105 Ways to Give a Book

Booklights, Black History Month

Yesterday, I reviewed three picture books at PBS Booklights where I shorthanded the title as “Black History Month and Libraries.” Awkwardly worded, but the books are indeed all about kids going to the library in the South before Civil Rights and the place that the library had in the context of African American History.

Two of the books were published this year and nominated in Cybils Fiction Picture Books. The funny thing is that I preferred one over the other until I started to write the review. All of sudden, what had seemed like a deficit in that book — its levity — became a positive. And I’ll tell you why.

At the beginning of this month I saw a number of posts that questioned Black History Month. Some wondered about the benefit of covering the same people without bringing out the achievements of lesser known African American role models. Some questioned the focus on slavery and Jim Crow laws, reinforcing victimization instead of empowerment. Some related the awkwardness of being the only black student listening to books about mean white people. I know that there was far more subtlety and nuance conveyed in these posts, so please don’t call me out on my paraphrasing.

I saw value in all of these concepts, and so I did what I often do when confronted with complicated and intense issues. Nothing. In that I didn’t post about books for Black History Month because I suddenly wasn’t sure what it meant. I haven’t been the only black student in the room during Black History Month, but I have been the only Jew in room during the world history lessons on the Holocaust and know that it is awkward being that kid, and it feels strange to hear about your people as victims. At the same time, I think that the significance of the African American journey is rooted in the context of its beginnings.

So back to those two books. Both were about boys going into a library in the South and checking out a book, against the rules of the state and the mindset of a society. Originally I liked one because the watercolor illustrations appealed to me and the story provided more background on the level of discrimination at the time. But as I reread the books and began to write the review, I preferred the second book because what I had originally dismissed as too light a treatment of the topic — both in the text and in the bolder artwork — seemed to answer some of the questions I had about Black History Month. Here the kid has a mission to check out a book at the library, and while several white folks nicely try to help him, he insists on taking a stand against the law. Within one book, we have a lesser-known African American role model, a focus on an empowering stance instead of victimization, and a portrayal of an unfair law instead of mean people.

I’m not saying that this is the only way that a topic in African American history can be discussed. Obviously that’s silly. But it was refreshing to see this approach in a book for kids, specifically younger kids. What are the books? Head to PBS Booklights to find out. (You’ll also find a bonus classic book on the same topic.)

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder

My back issues notwithstanding (boy, is that ever appropriate), I have been trying to restore some order to my life outside my blog. It᾿s slow going and less than fun, but absolutely necessary. With that in mind, I᾿m trying to run some things that I don᾿t have to write myself. My teen was able to help me out with a book that I loved and then gave to her thinking that she would feel the same way. I᾿ll say quite honestly that I hesitated before giving her the book, because of an important plot point where the main character᾿s friend gives a BJ to a boy she barely knows. I wondered if my eighth grader was ready to read this. But the friend does suffer consequences both emotional and physical, which made my point for me and allowed us to have an open discussion about the girl᾿s choices. Anyway, enough from me...

Into the Wild Nerd YonderHey! TeenReader here, to review a great book called Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, by Julie Halpern (2009). The basic plot is about Jessie, a “nerd” girl whose friends have gone from prissy to punk in a matter of hours, all to impress the one boy Jessie has had a crush on ever since they met. And when one of her friends takes it too far, Jessie decides that she needs a new crew. But who should she end up with but the nerdiest group of all, the Dungeons and Dragons crowd!

I finished this book and looked back at it thinking it was one of my favorites (which I still think now). At first I thought it was because I identified with the character, being a nerd-girl myself, but I realized that this book is pretty middle-ground and perfect for everyone. There᾿s definitely a message, but it᾿s not preachy. The bad guys are annoying enough that you want to yell at them, but Jessie isn᾿t whiny about it. It᾿s funny, but not slapstick crazy. But the thing I think was most well done was avoiding overemphasis of her being a smart person. The book mentioned her advanced classes, but it was handled very casually. One of the faults of many books starring a nerd is that they make them über-geniuses. This book shows throughout that Jessie is smart, but keeps her identifiable. Also she has none of the cliché family members — the parents who always push her to work, the perfect older sibling that she loves/loathes. This book captured a regular family, with all its warmth and little imperfections. The plot was handled well, the characters were likeable, and the style was engaging, and the story was compelling. Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, FTW! [That᾿s textspeak for For The Win!]

