Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Miracle of Christmas Books

My son has 22 Christmas books.  We pulled them all out from his bookshelf the week before Thanksgiving and put them under his train table - we had Thanksgiving books to read first.

The day after Thanksgiving, my little 4yo. son pulled out all his books.  That night we read The Elf on the Shelf in the hopes that our little Elfie would pay a visit.  The presence of Elfie means that Christmas is really close and now Santa is sending her to check in and make sure that our boys are being nice.  After finishing reading this book, as we cuddled down into the big armchair, Peter spied someone way up high!  He silently pointed, scrunched back down next to me, and in a barely audible whisper said, "There's Elfie."  I think he was actually afraid or fear in a reverent sort of way.  The next morning, Peter hid behind me as we went out into the living room.  Sure enough, Elfie had moved indicating that she had flown to the North Pole and come back in a different spot.  She also brought with her a Santa wind-up toy.  Peter then screamed to Elfie, "Elfie, you know Christmas, when baby Jesus was this tiny."  He held up his fingers to show Elfie how tiny Jesus was.

Yesterday, I took my little man to a movie with my mom.  This is a tradition I had with my mom for so many years - the classic weekend of Thanksgiving movie.  We saw The Muppet Movie.  My mom and I laughed more than my 4yo. did.  Afterwards we went to get a present for daddy, who was at home diligently writing, and then to continue with another tradition started by me as a single girl waiting for my baby and now will be continued with my son.  We went to find a Christmas book.  I wanted Welcome Comfort by Patricia Polacco, which I couldn't find, but happily was able to order through the fabulous indie book store in Lake Forest (Lake Forest Book Store - the most knowledgeable staff and best books around, they know there stuff).  When we get the book, we will put the date of the Christmas in it.  Last night we read The Story of Christmas a little board book that explains why we give presents.

This morning, my little man got up, walked to the sun room and saw our little tree decorated with all Chicago Bears ornaments and then Elfie perched above.  "Good job, Elfie" he said and then he wanted to bring all of his books out to show Elfie.

We have lots of favorite Christmas stories including:
- The Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats
- The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
- Where Did They Hide My Presents? by Alan Katz and David Catrow
- Silent Night illustrated by Thomas Kincaid

What are your favorites?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Words, Wonderful Words

When I was a younger girl in my 20s, I read books that challenged my vocabulary and brain.  Jane Austen was tops for doing that - when reading Pride and Prejudice, I had a piece of note pad paper in the book with all the words I rarely had seen or used - officious, intrepidity, odoriferous, reticule, etc.  The Blind Assassin was another fabulous read that lead to great conversations replete with a plethora of marvelous words.  My mom and sister were big fans of Elizabeth George and I gladly delved in, but sadly I only made it pass solecism and insouciant until I decided to pursue other authors.

Two years ago, I became a mother and then six months after that a wife (I adopted a little boy from Haiti and while in the process met my future husband although because of adoption laws we were unable to get married until after the adoption was finalized).  Now I read many picture books and find I have less time for those vocabulary rich books.  As my job expanded from a K-2 librarian to a K-8 librarian, I find my time is also limited and now for work I will listen to many YA books.  I'm currently making my way through The Ranger's Apprentice series as the author recently visited the school.  I'm loving these books, but again the caliber of word choice is not that of a Jane Austen novel - don't tell Mr. Flanagan I said that as he is a very charming man who writes beautiful fun books and loves doing it.

So I find myself in a dilemma, all those great big juicy words I regularly used are slipping away.  Is it 'mommy brain'? stress? lack of sleep? or something my neurologist and I are exploring?  Who knows?  All I know is that I know there is a better word in my brain, but it eludes me when I need it most.

Are you the type of reader who loves finding those fabulous vocabulary rich books and then using those great words? Have you experienced the sensation of knowing there is a great big juicy word that you could use beautifully, but then find yourself grasping for it and not being able to retrieve it?

Here are my suggestions for possessing and keeping wonderful words:

1.  Word of the Day toilet paper - this works even better than a calendar as many more great thought occur in the loo than by ripping off a calendar page.

2.  Crossword puzzle - work your way up to the New York Times, you will see your word recall increase as you see the same clue day after day.

3.  Have conversations with smart people and when they say a word that is spectacular, make a mental note of it. My sister ( is one who will talk to anyone and always give you at least one great vocab word.

4.  Try to use a new word in different conversations throughout the week.  Don't overload yourself with more than one word per week, but keep a running list of some of your favorites.

What do you suggest?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Books That Demand Discussion

Have you ever read a book and as soon as you finish, you immediately start asking people if they have read it?  The reason you ask is simply that you can't believe the end and you need to talk it over with someone at once!

I just finished reading The Blind Contessa's New Machine by Carey Wallace and if you have read it, please let's discuss!  I'm so surprised and almost unfulfilled by the ending that I want someone else to 'talk' me through it.  Read my review on Goodreads if you would like some more information.

