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Posts Tagged ‘Blue Balliet’

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.

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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.

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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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On a GORGEOUS spring day last week – yes, spring does eventually reach Vermont – The Book Jam traveled to Vermont’s amazing Northeast Kingdom. We love to visit this region to bike, camp, ski and to simply enjoy the magnificent views.  This time, though, we were there to chat about books, to learn what librarians and booksellers in this more remote part of our state are recommending for summer reading, and to raise some money for Vermont libraries. (We also spent a bit too much in the Whistle Emporium, a superb gift/art/kitchen/just fun stuff store, located next to Claire’s.)  Thank you to the Vermont Community Foundation for making Pages in the Pub in Hardwick possible.

Our presenters to a packed pub at Claire’s Restaurant and Bar in Hardwick, Vermont included:

  • Linda Ramsdell, owner and founder of Galaxy Bookshop since 1988.  Linda considers herself extraordinarily fortunate to have spent half of her life in a place where books, people, ideas and imagination meet.
  • Lisa Sammet, library director of Jeudevine Memorial Library in Hardwick. She’s been a librarian, youth librarian, English teacher, farmer, and a Peace Corps volunteer. She also has been a professional storyteller in schools and libraries for over 30 years.
  • Rachel Hexter Fried, retired attorney and current Chair of the Stannard Selectboard. She supports independent bookstores and loves having the Galaxy in Hardwick. She is a voracious reader.
  • Lisa Christie, co-founder and co-blogger of The Book Jam Blog. Formerly the Executive Director of Everybody Wins! Vermont and USA; currently, a nonprofit consultant and mom who reads whenever she can find time.

We limited their written reviews to six words (those in the audience were able to hear a 2 minute review). So, although the list of books in this post is longer than our usual, we hope the brevity of the reviews helps you think about each, and helps you decide whether they should make your summer 2013 reading list.  Enjoy!

Non-fiction or reference book – For people who like to ponder large tomes during summer vacations

Former People by Douglas Smith. Selected by Rachel Hexter Fried. Bolshevik Revolution’s destruction of aristocratic Russia.

  

Memoirs – For people who enjoy living vicariously through other people’s memories

Elsewhere by Richard Russo. Selected by Rachel Hexter Fried. Russo’s life with his compulsive mother.

Prague Winter by Madeleine Albright. Selected by Lisa Sammet. Remarkable WWII story of courage tragedy.

North of Hope by Shannon Huffman Polson. Selected by Lisa Christie. Bear kills. Daughter grieves, grows, loves.

   

Adult Fiction – For a woman who only has time for the best fiction

John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk. Selected by Rachel Hexter Fried. Poor boy’s rise to Manor master chef.

Sweet Toothby Ian McEwan.  Selected by Lisa Sammet. Cold war espionage, clever, love and truth.

Juliet in August by Dianne Warren. Selected by Linda Ramsdell. 1 horse, great characters, nothing terrible happens.

Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi. Selected by Lisa Christie.  Father Dies. Family Gathers. Gorgeous Prose.

  

Adult fiction – For a man who has enough camping equipment, but not enough good fiction

Canada by Richard Ford. Selected by Rachel Hexter Fried. Exquisitely written story. Parents rob bank.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. Selected by Lisa Sammet. Post-apocalyptic suspense, savage and tender.

Truth in Advertising by John Kenney. Selected by Lisa Christie. “Ad-man” matures late in life.                                      

                           

 Cookbooks or coffee table books or reference books – For your mom/grad/dad

Vermont Farm Table by Tracey Medeiros. Selected by Linda Ramsdell. Inspired photos, approachable recipes, neighbors, friends.

Saved: How I Quit Worrying about Money and became the Richest Guy in the World by Ben Hewitt. Selected by Linda Ramsdell.  Much to ponder at any point in life.

Picture Books (zero to 7) – books for youngsters to peruse under trees and in tree houses

The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmet. Selected by Lisa Sammet. Fractured fairy tale with wry humor.

Books for summer campers/ young reader (ages 8-12) – books for those beyond tonka trucks and tea parties but not yet ready for teen topics.

Hold Fast by Blue Balliet. Selected by Lisa Christie. Langston’s poems. Homeless Family. Books save.

Books for your favorite High Schooler – “not required” reading for teens to ponder during the long hours of summer vacation

Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum. Selected by Linda Ramsdell. Rarely glimpsed window to a world.

