End-Of-the-Year Reader's Advisory Clearance! (Part 1)

I got into the Library Biz partly because I found myself compulsively recommending books to various friends, acquaintances, and random strangers in bookstores. So it's not exactly a shock that people tend to ask me about books now that it's actually my job. In the last several weeks a bunch of people have asked me a particularly varied and interesting set of book questions-- library patrons as well as personal friends and relatives. Some wanted holiday presents, some were doing school assignments, and some were just looking for suggestions for no particular reason.

I've been meaning to write about each of them for a while now, so here they are before the New Year, and the books I recommended (more coming soon, too):

1. Present for an 11-year-old boy who loves the Guinness Book for World Records:

2. Books for a 10-year-old girl who loves American Girl books and wants strong girl characters:

…and Jen Robinson's Book Page has a whole post full of books featuring, and for, Cool Girls.

3. Books for a 10-year-old boy, strong reader, and his mom to read together. Adventure's good, fantasy not so much, and he's already read Holes and Hatchet:

  • Bud, not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis (tried and true: funny, engaging, serious underneath)
  • The Wreckers, by Iain Lawrence (chilling! suspenseful! Edge of your seat the whole time!)
  • Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Balliett (a bit of mystery and whimsy, plus art)
  • Hoot, by Carl Hiassen (Also sort of a mystery.)

Any more suggestions for these young readers and/or their parents?

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My Books-as-Therapy Regime This Week

Ironically, considering the festive atmosphere of the holiday season, it’s been a rough couple of weeks for me and my family: just a pile-up of illnesses, crabbinesses, bad news from extended family, car troubles, frustrations, and small disappointments. One of those times when the job doesn’t come through, the kid is cranky, spouses quarrel, the pictures won’t hang right, the car won’t start, you slip on the ice, and the toast burns. One of those times that seem like a series of terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad days. One of those times when you could really use a visit to the bunny planet.

There have been some bright spots: the snow, though it is a pain to shovel and makes our hilly street treacherous, is beautiful. Arguments aside, our family has generally managed to enjoy each other. An old friend is coming up to visit next week. We still have our jobs, which is something in these tough times.

And, not surprisingly for me, I’ve found books to be a comfort, different books in different ways.

After waiting for years until she was old enough to appreciate it, I took my childhood copy of E. Nesbit’s The Story of The Treasure Seekers off the shelf and started reading it aloud to my daughter.  Soon the three of us were gathering in her room most nights at bedtime, laughing together at the misadventures of the six Bastable children in their quest to restore their family’s lost fortunes. My daughter gets a huge kick out of the realistic bickering of the kids, the silliness of their schemes, and the way that the narrator makes a big deal out making the reader guess his identity—he’s one of the kids, but won’t say which one he is—when all along he’s leaving the most transparent clues.

My spouse and I have been smiling quietly at some of the grownup jokes that Nesbit scatters through the book, and also marveling at how a novel written over a century ago can feel so fresh and contemporary. Maybe it’s not such a surprise; after all, The Treasure Seekers is the story of a middle-class suburban family fallen upon hard times: the father has lost all his money in investments, and the flawed but well-meaning, funny, imaginative and enterprising children are worried, confused, and anxious to help. That the city is London in the 1890’s and not New York or Seattle in 2008 makes less difference than you’d think.

On my own, and on the recommendation of several bloggers, I’ve been reading the young adult novel The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart, a tale of pranks, banter, wit, devilry, and adolescent high spirits. Everything about this book is just delicious, from the wry, deadpan narrative voice, to Frankie’s habit of creating what she calls “inpeas,” or “neglected positives”, like “maculate,” to mean messed up (the opposite of “immaculate”) or “mayed” meaning pleased and delighted (i.e. the reverse of “dismayed”). It’s nonplussing and off-kilter and yet eminently logical, just like most things Frankie does. This novel is leaving me absolutely gruntled.

And in the car, I’m about a third of the way through the CD version of a book I’ve been wanting to read for over a decade, Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind, by Suzanne Fisher Staples. So while I’m schlepping up and down the highway through the snow, to mail packages or get to work or hunt down ginger ale for my sick kid, I’m also far away in the Cholistan Desert with Shabanu, grieving with her at the sale of her beloved camel to pay for her sister’s dowry, and rejoicing with her at being reunited with her family after weeks away at the market. Even at this early point in the story, it’s evident that Shabanu is not a happy feel-good book. But even so, it’s oddly soothing to become so absorbed and utterly taken up by the tale and voice of someone whose life is utterly different from mine. The book is also helping me to appreciate what I have, from refrigeration to literacy to self-determination as a woman.

So, that’s how it’s going for me these days. What books help you get through the rough spots?

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A Holiday Shopping and Best-Of Bouquet

‘Tis the season for best-of-the-year lists. And also for panicky shopping. The Kidlitosphere contains several helpful posts on both accounts this week.


I was getting overwhelmed at the thought of pulling together various publications’ lists of the Year’s Best Books, when I came upon a post from Susan of Chicken Spaghetti, who has solved my dilemma by doing the work for all of us: her Best of the Best: Kids’ Books 08 post includes links to over twenty Years’ Best lists, from the Abilene Reporter News to the Toronto Public Library, including lists from the New York Times, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, the Horn Book, School Library Journal, and many many more. She promises to keep it updated as more lists are published, too. Thanks, Susan!


As for the best-of lists at various blogs, there are too many to keep track of, but this Book Recs for Holiday Shopping from Around the Litblogosphere post at Chasing Ray is a valiant compilation of best-book and gift-recommenation posts.


