Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Books from my very own shelves--and a request (especially for authors who just had books release)!

This whole read-the-books-on-my-own-shelves-before-checking-any-out-from-the-library thing has been going pretty well. I did kinda sorta cheat by reading the handful of new books that I was given for my birthday and one e-galley I'd requested from Netgalley a while ago. But nonetheless, between May and now, I also read a dozen books that had been sitting on my shelf for...ever.

Here's what I read:

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, by Jeanne Birdsall (I also read the latest book, but it was a birthday present, so I'm not counting it.)
The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling
The Fair Adventure, by Elizabeth Gray Vining
Meet the Austins, by Madeleine L'Engle
Summerhouse Time, by Eileen Spinelli
Carney's House Party, by Maud Hart Lovelace
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
The Twits, by Roald Dahl
Comrade Don Camillo, by Giovanni Guareschi
The Arrival, by Shaun Tan
The Magician's Elephant, by Kate DiCamillo
The Queen of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner

Here's what I learned:

I have pretty good taste in the books I keep on my shelves. That sounds prideful, but I don't mean it that way. I just had this immense feeling of relief when I realized just how much I was loving the books from my own collection. I haven't had such a good run of book enjoyment in a while; there wasn't a single one that I started and didn't feel compelled to finish. However my brain does decide what books to purchase, it's working.


Some authors are really reliable. Several of the books read were by authors whose other books I'd loved. Why did I take so long to get around to reading these? And why haven't I read all the others?


Reading books written a while ago can be quite helpful. As one of the books I'm working on now is set in 1903, it was great to actually read books written around that time (or about that time, by someone a lot closer to it than I am). It also can break you out of the rut of sounding like every other contemporary author.

Reading books written a while ago can be dangerous if not done in moderation. It's a little too easy for me to slip into an archaic writing style that's a bit too slow-paced and description-heavy for today's tastes. Reading some contemporary work is important.


I'm definitely going to keep this up. While I will return to my frequent trips to the library, I'd like to read at least one book from my own shelf for every library book. At least until I catch up a little more.


And now my request: now that the summer is almost over and baby is here, I'll be visiting the library (and book stores) again, could you please fill me in on the recent titles that I've missed? Did you have a book release in the last three months? Did you read any great recent releases? What should I be requesting?

Friday, August 7, 2015

It's a boy!

Gabriel Augustine was born on August 2!

Yep. It really is a boy. We can hardly believe it either. :)

I'll probably be scarce around here for a bit,
because who could resist spending all spare time kissing those little cheeks and hands?
(Not I.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Five Ways to Get an 8-year-old to Love Your Book

Every day watching my 8-year-old enjoy her summer vacation is like looking in a time-traveling mirror at my own childhood self. This girl loves to read. I’m pretty sure she would spend the entire day curled up with a book if I didn’t force her to actually do some essential things such as, you know, eating, drinking, and going to the beach.

However...Lu is extremely choosy about her books. She was kind enough to share with me her criteria for giving a book her complete attention, so I thought I’d share with all of you early MG writers out there.

1. “The beginning has to be exciting or interesting.”
Action beginnings won’t necessarily meet this criteria. The books Lu loves begin with interesting characters and, in most cases, intrigue. She doesn’t like ones that start with tons of action but no character development. And, unlike me, she will rarely give a book a chance past the first ten pages. (Examples of ones with beginnings she loved: The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Lost Track of Time, The Magic Half, The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency.)

2. “The story should be magical and different than my life.”
Lu is instantly drawn towards fantasy stories. Exploring the worlds of fairies and elves and time travel and fulfilled wishes instantly captivates her. (Examples--besides those listed above: The Chronicles of Narnia, Half Magic and the other books in this series, Zita the Spacegirl, Peter Pan in Scarlet, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.)

On the flip side of that coin: 3. “The story should be like my life, not magical.”
While fantasy is at the top of Lu’s list, she has a deep love for the few books that really speak to her life and make her identify with a main character. At this age, she is NOT into reading about real world characters unless she can identify with them right away. (Examples: The Penderwicks, Little House on the Prairie--which is more like our life than one might think, Cheaper by the Dozen, The Bobbsey Twins, All-of-a-Kind Family, The Secret Garden.)

4. “It should be funny.”
Enough said, right? (Examples: Calvin and Hobbes, Buster Bear’s Twins, 101 Dalmations, Beezus and Ramona, Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg.)

5. And her general word of advice: “All books should be funny, mysterious, or magical.”

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Perfidious Mrs. Cowbird

I know you haven't heard from me much lately. My most sympathy-worthy excuse is that I am 36 weeks pregnant and deep, deep into nesting. My cupboards are organized, my mirrors sparkle, and for the first time in about 21 months (since, you know, the last time I was nesting) I am totally on top of keeping the dirty laundry basket empty. Better yet, I accomplished this last feat through actually washing laundry. I haven't hidden so much as a sock. :)

Since nesting is on my mind, I thought I would devote this post to: a nest! A real one, with real, live birds in it, who have no laundry to worry about at all.

