105 Ways to Give a Book

Face to Face with Dolphins

Face to Face with DolphinsNow, I’m fond of dolphins, having shared the shore with them for ages at Virginia Beach. (But I can never catch up with them, darn it.) If you’re not a fan, you will be after some time with Face to Face with Dolphins, by Flip and Linda Nicklin. The photos are fantastic — more the point of the book than an afterthought as they are with some nonfiction titles. Of course, National Geographic is the publisher of this book, so maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised. Wonderful photos fill whole pages, drawing you into the scene.

Throughout the book, the photographer recounts his experiences taking the pictures — and yes, it makes more of a connection to the photo of the Amazon River dolphin when we know that it was the dolphin that was playfully nibbling at his ankles as he shot the picture. There are lots of the usual facts about dolphins in the book, but I like the personal, almost conversational touch to it. Here’s a sample:
Dolphins have one baby at a time. Youngsters stay close to their mothers in the first months of life, learning from them. I once watched a baby orca in Alaska swimming with its mother. The mother was teaching the baby how to catch fish. She chased a salmon, a kind of fish, just enough to keep it close. Then the baby orca would try to catch it.
The book has little sections throughout — How to Swim Like a Dolphin, How to Speak Dolphin — that allow the reader to copy the dolphin’s style for a little fun n’ games. The book is also one of a series, Face to Face with Animals — so if dolphins ain’t your thang, you can try lions, frogs, or elephants. If you like some photographic artistry in your animal books, this series will win you over, no doubt.

Scientists Say a Huge New Device Won’t Suck the Earth Into a Black Hole

Well, there’s one less worry for you. Apparently there is nothing to fear from the atom-smasher. Whew.

Thanks again to the Yahoo News leading headlines for making my general malaise seem inconsequential. I may be a bit bummed about not attending ALA, I may be overwhelmed by my household chores, I may be sick of the thunderstorms every single day, but at least the Earth won’t be sucked into a black hole. So there’s that.

Poetry Friday: Summer Days

I’ve looked through my files, and I don’t have anything that’s right for Poetry Friday, hosted today at Biblio File. However, as I was playing around in my archives looking for the beach books, I stumbled on this poem that I pulled together last year with your help. It was a contest where you readers had to list one summer pleasure in the comments, but then clever me, I turned them into a poem. Actually, two poems — this is the second one.
Summer Day

Getting up early,
Before anyone else is awake,
And weeding the garden as the sun rises.
Enjoying the luxury of a second breakfast
Of just-made blueberry muffins.
Kids on the patio
Knowing there is no reason
to rush off
Unless it is to have
an adventure.
Walking at the edge of the ocean
Collecting interesting
Sharks’ teeth
And looking out over
The breathtaking sea.
Wearing flip-flops or
Going barefoot.
Eating crabs on the back porch
Or popsicles under a shady tree.
Buying the sweetest strawberries.
Or picking them from a patch.
Every choice, every option
a pure delight.
Listening to crickets
and the songs of tree frogs
as the night falls.
Staying out past bedtime
Catching fireflies in glass jars
And then
At the very close of the day
Setting them free.
I’m ready for my summer days to begin. Even though I’ve been to the beach and the pool, even though we had an intense heat wave and several thunderstorms, I’m not in summer mode. I’m still playing catch-up from the end of the school year and my mother’s visit and even the 48 Hour Book Challenge.

I’m hoping to turn the corner this weekend as my new library branch has its grand opening on Saturday, and I have my first totally free, no-obligation day on Sunday. Then it’s day camp for the girls, and the first meeting of the summer book club with my Girl Scouts. Don’t forget to join us on Wednesday, July 2nd, to discuss Shug, by Jenny Han. Followed by a bonus author interview! We’ll be snacking on cherry popsicles here, and I might suggest you do the same. After all, it’s summer.

The Thursday Three XIV: Beach Books

When you see random pauses in the posting of this blog over the summer, you can bet that I’m at the beach. Or just back from the beach. Or even packing for the beach. I like to get to the shore a few times during the summer to see my family and the ocean. My girls and I are beach people. (My husband is a lake person, but that’s another story.)

On this last trip we took my two-year-old niece for the first time. It was magical watching her reactions. She loved the sand, called out to the boats, and chased the seagulls. She was a bit frightened of the ocean, but she did hold my hand and put her feet in the smallest waves. We had an amazing time.

I haven’t begun my yearly search for new beach books. I find they tend to hit my library after the summer is over. Oh, well. Instead, I’m reposting three of the ones I talked about last year so that you can find them in time for your own beach trip. Enjoy.

Bats at the BeachFor a funny take on the seashore, look to Bats at the Beach. It’s a cute book, but it’s more than just cute. There are the legs sticking out from the marshmallow to be toasted on a stick. There’s the image of the bats flying to the beach with their tote bags and umbrellas (for the moon, I guess) gripped in their feet. It’s the picture of the bat buried in the sand and the bat friends making a bird sculpture out of him. The text is cute, but the pictures are very, very clever. And very, very fun.