Some bonus books mentioned by the presenters during their presentations:

Catherine the Great by Robert Massie. Mentioned by Rachel.

Atonement by Ian McEwan mentioned by Lisa S.

Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon mentioned by Linda

The Danger Box by Blue Balliet mentioned by Lisa C.

At the end of our chats, the four presenters were curious about what audience members were reading.  Some of their current reading includes:

Beautiful Ruins by Jesse Walters; Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand; Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwen; Freeman by Leonard Pitts; Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson; Slow Democracy: Rediscovering Community, bringing decision-making back home by Susan Clark and Woden Teachout; Seward: Lincoln’s  Indispensible Man, by Walter Stahr; My Beloved World by Sonya Sotomayor; Mysteries by Benjamin Black;  and  Same Ax, Twice by Howard Mansfield.

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Mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and grandparents take note: almost all of these are titles for young readers. We wanted to highlight some great books that you can pack in your favorite child’s trunk for camp or send them along in a care package and know they’ll be the just right for reading with a flashlight! AND, there’s one bonus “grown up” pick tucked in at the end, the phenomenal Wild by Cheryl Strayed, chosen with the adult adventurer in mind.

Ahhh glorious summertime.

Sunny days, starry nights, afternoons spent lounging by the swimming hole, hikes through the hills, twilight marshmallow roasts, and then, finally, the sound of zipping up the tent before settling into a sleeping bag with a good book and a flashlight.  In order to best recognize this all-too-brief  but very particular reading season, we decided to spotlight books that capture the adventurous spirit of young summer campers.

Our criteria: books that are easy to read with a flashlight, that aren’t too sad, and don’t make you long for home  (read homesick). Most importantly we chose titles that empower the young reader. We looked for books that show kids (and in one case, an adult) doing exciting, brave things on their own – or with wise adults leading the way. Our model – The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by E.L. Konisberg – one of our very, very favorite books from childhood.

Recent releases for the Elementary School Aged:

 Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke (2012) – Jon is reluctantly sent away to boarding school where he quickly discovers he is a kid marked by a centuries-old family curse to die at the hands of a ghost.  When he meets Ella and her ghost-expert Grandmother, hope for ending this curse begins. Of course, first he has to learn how to summon a ghost knight, earn the right to be a page and then figure out how to successfully break curfew.  And, somehow along the way he discovers boarding school is not the banishment he thought it would be.  A GREAT adventure for elementary school readers. ~Lisa Christie

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen (2012) – In a faraway land, a nobleman purchases four orphans in a scheme to place one, and only one of them, on the throne as the long-lost Prince Jaron. The catch, the three not chosen will probably not survive the “training”.  When you add a clever housemaid as a friend, a castle with secret passageways and the fact discovery of the scheme can have them all killed for treason, you have another great adventure for elementary school readers and the adults who love them. The False Prince has been published as the first installment of the Ascendance Trilogy, even though I just finished this one, I am ready for part two.  ~Lisa Christie   

For Middle Schoolers

 Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt (2011) – One of the few sequels I have liked better than the original and I really liked the original – Wednesday Wars.  In this stunning novel,  Doug Swieteck and his family move to upstate New York. Completely awed by his hero, Yankee baseball player Joe Pepitone, and trying valiantly to be nothing like his abusive, often drunken father, Doug has a lot to overcome: new school, his brother is serving in Vietnam, and a few secrets.  Honestly, this was one of the best books I read (kid or adult) in 2011. ~Lisa Christie

Kissing Shakespeare by Pamela Mingle (August 2012) – A romantic novel for teens involving Shakespeare, time travel and true love. ~Lisa Christie

Now for some paperbacks, because when you fall asleep reading with a flashlight you don’t want it to hurt when the book hits your chest.

 Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (1999) – Recently re-“read” as an audio book with my two sons. We all loved the characters and laughed out loud a lot during this touching novel of the depression-era Flint, Michigan. The story unfolds through the eyes of Bud, not Buddy, a child on the run from his latest foster home. I loved listening to a strong audio narrator of this superb novel by an award-winning author. I also loved reading it long ago when it was first published. Enjoy! ~Lisa Christie

 