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ABC Storytime: O is for...

The Letter O

Book: My Very Own Octopus, by Bernard Most

Fingerplay: “Open, Shut Them”
Open, shut them, open, shut them.
Give a little clap, clap, clap.
Open, shut them, open, shut them.
Lay them in your lap, lap, lap.
Creep them, crawl them, creep them, crawl them
Right up to your chin, chin, chin.
Open wide your little mouth...
But do not let them in.
(Act out the hand motions.)
Book: Owl Babies, by Martin Waddell, or Little Hoot, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Fingerplay: “Five Little Owls”
The first little owl has big, round eyes.
The second little owl is of very small size.
The third little owl can turn her head.
The fourth little owl likes mice, she said.
The fifth little owl flies all around,
And her wing hardly make a single sound.
(Count owls on fingers, and then “fly” hands around.)
Book: Over in the Meadow, by Olive A. Wadsworth (I sing it instead of reading it.)

Book: Some “O” name book like Olivia, by Ian Falconer; Olvina Files, by Grace Lin; Otto Goes to Camp, by Todd Parr; Owen, by Kevin Henkes; or Otis, by Loren Long

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Nonfiction Monday: A Young Dancer

Along with her singing and acting, my fifth grader is also a dancer. While she sings constantly on her own and has a few theater sessions during the school year, it’s actually dance where she exerts the most constant effort, taking three classes a week in ballet, pre-pointe, and musical theater dance. When I started her in Rec Center classes seven years ago, it was just to have Something To Do, but as she continued to enjoy it, I encouraged her thinking that the discipline of ballet would be good for her. She still loves dance, and her interest has kept me on the lookout for good books on the subject. Today I have a title that also works in the context of Black History Month:

A Young Dancer: The Life of an Ailey Student
by Valerie Gladstone, photographs by José Ivey
Published by Henry Holt and Co., 2009

A Young Dancer: The Life of an Ailey StudentIman Bright is a thirteen-year-old student at the Ailey School in New York City who has allowed us a peek into her life. We learn about her ballet practice and her toe shoes — the holy grail of beginning ballerinas. She talks about the other styles of dance that she learns including modern, jazz and West African. She shares how she handles the demanding dance schedule along with school and takes us through practices to performance. The photography is wonderful, putting us in each scene and showing the elegance and beauty of the performers. The author’s note contains a history of The Ailey School and Alvin Ailey as a pioneer of African American modern dance. Short segments of text make this an accessible book for early elementary readers, though upper elementary student will better appreciate the dedication of the dancer and the specifics of the dance techniques.

Nonfiction Monday is hosted today at Practically Paradise.

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Poetry Friday: Red Sings from Treetops

Red Sings from TreetopsWhat can I say about Red Sings from Treetops but lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely and oh yes, lovely. And that’s from someone who doesn’t care much for poetry as a rule. After checking out a library copy based on the book’s Caldecott silver medal and Cybils win, I had to buy my own copy. (Which I did through the Cybils site, because every book that you buy there gives a little bit back to that award.) My friend and poetry-lover Sara Lewis Holmes is sharing the winter poems on pink and green, but I have to stick with what can’t leave my mind as I look around our new arctic landscape:
       l  o
traces its wet finger
on branches and stumps.
White dazzles day
and turns night
inside out.

A wrestle, a romp,
a feast:
winter tastes White.
Taking us through all the seasons in colors, these short poems by Joyce Sidman pack a velvet-covered punch, while Pamela Zagarenski’s illustrations invite long-lingering looks and sighs. Truly, I want to live in the world that Zagarenski sees.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Irene Latham.

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Booklights Snow Books

I’m sharing three snowy picture books over at Booklights and invite you to head over and add your own wintery favorite in the comments. In fact, I may have to go back myself, because after I wrote my post and came back here to give a teaser review, I remembered my own very favorite snow book, and that is Charlie and Lola: Snow Is My Favorite and My Best, by Lauren Child.

