April 7, 2020 my debut picture book, Someday We Will, arrived and then accessible venues shutdown. It’s definitely challenging trying to promote a book when libraries, schools, and bookstores are closed.
Even though creative promotional endeavors emerged, there is nothing quite like sharing the book with a live audience.
The local library reopened public events with its first storytime held in their new garden area June 19, 2021. Leading off the first storytime in over a year was an honor and an absolute delight.
Kimber, the youth services librarian and several library staff members, worked hard to create the event. Library storytime in a library garden is an ideal venue for a picture book that celebrates the joy of doing outdoor activities together.
After reading the book we blew bubbles, created sidewalk chalk art, jumped rope, and made Someday Jars. All accomplished in an hour!
One book pops up as the June spotlight read: Good Night, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian.
Though it was published in 1986, it has an old-fashioned story cadence to it, being almost a Dickens novel in scope.
The story has so many deep issues that it is surprising it is considered a children’s novel. Child abuse and abandonment are two central issues. There is also the painful experiences of children evacuated from London to billet safely out in the country with strangers during WWII. Magorian weaves these and other issues in with her engaging story of matching a young malnourished boy, William, with a flinty widower, Tom.
Tom’s unhurried persistence to helping William settle in hastens the boy to heal both physically and emotionally, and as a result Tom also begins healing of the grief over losing his wife and child forty years earlier.
The joy of childhood, making friends, trying out new experiences, and the deep bond of friendship comes singing through the expressive prose. A thoughtful perspective of how the London evacuees fared as well as those who took them in during the war. For those who enjoyed Carrie’sWar, Goodnight, Mister Tom is recommended.
After a year of shutting down most public programs, our local library is opening up one of their most popular programs: Story time. The best part is I’m going to lead off a summer’s worth of local author reads. If you are in the neighborhood be sure to drop by!
That’s a big oops. My carefully planned blogging schedule has blown up due to malaise. I admittedly got caught up in the Winter Slumps and thought about posting but didn’t. I did read, though, which helped keep me occupied during the looonnng evenings (dark at 4 pm is cruel). Spring is now here and that means sunshine has restored my energy levels.
In order to get caught up I will select the favorites reads from the last three months to review. These are all five star reads.
Once upon a time, in the land of Russia, lived a charming count by the name of Alexander Rostov. And while it might seem demeaning to compare A Gentleman in Moscow to a fairy tale, Towles has deftly tweaked all the elements of that endearing (and enduring) genre into a sophisticated story that is enthralling, entertaining, enlivening, and quite satisfying. The bonus is once I learned Kenneth Branagh was Rostov in the planned series, the enjoyment became doubled as Branagh fleshed out Rostov’s appearance in my mind’s eye. One of the best reads I’ve experienced in quite a long time
The Art of X Ray Reading reminds me of Thomas Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor. Both books prompt me to practice closely reading the book in hand. While Foster provides a magnifying glass, Clark provides a kaleidoscope to better see the rich colors within the writing. His choice of books are hit or miss with me, but he did touch on a couple of favorites that I will absolutely pay more attention to on the next reading. The writing lessons alone are worthwhile and are inspiring. I applied the X Ray lens to an AP Lang lesson and brought new meaning to the piece. I look forward to my next AP Literature class and seeing how students pick up The Great Gatsby clues. Makes me wish I could teach Creative Writing once again.
Shades of The Maltese Falcon drift through this tribute to the 1940’s detective novel. Instead of a tough private investigator who runs with fast women and drives a faster car, readers contend with the “Princess P.I., a savvy socialite who has earned a reputation for being one of the best in the business. At first the cliche phrases and situations were off-putting, that is until I accepted them as pastiche. A solid plot worthy of a Bogart film, intrigue and humor, and a double storyline create a fast-paced read and an anticipation for the second book.
An amazingly positive story of how one man turned trash into a treasury of music. The story and colorful illustrations blend and harmonize as the background story of Paraguay’s Recycled Orchestra is told through Ada and her violin. Truly inspirational how beauty was found among the tons of garbage and how a dream became a reality that changed lives.
As a tribute to the recent passing of Beverly Cleary I grabbed Henry and Ribsy off the library shelf since she was an author I appreciated growing up. Granted, some of the situations and attitudes are a bit dated; however, kid and dog antics run true and are timeless.
When I first read F451 back in my twenties I no doubt appreciated Bradbury’s lyrical warning of a supposed future. This last read is a revisit due to both curiosity if it’s as good as I remember and because we are studying it as a class in AP Lang. Yes. It’s still as good. Wait–it’s much, much better due to Bradbury’s future coming fast upon us.
