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Bookish Links

And now, for some of the best bookish links from around the internet this week…

 

1. A Brief Survey of the Great American Novels(s)

What constitutes the Great American Novel? Does it change over time? This fascinating article includes a collection of quotations from various authors and journalists about books as varied as Moby-Dick to The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. 

 

2. Further Reading: North Korea

“Beyond the finger-pointing, threats, and not-so-funny humor are the hidden people of a devastated country whose stories are agonizingly, slowly coming to light. The regime will fall one day. Until then, insightful books provide our best opportunities for encouraging education and understanding.”

 

3. Realizations on Writing and Reading by Allan Wolf

“Writing nearly killed me. Reading saved my life.”

 

4. 21 Award-Winning Children’s Books for Black History Month

A well curated collection of books for Black History Month, subdivided by age group for elementary, middle school, and high school.

 

5. 100 Must-Read Graphic Memoirs

A listing of 100 memoirs told in the format of a graphic novel — a format made famous by books like Maus and Persepolis. I’d read a number of these, but by no means all, and I spent quite a while combing through looking for new picks to get my hands on soon.

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Caldecott Award Winners 2017

Each year, the Caldecott Award honors the year’s distinguished American picture books. I’m always excited to see which books are chosen, and it’s become a tradition to read the year’s books aloud with my son. He enjoys making it into his own competition, and each of us decides on our favorites from the year’s Caldecott winners.

Radiant Child – by Javaka Steptoe

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This picture book biography of Jean-Michel Basquiat focuses on the artist’s childhood: the encouragement and inspiration he gained from his mother, the expressiveness and non-conformity of his art (even as a child), the way that a childhood car accident prompted an interest in human anatomy that continued throughout his later work. The theme of art being expressive and “outside-the-lines” pervades the book, and the messages about what constitutes art could prove a helpful preparation for children getting ready to visit an art museum or exhibition.

Leave Me Alone! – by Vera Brosgol

(my favorite)

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This hilariously funny book follows an exasperated old woman who needs some peace and quiet to finish her knitting. She moves from place to place, searching for a quiet place to knit and constantly being interrupted by a series of increasingly unexpected visitors. The story explores both the need for a break from people and the way that searched-for aloneness can become lonely after a while. As an introvert and a knitter myself, I found this book to be particularly funny, and it was my personal favorite from among this year’s Caldecott winners.

Freedom in Congo Square – by Carole Boston Weatherford

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With vibrant illustrations and a strong rhyming text, this book explores daily life for enslaved people in New Orleans. Congo Square  was the only place in New Orleans where enslaved people were allowed to congregate during their time off, and it became an important place of community, music, and dance. This book shows both the horrors and drudgery of daily activities under slavery, as well as the hope and anticipation of the weekly gatherings in Congo Square. The text was very accessible for my 6-year-old, and the poetry was powerful in its subtlety.

Du Iz Tak? – by Carson Ellis

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This quirky tale about insects building a tree fort had my son laughing out loud. It’s written in a made-up language, so kids have to infer from context what the words mean. As a French teacher, this made me happy in a special teacherly place in my heart. Getting kids to let go of having to know what every single word means and just understand the gist of something in a foreign language is an important part of being able to absorb the new language. Rounded out with charming illustrations, this book was most enjoyable.

They All Saw the Cat – by Brendan Wenzel

(my son’s favorite)

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This charming book is a fascinating exploration of perspective and point of view. It shows a cat from the perspective of lots of different people and animals that it interacts with — from the child’s perspective, the cat is a loving big-eyed kitty; from the mouse’s perspective, it’s a horrifying monster. The creative illustrations truly make this book, and it’s not at all heavy-handed in its approach. My 6-year-old son loved the constantly changing perspectives on this cat, and this book was his favorite among this year’s Caldecotts.

 

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Diversity in Verse Novels – Part II

I love reading verse novels. There’s something so alluring about them. If you’re not familiar with the genre, it’s a form in which the entire story is told in a series of non-rhyming poems, usually from the perspective of the main character (or switching back and forth between several characters). I find it to be a unique and beautiful way to get inside the thoughts of a character.

It’s a wonderful genre for diverse stories. The format of narrative poems allows for such intimate access to each character’s point of view. I find that even if the character is very different from me, I can understand his or her perspective more easily when I engage with poems like these.

