A Flurry of Books for February Celebrations

There is way too much going on this month! My kid is plugging away at valentines to give out in school tomorrow; the Asian Lunar New Year is on Sunday; and the Olympics are about to start, bringing on a frenzy of Olympic fever all around my town (Vancouver, BC). And we are almost halfway into Black History Month.

What to write about this week? How about all of it? Here’s one sample book to celebrate each occasion and whet your appetite for more:

In honor of the Olympics (not to mention the opening this weekend of the first Percy Jackson and the Olympians movie, The Lightning Thief), crack open an oldie but goodie: D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. I remember poring over this book as a child, and my own child—a big Percy Jackson fan—has recently discovered it and has been carrying it with her everywhere, crying out “It’s just like in The Lightning Thief!”

For more books about Greek Myths as well as folktales and fairy tales of many cultures, take a look at this booklist from Scholastic.

 Here’s what I wrote about one of my favorite Lunar New Year books two years ago:

Bringing In the New Year! By Grace Lin. Simple text and vibrant, cheerful illustrations show a family getting ready to celebrate the Lunar New Year: sweeping out the old year, making dumplings, getting a haircut, watching firecrackers, and finally, joining in a parade where a newly-awakened dragon heralds a lucky New Year.

And here’s a link to the rest of the post I wrote back then, recommending other Lunar New Year titles.

My sample title for Black History Month is so new that I haven’t even gotten my hands on it yet, but it’s not for lack of trying. (I’m first in line at my library when it comes in on order!) Mare’s War, a young adult novel by Tanita Davis, takes the reader on a road trip with two teenage sisters and their sports-car-driving, stiletto-wearing grandmother, who was in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. Mare’s War just won a Coretta Scott King Honor Award this year, and I’m excited to read it.

For a veritable feast of African-American authors and books, take a look at 28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children’s Literature.

A great book to read for Valentine’s Day—even though you won’t see the word” valentine” or any red paper hearts or cupids on the gorgeous cover—is Love Letters, by Arnold Adoff, is a collection of love letters, each written as a poem. There are letters to mom, to dad, to two teachers (Mrs Nicely and Mrs. McNasty) to a “Playground Snow Boy” and to the “Tall Girl at the Front Table.” Illustrated in vibrant collages by Lisa Desimini. This is a book you could read aloud—in whole or in part—to a class, or share with a favorite someone at home—maybe accompanied by your own love letter.

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My 10 Favorite Children's Novels

All the votes are in for Fuse #8's100 Best Children's Novels poll.I sent in my top 10 picks at the last minute, just under the wire of the January 31 deadline, so didn't get a chance to post them online before the deadline. Here they are now, with some quickly-dashed-off notes on why I chose them.

1.    .A Long Way from Verona, by Jane Gardam. “JESSICA VYE YOU ARE A WRITER BEYOND ALL POSSIBLE DOUBT.” Best. Telegram. Ever.

2.     The Saturdays, by Elizabeth Enright. Such a lovely happy idiosyncratic bickering family. And, New York City.

3.     Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh. The dumbwaiter. Ole Golly. The boy with the purple socks. And, and, and… Someone on Facebook said this week that Harriet the Spy was her Catcher in the Rye. Mine, too.

4.    A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The perfect Victorian-era urban fairytale.

5.      A Room Made of Windows, by Eleanor Cameron. Probably no one else will list this one, but it was one of my favorites ever. So complex and subtle and full of unexpected relationships.

6.      Tangerine, by Edward Bloor The only sports story I’ve ever really loved (Well, except for the Dairy Queen books, but those are YA.) So jam packed full of STUFF. Like plot and character and suspense and the Revenge of Nature and other really meaty things to chew on. Issues-oriented without being didactic. A thriller without being too scary.  Plus: a sinkhole that threatens to suck down the middle school!

7.      The Sea of Trolls, by Nancy Farmer. It’s a historical epic! It’s a fantasy! It’s got everything, this one. I’ve got to read it again soon.

8.    The Long Secret, by Louise Fitzhugh. In some ways I feel even more affinity for this one than for Harriet, its more famous sister. Ah, Beth Ellen. “A shy person is an angry person.” Indeed.

9.      Father's Arcane Daughter, by E. L. Kongisburg. Another book I’ll be surprised if anyone else lists. I’m counting on enough people listing From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler for it not to need my vote; the Heidi character, and Winston’s guilty love/hate relationship with her, all the ambiguity they both feel about their sister Caroline (or is she Caroline, really?), and that twist at the end make this one I couldn’t leave off my list.

10.  Zeely, by Virginia Hamilton. I'm a sucker for books about mysterious grownups who come into the heroine's life (cf: Father's Arcane Daughter.). This is one of the first ones I remember reading.

It's probably pretty obvious that I leaned heavily on childhood loves when compling this list. Even more than I did for the Top 100 Picture Books poll last year, I found it very hard to create a list that satisfactorily melded criteria for "best books"--books I'd objectively, professionally rate as the best literature overall-- and "favorite books"-- books that I, personally, love beyond reason, whatever their objectively assessed (if that's even possible) literary qualities. When in doubt, I went with the latter, never mind if they were completely idiosyncratic and unlikely to make the final list, and trusted that the combined votes of others would lift up books like A Wrinkle in Time and Holes that I think are truly excellent but don't have such a personal attachment to. And it's actually painful to think of the dozens of others--like All-of-a-Kind Family, Enchantress from the Stars, and My Father's Dragon--that I do love beyond reason but couldn't squeeze into a list of only ten books.

Several other bloggers have posted their lists and thoughts about this poll, too: click here for Amy's list at Media Macaroni; Doret's list and predictions at The Happy Nappy Bookseller; and Wendy's hints about her list at Six Boxes of Books.

Like most other participants, I'm very excited to see what the results will be. Elizabeth Bird, the sparking fuse behind Fuse #8 and this poll, mentioned in a comment that she has tomorrow off from work, so I'm hoping that we'll start to see the first few titles in the top 100 within the next few days.

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