BeachIf you are a beach lover, then you will find your comfort zone in Beach, by Elisha Cooper. In the softest watercolors, a day at the beach is laid out in little pictures on each page. It’s not a book about plot, but about mood, and it totally captures the laid-back, lazy days at the beach with a hundred things to see. People, clouds, seashells, waves, portrayed and celebrated in all their many variations. Pages filled with twenty different tiny pictures are followed by a full, wordless, two-page spread. Simply a beautiful summertime book.

One White Wishing StoneOne White Wishing Stone, by Doris K. Gayzagian, is the story of that search for the perfect gifts from the sea. The little girl finds many treasures in her path that will be familiar to all beach goers. While the elusive starfish is found in a tidal pool, she is also impressed with the eight skate egg cases she finds on the sand. Having never seen skate egg cases represented in a picture book, despite having seen them all over the beach, I am impressed with the things that the author chose to highlight of the beach experience. One White Wishing Stone is a counting book with simple — if lovely — text. The illustrator, Kristine Swarner, brings you along on this lazy, lovely day on the beach. Look at the cover with the little girl beckoning you into the waves. Don’t you want to go now?

Locusts: Insects on the Move

Locusts: Insects on the MoveI’m not a big bug fan, especially having been through the seventeen-year Cicada cycle of 2004, but when I saw Locusts: Insects on the Move, by Sandra Markle, from the Insect World Series, the well-designed cover made made take a peek. The first page that caught my eye answered a big question for me, kept me reading further.
Some people confuse grasshoppers and locusts. There is one big difference. Grasshoppers always look and act the same way. Locusts can change how they look and behave. A locust can change from its solitary form to its gregarious form.
Wouldn’t that help at parties? These guys even have different “outfits.” For hanging-around-the-field, they go with a boring green and brown. But when they’re heading out on the town with thousands of their closest locust friends, they have this funky spotted brown, black, and green. Tight!

Of course, I had to read more about how they change from one kind to another and what triggers the change — proximately to other locusts, in case you’re wondering — and how they can travel so far. It was absolutely fascinating.

I’ve seen the Praying Mantis title of this series come into the library and suspect that there’s a lot more to follow. The photos are well done, the layout is engaging, and the pages feature occasional interesting facts. For instance, locusts have taste sensors all over their bodies so they can tell if something they touch is food. To me, that “ability” sounds like the worst curse I’ve ever heard of — especially on the New York subway.

Headline News

If it weren’t for Yahoo News, I’d laugh less often. I’m not sure I’ll get to a poem for Poetry Friday. I’ve got to head over to my new library with my mom and kids to show them around and volunteer some time. But before I go, I wanted to share the headline and article that caught my eye:
Scientists classify sarcasm as an evolutionary skill
Yeah, right.

(Where’s my sarcasm font when I need it?)

The Thursday Three XIII

Harris Finds His FeetHarris Finds His Feet, by Catherine Rayner
First of all, I love the artwork on this book. The sketchy line drawings, a free-feeling watercolor fill-in and a real sense of using the white space of the page to full advantage. The story is good and simple. Harris questions his Grandad about his big feet, and Grandad shows him why big feet on a hare are wonderful. It’s a great moral of self-acceptance without feeling heavy-handed. I’m intrigued that the exchange involves a grandfather. It makes it more than just another mom-and-kid book. Especially when Grandad says that he’s getting old and adds, “It’s your turn to run. The world is yours to explore.” With this sentence, the book could be used to talk about losing grandparents, but again, without a heavy-handed treatment. Great book.

Friday My Radio Flyer FlewFriday My Radio Flyer Flew, by Zachary Pullen
I saved a Radio Flyer from the trash truck recently. It was all rusted inside, but I couldn’t resist taking it home. So I can connect to this boy’s love for his dad’s special red wagon. The text is simple — finding the wagon, wanting it to fly, working on it, and then flying (hint: imagination plus dad power). In-your-face oil paintings bring us into the picture, whether it’s hovering over the wagon and seeing kid feet sticking out underneath or looking over the back of a bird to see the boy and his winged wagon ready for flight. Lots of fun.

SkunkdogSkunkdog, written by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Pierre Pratt
Dumpling couldn’t smell anything, not flowers or food or other dogs. She didn’t have any dog friends, because she couldn’t share in their smelling interests, and she was lonely. She did have a good family who took care of her, but sometimes that wasn’t enough. When they all moved out to the country, Dumpling ran into a skunk. It didn’t bother her to be stinky, but it bothered the family. While they wanted her to stay away from the skunk, Dumpling just wanted a friend. Enjoyable story for preschoolers up to early school-age, with engaging illustrations.

Daphne Grab: Alive and Well

Yesterday, when I went to my new branch, I was feeling good. I removed and checked in the last box of books from the center of the library. It looked like we only had the thirty in the workroom left. But then someone showed me the endless hallway of boxes still to be processed — in theory, by our grand opening on June 28th. Today, going to work, I feel like I’m emptying the ocean with a Dixie cup.

So before I head off to that impossible task, we’ll check in with Daphne Grab, author of Alive and Well in Prague, New York, who was kind enough to answer the MotherReader 5Ws (& 1H) Interview.

When did you start writing?

