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Archive for the ‘Poetic Souls’ Category

Books for Summer Camping: Kids and YA

It is that time of year: time for kids, young adults, and the adults who love them to read, read, read during these long summer days. Maybe it is because they have to for those back to school English assignments that loom in August and September.  Maybe it is because we all need some down time between summer activities. Or maybe it’s because vacation plans include long stretches of travel time that can not all be filled with electronic devices. Whatever the reason, we have compiled a list of books for Young Adults, kids who are reading chapter books, kids who are emerging readers, kids who are reluctant readers, kids who are not yet reading….  We hope somewhere in this list is the perfect book for the kids you love. (And honestly, we recommend all of them to adults as well.)

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YA: Young Adult fiction

FC9780062662804.jpgThe Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (2018) – Probably the best YA book I have read this year.  Reminiscent of Kwame Alexander’s style of telling stories in poetry, Ms. Acevedo uses poems to tease out the subtleties of her main character’s life in Brooklyn. In doing so has created a character – the fierce, gifted with words Xiomara Batista – who we care about, and whom we empathise with even if we are not a young black woman, even if we don’t live in Brooklyn, and even if our high school days are long behind us. The themes Ms. Acevedo intwines throughout this novel told in poems include, but are not limited to Latina culture, Catholicism, coming (or not) out, budding sexuality, high school teachers and curriculum, first romance, generation gaps, immigration, first gen issues, city life, poverty, music, and the power of words. Read this and rediscover the power of poetry, of youth, and of love – both first romance kind and the often much more complicated familial type. I find it hard to believe this was a first published novel for Ms. Acevedo; and, I thank children’s librarian extraordinaire Ms. Beth for bringing it to my attention. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062422651.jpgAllegedly by Tiffany Jackson (2018) – As a child, Mary B. Addison killed a baby. Or did she? The public thinks so and the many books and TV specials based upon her life definitely think so. However, maybe all is not as it seems. The answers didn’t matter until a teenaged Mary B. Addison is moved to a group home, gets pregnant, and wants to keep her baby. Ms. Jackson keeps you guessing as to Mary’s guilt or innocence throughout, but possibly most importantly, she shines a spotlight on the lives of young women and girls caught up in our legal system and prisons. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062422675.jpgMonday’s Not Coming by Tiffany Jackson (2018) – This novel takes on the heartbreaking reality of missing children of color, and does so with compassion and urgency. Monday Charles is missing and only her friend Claudia is concerned enough to do anything about it. Even well-meaning and caring teachers take too much time to hear Claudia’s concerns, and kind neighbors ignore signs something is amiss.  But, Claudia continues to be vocal that Monday is missing – even as she navigates high school placement tests and her shame that her learning disabilities are in the open.  Cleverly paced and plotted, and written with concern and compassion, Ms. Jackson highlights the fates of too many children of color in this country with a book teens and adults alike will be glad they read. Two books into her career, I am now officially a fan of this author and look forward to her next novel. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062330628.jpgFar From the Tree by Robin Benway (2017) – I loved this National Book Award Winner. The three bio siblings discover each other exists in their teens, when each is confronting a personal crisis in their adoptive and/or foster family. One is dealing with divorce and alcoholism, the other teen pregnancy, the third the foster system. They are all dealing with what it means to be family and how to become an adult.  Perfect really. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781481438254.jpgA Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017) – Mr. Reynolds tackles gun violence in an unique and powerful novel. The story unfolds in short bouts of powerful, insightful verse over the course of a 60 second elevator ride. During this ride, Will must decide whether or not to follow the RULES – No crying. No snitching. Revenge. – and kill the person he believes killed his brother Shawn. With this tale, Mr. Reynolds creates a place to understand the why behind the violence that permeates the lives of so many, and perhaps hopefully a place to think about how this pattern might end. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781101939499.jpgDear Martin by Nic Stone (2017) – A superb YA novel about being profiled by police for being black, and how current events, BLM, and politics affect black youth today.  In this excellent debut novel, a black student – Justyce McAllister, top of his class, captain of the debate team, and set for the Ivy League next year – is handcuffed by a police officer and released without physical harm. The psychological toll of being profiled is explored as this novel delves into his life at his mostly white prep school and in his mostly black neighborhood. To help cope, Justyce researches the writings of MLK and writes him letters asking for guidance about how to live today. While Martin obviously never answers, the letters provide a great premise for thinking about how MLK would have handled life as a black man today. The letters also provide grounding once the novel’s action turns extremely ugly. Read it and discuss. (It could be considered the boy’s perspective on the situations in The Hate U Give reviewed below.) ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062498533.jpgThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017) – Sometimes it takes a work of fiction to give life to current events. And sometimes it takes a book for children to give all of us a starting point for conversations about difficult issues. Ms. Thomas has done all of us a service by producing this fresh, enlightening, and spectacular book about the black lives lost at the hands of the police every year in the USA. Starr Carter, the teen she created to put faces on the statistics, straddles two worlds — that of her poor black neighborhood and  that of her exclusive prep school on the other side of town. She believes she is doing a pretty good job managing the differing realities of her life until she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by a police officer. As a description of this book stated, The Hate U Give “addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty”.  Just as importantly, it is a great story, with fully formed characters who will haunt you, told by a gifted author.  Please read this one! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780545320696.jpgCurveball: The Year I lost my Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick (2016) – How does an amazing pitcher deal with the fact he will never pitch again while simultaneously navigating his freshman year of high school? Mr. Sonnenblick offers a compelling answer in this tale of friendship, first love and change. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781250170972.jpgChildren of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (2018) – A TERRIFIC start to a new series of magic and danger, palace intrigue and adventure, and love and hatred.  I won’t say more about the plot as I really want you to discover this one for yourself.  Please pick it up and just enjoy!  ~ Lisa Christie

 

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“Adult” Novels for Young Adults

FC9780316154529-1.jpgFC9780316025263.jpgInto the Beautiful North and The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea (assorted years) – I stumbled upon an interview with Mr. Urrea on NPR as I was linking our selections to the Norwich Bookstore’s Web site and was reminded how much I love Mr. Urrea’s tales, so I added this category to this post. (The Hummingbird’s Daughter made my most meaningful reads list.)  Mr. Urrea’s novels are funny, using humor to deflate explorations of horrific things (e.g., dangerous border crossings, poverty), and to explore wonderful things (e.g., love, family, friendships, movies).  Into the Beautiful North was reviewed by me previously as “the book Jon Stewart would have written if he ever wrote about crossing the Mexican border into the USA”. The fact these novels depict lives of Mexicans just adds a bonus during these times of immigration conflicts and politically polarizing actions at our southern border. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780142001745.jpgThe Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (2002) – This book has been around for awhile and is a movie with genuine movie stars, but the fact a friend just discovered and read it, reminded us that we all miss good books when they are first published.  So we review it here 16 years after it first hit our bookshelves. This novel is a coming of age story for Lily, a girl in South Carolina in 1960s, whose mother’s death subtly haunts her and whose African-American nanny raises her. When her nanny insults town racists, Lily decides it is time for the two of them to run away.  The tale lovingly unfolds from there. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Poetry

