Archive for the ‘Kids at Heart’ Category


We celebrated books in the Norwich Inn during the annual holiday edition of Pages in the Pub in our home town of Norwich, Vermont last week. Our superb presenters spoke about their favorite picks for gift giving, and wow did they sell a lot of books. We thank them for that, and for leaving all of us a great list of books to give and get. Bonus – thanks to the generosity of the Norwich Bookstore, the event raised around $1,400 for the Norwich Public Library (while increasing sales for a great indie bookstore).


This post lists all twenty- three books discussed during the evening, each with its special six word review written by the presenter. You’ll notice that the selections are divided into rather specific categories to make browsing and gift-giving easier. We hope you have fun looking, and that you enjoy holiday shopping from the comfort of your computer/iPad/phone using direct links to each selection. And now, our superb presenters’ picks for holiday gift giving, with their intriguing bios at the end.


Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix by Mark Bittman (2015). Selected by Lucinda – Yummy dishes; up, down, across, diagonal.

Twelve Recipes by Cal Peternell (2014). Selected by James – Master Chef Teaches Son. Goodbye Take-out.


438 Days: Survival at Sea by Jonathan Franklin (2015). Selected by James – Thirty-hour trip goes quite awry.

Hold Still by Sally Mann (2015). Selected by Penny – Photography, family, bravery, mortality, beauty, fear.


Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (2015). Selected by Penny – Perhaps my favorite book of 2015.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J Ryan Stradal (2015). Selected by Lucinda – Forging family through lutefisk and bars.

Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann (2015). Selected by Lucinda – Deeply evocative. Beautifully written. Perfectly human.

The Sellout by Paul Beattie (2015). Selected by James  – Outrageous satire: black narrator segregates neighborhood.


The Cartel by Don Winslow (2015). Selected by James – Narco-Terror: North America’s ISIS. Gripping.

The Heist by Daniel Silva (2015). Selected by Penny – Guilty pleasure, art, espionage, marriage, Israel.


The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall (2015). Selected by Katie – Beauty surprises, kindness transforms, both inspire.

The Boys in the Boat: YA adaptation (2015). Selected by Katie – Loved by adults, now perfect for kids!


How Machines Work: Zoo Break! by David Macaulay (2015). Selected by Katie – Inspiration for the afternoon scientist—invent!!

The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry (2015). Selected by Lisa – Field-trip hijinks involve spies, adventure, laughs.

Bo at Iditarod Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill (2014). Selected by Lisa – Little House fans will thank you.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (2015). Selected by Lisa – History, mystery, magical realism. Boys & girls.


Dewey Bob by Judy Schachner (2015). Selected by Lucinda – Adorable raccoon. Quirky art. Sweetness abounds!

Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins  (2015). Selected by Lisa – Three different views. One big snowstorm.

Job Wanted by Teresa Bateman (2015). Selected by Katie – Moral: Persistence, confidence, & hard work prevail.


For armchair travelers

Lonely Planet’s Wild World by Lonely Planet (2015). Selected by Katie – Gorgeous adventure awaits, snuggled in armchair.

Atlas of Adventures by Lucy Letherland (2015). Selected by Lisa – Fun illustrations finally reach US audience.  (Also has an Atlas of Adventure activity pack.)

For messy people who can’t find their own coffee table

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (2015). Selected by James – Can book save human oil slick?

For the person who doesn’t usually read animal books

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery (2015). Selected by Lucinda – Making friends with octopuses (not octopi!).



James BandlerIn spite of his father’s not-entirely unfair observation that he’d have trouble finding a rat in his own cup of coffee, James Bandler spend his formidable years writing about corporate misbehavior for a series of financially troubled newspapers and magazines. Now a recovering journalist and professional fact-finder, he is best known as the private chauffeur of two Norwich teenagers and the vice-chairman of the Dennis Thatcher Society of North America (DTSNA), Vermont Chapter.

Katie Kitchel – Like the books she enjoys reading, Katie’s career has been a varied mosaic. Since graduating from Dartmouth in 1995, Katie has worked as a victim’s advocate, a mediator, a trainer, a music teacher, an arts administrator, an admissions reader, and a bookseller. Her most cherished job, though, is being mom to her boisterous boys. In her “spare time”, she loves to READ and to SING and to perform in musicals and dramas alike. She lives in Norwich, VT with her husband, her three boys, and her wildly energetic dog.

Penny McConnel has been selling books for 30 years and cannot imagine doing anything else. She lives in Norwich with her husband Jim, a retired dentist. When not reading or selling books, Penny can be found cooking, in her garden, singing and for two months in the winter enjoying life with Jim in California.

Lucinda Walker loves being the Director of the Norwich Public Library and thanks Norwich for adopting her. Lucinda’s journey to librarianship began at the Windsor Public Library, where she spent many a long Saturday afternoon devouring their children’s books. She counts among her favorite things: French roast coffee, storytelling podcasts, and Saturday Night Live (plus books, of course!) Lucinda lives in Brownsville with her poet husband Peter and kids, Hartley & Lily.

