Tag Archives: Friendship

Another World: Children’s Lit

For the first months of 2017, I was immersed in reading children’s books.  They soothe my soul; they provide mentoring for my own writing; and I have the opportunity to share the best with my blog readers. 2016 provided a variety of excellent children’s titles, but I am most excited about sharing the best nominees of Easy Readers and Early Chapter books.  What a surprise when I met prize-winning authors in competition with new authors.

The creativity of well-illustrated books with original texts was obvious in this judging assignment.  Mo Willems and Kate DiCamillo were nominated in this eclectic mix of 10 titles for me to choose the “Best Of,” as shared with children’s bloggers in CYBILs (Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards). I was honored to be among teachers, parents, and fellow bloggers led by the creative Jodie Helliker Rodriquez, whose “Growing Book By Book” blog has always amazed me with her own creativity and sharing.

Wait until you get the winning book for Early Chapter Books in your hand.  It is appealing from the cover illustration featuring Mango Allsorts and her new pet. Look for a black and white and lavender cover!  Mango & Bambang: The Not-a-Pig begins a new series by Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy.  What originality!  Faber’s endearing new character Mango Allsorts finds a Malaysian tapir stuck in the middle of a traffic jam. The setting is a busy city and Mango, on her own most of the time, discovers a strange sight as she walks home from karate class.  It’s “not a pig” is lying down on the busy street camouflaged in the white stripes of the highway!  This book of four experiences with new friends, Mango and her tapir Bambang, is difficult to describe. It would not be the same without the original illustrations by Vulliamy.  I want to purchase all the Mango books in the series. Each new book uses a different palate than the original lavender highlighted in this debut.

Mo Willems’ titles turned out not to be written by him.  Remember Go Dog Go, the P.D. Eastman title confused as a Dr. Seuss favorite?  That little Cat in the Hat in the corner of the cover made readers think we had another Seuss winner.  Of course, Eastman had his own classic even with “I Can Read It All By Myself” series stamp on the corner of the cover. Mo Willems did the same thing, adding his name to the title page of a book series called “Elephant and Piggy Like Reading! Despite the appealing title, We are Growing  and  The Cookie Fiasco  were not my favorites. Check them out from your library and see if you agree.

In the category of Easy Readers I discovered Snail and Worm: Three Stories about Two Friends by Tina Kugler!  This debut title is definitely an easy book for new readers.  The illustrations are delightful.  Kugler’s characters share values of friendship, pride and understanding.  Her tongue-in-cheek pictures with Snail and Worm’s animated and inanimate friends will resonate with her intended audience.  Repetition in the text will help these readers. This book was the winner for the Easy Reader judges from CYBILS nominees for 2016.

My second favorite Easy Reader is a longer story. The Infamous Ratsos by Kara La Reau is at first funny, cute and endearing when the Ratso brothers try to be tough like their single Dad.  I can see why it was nominated by the CYBILs first round of judges.  Readers will identify with the bullying scene, the plans to be mischievous, and the bonding with the father.  At the second reading I wasn’t certain if parents reading with their children would find the situations funny.  Who is going to buy this book?  We judged it too long for early readers; still reluctant older readers may enjoy the high jinx of these rat hoodlums.  There is a lesson by the end and the main characters all learn that being bad is not good!

Kate Di Camillo’s latest entry in the Early Chapter books category was a fun read.  She writes about neighbors of the popular pig Mercy Watson.  Baby Lincoln and her aged sister Eugenia are unusual characters introduced in Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln? Adults will understand Lucille’s need for a “necessary journey,” but I am uncertain whether children ages 6-9 will find these strange characters engaging.  DiCamillo is an expert in plot, dialogue and voice, as well as a challenging vocabulary.  This title didn’t spark my interest as much as Faber’s Mango and Bambang  book did.

What children’s books do you recommend from your reading in 2016?  As usual, your comments and suggestions are welcome.

Happy Reading in 2017!

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Filed under Children's Literature, First Novels, Prizes

Read. Review. Recommend.

The first book I completed read in 2017 kept me reading so that I wanted to finish it in one sitting.  Instead of staying up all night as I wished to do, I relished each scene and word, stretching out my reading to two days.  The language is authentic teen speech which resonates for any age.

Have I grabbed your attention?  Guitar Notes by Mary Amato begins with a perfect title and cover.  Don’t you love language with two meanings?  You know this book is about a guitar player, probably a teen, and guitar music has notes.  Notes also mean communications between friends.  Paper messages, texts, or voice mails can also be short notes between the main characters- one who is almost perfect and one who has no friends. How Amato brings them together over a guitar is masterful.

How do I decide who will want to share this book?  A teen, a singer, a parent who needs to understand teen angst?  They will all enjoy it!

