105 Ways to Give a Book

Thursday Three: Summer Stories II

Reading books about summer during the summer just makes sense. With lazy days, cold pools, and swinging hammocks, who wouldn’t want a double dose of the perfect season? With many great books that take place in the summertime, I’ll be sharing some of my favorites.

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy
by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting BoyAfter their father rents a guest house for a few weeks in the summer, four sisters explore the large estate grounds making friends and having adventures along the way. Absolutely delightful, The Penderwicks has a old-fashioned cover, title, and story, yet keeps a contemporary feel. It could take place anytime — though a few small references do set the tale in the present day — forming a large part of its appeal. The reading level is upper elementary, but would be a perfect read-aloud for younger elementary kids. Simply a perfect summer story artfully told.

Lowji Discovers America
by Candice Fleming

Lowji Discovers AmericaWhen Lowji moves to America from India, he looks forward to making new friends and having a pet. Unfortunately, he and his family arrive in the middle of the summer and there are no kids around the neighborhood. Plus, his longing for a pet is thwarted by the cranky landlady who hates animals. Bright and inquisitive, Lowji doesn’t let these obstacles get in his way with interesting and funny results. Sweet and humorous, the book lightly makes the point of keeping a positive outlook. The observations of American ways and slang are interesting from the view of this engaging character. Younger elementary kids can easily enjoy this charming story.

Seaglass Summer
by Anjali Banerjee

Seaglass SummerWhen eleven-year-old Poppy skips a trip with her parents to India, she makes the decision with the goal of being a vet like her Uncle Sanjay. What she finds is that it working with animals can be difficult, gross, and heartbreaking. Over the summer Poppy also adjusts to the slow-pace island lifestyle, makes new friends, and learns more about herself. She even comes to handle the animals in emergencies and in passing. This book is a lovely read, but the sections on animals suffering or dying are emotionally intense — especially if you’ve been through it personally. The author handles the topic with grace, but tears may gently flow.

(Selections from this post were previously published at PBS Booklights.)

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What Happens on Wednesdays... “Need”

Lately, I am surrounded by need, and I am overwhelmed by it all. A beloved and sick cat makes another mess. People close to me who are struggling with depression tap my energy stores. The homeless shelter that gratefully took the forty-five individual art supply bags for their resident children and teens asks us to return. A local family has extreme needs that I cannot solve.

I’ve helped my kitty as much as I can, and I accept that her time is sadly near. For those struggling with depression, I can offer my support and counsel. I can call and visit, be cheerful or thoughtful. For the shelter, I can feel proud of our accomplishment in my Girl Scout troop’s giving so many kids something a little nice that may help pass the time. I can keep my opened eyes aware of other ways I can contribute, and alert others to the possibilities.

But this needy family is a problem I can’t solve, and I could use some counsel. I’ve been involved for a few months, enough to know that the mom is mentally handicapped and manipulative and untrustworthy. I’ve given the family furniture, which promptly disappeared. I gave them food once, so I get asked for food now whenever the mom doesn’t feel like going to get it. When I offered to drive her to a local food distribution center, she said she’d get another ride. They run up a phone bill, and then ask me or another friend of mine for hundreds of dollars to pay it — which, of course, we can’t. Drugs may or may not be involved in the household, where I see far too many adults hanging around. To the best of my knowledge, social services is involved.

While I’ve talked of the difficulty with the mother, I can never forget that this is a family of school-age kids, with two girls and two boys. I have a connection with one of the girls through my daughter, and we go to pick her up for activities. I don’t know the boys at all, except for the way they hover around me like eager puppies wanting a treat whenever I come by. They seem to crave even just a few minutes of conversation. I try not to come empty-handed, bringing a few books, art supplies, or clothes that “maybe they could use.”

But the more I come, the more they want from me and I’m not sure what more I can give. Over the summer we planned to keep up with my daughter’s classmate, because we have a relationship already and can build on it. Since they don’t have a phone, we have a weekly playdate to go swimming or to a movie or come over and play video games, and always to have dinner with us. Another mom is doing the same with the younger daughter. But what to do with the boys?

I literally don’t have room for all of them in my car, for one. I don’t know them, and I don’t do boys, so I’m at a loss for what I would do with them. The mother’s manipulative and dishonest nature scares me a bit in taking any responsibility for them, because I don’t put it above her to lie in hopes of getting something out of me where my developed trust with the older daughter precludes that. And frankly, I feel emotionally and financially stretched enough.

I would love to get more help from my local community, and yet getting others involves puts that person at the same risk I went through to realize the limitations of the help that can be given. There’s also the issue of privacy in a relatively small community.

I’m mostly writing here as a catharsis, but would be happy for any advice, suggestions, words of wisdom that can be offered. What do you do when the needs are so great that you are weighed down by them?

Nonfiction Monday: Butterfiles and Moths

I’ve been ignoring my little front garden. While that is a strategy I often employ to see what will grow next, this time I’ve also avoided the basics of weeding and watering. When my potato plants met an untimely end, I lost a bit of interest. Though, now I notice that the Halloween pumpkin I dumped in the same place has begun to reassert itself. Should be an interesting year in the garden.