I wrote a lot in high school but then didn’t write anything creative for over ten years. I had this idea that I wanted to be a writer, but I could never come up with a story that I felt passionate about. Then, about five years ago, I read the acknowledgements in the back of a book that I had just finished and enjoyed. The author mentioned getting an MFA in creative writing at the New School here in NYC, and I figured since it was right downtown it was worth finding out about. I sent off for their catalogue, and when I saw that they had a Writing for Children concentration I had one of those “a-ha moments” where you know you’ve just encountered something that will change your life. And sure enough it did!

Who influences you personally or professionally?

My teachers at the New School, David Levithan, Sarah Weeks and Tor Seidler, helped my writing incredibly. They are also great sources of advice for managing this crazy business. Beverly Cleary is the writer whose work I most worship and try to emulate, in the sense of writing characters and life situations that are honest and real. My mom is the one who read awesome books to me every night when I was kid, which cemented my lifelong love of reading, so she gets number one influence status.

Where do you do your best thinking and writing?

I write in my bedroom — NYC apartments are small and that is the only place there is room for my desk. For the most part I am inspired while sitting there, but if I’m feeling stuck I try to go for a walk or take a yoga class — exercising and not thinking can lead to better thinking later.

Why did you want to write this book?

Six years ago my Dad passed away from ALS, and during my second year at the New School I realized I wanted to write about that experience of having a parent with a debilitating illness. Not just the hard stuff, but also the parts that were beautiful and real about living with illness but still having the gift of that person in your life for a limited time. And so Alive and Well was born.

How are your own life experiences reflected in Alive and Well in Prague New York?

I drew on my feelings from my experience with my dad’s illness, and I also drew on my own feeling about city and country living. But the story itself is pure fiction. Unlike Matisse, I was a shy country girl very concerned about what others thought of me. Matisse was fun to write because she could care less how her peers judged her and a welcome break from my own teen life.

What’s next for you?

I just sold a middle grade novel that will be out in the spring of 2010. Halftime is about Louis, a twelve-year-old boy who is a bit of a misfit in school and lives for his football team, the Buffalo Bills. At the start of the story he learns that the baby his mom gave up for adoption 21 years ago is the best college football player in the country, and he wants to come meet his biological family. The story is all the ways Louis’s life changes and he grows as his brother enters his life, and it includes bullies, girls and some pretty tough choices.

Thanks so much for having me! (You’re welcome!)

Alive and Well

At the sixth grade party on Friday they had a dance room, but there was very little dancing going on. The kids were sliding on their sock feet and running around in a circle holding hands. So I went in to show them how it was done. Of course my daughter was horrified, but still laughing as she pulled me out of the room and made me swear not to set foot in there again.

Parents embarrass their kids. It’s what we do. Sometimes it’s a little bit on purpose; more often it’s not. Most importantly, though, the humiliation is generally only in the eyes of the child.

Alive and Well in Prague, New YorkIn Daphne Grab’s first novel, Alive and Well in Prague, New York, she captures the sense of mortification many teens feel about their parents in public. In this case, however, it’s more complicated than a thirty-second turn on the dance floor. Matisse’s father has Parkinson’s disease, and while she deals with her grief about his condition, she also wrestles with guilt about being embarrassed by the effects of the disease.

Matisse and her family have a wonderful life in New York City. Her parents are both known artists — hence her name — and Matisse loves the city life. But as her dad’s condition deteriorates, they move to the rural town of Prague, New York. Here Matisse doesn’t fit in. Her art teacher doesn’t know Matisse from Monet. The teens look forward to a hayride, not a new art exhibit. Her parents are older than the parents of all the other kids, and it embarrasses Matisse for the first time ever. And along with her feeling of alienation at school is her family’s difficult adjustment to her father’s condition.

Alive and Well in Prague, New York was an enjoyable and pleasant read. Great characters and conflict give the book a subtle power in a short time. Yes, I will mention that it’s a short book, because it’s summer — and I must get asked dozens of times over the course of the season for a short book for some teen to fulfill her summer reading requirement. This is one title that I’ll be happy to hand over, knowing that the teen is getting a good book to finish quickly.

The book came out earlier this month, and Daphne had a fab book release party. Tomorrow I’ll have an interview with the Longstocking, so come on back.

Your Regularly Scheduled Program

Deep breath in. Deep breath out. I can sense the world settling down around me. It’s a good feeling.

In my head I had aimed for June 14th as an end to the chaos, but then amended it to June 16th after realizing that we still had a play rehearsal, a play casting call, my mother’s arrival, Father’s Day shopping, and my daughter’s play to wrap up over the weekend. Still pretty busy.

Of all the things I’m proud of this year, near the very top is my sixth... no seventh grader’s play. You see, she was selected, along with two other students and three older women, to write a ten-minute play featuring characters from the younger and the older generations. Then over the course of the last few months, the play took shape with actors and staging and props and lighting. The whole thing! The actors could use their scripts, because technically it was a play reading, but the teen and the kid in her play were off-book for the final production. It was wonderful. The actors were great, and in all honesty, I think it was the best of the six plays. While I asked her questions to help her shape the story, and Bill helped her understand the logistics of writing a play, my kid wrote the whole thing and it was fabulous.

And now with it done... breathe in, breathe out. Smooth sailing for the summer. I’ll be working on the getting the prizes out to the 48 Hour Book Challenge winners. I need to catch up on some email and blog reading. Laundry is beginning to be an issue. But how nice to take care of everything with air in my lungs. Deep breath... and out. Ahhh.