I’ve already written one post about diversity in verse novels (you can find Part I here), but I just had to share a few more of my favorites.

Brown Girl Dreaming – by Jacqueline Woodson

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This memoir, written as a series of narrative poems, tells the story of the author’s childhood during the 1960s and 70s. I was particularly struck by her comparisons of the culture of her home in New York with the culture of her mother’s family in South Carolina. Deftly written and inspiring.

The Crossover – by Kwame Alexander

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The language in this novel packs a punch. Each poem is full of movement and motion, sizzling across the page. The story is about basketball, but it’s also about brotherhood, about navigating adolescence, about working through family tension. It’s an engaging story, and a joy to read.

Audacity – by Melanie Crowder

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This powerfully written story was inspired by true events in the life of Clara Lemlich. It deals with immigration, antisemitism, women’s rights, labor rights, and protest, all in a very readable and accessible way. A Jewish immigrant from Russia in the early 20th century, Clara refuses to accept the terrible working conditions prevalent in her new community in New York. Her story is inspiring and expertly told.

Red Butterfly – by A.L. Sonnichsen

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Kara has never met her birth mother. She was abandoned as an infant but taken in and cared for by an American woman living in China. She’s knows that something is unusual — even wrong — about her life, but she can’t quite figure out what’s going on. Why is she kept out of sight in their tiny apartment in Tianjin? Why can’t she and her American mother join Daddy in the U.S.? An intriguing and compelling story about adoption, family, and being undocumented.

Serafina’s Promise – by Ann E. Burg

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Serafina dreams of becoming a doctor someday. But her dream would require her to attend school, and money for a uniform and supplies is non-existent. Besides, Serafina’s mother needs her at home, to prepare for the arrival of the new baby — the whole family is hoping against hope that this time the baby will live past infancy. Set in Haiti, against the backdrop of the 2010 earthquake, this book is filled with hope and determination.

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Engaging Books to Read When it’s Hard to Concentrate

I ended up with unexpected surgery on my ankle two weeks ago, so I’ve found myself laid up on the couch with plenty of time to read. Unfortunately (between the pain and the pain medication) I’ve also found it difficult to concentrate on books. It’s been harder than usual to find books that are engaging enough to hold my attention as I recover, but I’ve managed to find a few that fit the bill. These four books were quite engrossing, and I found them hard to put down despite my lack of concentration.

The Sun is Also a Star – by Nicola Yoon

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This is a sweet YA romance between a Jamaican girl and the Korean-American boy that she meets by chance on the day before her scheduled deportation. It all takes place in a single day, and has a narrative that shifts between characters and perspectives. The main characters are both flawed and charming, and I found both of their backstories to be compelling.

Born a Crime – by Trevor Noah

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I listened to this riveting memoir on audio, and I think that Trevor Noah’s voice talents added a great deal to the experience. Parts of this book are intense — as the son of a black woman and a white man in Apartheid-era South Africa, Trevor Noah’s very existence was illegal. Yet the tone doesn’t stay heavy. Interwoven are hilarious stories of mischief and mayhem, and cultures colliding. Deeply compelling and incredibly funny at the same time.

Rebel of the Sands – by Alwyn Hamilton

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This action-packed fantasy focuses on Amani, a young woman desperate to get away from the small desert town where she grew up. Her world is reminiscent of the Middle East, except that Djinni and magical beasts still roam the desert and interact with the human world. The fantasy world is intriguing, the characters are compelling, and the plot kept me reading past the time I should have turned off the lights.

The Night Gardener – by Jonathan Auxier

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This eerie and lovely middle grade novel follows a young Irish brother and sister who find themselves employed in a decrepit English house that hides many secrets. It’s a spooky tale, with a certain reminiscence towards Edgar Allen Poe, but the creepiness never gets over the top. The characters are memorable, the plot moves quickly and gracefully, and the storytelling is enchanting.

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A Reading Life: {Guest Post} How Reading Changed My Life in 2016

How Reading Changed My Life in 2016

by Jennifer LeBlanc

As a little girl, with a Dick & Jane reader, I learned to read. I remember the exact moment that the letters turned into words: all at once the story had wings.