One plant that we can count on is the butterfly bush. No matter how much you cut this baby back, it springs to life in the summer. It really does attract butterflies, as do the other butterfly-friendly flowers I have growing. I look forward to seeing these lovely, fluttery visitors each summer, and it reminds me to do a little reading on them.

Butterflies and Moths
by Nic Bishop

Butterflies and MothsAmazing photography, interesting facts, and fantastic design make the Nic Bishop books standouts among standouts. In this title, we get magnified photos of moth eggs and caterpillar legs. Or was it the other way around? Either way, stunning camera work. At the end of the book, Bishop shares stories about how he captured some of the best shots, including a story of a last-minute flight to Costa Rica to see a particularly rare caterpillar before it turned to a pupa. The only complaint I have about this series is that the author takes so much time with each book that only a few other titles — Spiders, Frogs, Marsupials and Lizards — are currently available.

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Thursday Three: Traveling Books

For me, summer means car trips and lots of them. Our family has gone the portable DVD player route at times, but the girls generally listen to music, read their books, or play Nintendo. But since they were little, we’ve always had some different kinds of books at hand for when traffic takes its toll or the batteries die.

Audiobooks are great for passing the time in the car and feeling like you got some book reading accomplished. I’ve found that the ones that hold our attention are either funny, adventurous, or familiar. With younger kids in the car, it can be difficult to find the book that works for everybody, so compromise must be employed. Personally, we’ve had the most success with the Junie B. Jones series. The books are funny, the reader is great, and the stories are familiar. It’s also helpful that each book is only about thirty minutes of listening time, so they are perfect for that last hour of a trip when everyone is getting cranky. For older kids, I’d also recommend A Series of Unfortunate Events, read by Tim Curry. Again, these work best when you already know the story as it makes it easier for everyone to follow along.

Question books can turn a long car ride into a wonderful opportunity to share stories and memories. Not sure what a question book is? Well, I may be making up the genre, as I’m only aware of two such titles for kids, but both are excellent. Ask Me features an interesting photograph or illustration on one page and a question on the other. Questions like, “What do you wish you could do really well?” and “Where do you like to hide?” Another title, Could You? Would You? by Trudy White, features whimsical drawings along with the questions. Sometimes the questions are offered alone, like “Would you like to dance with animals or look at plants?” But many times include follow-up questions or a few ideas to start you off. So, “What makes you smile?” lists pineapple and big goldfish in a pond. Both books are wonderful to start you talking to each other.

Find-It books are very popular, at least if my library requests are any indication, but a car trip is the perfect place for them. You may buy yourself a reasonably quiet hour only punctuated by an occasional “Found it!” The Where’s Waldo? series is famous, and the I Spy series by Jean Marzollo isn’t far behind. I’ve also seen these types of books for TV shows and movies, ocean life and museums. I keep one in the car at all times, because you never know when even a short trip can go terribly wrong — especially if you live in an area where the famous Beltway is involved.

(This post was previously published at PBS Booklights.)

Links to material on Amazon.com contained within this post may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program, for which this site may receive a referral fee.

Summer Stories: Turtle in Paradise

I’m sorry, but as school finishes up for the year, I’m just not in blogging mode. I actually have less to do than during the year, but feel more time urgency on those things that I need to do. With elementary school graduation yesterday and the actual last day of school today, I’m hoping to get my brain back in working order. For now, I’ll continue with another summer stories selection — a book to read in the summer that takes place in the summer.

Turtle in Paradise
by Jennifer L. Holm

Turtle in ParadiseTurtle and her mom have always gotten through tough times together, but now that mom is employed as a live-in maid for a woman who doesn’t like kids, Turtle is sent to live with relatives in Key West. It’s the middle of the depression, and many folks don’t have much, but Turtle is still surprised by the poverty on this little stretch of land. Almost as surprised as she is by finding all of her long-lost relations. With the sea and the trees to provide, the families get by — even if shoes are a rarity — and there is even some fun to be had in seeking payment of sweets for babysitting. There are also literal treasures to be found, for those crazy, brave and bored enough to seek them. And along with her cousins, Turtle finds herself right in the middle of all of the adventures. Turtle’s family situation and a terrifying hurricane give weight to the lighter touch of the book. But it’s the light touch that makes this book special for bringing out the depth and feel of the characters without weighing them down in their poor and/or uncertain surrounding. The people and places jump off the page with such a sense of being there. I can picture the kids pulling the wagon around as if I had watched a movie of it — which, by the way, there should be one. In any case, an enjoyable read that exposes a lost place in time.

Links to material on Amazon.com contained within this post may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program, for which this site may receive a referral fee.

Thursday Three: To the Zoo

To continue the Summer Stories Series, today’s Thursday Three highlights books about the zoo — a popular place to visit in the long days of summer.

Pennies for Elephants
by Lita Judge

Pennies for ElephantsIn 1914 the children of Boston raised more than $6,000 to buy elephants for the Franklin Park Zoo. This is a fictional story of two of those children, and a lovely one at that. In a time when every penny mattered, children did chores, had fundraisers, sold lemonade, and donated their birthday money to buy elephants for their zoo. The Boston Post ran daily stories for three months and listed all donors in its pages. Beautiful illustrations take the reader into a time nearly a century ago, when things seemed simpler. Artistically rendered newspaper articles reinforce the history and reality of the day. As the children collect enough money, it’s a triumph that echoes through time. The message of personal responsibility and making a difference are shown, not lectured. The concept is inspirational, and is captured well in words and art in this magnificent book.