So now my news. Not News. But news, little n. Over the summer I’m having a book club with my rising seventh grade Girl Scout troop, and you’re invited to read along. Every two weeks we’ll be reading a book, generally a coming-of-age/transitions type book, and getting together to talk about it. I’m hoping to have the authors answer interview questions from the girls and post them on my blog the following week. I haven’t exactly asked said authors, so let’s all hope for the best. In fact, before announcing the whole schedule, maybe I’ll check in with those writers. But I will announce the first book anyway, because I’m unstoppable.

I’ll be meeting with my girls on Tuesday, July 1st. I’ll write up our discussion for Wednesday, July 2nd, inviting your participation. The first book in the MotherReader Summer Book Club is... Shug, by Jenny Han. This was a book I absolutely loved two years ago, and I can’t wait to share it with my daughter, her friends, and... you.

Poetry Friday: Our Deepest Fear

I wanted to post here in the last couple of days, but I needed a little break. I wish I could convey the depth of chaos that has enveloped my last two weeks. A thirty-six hour power outage. Then two solid days without air conditioning in a brutal heat wave. Another power outage on Tuesday night until the wee hours of the morning. And all this while coordinating the 48 Hour Book Challenge, starting my job at my new branch (which is lovely), and finishing up the last week at school.

Some of this activity has been fun. I loved having tea with friends and watching my daughter enjoy her Brownie party. Some things have been stressful, like trying to finish my Girl Scout money report, realizing that I’ve made a big mistake in it somewhere and now need to dig — literally — through records to find out where the right paper is with the right number. Some things have been amusing. I’d say putting an ice pack in the hamster cage so Honey Bear doesn’t die of heat stroke falls in this category. My 8:00 a.m. call to a friend asking for anything for a Christopher Columbus costume for that very day was also a rather comic moment.

But in all of the chaos and activity and comedy, the thread running through it all is that my sixth grader is leaving elementary school today. It’s hard to believe. I remember that we made sure to move before kindergarten started so that she would have the same school the whole time. I remember taking her in that first day and looking around to find her little friends so that she wouldn’t be scared. One of the two girls we discovered that day is still her best friend now.

When I had a Bridging ceremony for my sixth grade Junior troop, they wanted a poem. Being that all of them forgot to find one, and being that I knew that they would forget, I brought my own. It’s one that I’ve seen a few times in Poetry Friday, but I want to share it on my own site today in honor of my daughter’s big move to middle school.
Our Deepest Fear
by Marianne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.
Poetry Friday round-up is over at A Wrung Sponge today. I’ll be back next week with news, reviews, and interviews. Shine on.

Third Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge: More Prizes

I used the Random Integer Generator to pick four “door prize” winners from my list of participants. These winners will all received a personally signed book (hopefully) best matched from our generous donating authors. The winners are:
Thanks for participating in this year’s 48 Hour Book Challenge!

I’ve been torn the last couple of days between wanting to publicize the prizes from the donating authors and wanting to let the winners be surprised. As always, with these decisions, I stall until I follow the path of least resistance by default — in this case NOT talking about the donated books. But that feels Wrong. So I’m going to talk about some prizes now and winners of those prizes are welcome to look away... like, now.

I haven’t made any secret of the Attack of Literacy T-shirts donated by Threadless that will go to both first prize winners. (BTW, the Haiku shirt has been reprinted and is on sale today.) So I have no conflict talking about that. Adam Rex will sign and doodle on his fantastic book The Truth About Smekday. Julia Durango contributed signed copies of the lovely picture book Angels Watching Over Me. Barry Lyga covers YA in the prize package with ARCs of his new book, Hero-Type.

Mitali Perkins is personalizing signatures in her two First Daughter books — and offers a picnic lunch in Boston. Barbara Kerley is signing What to Do About Alice? and Kelly Bingham is signing Shark Girl. Gail Gauthier is contributing her new book A Girl, A Boy and Three Robbers, Kirby Larson has Hattie Big Sky, Jen Funk Weber brings us the nonfiction Clueless About Alaska, Tanita Davis is sending out A la Carte, and Carla Sarratt has Freshman Focus.

The prize packages will have many book-related goodies, not all of which I will describe, but I will thank HipWriterMama for sending a lovely bead bracelet, Finding Wonderland for a handmade blank journal, Biblio File for an Amazon gift card (that I used to buy book-related trinkets for the packages), and Midwestern Lodestar for a very nice box full of book accessories. Wizard Wireless combed her shop for a little signed somethin’ somethin’. I’m adding bits to the pile, including my world-famous (not really) paper bead bracelets and some other signed books.

I won’t get the prizes sent until after June 14th. I’ve still got one more week of madness of school/work/life. So, if you’re trying to get something to me, you’ve got time. I still would love an original sketch/doodle/painting that the winners could put in the 5x7 frame I have waiting. Just askin’. Email me at motherreader AT gmail DOT com if you could help out with this, my gentle and oft-repeated request.

Winners, also email me with your name/address, type of book you’d prefer (early chapter book, middle-grade, YA), and the name you’d like it signed to. (I’m planning to contact you winners, but if we both try to contact each other, there’s a much better chance of it happening — especially since I don’t have all of your email addresses.)

