Here’s Suspect:

And here’s the middle grade gem, Saving the Griffin:

When my loot bags got so heavy I was close to falling over, I decided I’d better leave the scene of temptation. The Post Office in the exhibits was not open, but the UPS store in the Convention Center was, so I shipped a box of 23 books (which arrived today!).

Here are the books I shipped that first day.

After getting back to the hotel, I headed to the ALSC Happy Hour, which was taking place at the restaurant next door. I couldn’t beat the convenience, and knew I wouldn’t be able to stay awake very long. Right away, I saw Tony Carman, a youth services librarian from neighboring Loudoun County who is also in the DC KidLit Book Club, and who was starting his service on the Caldecott Committee with this conference.

I’m wanting to get more involved in ALA and the divisions I’m part of — ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children), YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association), and PLA (Public Library Association). This was a good way to meet more people involved in ALSC, and was a great way to start off the conference before I turned into a pumpkin and went to bed.

So the first night was just a warm-up. Grabbing books. Meeting authors and librarians. Getting ready for great stuff happening all weekend.

Preparing for ALA Annual Conference 2011

I’m so excited! My flight leaves for ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans at 6:00 am on Friday morning! (I so hope I will wake up! But I think I will be too excited to sleep well.)

The first thing to do when preparing for ALA Annual Conference is figure out what programs and events you’re going to attend. This time I signed up for several things that cost extra, before I’d even seen the schedule, hoping that would make it easier to choose. It didn’t.

Imagine it this way: There are a series of programs about libraries and authors and serving various customer groups and so many other things. There are at least five or so very interesting choices at each time slot. Then there’s the whole author signing schedule, which doesn’t correspond to the program schedule in any way. Then add into that Publisher Previews where editors talk about the books coming out in the Fall that they’re most excited about. It’s really hard to pick what you want to go see. I did learn from previous conferences when I wedged into a room without enough space for everyone that you definitely need to have an alternate plan. (That’s not hard to do. The hard part is realizing that you really won’t get to very many of your alternates.)

I also needed to make my schedule before I figured out what to pack. It will be HOT in New Orleans, and I definitely want to dress up for the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder Banquet and the Printz Award Reception, so I’ll have to build in enough time to go back to my hotel. Maybe maybe rest while I’m at it? And should I bring my laptop? I won’t have much time at all to use it, but right now I’m leaning toward bringing it, if only for the time sitting in airports.

I looked at the signing schedule and tried to figure out which ones I could go to while still hitting as many programs as possible. I got it “down” to 20 authors whose signings I will try to attend! Yikes! (I will try to figure out how to mail the books home. I believe they usually have a place you can do that.) But I really hope to see Marilyn Johnson, signing the book I gave to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Laini Taylor signing her new book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone (want! want! want!), Alex Flinn signing Cloaked (I have it but want to meet her because she’s so brilliant), Franny Billingsley signing her incredible new book Chime, Catherine Gilbert Murdock signing her new book Wisdom’s Kiss (want! want! want!), Brian Selznick signing her new book Wonderstruck (want! want! want!), and Maureen Johnson, the very funniest person on Twitter, signing her new book Name of the Star (want! want! want!).

Of course, if any of these have long lines, which they well may, I may not get to the others. Though that might be a good thing, as it looks like I am going to be weighed down…

For programs, the ones I splurged for a ticket are:

The Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder Banquet. Attending this was a highlight of my year last year. I wouldn’t miss it.

The Printz Award Reception. Where ALL the brilliant authors honored give speeches.

The YA Author Coffee Klatch. Where you get to meet lots more authors, all award winners.

The Margaret Edwards Luncheon. Alas! Terry Pratchett isn’t healthy enough to come in person, but he’s going to send a video acceptance speech. And that’s one day when I’ll take the time to eat a good lunch.

This year I also decided to buy a ticket to the Gala Author Tea, honoring some writers for adults (to broaden my horizons), and a Walking Tour of the French Quarter, since I know nothing about New Orleans and it seems a shame to be there but only stay in the hotel and the convention center.

This doesn’t leave a lot of time for other conference programs! But some I’m hoping to attend are:

A panel with Nancy Pearl talking about Reader’s Advisory Research and Trends. (What? That doesn’t sound super exciting to you?)