What a great title to begin my reading challenge of 2017.  I will be reading many easy readers and early chapter books for my assigned judging project with CYBILs, helping to choose the best of 2016.  Guitar Notes was a delightful start to my reading with a Meaty book offering genuine Language.  (Check out the CAMEL reading rating in my previous blogs.) Since Mary Amato is a local author writing about Maryland, this book also fits the setting rating, too.  (E=Exceptional time and place)

Happy Reading in 2017!  Find your own reading challenge and enjoy every word.

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FRIENDSHIP

Books are my best friends. They help me travel, have adventures, fall in love, understand others, and escape to a place where no one is my critic! Just recently I was reunited with a college friend, a fourth grade teacher who joined me at a charity book buying venue. We had such fun choosing books we both loved for her classroom library.

Then, just this week, I found a new blog site to recommend to you for the very same purpose. Find http://www.whatdowedoallday.com/ which shares book lists for parents and teachers and lovers of children’s books. Erica’s categories are easy to navigate for book choosing at the library or your favorite Independent bookstore. I highly recommend her site which I discovered from a new author who mentioned it on Facebook. Thank you to Arti Agarwal Sonthalia for introducing me to this book blog. She mentioned Erica’s list called “10 Picture Books that Nurture EMPATHY.” I was familiar with many titles, but some were new to me. “19 Book Series for kids who like MAGIC TREE HOUSE” is another with popular books to befriend.

What books have I been reading?  By Andrea ChengThe Year of the Book by Joan Bauer Squashed, by Beverly A. Ferber Julia’s Kitchen,  by Sydney Taylor, All-of-a-Kind Family, by E. L. Konigsburg, The View from Saturday and a new, young author Dania Ramos’s Who’s Ju? are my newest friends. Who’s Ju? (The 7th Grade Sleuths) (Volume 1) Each book deals with friends and quarrels among friends and each one creatively and uniquely solves the problems children face as they grow up trying to learn who they want to be. I almost forgot my newest friend who is an author of many middle grade fiction books. Read Frances O’Roark Dowell to find more authentic characters who will appeal to middle grade readers. New writers will gain insights into the craft of writing for upper elementary students by reading this diverse group of titles.

Better return to my own writing where I am attempting to create characters who you will want as friends. Thank you for any suggestions and comments to make this blog more meaningful for you as a reader for your own pleasure or for the books you select for others. Check out reviews on Amazon and find the links for purchasing yourself.  Follow me and my fellow bloggers.

Happy Reading in 2015!

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CHARACTERS YOU WANT TO KNOW: PART 2

Google reminded me that Langston Hughes said:  “My seeking has been to explain and illuminate the Negro condition in America and obliquely that of all human kind.” Google’s short biography on the anniversary of his birth reminds us that “[h]e hoped to inspire black writers to be objective about their race and embrace it, though felt the young writers of the Black Power movement of the 1960s were too angry.”  He was born on Feb. 1, 1902.   Not only an inspiration to African Americans, all writers and readers can reflect on his heart-felt comments.  My posts about “Characters You Want to Know: Parts 1 & 2” try to illuminate for all readers some memorable children in contemporary literature who will help us to understand humans who have foibles and troubles as we all do or “all human kind” as Hughes reminded us.

If you enjoyed the Characters You Want to Know in Part 1’s post,  here are more amazing characters which will add to your list of great books ones that teach us all empathy for children and any humans.

Another complex character I recommend is featured in What To Do About Alice?(with a long subtitle) by Barbara Kerley. (She is also the author of The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins).  We adults may remember Alice Roosevelt Longworth anecdotes from when her father was president, but this book takes a fun approach with imaginative illustrations to help us understand the point of view of a young daughter living in the White House. Some reviewers on Amazon say that this book will help to introduce a “character” children will want to read more about.  I agree especially when I read that Alice was an unhappy adult so her early life leads to her complexity.

As well as reading, I love to knit and cook.  All my hobbies require good eyesight, so I was inspired to read about the life of Laura Bridgman who held on to only two of her senses after a childhood illness.  Laura could only taste some food and could use her remarkable sense of touch after losing her sight, hearing, and sense of smell.  She could knit and tat and she learned to read and write before Helen Keller at the Perkins Institute in Boston.  What an inspirational story Sally Hobart Alexander wrote in She Touched the World: Deaf-Blind Pioneer !  This ambiguous true “character” intrigued me because she was not Helen Keller, the delightful deaf/mute writer who was loved by all who met her.  Laura was an impatient, jealous, demanding child who helped Samuel Howe become famous in the late 1880’s. I think Sally Alexander, a blind author and teacher, aptly named her book which is written for older elementary children.

How can Mia Winchell compete in school and in this character-loving post? She is the synesthetic narrator of A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Moss.  Thank you to my niece Gretchen Schmelzer for recommending this fascinating book to me.  We writers can only wish we shared Mia’s “gift,” for she can see sounds, smell colors and taste shapes.  Wouldn’t those extraordinary powers be helpful to us writers?  Since this section is about MEATY characters, I guess Mia would be uncomfortable with my language. I cannot describe the taste of this book, nor the smell of this “Meaty” child.   Mia’s “oddness” is not easy for her family to understand, but Wendy Moss shares this character’s feelings with the reader.  You will be amazed when you read about this medical condition which is rare, misunderstood, and real!