Thanks to everyone who donated prizes for the 48 Hour Book Challenge! I couldn’t do this contest without your support. Because, really, who in their right mind would read for forty-two hours if my prizes were my paper bead bracelets and a recording of me singing “Ice, Ice, Baby”?

(Why “Ice, Ice, Baby?” Because the air conditioner is fixed! My head is feeling clearer already, and I can take the ice pack out of the hamster cage. Life is good again.)

Winners... Um, Oops?

Okay, I checked and checked, but I clearly should have checked again, because I missed something important. We have a tie for second place! Carla blogging at Keeping Up With Carla also read for 30 hours, stacking up 11 books and 2245 pages!

I’m going to edit the original winners’ post so that it is correct for the sake of posterity. I apologize for the mistake. I could swear when I looked at the post it didn’t have the total of hours, because I wrote it down that way. And then when I saw Carla check in, I forgot to go back and check her post, thinking that I had already done so. It’s good that my husband/editor/contest coordinator has got my back.

Of course I could blame the heat, since we lost our air conditioning on Sunday and it’s approximately ninety degrees in the actual house. We’ve been sleeping downstairs, which is almost tolerable at night. It’s been so hot, I’ve been putting a small ice pack inside the hamster’s cage, afraid that she’ll die of heatstroke. She’s got all that fur! Here’s the kicker: I’ve got an inside person in this air conditioning biz, but he couldn’t reach me Sunday or Monday because my phone was always busy with calls from the campaigns of the two Democratic primary contestants for Congress. We must have gotten twenty calls a day!

You know what? If my phone line hadn’t been tied up, my cousin could have reached me, and we would have had air conditioning and I would have been clear-headed enough not to make any mistakes. Let’s blame Leslie Byrne and Gerry Connolly.

(See, that’s how the politicians do it.)

Third Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge: WINNERS!

48 Hour Book ChallengeI’ve checked and checked again to see that everyone I know was playing has indeed reported in. Frankly, even without such a obsessive look, I feel pretty safe calling the winners since their totals are so out of this world.

The winner for the most hours spent reading is Biblio File, with an astonishing 42 hours committed to the 48 Hour Book Challenge. WOW! She read nineteen books consisting of 4364 pages. Way to go!

The winner for the most books read is Midwestern Lodestar, who completed 27 books for a total of 6479 pages. She spent 31 hours in book gluttony. Rock and read!

Second prizes go to Practically Paradise for her 30 hours reading 10 books with a 4322 page total, to Carla blogging at Keeping Up With Carla, who also read for 30 hours, stacking up 11 books and 2245 pages, and to Bildungsroman, with 23 books read in 22.5 hours with a 3965 page count. Awesome!

We had forty finishers in the contest and twenty-one members of the Twenty Hours club. Those members are:Later today or tonight I’ll pick some “door prizes” for contestants, as well as announcing the prizes for the official winners. Thanks to all who participated and who keep this event going each year. Even if you don’t read fast or can’t spare as many hours as the winners, I’m glad that you took the chance to make reading a priority. I hope everyone had fun. I sure did.

Third Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge: Finish Line

48 Hour Book ChallengeYou’ve read your books. You’ve blogged your reviews. You’ve written your final summary. Let’s suppose you’ve rocked and read.

When you’ve completed your challenge, leave a comment on this post with a link to your final summary post. Don’t make me search for you. Again.

With any luck, I’ll announce the winners on Monday night.

Pat yourself on the back, pour a glass of wine (or beer, your choice), and we’ll do it again next year.

How I’m Doing: Final Summary

My continuing schedule:
8:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.Blog.
9:30 a.m. – 12:00 noonRead — Sweethearts.
12:00 noon – 1:00 p.m.Hunt for costume for daughter’s ballet pictures. Lunch.
1:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.Blog.
1:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.Read — The Fold.
4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.Blog final reviews.
Final summary: 8 books, 2095 pages, and 26 hours.

Amazing fact: I read the same number of books and spent the same number of hours reading and came within 25 pages of my total for last year. And I didn’t even look at last year’s total until right now. Wild!

Last words: Spending my birthday in hours of reading is less fun than it sounds. Also, June is a terrible month for me to add a blog challenge to the mix of work/kids/home. Next year I’m looking at March.

The Fold

The FoldI’ve decided that for my one-word title theme the “The” in An Na’s The Fold doesn’t count. My blog, my rules.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for more than a month since I first heard about it as part of the Fusion Stories. I’ve had mixed experiences with An Na’s books. I loved Step from Heaven, but wasn’t enthralled by Wait for Me. Where would this book fall?

I was intrigued by the premise, which was entirely out of my realm of experience. A Korean-American teenager is offered a gift from her rich aunt — double eyelid surgery to achieve a fold. Joyce is thrown by the offer. She longs to be as lovely as her big sister, but doesn’t know that plastic surgery is the answer. She questions the ideas of beauty as she tries to make her own decision.