The Zoo I Drew
by Todd Doodler

With its unique fluted cover giving the book a tactile experience before you’ve even begun, it may be hard to get your child to stop running his hands over the surface so you can start reading. Okay, it was hard for me to open the book because I couldn’t get over the unusual cover. But once inside, we’re treated to a bright and bold trip through the alphabet and the zoo. The artist takes a few liberties along the way, but it’s well known that someone needs to name an animal species Xervies to save alphabet books everywhere. Each page tells a little bit about the featured animals in a casual way. Or that’s how I’d prefer to read the text, because it’s actually set up in rhyming pairs that often seemed forced in rhythm or in rhyme. If you don’t try to sing-song the text, the bits about different animals are fun and minimally educational. Kids will be transfixed by the pictures. (Note: libraries are going to have a hard time with this book because the cover is not going to keep its loveliness with check-outs and shelvings. Sorry.)

by Adam Rex

A trip to the zoo like no other is represented in this fantastic picture book. As a girl tours through the zoo, the animals call her over (“Pssst!”) and ask her for different things — a new tire, trash cans, and more. Each animal has an explanation for what they need, though the ending of the book presents a different idea. The humor in ingrained in every aspect of the book. In the sketched portions of the book, look for the clever signs (“I Am the Walrus, koo-koo-kachoo”) and offbeat artistic representations (a rhino rolling around in a huge hamster ball). As the girl converses with the animals, the pencil sketches are mixed with breathtaking painted illustrations with the drama building in art and story to the funny ending. This book has something for everyone and is one of my personal favorites.

(This post was previously published at PBS Booklights.)

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Summer Stories: The Liberation of Gabriel King

For my summer reading, I love books that take place in the summer. I don’t think it’s meta so much as reinforcement. Summer is for imagination and fantasy and play and deserves a distinct world from that occupied by school problems and worries. So, over this summer I’ll be sharing some of my favorite summer stories for all ages.

First is a book I booktalked just yesterday at an elementary school, and it went down like gangbusters. I start my booktalk by asking the fourth and fifth graders what they are afraid of. I get answers like heights, spiders, lightning, etc. Then I introduce some of the stranger fears from the book like loose cows, killer robots, and falling into the toilet. After calming down the giggles from saying “toilet,” I go on to explain that Gabriel King is afraid of all of those things and more, but the thing that scares him most is moving up a grade to the school where the big kids will bully him, and then I go on to talk more about the book. Here’s my mini-review:

The Liberation of Gabriel King
by K. L. Going

The Liberation of Gabriel KingGabriel King is afraid of everything — spiders, robbers, cows — but his biggest fear is moving up to the next grade, where he’ll be in the same school as the bullies who pick on him. His best friend Frita decides to take the summer to liberate Gabriel from his fears by facing each and building up to his biggest one. She’s rarely afraid, but one of her biggest fears is about to confront the pair head on as their cross-racial friendship catches the attention of the wrong people. Set in the deep south in 1976, this book is a comedy, drama, and historical fiction. With a deft and light touch, the story tackles fear, hatred, racism, but ultimately is about courage. And friendship. A Printz Honor Book from 2005, this absolutely wonderful book should not be missed.

Links to material on Amazon.com contained within this post may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program, for which this site may receive a referral fee.

Thursday Three: Summer Reading

I’m going to guess that most normal schools are out now, or nearly so. Having school into late June seems to be simply a lovely Virginia tradition. Bah!

Anyway, this is when we start hearing about the summer slide with regard to reading. I think this feels more critical when you have a child who is already struggling with reading. While I’m not a reading specialist, I’ve had a kid who needed a little more focused attention in this area, and as such will share some thoughts.

1. Make the Time
I am asked often enough how I find time to read. My answer is more like a mission statement: You don’t find time to read, you make time to read. Reading needs to be part of your schedule like eating or bathing, because in its own way it’s as important. Sure, you can go a day without reading, but why would you want to? I prefer bedtime as the ideal reading time. It’s easily remembered, and it’s a great way to wind down. The evening hour can also offer a spouse or older sibling an opportunity to participate. Now in the summer your options open up and it’s a great time to take advantage of that. Look at the morning before the pool opens. Or a quiet time after soccer camp. Evenings on the front porch. In a tent with a flashlight. Summer is the chance to make time for reading every day, but to have more freedom to mix it up.

2. Bring Home the Books
Even if you have tons of titles at home, summer offers a wonderful opportunity to explore the public library. Having something new to read — that you have for a limited time — is more exciting. The library also gives you the chance to try something different. Pick out some folk tales from other countries. Try the new horse series. Investigate life in China or under the sea. Don’t overrule a book your child picks as being too young for him, but also reserve the right make some selections yourself.