Book Jam Lisas

Lisa Cadow is the co-founder/co-blogger for the Book Jam Blog, and the founder of Vermont Crepe & Waffle, a food cart and catering company serving authentic French crepes. When not reading, traveling or testing recipes for her food blog, Fork on the Road, she works as a health coach for Dartmouth Health Connect, an innovative primary care practice in Hanover, NH. She lives in Vermont with her husband, three teens (two of whom are away at college most of the year now), three cats, and an energetic border collie.

Lisa Christie is the co-founder/co-blogger for the Book Jam Blog. In previous times, she was the founder/first Executive Director of Everybody Wins! Vermont and a former Executive Director of Everybody Wins! USA, literacy programs that help children love books (www.everybodywins.org). She currently works part-time as a non-profit consultant, part-time graduate student, and most importantly full-time mom/wife. She lives in Vermont with her husband, two sons, and a very large Bernese mountain dog, and often dreams of travel.


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Periodically, we invite other book lovers to guest post on the Book Jam.  Today, we are thrilled to welcome back an outstanding Children’s Librarian — Beth Reynolds (or Ms. Beth to many kids in our town). We love the fact she serves as our own children’s librarian extraordinaire. She is the type that calls a child to let them know they have a book on hold, even when they didn’t request it, just because she knows that particular child will love that particular book. Those of you lucky enough to visit or live in Norwich can find her working at our fabulous Norwich Public Library most week days, and the Norwich Bookstore on many a Saturday. So without further ado, some recommendations of children’s books about friendship from our dear friend Ms. Beth.


Many readers in Vermont are very familiar with Understood Betsy, the only children’s book written by the beloved Dorothy Canfield Fisher. Though she wrote several novels for adults this enchanting chapter book about a young girl in Vermont was her only published work for young readers. This one book phenomena also occurred with the adored editor, Ursula Nordstrom. She helped produce amazing books, ones that most everyone holds dear in remembrances of childhood: Harriet the SpyCharlotte’s Web, Goodnight Moon, Where the Wild Things Are. It’s a noteworthy list. And yet, Ursula herself was responsible for writing one of my favorite children’s books, though not nearly as well-known as the books she edited. The Secret Language, the story of two girls at boarding school and based on the author’s own experiences, was a book that I reread over and over. When I started working for a bookstore in my twenties I tracked down a copy and it’s become a book I have given to some of my dearest adult friends. The paperback copy I have is tattered and pages are falling out. It originally sold for 35 cents and opening it now to most any paragraph brings back a flood of memories: wanting to have a friend so we could dress as ice cream cones for Halloween, or communicate with a secret language, or finding someone who would be my companion during the long nights at school far away from my family. (The Book Jam is sorry to say this book is currently out of print.)

I guess I was looking for such a friend when I left home and went to college. Living in a very small, rural mining town before the creation of the internet, books were the way I learned about the world. I discovered what it was like to have friend—and how to be one— in good situations and difficult ones. And in some ways the books of my childhood are the basis for the contemporary books I read today. No matter the setting or circumstances, I think a good kid’s book should contain fully-realized characters. In some cases, they are so well-drawn that they feel they might leap off the page. As cliché as it might sound, I believe a talented author can instill this exact hope. (Who wouldn’t like a five minute chat, hug or handshake with Harry Potter or Percy Jackson?) I also like to be surprised by a character’s reaction to certain situations. I find it easier to make a connection with a character who contains multitudes, one who doesn’t wear a white or a black hat and has some depth to their emotions. I appreciate an empathetic character, but I find it so much more valuable when those characters evoke empathy in my readers.


In the spirit of newness—pencils, classes and friends—here are a few chapter books guaranteed to get you off to a great start with your reading.

The Question of Miracles by Elana Arnold – I picked this one up for the title and the image on the cover. Iris and her family moved to Seattle in the wake of a tragic accident. Her new school and her new life require a bit of an adjustment. The loss of her friend clouds everything else, but she finds an unlikely friend in Boris. He’s a mouth breather and a know-it-all, but he teaches her Magic the Gathering. This is not something that sparks an interest, but it does help to pass the time. When she meets his family she discovers he was a miracle baby, meaning his very existence is a medical mystery. Iris starts to wonder if miracles are possible and how to find one for herself. In return for Boris’s gaming advice, she instructs him in social etiquette, which brings about some interesting interactions. I found Iris’s life to be well-drawn and fully-realized. She has a loving set of parents. Her dad works from home with a hairless cat named Charles for a companion. Her parents call her Pigeon, take the time to explore their new rainy surroundings with her and genuinely seem to care for one another. Having characters who seem almost human and interact with each other in a kind, considerate manner even in the face of tragedy is just one of the reasons to pick up this delightful book. (Mrs. Kassab the pregnant bus driver made me smile.) The friendship between Boris and Iris is fraught with differences but the fact that they learn from each other and come to enjoy spending time together just proves that life can be good again when you have friends. ~ Beth Reynolds