I enjoyed the book very much. It took me into a cultural topic that I knew nothing about, which I always find fascinating. I found the writing to be different from both of An Na’s other books. It was definitely much lighter in tone. There was humor throughout the book and a realistic sense of high school drama. I mean, the book starts with a long description of a zit popping. For me, the book fell between the other two books. The acclaimed Step from Heaven is a much more sophisticated novel, but The Fold is interesting and fun. A great conclusion to my 48 hours of reading. Whew.


UprisingUprising, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, made me feel a little bad for supporting Barack over Hillary. After reading about the fight that women put up to have any say in their lives, it seemed so amazing that we’d had a woman as a possible presidential candidate. Not that I didn’t understand that before, but this book put me right in the time when women’s choices were stunningly limited.

Uprising is about more than the Triangle fire of 1911 — starting further back with the shirtwaist workers’ strike and the stories of three women. Bella is a new immigrant from Italy who goes to work in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and struggles in this strange, new country. Yetta is a Russian Jew who has her sister to help her and to inspire her to fight for her rights as a worker. Jane is a society girl who crosses paths with the other girls during the strike and begins to question her own freedom as a woman in a man’s world.

The novel is elegantly done where the history is seamlessly woven into the story. The difficult lives of the girls tug at the emotions and the well-researched facts educate and illuminate. With a fire as the dramatic endpoint, you know this book can’t end happily for everyone. Kudos to Haddix for making it unpredictable along the way, beginning with the identity of the woman who starts the story as a reflection on the past. A truly unforgettable book.


SweetheartsSweethearts, by Sara Zarr, isn’t an easy book. Like her magnificent Story of a Girl, it’s a tough story about coming to terms with one’s past. When. Bad. Things. Happen. The writing is so wonderful and the relationships so poignant, I got lost in this heartbreaking story.

Jennifer and Cameron are social outcasts and best friends as children. But one day he moves away without a word of goodbye. Jennifer is devastated and somehow buries that part of her forever. She loses weight, changes schools, and keeps order in her life. Her mother’s circumstances change too, placing Jennifer — now Jenna — in a nice home with two caring parents. But inside she’s still that scared and hurt kid. When Cameron comes back, those memories come with him. And some are so terrible she can barely face them down.

Sara Zarr builds up the tension of the past by using excerpts of memory from that time. The characters are imperfect and well-developed. No cookie-cutter stereotypes for this writer. The emotional tenor is complicated and realistic. Sweethearts was universally loved around the kids’ lit blogs — and at Amazon with all five-star reviews — and I’m glad that I got the chance to experience it myself. I just wish that I had better mental resources right now to review it properly. But I’m coming to the end of my 48 hours, and I’m getting pretty worn out. (Sorry, Sara, you deserve better.)


BlueWhen her father goes to war, Ann Fay becomes the “man of the house,” pulling on blue overalls and taking care of all the farming that keeps the family going. At the same time, a polio epidemic hits the area, striking within her family and leaving Ann Fay with even more responsibilities.

Blue, by Joyce Moyer Hostetter, is a historical novel with an emphasis on the history. I didn’t lose myself in the story so much as note the number of references to the times. World War II, the polio epidemic, Franklin Roosevelt, and Jim Crow laws are all included. There are also neighborly friendships, a close-knit family, southern poverty, and an untimely death.

I actually don’t mean to be dismissive about the book, which was interesting and did a good job of placing the reader in another era entirely. I felt horrified at the predicament of a thirteen-year-old being left home alone to take care of her sisters for months while her dad was at war and her mom at the hospital. I knew someone in that family was getting polio, and it was very sad when it did happen. I couldn’t help but root for Ann Fay and her family to make it through the tough times. Overall, though, I felt less connected to the characters than educated about the time period.


PeeledI almost put this book back when I read the phrase “cast of quirky characters” in the jacketflap. I’m generally not a fan of books set in small towns where everyone is “quirky.” But in the interest of keeping alive my streak of one-word-title book reviewing, I gave Peeled, by Joan Bauer, a chance.

While the town newspaper seems obsessed with the idea of ghosts at the old Ludlow house, Hildy Biddle is determined to discover the truth. As the town gets caught up in the oddly fearful reporting, Hildy works on the school paper to report the facts. She is assisted by a former newspaper editor newly come to town who helps the teens with real reporting.

The first few chapters of the book were hard going for me. There was a feisty heroine and small-town idolization, and some odd character traits. Oh no. As I plugged on, I began to appreciate the story and the mystery. And the characters weren’t all so quirky after all.

I liked how journalism tips were folded into the story. Not only was it a mini-lesson on being a reporter, it served as a model for identifying good reporting. For instance, when the former newspaper editor (and new adult advisor) is taking apart a flowery article in the school paper, he tells the students, “Less is more. Less description, more facts. Only describe if it means something. The killer has one arm. The mayor was seven feet tall. The hero was deaf. For now, let’s not care if the sky was blue. If it’s plaid, mention it.”

There was a nice vein of humor throughout the book. A group of older people who stake out the Ludlow house to see if anything is really going there, calling themselves Elders Against Evil. An occasional insert of funny mistakes from the school paper. A psychic who offers advice on love and family, but also pet compatibility selection. But in the end, readers will remember the greater message of fighting against manipulation and for the truth.

