Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenges

Did anyone else do the 2016 Reading Challenge from Modern Mrs. Darcy? I found it to be so fun and motivating!

If you’re interested in joining in for the 2017 Reading Challenge, check out the two different options Anne is offering — Reading for Fun as well as a Reading for Challenge! I’ve started the Reading for Challenge list, and it’s already gotten me diving into an essay collection and a Pulitzer prize winner. Let me know if you’re joining the 2017 challenge!

Here are the books I read for the 2016 challenge. I found some real winners among them! I’d love to hear about your picks for these categories as well.

A Book Published This Year:

To the Bright Edge of the World – by Eowyn Ivey

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Eowyn Ivey’s book The Snow Child is one of my favorites of all time, so I knew I had to read her newest book as well. It’s set in Alaska, in the era of white explorers discovering the Alaskan interior and meeting with native tribes. The story is told in a combination of letters, diary entries, and photos — I loved the way that this format allowed the reader to understand the thoughts and feelings of so many different characters. The book didn’t quite live up to my expectations from The Snow Child, but was still quite compelling and enjoyable.

A Book You Can Finish in a Day:

Nimona – by Noelle Stevenson

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I read this graphic novel in one sitting, and absolutely loved it. It’s snarky and irreverent in its humor while still providing a compelling adventure.

A Book You’ve Been Meaning to Read:

Binti – by Nnedi Okorafor

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I’ve been meaning to try out a book by Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor for a while. She writes African-based science fiction, and I was utterly captivated by Binti. It’s an intriguing tale of a girl who leaves not only her village, but also her planet, for the first time in order to attend university.

A Book Recommended by Your Local Librarian:

Hillbilly Elegy – by J.D. Vance

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This book is an unusual combination of memoir and sociological commentary on Appalachian culture. As a memoir, I found it to be compelling and thoughtful. Having grown up in Appalachia myself, I found much of the author’s experience familiar and understandable. Aspects of the sociological commentary sections of this book seemed a bit universalized — I prefer reading about people’s own experiences rather than reading a single experience extrapolated to explain an entire culture. Yet I still found it to be a moving and worthwhile read, which left me contemplating my own culture and roots in a new way.

A Book You Should Have Read in School:

Beezus and Ramona – by Beverly Cleary

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I can’t believe I made it all the way through childhood without having read Beverly Cleary. I’ve read the Ramona books and the Henry Huggins books aloud to my son this year, and we’ve both fallen in love with the characters.

A Book Chosen for You by Your Spouse:

Starship Troopers – by Robert Heinlein

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My husband and I tend to stretch each other in our reading recommendations for one another. When he recommended Starship Troopers to me, I knew it wasn’t one that I would have picked out on my own. Yet I found it intriguing and it turned out to be an enjoyable read.

A Book Published Before You Were Born:

Emily of New Moon – by L.M. Montgomery

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I grew up on the Anne of Green Gables books, but hadn’t read the Emily of New Moon trilogy until this year. I’ve heard that Emily is a more autobiographical character than Anne, and I particularly enjoyed the sections of the book that spoke to her growing love of writing, and the way that the act of writing informed her way of living. These books made me want to spend more time with my own pen and paper.

A Book That Was Banned At Some Point:

Fatherland – by Nina Bunjevac

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This memoir, told in the format of a graphic novel, tells the story of the author’s parents. Nina’s mother flees a difficult marriage and takes her children from Canada back to her own homeland of Yugoslavia; Nina’s father, a violent Serbian nationalist, is part of a terrorist group that plans to bomb homes of Tito supporters. The illustrations are excellent, the storytelling is gripping, and the historical setting is one that was completely new to me.

A Book That You Previously Abandoned:

The War That Ended Peace – by Margaret MacMillan

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My favorite period of history to study is 1870-1945, the fin-de-siècle and the two world wars. This book sits firmly in that area, covering the late 1800s through the start of World War I in fascinating detail. Margaret MacMillan is a superb researcher — I thoroughly enjoyed her book Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World as well — and this book shows off her talents well. It’s not a short book — I think that’s why I abandoned it last time I started it — but in the end, it’s well worth the effort.

A Book You Own But Have Never Read:

Uncle Tungsten – by Oliver Sacks

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I don’t know of anyone who writes quite like Oliver Sacks. He’s a neurologist, yet writes about people with an empathy and understanding that I don’t usually associate with scientists. His memoirs are clear, pithy, and memorable. This one had been sitting on my shelf for a while, before I decided to pick it up. It focuses on Oliver Sacks’ childhood — growing up in London during WWII, surrounded by brilliant and interesting aunts and uncles who introduce him to different realms of science, and experimenting on his own with chemical compounds that are no longer available to 11-year-old boys for home chemistry sets. This book ties in well with Oliver Sacks’ more recent memoir, On the Move, which focuses more on his adult life.

A Book That Intimidates You:

The Three-Body Problem – by Cixin Liu

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I found this book a bit intimidating, both because of its size and the amount of theoretical physics involved in the plot. But I was intrigued, and had never read science fiction by a Chinese author before, so decided I had to dig in. I’ve now read the whole trilogy, and found the books to be fascinating — particularly the cultural aspects that are so clearly non-western. Science fiction is so much about how we imagine the future might be, and it seems that our imaginings of the future often rely heavily on our cultural expectations and context. The second book was my favorite — my husband and I ended up reading the library’s copy at the same time and vied with each other for the chance to read ahead!