The movie “Library of the Early Mind,” a documentary film exploring children’s literature. (Again, I’m really looking forward to this!) Here’s the trailer:

I’m thankful for the tip from Travis Jonker at 100scopenotes to attend the Notable Books Committee meeting, where they talk about the best books of the year.

And to Abby the Librarian for the tip to attend the Best Fiction for Young Adults meeting where they have actual teens (gasp!) come in and give feedback on the books.

I’m not sure whose blog tipped me off to go to the Odyssey Awards, but when I saw that slot was free and read the outstanding audiobooks that are being honored, I got excited about that event.

Because the SCBWI KidLit Drink Night last year got me off to a fantastic start at meeting people, I’m planning to attend the ALSC Happy Hour Friday night, and hope it will be as good. Oh, another reason I have to attend is that Google Maps reports that the walking distance from it to my hotel is 22 seconds! Not one minute, not half a minute, but 22 seconds! How can I resist going and timing myself? Besides, it will be easy to get to my room if I conk out early.

And, definitely, attending ALA is about making connections. I really love meeting authors and telling them how much I love their books. (And I hope to be one of them some day — I’m still seeking an agent for my middle grade fantasy novel.) I also love meeting other librarians who are excited about librarianship, and especially touching kids’ lives with books. I recently volunteered to be on an ALSC Committee and was appointed to the Children and Technology Committee. My term doesn’t start until after ALA Annual, but I hope to meet other committee members. And I was delighted when I learned that bloggers extraordinaire Travis Jonker of 100scopenotes and John Schumacher of MrSchuReads are on the very same panel! This will be my first committee experience, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m a relatively new librarian, and I don’t want to lose my enthusiasm, which gets endangered when I stay local and think about things like RIFs and budget cuts.

So, I can’t think of a better way to build my enthusiasm for being a Librarian! On to New Orleans!

(And now I’d better go pack!)

Review of Mitchell’s License, by Hallie Durand and Tony Fucile

Mitchell’s License

by Hallie Durand
illustrated by Tony Fucile

Candlewick Press, 2011. 40 pages.
Starred Review

Here is an absolutely perfect choice for Father’s Day for fathers of small children. How I wish the creators had written it about 15 years earlier when my son was small and nuts about anything related to cars. Now I will have to settle for reading it in storytime, but what this book really needs is a father ready to act it out. Big thanks to Twenty By Jenny for bringing this book to my attention.

The book begins telling us about a typical three-year-old, but then a twist is added that creates all the fun:

“Mitchell never ever EVER wanted to go to bed. Until his dad finally said he could drive there.

“Mitchell was three years, nine months, and five days old when he got his license.”

The picture there shows Mitchell proudly holding his “Remote-Control Dad Driver’s License.”

Mitchell drives Dad as so many children do — sitting on his shoulders and steering with the ears. They have a whole lot of fun with it, with Mitchell inspecting the tires, checking the engine, and cleaning the windshield first. There’s a delightful surprise when Mitchell starts out by driving his car right into a wall!

“The next night, Mitchell remembered to stop and look both ways.
He also learned how to beep the horn.
He liked the way it sounded . . . a lot!”

You can probably guess what the picture to go with beeping the horn looks like, but wait until you see the vigor with which Mitchell pounds on his Dad’s nose!

We get to see a few different bedtimes, with Mitchell becoming a skilled driver and adding fun riffs on the theme, like braking to avoid a collision with Mom and adding oil.

But when Mitchell comes up with a scheme to drive the car to the Gas Station (Cookie Jar), his car malfunctions, and drives him to bed.

Part of what makes this book so absolutely brilliant are the illustrations. Tony Fucile is an animator, with credits such as The Lion King and Finding Nemo, and it shows. You almost feel like you’re watching a movie as you flip through the pages, with plenty of emotion showing on the characters’ faces and plenty of motion in the characters’ actions. When I saw the picture of Mitchell’s Dad’s face after he bonked into the wall, I could almost hear a theater full of kids burst out laughing.

This book is perfect in so many ways. The artwork is not gorgeous, elaborate paintings, but it is absolutely perfect for this story. I hope it will get some Caldecott attention. I notice clever details as I read it again — like Mitchell’s pajamas each night having a car theme, and his room decorated with cars. Mom’s walking by with a laptop, and there’s a cordless phone in a docking station. This is a modern home but fully in the wonderful tradition of books-as-games along with the classic Pete’s a Pizza. Makes me wish I had a toddler to share it with, but meanwhile it brings back wonderful memories of my husband playing with our boys.