I’m Just No Good At Rhyming by Chris Harris and illustrated by Lane Smith (2018) – Funny poems for kids and adults who love them. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

One Last Word by Nikki Grimes (2018) – Ms. Grimes takes a few of the many poems penned during the Harlem Renaissance, prints them, and uses them to create her own poems of response for each one. The poems depict the lives of kids today, and offer a bit of inspiration, understanding, and often humor. Terrific illustrations and art are sprinkled throughout, and short bios, with resources, are offered for each featured poet and artist. ~ Lisa Christie

For Everyone by Jason Reynolds (2018) – This “advice book” is different and simple and profound and lovely.  Most importantly to me it shows Mr. Reynolds’ large heart and powerful prose.  A great gift for kids who may be worried about the upcoming school year. ~ Lisa Christieimages-2.jpg

Nonfiction

FC9780062748539.jpgNotorius RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik (2018) – This was the perfect counterpoint for me to absorb last winter/spring after another school shooting. Why you may ask? Well, it reminded me that there are fabulous people out there in high places looking out for people who don’t have voices. It also provided a superb look at the life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It would also be an excellent primer to read before seeing RBG in theaters. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781481463713.jpgThe Distance Between Us: YA version by Reyna Grande (2016) – This book seems especially important with the recent talk separations of families along the US border and burgeoning hatred towards illegal immigrants. Ms. Grande has adapted her adult memoir for young adults; in it, she tells of her life as a toddler in an impoverished town in Mexico, her three attempts to cross into the USA with a coyote as a young child, her life in LA as an illegal immigrant, how her family gained legal status, and how she managed college. This is not for the faint hearted due to themes of physical abuse and complicated relationships with parents who are always leaving. But it is important to be informed, and this book will put faces on any political discussions about immigration that the teens in your life might encounter. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781603093002.jpgMarch: Books One, Two and Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (assorted years) –  John Lewis, the Congressman and man who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., has, with two collaborators, written a memoir in the form of a graphic novel. This series begins with his childhood in rural Alabama and follows Mr. Lewis through meeting Martin Luther King and then his own student activist days in Nashville, and into his life as a Congressman. The pictures explore how his life must have felt during each moment in time.  The prose explains what he was thinking as each of the momentous moments of his life unfolds.  The 1958 comic book Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story was inspirational to Mr. Lewis and other student activists.  We hope March series proves as inspiring to future leaders.  ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

FC9780448467108.jpgWho is? What Was? Series by assorted authors (assorted years) – We really can not recommend these books highly enough for emerging readers and beyond. The topics are varied, the illustrations humorous, and the information fascinating (e.g., did you know that King Henry VIII was so large he fell out of his coffin?). ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

FC9780446677554.jpgCounting Coup by Larry Colton (2001) – Mr. Colton journeys into the world of a group of Crow Indians living in Montana, and follows the struggles of a talented, moody, charismatic young woman basketball player named Sharon. This book far more than just a sports story – it exposes Native Americans as long since cut out of the American dream.

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Kids

FC9781484746431.jpgBurning Maze: The Trials of Apollo Book Three (and other seriesby Rick Riordan (2018) – Once again Mr. Riordan delivers a wry adventurous tale of Greek and Roman Gods and their offspring. In this outing, the former god Apollo, cast down to earth by Zeus, is an awkward mortal teen named Lester Papadopoulos. Te become a god again, Lester must restore five Oracles that have gone dark and do so without the help of his godly powers and while bound in servitude to a cranky demigod named Meg. Things get more complicated from there. ~ Lisa Cadow (seconding the recommendations Mr. Riordan’s previous series as she has not yet read this one) and Lisa Christie

FC9780525429203.jpgFC9780803740815-1.jpgThe War I Finally Won (2018) and The War that Saved My Life (2015) by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley — The War I Finally Won, the follow-up to Ms. Bradley’s first book about Ada and her family, shows Ada just as feisty as she was in her debut. It also brings home the realities of war for everyone in the British countryside. This time heroes who are close friends die while defending Britian and her allies, rationing is tough, code breakers are introduced, prejudices against Germans spill over to refugee children, and personal lives continue to influence outcomes – even as the war intensifies. As I wrote before about The War that Saved My Life, when Gary Schmidt (one of my favorite authors) blurbs a book with the words “I read this in two big gulps” I pay attention. The initial tale about two of the many children who were sent from London to the countryside for safety (think The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe – which we also recommend) is also full of adventure, hardship, and ultimately love. In both novels, I especially loved Ada and here feisty fight for her place in the world. Please read them both! ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062499660.jpgSecret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins (2018) – Since Liza Bernard of the Norwich Bookstore put this book in our hands we will let her review speak for its selection in this list. “Sisters Alix and Jools, along with their parents, spend a summer week at the beach. We have the pleasure of experiencing the sea for the first time through their eyes – and ears and hopes and fears! A refreshingly wonderful interlude in the otherwise tumultuous array of chapter books written for this age group. No parent dies, no one is abused, there are no floods: just caring and sharing, learning and growing with wonder about the world around them.” We now add, it is a perfect pick for anyone wanting to remember that there is magic in the ordinary day, and how great vacations can be. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780763681173.jpgRaymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (2016) – Ms. Camillo returns to 1970s Florida and creates a superb tale of three young girls who discover each other and themselves over the course of a summer.  The plot centers around Raymie’s plan to bring her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, back — she will win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, get her picture in the paper and remind him he needs to come home. First though she must learn to twirl a baton and defeat the two other girls in her lessons. Delightful. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780451470348.jpgSoar by Joan Bauer (2016) – Many years ago, we fell in love with Ms. Bauer’s Newbery Honor Medal Winner Hope Was Here. But we haven’t read much of her work since. We corrected this awhile back when one of the Book Jam Lisas could not put Ms. Bauer’s latest novel – Soar – down, finishing it in one long swoop. Ms. Bauer’s main character and narrator of this tale – Jeremiah, is a heart transplant recipient and the world’s biggest baseball fan. He may not be able to play (yet) due to his transplant, but he sure can coach. And, he is just what his middle school needs after a huge high school sports scandal breaks his new hometown. Infused with humor, baseball trivia, and a lovely adoption sub-plot, this book is all about grit, hard work, and determination. It also does an amazing job of reminding readers that kids can be truly amazing people. We love all the books listed for this post, and we admit that some of Soar could be construed as corny, but we recommend it as an excellent (and possibly necessary) break from today’s politics. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781101934593.jpgFlying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh (2017) – Ms. Oh, the founder of We Need Diverse Books, has edited a collection of short stories by authors who happen to be persons of color. The group has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing as well as popularity as New York Times bestsellers. Each story is completely unrelated to the rest and totally fabulous. This collection is perfect for a reluctant reader as one of these stories is sure to be just right. (My bet is on the one by Kwame Alexander.) And as a collection it makes a great family read aloud. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780803738393.jpgThe Best Man by Richard Peck (2016) – This may be the best book I read last year. Mr. Peck’s superb sense of humor and his ability to remember what it is like to be a kid make this tale a memorable, smile-inducing novel. Somehow, without preaching, he manages to cover gay marriage, death, divorce, war, national guard service, reconciliation, bullying, bad teachers, social media, hormones, school lunches, middle school, the British Empire, and the Cubs, all in a tale about being a kid in the 21st Century.  Read it today; no matter your age, you will not be sorry. ~ Lisa Christie