A Book You’ve Already Read At Least Once:

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe – by C.S. Lewis

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I’ve read this book far more than twice. It was one of my absolute favorite books as a child, and it was a delight to read it aloud to my son for the first time this year.

10 Best Middle Grades Novels of 2016

So much fantastic middle grades fiction came out this past year. Here are the 10 that particularly captivated me:

1. Wild Robot – by Peter Brown

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This quirky and charming story follows the adventures of Roz, a robot who wakes up alone on a wilderness island.

2. The Girl Who Drank the Moon – by Kelly Barnhill

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This evocative fantasy tells the tale of an oppressed village, a enmagicked girl who drinks light from the moon, and a snarky witch.

3. When the Sea Turned to Silver – by Grace Lin

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An exciting tale of adventure and discovery that features a variety of Chinese folk tales and beautifully rendered illustrations.

4. Wolf Hollow – by Lauren Wolk

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At times rather brutal in its content, this book follows the compelling tale of a young girl caught up in the defense of an ostracized World War I veteran in small town Pennsylvania.

5. Anna and the Swallow Man – by Gavriel Savit

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The haunting tale of a young girl and the stranger she meets as they both try to escape from Nazi-occupied Poland.

6. Paper Wishes – by Lois Stepahban

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A moving story about a young Japanese-American girl in a World War II era internment camp.

7. Grayling’s Song – by Karen Cushman

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An engaging journey-style fantasy, with a memorable cast of characters.

8. Full of Beans – by Jennifer Holm

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A mischievous boy in Depression-era Florida tries to earn money and interacts with the “New Dealers” who come to implement changes in his town.

9. It Ain’t So Awful Falafel – by Firoozeh Dumas

it ain't so awful

The charming story of an Iranian girl adjusting to life in the states during the 1970s. Funny and serious at the same time, it explores the aftermath of the Iranian hostage crisis.

10. The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price – by Jennifer Maschari

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This unusual and compelling story makes use of magical realism in its exploration of a young boy’s grief over losing his mother.

Caldecott Winners – 2016

This afternoon my son and I had our own Caldecott competition. We sat down together and read this year’s Caldecott award winners (with the exception of Voice of Freedom, which I decided was too intense for him) and picked out our own favorites of the bunch. He thoroughly enjoyed the concept of judging a competition between the books, and came to the “contest” with enthusiasm.

Finding Winnie – by Lindsay Mattick

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This is the story of the real bear that inspired the Winnie-the-Pooh books, a bear cub who was found by a military veterinarian during World War One, and who became the mascot for a group of Canadian soldiers heading off to war. The illustrations are delicate and beautiful, and the story is masterfully told. There’s a frame story, in which a mother is telling Winnie’s story to her young son — the boy’s interjections with questions and comments about the story helped to keep my son’s attention as we read. At the end of the book we learn that the mother who is telling the story (and who also happens to be the author of the book) is a direct descendant of the WWI veterinarian who discovered Winnie. This personal touch with history (combined with beautiful black and white photographs included at the end of the book) made this book incredibly compelling to me.

I was split between this one and Last Stop on Market Street in terms of my favorite from this group of books. (Which I suppose makes sense, as Last Stop on Market Street won this year’s Newbery medal, while Finding Winnie won this year’s Caldecott medal.) They’re very different books, and I loved them both in different ways.

Last Stop on Market Street – by Matt de la Peña

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This is a truly beautiful story about a young boy and his grandmother riding the bus. I found this book very moving. It interacts beautifully with the concepts of poverty and dignity, and the idea of enjoying the beauty that’s around you without having to own it. CJ complains about not having a car, and his grandmother points out the communal beauty and fun of the bus.

I particularly loved the section in which CJ sees two teens listening to music on a mobile device and tells his grandmother that he wishes he had one of those. She tells him he has the real thing right in front of him, and they listen to the man sitting across from them on the bus playing the guitar. It’s such a beautiful picture of enjoying what’s around you without having to own and consume it.

Trombone Shorty – by Troy Andrews

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This brightly illustrated book features the story of Trombone Shorty, a New Orleans jazz musician, and how his interest in music started at a very young age. I came to this book unfamiliar with Trombone Shorty’s music (FYI he’s a contemporary musician, not a “historic” one, and he’s also the author of this book). My son loved the illustrations — especially the fact that photographs are mixed in, collage-like, with the drawn illustrations. My son wanted to point out each and every photograph that was mixed in. It’s an inspiring story for young musicians, and emphasizes the unique way that New Orleans culture centers around and supports music and young musicians.

Waiting – by Kevin Henkes

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My son dubbed this one his favorite. It’s a very sweet story about five toys who sit in a window, waiting. One waits for the moon, another for rain, another for snow. It’s beautifully written and has delicate illustrations. I was left with a sense of the importance of slowing down and enjoying the unexpected beauty that comes our way.

Voice of Freedom – by Carole Boston Weatherford

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This is a powerfully written biography of Fannie Lou Hamer, a woman who grew up as a sharecropper’s daughter in Mississippi  and ended up as a leader in the civil rights movement. It’s an inspiring story, written with energy and beauty, but it’s not for young kids. Amazon recommends it for ages 9 and up, and I would agree with that recommendation. While it’s a picture book, it deals vividly with the injustices of the Jim Crow era. It’s written in the first person, and we hear the (completely justified) anger and defiance in Fannie’s voice as she describes her forced sterilization, the attempts on her life after she registered to vote, and the time she was brutally beaten by a group of white men. This is an important and wonderfully written book, but pay attention to the age recommendation when interacting with it.