Sunday, October 1, 2017

Diverse Books Club: September Wrap-Up

The first month of the Diverse Books Club is in the books! The theme was centered around race, the history of racial oppression in America, and current civil rights events. I read all of the selections except for one board book my library didn't have, one picture book I had read previously and didn't re-read, and I ran out of time for the adult selection.

Given time restrictions, my realistic plan for participating going forward is to read all of the picture books and at least one from the Adult, YA, and Middle Grade selections. My very favorite thing about this group so far is the high quality of the books selected, so even if I can't read the whole list in a month, I know any books I miss can go on my TBR for the future. This month set the bar pretty high, so I am confident future selections will be just as engaging, thought-provoking, well-written, and overall worthwhile reads.

It's hard to put into words what I have learned this month from the books I read. I don't think I could do them justice by trying to spell it all out, but I can wholeheartedly say all of these books taught me something, made me think, and helped me see and understand different points of view. The books deal with very difficult, but very important issues. There is a lot I've taken to heart and there have been so many nuggets of wisdom in these books. If you haven't read The Hate U Give or Stella By Starlight yet, I highly recommend them!

Young Adult Selection:

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
I read this over Labor Day weekend and could not put it down! It is extremely relevant to current events. Even though Starr is fictional, stories like hers have been happening all over the US. By seeing the problems of police violence, racism, and the justice system through Starr's eyes, I think it makes it personal in a way a news article or sound bite can't.


Middle Grade Selection:

Stella by Starlight, by Sharon Draper
An incredible story of racism, hardship, and unfairness as well as community, love, and hope. I absolutely loved it -- and as soon as I finished this one, I lent it to my mom!


Picture Book Selections:

written by Alan Schroeder & illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
The is a fictionalized account of Harriet Tubman as a child. It was so interesting to see how this famous historical figure's early experiences could have shaped and influenced the incredible work she would go on to do.


written by Laban Carrick Hill & illustrated by Bryan Collier
I had read this one previously, but checked it back out from the library to re-read for the DBC. I feel like the book may have oversimplified Dave's life and what he must have faced on a daily basis, but I also think it's important and valuable to share his story and his accomplishments as an artist and poet despite his enslavement.


written by Doreen Rappaport & illustrated by Bryan Collier
Informative, educational, inspiring, and beautiful. I love how this picture book told the story of Dr King's life by drawing from various writings/speeches, not just his most famous. A really powerful book. This was another re-read for me and one I'd definitely like to add to our picture book collection at home. 


written & illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
Hopefully everyone knows about Brown v. Board of Education, but like so many others, I did not know anything about the fight for desegregation in California's schools that occurred a decade earlier. An informative read and important book that I had not even heard of before, so I'm very glad I was introduced to it.


written by Sarvinder Naberhaus & Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
This was another re-read for me. A beautiful and artistic tribute to America's diversity and the highest ideals we want our country to stand for.

* * * * *

October selections are up next! Join us in reading about Immigrant and Refugee Experiences
Middle Grade, Young Adult, & Adult selections
Picture Book selections

Friday, September 29, 2017

Places I Never Meant to Be: Original Stories by Censored Writers


I've had this book for several years and I finally remembered to read it for Banned Books Week. It's a solid short story collection and, as I expected, I liked some stories much better than others. It's a young adult collection and to be perfectly honest, there were two stories that made me uncomfortable as an adult reader. I don't say this because I felt they were bad influences on young readers or anything like that, but because they dealt with some really tough subjects. The stories I was uncomfortable with involved animal cruelty, lack of consent, and that feeling of paralyzing powerlessness when characters were in certain peer situations. Aren't these things that should make me uncomfortable? And aren't they worth discussing or contemplating anyway? I'm not saying anyone has to read this -- or any other book. No one is required to pick up a story they find triggering or anxiety-inducing. Trust me, there are plenty of books I avoid because I know I just can't handle them. And no one is required to allow their children to read whatever they feel like. But banning or censoring is not the answer.