How I’m Doing II

My continuing schedule:
2:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.Read — Bloom.
5:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.Break to preserve my sanity.
6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.Read — Blue.
7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.Dinner and emails.
8:30 p.m. – 11:30 p.m.Read — Peeled.
11:30 p.m. – 2:30 a.m.Sleep.
2:30 a.m. – 4:30 a.m.Unexpectedly wake up and can’t get back to sleep. Usual option — reading — seems repugnant. Spend the newly found time catching up on email.
4:30 a.m. – 8:00 a.m.Sleep.
8:00 a.m. – 8:30 a.m.Regret decision to spend two hours online in the early morning. Blog.
Other thoughts: I found myself wanting to clean the house rather than read. If only I could bottle the feeling and use it in the future. I decided to stick with the one-word title books purely on a whim. It’s amazing that I have so many checked out from the library and waiting on my review shelf.

Oh, today is my birthday. Not yet forty.


BloomHere at home if I want to clear the room, I can say, “Hey, let’s talk about our feelings.” My kids run away, usually with a trailing cry of, “Nooooooo!” Well, Bloom, by Elizabeth Scott, is all about feelings. It’s one of the most feelings books I’ve ever read. Now, I am not like my kids, so this did not alarm me, but it is worth mentioning.

Lauren is an average girl dating the most popular boy, but she finds she is attracted to another boy instead. The popular boy is perfect, but boring. Should she be with someone safe, or someone who makes her heart race?

A simple conflict, but not written simply at all. The characters are all well-developed with a particular depth often lacking in teen first love stories. Lauren isn’t a perfect person, and in fact, behaves pretty badly at times. Her friend Katie seems shallow, but is balancing a difficult home life and is perhaps craving more from her friendship with Lauren. Lauren’s popular boyfriend Dave is a good guy, but a little dull. Evan’s exciting, but comes with baggage. Lauren’s dad ignores her, but at the same time does seem to care about his daughter.

There’s some light humor through the book, but mostly the sense of drama takes center stage. But while other books pump up the volume with drug abuse or date rape or mental illness, Bloom shows off the everyday drama of being a flawed teenage girl in an imperfect situation. I looked for this book after Bookshelves of Doom’s glowing review, and I have to agree with her assessment of the book as “smart and layered and real.” I also have Elizabeth Scott’s Perfect You at home, but since it appears I’m only reviewing books with one-word titles this weekend, it will have to wait.

(Side note: There is a thunderstorm coming and we’d better not lose power tonight.)


ExodusI probably should have started this book by reading on the back jacketflap that the author, Julie Bertagna, lives in Scotland. It would have saved me a lot of energy in figuring out where in the world this story was taking place.

Exodus is a science fiction story, and as such would not usually be on my radar screen, but it looked interesting with the whole global warming theme — and Sheila liked it, so I gave it a go. It was out of my comfort zone — especially the whole cyberspace aspect — but I enjoyed it.

It’s the year 2100 and the melting ice caps have raised the ocean level so that all but the highest areas of land are underwater. No one on the island of Wing even knows where other civilizations may be, or if there are any. From her solitary ventures into the ghosts of the Internet, a teenage girl, Mara, learns about New World cities built high above the water. As the ocean finally creeps up on their island sanctuary, her people take to the sea to seek out a new life, only to find themselves shut out as useless refugees. Only Mara’s continued determination and vision can offer any hope as she moves through hidden worlds and a high-tech society.

I have to say, Exodus isn’t easy to put into a quick review, because so much keeps happening in the book. Where to stop explaining before you give too much away? There’s definitely a strong climate crisis message in the book, along with a brutal look at refugees. The book was darker than I expected, and I never really got the whole Weave thing, where the remains of the Internet exist with bits of information and monsters and cyber-adventures. Over my head. Overall though, I liked the book. It certainly kept my interest, and I had no idea what was going to happen next.

Head to Wands and Worlds for a much better and more detailed review. I’ve got to get back to reading.


ShabanuI started off my 48 hours at the pool, and chose my first book of the challenge mainly because it was not a library book. I don’t want wet pool hands near library books. Well, not new hardbacks anyway.

Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind, by Suzanne Fisher Staples, has been on my to-read list for a while. There’s always been something more pressing that moves it to the bottom of the pile. Now that I’ve read it, I’ll look for the sequel — or is it sequels? — but I’m not running out today to find it (them?).

Shabanu is the daughter of nomads in Pakistan. She loves helping with the camels her family raises, but worries about her coming responsibilities as a woman. As a child, she still has some freedoms, even if she must obey her family unconditionally. As a woman, she becomes a wife and must be prepared to sacrifice her own needs to those of her husband. As her sister Phulan’s wedding draws near, disaster strikes and shakes up everything Shabanu has come to accept about her own fate.

Even though the back cover focuses on the major plot point in the story, the book is mostly about bringing the reader into the world of the Cholistanis, with their customs, beliefs, and concerns. In fact, I found the hints of upcoming disaster to be pretty distracting, as I was looking for it at every page turn, and the crisis doesn’t in fact come until more than halfway through the book. Overall, it was an interesting book and I enjoyed the cultural education. It didn’t “wow” me.