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate  – Applegate earned a bit of notoriety with her award-winning novel, The One and Only Ivan. The essence of sincerity and kindness of that book follows through to her latest offering. Jackson lives with his sister Robin and his parents. Life has started to get tricky again, not the least of which involves the reappearance of an overly-large imaginary cat. Crenshaw came into existence years ago but then vanished as most imaginary friends do. But he’s come back into Jack’s life at a crucial point, it looks like his family might have to sell everything they own and start living in their mini-van again.  Homelessness is not a topic address often in kid’s books, though if this subject interests you then definitely pick up Blue Balliett’s Hold Fast book. Applegate examines this issue through the lens of friendship. Jack has lost friends due to their moving around and it helps him to have the support of a friend whose known him for many years—even if that friend is imaginary. Losing your home also means saying goodbye to things, but when given the chance to put a few items in their treasure bags, both kids pick a book. A Hole is To Dig (coincidentally edited by Ursula and almost called Stars and Mashed Potatoes) for Jack, and Robin picks Lyle, Lyle Crocodile. These companions have been with them for most of their lives. When they read each aloud, you could see they provided a bit of stability. Having the support of friends and the comfort of treasured possessions helps create a resiliency that can get you through the rough times. Crenshaw is someone I would want on my side when the chips were down. ~ Beth Reynolds

Auggie and Me: Three Wonder Stories by RJ Palacio – For everyone who loved Wonder, Palacio allows usback into Auggie’s world. He is however a minor character in these three stories. Julian the bully tells his story first. We see Auggie’s familiar story but from a completely different perspective. For many readers Julian was the bully and the character that evoked feelings of anger and a sense of injustice. Palacio turns the tables here and lets us see Julian’s fear. He does end up leaving the school for his unkind acts towards Auggie, but it’s not until he spends time in France with his grandmother that he’s able to see his acts for what they were and their impact. The second story takes someone Auggie has known since he was a toddler and shows us a deeper look into his world, one that doesn’t involve Beecher Prep. Chris has his own problems at his school, but it’s his friendship with Auggie that allows him to navigate these tricky times with his parents and his band dilemma. The third story shows us more about Charlotte, one of Auggie’s welcome buddies. Charlotte auditions for and is accepted into a dance troupe. She finds herself interacting on a daily basis with two other girls. Their afterschool practices actually bring them closer despite their differences. There is also the mystery of a homeless man a situation that tests their new-found friendship. Auggie is a touchstone and a marker for how Charlotte behaves and treats her friends. Each of these stories will delight those who wanted to know more about Auggie’s world while showing different, unexpected sides of some characters they thought they knew and understood. ~ Beth Reynolds

Fish in a Tree by Linda Hunt  – Ally has always been labeled slow and a loser. She can’t read and though that has become a real barrier to making friends, she doesn’t let that stop her. There are other activities that engage her, but she knows that learning to read is the key to moving forward. She can’t figure out how to make that a reality until she gets a new teacher, Mr. Daniels (He clearly went to teacher school with Mr. Terupt.) But her teacher isn’t the only surprise this year, Know-it all Keisha and Albert–the big kid who wears the same shirt everyday and has a fondness for facts—become her closest friends. This book is filled with the day to day life of school, with its highs and lows. There are bullies and triumphant moments that should be celebrated. For me that means the moment when Ally’s older brother, Travis, comes in to ask for help with his own reading. But for others that might mean Ally becoming class president or doing so well on a Fantastico Friday challenge. Or when Albert stands up to the bullies. But I absolutely loved the day when Ally and Keisha show up wearing special shirts to show that they are Albert’s friends. To me it’s one of the sweetest moments in the book and a real standout from all the books reviewed here. I know it’s one I’ll think about for years to come when things might be a bit challenging in my own life. ~ Beth Reynolds

All of these books address big issues, but they should not be defined by them. I wouldn’t pick any of them up and say “Here’s a book about the death of a friends, the threat of homelessness, or this one about bullying or the devastation of dyslexia.” Like a good friend they are not black or white, there is much to think about, ponder and laugh about. Any one of these books would make a great addition to a child’s library or a perfect choice for a parent/child discussion or book group. The characters are complex and intriguing, and the stories are written by authors who truly care about their audiences. Ursula actually wrote a sequel to The Secret Language, but she didn’t like the ending so she burned the manuscript. I’m glad that these authors were brave enough to put their books out into the world for all of us.

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DSC04450Late July — a time to tackle some of those books on your kids’ or nieces’ or nephews’ or grandkids’ summer reading list, a perfect excuse for your kids to spend a day in a hammock with a good book, an opportunity for rainy days to be filled with words, and the season when many young campers would love a care package full of books. So to help you navigate all these reasons to read, we’ve compiled our annual list of books for young summer campers — whether they have a tent pitched in their own backyard or are someplace far away.