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Older titles that are still great, because there are always kids who just turned 8 or 10 or …

FC9781416949329.jpgFC9780689818769.jpgFrindle or Trouble-Maker or other titles by Andrew Clements – Mr. Clements is a former school principal and his love of kids – especially the ones who end up in the principal’s office – comes through in each of his books. He treats kids with humor and compassion and presents many real world dilemmas in each of his books for young readers. Pick one up and enjoy. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780689817212.jpgFC9780689711817.jpgAnything – and we mean ANYTHING – by E.L. Konigsburg (assorted years) – Ms. Konigsburg was truly a superb gift to young readers everywhere. Her books are fun, well-written, humorous, and help kids work through the issues they face every day.  Our favorites – The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler and The View from Saturday. But please discover your own. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780689844454.jpgFC9781534420113.jpgKing of Shadows by Susan Cooper (1999) – Nat is thrilled to join an American drama troupe traveling to London to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the famous Globe Theater. However, after being taken ill, he is transported 400 years to an earlier London, Will Shakespeare, and another production of the play. History, time travel, adventure, and family all propel this tale.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie (also reviewed in Books for Summer Campers and Classics for Kids).  And, The Boggart by Susan Cooper (1993) – When Emily’s and Jess’s family inherits a Scottish castle, they travel to explore. Unbeknownst to them they also inherit a Boggart — an invisible, mischievous spirit who’s been playing tricks on residents of their castle for generations. When they accidentally trap the boggart in their belongings and take him back to Toronto, nothing will ever be the same. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780803740013.jpgUnder the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (March 2014) – We agree with Publishers Weekly assessment – “Fans of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler will find this another delightful lesson in art history.” In this novel, Theodora Tenpenny of Manhattan tries to solve the mystery of a painting she uncovers (literally) once her grandfather dies. It includes her eccentric mother who has spent at least fifteen years doing nothing but completing her mathematical dissertation and consuming very expensive tea.  It also shows how two amazing, but lonely girls can make great friends. And, along the way it introduces young readers to the world of art and the importance of asking for help when you need it.  Not bad for an author’s first children’s book. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

FC9780375872921.jpgWill In Scarlet by Matthew Cody (2013) – An EXCELLENT and FUN tale of Robin Hood and his merry men before they became famous.  In this version of this timeless tale, you meet them as a gang of outlaws and watch them find their mission in life.  A superb adventure for any middle grades reader and the adults who love them, or who love English legends. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780547237602.jpgFC9780544022805.jpgThe Wednesday Wars (2007) and OK For Now (2011) by Gary Schmidt – These two books provide an excellent introduction to this era and some of the topics of the 60s and 70s – Vietnam, the women’s movement, environmentalism. They also tackle school bullies, poverty, joblessness, great teachers and hope. Both provide memorable characters in extremely moving moments. Both were award winners – OK For Now was a National Book Award Finalist and The Wednesday Wars was a Newberry Honor Book. Previously reviewed in Classics for children, young adults, and the adults who love them.

FC9780544570986.jpgBooked and The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (assorted years) – Yes, we love Mr. Alexander’s books. Yes, we have recommended both these books before. But trust us, the youth readers you love will love these books about soccer (Booked) and basketball (The Crossover). They are poetic,perfect for reluctant readers, and both address how life happens while you have your eye on the ball. (Also reviewed in Sports Books That are About So Much More and Classics for children, young adults, and the adults who love them.)

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Some Series for Kids Just Branching out of Early Readers and Needing Beginning Chapter Books

Calendar Mysteries by Ron Roy (assorted years) – Four young children – Bradley, Brian, Nate and Lucy (younger relatives of the A to Z Mystery kids) – continually unearth problems that need to be solved as they travel the roads and playgrounds of their home town. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

Capital Mysteries by Ron Roy (assorted years) – Pre-teens KC and Marshall uncover bad guys and save the world from their homes in Washington, DC.  KC’s home just happens to be the White House. ~ Lisa Christie

BallPark Mysteries by David Kelley (assorted years) – Two kids travel the country attending baseball games (one of their moms is a sports reporter) and solving mysteries. Reminiscent of those original “meddling kids” – Scooby’s gang. ~ Lisa Christie

Magic Tree House Series by Mary Pope Osborne (assorted years) – This seems to be the original model for this genre. It now bring over 50 titles with the adventures of young siblings Jack and Annie and their time-traveling adventures in their magic treehouse to young readers everywhere. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Picture Books

Otis and Will Discover the Deep by Barb Rosenstock and Katherine Roy (2018) – I am really claustrophobic and yet was still fascinated by this story of the first people to envision and build a device to explore the ocean’s depths.  And yes, Ms. Roy’s illustrations still have me feeling a bit dizzy, but the tale of these two boys who became the men who invented the Bathysphere is worth a bit of discomfort; it will also appeal to the adventurers, inventors, and explorers in all of us (even if only vicariously). We discovered Ms. Roy through her first illustrations in SS Taylor’s Expeditioners series; this provides us a perfect excuse to recommend SS Taylor’s series for kids who need a good chapter book or family read aloud. ~ Lisa Christie

7 ate 9 by Tara Lazar (2017) – Good puns are never done.  Clever Noir picture book playing on a classic preschool joke/pun. ~ Lisa Christie

Duck Mouse Wolf by Mac Barnett (2017) – SUPERB fun tale of interspecies cooperation and making the best of a situation. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

What Can a Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers (2018) –  Picture books for young activists and the adults who love them. ~ Lisa Christie

a house that once was by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Lane Smith (2018) – Awesome illustrations by Mr. Lane provide a great opening into this book about what makes a home and how a kid’s imagination is THE BEST. A winner of a picture book. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima (2018) – AWESOME tale of imagination and love.  A little girl’s mission is simple – to find party hats; how she gets them so complicated. We also are hoping the fact her adventures include two dads and a lot of penguins is a shout out to And Tango Makes Three, a great picture book based upon an actual penguin at the Central Park Zoo with two dads. ~ Lisa Christie

Alfie by Thyra Heder (2018) – This picture book shows how there are two sides to every story.  In the first we see Nia’s perspective of how her beloved, but rather boring turtle Alfie disappears one day. In the second we see Alfie’s perspective of why. Bonus: All the action revolves around birthday parties, which we know kids love to talk about. ~ Lisa Christie

Ada Twist Scientist by Andrea Beaty illustrated by David Roberts (2018) – Ada’s curiosity is unending and leads her to great big messes.  Doe sit also make her a great scientist?  We all can learn from Ada’s fearless explorations, and the rhymes and illustrations are fun. ~ Lisa Christie

We also recommend you visit our previous summer reading picks for YA and kids.

