Awash in a Sea of Books

 [written very, very late a few nights ago.]

I shouldn’t be up right now. I should have been asleep hours ago. But I couldn’t. I’m in the grip of a book.

Sometimes I was a kid I used to walk along the bookshelves in the children’s section, running my hand along the spines, waiting for a book to give off a…something. A tingle, a buzz, a call, a sense that this was the right book for me to read right then. And sometimes, I swear I felt it. Maybe it was just a good design, a color, a font, a word in the title that caught my attention. Or maybe it was something else, not so easily explained..

Sometimes it’s like that still; sometimes not. There are rhythms to reading, just as there are to anything else. I’d been floundering for weeks when I picked up The Pinhoe Egg, unable to find anything that really captured my interest, skimming along on New Yorkers and blog posts, and I forced my mind to focus on it despite frequent distractions, because it’s a Young Reader’s Choice Award title and I needed to read one, and because I love Diana Wynne Jones and her Chrestomanci novels, and how she makes magic and its practitioners seem everyday and ordinary and funny and this was a new one about Cat, the nine-lifed enchanter who’s both incredibly powerful and charmingly unassuming,. And after a while I was pulled in solidly, reading through meals and at breaks at work and sorry to leave that world when it was over.

Then White Sands, Red Menace came in on hold. I read the first book about these characters, The Green Glass Sea, last year, skeptical at first about whether it was going to be one of those books that grownups think are so beautifully written but that don’t have much to offer kids, but it’s not; beautifully written, yes, that, and also about an Important Historical Topic, but Ellen Klages doesn’t bog down in that; she keeps you caring about these two girls, Dewey and Suze, all the while the weight of the historical moment—the time just after explosion of the first atomic bomb in Hiroshima--hovers above and all around them. The first book leads up to that momen and the second reels in its impact, as do both girls, and Suze’s parents. But they’re still teenagers negotiating their way in the world, awkwardly and messily and sometimes comically, and I was glad to spend time with them again the way I’d be happy to see friends after summer vacation.

But before I’d even finished that book, The Hunger Games came in, and I swear when I plucked it off the reserve shelf I felt that feeling, that tingle. I’m not immune to buzz, and maybe that was it, because I’ve read enough rave reviews of this book already. But now I’m in the midst of it, right there with Katniss in the brutal and murderous Games that are part “Survivor,” part gladiators and lions, part…I don’t know what. It’s reminding me of dystopias and survival stories and coming-of-age tales from back to my own adolescence all the way up to last year: House of Stairs and Rite of Passage and Hatchet and the Uglies series, and the author Suzanne Collins’s own earlier book, Gregor the Overlander, and even dystopic adult stories like Oryx and Crake and The Lottery, and yet it’s entirely its own. I had to stop reading halfway through when my eyes started to droop, because I was afraid I’d get impatient and start skipping through to the end, and I don’t want to ruin it for myself.

So I have to stop writing soon, and get some sleep. Because I have to pace myself; all my holds are coming in at once. Starclimber, the third book in the alternate-world series about Matt the airship cabin boy, that started with Airborn, is sitting on my night table, and I know someone else will be waiting for it when I’m done. And I just got the e-mail notice that Paper Towns, John Green’s newest young adult novel, is waiting for me on the reserve shelf, and I don’t think he is capable of writing a book that doesn’t have at least the minimum daily requirement of Awesome.

I know this wave will end, eventually. It always does, now that I’m a grownup with a hundred competing distractions. But for now, I’m riding the current, in my element.

And maybe I’ll just read one more chapter of The Hunger Games before I go to sleep…

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Sometimes It Rains

We've entered the land of the tantrum and it is not pretty. H, age 2 years 3 months, has hit a milestone. Her level of understanding and ability to express herself in speech has soared -- and with that have come the tantrums. They are brief. They are loud. They involve the girl going boneless and sobbing on whatever floor is available be it our kitchen floor (not so bad), the sidewalk (kind of ick), or the subway floor (ew, ew, ew, ew, ew).