To help guide selections a bit, we divided our picks into two categories 1) picks for young to middle grade readers, and 2) books for young adults. We do so, as always, with the disclaimer these categories are very, very loose; so please use them as guidelines, not gospel. We also decided to feature more recent titles, but this does not mean we don’t recommend the classics – The Wednesday Wars, Stuart Little, Harry Potter, Rose Under Fire, Swallows and Amazons, The Bluest Eye, Percy Jackson. We whole heartedly recommend the classics and older titles and blog about them often; we just don’t feature them in this post.

We hope you have fun with these books wherever you and your young loved ones may be this summer. Happy reading!


Some fiction and non-fiction for young to middle grade readers

Bo at Iditarod Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill (2015) – This series brings us back to our days of devouring the “Little House” books. And while this series, unlike Ms. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s, is not a memoir, it feels authentic, and the illustrations are especially evocative of those etchings of Ma, Pa, Laura and Mary. In this sequel to Bo at Ballard Creek, we continue to follow Bo, her brother, and her two dads as they travel the Alaskan Gold Rush. Give this one to all your Little House fans; they will thank you. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry (2015) – Perhaps my favorite book for kids so far in the summer of 2015.  Fans of Dave Barry will love the humor. Fans of fun adventures will love this book about four kids and their unusual plan to save the President using a kite and some stolen property (it all makes sense in the end). ~ Lisa Christie

X:A novel by IlyAsah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon (2015) – This novel looks at Malcolm X and his formative years in Michigan, Boston and NYC.  Written by his daughter and Ms. Magoon (author of another recommended kids book, How it Went Down), this book humanizes a legend, and illustrates how your choices and your reactions to them shape your life. ~ Lisa Christie

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff (2015) – SUPERB! Sad. Powerful. Trent’s 6th grade year is scarred by the aftermath of a tragic accident in 5th grade.  Nothing gets much better until Trent meets an unique and also scarred, force of nature called Fallon. The story of Trent and Fallon is one of second chances, recovery and friendship. It is also an honest look at rage, anger,and blame. As award-winning author Gary Schmidt states, “This book will change you.” ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin (2015) – Ruby has a big secret that keeps her from inviting friends over to play and that takes her out of town every Saturday — her mom is in prison. She is fuzzy on the details of why her mom is incarcerated because, quite honestly, she does not really want to know. However, in this book she is starting middle school in mere weeks and she is thinking about her mom more often than when she was a young child. Plus, there is a new girl in her condo complex who just might be a friend. This story tells Ruby’s story and introduces the reader to the complicated lives led by children of the incarcerated. This would be a great book to read with your kids as it would lead to great conversations about bad choices and the ripple of repercussions they leave behind. ~ Lisa Christie

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (2015) – A plot influenced by magic realism and launched by a fairy tale about the fate of three princesses, allows a harmonica to travel among three children in three different states/countries (Germany, Pennsylvania and California) during WWII. This harmonica unites their very different war experiences (rescuing a father from concentration camp, ensuring a brother does not go to an orphanage, helping a family hold on to their farm) into one lovely book. Uniquely crafted, this story of love, music, and war will both educate and delight. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Ferals by Jacob Grey (2015) – Caw was abandoned by his parents when he was very young and he has been living with and talking to the crows ever since. Then one day, he and his crows save a girl, and he finds his first human friend. Things then get complicated as they discover other humans who can talk with animals, and then learn that some of those “ferals/animal talkers” are intent on destroying the world by bringing the “Spinning Man” back to life. Believe us — this will all make sense to the kids who read this dark adventure for animal lovers. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Graphic Library’s many stories — The Attack on Pearl Harbor, Matthew Henson, Jim Thorpe, Shackleton and his lost Antarctic Expedition, The Battle of Gettysburg (assorted years) – GREAT nonfiction graphic novels covering a variety of topics. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

images-1Some Fiction Picks for For Young Adults

Read Between the Lines by Jo Knowles (2015) – Ms. Knowles is one of our favorite Young Adult (YA) writers ever since we read Living with Jackie Chan. In this outing, she describes one day in the life of a few teachers, a couple of cheerleaders, some stoners, some jocks and some who don’t know exactly where they fall in the High School hierarchy. Her tale serves as a reminder that everyone has a story to tell, and maybe more importantly, that we would all be better off if we took some time to find those tales. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour (2014) – What I loved most about this book is that the main romance is between two girls, and it is NOT a big deal. That fact alone makes this book lovely. That matter of fact telling would never have been included in books aimed at teens of my generation. So thank you Ms. LaCour. But, in addition to some teen romance, this book gives you insight into the world of making movies, a mysterious letter from a silver screen legend, teen sleuths, homeless teens, messed up adults, bi-racial families, and great friends. And, just so you know, I tried to put this down because I needed to read something else for other work, but I kept picking it back up as I just wanted to know what happened in the end to all these characters. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (2015) – A superb, superb book about love, life and suicide told from the perspective of two teens – Violet and Finch, living in Indiana, trying to figure out what senior year of High School means, what colleges to attend and how to play the hands they have been dealt by life (him – abusive father, indifferent mother; her – she survived a car wreck, her sister did not). I SOBBED at the end, but am glad I have this perspective on young adult life and the aftermath of death. I can not recommend it highly enough; but be warned readers will be sad along with the happy. ~ Lisa Christie

