Sunday, December 18, 2016

Time for Quiet Amid the Noise

We live in a noisy world, and never more so than during the holiday season. Bells jingle and tinkle, horses clip-clop, carolers falala, and every store has piped-in music and noisy toys to tempt buyers and their children. Noise seems to be valued and desired more than quiet.

Picture book author Deborah Underwood recognizes that there are many different kinds of quiet. She names some of them in her Quiet Book. For example, there's "lollipop quiet" and "pretending you're invisible quiet." Some quiet times are happy, and some are anxiety prone.

Where I live, we are experiencing the deepest, darkest days of the year. We hurtle toward the Winter Solstice and our celebration of Christmas a few days later. These events toward the end of our calendar year make me want to stop and reflect, and that requires quiet.

Underwood knows that Christmas has its own kinds of quiet. Hence her picture book The Christmas Quiet Book. There's "knocking with mittens quiet" and "listening for sleigh bells quiet," for example. Even as I look back on the past year, these kinds of quiet indicate anticipation, looking forward.

Both books are illustrated with quiet animal drawings by Renata Liwska, who demonstrates that quiet does not mean inactive or passive.

As I wait for these days at the end of the year to arrive and pass, I wonder how I can be actively quiet? How can I stop, reflect, look back, look forward and still get done the many things this season demands? How do you find quiet time?

In tribute to the season, I offer this sweet Austrian carol, "Stille, Stille, Stille," sung in English by the Norman Luboff choir.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

It's Christmas Wish List Time!

Girls and boys around the globe are making their Christmas wish lists! Maybe many adults are, too. We welcome Penguin, the little bird with a big heart. In Penguin's Christmas Wish, he and his family go on an adventure to see Pinecone, Penguin's tree friend. They discover that Pinecone has grown up! And while things don't go exactly as planned, Christmas works its magic so that Penguin's wish comes true. This sweet book gets to the core of Christmas--sharing love--that all ages can understand and enjoy. The publisher, Bloomsbury, offers a free activity kit chock full of gift tags, ornaments, and more.

I was happy to meet author Salina Yoon at the 2016 Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival this fall. Born in Korea, she and her parents emigrated to the U.S. when she was 4 years old. Knowing no English, she struggled to fit in with other kids, and many of her books have a strong friendship theme. This title is one of several in the Penguin series. Her Bear series is equally delightful. (I wrote about one title in a previous post.)

My granddaughter's Christmas wish is for the entire Penguin series, which is fairly easy to fulfill. Some of our adult wishes are much more difficult, as this song expresses:

May your Christmas wishes come true!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving with Turkey & Balloons!

We in the U.S. are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving--very often by serving turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing, cranberry sauce, and --I can hear the table groaning under the weight of all that food. What a wonderful time of food, family, and friendship--unless you are the turkey! 

Author Wendy Silvano's Turkey Trouble  is a funny picture book for ages 3-8, but if you are the adult reading it, you will laugh, too. Turkey realizes that he must save himself from being Thanksgiving dinner. He tries a variety of disguises until he finally finds one that works! The twist at the end leaves the farmer and his wife eating a non-traditional Thanksgiving meal and lets Turkey continue to enjoy farm life.  Lee Harper's illustrations enhance the humor. Text and pictures work together to allow children to predict Turkey's next move until the surprise ending. This book won a Children's Choice Award.

While your turkey is roasting, you may watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Did you know that some of the giant balloons were made in my city by Raven Industries? And did you know that these giant balloons are actually puppets, invented by puppeteer Tony Sarg? Never hear of him? Most of us hadn't until Melissa Sweet wrote and illustrated the non-fiction book Balloons Over Broadway. This picture book tells the story of Sarg's ingenuity in making the very first Macy's parade and balloons and has won the 2012 Robert F. Sibert Medal and the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award.

Enjoy! Happy Thanksgiving!

What are your favorite Thanksgiving books?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Here Be Dragons!

I knew it was time to write about this book when my almost-4-year-old granddaughter saw it at my house today, tapped the cover, and said, "I like this. The dragon writes to the human and the human writes to the dragon." We'd read it together the week before, and she remembered it well! 

We aren't the only fans of this book by Josh Funk, illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo. Kirkus and School Library Journal have given the book great reviews. School Library Journal says, "Perfect for classes undertaking a pen-pal unit, but general picture book collections can benefit from this gentle reminder that kids who look different can still get along." 