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

Review of Heaven Is For Real, by Todd Burpo

Heaven Is For Real

A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back

by Todd Burpo
with Lynn Vincent

Thomas Nelson, 2010. 163 pages.
Starred Review

I gobbled up this book in one afternoon. It’s not long, and the story it tells is truly amazing.

My first reaction was that this story would be a hard one for an atheist to explain away. However, I was quickly informed that is not the case. This concerns a little boy’s testimony. As for me, I think his way of talking about it totally rings true, but the fact that he was so young does allow skeptics to propose that he may have been swayed without realizing it.

However, if you do believe in Heaven, this book will encourage you tremendously. And anyone who has suffered a miscarriage, or lost a beloved parent will find themselves incredibly touched.

Colton first gave them a clue that something unusual had happened when they drove to the city where he almost died.

“‘Do you remember the hospital, Colton?’ Sonja asked.

“‘Yes, Mommy, I remember,’ he said. ‘That’s where the angels sang to me.'”

A little while later, they asked him more about it.

“Then he grew serious. ‘Dad, Jesus had the angels sing to me because I was so scared. They made me feel better.’


“I glanced at Sonja again and saw that her mouth had dropped open. I turned back to Colton. ‘You mean Jesus was there?’

“My little boy nodded as though reporting nothing more remarkable than seeing a ladybug in the front yard. ‘Yeah, Jesus was there.’

“‘Well, where was Jesus?’

Colton looked me right in the eye. ‘I was sitting in Jesus’ lap.'”

That’s in the intro, to give you an idea of what’s in store. Then they tell about their crisis, where it looked like their four-year-old son was really going to die. Appendicitis wasn’t diagnosed correctly, and by the time a doctor at a second hospital figured it out, it should have been too late.

Colton’s father, Todd Burpo, is a pastor. But this was the latest of a series of trials, and he found himself yelling at God. “Where are you? Is this how you treat your pastors?! Is it even worth it to serve you?”

But miraculously, Colton recovered. And it was enough of a miracle that they noticed an awful lot of nurses coming to his room and just staring at him in amazement. One of them pulled his Dad aside.

“‘Mr. Burpo, I’ve worked as a nurse here for many years,’ she said. ‘I’m not supposed to tell you this, but we were told not to give your family any encouragement. They didn’t think Colton was going to make it. And when they tell us people aren’t going to make it, they don’t.'”

It wasn’t until four months later that Colton told them about hearing the angels sing.

“It was that conversation in which Colton said that he ‘went up out of’ his body, that he had spoken with angels, and had sat in Jesus’ lap. And the way we knew he wasn’t making it up was that he was able to tell us what we were doing in another part of the hospital: ‘You were in a little room by yourself praying, and Mommy was in a different room and she was praying and talking on the phone.’

“Not even Sonja had seen me in that little room, having my meltdown with God.”

They continue to ask Colton about his experiences, trying not to ask leading questions. They found out things from a child’s perspective that matched what they would expect from the Bible.

Some of the things he said were very striking. I loved this one:

“Suddenly, he piped up again. ‘Daddy, remember when I yelled for you in the hospital when I waked up?’

“How could I forget? It was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard. ‘Of course I do,’ I said.

“‘Well, the reason I was yelling was that Jesus came to get me. He said I had to go back because he was answering your prayer. That’s how come I was yelling for you.’

“Suddenly, my knees felt weak underneath me. I flashed back to my prayers alone, raging at God, and my prayers in the waiting room, quiet and desperate. I remembered how scared I was, agonizing over whether Colton would hang on through the surgery, whether he’d live long enough for me to see his precious face again. Those were the longest, darkest ninety minutes of my life.

“And Jesus answered my prayer? Personally? After I had yelled at God, chastising him, questioning his wisdom and his faithfulness?”

Later Colton had more bombshells for them. He talked about meeting his sister — the child he’d never known about, who had miscarried. He claimed to have met her in heaven. He also spent time talking with his Dad’s father, Pop, whom he had also never met on earth. He didn’t recognize a picture of Pop as an old man — but then later he spotted a picture of Pop young and newly married — and Colton knew him right away!