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson (2011) – We are a bit late to the game on this book as we just discovered this YA series last month. But, we are so glad though as we loved this first book. In it, a Louisiana native relocates to a London Boarding school where she discovers an ability to see and speak with ghosts just as gruesome crimes mimicking those of the horrific Jack the Ripper begin. The good news is if your favorite YA readers likes this one, there are at least two more titles to devour. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie


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Some Books for Book Clubs, and Anyone Looking for a Great Read

imagesWe were privileged to visit a local book club to present a few books for them to consider reading together. Their graciousness was incredible, and their appreciation for our ideas inspired us to share our picks with all of you. As you will see, we were slightly carried away and included MANY books by a diverse group of authors on many topics. So, our reviews are by necessity brief. To help you navigate this long list, we organized the titles in very loose categories, with a caveat that many would fit in multiple places. We hope this list inspires you to read some great books during these deliciously long summer days.

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Fiction – just for laughs/fun/easy reading/escape

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (June 2015) – Run-away bride drives home to Sonoma County, and is helped by her complicated family through decisions about what happens next.  Bonus — readers learn a lot about the history of Sonoma’s transition to vineyards.

Funny Girl by Nick Hornsby (2015) – A fun look at life as a 1960s BBC sitcom star.

Foreign Affairs by Allison Lurie (1964) – Life of an American English professor becomes complicated when she spends a term in England with a younger colleague. It is a fun read that also won the Pulitzer.

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple (2013) – Mom runs away from Seattle playground dramatics (and fulfills a fantasy felt by many at one point their parenting lives).

The Rocks by Peter Nichols (2015) – A love story told backwards beginning with the deaths of the main characters from a fall off a cliff on Mallorca to the moment they met decades before.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (2014) – A fun, well-told tale of suburban parenting.

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Fiction – slightly more serious

Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi (1997) – Dramatic, different, compelling. All the things a story should be.

God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015) – The story of Teddy from Atkinson’s Life After Life.  A great read for WWII fiction fans, fans of pilots and those of you who ever wondered what might have been.

City of Thieves by David Benioff (2009) – Two remarkable characters try to survive the siege of Leningrad. Wicked with fun, yet poignant.

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan (2014) – Contemporary Ireland after the fiscal meltdown provides the background for a superb cast of characters. Enjoy.

Any novel by Halldor Laxness (Independent People) – This Nobel Prize winning author from Iceland is gifted, and his books take you to a land many of us never get to visit to see people we enjoy getting to know.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014) – Set in the aftermath of the collapse of civilization this tells the story of a Hollywood star, a savior and a cast of actors wandering what used to be the Great Lakes.

Dog Stars by Peter Heller (2013) – Set ten years after civilization collapses, a man, his conscience and his dog try to figure out life.

Euphoria by Lily King (2014) – A page-turning fictional account of Margaret Mead’s life. Enjoy your time in the Samoan backcountry.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013 in Australia/2014 in USA) – A fictional account of the last woman to be executed in Iceland. In this book the author pictures her as a superb story-teller who becomes a memorable protagonist for a great piece of historical fiction.

My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918) – A classic tale of the American Midwest and the American immigration story.

Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell (2002) – A saga spanning the 20th century in China and Los Angeles. Enjoy this tale of how a father’s love for China shapes his daughter’s life. We have recommended this to many book clubs – including an all men club – with great success.

The Submission by Amy Waldman  (2012) – This fiction answers what happens when the winning design for a monument for 9-11 is awarded to a Muslim.

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (2013) – A story by a first time author, who also happens to work in a facility for the mentally ill, about a young man’s struggle with mental illness.  Not as depressing as that sounds.

Ghana Must Go by Talye Selasi (2013) – A tale of immigration to America, the pull of the home country, and how some decisions by your parents have ramifications for you for the rest of your life.

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Pairings of books – because sometimes reading books back to back enhances the experience

The Cove by Ron Rash (April 2012) and In The Fall by Jeffrey Lent (2000)These two books are gorgeously written and approach the Civil War from two different settings, an isolated holler in North Carolina and the mountains of Vermont.

On Beauty (2008) by Zadie Smith with Howard’s End by EM Forster (1910) – On Beauty beautifully retells Howard’s End, a classic tale of England.