The rhyming text allows readers in on the plot twist and keeps us wondering what the dragons and humans will do when they find out the truth of their letter writing campaign.

To completely appreciate the story, you must have both the text and the pictures, which show the thoughts running through the characters' heads. I posted this comment on Funk's Facebook page.  You can see his humble reply below.

I am reading and re-reading this book this weekend. So clever! Wonderful marriage of text and illustrations. Could also be used to teach point of view--(besides just being fun)
Josh Funk Aww, thanks! I really didn't intend all that when I wrote it, too. It was mostly just me trying to show funny misinterpretations and my wish to have a dragon pen pal.
It has been said that old maps contain the phrase "Here be dragons" at the edges of known land forms. This Atlantic article debunks that, and tells us a bit about the saying. I'm glad to know where I can find dragons--in books! I'm fond of many dragon books, including Eric Ode's The Boy and the Dragon, and others. What are your favorite dragon stories? 

Enjoy this special story time: 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Fall's Changes

Many people in the northern part of the northern hemisphere claim fall as their favorite season. Nature's last hurrah gives us splashes of color before our world is covered with winter white. I'm always amazed at how one tree can be completely green and next to it is the same type of tree that's completely yellow. The maple across the street was completely red before ours started to turn.

I enjoy watching the transformation of the trees in my neighborhood. As Nature gives our trees highlights and then complete color make-overs, I'm reminded of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem, "Pied Beauty."

What do you like best about fall?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tomato Harvest 2016

Tomato harvest is about over here. I still have a few turning red, with one or two straggling in every day. This year’s harvest was less than exceptional, but we appreciated what we got. Nothing’s better than a tomato right off your own vine!

One year I goofed. I wanted eight plants, but bought eight four-packs! That year, we had too many tomatoes! (But really, is there such a thing?)

In full harvest mode, Eric Ode’s book Too Many Tomatoes shows a boy's excitement in watching his grandparents' garden grow and the number of tomatoes it yields: “A plateful, a crateful, a grateful hooray! This town has too many tomatoes today!” Almost tongue-twisting with steady rhythm and rhyme, this book is a joy to read. Kids will love to say the verses, such as “A biscuit to butter, a basket to borrow. Sing me a song of tomatoes tomorrow!”

Illustrator Kent Culotta adds rollicking fun details in his illustrations of people, vehicles, and a farmer’s market. 

Read this book with your favorite child over some tomato soup or spaghetti with tomato sauce!

No matter how you say "tomato," don't call the whole thing off:

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Keep Fear Away on a Stormy Night

We've been fortunate this season so far--storms have gone around us. Tonight is another stormy one with heavy wind, rain, possible hail, even possible tornadoes in areas around us. Farther away, tropical storms' flooding have caused death and damage.

What do you do to keep youngsters' fear at bay when storms rage? It seems that author Salina Yoon's Bear family has the right answer--comforting others. In Stormy Night, a picture book for ages 3-6, Bear can't sleep because of a storm. He comforts his bunny with a loving verse and feels better. The storm keeps rumbling, and Bear keeps repeating the words to bunny until Mama comes to check on him, saying that she wants to stay with him because she is afraid. Soon Papa joins them. Kisses, tickles, and books, family love and affection make everything all right. This sweet, tender book is comforting to kids and a model for parents on how to handle non-threatening storms with little ones. Reading this book is like getting a hug.
(I bought this book and its accompanying plush toy when Kohl's featured it as a Kohl's Cares title.)

A more recent huggable book by Yoon is Be a Friend, about Dennis, the mime boy. As a mime, of course, Dennis doesn't speak. He acts in scenes. It's fair to say that Dennis is different from the other kids, and he is happy being himself--though a tad lonely. This story has a happy ending because Dennis finds a friend who understands him as he is, and vice versa. The artwork is a real treat, with Yoon's drawings of Dennis miming an egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly. She has drawn red dashed lines to show Dennis' actions both in the book and on the end papers.

My three-year-old granddaughter has never seen a mime, so I explained that he was pretending to do these things. She liked saying what Dennis was "'tending" to do (on a teeter-totter, being a tree, going downstairs), but I wasn't sure she grasped the friendship theme until she told her mom about the book. "He makes a friend and they do 'tend thing together." She got it!

(Disclosure: I won this book as part of a giveaway on Miranda Paul's Facebook page.)