It’s often said that boys are more interested in nonfiction than stories, so head over to the 500s of your Dewey Decimal system. It’s rich with science books for kids including topics like space, dinosaurs, insects, snakes, and mammals. And these aren’t the boring books you might remember from your childhood with long pages of text on one side, and one second-rate photo on the other. Today’s children’s nonfiction works with innovative layouts, multi-level text, and amazing photography. Ask your librarian to direct you to other nonfiction sections as well, including poetry, art, history, and biographies. Bring home a variety of books and plenty of them. (If you’re worried about keeping track of them, our library books live in a basket by the couch and that’s where they are read.)

3. Mix It Up
I love reading, and yet there is a stage of learning to read that makes me clench my teeth. It’s exciting when your child is first sounding out words. Later, it’s wonderful when you are reading together and she asks the meaning of a particular word. The part that is hard for me is a particular middle phase, where my daughters would sound out the same word for the third time within five pages. We each made it through this period (successfully) and I held my tongue (mostly), but it led me to my greatest discovery of mixing up our reading time.

As my youngest daughter was in the easy-reader stage for a long time, we learned to keep it interesting and fun. She’d read one book to me, then I’d read a picture book to her. Sometimes we’d take turns with her easy reader book. Sometimes she’d sound out words in the picture book. Other times, I’d read a chapter book to her and we’d discuss what happened in each chapter before moving on. There were even times when she would read to herself, and I’d read my own book alongside her. Occasionally, her older sister would step in to do the easy reader part while I washed the dishes. (A dollar payment most well spent.) We used this time to improve other reading skills besides sounding out and word recognition. Picture books are great for discussing art and illustration cues to the story. With their concise stories, picture books are wonderful to reinforce the concepts of story arcs, prediction, and comprehension. We’d talk about our favorite picture or the funniest part. I might remind her of a similar book or a personal connection, and soon she was doing the same thing. What could have been an exhausting stage for both of us, turned into a wonderful time of exploring, discussing, analyzing, and yes, reading.

(This post was previously published at PBS Booklights.)

Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything

Is 42, the age I turn today, and I am taking that milestone to share my wisdom from this journey so far. I’ve come to learn that I don’t have an answer for the Why of life, but I’m coming ever closer to the How to live it. Lately I’ve come to realize that saying four specific things has the power to change the nature of your closest relationships, and in that, the way you experience your life.

This word turns a demand into a request. It also validates our reliance on others and a need to be treated with respect. Saying, “Could you please do the dishes?” gives the person being asked a chance to do something for the asker, and respect for that person’s time and energy have been conveyed. It’s become a rote word, but upon reflection it conveys so much more.

Thank you
This phrase is the simplest expression of gratitude. Used frequently, it rewards and uplifts not only the people being thanked, but those doing the thanking, who must acknowledge their own gratitude. Whether it is expressed for washing the dishes, listening to a rant, or accepting a gift, we create harmony in our relationships and ourselves in our gratitude.

I’m sorry
This phrase isn’t uttered enough. Its power is in acknowledging our own imperfections as human beings and forgiving that imperfection in ourselves and others. It shouldn’t be saved for big things, but used instead to remind our loved ones and ourselves of our desire to do better. “I’m sorry I snapped at you. It was a bad day,” gives both parties a chance to move on — and when conveyed to a child, gives them the tools to understand and reciprocate.

I love...
This incomplete phrase captures the order from childhood to “say something nice.” It gives us the power to express passion, caring, and joy. To compliment, encourage, or uplift. It goes from the simple yet powerful, “I love you,” to the seemingly mundane, “I love brownies.” In telling others what we love, we remind ourselves how much there is to love.

The dynamics of my household, with four artistic personalities and two tween/teen girls, has been saved by the power of these words. Practically used, without any other agenda, they will change the way you interact with the ones closest to you. But as you dig deeper, you find that they reflect greater truths of relationships, humanity, and personal growth. Take it from someone who knows. Or at least, someone who has arrived at the answer to life, the universe and everything.1

  1. With acknowledgment to Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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Sixth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge: Winners!

48 Hour Book ChallengeI must repeat that even though the contest is called the 48 Hour Book Challenge, it is hard for me to conceive of people reading for the entire time. Stunning! This year four people read and blogged for the entire forty-eight hours! No breaks that didn’t come with an audiobook soundtrack and no sleep — which is just a little bit crazy, but in a good way. Okay, to be fair, the second two reported a hair less than the 48 hours, but by executive decision, they win too.

The winners of The Sixth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge are:
Great job! Now, more prizes! I have books for participants selected with the Random Integer Generator. Participants had to complete twelve hours of reading/blogging/networking to be eligible for prizes. In the order drawn, the winners are:
Prize winners, please write me at MotherReader AT gmail DOT com with your address and the books you’d most be interested in receiving. If you’d like a personalized copy, please note to whom you’d like it signed; I’ll do my best to accommodate. Books donated by authors are: The Latte Rebellion, by Sarah Jamila Stevenson; Scars, by Cheryl Rainfield; Dragon Speaker: The Last Dragon, by Cheryl Rainfield; Little Chicken’s Big Day, by Katie Davis and Jerry Davis (with bonus onesie!); I Fooled You: Ten Stories of Tricks, Jokes, and Switcheroos, anthology signed by Carmela Martino.