I also love the way he tells his Dad the pastor that the Holy Spirit “shoots down power for you when you’re talking in church.” He says the Holy Spirit showed him, that Colton got to watch the Holy Spirit “shooting down power.”

But I think my personal favorite of all the things Colton says is when he’s describing God’s throne:

“‘It was big, Dad . . . really, really big, because God is the biggest one there is. And he really, really loves us, Dad. You can’t belieeeeve how much he loves us!'”

Read this book to be encouraged and inspired. At the end of the book, Colton sums up what he wants to tell people:

“I want them to know that heaven is for real.”

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

Review of Chime, by Franny Billingsley


by Franny Billingsley

Dial Books, 2011. 361 pages.
Starred Review

Full disclosure: I consider the author, Franny Billingsley, a friend, because we attended the same fabulous writers’ conference in Paris in 2005, so I definitely was predisposed to like this book. However, I was predisposed to like her then because I liked her books so much, so it’s kind of a circular bias — which all started because she’s an outstanding writer.

Though a little way into Chime, I might have quit, because I’m not a fan of dark fantasy, and this book definitely gets dark. However, I was extremely glad I didn’t quit, because by the end I thought this book a masterpiece.

At the start of the book, Briony hates herself, which makes it a little harder for the reader to like her. Here’s how she begins:

“I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged.

Now, if you please.

I don’t mean to be difficult, but I can’t bear to tell my story. I can’t relive those memories — the touch of the Dead Hand, the smell of eel, the gulp and swallow of the swamp.

How can you possibly think me innocent? Don’t let my face fool you; it tells the worst lies. A girl can have the face of an angel but have a horrid sort of heart.

I know you believe you’re giving me a chance — or, rather, it’s the Chime Child giving me the chance. She’s desperate, of course, not to hang an innocent girl again, but believe me: Nothing in my story will absolve me of guilt. It will only prove what I’ve already told you, which is that I’m wicked.

Can’t the Chime Child take my word for it?”

At the start of this story, you suspect it’s a historical novel set in a superstitious time when witches were hanged. We’re sure Briony must not be a witch and this must be a story of how she was falsely accused.

The setting fits. Briony’s father is a clergyman in the Swampsea. Her twin sister, Rose, has something wrong with her so that she still acts like a child. Early on, Rose runs into the swamp while Bryony is talking to their new lodger, the handsome Eldric. They set out looking for her, being sure to bring a Bible Ball — a piece of paper with a Scripture written on it. We assume it’s a quaint superstition.

But right away, Briony hears the Old Ones of the swamp calling to her. She has the second sight. That’s how she knows she’s a witch.

“I tried to disbelieve Stepmother when she told me I’m a witch. I knew she was right, yet I tried to make a case for myself, pecking at the proof Stepmother offered — pecking at it, turning it over, saying it didn’t exist. Then pecking at another bit, and another, until Stepmother took pity on me. If I wasn’t a witch, she asked, how else was it that I had the second sight?”

Later, when they go into the swamp again, Eldric’s tutor doesn’t bring a Bible Ball — and sure enough, he gets lured into the Quicks and swallowed by the swamp. We realize that all the “superstitions” Briony’s been talking about — Mucky Face, the Brownie, the Boggy Mun, and hearing ghosts — It’s all real, and she can see them.

There’s also a mystery. Two months and three days before the start of this story, Briony and Rose’s Stepmother died. Right away Briony tells us there’s something more to that death:

“But the villagers are wrong about Stepmother, and so is Father. She would never kill herself. I’m the one who knew her best, and I know this: Stepmother was hungry for life.”

I’m sure this is a book that will get better with each rereading. The author feeds you the details slowly, and your curiosity builds. How did Stepmother die? Is Briony a witch? What caused the fire in their library? Can Briony get the Boggy Mun to stop the Swamp Cough that’s killing Rose?

Yes, the story starts out dark and sinister, but I love the beautiful way it all ends up, and all the different threads that come together. I’d better say no more than that! This is a book well worth reading and rereading. This is a fantasy novel, true, but it doesn’t read quite like any other.

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

YA Saves, Revisited

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.

Review of Queen of the Falls, by Chris Van Allsburg

Queen of the Falls

by Chris Van Allsburg

Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010. 40 pages.
Starred Review

Chris Van Allsburg’s books have always amazed me. One of the first ones my husband and I were given was The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, and those pictures still fill me with wonder and a sense of something mysterious and magical. In fact, all of his books, and all of his pictures, convey that sense of mystery and magic.