Emily Arrow liked this book so much she wrote a song about it. Get your jazz hands ready!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Kids Got the Summer Doldrums? Vivian Kirkfield Has an Answer

We’ve reached that point in the summer when adults are thinking “back to school” and kids are saying, “What can we do now?”  And the younger the children, the more limited their abilities. You may have run out of ideas. Well, worry no more because I have the answer for you! Are you surprised it is a book?

Show Me How by Vivian Kirkfield contains over 200 pages of ideas to help young children learn through stories, crafts, and cooking! This unique combination is aimed at ages 2-5 and the adults who care for them. 

Each chapter contains almost 20 activity sets based on classic children’s books. For example, in Chapter One: “I Can Do It Myself!” Kirkfield uses the book Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel to encourage the independence and satisfaction  that can come from children’s abilities to work hard by themselves.  The suggested craft is to make a collage of pictures of work vehicles cut from old magazines and paste them onto construction paper or poster board. The cooking complement is Child-Friendly Mini Apple Pies. Yum! I have a hunch that these recipes aren’t just for kids!

Other chapters are “I’m Special!”, “I Love You & You Love Me!”, ‘I Am Really Mad Right Now!”, “I’m Afraid!”, “I Like Myself!” and “Tell Me One More Story, Please!” As you can see, this book covers many aspects of a child’s life and development.

What inspired Vivian to write this book? She holds a master’s degree in early childhood education, taught kindergarten, and ran a daycare.

Vivian says, “I'm passionate about encouraging parents to read with their children...and even spending just 15 minutes a day, reading, or crafting or cooking with them could make such a big difference. Children definitely understand how busy their parents are...and a parent that takes precious time and gives it to a child is doing an important thing...the time we spend with our kids is worth more than the most expensive gadgets we could buy for them. Just a piece of paper and some crayons...a parent can tell a whole story in pictures. Just a piece of paper and some crayons...a child can create a new world.

“These moments spent with our children, especially when they are young, are priceless! Inviting a child into the kitchen to help arrange a fruit salad, squeeze fresh orange juice, shake up some heavy cream in a bottle to make real butter...these activities don't even require cooking...but will encourage vocabulary building, fine motor skills, math and science curiosity, and a stronger bond between parent and child."

Disclaimer: I was a lucky winner of the book on Vivian’s blog, “Picture Books Help Kids Soar” If you live or work with young children, you will want to follow and get more great book and children’s activity ideas! I look forward to trying these out with my granddaughter.  (Photos courtesy of Vivian Kirkfield.)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Get Ready for Summer Fun with these Reads and Songs!

It's a crisp 32 degrees here this morning, but that doesn't keep me from thinking about outdoor fun. It WILL warm up eventually, and families will take trips and do fun things together. Here are three new books covering that territory in ways that are fun for kids and adults.

Beach time! Even if your state is land-locked like mine is, you probably have beaches at lakes & rivers. (And here's a fun fact--South Dakota has more miles of shoreline than Florida!)

Magnolia is at it again (#MagnoliaSaysDont) in Elise Parsley's second book, If You Ever Want to Bring a Piano to the Beach, DON'T!. I was happy to attend the book launch, where Elise read the book (wearing water wings), gave a brief art lesson, and offered snacks and coloring pages.

The text and pictures work together perfectly to create a hilarious story about obedience, persistence, and creativity. Naturally, when Magnolia's mother suggests a trip to the beach, Magnolia chooses to take along a non-traditional beach "toy," the piano. Naturally, because it's Magnolia, things go awry. But she ends up content and brings home a more traditional treasure from the beach itself. What cracked me up: Magnolia's expressions throughout, the silly situations, and how Mom remained completely unbothered by the whole thing! The cover is a good hint at the mayhem within!

Another great beach book aimed at very young children (my three-year-old granddaughter giggled all the way through) has only 1 word repeated several times. It's the title word in this book by Shutta Crum, illustrated by Patrice Barton.

Uh-Oh!  follows the adventures of a boy and girl playing at the beach. Their moms are in the background, unbothered by the day's events where uh-ohs happen at every turn, and then turn out just right.