Charlie and Lola: Snow is My Favorite and My BestThis is one of the Charlie and Lola books that was a TV show first and then a book, but no matter. It’s still brilliant. Especially if you read the whole thing with a British accent, which you simply must do if you’ve ever watched the show. Lola — who is small and very funny — is so excited about the coming snow that she can barely sleep, and then wakes up to find that the world has gone all extremely white! Charlie and Lola explore the snowy world with their friends, with Lola and her friend Lotta both proclaiming that “snow is my favorite and my best.” When the snow melts the next day, Lola is disappointed, but Charlie explains that a constant winter might get old. Lauren Child’s illustrations are captivating as always, and the joy and magic of a special snow day are captured most excellently in this wonderful book.

I’ve read lots of picture books about snow in my time, and I like a lot of them, but I have more fun reading this one that any other. It’s the British accent. Take a look at the ones at Booklights and add your own favorites for the PBS readers.

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ABC Storytime: N is for...

The Letter N

Book: The Gift of Nothing, by Patrick McDonnell, or Let’s Do Nothing! by Tony Fucile

Book: Our Nest, by Reeve Lindbergh, or The Perfect Nest, by Catherine Friend

Rhyme: “Little Birdie”
Little birdie in your nest.
Little birdie it’s time to rest.
When the sun comes out to play.
Little birdie — fly away!
Book: The Napping House, by Audrey Wood

Song: “Brother John”
Are you sleeping, are you sleeping?
Brother John, Brother John.
Morning bells are ringing.
Morning bells are ringing.
Ding Ding Dong, Ding, Ding, Dong
Book: The Longest Night, by Marion Dane Bauer

Book: 1000 Times No, by Tom Warburton (If you’re feeling brave enough to try the numerous ways to say one word in many, many ways.)

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Nonfiction Monday: Yes We Can

First, for Nonfiction Monday let me give a shout-out to the winner of the Cybils Nonfiction Picture Book winner, The Day-Glo Brothers, by Chris Barton, which I reviewed here. Check out all of the Cybils Award winners and buy yourself a book to support the site. I bought three myself.

Now today, I was wishing that I had a specific biography that would cover Presidents Day and Black History Month. In other words, an Obama biography. I didn’t have a new book on hand, and frankly am not much in the mood to write up a whole new post when today’s chores are looming over me like the five-foot snow piles towering over my driveway. The answer came to me in a book that I reviewed more than a year ago, but that has since been updated to reflect the new developments in Barack Obama’s life. You know, like becoming president.

Yes We Can: A Biography of President Barack ObamaYes We Can: A Biography of President Barack Obama, by Garen Thomas, serves as a great biography for kids or a quick overview of the man’s life for adults. Written for older elementary school kids, the book covers Obama’s life story with an interesting narrative. The first two-thirds of the book seem drawn very strongly from his autobiography, Dreams from My Father. The last third fills in the rest of the story, namely his law school and political years. The book includes lots of photos, and chapters are separated by quotes from Obama — including a section of his New Hampshire primary speech, “Yes We Can.” The original book went to press before the Democratic primaries ended, but the newer version is updated with the conclusion of the campaign and of course, the ultimate results of the presidential election. Certainly it doesn’t have the personal depth and elegant writing of Dreams from My Father or the policy implications of The Audacity of Hope, but for kids or adults who want to know who Obama is and where he came from, this title is a great place to start.

Nonfiction Monday is hosted today at The Art of Irreverence.

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Cybils Award Winners!

Today the Cybils announces the winners in twelve categories of children’s and young adult books. While you’ll see some familiar titles from other big awards, the combination of literary value and reader appeal has brought some fresh books to the mix.