How I’m Doing

My schedule so far:
5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.Read — Shabanu.
7:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.Eat dinner.
7:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.Read — Exodus.
9:30 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.Play with the hamster.
10:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m.Read — Exodus and Uprising.
1:00 a.m. – 7:00 a.m.Sleep.
7:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.Set up yard sale for near-teenager’s charity project, Camel Bookmobile.
9:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.Read — Uprising. So hard to concentrate with yard sale going on outside. What was I thinking?
11:30 a.m. – 12:00 noonBreak down yard sale because it’s too freakin’ hot to wait even thirty more minutes.
12:00 noon – 12:30 p.m.Read — finish last section of book so annoyingly interrupted.
12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.Break to eat, shower, and sort book donations for Camel Bookmobile.
1:30 p.m. – (?) p.m.Blog.
Thoughts so far: While having a yard sale in the middle of a book readathon may seem like a good idea, it’s really not. Even if two almost-teens are manning it for their own project, it’s a hard thing to ignore. Also, I’m wondering if I have enough one-word titles to make this a theme. The last three books weren’t intentionally chosen that way, but now I’m kinda liking the idea.

Third Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge: Starting Line

48 Hour Book ChallengeYou’ve read the rules. You’ve cleared your schedule — as much as possible. You’ve stacked your books and stocked your power snacks. Let’s rock and read.

When you start your reading, leave a comment on this post with your blog name. If it’s unclear from your profile, also leave the address. Don’t make me search for you.

On Monday morning, I’ll have a finish line post where you can leave the link to your final summary page.


Prize Placeholder Post

I had wanted to do a post of the prizes on Wednesday or Thursday, but storms hit the DC area and left us without power until 3:00 this morning. And then, of course, it has been complete chaos anyway between school stuff and packing my belongings at my old branch to start at my new branch on Monday. So now, at 7:00 a.m. on Friday, I don’t know where my list of prizes is, like, this exact minute. I’ll be back later to let you know what you’re playing for. Promise.


Sorry for being incommunicado, especially since the big contest starts... tomorrow. But we’ve been without power since those storms came through DC yesterday. If we don’t get power back tonight, I’ll figure out some way to post a “go” message tomorrow morning (I’m typing this on Bill’s iPhone).

Meanwhile, here’s hoping the lights come back soon...

Threadless Sale

Hold on, people, it’s a sale at Threadless! What does this have to do with MotherReader and/or books? Well, MotherReader ordered five shirts for herself and the family (and is enjoying talking in the third person, thank you very much). As for books, there’s this shirt for illustrators or this shirt for poets... and of course this shirt for classics buffs was donated as a prize for the 48 Hour Book Challenge. Personally, I’m going with the word find shirt and kicking myself for not thinking of the concept myself. But I’ll enjoy wearing it.

With one email, you too can be a prize contributor to the 48 Hour Book Challenge just like Threadless. No lie. Send me an offer at motherreader AT gmail DOT com — you know, with the right symbol replacements.

Almost There: 48 Hour Book Challenge

48 Hour Book ChallengeWow, the 48 Hour Book Challenge really crept up on me. It’s like, this weekend! Here are the guidelines again, with a few minor changes — mostly an allowance for a few graphic novels in your total count. If you haven’t done so already, sign up at the original post.
  1. The set weekend is June 6–8, 2008. Read and blog for any 48-hour period within the Friday-to-Monday-morning window. Start no sooner than 7:00 a.m. on Friday the sixth and end no later than 7:00 a.m. Monday. So, go from 7:00 p.m. Friday to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday... or maybe 7:00 a.m. Saturday to 7:00 a.m. Monday works better for you. But the 48 hours do need to be in a row. That said, don't sweat it if you need to have a big gap in the middle to go to a recital, swim team, or work. You just can't stop the clock.

  2. The books should be about fifth-grade level and up. Adult books are fine, especially if any adult book bloggers want to play. If you are generally a picture book blogger, consider this a good time to get caught up on all those wonderful books you’ve been hearing about. In the past I’ve not allowed graphic novels in the interest of making sure that the number of books and page counts mean the same thing to everyone. However, if you’re going for the gold as it were, you can mix in up to three.

  3. It’s your call as to how much you want to put into it. If you want to skip sleep and showers to do this, go for it. If you want to be a bit more laid back, fine. But you have to put something into it or it’s not a challenge.

  4. The length of the reviews are not an issue. You can write a sentence, paragraph, or a full-length review. The time spend reviewing counts in your total time.

  5. For promotion/solidarity purposes, start the challenge with a specific entry on that day. Write a final summary that clearly includes the number of books read, the approximate hours you spent reading/reviewing, and any other comments you want to make on the experience. It needs to be posted no later than noon on Monday, June 9th.

  6. Sign up in the comments at the original post. You’re welcome to post the challenge on your site. On Friday, June 6, I’ll have a starting-line post where you can sign in to say you’re officially starting the challenge.
I’m still looking for donations for prizes for most books read, most hours spent, and most pages read (if it isn’t the same winner as most books read). Last year I also picked out some “door prizes” randomly from the participants. So far I’ve got some signed books, t-shirts from Threadless, blank journals, jewelry, gift cards, and more. If an illustrator would like to contribute an original sketch or picture, I’d be in heaven. If you’d like to contribute to the prizes, shoot me an email at motherreader AT gmail DOT com.