If your family is ready for hikes, smores, and campfires, this book/CD combo is for you! I was pleased to win Can You Canoe? from Sterling Publishing via Dylan Teut's blog

The book features the lyrics to the twelve songs contained on the accompanying CD by the Okee Dokee Brothers. Each song, illustrated by Brandon Reese, is in keeping with the music's acoustic Americana style. Within minutes, everyone will be singing along, making the travel miles more fun! Here's a taste of the title song: 

Happy summer planning, reading, and singing!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Choose Something Like a Star: Goodbye, National Poetry Month

By Henryk Kowalewski ( [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

For one last National Poetry Month post, I chose the poem I used to give my graduating seniors back in my English teaching days. Something to reach for, something to hold onto, an appropriate way to launch into spring and continue through this divisive political season.

Choose Something Like a Star

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud-
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
Read the rest here.

Or listen to it, with music by Randall Thompson, photos from Hubble. This performance is by the New York Choral Society with the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Richard Auldon Clark:

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Creation: Earth Day, National Poetry Month

(photo Earth-Western Hemisphere, public domain, NASA)

Happy Earth Day! Happy National Poetry Month! I pondered what to post for today. There are so many wonderful, worthy books to highlight and poems to read. Just troll around Facebook, twitter, and author's blogs.

I decided to go back to the very beginning and share "The Creation" by James Weldon Johnson. I love it for it's strong sense of story, it's poetic language, and it's powerful tenderness.

It begins:

And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I'm lonely--
I'll make me a world.

Read the rest here.

Hearing poetry recited well is an experience. Take in "The Creation," recited by Wintley Phipps.

How do you celebrate Earth Day?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Cheers for Dewey Decimal: National Library Week & National Poetry Month

(Photo by Maggie Appleton, CC by SA 2.0)

I grew up with the Dewey Decimal System, which is still used in many school and public libraries. Certain Dewey Decimal numbers feel like home to me. Here's a poem about my favorite. What's yours?

Dewey Decimal, the Library Guide

Dewey Decimal helps me find
Just the books I have in mind.
Zeros are the books on media,
Computer books, encyclopedias.

Next come one hundreds and twos,
Books on thoughts, beliefs, and views.
Three hundreds cover human groups—
Families, schools, and army troops.

Books on language make up fours,
Fives are animals and more.
Sixes tell of health and cooking—
Not what I want. I’ll keep looking.

Seven hundreds are the arts—
Music, painting, acting parts.
Nine hundreds cover every place
In history of the human race.

Eight hundreds, here I am at last.
Stories told from ages past,
Poems and plays I read with pride.
Dewey Decimal is my guide.
                  --Jane Heitman Healy, c2015

Happy Reading! Happy National Library Week! Happy National Poetry Month!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Celebrate Your Library and Be Transformed! National Library Week, 4/10-4/16, 2016

"Libraries Transform" is 2016's National Library Week theme. Libraries stand for equal access to information for all. They educate. They provide refuge. They are a place to explore. They offer community. 

Many authors have written odes to libraries in poetry and prose, such as:

Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.-Ray Bradbury


People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned.–Saul Bellow

A library is the delivery room for the birth of ideas, a place where history comes to life.–Norman Cousins
Here's a true story. A man came into his public library, day after day, week after week, using an online practice test resource to improve his academic skills. Finally, he announced to the librarian that he had passed his GED test because of the practice test program provided there at no charge. She congratulated him and was even happier when he came in again to announce that he'd gotten a good full-time job.  

Sometimes, librarians and their patrons transform together! Click here to see Carmen Agra Deedy read her book The Library Dragon.
How have libraries transformed your life?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Lee Bennett Hopkins, National Poetry Month, & National Library Week!

I was nervous to say "hello" to Lee Bennett Hopkins when I met him before a breakout session at an International Reading Association (IRA--now ILA) Conference years ago. He was like a rock star to me. In fact, he IS a rock star of children's poetry, having written and anthologized nearly 200 books of children's poetry! He is a champion of the genre, encouraging beginners and generously supporting awards to children's poets. And of course, he has won numerous awards himself.

But I shouldn't have been nervous, because in spite of his children's poetry rock-stardom, he is also a very kind and gracious person who welcomed me to the room where he was set to introduce children's poet Kristine O'Connell George, an IRA/Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet award winner.

One of Hopkins' recent anthologies, Jumping Off Library Shelves, is a perfect match for National Library Week, April 10-16, 2016. It contains poems by well-known poets Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Nikki Grimes, Michele Krueger, Cynthia Cotten, Jane Yolen, J. Patrick Lewis, X.J. Kennedy, Joan Bransfield Graham, Deborah Ruddell, Alice Schertle, Kristine O'Connell George, Ann Whitford Paul, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, and Lee himself. The poems are about the power of story, the role of libraries as refuge and places to explore. Librarians, books, and the internet are all featured here.