What’s amazing is that he managed to convey that same feeling in a nonfiction book about a historical event. But perhaps it’s not completely surprising, since Niagara Falls certainly have wonder and majesty. Still, I don’t think every artist could convey it so well.

This book tells the story of sixty-two-year-old Annie Edison Taylor, who was the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. In fact, she was the first person to even have the crazy idea of going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. She hoped to make her fortune after doing this amazing act by traveling on the lecture circuit and showing the barrel.

The book shows the process she went through. There’s an awe-inspiring spread as Annie’s barrel hits the calm right before going over the edge. I wonder if it’s possible to read that page without your pulse quickening.

After her daredevil stunt, fame and fortune did not follow. A grandmother in her sixties didn’t look like a daredevil, and it turned out that the publicists she hired weren’t trustworthy.

Reading this book was an interesting contrast to another book I just read — Amelia Lost, by Candace Fleming, about Amelia Earhart. Amelia Earhart did achieve fame and fortune by doing daredevil stunts and then traveling on the lecture circuit. But Amelia was young and beautiful, and had an outstanding publicist who was also in love with her.

But Annie still achieved something amazing, and this book memorializes her story in a beautiful way.

I like what Annie tells a reporter at the close of this book, with the Falls spread out before them:

“That’s what everyone wonders when they see Niagara. How close will their courage let them get to it? Well, sir, you can’t get any closer than I got. You ask any person who’s stood here, looking out at those falls, what they thought of someone going over them in a barrel. Why, every last one would agree, it was the greatest feat ever performed.

“And I am content when I can say, ‘I am the one who did it.'”

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

Review of Minding Frankie, by Maeve Binchy

Minding Frankie

by Maeve Binchy

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2011. 383 pages.
Starred Review

Maeve Binchy’s books always end up keeping me reading until the small hours of the morning. Why, oh why, didn’t I know better than to start reading this book late at night, thinking I could stop after only one chapter? It’s not that the plot is exciting or action-packed, but you definitely get to caring about these people and want to find out what happens to them.

I do love the way she brings characters we’ve already seen in her other books. You don’t by any means have to have read the other books, but you have the sense that these are old friends. Everybody has a story in Maeve Binchy’s books, and in each book she focuses on a set of intertwined lives and the beautiful way they get through.

Minding Frankie is about the birth of a little girl.

Josie and Charles Lynch live in 23 St. Jarlath’s Crescent with their son Noel. They had always hoped Noel would be a priest, and set aside money early on for that purpose. Noel, however, was definitely not interested.

“Not so definite, however, was what he actually would like to do. Noel was vague about this, except to say he might like to run an office. Not work in an office, but run one. He showed no interest in studying office management or bookkeeping or accounting or in any areas where the careers department tried to direct him. He liked art, he said, but he didn’t want to paint. If pushed, he would say that he liked looking at paintings and thinking about them. He was good at drawing; he always had a notebook and a pencil with him and he was often to be found curled up in a corner sketching a face or an animal. This did not, of course, lead to any career path, but Noel had never expected it to. He did his homework at the kitchen table, sighing now and then, but rarely ever excited or enthusiastic. At the parent-teacher meetings Josie and Charles had inquired about this. They wondered, Does anything at school fire him up? Anything at all?”

Later, Noel got an office job instead of continuing his schooling.

“He met his work colleagues but without any great enthusiasm. They would not be his friends and companions any more than his fellow students at the Brothers had become mates. He didn’t want to be alone all the time, but it was often easier….

“He took to coming home later and later. He also took to visiting Casey’s pub on the journey home — a big barn of a place, both comforting and anonymous at the same time. It was familiar because everyone knew his name.”

Meanwhile, Noel’s parents aren’t sure what to do with the money they had saved to train Noel for the priesthood. And then Charles Lynch is told they don’t want him at his job any longer.

Into this home comes a woman from America, Charles Lynch’s niece Emily. Emily’s father moved to America years ago, and never kept in touch with his family. The family isn’t sure what to expect, but Emily is the sort of person who changes people’s lives by getting to know who they truly are.

She helps Charles and Josie realize what they really want to do is build a statue to St. Jarlath. And she helps Noel realize that he’s an alcoholic and needs help.