Books like The Borrowers, a tiny family in a big world, enthralled me as a child. Somehow, The Return of the Twelves, which echoes believing the unbelievable, escaped my reading attention. As an adult, and a “brontyfan,” I appreciate this story so much more. It’s rather a back door introduction for young readers to the brilliance of Charlotte and her Bronte siblings. The story itself is typical of the sixties, where children are precocious and are possessed of much more independence than their contemporary readers. Parents are presented as absent-minded, patronizing, or clueless of their children’s lives. Clarke’s story presents a likable cast of characters, particularly Max, who becomes protector of the Twelves or Young Men. His responses to their animation have a sense of verisimilitude as he both indeed at their existence while remaining fiercely protective of them. The plot cleverly provides the actions of the Twelves through a combination of the present and through Max’s imaginative efforts. At times the plot wobbles on timeworn, but will suddenly turn the corner with a refreshing twist. A satisfying read for those who like adventure and can still believe at least six impossible things before breakfast.
A quirky book difficult to place genre-wise. Love story? Quest? Mystery? Not muchly magical realism? In some ways it reminds me of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist in that an ordinary young man begins to discover the extraordinary by stepping out of his comfort zone. Love In Lower-Case explores how it is too easy to fall into a routine, desiring for a change and when change begins to happen, it is difficult to accept. A likable character, odd circumstances, a mysterious cat, an annoying stranger, and a Yoda neighbor all mix together for a satisfying, though not earthshaking weekend read.
I would like to think as a young reader I would have appreciated the skillfully crafted story of a young Jewish man who discovers that love is stronger than hate, especially when facing such a fearsome enemy as the Romans; however, I doubt that I would have. I am ever so impressed with The Bronze Bow—its plot, setting, details, message. And the ending. The ending is absolutely stunning. As an adult I am absolutely impressed and moved, and I would like think my young reader self might have recognized the value of Speare. Maybe.
So many good reads kept my wits from dullifying totally through this last long winter. I can’t imagine not having a book to read.
Let me know if you’ve read any of these, or if I have tempted you to plump out your TBR list.
Ah, August—the last month of summer. The weather is still amazing with its warm days and blue skies, essential ingredients for reading in the backyard hammock. I made good use of blogger suggestions and kept my library busy with hold requests. Unfortunately, the library has returned to only providing curbside service which means I no longer can browse the shelves and can request an unsatisfying six books at a time. *Sigh*
Some incredibly fun reads in August:
Frindle by Andrew Clements ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
How Penguins Saved Veronica by Hazel Prior ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Coffee with Shakespeare by Stanley Wells ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Dragonwyck by Ana Seton ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Onion John by Joseph Krumgold ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
The View from Saturday by E.L. Koningsburg ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️
Carry On, Mr Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️
The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Bears ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️
Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyeau ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️
I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmasof the Reading Life by Anne Bogel⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️
Yes, there were quite a few kid selections this month. I am trying to read all the Newbery winners, many I have read, but I have missed a few over the years. It’s never too late to enjoy a well-written kids’ book!
An update in statistics:
Hit my Goodreads goal of 101 books
I have read most of the Newberry winners
Read 55 books this summer (a number of them were children’s books, I grant that fact)
The library is opening its doors once again on September first!
Throughout the summer I appreciated the library’s curbside and inter-library loan service. I’m not sure what I would have done without the availability of books to checkout.
Today marks my 💯 milestone! Usually I read about 100 books for the year, but 2020 has influenced my reading habits immensely. Staying at home means I am either working in the yard, writing on the computer, or reading in my hammock. Guess which one garnered most of my dedication?
And the 💯th book is….
Yes, without intentionally doing so, my 💯th book for this year is a book by a Reader writing about reading specifically “The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life.”
Even though school starts for me on Monday, I shall continue reading. I have four more months until the end of the year. Hmm, how many more books can I squeeze in by the Goodreads tally deadline?
What are your guesses?
State a guess in the comments below and we will see what happens by December!
Sometimes a novel stands out from the others. It shines out its brilliance so noticeably that it deserves an entire post. Leif Enger’s Virgil Wander is such a read.
Halfway through the book Virgil , out titular hero, and Rune, think Gandalf with kites, are drinking a Nordic spirit, apparently possessing the kick similar to sake, and Rune makes the philosophic observance “…that just because a thing was poetry didn’t mean it never happened in the actual world, or that it couldn’t happen still.”
This is what is so noteworthy about Virgil Wander as a novel. It is not exactly real-world in scope, neither is it magical realism, but neither is it so unbelievable as to be dismissable. The naysayer critics argued that Enger’s engaging tale is stretching unbelief a bit too much. Like Rune noted, just because it didn’t happen, doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.
It seems storytellers, the ones like Garrison Keillor who come from Minnesota are the ones who take the ordinary and lean it somewhat so that you have to tip your head to get it all in focus. Or at least I do. I took it with a grain of salt when Keillor spun his hometown stories of seemingly average citizens and transformed their lives and situations into above average. Enger does the same with his own Minnesota tale. He takes a small town on the banks of the Lake Superior and tips its inhabitants a bit sideways and creates intriguing situations out of the mundane. For instance, a sturdy sturgeon that is repudiated to be the cause of death for one fisherman takes on menacing qualities akin to Moby Dick. That homey festival that every small town hosts, the one with corn dogs, a parade, face painting, and a band? Enger turns into an event celebrating the hard luck days of the town, complete with children dressing up as frogs to replicate the day it indeed rained frogs upon the fair town. There may or may not be a bomb threat involved. There is even a raven who becomes mildly domesticated of his own volition.