Here is Lee reciting his poem, "Good Books, Good Times"

As Lee says, "Be happy with poetry"! (and I would add "and libraries!")

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Welcome Spring! Welcome Back, Birds!

It's funny that during the winter I don't think about missing the birds' songs. But as soon as they're back, I am so happy to hear them!

To celebrate both spring and birds, I'd like to introduce you to 3 books that, though published for children, are great for all ages. These books are fun to read, beautifully illustrated, and full of information.

Every Day Birds by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, illustrated by Dylan Metrano, is brand new and already receiving acclaim, including being named a Junior Library Guild selection. Rhyming text and paper-cutting illustrations teach about birds that many of us see every day.

What makes a bird a bird? Feathers, of course! Melissa Stewart has written Feathers: Not Just for Flying to help us understand what feathers are used for. This multiple-award-winner, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen, When you find a feather on the ground where you walk, you'll think about this book. What bird dropped it? How did the bird use this feather?

Finally, what's better than a reassuring, rhyming good-night book that features birds? By masterful storyteller poet Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi Stemple and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, You Nest Here With Me describes the the nests built by 14 different birds, ending each stanza with the comforting title refrain.

I hope you appreciate bird songs this spring and share the joy with friends young and old. Where I live, we get excited to see the first robin--a true spring harbinger. Enjoy this song by Kaija Bondi and East of Westreville: 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Once Upon a Time: National Tell a Fairy Tale Day!

February 26 is National Tell a Fairy Tale Day! So many great tales; which ones will you tell? Traditional, adaptations, fractured fairy tales, and mashups make the fairy tale repertoire rich with choices.

A mashup picture book out last year has given me a new favorite saying for this season--"Oh, slippery slush!" Tara Lazar's Little Red Gliding Hood puts Little Red on skates to take on the wolf. The humorous text and clever illustrations (see title link for sample pages) by Troy Cummings  make this a book you want to read again and again. See how many other fairy tales are alluded to, mentioned, or pictured in this book.

Another fairy tale favorite with a new twist is Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Meg Hunt. Imagine Cinderella as a mechanic in space. Her interaction with the prince is anything but traditional!

As you know, many fairy tales began orally and then were written down by the likes of the Grimm Brothers. When I was researching for my book Once Upon a Time: Fairy Tales in the Library and Language Arts Classroom,
I learned that some tales were specific to certain geographical places, and all adaptations of that tale could be traced to that place. Other tales were more universal, with similar stories springing up across the globe. Cinderella is a universal tale, as she appears in some form in many cultures.

One of the best sites I've found for fairy tales, their history, and their adaptations is SurLaLune.

Now that I've given you some resources, which fairy tale will you tell on National Tell a Fairy Tale Day? What is your favorite fairy tale?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Spending Time in the Tropics with Margarita Engle's Books

My last post was all about cold. And then it got colder! What's a person to do but think warm thoughts and read award-winning books by Margarita Engle set in warmer climes? So for the past week, I've been dreaming about drumbeats, digging in Panama, and conquering dyslexia--all thanks to Engle's verse novels. Engle's ability to step into another's shoes makes her historical works for young people go straight for readers' hearts.

Like most of Engle's work, Drum Dream Girl is based on an historical person, Mila Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who dreamed of playing the drum--an activity reserved for boys & men only. Mila refuses to give up her dream, paving the way for girls and women to be drummers today. Engle uses research and imagination to tell Mila's story, which is beautifully and creatively illustrated by Rafael Lopez.  So beautifully, in fact, that this book won the Pura Belpre Illustrator Award for 2016. The book has won many other awards, too. Get a feel for the book here:

Both the setting and the girl's courage to follow her dream warmed me.