They seem to involve the commute to and from school, or at least that's when they are most difficult to experience. Last night on the way home, I got two. One in the Starbucks, where you just know the vibe the patrons are after has nothing to do with a screaming kid (and how many bad mom points do I earn from bribing my child to get in the stroller with vanilla milk? Sure, it's calcium rich, but it's laden with sugar) and one on the corner of the hill leading down to our apartment. She doesn't want to go down the hill. She does want to either cross the street in the wrong direction or go back to the bank because both of those sound really fun. Luckily, my husband happened by just as the empty stroller tipped over and spilled all the mittens, blanket, book, etc. onto the sidewalk.

I know this is just a part of growing up. I know this is part of testing limits and becoming her own person and getting comfortable with the fact that I'll take care of her even at her most rotten. And so far I don't even feel mortified. Sure, I don't meet peoples' eyes, but that's mostly because I'm trying to move us along without anyone getting hurt. It's just hard. It's another thing that's hard. And I signed up for the hard stuff. I absolutely want the total experience, but, yeah. Hard.

Oh, and our poor kitty cat had to have his toe amputated due to a cancerous growth. So he's hobbling around with a ridiculous-looking flashlight collar and various shaved spots and bandages.

And I had a wicked cold last week and have a bum lower back this week.

But, it is Friday. And Thanksgiving is somehow next week (how the heck did that happen?). And I'll just bet I get a huge hug and a major "MOMMY" when I pick H up in just a little while. We'll see how the rest of the trip home goes, but I know we'll get through it one way or another.

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As the whole world now knows, the First Family-elect is looking for a dog. This humanizing tidbit was the main—maybe the only—thing that stuck with my daughter when I let her stay up to watch Barack Obama’s acceptance speech last Tuesday. “Those girls are going to get a puppy!” she kept murmuring to herself as I cried, both of us in equal rapture.

And my kid doesn’t even like dogs. 

Actually, our whole family consists of cat people (and one cat), but I've seen my share of dog-crazed children in the library over the years, and along with several million other people, I have some suggestions for Malia, Sasha, and their parents. I’m in no position to weigh in the pet choice debate, and Malia in particular seems to have done a fair bit of research already, but if she came to my library and asked for a book about dogs, here’s what I’d recommend:


The Legacy of the Dog and The Legacy of the Puppy, by Hiromi Nakano

  • Photos and illustrations of dozens of different breeds. Hugely, hugely popular at my old library!

How to Talk To Your Dog, by Jean Craighead George; illustrated by Sue Truesdell

  • Fun, easy-to-read suggestions on communicating with your own dog (though not necessarily with strange dogs)

Shelter Dogs: Amazing Stories of Adopted Strays, by Peg Kehret and Greg Farrar

  • Inspiring true stories.


Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo

  • A modern classic.

One Small Dog, by Johanna Hurwitz

  • A realistic story--and something of a cautionary tale--about one family's experience with a none-to-easy puppy.

A Dog’s Life: the Autobiography of a Stray, by Ann Martin

  • The life of a stray dog, with a happy ending but few punches pulled.

Picture Books/Readers 

Three Stories You Can Read to Your Dog, by Sara Swan Miller; illustrated by True Kelly

  • Is your dog bored? Maybe you can read your dog these stories, which are all about what real dogs are like. Bonus illustration points for the totally goofy expressions on the dog’s face.

Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School, by Mark Teague

  • Ike the Dog has got to be one of the great rascals—and unreliable narrators--of literary history.

Good Boy, Fergus!, by David Shannon

  • My kid particularly recommends.

There’s a longer list of books starring dogs here. Anyone else have any favorites you’d recommend to a kid about to bring a longed-for dog into the family?

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What You Have Taught Me

I am so very grateful to those of you who answered our call for descriptions of how your children are gifted.  Your responses were enormously helpful not only to other readers, but to me and e-Scholastic’s editors. Thanks are owed to Nick Friedman, Editor in Chief of Scholastic Parent and Child, who suggested that I post the question in the first place.

I have told you some of the things I learned from you; but they are worth repeating. I learned a little bit about who you, our audience members are, and I am impressed, actually honored.  If the responders are a representative sample, we are reaching people who have remarkable insight about their children, themselves, and life, in general. You are not looking for quick answers, how-to-hints or any superficial formula for child rearing from us. I love that fact and feel very privileged to have you, our thoughtful audience as colleagues in the effort to bring respect to the awesome enterprise of parenting.