 

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This week’s “3 Questions” features Lauren Groff,  bestselling author of the novels The Monsters of Templeton, Arcadia and Fates and Furies, and the short story collection Delicate Edible Birds. Ms. Groff has won the PEN/O’Henry Prize, and was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Ms. Groff’s most recent novel is Florida, of which the critics have said, “Storms, snakes, sinkholes, and secrets: In Lauren Groff’s Florida, the hot sun shines, but a wild darkness lurks. Florida is a “superlative” book” – Boston Globe, “gorgeously weird and limber”  – New Yorker,  and “brooding, inventive and often moving” – NPR Fresh Air. Ms. Groff lives with her family in Gainesville, Florida, but will be reading on July 19th (with Fairlee resident and author Christopher Wren) as part of The Meetinghouse Readings in Canaan. These readings are held at 7:30 p.m. on four Thursday evenings in July and early August, and are free and open to the public; no reservations needed. Please call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com with questions and/or to secure your copies of Ms. Groff’s works.

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1.What three books have helped shape you into the writer you are today, and why?
​Emily Dickinson’s Collected Poems taught me to love poetry and enigma. George Eliot’s Middlemarch ​is a book I reread every year to remind myself what wisdom and warmth look like in a novel. Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red taught me that writers should risk everything because the reward ​ can be so thrilling.

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2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?
​I’d love to have a cup of coffee with Virginia Woolf to try to understand the brain that could write a book so colossal and world-rearranging as To The Lighthouse.

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3.What books are currently on your bedside table?
​I’m in a renovated barn in Orford, New Hampshire with so little furniture there’s no bedside table. But I’m doing a large project on the largely forgotten writer Nancy Hale and am reading all of her books right now. [Editor’s note: Ms. Hale’s books are unfortunately out of print so you wont find them at the Norwich Bookstore.]

As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, 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. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the days leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events and read their books.

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This week’s “3 Questions” features Christopher Wren, author of  many books and articles including his latest history — Those Turbulent Sons of Freedom: Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys and the American Revolution.

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Mr. Wren retired from The New York Times after nearly twenty-nine years as a reporter, foreign correspondent, and editor. He headed the Times‘ news bureaus in Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, Ottawa, and Johannesburg; covered the United Nations; and reported from the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, China, Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, and Canada. He is a visiting professor in Dartmouth’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program. He currently lives in Vermont with his wife.

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Mr. Wren will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, May 30th. This event is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited. Please call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save a seat and/or secure your autographed copy of Those Turbulent Sons of Freedom: Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys and the American Revolution.

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1.What three books have helped shape you into the writer you are today, and why?

It was actually 40 years as a journalist on deadline that shaped me as a writer. I also read authors in the countries where I worked, like Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, and J.M Coetzee’s Disgrace. Bedtime reads like Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry and everything by John Cheever, plus lots of poetry from Alfred Tennyson to W.B. Yeats, Alan Seeger and Billy Collins.

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2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?

I’d prefer to have tea with Jane Austen to discuss my favorite, Persuasion. Or the Spanish war correspondent-turned-novelist Arturo Perez-Reverte, who wrote Queen of the South, about international drug trafficking, which I covered as a journalist.

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3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

Books on my bedside table include Arturo Perez-Reverte‘s novel The Painter of Battles, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, and Enduring Vietnam by James Wright, the best book I’ve read about Vietnam vets.

As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, we’ve 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. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the days leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events and read their books.

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April showers (or in Vermont this spring – snow) bring poetry.

Since poets’ words work best, instead of an official review, for each of our recommended collections of poetry, we are including one of our favorite poems (or a portion of a poem) from that collection. We hope these tastes of poetry will encourage everyone to read more poems throughout the year – not just during April’s National Poetry Month celebrations in the USA. Note: “poem in your pocket day” happens April 26th; maybe one of these poems will be the one you carry that day.

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FC9781524733117.jpgPoet in Spain: Frederico Garcia Lorca, new translation by Sarah Arvio (2018) – This new translation of the work of Federico Garcia Lorca, one of the greatest poets and playwrights of the 20th Century (according to his bio), is presented in Spanish first, then in the English translation.

Delirium

The day blurs in the silent fields

Bee-eaters sigh as they fly

The blue and white distance is delirious

The land has its arms thrown wide

Ay lord lord All this is too much

FC9781555978136.jpgWade in the Water by Tracy Smith (2018) – Our review wouldn’t be complete without including the newest book by powerful woman and current Poet Laureate of the United States, Tracy Smith. Her collection showcases minority American voices ranging from immigrants, to refugees, to Civil War era African-American soldiers (in the form of their letters) and shines a spotlight on these citizen’s experiences. The poem we highlight opens her book and lands the reader in a moment of time in Brooklyn, New York in the 1980’s, full of beautiful food, luscious words, youth, and innocence.

Garden of Eden (condensed for reasons of space, with apologies to the poet)

What a profound longing I feel,  just this very instant, For the Garden of Eden On Montague Street Where I seldom shopped, Usually only after therapy, Elbow sore at the crook From a hand basket filled To capacity. The glossy pastries! Pomegranate, persimmon, quince!

Once, a bag of black, beluga Lentils split a trail behind me While I labored to find A tea they refused to carry. It was Brooklyn. My thirties.

Everyone I know was living The same desolate luxury, Each ashamed of the same things: Innocence and privacy. I’d lug Home the paper bags, doing Bank-balance math and counting days. I’d squint into it, or close my eyes And let it slam me in the face —- The known sun setting On the dawning century.

FC9781614293316.jpgThe Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy edited by John Brehm (2017). One person we know, reads a poem a day from this gorgeous book. This daily practice has enriched her year. Below is a small poem of quiet appreciation touches on several of this reviewer’s biggest loves: birds, bubbling soup, and rays of sunshine,

It’s All Right (condensed for reasons of space, with apologies to the poet) by William Stafford (1914-1993)

Someone you trusted has treated you bad. Someone has used you to vent their ill temper. Did you expect anything different? Your work – better than some others’ – has languished, neglected. Or a job you tried was too hard, and you failed. Maybe weather or bad luck spoiled what you did. That grudge, held against you for years after you patched up, has flared, and you’ve lost your friend for a time. Things at home aren’t so good; on the job your spirits have sunk. But just when the worst bears down you find a pretty bubble in your soup at noon, and outside at work, a bird says, “Hi!”

Slowly the sun creeps along the floor; it is coming your way. It touches your shoe.

FC9780062435521.jpgRon Rash Poems: New and Selected by Ron Rash (2016) – When we saw a collection of poems by the author of the Cove, we had to peruse.  We found this gem among so many about life in Appalachia.

The Country Singer Explains Her Muse (condensed for reasons of space, with apologies to the poet)

Say you’re on a bus between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, pills that got you through the show slow to wear off, so you stare out the window, searching for darkened houses where you know women sleep who live a life you once lived, but now sing about.

Let them dream as you write out words and a chords to find a song made to get them through their day, get you through a sleepless night somewhere on a bus between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

FC9780807025581.jpgBullets Into Bells: Poets and citizens respond to gun violence edited by Brian Clements (2017). This collection consists of poems by well-known and lesser-known poets, with a response to each penned by a different person affected by the particulars that poem explores.  Together they are doubly powerful.