Prep (2004) and American Wife (2008) by Curtis Sittenfeld – In these two books, Ms. Sittenfeld tackles Prep School and former first lady Laura Bush.  Both will leave you thinking differently.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1856) – John Irving’s In One Person  (2012) – Madame Bovary plays an important role in Mr. Irving’s tale of a bi-sexual man growing up on the grounds of a Vermont prep school and the life he then leads.

Girl At War by Sara Novic (2015) with A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013) – Both books tackle the impact of war – one in Croatia and one in Chechnya – on those left in its wake.

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst (2014) and Winter in Madrid by CJ Sansome (2008) – Both books look at WWII from the perspective of the Spanish Civil War.  Mr. Furst explores this theme using a thriller, Ms. Sansome in a more traditional historical novel.

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YA – because sometimes it is good to read about teens

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014) – “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” These words begin this novel about a mixed race Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio.

Weightless by Sarah Bannan (2015) – This novel explores the consequences of bullying in a tale of a high school girl who moves from NYC to a football obsessed town in Alabama.

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff (2015) – A story of how one boy is trying not to let a tragic accident define his life and how a girl with a disfigured face shows him the way (sort of).   

How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon (2014) – A tale for middle grade readers that illustrates the importance of perspectives and prejudice.  The plot can be summed as a black boy in a hoodie is shot by a white man.  This book shows there is more to that tale.

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Short Stories/poetry

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014) – A collection of short stories – some completely haunting — by a master storyteller.

The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol (2014) – Stories about Communists in the USA and abroad.

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H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald (2015) – TH White, birds and dealing with the loss of a father mingle in this well-told memoir.

Any book by Alexandra Fuller – A superb set of memoirs about growing up in Africa and finding one’s place in the world.

A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway (1964) – A FABULOUS tale of life as an American ex-pat in Paris that is sprinkled with the famous — the Hemingways, F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and others.

West with the Night by Beryl Markam (1942) – SUPERB tale of a woman and her life in flight, as a horse trainer and as a woman making her way in 20th century Africa.

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr (2007) – The author of All the Light We Cannot See first wrote this memoir of his year in Rome on a writing fellowship with his wife and newly born twins.

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Current Issues

Can We Talk about Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation by Beverly Daniel Tatum (2008) – Timely collection of lectures about race in the USA.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2014) – These poems are cleverly illustrated and outlined in a way that opens conversations about race in the USA.

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The Wright Brothers by David McCullough (2015) – The historian tackles two brothers and their impact on the world. Or you could read his Truman or John Adams and then watch the primaries and discuss USA politics all night long.

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Brave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough (1992) – A collection of essays about America, Americans and how to live.

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon (2010) – Mr, Chabon has written a superb group of thoughts about being a man, fatherhood, being a son and friend. Enjoy.


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As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to help independent booksellers, The Book Jam has paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”. In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore. (We have a rotating list of six possible questions to ask just to keep things interesting.) Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the week leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work, will encourage readers to attend these special author events, and ultimately, will inspire some great reading.
Our first “3 questions” in 2015 features Pamela and Jon Voelkel and their latest book, Jaguar Stones: The Lost CityBook Four of their Jaguar Stones series for middle grade readers. In this outing, 14-year-old Max Murphy waits in his uncle’s house for his parents’ release from a Latin American jail, when he is forced into yet another scheme of the Maya Death Lords. He heads to the United States with Lola, his Mayan friend from the previous books, on a quest where failure could mean the end of the world… again.
The Voelkels will be visiting the Norwich Bookstore from 1 to 3 pm on Saturday, March 7th to discuss Jaguar Stones: The Lost CityThis event is free and open to the public.  Reservations are not required, you need only to show up for a lot of fun with these two interesting authors. Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com for additional information. And now, the “3 questions”.
1) If you could give your own book award to an outstanding title you read last year, what would it be?
Pamela: The award is for “Book That Most Consistently Kept 5th-Grader Up Way Too Late On School Nights Because She And Her Mother Always Wanted To Read Just One More Chapter”. And it goes to Liar And Spy by Rebecca Stead. Or to When You Reach Me by the same author. They were both responsible for way too many hours of lost sleep.
2) What three books would you re-read if you had the time to do so?
Jon: When I was growing up in Colombia, the old lady next door used to shout at my brother and I to be quiet when we played in the back yard. It only made us louder. One day, in an inspired change of tactics,  she dumped a cardboard box of books on our doorstep. They were old and out of print, but three of them became the favorite books of my childhood:  The Road to Miklagard by Henry Treece, The Old Breton Fort,  and The Fish, the Knife & Bobby Magee. I don’t know who wrote the last two, but if I could get my hands on those three books, I would love to re-read them. (Book Jam note: These are all out of print, so we can not link to them, but the Norwich Bookstore would be happy to try to find them for you.)
3) What three authors would you invite to a dinner party?