Beyond the short stories in this collection, each contributing author wrote an essay about their experiences with and thoughts about censorship and I wanted to share a few of those gems to illustrate the wisdom found in these pages. Even if you don't read the stories, this book is worth checking out for these essays (and Judy Blume's introduction) alone! There are so many great quotes, it was extremely hard to choose, but here are five of my favorites:

What I worry about most is the loss to young people. If no one speaks out for them, if they don't speak out for themselves, all they'll get for required reading will be the most bland books available. And instead of finding the information they need at the library, instead of finding the novels that illuminate life, they will find only those materials to which nobody could possibly object. 
-- Judy Blume

That's all we writers have, anyway; our minds and imaginations. To allow censors even the tiniest space in there with us can only lead to dullness, imitation, and mediocrity. 
-- Norma Fox Mazer

Self-censorship can be very damaging to a story. When our chief goal is not to offend someone, we are not likely to write a book that will deeply affect someone. 
-- Katherine Paterson

Books are our windows on the world. They permit us to safely experience other lives and ways of thinking and feeling. Books give us a glimmer of the complexity and wonder of life. All this, the censor would deny us. 
-- Harry Mazer

A child's parents should be able to forbid their son or daughter from reading a book of mine or anyone else's. However, those same parents should have zero control over what everyone else's kids can read.
-- Paul Zindel

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association

Sunday, September 24, 2017

It's Banned Books Week!

It's only been two days since I posted my "vacation bag" reading list for the next couple of months, but I'm already rearranging it! After skimming through their beginning pages, I've returned two of the library books -- I still may read them someday, but decided not to for the time being. I've also added the October picks for the Diverse Books Club that were just announced this morning. And I somehow forgot I had this collection set aside to read during Banned Books Week:


I've had an interest in banned and challenged books for a long time now and even ran a reading challenge dedicated to them for four years before passing it on to another blogger. Some of the books that have been frequently challenged are a bit mind-boggling to me. I have no problem with an individual or a parent deciding a book is not appropriate for themselves or their children, but I do not think it is OK for individuals or groups (or the government) to decide what is appropriate for everyone else. Formally requesting that a book be removed from a collection denies others the opportunity to make their own decisions. The American Library Association has some really great free graphics on the subject I thought I would share:

What's the big deal?




Facts & Figures:





Read!

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association


Friday, September 22, 2017

Vacation Bag #1: Sept/Oct/Nov Reading Options

No, I'm not actually going on vacation. This is my metaphorical vacation bag of books inspired by my recent(-ish) summer vacation. The whole idea is that it was SO much easier to read books from my own shelves when I had a curated bag of limited options to choose from. I decided I wanted to continue doing that even when I wasn't on vacation and wrote a post about it.

So far, I've been pretty haphazard about sticking to my limited options plan. I haven't shared any "official" reading lists here, but I've had a small stack on my nightstand I've only sort-of been choosing from. This is partly because I went on a pretty good run where I had a very clear view of what I would be reading next, so the whole choosing-a-new-book-dilemma was pretty well taken care of. All of the Sarah, Plain and Tall sequels, a book club book, a summer-themed Newbery book and its sequel, and a Diverse Books Club pick (as well as a few others) have all been on my recent lineup -- and they were all books I had copies of! Admittedly, some were purchased quite recently, but they were still read from my own collection.

I have read some library books, but in about two and a half months, I read quite a lot more from my own shelves than I had been previously. So I wasn't feeling an urgent need to curate a "vacation bag" or TBR list to help me stick to my plan. But now we are headed into fall, I thought it was time to pull some titles off the shelf and get better organized. Fall is a time of year I always say I want to read "autumnal" books, but I never seem to get around to it. For me "autumnal" books are cozy, mysterious, gothic, spooky, and/or full of family secrets. But what typically happens is that September still feels like summer (which it technically is until the 22nd) and then when it really starts to feel like fall, the season is underway and flying by. If I don't get to some fall reads before Halloween, I tend to move onto something else even though it's still fall for quite some time afterwards -- officially, fall goes almost to Christmas!