I served as the organizer as first-round panelist for the Fiction Picture Book category, and I can testify — and did — to the amount of work and thought that goes into selecting the winning books. The first round took 175 books down to a shortlist of seven. The second-round judges took those seven books — all very different in story, illustration, theme, and more — and selected one title to rule them all. I am proud to announce the result of our months of work, the ultimate winner for Fiction Picture Book:
All the World
by Liz Garton Scanlon; illustrated by Marla Frazee
published by Beach Lane Books, 2009

All the WorldMusical text and breathtaking illustrations capture a day in the life of children “from morning sun becomes noon blue” to “crickets, curtains, day is done.” From a quiet beach, to a busy garden, to a rained-out park, the fun and work and disappointment are shared and acknowledged in a way that encourages reflection. Diversity is naturally woven into community life where family, friend and neighbor connections cross age, ethnicity, gender and roles, embracing our distinction and our unity. Young readers will love finding the small stories within the pictures or going back to look at the page before to find the “hint” of the landscape coming up on the next page. This charming, lovely book is a delight to read and share.
Big thanks to the entire judging team for Fiction Picture Book — and an extra shout-out to Andi for working the write-up. I had a blast reading and talking books with the gang, and already can’t wait to do it again!

For all of the winners, visit the Cybils, and you know what — buy a book or two through the site. The referral fee supports the Cybils and the Amazon rankings can show how our award affects sales. Rock on, Cybils!

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Poetry Friday: Dizzy in Your Eyes

It doesn’t feel like Valentine’s Day is this weekend. I mostly blame the snow, because it has taken up most of my mental energy. The storm also canceled school for the week, meaning no classroom parties with cupcakes, candy, and cheap cards. The sales hype hasn’t gotten to me because the only store I’ve visited in weeks is Ross, where in a fit of snow-crazed boredom I encouraged my teen to try on dresses for a dance in May.

We took home two that both looked amazing on her and spent thirty bucks total. I love Ross.

This outing came back to me as I was looking for a poem to share from Dizzy in Your Eyes: Poems about Love, by Pat Mora. In fact, this is probably the poem that I like best from the collection because it so clearly captures a teen’s insecurity and a relative’s unconditional love.

Grandma makes me mad.
    “You’re beautiful. Tan linda.
when I’m studying my face,
boring as old bread,
my wide waist,
    “Tan linda,”
my hard-to-hide hips,
my too-flat chest,
my eyes that won’t open wide
and round like my sister’s,
that hypnotize guys.
    “Tan linda.”

What does Grandma see?
This poetry collection features a fair share of romantic love for teens, involves asking for dates, holding hands, kissing and missing, but love is also expressed for Papi, sisters, grandparents, and the family cat. And there are love poems for swimming, writing and music.

Dizzy in Your Eyes: Poems about LoveI really wanted to love this collection of love poems. But I have to be honest and say that the some wasn’t enough. Some of the poems had Spanish words that gave the work a sense of culture and place. But far too few. Only one poem was translated in Spanish after the English version, and I don’t know why more poems weren’t done this way. Some of the poems had footnotes about poetic structure, but where this could have been a useful learning tool expanding the reach of this book, it wasn’t used very often. Most of the poems were free verse with no footnotes. Some of the poems had engaging phrases, like the above sentiment of the teen seeing her face as “boring as old bread,” or the “dizzy in your eyes” haiku that gives the book its name. But more often I felt like I was reading sentences broken apart in phrases for emphasis.

I was most disappointed by the use of space, or rather the lack of use. Except for the few with footnotes, each poem faced a page with a light gray pattern of circles or rectangles. So the page count is at least twice what it needs to be, making it seem like a more substantive collection than it is. The format was particularly irritating when the poems ran onto the next page, but only for a few lines.

So, I have to say that I’m torn. The book captures a middle-schooler mindset and showcases a variety of types of love. And yet, it didn’t give me enough. As a special offer, I’d be willing to give this book a chance in the hands of another reviewer. If you’d like a nice hard-copy book to read and possibly review, leave me a comment and I’ll choose a winner at random.

Lee Wind has the Poetry Friday Round-Up today, so head over there and see what’s cooking.

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Booklights, Top 100, and Snowpocalypse

Looking for love (books) in all the wrong places? Well, I’m sharing three picture books with love themes over at Booklights, in case you need a Valentine’s Day book and ain’t gonna find one now.