A Poem for Pulse by Jameson Fitzpatrick (an excerpt, condensed for reasons of space, with apologies to the poet)

Last night I went to a gay bar with a man I love a little. After dinner we had a drink…While I slept, a man went to a gay club with two guns and killed forty-nine people. Today in an interview, his father said he had been disturbed recently by the sight of two men kissing…

We must love one another whether or not we die. Love can’t block a bullet but neither can it be shot down, and love is, for the most part, what makes us – in Orlando and in Brooklyn and in Kabul. We will be everywhere, always; there’s nowhere else for us or you, to go. Anywhere you run in this world, love will be there to greet you. Around any corner, there might be two men. Kissing.

FC9780316266574.jpgI’m Just No Good at Rhyming by Chris Harris and illustrated by Lane Smith (2018) – Very fun poems, with funny illustrations for kids, including… The Secret of My Art 

“It’s a beautiful whale”, my teacher declared. “This drawing will get a gold star!”

“It’s a beautiful whale”, my father declared. “Your talents will carry you far!”

“It’s a beautiful whale”, my mother declared. “What a wonderful artist you are!”

Well, maybe it is a beautiful whale… But I was trying to draw a guitar.

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So Halloween, it’s a time where we dress up as things we fear, and a time where the things we don’t want to talk about come to our doorstep asking for candy — no not the children, but the grim reaper, or witches, or corpses, or (name your demon here).

The parade of costumes last week, and a recent conversation during which one of our teens lamented, “Why can’t I have parents who don’t talk about uncomfortable things?” has us thinking — How does one develop comfort talking about uncomfortable topics?

Our answer, of course, is reading great books helps get these conversations started. So today, we are recommending books to help you think and ideally talk about some uncomfortable topics. May they all lead to great conversations.

Three items to note: 1) We experienced frustrating technical difficulties yesterday, denying us the chance to keep to our posting schedule of Mondays. 2) In our attempt to include all readers, we generated a long list of books and topics for this post. 3) We are making lemonade out of lemons and using some creative flexibility, by posting on two Tuesdays – today and next week. Today, we tackle death, mental health, addiction, and sexual assault. Next week – race, sexual identity, and politics. We truly hope these reviews lead to books that help us all have difficult conversations more often (or at least to better understand the news of late).

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Death

FC9781632861016.jpgCan’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast (2014) – First brought to our attention by Lucinda Walker, town librarian extraordinaire, this memoir is funny, poignant, and helpful. It truly offers a superbly humorous way to approach failing health and ultimately death. As Lucinda said in her six-word review during the 2014 Pages in the Pub, “Laugh. Cry. Laugh again. Then talk”. ~ Lisa Christie

When Breath Becomes Air Cover ImageWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi (2016) – (First reviewed in the summer of 2016.) At the outset, we know that the author, 36-year old Paul will succumb to lung cancer at the height of his career as a neurosurgeon. Don’t let this deter you from reading his incredible story and from benefiting from the insights he gleaned during his short life. Dr. Kalinithi is a brilliant writer who was curious from a young age about the workings of the mind and it’s connection to our soul. He studied philosophy and creative writing before committing to medicine. These studies give him other lenses from which to explore profound questions. He is candid with the reader about his personal and professional struggles. Ultimately, I found this book hopeful and inspiring. When I turned the last page I immediately wanted to share it with loved ones. ~ Lisa Cadow (and seconded by Lisa Christie)

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Mental Health 

FC9780525555360.jpgTurtles All The Way Down by John Green (2017) – As someone for whom Mr. Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars devastated and sustained me because I read it while a lovely, young friend died from cancer, and as someone for whom his An Abundance of Katherines, had me laughing aloud as I pictured the text as an old-fashioned buddy movie (with a Muslim teen in a starring role), I hesitated to read Mr. Green’s latest novel as I was afraid it would disappoint. It does not. The main character – Aza and her best friend Daisy – a writer of Star Wars fan fiction, meander through high school, first loves, and math in Indianapolis. However, Aza also suffers from spiralling thoughts that take over her life, a mental health condition treated in a straightforward and insightful manner as this lovely tale unfolds. The characters feel real, the situations are not cliche, and Mr. Green’s writing about teen life propels the reader forward faster than he or she might wish — savoring a good story is a gift we all can benefit from. Perhaps, what touched me the most was his matter of fact acknowledgement at the end of the novel that mental illness affects Mr. Green’s own life. I also appreciated his gift of providing resources in his end notes, and second his hope that those who suffer from mental illness are not alone in their journeys. ~ Lisa Christie

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Addiction

FC9780393608960.jpgThe Outrun by Amy Liptrot (2017) – When Amy Liptrot decides to confront her alcoholism head on, she makes a beeline from the bright lights and big city of London to her home in the Orkney Islands of northern Scotland. She grew up there on a farm;  the “outrun” refers to a remote pasture on her parents’ land. In this frank memoir (one reviewers and readers alike have compared to Helen MacDonald’s phenomenal 2015  H Is For Hawk) Ms. Liptrot reflects on her sense of place and the role her upbringing played in her addiction. Her journey shares her triumphs, learnings, and challenges. She brings us to the brink  — and to the northernmost reaches of Scotland, writing at one point from an isolated cottage on the island of Papa Westray, where Scotland’s oldest dwelling is located dating from 3500BC. Highly moving, haunting, and recommended. ~Lisa Cadow

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Sexual Assault

FC9780804170567.jpgMissoula by Jon Krakauer (2015) – It took awhile for this to get to the top of my bedside stack of books, but once I started I could not put it down. Mr. Krakauer’s rigorously researched analysis of 52 months of reported sexual assaults around the University of Montana is enlightening, sad, anger-provoking and most tragically could have been written in so many college towns. This is important, read it, ponder it, and somehow act to end a culture in which victims are punished over and over again. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781449486792.jpgthe sun and her flowers by Rupi Kaur (2017) – Somehow we missed Ms. Kaur’s first best-selling book, but in a time where the news is full of people behaving horribly and many of us feel angst and hopelessness, Ms. Kaur’s honest poems about heart-break, loss, rape, love, relationships, and hope seem needed. This collection is divided into five sections wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming; falling deals with sexual assault and it’s aftermath. We leave you with a quote from this collection, “to hate is an easy, lazy thing, but to love takes strength everyone has, but not all are willing to practice”. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Well it is official; summer is almost over. By now most students have returned to school or are in the midst of buying supplies, the final vacations have ended, the air has cooled a bit, and the calendar says September is days away.  So, today we offer reviews of a few good books to read as summer fades (and to take on any Labor Day Weekend excursions).

A quick note — this is our last post for awhile was we spend the news few weeks “Gone Reading”. We look forward to sharing our picks with you again starting in mid- to late September.