Do you remember that last year a family of wrens made their nest in the flower basket outside our dining room window? Here's a picture of it:

Well, this year, some of their progeny, presumably, decided to return and raise their hatchlings on familiar territory. The pansies do have a lovely curb appeal, so I can't blame them. (And, yes, even though I can write all cool and collected about it here, I totally started jumping up and down and stage whispering, "The wrens came back! The wrens came back!" when I noticed.)

Like last year, we watched (sneakily, through the curtain) as Mama and Papa Wren built their lovely, little hobbit hole of a nest and laid and tended their eggs. When the eggs hatched, we listened to Mr. Wren's proud and gorgeous warbling and smiled at Mrs. Wren's cautious hops all around the basket to be sure no one was going to steal the bugs and worms she brought her babies.

Then one day, a hatchling--almost a fledgling at this point--hopped out of the nest. And we gasped. This thing was enormous. It was a full inch taller than its parents, with a wider beak, bigger eyes, and a very demanding squawk! of a cry. Suddenly a memory from 20 or so years ago popped into my mind, of a book I'd read then about a little girl who went to live with birds and was warned by her mentors about "the perfidious Mrs. Cowbird" who laid her eggs in other birds' nests....

Baby Cowbird
 Sure enough, the baby was a cowbird. Happily, Wren baby survived, and flew away a few days after its aggressive adopted sibling. (Wrens appear to be very good parents, as they were careful to shove past the bigger bird's gaping beak to feed the little one as well.)

Clearly, this is no delicate wren. In fact, doesn't he look like a grumpy old man?

Which left me to focus my energy on that old book memory. What was that book, anyway? I had no memory of title, character names, plotting... only that phrase: "the perfidious Mrs. Cowbird!" So I googled it. And thanks to modern technology, I found the blog of a homeschooling mother who had reviewed the book, which turned out to be called The Tune is in the Tree, and was written by one of my favorite authors, Maud Hart Lovelace (of Betsy-Tacy fame).

Then modern technology failed me...because after getting all excited, I couldn't find anywhere to buy the book unless I wanted to shell out over $200 on Amazon. It's been out of print since the 50's...my library system doesn't have a copy...and now I'm dying to read it but have no means of doing so. Anyone randomly have a copy they'd like to lend me?

So that's my nesting story. And now I will return to organizing my baby clothes. :)

Monday, June 8, 2015

What We're Reading: The Eclectic Edition

Ready for the randomness?

All-righty, then. Book #1: Everblaze, Book 3 of the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, by Shannon Messenger (Middle Grade Fantasy). This is that last-last book I have to finish from the library, because I'd had it on hold for forever and couldn't really betray the library by not reading it after all that. Like the first two books in the series, this is a light, easy read and lots of fun so far. Super great character development with the secondary characters.

Book #2: Spiritual Midwifery, by Ina May Gaskin (adult non-fiction...hippie non-fiction). I could also count this one as humor, though at its heart are a lot of beautiful things about natural childbirth with which I totally agree. My midwife warned me it was "psychedelic"...which truly is the best word for it. I loved all the first person birth accounts, even as I laughed my head off at the hippie vocabulary which related how things/people got "real heavy" or "stoned" by a spiritual "high" while they shared their "telepathic energy" with each other. Groovy, dude. (I read a different book by the same author before Lucy was born, and from what I recall, it was a lot more accessible to the non-hippie reader, if you're looking for a good read about natural birth. Also, her Ted Talk is mostly great.)

Book #3: By Mouse and Frog, by Deborah Freedman (picture book).  Deborah is not only one of our very favorite author/illustrators, she is one of our favorite people ever. I love having such talented authors living nearby (Connecticut is seriously chock-full of them), because it means we get the fun of going to all their awesome book signings and release parties--and Debbie's presentations are super, super fun. As are all her books! So far, Lucy's favorite is Scribble (go figure--there's a girl named Lucie in it), Ginny's favorite is Blue Chicken, and Zoe's favorite is this newest. Fish and Snail, though, is also pulled off the shelf enough for the dust jacket to be worn out already. If you haven't discovered these delightful, whimsical, creative stories and pictures yet, you need to make a trip to the library or bookstore posthaste.

Book #4: Joan of Arc: In Her Own Words (adult non-fiction/spiritual/biography/historical document). This is just what it sounds like...the actual words of Joan of Arc, mostly from the testimony given at her trial. I had no idea these documents were still around until my sister gave me the book (as I've become a little obsessed with Joan of Arc the past few years). It's a very interesting book, though, like the story of Jeanne herself, not exactly....comfortable. Can you imagine being put to death by members of the very institution you held most dear? Jeanne was never trying to be a rebel, she was trying to be faithful. Which is why that same institution now honors her as a saint.

Linking up with Jessica--go see what everyone else is reading this month!