Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

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Summer Reading Bliss


A Round Up of Good Reads: 2021


My Year in Books
Good Reads of 2021

THE DETAILS:
Pages read: 29,532
Books read: 102
Shortest book read: 40 pages

Ada's Violin by Susan Hood
So inspiring!

Longest book read: 1,008 pages

Shakespeare After All by Marjorie Garber
A bounty for Bardinators

Average book length: 289 pages
Most popular: Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library–over 1 million reads (although I did not favor it)
Least popular: Lucius Adelno Sherman’s What is Shakespeare: An Introduction to the Great Plays (not everyone appreciates Shakespeare)
Average book rating: 4.3 (I must be particular)
Highest rated by Goodreads readers:

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Captured a 4.51 rating–a likable read, no doubt a movie is in the making

First review of the year: One Hundred Years of Children’s Books in America, Decade by Decade edited by Jane Yolen and Marjorie N. Allen. An underrated and overlooked sampling of books and the history of America from the early 1800s to the 1990s–would like to see a more current edition.
Five star rated books: 11 (I really am particular discerning)

Hitting my reading goal of 101 (the year isn’t over yet) creates a fine sense of accomplishment, especially since it became increasingly more difficult to sit down and focus on reading. After school started I found myself with a certain lassitude that gravitated towards passive viewing of animal shows, Western movies, and of course, my old standby of Dr. Who reruns.

Your Turn:
Did you hit your reading goal for the year?

Any stand out reads? I’m always looking for the next TBR item.

BookStop is Here!


Reader Round Up: May


Even though I read seventeen books last month, which keeps me at six books ahead of schedule, May’s five star reads were slim. There were several enjoyable reads, yet only one good read, or in this case a great read.

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Published in 1948, Paton’s book became a recognized bestseller that still has relevance today. The story of two fathers, one an umfundisi, a native reverend of a poor district, and the other a white landholder who owns a successful farm, High Place. Each father loses their only son, one by the hand of the other, yet the sons’ death brings these men together during a time when racial tensions are rising to a concerning level. A searing portrayal of the pain of separation–separation of family, separation of traditional values, separation of people inhabiting the land, the country. This was a rereading as I wanted to teach it as a unit to my juniors. So far it’s been well received. Plus, I don’t mind having an excuse to familiarize myself with excellent literature.

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton | BookDragon

Any of you read at least one really notable book in the month of May?

Reader Round Up: October


With the first month of school squared away with its new expectations and schedule, I felt a bit more at leisure to read in the evenings.

I’m finishing up my foray into Newberry winners and I am discovering the older titles can definitely hold the attention. I am also trying to whittle down my TBR list, and at this point the titles left are going to be though my library’s inter-library loan system, unless they value my request enough to purchase (that is always a fun surprise).

Here are the highlights of October:

The Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle Book Review
Goodreads

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Read-at-Home Mom: Book Review: Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (1994)
Goodreads

Amelia to Zora: Twenty-Six Women Who Changed the World by Cynthia Chin-Lee ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Amelia to Zora: Twenty-Six Women Who Changed the World by Cynthia Chin-Lee
Goodreads

The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Amazon.com: The Wheel on the School (9780064400213): DeJong, Meindert,  Sendak, Maurice: Books
Goodreads

With the hour turned back the evening comes just that much sooner, and the lingering outside in the fading autumn afternoon warmth is less appealing as the shadows overtake my outdoor reading nooks. More reason to cozy up inside in my lounger and linger longer in my reading.

Debatables: March–What’s So Funny?


Time for another round of Debatables, where Mike Allegra, my partner in literary pettifog, and I take on meritable topics such as “Who is the Most Appealing Mouse of Middle Grade Fiction” and make quite a fuss. Sometimes Mike wins, and sometimes I do. Like last month. Just saying.

This month we take on the serious topic of “The Funniest Picture Book.” Now, I could be at a disadvantage because Mike is truly a funny guy. His family stories are a hoot. I shall strive for another win. Like last month. (oh dear, I promised Mike I wouldn’t crow).