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FICTION: Because getting lost in a good story is sublime

FC9780307959577.jpgSaints For All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan (2017) – Courtney Sullivan really knows how to tell a story, especially ones about family and the ties that bind.  I was hooked from beginning of this wonderful book and found myself caring deeply about each of her well-drawn characters until the very last page. Sisters Theresa and Nora, just girls when they journey across the Atlantic from rural Ireland in the mid-1950’s, settle in the strange, unknown City of Boston. When extroverted Theresa becomes unexpectedly pregnant, the fallout from this affects the rest of each of their lives. We join the family – matriarch Nora,  her grown children, and Theresa who is now a nun in Vermont – in modern day New England in the wake of a family tragedy and learn how their paths have brought them to this moment. An excellent beach, mountain, or desert read for the Labor Day Weekend and beyond. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9780735220683.jpgEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (2017) – This is one of the most original voices to emerge in recent fiction.  Funny, offbeat, quirky, troubled Eleanor Oliphant draws readers into her unusual world from page one. It is clear that this hard working thirty-year-old who lives in Glasgow struggles with social skills but we don’t exactly know why. When she sets her sights on wooing a grunge rocker, the story is set in motion. It is, however, her new friend Raymond from work who teaches her a thing or two about friendship and love. For me, this book was a wacky mash up of The Rosie Project, Room, and Jane Eyre. I. Loved. It.  P.S. Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9781571310613.jpgMontana 1948 by Larry Watson (1995) – A sad, short, and powerful tale of a complicated family situation. (I can’t really provide more details without ruining the plot.) It reads like a powerful memoir; I had to keep reminding myself it is fiction. I promise this one will stay with you long after you turn the last page. (Thank you to Thetford Academy’s Mr. Deffner for sending it my way.) ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062369581.jpgThe Baker’s Secret by Stephen Kiernan (2017) – Fans of World War Two and historical fiction, this book is for you. It is 1944 in Normandy, France, on the eve of D-Day, and defiant Emma, a strong willed woman and gifted baker, is determined to help her fellow villagers. When she is called upon to prepare the daily baguettes for the occupying German force she finds a way through cunning and her fierce determination benefit those in her community.  This is a story of survival and small acts of heroism during wartime that help change the course of history and the quality of daily life (and bread) ~Lisa Cadow

FC9780062484154.jpgWhatever Happened to Interracial Love by Kathleen Collins (2016) – I am so glad someone put this collection of short stories in my hands. The writing by Ms. Collins – an African American artist and filmmaker – is distinct and concise and paints vivid pictures of life in New York in the 1970s. The backstory to the collection is almost even better – these stories were discovered by Ms. Collins’ daughter after her death. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780393608595.jpgEvensong by Kate Southwood (2017) – This beautiful novel is a meditation on family. Told through the eyes of eighty-two-year-old Maggie Dowd who is just home from the hospital in time for the holidays, it is suffused with wisdom and memory, alternating through points in the narrator’s life from age five to the present. At the twilight of her life, we meet Maggie as she reflects on her youth, her choices, her motivations, her own children’s troubled relationship, her beloved granddaughter’s future, and what she sees as her pivotal decision to marry – an act that changed the rest of her days.  The simple beauty of Southwood’s writing can take a reader’s breath away, such as when Maggie remembers a long ago family picnic with her siblings, or sitting on an Iowa porch swing with a beau, or as a grandmother “running my hands over the baby like I’m rubbing butter into a Christmas turkey, giving the baby my pinkie to grab and suck on because I’ve done this before and I know. And here is that baby now, all grown with her woman’s bones, twisting my ring on her finger. And I haven’t a clue of what is to come for her, either, except for the certainty that it will surprise her.” This book is reminiscent of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. You won’t soon forget the voice of Maggie Dowd. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9780525427360.jpgDays Without End by Sebastian Barry (2017) – And now for a completely different look at the Wild West! Twice nominated for the Booker Prize, author Sebastian Barry crafts a truly original story that follows the life of orphan Thomas McNulty from the day he comes to North America from Ireland as a young boy in the mid 19th century. His far-reaching travels take him through the emerging West first as a gender-bending performer, then as a soldier in the Civil War, and eventually as a non-traditional father with his life partner John Cole. This is an unconventional love story and a tale of an unusual family gorgeously told. As New York Times reviewer Katy Simpson Smith observes, “Barry introduces a narrator who speaks with an intoxicating blend of wit and wide-eyed awe, his unsettlingly lovely prose unspooling with an immigrant’s peculiar lilt and a proud boy’s humor. But, in this country’s adolescence he also finds our essential human paradox, our heartbreak: that love and fear are equally ineradicable.” Highly recommended. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9780385490818.jpgThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – My first and definitely not my last foray into Ms Atwood’s work. This tale of the USA gone awry is powerful! ~ Lisa Christie and strongly seconded by Lisa Cadow

FC9781101971062.jpgHomegoing by Yaa Gyasi (2016) – WOW, it took too long for this book to get the top of my “to-be-read” pile. But, I am so glad I did finally read it.  I LOVE this tale of two sisters and their many generations of offspring as they live their lives in Africa and the USA from the times of African-USA slave trading to modern day. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781455537723.jpgThe Strays by Emily Bitto (2017) – This award-winning debut by an Australian author had me staying up late to discover what happened next.  Ms. Bitto uses research into depression-era Australia and an actual group of artists from that time as inspiration for a completely fictional tale of an artist colony and the ramifications of strangers living in close proximity. While I hate it when blurbs compare it to other books I love – in this case Ian McEwan’s Atonement – as that sets the bar far too high, I really enjoyed this first novel and truly look forward to what Ms. Bitto pens next. A great book for art lovers in particular, or for those interested in a novel about adolescent love, and/or the fallout from certain choices. ~ Lisa Christie

MYSTERIES: Because sometimes you just need for the bad guys to be caught

FC9781616957186.jpgAugust Snow by Stephen Mack Jones  (2017) – I so hope there is someone like August Snow – half black, half Mexican, ex-cop with a strong sense of justice and community – looking out for Detroit. The hope this book expresses for Detroit’s future weaves throughout the narrative, and Mr. Jones’s descriptions of Detroit’s decline and partial resurgence make the city an actual character in this thriller. Yes, he makes mistakes and, wow, by the end his body count is way too high for my tastes, but so few books take place in modern day Detroit. Enjoy this one! ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780735213005.jpgThe Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne (2017) – I picked this up for two reasons 1) Carin Pratt of the Norwich Bookstore recommended it, and 2) it is set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where my grandparents grew up. I kept reading (but have not quite finished as we post), because as the New York Times said in its review, this book is, “Brilliant….In its balance of emotional patience and chapter-by-chapter suspense, The Marsh King’s Daughter is about as good as a thriller can be.” It still doesn’t take the place of Anatomy of a Murder as my favorite UP thriller, but that would be hard to do. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062645227.jpgMagpie Murders by Anthony Horowtiz (2017) – It took me awhile to get into  this novel, but it smoothly rolled on once I was hooked (and kept me up one night so I could finish it). In what is truly a perfect book for Agatha Christie fans, Mr. Horowitz somehow manages to simultaneously honor and skewer the mystery genre in this book-within-a-book “who done it”. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781250066190.jpgFC9780802126474.jpgWe would be remiss if we did not note that Louise Penny (Glass Houses) and Donna Leon (Earthly Remains) have 2017 additions to their superb Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Commissario Guido Brunetti series.  As usual, these series provide dependable reading pleasure for those of us who enjoy a good mystery – with a superb lead detective – every once in awhile. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