Don’t miss the amazing, incredible, ridiculously thorough countdown by Fuse#8 of the Top 100 Children’s Novels, where am I quoted as saying, “Because the joy that the girls had in choosing what to spend a nickel on outweighs most of the excitement I could imagine then or now. It made me crave a dill pickle from the barrel, for goodness’ sakes.” For which book? Go see.

We updated our Snowpocalpyse T-shirts and are digging out from our three feet of total snow. Crazy. I couldn’t help thinking of this particular picture book, so I’d thought I’d share it today:

Terrible StormTerrible Storm
written by Carol Otis Hurst, illustrated by S.D. Schindler
Two grandfathers have been friends since they were kids. They grew up in the same town and survived the same big storm. As they sit on the porch now in their old age, they talk about how terrible the big storm was. As it turned out, the shy man was trapped in with lots of people, while the social man was trapped alone in a barn. It was torture for both of them. Great story with lovely detailed illustrations.

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ABC Storytime: M is for...

No introduction today, just right into...

The Letter M

Book: The Grumpy Morning, by Pamela Duncan Edwards, or Good Morning Sam, by Marie-Louise Gay

Song:Good Morning Song

Book: Five Little Monkeys with Nothing to Do, by Eileen Christelow

Rhyme: “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”
Five little monkeys jumping on the bed.
One fell off and bumped his head.
Mama called the doctor and the doctor said,
“No more monkeys jumping on the bed.”
(Continue with four, three, two, one monkeys.)
Book: Jeremy Draws a Monster, by Peter McCarty

Song: “Horns, Fangs”
(sung to “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”)
Horns, fangs,
knees and claws,
knees and claws.
Horns, fangs,
knees and claws,
knees and claws.
Eyes and ears and tail and paws.
Horns, fangs,
knees and claws,
knees and claws.
Book: The Magical Mystical Marvelous Coat, by Catherine Ann Cullen

Alternate Books: Today Is Monday, by Eric Carle, or Meow Monday, by Phyllis Root

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That’s a Lot of Snow

It’s hard to think about blogging when you’re in the middle of a historic snow event. Snowpocalypse! Or as some might say, Snowpocalypse II: Electric Boogaloo. We had two feet in Northern Virginia and spent a lot of the weekend digging out. Schools and the government are closed today, I’m betting on school closed tomorrow, and then another storm comes in on Tuesday afternoon! Craziness.

For those who scoff at our snow totals, you have to understand that the DC Metro area is simply not equipped to handle this amount of snow. While we have no lack of clueless drivers to block the roads, what we don’t have is a good number of snow plows. In fact, in Virginia the residential neighborhoods are contracted out to guys with trucks and a plow stuck on. Not a bad solution for our general six-inch snowfalls, but useless against twenty-four inches of untouched snow, as we noticed yesterday on our own street.

Also let me express annoyance with our general area, in that the official snow totals for Washington, DC, are measured at Reagan National Airport. First of all, the airport is not in the District. It’s in Arlington, across the Potomac. Second, being on the river reduces the snow that accumulates there, so we always get a lower number than practically anywhere else. This area is already often accused of overreacting, and could at least use better supporting statistics than the 17.8 inches recorded at National Airport.

Today we’re hoping for some melting on the streets and our poor fir trees, which look rather bendy. Our white cat is avoiding us now, because she can’t help going outside — in case it’s gotten better out there — which means that we can’t help putting her in the snow, because it’s funny. (Oh c’mon, you’d do it too.) And while I avoided tackling clutter to shovel snow, I now at least need do some laundry and clear a path through the tossed-off snow clothes.

Booklights, Cybils, and Jeremy Draws a Monster

We are closing in on the final winners for the Cybils. So exciting! For my category, Fiction Picture Books, I first posted at Booklights with the three titles I thought most likely to win a Caldecott. And I was right on two of them. Yes! Today at Booklights I’m sharing three more titles from the finalist list — one serious, one silly, and one downright dangerous. The seventh title I actually wrote about in December as a book that I was giving my three-year-old niece. I’m sharing that review here today as an appetizer to my other Cybils reviews. Plus because I love the book.

