Saturday Morning Reading, 05.19.12

A few highlights from this week's reading:

Tanita S. Davis, author of the newly released YA novel Happy Families, pens a wonderful tribute to the late Jean Craighead George's novel My Side of the Mountain. I loved that book when I was a kid. Loved it. Jean Craighead George died recently at the age of  92.

In tomorrow's New York Times Book Review (available online now), Judith Shulevitz writes about listening to audiobooks with her children. I smiled at her choices, "...or they’re books we’ve always meant to read but needed children as an excuse to do so" because I've felt the same way. See "Let's Go Reading in the Car."

The Nonfiction Detectives review Kelly Milner Hall's Alien Investigations: Searching for the Truth About UFOs and Aliens. I added the title to our library list immediately; my 12 year old can't get enough of this subject. Don't miss the other articles on the Detectives' blog; you'll find all kinds of good recommendations for young nonfiction fans.

After following a link from Page-Turner, the New Yorker's revitalized book blog, I was happy to add Rohan Maitzen's Novel Readings: Notes on Literature and Criticism to Google Reader. In a recent post, she makes the case for Middlemarch and book clubs, providing a number of helpful tips to taking on George Eliot's 1,000+-page classic. Maitzen is an English professor at Nova Scotia's Dalhousie University.

I'm bookmarking this post from Misadventures of the Monster Librarian because of the folktale recommendations for second graders. "My" second graders (the class I read to once a week) like folktales a lot.

Speaking of second graders, I read Lita Judge's excellent nonfiction picture book Bird Talk: What Birds Are Saying and Why to them a few weeks ago. My crew was particularly delighted by the scat-bombing Scandinavian Fieldfare, mentioned by NC Teacher Stuff in his review. In our conversation after the read-aloud, I found out that several of the kids own parrots. Parrot stories abounded.

Audiobooking May 2012

This week J. (my 12-year-old son) and I finished the audiobook version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in J.K. Rowling's epic series. We started listening to the first one in September 2010. J. was just starting sixth grade at a new school, and, until then, J. would have nothing to do with the series whatsoever. (Occasionally, and unfortunately, people become competitive about who has read what, and the same holds true even in elementary school.) I had read only the first book, and was neither here nor there about it. But the audiobooks! We became complete converts to the series and to Jim Dale's fabulous narration. Some evenings we sat in the car in the driveway, just to hear what would happen next, and I almost cried exiting I-95 as the last book came to an end. J. has read the books many times over, while I read ahead only once, preferring to be surprised. 

As the HPs got longer and longer, I did need a break between 5 and 6. We listened to and enjoyed When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead's Newbery-winning novel, although I have to admit that I am thick-headed when it comes to understanding time travel. I loved the New York setting and could completely picture those kids working in the sandwich shop. 

Now we're onto a classic, Charlotte's Web, read by its author, E.B. White. Isn't that so cool that you can still hear E.B. White's voice? Out of nowhere J. remarked, "This is a good book." High praise!

My friend Mary Parmelee at the Westport Library says Eva Ibbotson's One Dog and His Boy, read by Steve West, is one of the best audiobooks she's ever heard. Now that we're dog owners, this novel sounds perfect. The online card catalogue summarizes the story this way, "When lonely, ten-year-old Hal learns that his wealthy but neglectful parents only rented Fleck, the dog he always wanted, he and new friend Pippa take Fleck and four other dogs from the rental agency on a trek from London to Scotland, where Hal's grandparents live." I'm putting it on the list now.

Correction: An earlier version of this post had the wrong last name for Rebecca Stead, author of When You Reach Me. My apologies.

Farewell, Maurice Sendak (1928-2012)

I was so sorry to hear this news this morning. The New York Times and other news outlets are reporting the death of Maurice Sendak, "widely considered the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century," as Margalit Fox writes in an obituary. NPR's "Fresh Air" will be devoting today's show to him.

What's your favorite Sendak book? Mine is Swine Lake, a collaboration with James Marshall, about a wolf and a pig ballet and the power of art.

Advice from Emily Post, 1951: Hats

StateLibQld 1 205152 Two women enjoying a drink, 1940-1950


Shall I Wear a Hat?