MEMOIR: Because sometimes you need inspiration from others

FC9781455540419.jpgAl Franken: Giant of the Senate by Al Franken (2017) – A book for liberally minded folks to read as a reminder there are politicians working hard to helping others. A book for more conservative minded folks to read as a reminder that many liberal politicians are actually smart, kind, hardworking people who are doing their best for America; and in this case, they even have Republican friends :)! ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062362599.jpgHunger: A Memoir of My Body by Roxane Gay (2017) – I don’t think I have ever read such a well-written, honest, and brutal account of sexual assault and its aftermath. This sounds like a horrid reason to pick up a book, and it is horrid to think that the author endured a brutal and life-altering assault at age 12, but the story and Ms. Gay’s candid insight offer much more than that. Her analysis of her life after assault, as a morbidly obese woman in a society that abhors fat people, is brutal, filled with self loathing and big mistakes, but also hope, self love, professional accomplishments, friendships, social commentary, and always, always, her body and her relationship with that body. If, as a woman, you have ever tried to explain or understand your relationship with your own body, Ms. Gay will help. If, as a man, you have never understood this relationship women often have, Ms. Gay will help. If you want to better understand how people who are obese feel, Ms. Gay offers this gift of insight to you. If you have a complicated relationship with your body, Ms. Gay shows you are not alone. If you just want to spend some time with a talented writer, Ms. Gay’s Hunger is your chance. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780399588174.jpgBorn a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016) – Funny, sad, and amazingly moving memoir about growing up as a biracial child in South Africa during and just after Apartheid. Mr. Noah is insightful and honest as he dissects his life and his choices and the choices that were made for him. Each chapter begins with an overview of life in South Africa that relates to the subsequent story from his own experiences. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781501126345.jpgThe Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race edited by Jesmyn Ward (2016) – This collection of essays by a wide range of authors of color is powerful. Perhaps it will help you figure out how to advocate for equal opportunity for all; however, no matter what, it will definitely make you think about what life is like for those with black skin in the USA. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

So again, as of this moment, The Book Jam is officially on our annual “gone reading” hiatus. We look forward to sharing what we find when we start posting reviews again in late September. In the meantime, we hope you find the perfect book to read every time you are able to to sit with a good story. Previous Book Jam posts can help you – we promise.

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Books for Summer Campers

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A recent conversation with the father of a 3-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter about a horrific car trip with the said kids, revealed that he had never heard of Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Treehouse series. We were saddened as we can guarantee that the print version and/or the audiobooks have saved more family car trips than anyone can count. So, we sent him straight to his local bookstore to stock up on print and audio book versions. This encounter reminded us that new parents are often unfamiliar with books we assume everyone knows because they have been around for awhile. In short, we remembered that you don’t know what you don’t know, and that most parents don’t know about most of the great things for kids that have saved numerous parents before them.

So, this year’s annual post of “books for summer campers” includes our usual emphasis on recent books for kids but also includes some classics, because we would hate for anyone to miss out on the joys of Susan Cooper just because we assume everyone knows about her amazing novels for kids. As always, we hope our selections help the last days of summer pass magically for the children in your life. (NOTE: We tried to include hardcovers and paperbacks and ebooks, so you could access whatever type you need. We also included a few series as we know from experience if a kid likes one book it is a great thing to have another one just like it waiting to begin.)

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Chapter books for elementary school kids to read (or be read to)

FC9780803738393.jpgThe Best Man by Richard Peck (2016) – This may be the best book I’ve read all year, or at least the one that made me grin the most. Mr. Peck’s superb sense of humor and his ability to remember what it is like to be a kid, make this tale a memorable, smile-inducing novel. Somehow, without preaching, he manages to cover gay marriage, death, divorce, war, national guard service, reconciliation, bullying, bad teachers, social media, hormones, school lunches, middle school, the British Empire, and the Cubs — all in a tale about being a kid in the 21st Century.  Read it today; no matter your age, you will not be sorry. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781101934593.jpgFlying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh (2017) – Ms. Oh, the founder of “We Need Diverse Books“, has edited a collection of short stories by authors who happen to be persons of color. Among them, the group has earned every major award in children’s publishing, as well as popularity as New York Times bestselling authors. Each story is completely unrelated to the rest and totally fabulous. This collection is perfect for a reluctant reader as one of these stories is sure to be just right. (Perhaps the one by Kwame Alexander?) And, as a collection, it makes a great family read aloud. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781580897136.jpgA Long Pitch Home by Natalie Dias Lorenzi (2016) – We agree that we all need more diverse books (see review above); and, this novel about Bilal, a 10-year-old boy from Pakistan newly arrived in the USA, provides a good place to start. This tale of family, culture, and refuge compassionately addresses immigration from a kid’s perspective. The plot turns on such questions as: Will Bilal’s father be able to join him or has he disappeared in Pakistan for  good? Will he survive the fact his younger sister’s English is better than his? Will he learn to love baseball as much as cricket? And, what is home? ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781410495884.jpgThe Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan (2017) – This second book in Mr. Riordan’s Apollo trilogy is fabulous. Enjoy Mr. Riordan’s trademark humor and well told tale for younger readers! And, if you haven’t already, try his other series; they all capture the trials of growing up with humor, grace, and with some learning about mythology. You, and the children you love, will not regret a moment spent in Mr. Riordan’s novels~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781442494985.jpgStella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper (2015) – A superb book about racism in depression-era North Carolina told from the perspective of a young African American girl. Don’t take my word for the quality of this book, my 11-year-old says it is among his top five favorite books. The New York Times said it is a “novel that soars”; School Library Journal called it “storytelling at its finest” in a starred review. The audio book will make car rides pass quickly. ~ Lisa Christie

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Some oldies but goodies (i.e. classics) for kids

FC9780689711817.jpgMixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by EL Konisberg (1967) – The 50th anniversary of this beloved book seems like a great time to reveal that this book was the favorite of all the books we read in elementary school — for each of the Book Jam Lisas. In it, Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, and in doing so does not run from somewhere, she runs to somewhere–a place that is comfortable, beautiful, and, preferably, elegant — the Met. And she does so with her penny pinching brother and his bank account. This tale holds up today — as each of us has read it to our kids at some point and loved it all over again. (We also recommend the audio book versions of this book of her other engaging novels such as The View From Saturday.)~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781442489677.jpgDark is Rising series by Susan Cooper ( 1965-1977) Will Stanton discovers that he is the last-born of the Old Ones, immortals dedicated to keeping mankind free from the Dark. And now, the Dark is rising. Will, along with Merriman – a wise teacher, three mortal siblings, and a mysterious boy named Bran are soon caught up in a fight against evil.  These stories thrilled us as children YEARS ago, introduced us to UK towns and villages, and still engage children today. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780140386745.jpgJip by Katherine Paterson (1998) – Many know her classic, Newbery award winning novel The Bridge to Terebithia, but this winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, tells the tale of an orphan in Vermont, and depicts a history that most of us never hear about. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780689844454.jpgKing of Shadows by Susan Cooper (1999) – Nat is thrilled to join an American drama troupe traveling to London to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the famous Globe Theater. However, after being taken ill he is transported 400 years to an earlier London, Will Shakespeare, and another production of the play. History, time travel, adventure, and family all propel this tale.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780547328614.jpgIsland of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (1960) – We reach back before we were born for this book. But it played an important part in our early reading experiences. It also proved to be a favorite read aloud to our own children (and even inspired a mother-son trip kayaking trip to the Channel Islands off the coast of California where this book is set). Karana’s quiet courage, her loneliness and terror eventually lead to strength and serenity in this Newbery Medal-winning classic. This book chronicles Karana’s year’s long survival (along with beloved dog Rontu) alone on an island after all of her relatives and tribe have been evacuated to the mainland. It is based on the true story of Juana Maria, also known as “The Woman of San Nicholas Island,” a Native American woan who lived on her own for eighteen years until she was rescued by a ship sailing in the area. It will hold children spellbound as they learn about indigenous people and try to imagine how they would have survived if faced with a similar challenge. ~Lisa Cadow 