I read all throughout my childhood and teenage years, and majored in English in college. Almost 20 years since my university days, I fondly remember the hours spent in my college library, browsing small hardcover copies of great works of literature. That was the year I read Jane Eyre, Dickens’ Hard Times, Jane Austen, and Wuthering Heights. That was the year I met my husband, who is (happily) also a reader.

We married a few years later and had two daughters. Some of my happiest motherhood moments have been spent reading aloud together – Charlotte’s Web, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Winnie the Pooh, Beatrix Potter, Because of Winn-Dixie, and The Boxcar Children.

But at some point in the last few years, in the constancy of raising my girls, I stopped prioritizing my own reading. Life as a young family was busy, and I let social media, movies, and other hobbies fill in the cracks of time I could call my own.

As 2015 wrapped up, I set a Goodreads Reading Challenge to read 12 books in 2016. I figured I would strive to average a book a month for the year. My real goal was not the number, but to make reading a regular part of my life again. I really had no idea how much my goal would change my life. Here’s how reading changed my life in 2016:

I Fell in Love with History

Nonfiction books like Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and fiction titles like Number the Stars and The Book Thief gave me an entry point into historic events. Stories brought color to things that were only black and white in school textbooks. Now with an increasing number of books under my literary belt, I am beginning to stitch events together in my mind and see history as a seamless road stretching backwards, not as separate, unrelated events. I can see cause and effect; how what transpired in one decade influenced and shaped what happened in the next. Reading about Louie Zamperini’s time in Japanese Prisoner of War camps helped me better understand what my mom’s step-dad went through as a POW in Japan during World War II. Reading books set during historical times, turned a light on in my mind, giving me a thirst for learning and knowledge.

I Learned to Do Things That Intimidated Me

For whatever reason, I have been intimidated by big books, and tended to read titles less than 350 pages. I have also been scared to read about certain topics. In 2016, I learned that everything you accomplish that you are afraid of gives you strength and confidence for the future. I read books over 500 pages, and am tackling one over 800 pages this year. Learning to stick with something, to persevere, and to overcome self-imposed barriers has had positive effects in other areas of my life. Sometimes our limits are real; sometimes we create them ourselves.

I Strengthened the Relationship with My Daughter

My oldest daughter, a seventh-grader, and I formed a sort of Mother-Daughter Book Club when I decided to read a book she was assigned to read for Language Arts class. I read it, she read it, and we discussed it. Since then we’ve had a shared bond and common language others don’t have. It’s given us inside jokes and camaraderie we wouldn’t have had otherwise. It’s given us language for other people’s struggles and other times and places.

I Gained a World All My Own

Reading so much last year gave me a world all my own. No matter what was happening in my day, I knew that reading was waiting for me. I love the feeling of being in my own life and someone else’s at the same time, of knowing that there is always the comfort and inspiration of words to benchmark my days. As an introvert, I love how reading is solitary, and yet shared with others all around the world. I love how reading gives you a way to travel without leaving your home or town. It’s home and abroad, it’s comfort and challenge, it’s heart-warming and devastating, it’s soothing and exhilarating. It’s anything you want it to be.

Reading made me stronger in 2016. It made me knowledgeable and more confident. It took me to far-away places. It gave me empathy and insight and courage. I never want to forget the power of a literary life.

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jleblanc

Jennifer LeBlanc is a mother, writer, and artist living on the west coast with her teacher husband and two daughters. She is fascinated by people’s stories and reads partially to answer the question, “What is life like for others?” In 2016 she read 82 books. You can find her on Instagram at @liveart_fully, or on Facebook at Live Art.fully. She is working on her first book.

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Picture Books about Scotland

Our family had the opportunity to spend a week in Scotland this fall, and it was such fun to find picture books to prepare my son for the trip. Here are a few of our favorites:

An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales – by Theresa Breslin and Kate Leiper

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This beautifully illustrated collection features stories from all different regions of Scotland. It provides brief introductions to each story, explaining the era of each story and whether it comes from the Borderlands, the Highlands, etc. The writing style is both elegant and accessible, and I found that it worked quite well as a read aloud.

Wee Gillis – by Munro Leaf

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This charming story follows a young orphan boy who spends half of the year with his mother’s family in the lowlands and half of the year with his father’s relatives in the highlands. It’s a story of the discovery and appreciation two different cultures, and of finding one’s own place in the mix. Robert Lawson’s wonderful illustrations add a great deal to the story as well.