Here are the Debatables ground rules:
Each debater is allowed one brief argument (fewer than 300 words) on a previously agreed-upon topic. These brief arguments will then be followed by a briefer rebuttal (fewer than 150 words).

For my Funniest Picture Book entry I nominate:

46677

Yes, this book is so funny it’s been a play at the Kennedy Center, a TV special, AND a Disney movie.

 

Mike suggests:

Image result for stinky cheese man

Okay, fine–it won an award

Cricket’s Turn:
Some days just start out wrong, and keep getting worse. Having a bad day, especially from a kid’s point of view, is what Judith Viorst’s classic picture book is all about. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is just that–a really bad day in the life of six year old Alexander.

This is one of those books that is a perfect blend of text and illustrations. Viorst succinctly states with comic vaudevillian timing the woes of Alexander’s day. Ray Cruz’s illustrations deliciously capture Alexander’s expressions. Like this one:

Image result for alexander and the terrible horrible no good very bad day illustrations

Alexander wakes up with gum in his hair, he trips on his skateboard, and drops his sweater in the sink. And that’s just the start of his day. He’s smushed in the car pool, his friends snub him, he leaves out 16 in counting, and there’s no dessert in his lunch. And the day just gets worse. There is also the running gag of moving to Australia.

 

Alexander’s no good day is relatable. This is a book anyone from 6 to 96 can enjoy. The story is funny. The illustrations are funny. Alexander’s bad day is a good funny, because all bad days come to an end. Viorst knows this and doesn’t sugarcoat the terrible, horrible of the Alexander’s bad day. They just happen. And when they are done we can laugh about it.This is a book that parents and children can read and laugh about together. Bad days happen. They just do. It’s cathartic to laugh about them. A book, a play, a TV special, a movie–people can’t get enough of this story.

Image result for alexander and the terrible horrible no good very bad day illustrationsMike’s choice of The Stinky Cheese Man is commendable, yet its satirical humor leans towards mean. The gentle humor of Viorst and Cruz is family friendly and it’s made for kids. TSCM? Do kids, little kids, the ones picture books are supposed to be for, really get that crazy, hyperbolic humor? Hmm, to each their own kind of funny. Alexander is cute. The cheese man is, well, stinky. What’s so funny about a stinky cheese man?

Mike’s Argument:
“Gentle humor” and “funniest” aren’t synonyms. Not even close.

Is Alexander And The Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day a good book? Yes. It is an excellent book. It may even be a better book than The Stinky Cheese Man.

But hardly anyone could say it’s funnier. And this debate is all about the funny.

AATTHNGVBD generates warm, nostalgic smiles. But Stinky Cheese gets laughs. When my son was little, I read him both Alexander and Stinky. He liked them both, but only laughed at Stinky. Heck, the book still makes him laugh. It still makes me laugh, too.

In this compendium of “fairly stupid tales,” an ugly duckling grows up to be really ugly. A “frog prince” is is fraud, one who just likes smooching (and cares little about the slime he leaves behind on princess’ lips). The titular Stinky Cheese Man, like The Gingerbread Man, runs away to avoid being eaten; but nobody is chasing Stinky Cheese because, well, he stinks something nasty.

Lane Smith’s illustrations greatly contribute to the book’s comic tone. His ugly duck, for example, is not just a dippy, drooling disaster; he is a happy, dippy drooling disaster. He’s ugly. He knows it. And he’s cool with it. What could’ve been a cruel story in the hands of a lesser illustrator, is hilarious, for Smith’s duck seems incapable of hurt feelings.

Image result for stinky cheese man ugly duckling

And let’s not forget the character that ties all these ridiculous tales together. Jack the Narrator accidentally drops the table of contents on Chicken Little’s head. He spoils the ending of “Little Red Riding Shorts.” And, in a great running gag, he tangles with a very belligerent giant.  

Nope, no “gentle humor” here. The Stinky Cheese Man is brash, wildly original, and comic gold.