I’m also giving an “Almost Made It” prize to a blogger who worked so hard to read the whole time, and then dozed off in the night. So a signed and personalized copy of When Life Gives You OJ, by Erica Perl (with drawstring backpack and water bottle!) to Over the Moon and Sun!

For the Sixth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge we had eighty people complete the challenge, with many blogs listing totals of twenty hours or more. Here they are, in order of their finish line sign-in:

48 Hour Book Challenge Twenty Hours Club
  1. MotherReader • 28 hours
  2. Blue Castle • 48 hours
  3. Reading Chick • 24 hours
  4. Libr*Fiti • 21 hours
  5. Over the Moon and Sun • 45 hours
  6. True Book Addict • 25.25 hours
  7. So Many Books • 32.25 hours
  8. Leeswammes • 22.25 hours
  9. Ms. Yingling • 35 hours
  10. Stacked • 30 hours
  11. Chance Encounter • 47.5 hours
  12. Handmade by Mikaiya • 22 hours
  13. Book Nut • 23.5 hours
  14. Joy’s Book Blog • 21 hours
  15. Abby the Librarian • 31 hours
  16. I Write in Books • 20 hours
  17. Just an Obsurvashun • 26.75 hours
  18. Books Like Breathing • 48 hours
  19. Babylon Reader • 21 hours
  20. The Children’s War • 30.5 hours
  21. Library Book Nook • 25.5 hours
  22. Confessions of a Bibliovore • 20.75 hours
  23. Zappo’s Read-a-Rama • 21.5 hours
  24. RovingFiddlehead KidLit • 21 hours
  25. Blog From the Windowsil • 25.5 hours
  26. SonderBooks • 30.5 hours
  27. Library Chicken • 32 hours
  28. Crowding the Book Truck • 29.25 hours
  29. WhatYA Reading • 21.5 hours
  30. The YaYaYa’s • 21 hours
  31. Bookshelves of Doom • 25 hours
  32. Libri Dilectio • 22 hours
  33. A Random Hodgepodge of Bookishness • 23.25 hours
  34. Amanda Pearl’s Books • 20 hours
  35. The Purpled One • 47.75 hours
Many bloggers also connected their personal readathons with a cause. As I know it now, here’s a list of Blogging for The Greater Good:
I know that I missed some other participants along the way and am happy to accept corrections or additions to this list. Toss them in the comments. Thanks to all of the bloggers who mentioned, tweeted about, and otherwise promoted the 48 Hour Book Challenge. We would never have had such a fantastic turnout without your help. Thanks to the bloggers who supported a cause — and supported each other in raising money. Thanks to the authors, bloggers, and publishers who donated prizes. And of course, thanks to all of you who participated and made this such a wonderful event!

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Sixth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge: Finish Line

You made it! On this Finish Line post, leave the direct link to your final summary page, which should include: the amount of time spent on the challenge, books read, amount collected for charity, and which charity it will benefit.

I am donating one dollar to my designated Donors Choose school for everyone who finishes the challenge, which means to me that you signed in as a participant, read/blogged some books, and signed in at the Finish Line. So perhaps that little extra incentive can get folks to record their time and complete the 48HBC all official-like. Given different starting times over the weekend and time zones, the end is set at Monday, June 6th, at 7:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. All final summary posts should be up by then. That said, sometimes there are folks who need some nudging, so I won’t announce any winners until after noon on Monday, June 6th.

Thanks again to everyone who participated and supported and promoted the 48 Hour Book Challenge! Read on!

MotherReader 48HBC Update: Final Summary

With a bit of weekend still before me, I was able to give twenty-seven hours to the challenge and read seven books. While there were some books I didn’t love, there was nothing I hated either. I pulled together a decent variety of styles and reading levels, though this year I did go for longer books. Which was fine. I also didn’t reduce my to-be-read pile by much since I felt the need to bring home completely different books from the library. Oh, well.

I did like focusing on books that I had heard a lot about, so that I felt less compelled to write reviews and could focus on reactions. Being sleep-deprived has never aided my reviewing — I always put off the posting part — and framing the posts as thoughts instead was rather freeing. Though sometimes I do need to force myself to stop reading, and start posting. Butt In Chair, as they say.

At this point, I could easily keep going, which is a nice way to end. I will continue with checking in on all the participants over the next ten hours, and will be back with a winner on Monday. Thanks to everyone for playing along again!

MotherReader 48HBC Update: Round III

Working with the last twelve hours of the challenge — and going over a bit to finish this post — I found myself fading fast. I tried to put in just a bit more reading before bed, but could not get into either of the two books I tried. Deciding that sleep was the answer, and indeed necessary, I slept on the sofa for a lovely five hours.

You see, sleeping on the couch meant that I wasn’t as comfy as in my soft bed, so it wasn’t nearly as difficult to get up while everyone else was asleep to start blogging. With a cup of coffee and a doughnut, I made my way through some of the list of 48HBC participants. I stopped looking at Twitter as I was dangerously close to getting sucked into the whole Wall Street Journal article debate, and I did not have time for a controversy. I still had a few more hours and at least two more books to read.