Right here at the Scholastic website, The excellent folks at the Kid Lit Kit blog are compiling a list of bloggers’ favorite new books of 2008—if you’ve blogged about a spectacular book this year, email them (or if you don’t have a blog you could just try leaving a comment on their site).


Also on the Scholastic site, check out these crafty Book-Inspired Gift Kits, which combined well-loved picture books with handmade items and tips for coming up with more ideas yourself! Great for a joint project to work on with kids.


But the Queen of creative book-giving packages has got to be MotherReader, who has outdone herself this year and presented readers with a series of five posts totaling 105 ways to give a book, for kids of all ages (and even some adults).


A few of my favorites from her inspired list:


  • Pair picture book stunner How I Learned Geography with an inflatable globe.


  • Wrap up A Crooked Kind of Perfect with those excellent socks from the cover.


  • Looking for something a little offbeat? Maybe Cowboy and Octopus with a cowboy hat or an octopus.


  • Take sweet picture book Lissy’s Friends and pair it with an origami kit.



…for a hundred (really!) more ideas, check out MotherReader!


And this post wouldn’t be complete without a hat-tip to Jen Robinson’s Book Page, whose Friday Afternoon Visits post this week led me to several of the sites above. Thanks, Jen! And thanks to everyone who wrote these terrific and EXTREMELY helpful posts!

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Thanksgiving & Favorites

Hope everyone had an extraordinary Thanksgiving. Ours was lots of fun. Five little girls under five years joined 11 grown-ups in my parents living room. I especially enjoyed spending time holding the eight-week-old baby. H had a great time -- she talked a lot about turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce and how Nana was cooking Thanksgiving dinner, but she was too excited and distracted to eat a whole lot.

One highlight of the long weekend for me was when H answered my questions about her "favorites." This is the first time she's answered that kind of question and it was fascinating to hear. Here's what she said:

Favorite color: (looks down at her shirt) Pink
Favorite animal: horsies! (It's true, she's been very into them on her petting farm video)
Favorite number: 7 (possibly because of the They Might Be Giants song)
Favorite food: cereal (she'd just finished breakfast)
Favorite song: Dinosaurs (I assume this is Laurie Berkner's song, "We Are the Dinosaurs")

I'm excited to ask again because I'm fully expecting different answers next time. I'd love to hear what other toddlers have to say about their favorites.

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Birds, Bees, and Books

You know how they say that when your children want to know about the facts of human reproduction, they will ask you? I have found that this is not always the case. My daughter, for example, likes to observe and put things together on her own, and hates to reveal her ignorance or to talk about anything that she might find embarrassing; I think she senses that adults also find it awkward to talk about sex, and so she just keeps her questions to herself.

We’d had the Where Babies Come From conversation a couple of years ago, but I thought now that she’s eight she might have some further questions; she’s made some self-consciously goofy remarks lately about sex and about when girls start to develop, so I took that as a sign that these subjects were on her mind. Right about that time, a post on Saltypepper’s Livejournal reminded me about two of my favorite books on the topic, It’s So Amazing! and It’s Not the Stork!, both by Robie Harris. So I brought them home from work and left them casually lying around the living room.

And lo and behold, my kid found them, and glommed onto them, and looks at them whenever she has a spare moment, and does not want me to return them to the library. Sometimes when she’s paging through them, we’ll ask her if she has any questions about what she’s reading, or point out something we notice, or aspects of the book that reflect (or, sometimes, don’t reflect) our own values, so the books have been a good avenue for opening up discussion as well.

Encouraged, I brought home some more similar titles to see what she thought. She and I both liked My Mom’s Having a Baby! by Dorie Hillstead Butler, with illustrations by Carol Thompson, which would be an especially good choice for an older preschooler who’s expecting a sibling. My Mom’s Having a Baby!, like It’s Not the Stork, is geared for kids aged around four and older, and is clear and factual about both how the baby gets started and how it grows.

I thought Nicholas Allen’s Where Willy Went…The Big Story of a Little Sperm was kind of silly, but my daughter appreciated the goofy humor and the personification of Willy, the little sperm who was not very good at math, but was “VERY good at swimming” and who triumphs over 300 million other sperm in the Great Swimming Race to the Egg. Where Willy Went…probably works best as a supplementary title once kids already have the basic facts down.

My own favorite of these books is It’s So Amazing! This title is meant for slightly older kids than the others—the cover lists the suggested reading age as 7 and up—and goes into more detail about things like the changes in the human body from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, and some alternative methods of insemination and ways to make a family, as well as about different sexual and nonsexual kinds of love, as well as the basics of how the sperm and the egg meet and how the baby grows (with some truly amazing pictures of the fetus at various stages of preganancy). There’s also a short but valuable section on “okay touches” and “not okay touches.” The information presented throughout is both thorough and nonjudgmental. It’s a good book to page through more than once, as the amount of information can be kind of overwhelming to take in at one sitting.

One aspect of both the Robie Harris books that I especially like is Michael Emberley’s illustrations. It’s got to be a daunting assignment, to illustrate a book for kids about sex and the human body: you have be very, very accurate, but at the same time take care to be, as Saltypepper puts it “not, um, prurient.” He really pulls it off, in a way that’s funny and nonthreatening. Two cartoon characters, a bird and a bee, act as guides and provide clarifying and sometimes jokey comments in both books, personifying two reactions that kids are likely to have: the bird is curious about every detail, and the bee is often embarrassed and wants to change the subject.

Whatever your feelings or beliefs are about when and how your child should learn about sex, I’d highly encourage taking a look at some of these books, and thinking ahead of time about which—and, sometimes, what parts—of them you want to share with your children. Whether they ask or not, most kids want to know, at some point, how they got here, and it’s so useful to have tools for helping them learn this information in an age-appropriate and factual way.

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