All of this rambling is really just to say I think I will greatly benefit from having an "official" curated list of limited options to work from at this time of year. My hope is to (mostly) read from my own shelves and finally get to some of those fall books. I'm currently using a nightstand in our guest room for this little project:


So I'm going ahead and considering this my end of September and October/November list. I do not intend to read every single one of these books. It's just a starting point so I am not overwhelmed by an overabundance of options. I tried to have a nice mix -- classics, short stories, novels-in-verse, Newberys, poetry, a book-about-books, favorite authors, new-to-me authors, an ARC I won on Goodreads, and book club picks for both virtual and real-life groups. There are a few library books in there and I know a few more will get added over the season --  I'm just trying to strike a better balance, not abandon the library!

If I pluck anything additional off my shelves during the coming months not on this lineup, I will still call that a win for my TBR. In particular, I'm not sure what I will be in the mood for reading when I have round-trip (kid-less!) plane flights for my best friend's wedding in November. They don't happen often, but plane and train trips are some of my absolute favorite times to read. I'll be making sure to bring some books I'm excited to read in large chunks -- or possibly straight through! -- which is a luxury I don't often get these days.

* * * * *

Do you have any fall reading plans? What's your favorite book or type of book to read at this time of year? I'd love to know!

P.S. Check out Hannah's Three Ways I Tackled My TBR This Summer post! She's on a similar mission to read more from her own shelves and my summer vacation post gets a shout-out :)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Two Parenting Books Saving My Sanity

I actively avoided parenting books when I was pregnant through when my son was a baby. I felt like there were too many "experts" and conflicting advice and I just didn't feel like it was necessary or even helpful to "study up" on how to take care of a baby. I figured that I would figure it out, one way or another. People have been taking care of babies for thousands of years, right? I am far from perfect and I don't have all the answers, but I felt common sense and instincts would serve me well -- and they did. Until toddlerhood. Oh boy!

Everyone talks about the "terrible twos," so I shouldn't have been so taken off guard. But it took me a little while to realize I really had no idea how to effectively handle the behaviors and challenges that come with raising a two year old. The transition from a dependent baby who legitimately needs an adult to respond to his every cry to a starting-to-gain-independence-toddler who needs boundaries set -- and will whine and cry when he doesn't get exactly what he wants -- was a big adjustment.

Let's just say I was feeling a little desperate. Assurances from relatives, other parents, our doctor, etc. that, "oh, it's all just normal for kids his age" were all well and good, but they didn't help me navigate the day-to-day challenges of raising a toddler. I spent so many days easily frustrated and just wanting to "survive" until naptime or until my husband got home. I was facing some of the same issues over and over again (diaper changes and carseat were two big ones) and I truly felt like I was at he mercy of an (adorable) little tyrant. Surely I was doing something wrong. Surely other parents know how to do this better than I do. Right?

I still didn't think a parenting book would hold all the answers for my specific child, but I reached a point when I knew I needed to learn more about the toddler stage. I wasn't interested in any gimmicky or "trendy" parenting approaches. I wanted reasonable, practical, well-researched advice. I definitely did not want an anecdotal "this worked for my family, so you should try it too!" sort of book. So after looking at summaries of a whole bunch of options, I gravitated toward the science-based book The Whole-Brain Child.


I started reading The Whole Brain Child and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. There were so many examples and scenarios that resonated with me and made me feel like I was not alone in my struggles. This book helped me understand the developing brain (and my own brain!) and helped me realize just how little I knew about child development. As I learned more about the brain and child development, my toddler (and his behavior) became much less of a mystery and I felt better equipped to handle things. The principles in this book are not age-specific, but more tailored advice and tips are broken down for ages 0-3, 3-6, 6-9, and 9-12. I borrowed the copy I read from the library, but then ordered a copy to keep as a reference on our shelves. 