If the novel sounds odd in highlighting aspects that caught my eye. Well, it is odd. Odd wonderful. Oddly captivating. Odd how I couldn’t stop reading it, being irritated when I had to stop periodically to eat or sleep.
I vastly relished Enger’s debut novel Peace Like a River, and so did the nation. It only took eighteen or so years for his third novel to appear (haven’t caught up to his second one yet), but it sure was worth the wait.
Looking for amusing, Keillor-style storytelling, winsome characters, unforgettable setting, and a couple of mysteries to sweeten the plot? Then I hope you locate a copy of Virgil Wander.
Let me know if you found a copy or if you have read it. Let’s dialog this five star find.
I managed to go to school without any experience with Shakespeare (yeah, how did that happen?) I can easily relate to my student’s bewilderment when we begin our drama unit. Freshmen study Romeo and Juliet, sophomores experience Julius Caesar, juniors skip Shakespeare to study American Literature (The Crucible), and depending on the teacher, students have a range of selection from an overview of the comedies to a dive into tragedy with Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, or Macbeth.
I am usually prepared for groans from my sophomores when I announce we are studying Shakespeare. “Not again!” “We did him last year.” “Shakespeare is so boring.” Instead of coming up with excuses and defending our Wily Bard of Stratford, I agree with them. This gets me some interesting looks–most def.
I do agree with my students. Shakespeare can be boring, or at least his plays were until I got the hang of them. Watching, let alone reading the plays, was painful to endure, and I felt I could never get anywhere, no matter how hard I tried. Then again, learning how to ski was painful, and I wondered if I would ever get down the mountain without a initiating a yard sale. Hmm, I should use this analogy with my students since they have grown up with a mountain in their backyard.
Here are two thoughts on Shakespeare:
“I am more easily bored with Shakespeare, and have suffered more ghastly evenings with him, than with any dramatist I know.” Peter Brook, English theatre director
“We find Shakespeare boring because we’re lazy. We’re not willing to get through the language. That’s the only barrier. If a play is performed right by those who are properly trained, after about twenty minutes you won’t be aware of the language because the human story is so strong.” –David Suchet, actor
What are your experiences with Shakespeare? Bored, frustrated, from having to endure year after year of his plays in school? Perhaps initially bored, but then the story unfolds and the words are no longer a barrier and serve as a contribution to the experience? Or maybe you grew to appreciate him with time and experience?
One of my standout memories of teaching my favorite play, Hamlet–sorry, I do mention that often, don’t I?–is after we wrapped up the unit, one student, from my regular, not AP class, stayed behind. “You know I’m going to miss discussing Hamlet, I really got to like this play.” He grew thoughtful. “I can’t discuss Shakespeare with my father.”
I never discussed Shakespeare with my father either. But I sure discuss him with my own children when I get the chance. Shakespeare boring? Not for long. Hang in there, dig in your poles, don’t cross your ski tips, and you will enjoy the thrill of going from snowplow to slalom. That applies to skiing as well.
In my day job as an AP teacher I have the privilege of introducing students to literary works of merit. I look forward to their insights and perspectives.
We have just begun Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian tale of government control: Fahrenheit 451. This deceptively easy read contains complicated topics. One discussion topic is happiness. Guy Montag is not a happy fireman, or at least he was one until Clarisse asked him, “Are you happy?”
So I put it to my students a discussion statement prompted by Clarisse: “Happiness is a choice, not a given.”
A lively discussion developed with a split between total agreement and a few who decided happiness was a complicated issue and they couldn’t come to complete agreement about it.
I then prompted them with this question: “What is the difference between happiness and joy?”
Their conclusions were opposite of my mine.
They said: “Happiness is long lasting, while joy is a temporary emotion.”
Hmm, I’ve always reckoned it to be the opposite. Happiness is a temporary state, dependent on outside circumstances, yet joy lives deep in our being, dwelling in our soul.
Nope. They didn’t buy that. Maybe I did have it wrong. I proceeded in the course of action that all teachers must do when wondering if what they are teaching to their students is baloney. I Googled it.
What are your thoughts? Is happiness dependent on outside circumstances? Does joy stem from emotional contentment from within?
Interestingly enough Guy Montag, F451’s protagonist, upon realizing he is not happy begins making decisions involving enormous collateral damage. Joy is never mentioned as Guy Montag seeks happiness. Does he find happiness or joy? I will have to reread it and decide if he actually did. And that’s why F451 remains a classic—it keeps asking the reader questions after the last page is turned.