Pamela and Jon:  Working on the Jaguar Stones books has filled our heads with stories from the Golden Age of Maya archaeology. Our dinner guests would be three authors who blazed new trails in the jungles of Central America. Jon would invite John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, two daring explorers who brought the ancient Maya to the attention of the world. Their book Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán – written by Stephens and illustrated by Catherwood – tells the story of their extraordinary adventures. It was a huge bestseller in its day and is still required reading for Mayanists. To the same dinner, Pamela would invite Alice Dixon Le Plongeon, a photographer’s daughter who, in 1873, left the comforts of London far behind to live in the ruins of Uxmal with her much older and fearsomely bearded husband, the eccentric Augustus Le Plongeon. Inspired by a jade artifact she discovered, Alice wrote the dreadful novel Queen Moo’s Talisman, which I don’t recommend you read. Do however seek out her biography Yucatan Through Her Eyes, which contains extracts from her diary and her amazing early photographs of Uxmal and Chichen Itza.

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So a cold, snowy Vermont February is here once more, and again we find ourselves asking, “Do we create a specific post for African-American history month, or does creating a specific post somehow minimize the contributions of people of color?” This question led to — “Do we skip this year’s post, or do we again use this month as a reason to highlight the contributions of African-Americans and African-American authors?” And finally we asked, “How can thinking about these questions help us improve The Book Jam?” We answered that last question first by doing a quick audit of our site looking at our posts from the past 12 months, to see the races/ethnicities of authors we have showcased.


We found that during the past 12 months, we reviewed 140 books. (We removed the “Pages in the Pub” and “Three Questions with Authors” posts as we do not choose all those books.) Over half (57%) were written by white authors from the USA, 24% by white authors not from the USA (mostly Brits, Canadians, Australians and a few Africans), and 19% were written by authors of color (Asian, Black, Indian, Latinos) from anywhere in the world. We noted that featured authors of color tend to be African-American (50%), followed by Latino (37%), and Indian/Asian (13%). Our gender break-down was more even, with 54% of books we reviewed written by women and 46% by men. We also looked at the images we insert into the posts (beyond the frequent book covers), and noted that we tend to insert images of objects, not people. But, we were uncomfortable to note that when we do insert images of people, they tend to be white.


This audit led to a vow to be more aware of inserting pictures of people of all races and to feature more authors of color in 2015 — and beyond, in all our posts. We believe “you are what you read” and that reading from a diverse set of perspectives enriches you; so we will strive for more diversity. Our reflection also landed us on the side of using this month to give air time to recent books by authors who are African-American or ones that highlight the African-American experience. This decision was reinforced by an African-American student at Dartmouth College who reminded us recently, “sometimes it just helps for the white person in the room to be the one to raise the race issue.”


So, after all the build up, we are pleased to share the latest GREAT books we have read that happen to have been penned by African-American authors. We think we have something for everyone here: some fiction, some poetry, some non-fiction and some items for children and young adults. And we sincerely hope our selections help you enjoy some great books this month.


How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon (2014) – A powerful look at “what goes down” when a 16-year-old black boy in a hoodie is shot by a white man. Was it defense against a gang incident? Was it a man stopping a robbery gone wrong? Was it being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Was it none of these, or a combination of these? And, just when you think you have all the pieces and perspectives to know what happened, a new piece of information inserted into one of the multiple voices used to tell this story, sends you another direction. A seriously impressive book – cleverly staged, with superb and unique voices throughout, and a plot from today’s headlines. This book makes you think about how perspective influences what you see, how stories are told, how choices have implications, and – well, to be honest – the pull and power of gangs.  Read it and discuss with your favorite teen. ~ Lisa Christie

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (2014) – I fall hard just about every time an author uses free verse to tell a story to children (e.g., Love That Dog by Sharon Creech). And Ms. Woodson’s prose paints powerful images in this National Book Award winning autobiography about growing up a “brown girl” during the 1960s and 1970s in South Carolina, Ohio and New York.  Her story emerges a book about the Civil Rights movement, growing up, and finding one’s voice as a writer. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2014) – This slim volume was a National Book Award finalist and offers a powerful way to meditate on what race means in the USA today.  Using news events, such as Hurricane Katrina or another professional tennis player imitating Serena Williams by stuffing towels under her outfits to enhance her bottom and breasts, Ms. Rankine contemplates both what it means to be Black in the USA, and what part we all play as events unfold and we chose what to acknowledge and feel. I think it is important to note that I did not read this in one sitting; but instead, I picked it up, read a bit, thought, put it down for awhile, and repeated. I recommend consuming this book in the same manner, or in one fell swoop. But no matter how you read it, you will be glad you did. ~ Lisa Christie (and Lisa Cadow)