Here are some other books that I demanded discussion once I finished or even as I was reading them:

So which books have you read that DEMAND discussion?  I'm curious and maybe we can start discussing them, particularly if you've recently read The Blind Contessa's New Machine.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Aha Moment: When Reading Aloud Makes the Story

This weekend was spent doing a lot of editing.  My husband, the fabulous Edward Varga, was asked to submit two pieces, so my editor hat was on for a while, making a grouchy wife.

One of the stories was a picture book that I didn't fully appreciate at first.  This makes editing tough and being a loving supportive wife even tougher.  I was frustrated with the mechanics of the submission, 20 pages, 450 characters per page.  The story had 23 pages and many pages over 450 characters - ARRGGGHHHH!  But then I realized that I could do some cutting, and while my husband and son played Wii, I cut, I edited, I arrggghhhed over many a page, until finally it was done.

Then my husband in his infinite wisdom suggested I read the story aloud to Peter.  After all, Peter's reindeer Poopy was the inspiration for the story.  *Side note, my husband and I disagree about how 'Poopy' got named, so maybe he'll write about it on his blog:*

Have you ever noticed how reading a story aloud really brings it to life?  In the hands of a great storyteller, it is priceless, in the hands of a librarian it can also be pretty good - I don't want to toot my own horn too much, but I do love to read-aloud and have been told I'm pretty good :-)

Well, there I sat, my husband's story on his computer in my lap, Poopy in one hand and my arm around Peter.  Thus I began and as I told Poopy's story, it came to life.  When I got to the part where the little elf speaks, Peter couldn't contain his laughter and we all fell in love with Poopy.

Reading is so powerful!  It let's you escape, it can tell you about your life, it can bring you to tears and it can bring laughter.  The images, the voices, the fun.  Thank you dearest for that sweet story, I hope it's wings will carry her far, but know that your family will always cherish it.

The point is dear readers and especially writers, if you want to know what kind of legs your story has, read it aloud.  If you have a picture book story, read it to a 4yr. old with a great laugh!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Trains, Reading, Memories and Poker

I had the opportunity yesterday to take a long train ride down to the city.  I got on at the first stop and got off at the last - easy peasy - and the best part, I had a book with me!  Even better, it was not a book for work (I read mostly children's and YA literature for my job as a K-8 school librarian).  This was a book recommendation from the wonderful staff at the Lake Forest Book Store and I couldn't wait to start.  BTW - if you live even remotely close to Lake Forest, IL this store is the place to go, the staff really know their stuff and I've never been disappointed by any book they recommend.

So I sat and read The Blind Contessa's New Machine and it was heavenly, delightful, and I wish I could have finished it, but alas the train came to the end and I had an appointment to keep - no worries though as I had the journey back to finish up the book.

As I exited the train and walked with the masses out of the station, the sights and sounds and smells took me back to my childhood.  When I was in 8th grade, my mom married my step-dad and moved downtown.  My sister and I lived with my dad during the school week and on Friday nights, we took the train into the city.  My mom had given us train fare and money to take a cab to their place on Chestnut.  My sister and I quickly learned how to navigate the system and took the bus instead of a cab, pocketing the rest of the money - after all the bus only cost $2. (Smart girls :-)

As I walked up the stairs, the smell of warm, melted chocolate hit me, and I remember that smell well as my sister and I took the bus to my mom's place.  My sister and I are very close and we played many games on the train, but we also read - sometimes even sisters stop talking and need some other distraction.  Over the years, I must have read hundreds of books on that train, particularly in the summers when my sister was off at camp and I 'had' to work.  I remember one time I was so involved in my book, I missed my stop.  I looked up as the train was pulling away, there was my dad and step-mom in their car waiting for me - woops.  I got off at the next stop, and then went to the pay phone and placed a collect call to my parents, waiting for them to get home.  This was the age before the cell phone so I couldn't call them right away, but fortunately I had a really good book to keep me occupied until they finally came and picked me up!

It was a nice day to reminisce and remember where my love of reading got wings and had the opportunity to grow.  Reading has always been a nice escape and even though I couldn't wait to get back to reading about the Contessa and Turri, a day of brain buzzing work and my doctor saying to relax the brain and not read allowed me to enjoy the 'characters' on the train ride home.  Do you ever watch people on the train and think about the book you could read with some of these characters?  Well, it is fun to watch.  I happened to be sitting behind a group of 7 men who use their train ride time to play poker.  Now, I'm not a poker player and this seemed like a different kind of game, at the end of each round they asked who had low, then they said things like "scoops" and "hidden boat on the play".  I had no clue what they were talking about, I was just enjoying the 'characters'.  I wish my husband had been on the train with me, he could have written the story, as for me I just wanted to read it.