Jeremy Draws a MonsterJeremy Draws a Monster, by Peter McCarty, is one of my favorites of 2009, though it seems to have slipped under the radar for many. I didn’t think the amazing message contained within was too subtle, but maybe it did escape many readers who looked at the surface and saw a simple, light story. It’s a shame, because people missed one of the better combinations of art, story, and message that I’ve ever seen. In the simply written and illustrated book, Jeremy stays in his room, never goes out, and draws pictures. And one day, with his special crayon, he draws a monster. The monster is demanding and Jeremy has to keep working to satisfy it. He’s relieved when it goes out for the day. But can things end that easily? No. Only when Jeremy takes an active role in getting rid of his monster does he find a chance to be happy. Young kids will enjoy the story — especially as you read in the cranky monster’s voice — but can also absorb the deeper meaning within. Hopefully the adult readers will too. In my own family, after all enjoying this book, we’ve taken to saying, “You draw your own monster.” And we now see that you can’t feed it or ignore it, but you have to tackle it. An amazing message wrapped in a charming book with engaging illustrations. Not to be missed.

I think this book resonated with me so strongly because I have people close to me who create their own monster of loneliness or fear, and don’t realize that they can’t give in to it or ignore it and expect it to go away. It’s a lesson that I wish we could all absorb when we are young and open, because it’s so much harder to change when you’re older and rigid. This weekend we have another snowstorm heading our way, and I’m going to try very hard to tackle my monster — clutter! I’ve certainly fed it, and ignored it, but I need to do something about it. What monster will you take on this month?

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ABC Storytime: L is for...

Whenever I come to the letter L, I have to face that strange ladybug rhyme. I mean, “Your house is on fire”? What is that all about? So instead, I’m substituting the Sesame Street song, which pokes fun of the rhyme with its line “They talked about the high price of furniture and rugs and fire insurance for ladybugs.”

The Letter L

Book: Leonardo the Terrible Monster, by Mo Willems

Book: Ladybug Girl, by David Soman, or The Grouchy Ladybug, by Eric Carle

Song: “Ladybug’s Picnic”
Watch and learn the Sesame Street song.

Book: Lost and Found, by Oliver Jeffers, or Russell and the Lost Treasure, by Rob Scotton

Rhyme: “Little Bo Peep”
Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep
And can’t tell where to find them.
Leave them alone,
And they’ll come home,
Wagging their tails behind them.

Book: One Little Lamb, by Elaine Greenstein

Song: “Mary Had a Little Lamb”
Mary had a little lamb,
little lamb, little lamb.
Mary had a little lamb
whose fleece was white as snow.

Book: Lizzy’s Do’s and Don’ts, by Jessica Harper, or Library Lion, by Michelle Knudsen (better for older preschoolers and up)

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LOST Returns

Oh yeah, I’m ready. Are you?

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Category: 9 comments

Comment Challenge 2010: Prizes

While I was heading down into Virginia Beach’s first significant snowstorm in twenty years, I left you time to sign in as having finished the Comment Challenge. Last night, I wrote down all the people who wrote on the finish line post here or with Lee Wind, adding a few people who had commented on an earlier post. I numbered the folks who made the 100 Commenter Club, and used Random.org to generate three numbers from that group. After all that, the winner of the prize packages are:
Please write me at MotherReader AT gmail DOT com with your address and the prize package you’d most appreciate. An extra prize package was donated from Reading Is Fundamental and I’ve decided to award it to one of the two top commenters: Kelly Polark, who logged in 214 comments! The other big commenter was Kathy Martin, with 223 comments, and who had been randomly selected to win a prize package. Congratulations to all!

I also drew random numbers from the entire group of seventy participants to select winners of prizes just for playing. I’ve tried to make a good match for each, and so...
Winners, please write me at MotherReader AT gmail DOT com with your address so I can get your prizes send your way.

Thanks again to everyone for being part of Comment Challenge 2010. We hope to see you next January, but we also hope that the commenting bug stays with you for the rest of the year. Read. Blog. Comment.

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