The other book I highly recommend is Positive Discipline The First Three Years. I only just finished this one yesterday, but I read it over the course of two weeks and was actually able to start trying some of the tips and ideas well before I finished. Some of it might seem to just be common sense, but all the advice is tied to child development stages, so they are not only suggesting what to do, but why. They explain why babies and toddlers do certain things that drive us crazy and just having that clearer understanding has really helped change my perspective on toddler behavior and how I approach solutions. It has helped clarify what exactly is age-appropriate in terms of my son's behavior and my own expectations and is helping me navigate those day-to-day challenges. Much of Positive Discipline's approach could be summed up as being both firm AND kind with our children. It's not about being punitive nor is it about being permissive or overindulgent. It offers such a well-balanced approach and articulates the reasoning and science behind why many things I've heard suggested before work -- and how to actually implement them.

I wish I could give a copy of these two books to all parents of babies and toddlers I know without being that know-it-all mom who hands out unwanted, unsolicited advice. But since I can't do that, I'll stick to sharing here what has helped me in the hope it might help someone else through the exhausting and exasperating (and exciting and endearing!) stage of toddlerhood.

* * * * *

The authors of The Whole Brain Child also wrote No Drama Discipline which is up next on my parenting TBR. And they have a new book The Yes Brain: How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity, and Resilience in Your Child coming out in January that I'm really looking forward to.


And there are a whole series of Positive Discipline books focusing on preschoolers, teenagers, and children with special needs as well as books for single parents, teachers, and childcare providers. I imagine there will be a lot of overlap among the various titles, but I think it is great there are so many options tailored to different stages and situations. I will be picking up the preschool one for sure when my son is a little older.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

My Favorite Book of the Summer

I don't know about anyone else, but it has been unseasonably cool in my neck of the woods this week. August is not yet over, but it's been feeling an awful lot like fall. As students and teachers are gearing up to head back to school (or already have!) it seems the perfect time to look back on favorites from the season before diving into more autumnal reads. Madeline over on Top Shelf Text invited myself and 20 other bloggers to share a summer favorite, so there are lots of other great recommendations besides just mine. Head on over to see what I chose -- Pssst...I'm first on the list :)

Image via Top Shelf Text

P.S. Top Shelf Text is one of my favorite bookish blogs and bookstagram accounts
P.P.S. Don't miss the Diverse Books Club launching Sept 1st! (Goodreads | Instagram)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Reading by Award List

Reader friends, I have a question for you today. Have you ever finished a really great book, realized it was the recipient of an award, and then felt the sudden desire to go read ALL THE BOOKS that have ever won that award? Most recently this happened when I read and loved A Northern Light which was my pick for our August book club meeting and it has won: a Printz Honor, a Carnegie Medal, and a Young Adult Literature Los Angeles Times Book Prize as well as several other lesser known awards. I must admit, it took a good bit of willpower to not promptly dump a truckload of new titles onto my TBR from the archives of those prizes.

So now I have a second question for you. Has anyone ever actually read (or attempted to read) through a prize list?! I am currently making my way through the Caldecott Medal and Honor books, and let me tell you, it is taking a LOT longer than I thought it would considering these are *just* picture books (with the odd graphic novel and longer illustrated work thrown in). The Caldecott stretches back to 1938, so we are talking a rather large quantity of books, even if the page count for each is relatively low.

First, I started with all the featured titles in Reading the Art in Caldecott Award Books. Then, I made a point of finding winning titles based on season and holidays throughout the year, as well as reading some of the newer winners once they were announced. For many months now, I've been browsing through the library stacks and tucking any books with a shiny Caldecott medal into my checkout pile whenever I spot them. And while it feels like I've read a TON of Caldecott books, there are still so many more remaining to be read! It is getting harder to locate those remaining ones, so I'm making a point to consult the master list and seek out (or place on hold) books that will fill in the gaps. As tempted as I am to try reading from other lists, I can hardly imagine doing this with novels -- especially with a well-established award. Still, one can dream, right?

Some other lists I have considered reading through:

CHILDREN
Most distinguished contribution to American literature for children (ALSC)

Picture books and books for older readers excellent for reading aloud (The Association of Booksellers for Children)

Outstanding writing in a picture book published in the United States (Cooperative Children's Book Center)

4th, 5th, & 6th graders vote for their favorite books (found this one thanks to Top Shelf Text!)