Cricket’s Rebuttal:
Some people like obvious humor that’s a bit loud:

Image result for stinky cheese man cow

This cow is flabbergasted that a stinky bit of cheese is remotely funny

Others enjoy the subtle comedy of a facial expression or comment can evoke:

Image result for alexander and the terrible horrible no good very bad day illustrations dad office

It comes down to what’s funny to an individual. In a world that dwells on harsh and mean, I much prefer the gentle humor of a boy coping with a bad day where delightful illustrations accompany witty commentary. It’s relatable, enjoyable, and resonates with good vibes long after I’ve read it. I smile just thinking about Alexander. He lightens my bad days. I choose him over slimy frogs and the stink of rude, cheesy banal jokes.

Mike’s Rebuttal:
You’re right, Cricket, one’s interpretation of “funniest book” will always be subjective. But you’re not making an argument for The Funniest Book; you’re making an argument for The Most Relatable, Resonant, Warm, Fuzzy, Good Vibe-ist Book.

C’mon, you! Yes, I’m looking at you, Cricket—with your smart aleck ways, plethora of puns, and encyclopedic knowledge of weird cow jokes. Let’s get real.

You might love AATTHNGVBD—and you should love it—but you know which book generates more honest-to-goodness laughs. Stinky Cheese pulls out all the stops. One page is upside down. Another page contains a Surgeon General’s Warning. Another page is blank because the diva-ish main characters walked out of the story in a huff. Stinky Cheese is a layered, visual and verbal feast of funniness.

The book blazed a new trail in no-hugging-no-learning meta fiction. And readers laughed. So did critics. So did the Caldecot judges. So did I. And—admit it—so did you.

 

Well, there you have it. You, our most marvelous readers, now have the opportunity to add in your own commentary about which of the two books is the funniest. And while we appreciate your suggestions, we really, really want you to stick with what you see here: either Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible No Good Very Bad Day  or The Stinky Cheese Man.

Thanks for stopping in and thanks even more for your comments and votes.

Debatable Recap: Reeping a Win


February ‘s Debatable topic of “Most Appealing Mouse of Middle Reader Literature” sparked a lively discussion. It appears mice are quite nice in many an opinion. We won’t mention the one dissenting view about mice (which wasn’t very nice at all).

I choose Reepicheep from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series.

Image result for reepicheep

While Mike nominated Amos from Robert Lawson’s Ben and Me.

Image result for ben and me

After a spirited voting spree, Reepicheep won by a whisker–yes, by one vote. Reep, that mighty warrior mouse valiantly strode forward and claimed his victory.

To be fair, Ben is a great little mouse. In fact, a vote for Ben or a vote for Reepicheep, along with the suggestions for Stuart Little, Bianca, Wilcox and Griswold, Despereaux, Runaway Ralph as considerations, just goes to show that mice are nice. That is, I admit I’m not keen on finding them unexpectedly in my kitchen pantry, but mice truly are winsome little creatures.

Someday I will regale my stories about Hunca Munca and Spot, two truly wondrous mousekins as once valued as pets.

BtW: a hearty congrats to my Debatable chum, Mike, who has just published his own mouse book: Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist.

Stay tuned for the next Debatable…

Reading Roundup: November


The flurry of December’s Debatable Reindeer vs Penguin sidelined my usual attention to reviewing previous monthly reads. Here’s the scoop for November:

Pilgrim’s Progress by Gary Schmidt

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Pilgrim’s Progress is a classic appreciated for its allegory of the walk one makes in faith and belief. It would be difficult to improve upon it, yet Gary Schmidt creates a version for contemporary audiences that deserves noted acclaim for keeping the original message intact while providing a more approachable format.

Barry Moser’s agreeable, stunning watercolor illustrations aptly and deftly accompany Schmidt’s retelling.

Appropriate for middle readers, yet probably more appreciated by adults who remember the original Bunyan version.

Nowhere to be Found by Emily Thomas

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Irresistibly drawn to series that combines creating a library in a renovated house plus a cozy mystery. An enjoyable, undemanding read that combines Christian values with a well-paced plot.