Another title with an Exceptional Setting I chose is An Unlikely Friendship by Ann Rinaldi, which takes place in the White House during the 1860’s. Ann Rinaldi’s book about this unusual attachment is a historical novel about Mary Todd Lincoln and her dressmaker, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Keckley.  There have been many books written about these two women, but I maintain that Rinaldi gets it just right. You may have seen the movie “Lincoln,” in which Lizzie has a minor role. Read An Unlikely Friendship and you will see her character revealed in the U. S Capital during this tumultuous time.

What is the special language of The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman?  The chapter titles are so intriguing!  Meg Wolitzer, the author of the adult novel The Interestings, writes for children in a language they will love. For Example, Chapter 1, “Lunch Meat and the Chinaman” and Chapter 3 “The So-Called Power is Revealed” will resonate with young readers.   Duncan Dorfman is not a typical elementary child nor are his new friends who are Scrabble geniuses at age twelve.  Her writing has been called “Juicy, perceptive and vividly written.”—NPR.org

What characters have you read recently which should be shared as “Characters You Want to Know”?  The theme of empathy is one that should resonate with many readers like youHappy Reading in 2015 as you find more characters you want to know and share with others!

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SO YOU WANT TO START A BOOK CLUB

SO YOU WANT TO START A BOOK CLUB

By Beth Schmelzer and Marcia Feliciano

Once upon a time there were two good friends who loved to read. Whenever Beth and Marcia got together, their conversations always included a chat about books they were reading, books they had read, books in untidy stacks that they looked forward to reading, and lists of recommended books.

When Beth moved to Annapolis, the “book chats” became more frequent, leading to the decision to start a book club.  Starting a book club isn’t rocket science, but it is science in a way, as there should be good chemistry among the participants; there should be a certain degree of open-mindedness regarding book selections, flexibility regarding scheduling, and a willingness to let a member “slide” on occasion for not reading “the book.” We all know how life can get in the way of good intentions, and we should recognize the fact that not everyone will like every book choice.  Just the same, the best discussions often come from the least popular titles.

To start, we each invited one book-loving friend to participate. Our first meeting was in February 2008 and we have met monthly ever since. Our group now consists of approximately 13 women who originally bonded over books while sharing a cup of tea or a glass of wine. We shared our thoughts about books by local authors who graciously came to our meetings to talk about and autograph their books. We talked about books of a controversial nature, non-fiction books, first novels, memoirs, mysteries, histories and more. At this size, we can fit in everyone’s house, and if we lose a few, we still have enough for a good book talk. The hostess of the month picks the book of the month. Hostesses and books are announced at least a month in advance so everyone has plenty of time to read each selected book. The group endeavors to be cost-conscious, selecting books readily available at local bookstores, libraries, on an e-reader or from Amazon.com. Sometimes books are obtained on a field trip to independent bookstores that are delighted to give a book club discount. The indie bookstores encourage the purchase of local authors such as Marcia Talley, Thea Lindauer, Stephanie Verni, Lucia St. Clair Robson, Erika Robuck, and Bill Eggert. Authors who can’t make it in person will sometimes do a conference call-in during a meeting to connect personally with their readers. Additionally, some writers will offer a Skype call.  Contact information can be found on their websites. We even have plans to make a road trip to Boonsboro to visit Nora Robert’s Turn the Page Bookstore!

Meetings range from casual to elaborate, from silly to serious, and are mostly held in the evenings for no more than 90 minutes. Sometimes members who love to cook invite everyone for a dinner reflecting the type of food enjoyed by the characters in the book of the month, which we could call a literary feast.  More typically, the hostess will  provide a simple buffet of snacks, light appetizers, drinks and a small dessert.

Now in its seventh year, it should be mentioned that Beth and Marcia’s book club decided on a name reflective of our sense of humor and our location – the Annapolis Book Bag Ladies Book Club.

Beth, the unofficial secretary, records the books and hostesses in a journal so there is an ongoing history. In the summer, there is a potluck pool party meeting. In deference to the busy holiday schedules, the reading assignment is eliminated at December meetings and the group gets together at a local restaurant. In lieu of gift-giving, we have a “sock it to me holiday dinner” and everyone brings new socks that are donated to the local Lighthouse Shelter for the homeless.

We are still reading and discussing books, even when some members escape to Florida, the Bahamas or Hawaii. We also show up to support a member working on a play, going through chemo, having a daughter get married, burying a parent, celebrating a new baby, losing a job, or starting retirement. Starting a book club really is simple. Like the Nike folks say, “Just do it!” And if you need a little encouragement or a book list to get your group started, contact Beth at www.BESTBOOKSBYBETH.com or Marcia  at felician@rcn.com

We are glad to help anyone to start a book club!

This essay was previously published in Outlook by the Bay (Spring, 2014) in a different version.

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