Feeling like something lighter today, I read both of the Guys Read books — which are among the prizes donated by HarperCollins’ Walden Pond Press. I would have bet money that I’d prefer Guys Read: Funny Business, but the only story I loved in this anthology was the one by Adam Rex, titled “Will.” That one had me laughing enough that my husband finally had to ask about it. It may have been this line from the teacher of a class where everyone keeps discovering their secret power and disappearing: “An essay, in two hundred words or less! Explain what you think will happen to a teacher if all her students keep turning into flipping butterflies! Assume she has only two years’ experience and student loans. Show your work.” I loved the story concept and funny lines throughout. Oh, and this: “When Will’s brother was in the fifth grade he and a couple of friends discovered a magic tree house that could travel through time, and had taken it on all kinds of funny adventures. But in high school they’d lost interest in time travel, and it mostly became a magical place to smoke.” Man, do I love Adam Rex, who also illustrated this title.

Overall, I preferred the newest book in the series, Guys Read: Thriller. Again, the stories read like a Who’s Who of children’s literature, with names like M.T. Anderson, Patrick Carman, Margaret Peterson Haddix, and Walter Dean Myers. It was my Facebook notices that alerted me to contributer Jarrett Krosoczka presenting at the Book Expo America panel with a “Thriller” jacket. Nice one. In this title, the stories were adventures, and yet each very different in style and tone — from a ghost story to a funny film noir piece (can you use that term for literature?) to a more sobering work. The short stories seem an ingenious way to reach boys, one tale at a time, and I’m looking forward to seeing more in this series.

Round 3: seven hours

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MotherReader 48HBC Update: Round II

After a blissful five hours of sleep, I awake at the crack of dawn to take teen to meet the bus for a school trip to New York City. The good news is that I’m up to start the next part of my 48HBC, which I do at 6:00 a.m. with a Egg McMuffin in one hand and coffee close by.

After a half hour of social media time, I drive into the book everyone’s been talking about lately, Okay for Now, by Gary Schmidt. I was mentally prepared not to like it because of all the hype, but it didn’t take long for me to really fall for this book. So much so, in fact, that I’m going to talk about it later. ’Kay? Now, I actually had to split my reading into two parts, as I was scheduled to take my sixth-grade Girl Scouts to Medieval Times. Given that it was over an hour away, this was an event set to take up a nice chunk of my Saturday reading time, but at least the experience itself was more fun than I had thought it would be. I was also able to salvage an hour by listening to the first book of the Spiderwick Chronicles on the ride and then wrapped up Okay for Now when I returned.

Smalls Acts of Amazing CourageNeeding an easier read, I hoped to finish my next book in ninety minutes. Smalls Acts of Amazing Courage, by Gloria Whelan, fit the bill in being a shorter book and a quick read. It also was rather blah. Not bad, but rather forgettable. For me, it was more notable for filling out some of the back story of those British-kids-who-grew-up-in-India stories, like The Little Princess and The Secret Garden. I finished the book with a nice sense of what is was like to be a child and/or teen living in India in 1918, but I didn’t leave the book feeling moved by the characters.

The Mermaid’s MirrorAfter a brief break for dinner and an attempted evening nap, I gave a little time to blogging and blog-reading. Then with the night stretched out in front of me, and a scheduled pick-up of the teen at midnight, I dove into The Mermaid’s Mirror. To be honest, I picked this title up from the library because the author, Lisa Wolfson, was on my mind more than the book itself. I didn’t know her, but knew of her through other Young Adult authors, and her recent death from cancer was sudden and shocking — made perhaps even more difficult for the promise that she had as a writer, using the name L.K. Madigan. The Mermaid’s Mirror was a book born in her childhood writings and cultivated with the craft of a skilled author. I was riveted by the story of a teenage girl discovering new truths about herself, her family, and the magical world of the sea. A beautiful book, especially enchanting for those of us who are drawn to the ocean waves.

After this book, it was time to share in the stories of my teen’s big city adventure, and a little blogging before bed. Over the period of twenty-four hours, I spent ten hours reading and two hours blogging or networking.

Round 2: twelve hours

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MotherReader 48HBC Update: Round I

Last year, I was able to divide my time very neatly into twelve-hour chunks. Less so this year, with a fairly large and involved event gulping up a big part of my potential reading time smack in the middle of my time period. We’ll get to that a bit later.

I started my official time at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, after a trip to the library for one audiobook left me with a completely different stack of books to read than I had lined up at home. I just kept seeing these books that had great reviews but that I hadn’t read and changed my reading to knock out some of these titles. This is why I don’t spend a lot of effort planning ahead.

The UnwantedsI did stick with my original plan to first tackle the new buzz book for middle-grade, Lisa McMann’s The Unwanteds, which I read slowly and with interruptions, meaning I finished it in four hours. My quickest summary is that is was like Harry Potter meets The Lightning Thief meets The Hunger Games. It certainly has all the elements of a big book, and I enjoyed reading it very much. And yet, I didn’t have the feeling that I was reading the Next Big Thing — partially because I could so easily link the elements to these other successful books. Magic-making and school setting. Feeling different and battle preparation. Grim world and death sentences. Combine them all, and does it make the perfect buzz book or will it fall flat with readers? It certainly remains to be seen, and especially with the target audience of upper middle grade, who may not come into the title as jaded as this oldish mom. More on it later, I hope. Love this new cover!