But then Noel gets a life-changing phone call. A woman he knew once and spent a drinking weekend with wants him to visit her in the hospital. She tells him she’s pregnant, and he’s the father. And she’s about to die of cancer.

So the book is about Noel trying to get his life together and be a father. The social worker assigned to his case doesn’t think he can do it. But thanks to Emily, there is a community of people around St. Jarlath’s Crescent who care and who help him with minding the little girl, Frankie.

That description doesn’t sound like a book that would keep me up reading through the night. But Maeve Binchy’s books are about Community. The characters are quirky, and some are powerfully flawed, but as we watch them working together, helping each other, working out problems, making mistakes, being wonderfully kind, we get hooked into their stories.

Another uplifting and life-affirming book by Maeve Binchy. I highly recommend getting to know the wonderful people who live in her books.

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

48-Hour Book Challenge Finish Line

I hit 30 hours, 30 minutes! Woo-hoo!

Here’s the breakdown:

Reading: 15 hours, 25 minutes
Blogging: 9 hours, 5 minutes
Networking: 4 hours, 50 minutes
Listening: 1 hour, 10 minutes

I read 1,606 pages and finished 8 books.

I wrote 9 reviews, posted 3 blog posts about the challenge, and posted 5 quotations on Sonderquotes, for a total of 7,858 words. I got one of those reviews posted.

I confess, as the time went on, I started reading short books so I’d finish more! For nonfiction, I read a bunch of individual chapters, but here are the books I finished. They were all excellent:

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
The Seven Towers, by Patricia C. Wrede
The Silver Bowl, by Diane Stanley
Squish, Super Amoeba, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Zita the Spacegirl, Far From Home, by Ben Hatke
Freddie Ramos Springs into Action, by Jacqueline Jules
Freddie Ramos Zooms to the Rescue, by Jacqueline Jules
The Periodic Table: Elements with Style, by Adrian Dingle

With Networking, I didn’t plan to do so much, but got hooked into the YASaves conversation, and then couldn’t bring myself to stay away.

In fact, after writing that sentence, when I went to find the link, I then got hooked into Cecil Castellucci’s fantastic article on the Los Angeles Review of Books blog. This is an awesome quotation: “Putting the right book in the right kid’s hands is kind of like giving that kid superpowers.”

I did not get even close to caught up on writing reviews. But I did make good headway, and I’m hoping that I got into the groove so that more reviews will follow quickly.

What did I learn? I really do love to read! What a fabulous way to spend a weekend! I’m going to have to make more time for it.

What I’ll do next time: Get more sleep BEFORE the 48-hour Book Challenge. Needing sleep was my downfall as far as getting any more reading done, and I was tired the whole time. At the end of the challenge, I planned to take a short nap, and then get my weekend errands done. I slept for 4 1/2 hours! So now I’ll be a bit behind all week, but it was worth it!

YA Saves

I was taking a little break to “Network” — reading tweets from authors and other readers. I learned about this frightful Wall Street Journal article.

It started with Libba Bray’s brilliant and passionate responses:

I’d like to roll my eyes at this article, but I can’t. And not just because one of my eyes doesn’t move that way. But because I genuinely

believe that these articles are hurtful, that they goad banners & keep much-needed books out of the hands of the teens who should be reading

them. Books are, at their heart, dangerous. Yes, dangerous. Because they challenge us: our prejudices, our blind spots. They open us to new

ideas, new ways of seeing. They make us hurt in all the right ways. They can push down the barricades of “them” & widen the circle of “us”

And when one feels alone–say, because of a terrible burden of a secret, something that creates pain and isolation, books can heal, connect

That’s what good books do. That’s what hard books do. And we need them in the world. I’m going to shut up now, @WSJ. But only for a little

while and only because I want dessert.

Then, Maureen Johnson asked people to post their own stories of how reading YA has helped them, with the hashtag #YASaves. The stories that followed are simply incredible.

One of many things that got to me about the article: If the woman who couldn’t find a good current YA novel had gone to a LIBRARY instead of to a bookstore, where Librarians with Master’s degrees work, I am absolutely sure that she could have found a current YA novel that she would have been happy to give to her teen. Librarians are knocked in the article for giving dark books to teens. We’re actually quite good at finding the right book for the right reader. And we could even find a book that would make that mother happy. And if she let her own teen pick a book, we could find a book that would make her happy.

And we might find a book that would save her life.