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013) – We LOVED this book but use the prose of Penny McConnel, co-owner of the Norwich Bookstore to describe it. Thanks Penny! “This amazing book has filled me with such great joy, interest and admiration both during and after I completed it. Efemelu, a young smart Nigerian girl dreams of someday going to America. When she does, her eyes are opened to so much more than she had anticipated; most importantly racism. Back home in Nigeria Efemelu had never thought about being black because everyone was, but when she arrived in the states, she discovered the heavy weight of race that burdens both the black and white populations. In the states she graduates from college, has several relationships with good men and ultimately writes a very popular blog called “Understanding America For The Non White American.” Throughout these years, Efemelu has never forgotten Obinze, the young Nigerian boy she fell in love with in high school and the reader never stops hoping that they will eventually find each other. This is a contemporary story that is not just another story of immigration, but one of identity, love and powerful insights. Adichie is a powerful voice in contemporary fiction; a brave writer whose work I look forward to reading more of.” ~ Penny McConnel (Seconded by Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie)

Matthew Henson: Artic Adventurer by Graphic Library (2006) – I am ashamed to say I had no idea an African American, along with two Inuit men, were with Admiral Robert Peary when he successfully traveled to the North Pole and on his previous unsuccessful attempts. I am grateful this graphic biography for children brought these men to my attention. THANK YOU to our town’s children’s librarian for putting this book in my sons’ hands. (But I will add, shame on me and shame on American history books for not highlighting Mr. Henson. And, shame on us still, for not talking about the Inuits who made the success possible.) ~ Lisa Christie

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selena Alko and illustrated by Sean Qualls (2015) – Mr. Qualls received a Coretta Scott King Honor award for his previous work, and his illustrations for The Case for Loving are “spot on” in their inviting nature. In this picture book (also recently reviewed by The New York Times), Mr. Qualls teams with his wife to tell the story of Loving Versus Virginia, a landmark civil rights decision of the US Supreme Court that invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriages, a case resonating as we watch legal decisions over gay marriage unfold. But, beyond its importance, this book tells the story of love. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie


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Anyone who has been to a drugstore in the USA lately knows that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. All those red hearts can only mean one thing — valentines are coming. And, after a completely unscientific survey of those we have met the past few days, we have concluded people fall in two camps – those who embrace Valentine’s Day and those who don’t. (Some claimed to ignore it, but seriously, who can successfully do that?!?)

No matter how you choose to deal with this holiday, a very good book can help you cope with the pressure to find or keep love. And, now that we think about it, we admit they can even help you ignore the whole thing if you wish. To help with whatever strategy you choose, we have picked three books for Valentine’s Day – one for those of you in need of a love story with an edge, one for those of you who would like to embrace its sentiments, and one for those of you in need of a laugh as you search for and/or advise others as they navigate their path to “true love”.


For those who need the catharsis of an angry love story

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015) – This book is going to be BIG.  We will describe it as the next Gone Girl (from a British perspective), but we will not say much more as almost any description of the plot will ruin the experience of reading it. We can also say this book is a great pick for those needing to feel a bit better about their own love life, and/or for those stuck in troubled places, and/or for those of you needing a page turner on these cold winter days. Read it before the inevitable movie based upon its prose arrives in a theater near you.


For those needing a good book unapologetically about love 

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (2015) – As people who love bookstores and booksellers, it is hard not to like this charming novel about a bookseller and his bookstore, the love found when a baby is left among his shelves, and the love life of one of his publishing reps. A “shelf talker” the author wrote for Mr. Fikry, the fictional bookseller hero of this book, to use in his store to sell this book (yes that is confusing) succinctly sums what we would say about “The Storied Life…“. Thus, instead of crafting another review, we now share Ms. Zevin’s fictional shelf talker. “Despite its modest size and the liberties the author takes, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry has some lovely moments. Though my taste runs to books that are less sentimental than this one, I’m sure my wife, my daughter, and my best friend cop will love this book, and I will heartily recommend it to them.” And thus, we recommend this to anyone in need of a story that leaves you smiling, or for anyone needing a book to give someone who loves a sentimental tale. (e.g., your Mom)


For those who need a laugh or two as they journey towards true love, and/or for those of you helping guide teens as they navigate their paths towards love

We Should Hang Out Sometime!: Embarrassingly, a true story by Josh Sundquist (2014) – Mr. Sundquist — a paralympian, a Youtube sensation who was helped along the way by the Vlog-Brothers – Hank and John Green (of The Fault in Our Stars fame), and a cancer survivor — has written an often hilarious, sometimes painfully awkward memoir about his attempts to find a girlfriend. As a reader, you follow him from his Christian Youth Group to college, and then to LA as he attempts to find a date. Ultimately, this book is about how self doubt and fear crippled him more than his actual amputation. Written for young adults, this memoir would make a great reminder to anyone that dating is awkward no matter who you are, but that somehow, we all manage our way through it. (PS – he finally gets the girl.)

And, we finish with a quote from a superb book and classic movie —  The Princess Bride — “This is true love — you think this happens every day?” May love happen for you often, even if not every day.

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