Bitter MelonI put in an hour of social media time and then jumped into book two of my challenge, Bitter Melon, by Cara Chow. What a great book to read after the whole Tiger Mother online debate! I haven’t gotten my hands on Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother — still on the hold list — but I can see how this young adult title shows the road to success from another angle. I liked the character’s growth in how she addressed and accepted her mother’s rigidity in the framework of cultural norms before struggling against those choices and her own mother’s harshness. I would have felt less respect for the book if the message had been the superiority of American focus on passion and happiness over an Asian value on achievement and honor. The particular mother-daughter relationship allows the author to show those differences, and also allow our protagonist to rebel against her mother’s abuse of power. I did have a little irritation of the book being set in 1989, which seemed more a device to convey the author’s experience than to be as relatable to teens today. Still, highly recommended.

In any case, I finished this book in three hours, and went to bed with eight of the first twelve hours spent on 48HBC. I also went to bed with an impending 5:30 a.m. wake-up call to take my teen in for her school field trip. Annoying hour to be awake on a Saturday, but a good thing for my reading.

Round 1: eight hours

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Sixth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge: Starting Line

48 Hour Book ChallengeOkay, it’s go time, people. Review the rules. No, really. Because while they aren’t complicated, they do set the guidelines for the challenge. Keep your eye on the prize, whether it be the exciting list of books or charitable donations for your readathon or reaching your personal goal. Make sure you have plenty of snacks, caffeine, and good books. Put in a movie marathon for the kids — even if that’s not usually your thing — because this time it’s about you.

When you start your 48 hours, sign in with Mr. Linky below. Keep track of your time — which includes reading, blogging, and some connecting (for every five hours reading/reviewing you can take one hour of blog reading, tweeting, and general bookish socializing). To keep the Starting Line post at the top of my blog, I won’t publish my personal posts until sometime Saturday morning.

On Sunday, I’ll have a Finish Line post where you can leave the link to your final summary, which should include the amount of time spent on the challenge. Feel free to round to the quarter hour. If you’ll be connecting your reading time to a charity, please say so in the comments. I’ll be giving a dollar per finisher to a Donors Choose literacy project, as another incentive to sign out on the Finish Line post.

Have fun, read well.

Sixth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge: Prizes!

While Thoreau went to the woods because he wanted to live deliberately, I went to Book Expo America to line my prize coffers. So kind of the same thing.

Naw, I really enjoyed BEA and the Book Blogger Convention and hope to teach my readers how to work that floor like a MotherReader. But it’s true that I did have a big goal in collecting books for prizes for this 48 Hour Book Challenge. I want to make it clear that if I’m giving a book away, it is indeed my only copy. I didn’t get “extras” for these prizes. So will I give away my signed copy of The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann? Umm, I’m not sure yet. But I will give away these signed titles:
  • Goliath, by Scott Westerfield (ARC)
  • The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater (ARC)
  • Cold Kiss, by Amy Garvey (ARC)
  • Shut Out, by Kody Keplinger (ARC)
  • Legend, by Marie Lu (ARC)
  • The Iron Queen, by Julie Kagawa (PB)
  • Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan (HB)
  • The Daughters Take the Stage, by Joanna Philbin (HB)
  • Kingdom Keepers IV: Power Play, by Ridley Pearson (HB)
  • Bright Young Things, by Anna Godbersen (HB)
I have just a few unsigned ARCs that I hear may be of interest, and would be happy to include a few more high-demand ARCs as donations to the 48HBC:
  • Dark Eden, by Patrick Carman
  • The Jewel of the Kalderash, by Marie Rutkoski
And that’s it for galleys. It was true what they said about them being harder to find than in the past. But if you’ve got ’em and can spare ’em, I’ll take them for the 48HBC. Contact me at MotherReader AT gmail DOT com.

I am happy to have author-donated books that will be sent to randomly selected participants, because not everyone can aim for forty-eight hours of reading — though it sure is fun to try. Some lucky readers will win personalized, signed copies of:
  • The Latte Rebellion, by Sarah Stevenson
  • Scars, by Cheryl Rainfield
  • I Fooled You: Ten Stories of Tricks, Jokes and Switcheroos (PB anthology), signed by Carmela Martino
  • Dragon Speaker: The Last Dragon, by Cheryl Rainfield
  • Little Chicken’s Big Day, by Katie Davis
So excellent! I also have donated books for the winner prize packages from HarperCollins’ Walden Pond Press:
  • The Billionaire’s Curse, by Richard Newsome (PB)
  • The Emerald Casket, by Richard Newsome (HB)
  • Juniper Berry, by M.P. Kozlowsky (signed bookplate) (HB)
  • Guys Read: Funny Business, edited by Jon Scieszka (signed bookplate) (PB)
  • Guys Read: Thriller, edited by Jon Scieszka (ARC, Sept 2011 release)
I’m pulling some new teen titles from my not-going-to-review shelf — mostly from Random House and with thanks to them — including:
  • Rotters, by Daniel Kraus (HB)
  • Flip, by Martyn Bedford (HB)
  • Exposed, by Kimberly Marcus (HB)
  • Kiss of Death, by Lauren Henderson (HB)
  • Faerie Winter, by Janni Lee Simner (HB)
Prize packages will include little fun things like notecards, booklights, Where the Wild Things Are ornaments and pencils, spy pens, and whatever else I — or you — can contribute. If you would like to donate prizes — signed books, cool swag, illustrator sketches, crafty ventures, etc. — there is still time to contact me at MotherReader AT gmail DOT com.