What did you learn in history about the Panama Canal? Probably something about the importance of building the canal to improve trade routes. Maybe a little about malaria. But what would it have been like to be the people who did the work? Engle's verse novel, Silver People, introduces us in alternating poems to Mateo, a young Cuban; Henry, a Jamaican; Anita, a local Panamanian, and others. They soon find out that the work recruiter's promises are false. They--and we-- learn that the world is divided into Gold People (whites, who are paid with gold) and Silver People (people of color who are paid with silver). The Silver People are further divided by the darkness of their skin, with the darkest skinned men doing the hardest, most dangerous work. To make matters worse, the Silver People see the Gold People living and working in comfort, while they struggle. Engle includes the environmental impact on the Panama Canal project by including poems from the forest--the howler monkeys, the sloths, the vipers, and the trees themselves. This book has earned many awards, including the Bank Street Center for Children's Literature 2015 Best Children's Book of the Year. While reading in sub-zero temps, I was sweating with Mateo in the jungle, and hoping he would make it out alive.

In The Wild Book, we read a fictionalized account of how Engle's grandmother overcame word-blindness, or as we know it today, dyslexia, by writing in a blank book her mother gave her. In a time of Cuban bandits following Cuba's independence from Spain, what Fefa learns helps save her family and their farm. Engle develops Fefa's character well, allowing her to go from an unsure girl to a confident young woman. Fefa and her mother both love poetry, but at first Fefa can only see them as "towers so tall/that I could never/hope/to climb/all the wispy/letters." Later, she flies "to the truth of words" and outs the villian. When things have settled down, she reflects that she has "grown/just a little bit/stronger/and wiser." A testimony to the power of reading and strength of character, The Wild Book has received honors including Kirkus Reviews New & Notable Books for Children, March 2012.

Enjoy these and other books by Margarita Engle and listen to her tell about her writing about Cuba:

Books can warm hearts even on the coldest days! What books warm you?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Seasons Cycle

I have to tell you that January where I live can be brutal with cold, wind, snow, and ice. AND I. DO. NOT. LIKE. IT! Take today, for example--this morning, the temp is 2 degrees F, with a wind chill of -15 degrees. Take yesterday, for example, when this was the view out my kitchen window:

(the circle you see is a reflection of my camera lens, sorry)

That's why I am so grateful for Jane Yolen's new picture book, Sing a Season Song, beautifully illustrated by Lisel Jane Ashlock. Yolen's spare verse reminds me of the delights of each season--and that winter does have delights. The lush illustrations feature realistic animals in their natural habitats through the seasons. The book reminds me that winter will not last forever, but will dissolve into spring, followed by summer, and then fall--the cycle of our lives. 

Truly, the wise writer of Ecclesiastes was correct: "For everything there is a season." This harsh season of BRRRR will pass. Warm days and green grass will come again. Please hurry!

What is your favorite season & why? Do you have a favorite book about seasons?

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year and My Favorite Book of 2015

Happy New Year! May it bring you your heart's desire!

Unless you have avoided media completely for the last week or so, you have seen many, many "Best of" lists! This post is not one of those. I may not read a book in the year it was published, so instead, I chose my favorite book of 2015.

My criteria for a favorite book are stringent. The book must:
-be well-written as a whole (plot, characters, setting, theme)
-hold my interest intellectually and emotionally
-reveal some truth about life, preferably a positive, hopeful one
-stay with me for a long time after reading it.

The ending must be so satisfying that I reread the last lines to let them soak in, and then, taking in the whole, I clutch the book to my chest before setting it down. 

With that in mind, my favorite read for 2015 was (drumroll) 

 The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. This was published in 2008! What took me so long? Well, it's narrated by a dog. How precious would that be? And we know how dog stories tend to go, so I avoided it. I'm so glad I read it! My curiosity from a writer's perspective finally forced me to see how a novel narrated by a dog would work. And I was hooked from the first page, because it's obvious that that this dog story was going to go the way they usually do, and how can a deceased character narrate a book? I found Stein's solution completely satisfying. See my review for more, if you haven't read the book.

I got to hear Stein speak at our state library association conference this fall. His storytelling in person is every bit as engaging as his writing, full of humor and pathos with a big dash of reality. It was worth standing in the loooong line to meet him and get my books signed.

In case you didn't know, he has a couple of Enzo (the dog) picture books out. In the newest, Enzo and the Christmas Tree Hunt, Enzo saves the day for Denny and Zoe, and the same themes as Art of Racing emerge here. (I just found this book in the New Books bin at the library or I'd have featured it before Christmas, but kids will like the story any time of year.)

Here's an interview where Stein gives some background about The Art of Racing in the Rain:

Stein also has a new book out for adults, A Sudden Light, that I look forward to reading.

What book was your favorite read of 2015? Are your criteria similar to mine? Here's to a happy, healthy new year full of good reading!