Whisper by Lynette Noni

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This is one of those books that is so captivating that finding a place to bookmark for the night is difficult. Best to start earlier than later in the day.

The first 100 pages are spellbinding. Jane, as in Jane Doe, a young woman is being held prisoner in a secret facility. She suffers silently because she refuses to speak to anyone. This is not only because of sheer determination, but because JD is afraid to do so. In her case, words do have power.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

It’s a quick, quiet, uneventful cadence of vignettes with the theme of a grandmother and her young granddaughter circumnavigating each other’s quirks while living on an island for the summer. Being Finnish in original intent changes some of the dynamics of the characters, yet the bond between the adult and child holds well.

The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Written by a son and mother team, this is #8 in an ongoing series about Bess Crawford, a nurse who likes to solve mysteries.

An intriguing idea to have a WWI nurse solve a tangled mystery involving a wounded soldier of dubious identity. Unfortunately, the plot becomes muddled with confusing details such as too many suspects with similar names, and the device of Bess, the protagonist, running around annoying people with her questions while healing from her wounds received at the front. The mystery itself proved intriguing, yet the solving was drawn out

much too long. The characters are agreeable and the writing is accomplished enough to look into other books in the series at some point.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

One problem with experiencing the movie before the book is that so many book scenes become overlaid with cinematic scenes. Clare is Rachel McAdams and Henry is Eric Bana while I read and I’m annoyed when the author changes things up character and plot wise. Then again, she had it all mapped out first. Lesson: read the book first.

Review wise: interesting beginning, muddled middle, and melodramatic ending. Not a romance book fan, and without the time traveler gimmick this would not have kept my attention, as the plot device of a woman constantly waiting for her ideal man to return to her is a metaphorical irritation after awhile.The swearing and sex scenes detracted instead of added to the plot. At one point the characters ask if their sex life is normal. Well, if you have to ask…

Alba, their daughter, makes it worthwhile to finish out the ending. I’m rooting for a sequel with Alba working out her own time traveling agenda.

Author Spotlight: Ezra Jack Keats


Back when I began college, I enrolled in the Early Childhood Education program because I could earn an AA after studying little kids for two years. One of my better education decisions.

One of the highlights of the program was Children’s Literature. No kidding. The class was all about reading books for children. Every children’s writer should take such a class. We learned all about what makes for a successful children’s book, read all kinds of books, even learned how to run a proper story time. There is an art to reading a book out loud. I am so ready for the day when my book gets published and the local librarian invites me in to read it to wiggling masses of kiddos. That day isn’t quite here, but my AA in ECE has me primed and ready.

One author I briefly remember studying was Ezra Jack Keats. Mike Allegra’s recent Debatable (and *sigh* win) about Peter in The Snowy Day got me reminiscing about my Keats encounters. He wrote several books about Peter, and I remember we studied what a trailblazer he was for his colorful collage style combined with simple, yet meaningful text. There was also the fact that back when Peter first appeared he was among the first picture book characters of cultural diversity. We noted it, but I don’t remember dwelling on it. We instead focused on the appeal of Peter as enjoyed a snowy day, discovering how to whistle, finding goggles–just enjoying being a nice kid growing up with friends and family in the city.

One thing we didn’t touch on was Ezra Jack Keats. Looking him up, yah, Mike got me curious. I was surprised. I had made assumptions, and Chef Boyardee did I learn a lot. This article presents Keats so much better than I can. He is definitely an author deserving a spotlight.

So–go enjoy your inner child and read all about Peter. He is Macy’s Parade balloon worthy–almost as much as Tigger.

November Debatable: Hot Air Argument


With Thanksgiving ads beckoning us to ready for the annual rite of feasting with friends and family, it seemed appropriate to center our monthly debate on another annual tradition, Macy’s Parade.

More specifically, we take on which kid lit character should become the next parade balloon.

I’m going for Tigger.

It’s a natural choice–right?

Mike is going for Peter from The Snowy Day. Cute, but not as uplifting as Tigger.

So–make your way over to Mike Allegra’s site and weigh in your thoughts and send up your vote.

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