Children's books of literary and aesthetic excellence that effectively engage children in thinking about peace, social justice, global community, and equity for all people.

Honors an American poet or anthologist for the most outstanding new book of children's poetry (Pennsylvania Center for the Book)

Honors a living poet + curates lists of notable poetry books and verse novels

YOUNG ADULT
Books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults (YALSA)

Best audiobooks for children/young adults (YALSA)

Literary excellence in young adult literature (YALSA)

ADULT
Celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in writing in fiction written by women. Previously  named the Orange Prize for Fiction

There is certainly no dearth of award-winning books if you go looking for them! I am well aware a more rational approach is to use these lists as inspiration rather than a checklist, but don't we always want to read ALL THE BOOKS? Yes, yes we do.

* * * * *

Are there any other book awards you like to keep tabs on? Have you ever read from an award list yourself? Do you have a favorite award-winning title? Or a title you don't think deserved an award? I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Joining the Diverse Books Club


I discovered the blog Top Shelf Text a few months ago when Madeline was a guest on the Modern Mrs. Darcy podcast What Should I Read Next? I mainly use Instagram for friends and family, but I do follow a few bookstagrammers and Anne Bogel convinced me to check out Madeline's account. I very much enjoy Madeline's posts and stories, but it's her brand-new Diverse Books Club launching in September I want to tell you about today.

With everything going on in our county and our world, I am fully aware that just reading books is not enough. But I do feel strongly that education and empathy are important pieces and that books can play a role in both of those. There is a lot more information in the introductory post on Top Shelf Text, but in short, this is meant to be a group of readers who are "dedicated to learning about the world and our fellow humans. We value diversity in all its forms. Our mission is to be those worthy role models that our children deserve." 

Madeline and her co-moderator are both teachers and will soon be joined by an additional team of moderators who are passionate about this project and who also bring a diversity of perspectives to the group. I can't say for sure how it will all work out, but I am eager to join with an open mind. 

JOIN IN!
Head over to Top Shelf Text for more info and to see the middle grade, YA, and adult September selections. The children's book selections are over on Miss Magee's Reads.

On Instagram @diversebooksclub
On Goodreads at Diverse Books Club

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Building a Library or Losing My Mind?

So. I went to another community garage sale at a local church the weekend before last. And I also took a nice long walk through a neighborhood yard sale. The deals were great -- $0.50-$1 per book (and one that was even free!) The church sale had an even better deal -- fill a bag for $5. Did I fill a bag? Of course, I filled a bag. I was there towards the end and even though the books were likely pretty well picked over, I still found some great stuff. And since my bag wasn't quite full, I even threw in a few extras we already had because I know a local literacy organization those titles would be perfect to donate to. I can't say for sure that any leftovers from the sale would end up in a dumpster or recycling bin (hopefully not!) but I didn't want to leave those few behind knowing I could pass them on somewhere they will be used and appreciated.


As fun as it was to go treasure hunting and find great titles to add to our home library, I do sometimes wonder if I've gone overboard with the whole thing. My philosophy has always been that a book never has to be wasted. If I change my mind or decide I don't want to keep something, there are so many places to pass books onto. A large percentage of my books are bought used, as overstock, and/or inexpensively. My biggest book splurges are when I buy at my local indie bookstore, but I very much like supporting a local business I want to stick around for years to come, so I call it money well spent. And I love lending out books to friends and family -- so I always like to think they are not just for me, even if they are mostly for me (and my son). I'd like to think that someday I'll be that mom who'll recommend/lend books to my kid's friends. If my kid won't take my suggestions by then, I hope there will be another trusted mom (or dad!) he will take recommendations from. Because, you know, it's cooler when it's not your mom (or so Anne Bogel tells me!)

But I'm out of shelf space. Again.