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How to Work an Event Like a MotherReader

When I told my good friend about my wonderful experiences at Book Expo America, she replied, “Yeah, you do work a convention floor like no one I know.” Her statement made me wonder what precisely I do that helps me make connections, meet authors, and sometimes get me some free stuff. And can I share that knowledge with my readers and fellow convention goers? Well, I’ve been thinking about it for a few days and I think I’ve broken it down to three factors for success.

Be Friendly
It is important to understand that being friendly isn’t the same thing as being nice or polite. Everyone on the convention floor should be polite and frankly nice. But being friendly is a step up. It’s thinking about the other person’s comfort as well as your own. It can be approaching someone because they seem alone or in need. It can even be phrasing things so that the person has a chance to do you a favor and to be appreciative.
Chanukah LightsI really wanted a copy of the promotional piece being done for Chanukah Lights, but I had arrived too late to get tickets. As the line got shorter, I went to the publisher there and nicely asked if there were any way for me to get tickets, as this was one of the only ticketed authors I had wanted to see today. I asked if I might be able to wait until the ticketed participants had gone through, but she was able get me a ticket. At the signing I shared how happy I was to be there and Michael Rosen and Robert Sabuda signed the lovely image of an old-fashioned apartment for my Grandma’s 100th birthday, which made everyone feel good.
Be Sincere
In a world of hyperbolic marketing, sincerity comes through. In the above situation, it was true that this was one of my highest priorities, and the publisher could tell. Also it wasn’t as much a hyped author and illustrator as some, and she knew that too. So both my honesty and my delight were genuine. Generally, as I go through the exhibit floor, I comment and compliment a lot. I look through books and tell the publishers specifically what I like about the author, illustrator, or art. If I see a good promotion or swag, I tend to mention it. If I enjoyed a conversation, I say so. I do so without expectations, and yet often leave with books, swag, and contacts. And when I don’t, that’s also fine with me because I shared something that maybe makes their day a tiny bit nicer.
During the last hours of the show, I mentioned to the woman there how much I liked Lulu’s business cards — that I thought they were very eye-catching. The woman seemed unimpressed by my compliment, but a young man leaned over to tell me that he designed them. That gave us a chance to talk about the cards, promotion pieces and the power of good design. The next thing I know he’s giving me a couple of hats for my daughters.
Be Resilient
I thought a lot about how to define this third trait. Was it about being confident? No, because I’m always surprised if people know my blog. Is it about being fearless? No, because I do get nervous, flustered, and embarrassed. But I trust in being resilient. I’m not afraid to do something wrong because it’s the price of often getting it right. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. That’s true, but putting yourself out there means that sometimes it doesn’t go right and you have to let those experiences roll off of you.
Coming out of the stall in the bathroom, I saw a woman wearing a lovely dress. Being friendly and sincere, I told her so. All good. Then she turned around and I said the dumbest thing one can say to a famous author, that being their own name.

“You’re Maureen Johnson!” I said, wisely. I mentioned that I’d met her last year, said my name and blog, and then as she went for the otherwise appropriate handshake, I mentioned how I’d just gotten out of the bathroom and so wouldn’t shake her hand but I’d hoped to see her at her signing but unfortunately it was the same time as Jane Lynch’s presentation so I probably wouldn’t get there on time, but it was nice to see her. And yes, I did that in pretty much one long sentence. She was very sweet, suggested that she might linger at the booth after her signing, and graciously left the restroom. Where I could have now curled up in a fetal position for being an idiot with someone that I admire. But I didn’t. Because good story anyway, even if I look silly. (Photo of author in lovely dress from Alice Marvels, notably not taken in the restroom.)
Does being friendly, sincere, and resilient work? I’d say so. I’ve met people because I was concerned that they looked uncomfortable. I’ve had wonderful discussions from a comment I made. And yes, I’ve been able to turn awkward experiences around into memorable ones. One more example.
On Wednesday, the publicity people were marking down their last hour on the floor. I approached one booth, because the young ladies looked bored, and complimented the title they were featuring. In an effort to engage discussion, I began to leaf through, saying, “John Rocco. John Rocco. What book do I know him from? No, it’s not Wolf! Wolf! Hmmm. Something else...” This went on for another minute before one lady, who was apparently less interested than I thought, said, “Well, the author is sitting right there.”

Blackout And yes, not four feet away, probably hearing his name repeated three or four times, was John Rocco. And yes, I could have run. But at this point, I decided that I might as well introduce myself, ask what book I might be thinking of (it was Moonpowder), and talk about his stunning new title, Blackout. He even signed a poster for me, and was all in all quite congenial. (Hey, Jules at Seven Impossible Things is talking about his work with a bonus interview with the man, so check that out.)
So at your next convention, conference, or colloquium, work that event like a MotherReader. And let me know how it goes.

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