Notwithstanding the continued practice of certain younger women to go hatless on all occasions, best taste exacts that in a city a hat be worn with street clothes in the daytime. In fact it is impossible for a hatless woman to be chic. With an evening dress a hat is incorrect—except on the stage in a musical review.

 from Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage, by Emily Post. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1951.

Reading excerpts from Emily Post's 1951 guide made three of us laugh til we cried. Hatless! Horrors. 

Image digitised by the State Library of Queensland, and provided to the Wikimedia Commons as part of a cooperative project. The original photograph is in the public domain. The metadata has been released by State Library of Queensland under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 license.


I've been to Graceland a couple of times, and even wrote a little gift book about Elvis for a book packager years ago. The following passage, though, which comes from Darcey Steinke's memoir, Easter Everywhere, strikes me as about the truest thing I've ever read about E.P.

In Graceland light seems to come at you from all directions, as if the sun has liquefied and flowed into the floor, walls, and ceiling. I recognized in the glittery decor a longing for transcendence that is often labeled as tacky.

"A longing for transcendence." Beautiful.

Educational Bonus

9780553211801She [Rosamond Vincy] was admitted to be the flower of Mrs. Lemon's school, the chief school in the county, where the teaching included all that was demanded in the accomplished female—even to extras, such as the getting and and out of a carriage.

I laughed when I came across that passage in Middlemarch; "the getting in and out of a carriage" was just too delightful. I've recently begun George Eliot's novel for the fifth or sixth time, but this go-round feels like I'll read all the way through. My copy, a Bantam Classic paperback, features an introduction by Margaret Drabble, but I'd like to finish the book before reading Drabble's words. Sometimes authoritative opinions can color what I read. At any rate, a literary classic seems just right for the cold spring that usually constitutes April around southern New England.

Image courtesy of Powell's Books

Quoted: Wild

"I'd loved books in my regular, pre-PCT [Pacific Crest Trail] life, but on the trail, they'd taken on even greater meaning. They were the world I could lose myself in when the one I was actually in became too lonely or harsh or difficult to bear."

from Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed (Knopf, 2012). I highly recommend this new memoir/quest story.

Blog Break

Good morning, everyone. I am taking a bit of a blog break, but hope to return before too long. My father passed away recently. When I was a little girl, he read aloud every single one of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books to me. Dad would get so wrapped up in the stories that he would read ahead in the books after I went to sleep. During one of his trips up east, my father made sure to visit Malone, New York, childhood home of Wilder's husband, Alonzo. Farmer Boy is set there, and that was one of Dad's favorites in the series. I have such good memories of my father, and his reading aloud to me is one of them. A beautiful gift. 


Biographile, whose tagline is "Real Stories. Real People. Great Reading.," is a new Random House site devoted to biographies. While most of the recommendations are strictly for adults, I recently wrote about some children's books from a variety of publishers.

Reading picture books together is often the beginning of a grand conversation about all kinds of subjects, from racial tolerance to fossils. Some children will be able to read the following illustrated biographies themselves, but given their rich vocabularies and somewhat higher reading levels, the books make ideal read-alouds for moms to share with kids.

To read the rest, go here. You'll also find Biographile pieces on biographies of Harriet Tubman, last night's NBCC (National Book Critics Circle) Awards, and more.

"Library Lion," "Some Kind of Love" for Second Grade

On the day after I read Library Lion to the second graders, I got shushed at the library. For real. I was talking in a no-talking room, and someone complained. Oops. Library Lion is all about knowing the rules and knowing when it's okay to break them. I better read it again. To myself.

In second grade read-aloud time, things are flowing along smoothly. I am reading somewhat longer books. We are talking lots. We've gone back to basics. I read, and they listen and then share observations. Great observations! I had been letting whoever had written a story read hers to the class after I finished up. But only girls (and the same three or four) were reading and then sometimes just making up very silly things on the spot and while it was great fun for the storytellers, it was not as much fun for the audience. I am thrilled that they are creative and interested, but I had inadvertently set up something that left out some children. And I don't want that at all!

This week's selection for the class is Some Kind of Love, written by Traci Dant and illustrated by Eric Velasquez (Marshall Cavendish, 2010). I really like this book about a big African American family reunion with lots of cousins and food and good times, told through a series of poems. Reading it just now made me miss my own cousins and grandparents. I think the children will enjoy it, too.