I did a pretty big culling a while back and it felt great to have space on my shelves again. But I only went on to fill that space with books that are a better fit for my family right now and in the foreseeable future -- namely, picture books, children's novels, and middle grade. And they're awesome! But I enjoy and connect with so many book/reading/literacy blogs, sites, and podcasts -- that I get all jazzed up about new-to-me titles on a regular basis. The excitement of the teachers, educators, and parents who run these things is truly infectious. This is absolutely a good thing, but I do sometimes wonder if I've gone overboard. I know that when I'm tired and can't concentrate very well, a browse at a bookstore or on Book Outlet's website is such a fun thing to do. It certainly takes less brain power than, you know, actually reading. I stock up on all those great books I've been hearing about, but then realize I've potentially squandered some of the time I could have spent reading them.

So what's a bookworm to do? Reading and literacy are so very important, so I know the answer is not to quit listening to inspiring podcasts or to cut back on reading time (the horror!). But for now, I'm trying to use my limited options approach to help guide me -- if it's not a book I want to add to that small stack, I'm trying to pass on the purchase. The community garage sales ($5 a bag!) throw a bit of a monkey wrench in that plan, but I'm not sure I can bring myself to feel guilty about used books -- whether they are fill-a-bag-cheap, or even more typically priced at a used bookstore. But I do know that I need to spend less time overall browsing, researching, and shopping -- both online and offline. In fact, this was one of my 2017 Bookish Goals and I think now is a good time to recommit to that. In fact, with almost five months left in the year, I think I should re-evaluate and check-in on all those goals (post soon!).

So, to make a long story short: Read more, browse/shop less. It's not really that hard, right?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Mid-Year Challenge Check-In

I'm a bit late, but I thought I'd take a peek at my year-long challenges and put together a mid-year progress report. I cut way back on challenges this year and I'm extremely glad I did. Even with the relatively few I am doing, I still feel like I spend too much time tracking, logging, tallying etc. So I'm planning to cut back even further next year -- though my fellow challenge-junkies will know that can be easier said than done!

Overall, I'm very happy with my progress thus far. I've bumped my Goodreads Yearly Goal up numerous times because I log all of my books including picture books and my number is climbing far faster than I anticipated. While we do read plenty of picture books on repeat, we've had many more new-to-us ones this year than I expected (I only log each one once -- I'm not in the business of torturing myself that much!) If I was not including picture books, trust me, my goal would be wayyyy lower than the current 500 I have it set at (and I'm 171 books ahead of schedule -- haha!)

Goal: Konisgburg level; 75+ points
Current Progress: 48 points

* * * * *

Original artwork by Charles Haigh-Wood (1856-1927)
Goal: Complete Checklist of 102 categories
Current Progress: 92/102 categories

* * * * *

Goal: My Shelves and I are Going Steady, 51+ books
Current Progress: 27 books

* * * * *

Goal: Maximizing Returns, 61-80%
Current Progress: 41%
These numbers do not include my garage sale finds from this weekend. I found some really great stuff for very little money...so...my numbers are definitely going to skew even lower for a while until I catch up on some of these finds, hopefully before the end of the year! I agonized a bit over how to count treasuries (say, a Curious George treasury with 8 full books included in one volume). Since there aren't really any hard rules on those, I'm counting them as I like :) I also decided to count gifts and freebies alongside purchased books because I should not be acquiring (or keeping) them if I don't want to read them, same as the books I buy.

* * * * *

Goal: 50 books published prior to 2017
Hogwarts Mini Challenge: 4 Scavenger Hunts
Current Progress: 67 (+ TONS of picture books)
Oh hey, I finished my main goal -- woo hoo!
I've made lots of progress on the scavenger hunts, but I haven't submitted anything yet in case I need to shuffle a few titles around.

* * * * *

Goal: All of the Sherlock stories & novels
Current Progress: 2 stories + 1 novel = A TOTAL BUST!
I gave up on the schedule long ago and plan to continue reading these at my leisure instead of as a challenge.

Goal: Full Card; 49 books
Current Progress: 29 books; no BINGO yet (and definitely no full card yet!)