FC9780786838653.jpgRick Riordan’s various mythology series (assorted years) — As mentioned above, you, and the children you love, will not regret a moment spent in Mr. Riordan’s novels~ Lisa Christie

 

downloadMystery of the Green Cat by Phyllis A. Whitney  – Yes, the famous adult author wrote a mystery or two for children. And, this mystery is one I read over and over as a kid. And, when I moved to San Francisco as an adult I was glad that I had; this book provided me a map of Nob Hill, Golden Gate Park, Fisherman’s Wharf, The SF Bay, and Chinatown that I didn’t even realize it embedded in me until I resided there. It is out of print, but we include it here as an example of how the books you read as a kid are so much a part of who you are as an adult, and in some cases quite literally map aspects of your future life. ~ Lisa Christie

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For slightly older readers/young adults

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Solo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess (2017) – Mr. Alexander does it again, with help from Ms. Hess; I truly love the books this man creates. Blade is the son of an aging rock star who has reacted to the death of Blade’s mom with an everlasting and highly dysfunctional descent into addiction and absentee parenting. As the story unfolds, Blade deals with high school graduation, his father’s inability to stay sober, his sister’s delusions of grandeur, the fact the love of his life has broken his heart, and a recent revelation he is adopted, by escaping to Ghana to find the birth mother he didn’t even know he missed. This is a terrific tale of music, maturing, love, adoption, family, and finding your way, told in Mr. Alexander’s usual sparse, but effecting poetic style (with an added bonus of a great soundtrack).  ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781101997239.jpgThe Epic Fail of Arturo Zamona by Pablo Cartaya (2017) – The power of poetry and protest permeates this novel about a young man Arturo, living in Miami and simultaneously trying to save his family’s restaurant and navigate his first crush.  ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781484717165.jpgThe Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein (2017) – This prequel to the fabulous and complicated Code Name Verity shows the family and upbringing that created Verity’s heroine Julia. The plot incorporates dead bodies, missing servants, life life of the gentry, travellers, and the Scottish countryside of the 1930s. It also made me want to re-read the original novel. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062498533.jpgThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017) – Sometimes it takes a work of fiction to give life to current events. And sometimes it takes a book for children to give all of us a starting point for conversations about difficult issues. Ms. Thomas has done all of us a service by producing this fresh, enlightening, and spectacular book about the black lives lost at the hands of the police every year in the USA. Starr Carter, the teen she created to put faces on the statistics, straddles two worlds — that of her poor black neighborhood and  that of her exclusive prep school on the other side of town. She believes she is doing a pretty good job managing the differing realities of her life until she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by a police officer. As a description of this book stated, The Hate U Give “addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty”.  Just as importantly, it is a great story, with fully formed characters who will haunt you, told by a gifted author. Please read this one!  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys –  My then 8th grader loved this tale of the World War II in the Baltic States. In it, a group of teens and a few adults is trying to escape Hitler’s and Stalin’s armies and make it to safety on the Wilhelm Gustloff. Ms. Sepetys does a fabulous job of creating memorable characters and wrapping them into a plot heavily weighted by historical events.  Or, as The Washington Post stated, “Riveting…powerful…haunting.”~ Lisa Christie

FC9781524739621.jpgAlex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz (2017) – The Hamilton craze continues in this historical novel for teens. This time, Eliza tells the story of her romance with and eventual marriage to Alexander Hamilton.  Along the way, the author intermingles Eliza’s role in history as well as the work of Mr. Hamilton and other revolutionaries.  ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780440237846.jpgBefore We Were Free by Julia Alvarez (2002) – By Anita’s 12th birthday in 1960, most of her relatives have emigrated from the Dominican Republic to the United States. Terrifyingly, her uncle/Tio has disappeared without a trace. The government is monitoring her family because of their suspected opposition of el Trujillo’s dictatorship. Ms. Alvarez helps readers understand what dictatorship looks like, what it means to be left behind, and how we all dream of better lives. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780760352298.jpgGeorge Washington: Frontier Colonel by Sterling North (2016) and other titles in this series – We realize while many of our picks are based in fact, our list is lacking in nonfiction; we remedy that now with a new series of biographies by Young Voyageur/Quarto Publishing Group. We would describe this new series as the “Who is? What Was?” (or bobble-head books as many kids call them) series for older readers, with fabulous primary source materials scattered throughout.  ~ Lisa Christie

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Some early chapter books for emerging readers

FC9780375813658.jpgMagic Treehouse books by Mary Pope Osborne (assorted years) – These are a must read for those children looking for beginning chapter books as they progress with their reading. In this series, Jack and Annie, just regular kids, discover a tree house in the woods near their house – a treehouse that allows them to use books to time travel. As the series unfolds, they are whisked back in time to the Age of Dinosaurs, a medieval castle, ancient pyramids, treasure-seeking pirates etc… These books also make EXCELLENT audio books for car trips with pre-school kids of almost every age and persuasion. (You are welcome for all the hours of peace and learning and fun these books will bring your household.) ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780307265104.jpgCapitol Mysteries Series by Ron Roy (assorted years) – This series is for emerging readers who like their fictional tales to be slightly more realistic than time travel. In this set, KC Corcoran, a news junkie whose step-dad happens to be the President, tackles all sorts of mysteries (e.g., how to make school exciting, how to save the President from his clone). As a bonus, each of these early chapter books features fun facts and famous sites from Washington, D.C. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780316358323.jpgAssorted Adventures of Tin Tin by Herge (assorted years) – These graphic novels have been translated into 38 languages for good reason – kids love them.  Enjoy! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

 

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A Few Picture Books

FC9780763637842.jpgLibrary Lion by Michelle Knudsen (2007) – Miss Merriweather, is a very rule-oriented librarian – no running and you must be quiet. As long as you follow the rules, you are welcome. Then one day a lion shows up. There are no rules about lions; and so the fun begins in this New York Times bestselling ode to libraries. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781423164821.jpgElephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems (assorted years) – Gerald (an elephant) and Piggie (a pig) have a superb friendship and an unusual capacity for silly. Mr. Willems used to write for Sesame Street and with these books has created a wonderful way for kids to learn to love to read. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780789309624.jpgA superb and classic travel book series by Mirolsav Sasek (assorted 20th century years) – We remember these from our childhood and are pretty certain they helped instil our wanderlust.  Mr. Sasek was born in what was then Czechoslovakia, and is best remembered for his classic stories on the great cities of the world. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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