Katie Morag: Island Stories – by Mairi Hedderwick

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This collection includes four different tales about a young girl living on a Scottish island. My favorite is Katie and the Two Grandmothers — a charming story in which Katie’s mainland city-dwelling grandmother comes to visit the island and stands in sharp contrast to Katie’s overall-wearing, sheep-raising island grandmother. The illustrations are lovely, and the stories do a lovely job of presenting different aspects of Scottish life without being at all pedantic.

Katie in Scotland – by James Mayhew

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My son and I had already enjoyed meeting Katie in Katie in London and Katie’s London Christmas, so I was pleased to see a book in the same series in which Katie visits Scotland. This is a story from the tourist’s perspective, so it highlights many castles and tourist attractions in Scotland. An interesting addition, but definitely one to read in conjunction with stories that give the local perspective as well.

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A Reading Life: {Guest Post} Why I Read

Why I Read

by Kaytee Cobb

cobb-maternity-19Hello, my name is Kaytee. I’m a relatively new-ish book blogger over at notesonbookmarks.wordpress.com. I love to read; and when I’m done, I love getting to interview authors for my site. But that’s just a little part of who I am. My husband, Jason, and I are about to celebrate 11 years of marriage. We met at the University of Arizona, so we are avid Wildcats fans. I finished a Masters in Spanish while he went to Medical school and then we moved to Oregon for three years, where we had a hard time with the dreary skies. In 2012 we moved to Albuquerque, NM, to be closer to family (but not so close that we get free babysitting!), and enjoy the sunshine again! I’m also a homeschool mama of three sweet, little boys, director of our local homeschool co-op, and considering becoming a lactation consultant (or maybe an author!) as a “later” career path… but my plate is too full right now. Reading is where my heart is, so I’m looking forward to being here as a guest today to tell you about WHY I READ!

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I’ve been an avid reader ever since I was a little girl. I loved destroying my classmates in monthly reading challenges in school (competitive, much?). Like many of us, I fell off the reading bandwagon a bit while I was in college because I had so much other required reading to do, and much of mine was in my second language. The limited number of hours in a week meant that free-time for reading was almost non-existent. After I finished my degree, I took a slow dive back into the bookish world, typically reading somewhere between 30 and 50 books a year, even after having our first baby or two.

That number has exploded over the past year, though, even as we added baby #3. I’ve found ways to squeeze reading into every free moment of my life, whether I’m driving, cooking, cleaning, or homeschooling, there’s a book in my hand or in my ears. I just cannot get enough. I’ll read anything I can get my hands on, but especially love good literary fiction, and I can devour a psychological thriller in just a few hours. I could write another entire post about how I read so much with three littles at home, but this post is about the reasons.

When I open a book for the first time, I am so excited to discover a new world (or re-enter a favorite one, if this is the next in an already-loved series). I cannot wait to meet new characters, explore new landscapes, or feel new feelings. I am thrilled to fall in love for the first time (again!), run away from a killer, or experience the prejudices of racism. Maybe this time I’ll grow up in the south, see the world through the fingers of a blind man, or live in India. I might be part of these characters’ lives for a week or a year or three generations. Every single new book that I open reveals another facet of the world I love to explore.

As I jump from book to book, I am transported from space stations to springtime in Manhattan, from the battlefields of WWII to a future I could never imagine. Great fiction takes me there, for far less than the cost of a plane ticket, or time machine.

Non-fiction involves the same transportation, but always somewhere of this world. Perhaps I know myself better; perhaps I walk a hard road alongside the author; or perhaps I recognize the seedy underbelly of a society that I have never seen before. When non-fiction authors open my eyes, they force me, or maybe just help me to look further inward and outward than I have in the past. These authors open up new worlds that exist right here around me, instead of only in the pages of their books.

Last year, I read 123 books (remember I said my reading exploded?). That means I had 123 new worlds opened up to my eyes via fiction and non-fiction. This year, I look forward to reading even more. I know that with every word I devour I become more than I was. I know more, yes, but I am more, too.

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Interested in being a guest blogger for A Reading Life? Submit your ideas here.