The Danger Box by Blue Balliett (2011) – This book is amazing. It has an awesome narrator – a legally blind boy who was left on the doorstep of his paternal grandparents’ home when he was an infant. His family struggles to make ends meet, but they have love, a junk store, a lot of amazingly unique bits of wisdom and a town library to end all libraries. And yes, it is at the library where he makes his very first ever friend and has the adventure of a lifetime involving Darwin’s journals, a British Museum, his father, creating a newspaper and so much more.  And it all happens over the course of one summer – really it does. ~Lisa Christie

 The Jaguar Stones: Middleworld by Jon and Pamela Voelkel – The first of series in which a middle schooler must save his parents who have been abducted while on an archeological mission in Central America. The third book in this series will greet any new fans at summer’s end as it is out in September. ~Lisa Christie

Bonus: Adult “Camping” fare:

Wild by Cheryl Strayed (2012).  This book will have readers itching to pack up their hiking boots and set out on an adventure. “Wild” is not only the excellent story of the author’s summer-long trek along the Pacific Coast Trail at age twenty-six, but it is also a wonderfully crafted piece of writing. Strayed, brazenly and amazingly unprepared, sets off from a trail head in southern California with no hiking experience and without ever having weighed her backpack, but with plenty of pluck, spunk, and determination. Strayed, now in her mid-forties, honestly tells of her long walk and of the complex workings of her inner-landscape at the time.  This is a gratifying read that is full of emotional and physical challenges and rewards, interesting characters, beautiful scenery, and sore feet – and of growing muscles in both body and spirit. ~Lisa Cadow

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2010 Holiday Gift Giving (Click to Listen) or download http://www.box.net/files#/files/0/item/f_662874425/1/f_662874425 now.

Happy Holidays to our listeners. Blessed are the readers, as they say (or maybe that’s just what we say!).

We keep hearing from people who need gift ideas  – for office mates, for birthdays, winter solstice celebrations, for the first snow, for host/hostess gifts or just because.To help those of you searching for that perfect gift of a book, we have some ideas. Even if it’s the last minute you should still be able to find these titles at your local bookstore.

First, two cookbooks:

The perfect book and cookie for everyone on your list

The Gourmet Cookie Book: The Single Best Recipe from Each Year 1941-2009 by Gourmet Magazine. Beautiful graphics, some great history of american cooking and life.  Good recipes that yield delicious cookies.  And these in turn could become superb gifts. A nice cycle heh?

Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan – This master of the French Table provides recipes that inspire and allow you to enjoy one delicious meal after another.  Yes, it is French cooking. But it has a modern slant and tells you what the French are eating today – both at home and in restaurants.

Then some non fiction.

Always Entertaining, Julia Child

As Always Julia: The letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto — a collection of 200 letters exchanged between Julia and Avis DeVoto, her friend and unofficial literary agent.  The letters show a unique and lifelong friendship between the two women. They also illustrate the often challenging process of creating Mastering the Art of French Cooking. We recommend reading this, cooking a good french meal from Around the French Table and then watching Julie and Julia.

Now for some fiction.

Vida by Patricia Engel – a collection of related short stories about a Colombian-American woman who grows up in New Jersey as the daughter of Colombian immigrants.  The characters who inhabit these stories will move you and stay with you long after you close the book. This book is reminescent of Lahiri’s collections, but stands well on its own with a firmly Latin flavor.

We now have two picture books for kids and the adults who love them

Shhhhhhh…..It’s bedtime

The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska – This book explores the different kinds of quiet with kind words and amazing illustrations.  Could calm the most frazzled holiday shopper and many many children. A great going to bed book.

Alfie Runs Away by Ken Cadow – This is a lovely story of a boy who runs away to home with a little help from his mother.

Now, one for chapter book readers (or those who are reading to chapter book readers).

Danger Box by Blue Balliet – A great old fashioned adventure story set in modern day Michigan. This tale incorporates an engaging mystery, small town life, surviving today’s recession, life with disabilities, growing up with beloved grandparents, finding friends and Darwin. Yes, it manages all that!

Other books we thought of but did not mention during the podcast.

Fiction

Room: A novel by Emma Donoghue – A stunning novel about survival.  Despite a disturbing concept – a boy and his mother are held hostage in a room, it remains uplifting – Lisa LC promises.

Bitter in the Mouth by Monique Truong – Great fiction for anyone needing a well written book that leaves you feeling good at the end.

Non fiction

Spoon Fed: How eight cooks saved my life by Kim Severson – You will love the time you spend with Ms. Severson.

Chapter books

The 68 Rooms by Marianne Malone – A superb story reminiscent of The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler.

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