So what do you like to read on a train?  or are you a 'character' watcher?  Regardless, I hope when you got off you had a happy greeting that I did - my three boys sitting waiting for me talking about taking pictures and then my little 4 year old who stills runs into my arms calling "Mommy".

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Books and Characters that Make You Tingle

Book Riot did it again, another fantastic post and this one got me to thinking about all those lovely literary characters that set the heart a pitter-pattering and other parts a tingling!  BTW, if you haven't checked out Book Riot's site, this tongue-in-cheek, but oh so true post on the ever wonderful Mr. Darcy is a must:

Ah, the dashing, sometimes dastardly, ever devout, darling, dear Mr. Darcy!  What woman can resist!  And you know that Mr. Darcy is the kind of man in the boudoir that makes Elizabeth have the same reaction as Whitley did when describing how her Dwayne taught her everything from "the slow groove, to the rhythm and blues and the glory-hallelujah-big-daddy-you-sho-do-do-me-right”!  Ah, yes, that big daddy sho-do!  

Who else sets the heart a pumping?  Of course, the classics like Jane Eyre's Mr. Rochester, A Room With a View's George, Anne of Green Gables' Gilbert (ahhhh, swoon)!  We mustn't forget The Shadow of the Wind's Juli├ín Carax, Atonement's Robbie Turner (hello that library scene!) and a bit off the beaten path, but still swoon worthy is Joe Harmon from Nevil Shute's A Town Like Alice.  Finally, a bit sheepishly, I'll admit that Halt from The Ranger's Apprentice  is definitely a bit of a heart-throb in that tween fiction way, but every girl has to start somewhere!

All of these romantic literary characters and scenes makes me think about my husband and dancing to "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and getting down to the glory hallelujah!  So thank you books!  Thank you authors for creating characters like these and now 'good night', but please tell me all about your favorite characters!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Book Endings That Don't Quite Cut It and Book Riot

Finished reading The Private Thoughts of Amelia E. Rye last night and I was disappointed with the end.  Let me say that I loved this book, you can see my review on Goodreads, but as happens sometimes when I'm loving a book, I'm let down by the end.

I've started reading more and more YA, particularly after my 'promotion' to K-8th grade librarian.  It has been my experience that literature for 'children' including MG and YA has always been better than adult.  Perhaps they have to be better written for publishers to produce it, or perhaps as a school librarian I'm exposed to a better quality, but perhaps not as the more I've read the more I'm dissatisfied with the endings.  Sorry that includes Anna and the French Kiss and It's Raining Cupcakes.


John Grisham, dear sir, you cannot write a good ending.  Case in point, The Firm.  This was the first Grisham I read, in fact I read it all in one day while working at the Browsing Room at the University of Illinois - great job to have for a student who loves to read!  When I read The Firm, I couldn't stop, action packed, fast paced I raced to the end.  It was an orgasmic experience!  By that I mean, I got all tingly, started feeling really good, picked up my speed and intensity as I approached the end and then, uh, what, that's it??!!  I was left up there at that pinnacle with no release, this is COMPLETELY unfulfilling!  I'm sorry to say that his first foray into children's literature fared even worse - John do yourself a favor and read some more.  Read The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood - on my all-time top ten list, from beginning to end this is a spectacular book.  Read Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, there's an ending that you can sink your teeth into and leaves you panting!  Something in your genre that might help is Michael Connelly's The Poet, talk about a nail biting, edge of your seat ending!  Now don't worry John, you aren't the only author that deserves a mention about his ending.

Dear Michael Chabon, you are an amazing writer!  You're use of language is beyond poetic.  I fell in love with your words in The Amazing Adventures of Chavalier and Clay and what a great story premise too - brilliant!  But my good man, what happened at the end!  Did your editor say, "Come on Michael, we need the book now, it's too long, just wrap it up lickety split."???  The Senate hearings and the quick tie up of the homosexual issue, for that time period - come on, that was just (and there is no other word) lame!  Actually, I'm sure with Mr. Chabon's command of the language he can come up with a better term.  I would like to do a search and see if he ever addressed how he ended his Pulitzer winning book.  Your penance is to read Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and then The Ha-Ha by Dave King and finally A Room with a View by Forster.

So there you have it, my little rant about book ends.  I really enjoyed The Private Thoughts of Amelia E. Rye and I will gladly recommend it to my students and especially my dear niece, but much like my complaint about Chabon, I felt this book was too quickly wrapped up - did I miss a chapter?

Lastly, I want to give a shout out to - GO CHECK THIS SITE OUT, ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE A READER!!  "It's not a book club, it's a movement" - AMEN!  This is a great site all about books with witty, funny, snarky and talented writers.  I've loved the posts, here are some examples: "Why I Read Young Adult Literature" "DNFing Makes Me Feel Dirty" and then a post to vote for favorite book photos!  I'm excited to check out more and see what they come up with next.  You can also follow them on twitter and 'like' them on facebook - enjoy!