With considerable humility, I am going to list links of previous pieces I have done about giftedness on the parents’ site of e-scholastic. If nothing else, they support the insightful contributions you made. The debates I allude to in those pieces about the meaning of “giftedness”, historical debates carried on by supposed experts in cognitive development, seem trivial, even silly after reading your remarks about values that supersede IQ or any analogous measurement.   If you do get a chance to look at any of these, I would welcome your reactions and suggestions for future on-line discussions.

Thank you again for being a most generous audience.

Best wishes,


Links: “Congratulations: Your Child Is Gifted”; “Many Kinds of Gifted”; “Guiding a Gifted and Talented Child”; “Balance Challenge and Burnout for a Gifted Child”, and a blog entitled: “A Gifted Child”.

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Focus on the Cybils, Part 2: Middle Grade Fiction

There’s nothing to warm a librarian’s heart like coming home from a late shift at work and finding your daughter curled up in bed with a book. And a hefty book, at that: Roald Dahl’s The BFG. For some time now, she’s been zooming through short, easy chapter book series along the lines of the Rainbow Magic and Magic Tree House, but this was a step beyond. My mom reported that she’d been deep into it the book all afternoon.

We’ve had an eventful and very exciting week, what with the election and my mom visiting, but I couldn’t bring myself to make her turn off the light right away. 

“It’s the best book,” she said sleepily when I finally pried it out of her hands.

Even as I write this, Cybils panelists are reading reading reading like my kid was last night, winnowing the nominees town to a short list of finalists. The Middle Grade Fiction panelists have their work cut out for them, with over a hundred novels for children to choose from. 

These are ten that I would love to curl up with myself, and that have already made someone say to themselves—and to the Cybils organizers—“this is the best book”.

A book about a kid whose baby teeth haven’t fallen out yet. How did I miss this all year? My kid is in third grade and her baby teeth have only just started to fall out and I didn’t know there were any books about this phenomenon in the whole wide world!

I keep hearing terrific things about this book and it sounds like it has just the right mix of magic and coming-of-age to appeal to lots of kids. As well as, well, me.

Ooh the Harriet the Spy fan in me is totally looking forward to this one.

My favorite kind of historical novel: a regular kid with a distinctive narrative voice trying to have normal growing-up experiences in the midst of a Big Event, in this case the Civil Rights Movement.

I’ve actually read this one and it is so gorgeous. It has that perfectly jewel-like satisfying well-put-together feeling that just makes me so happy. Also it has a military father who defies stereotypes by being warm and thoughtful.

I read this one too and liked it in some ways even more than the first Moxy Maxwell book. You learn more about her family, her father especially.

Who wouldn’t want to read about a 2nd grader who’s so scared of school that he needs a Personal Disaster Kit, but plays a superhero named Firecracker Man at home? Cool. Fun.

Like tales of Jewish immigration to Ellis Island, the books I’ve seen about the Cultural Revolution have seemed to mostly feature girl protagonists. Here’s one about a boy, and it looks pretty good.

What are the odds of not one but two kids’ novels in the same year whose titles refer to being hit by lightning? From a brief glimpse at their respective descriptions, it seems like these two deal with similar themes, too: friendship, fitting in, and having your world turn upside down. Different settings, though, and very different first-person voices.

There are lots, lots more that look truly excellent, but I had to cut off my picks at some point lest I overwhelm anyone reading this. Here, once again, is the link to the whole list of Middle Grade Fiction nominees.

Happy reading!

November 9, 2008

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Irony is... ordering a new, lighter stroller this summer after lugging the old one up the subway steps one too many times only to discover the red, dry, skin on my palms is an allergic reaction to the handles. That doesn't seem fair. I just thought I needed a better lotion.

Today H was as cooperative and agreeable to the hour and a half wait for voting as a two year old could be, which was not enough for some people, but plenty cute and charming for most people -- and some people are just grumpy, what can you do? I probably shouldn't have scheduled the cat's minor surgery for the same morning as this monumental election, but then... vet at 7:30, voting at 8. I think I'm tired now.

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