Over at the blog Largehearted Boy, you'll find a ginormous list of all the online "best books of 2016" lists. It's a terrific resource for all of us list aficionados. I am taking the year off of compiling here, but I'll be checking Largehearted Boy's roundup frequently. He does include children's book lists.
My husband, Norman, reads up a storm, so I am handing over the blog today for his annual Best Books list. You can find good reading in his selections from previous years, too: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Thank you, Norman! (Note: these are books for grown-ups not kids.)
So, without further adieu, my top three novels were
· The Door, by Magda Szabó (translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix). I have to admit that I had never heard of Magda Szabó, the famed Hungarian author who passed away in 2007, or of her 1987 novel, The Door, but thanks to New York Review Books Classics, I and many others have come to discover this superb novel about the complex relationship between a writer and her elderly housekeeper. The book is set in postwar Hungary, but through the stories of the housekeeper, Emerence, we also learn about Hungary’s troubled political past. This book is fiction at its finest.
· Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf, is a beautifully told story of friendship and love between Louis and Addie, widowed neighbors in their 70s, as they face not only small-town gossip but also disapproval from their adult children. Sadly, Mr. Haruf wrote this book while he was very ill, and in fact, he passed away six months before it was published. I highly recommend reading the article “Kent Haruf’s Last Chapter,” published in the Wall Street Journal on 5/14/15, as well as the wonderful books Plainsong (1999) and Benediction (2013) if you’ve not already done so.
· Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff, tells the story of the 24-year marriage of Lancelot (Lotto), an actor who comes from a prosperous family, and his “ice princess” wife, Mathilde. The first part of the book, "Fates," centers on Lotto, and "Furies" is Mathilde’s story. I thoroughly enjoyed reading "Fates," but I found "Furies" to be a page-turning shocker that I couldn’t put down.
Other outstanding novels that I highly recommend are Delicious Foods, by James Hannaham, Among the Ten Thousand Things, by Julia Pierpont, History of the Rain, by Niall Williams, and Did You Ever Have a Family, by Bill Clegg. On my list of books I didn’t get to in 2015 but plan to read next year are City on Fire, by Garth Risk Hallberg, and The Turner House, by Angela Flournoy.
· Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America, by Jill Leovy. This is an extremely powerful and very informative book about race and the criminal justice system in America. It focuses on the murder of 18-year-old Bryant Tennelle, killed in South Central LA in 2007, and the dedicated detective who investigates the case. However, this is far more than a detective story as Leovy, who in 2007 started a blog on the Los Angeles Times site called "The Homicide Report" (which has the motto “a story for every victim”), brings forth the realities of living in and policing an economically disadvantaged, largely African American neighborhood where crime rates are too high and justice is difficult to find.
· Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, is another exceptional book that addresses the inequality of black men in society in the past and continuing today, but unlike in Ghettoside, where Ms. Leovy takes an analytical and multifaceted approach, Between the World and Me is more a personal and emotionally charged accounting of the struggles faced by black men; Mr. Coates’s experiences and observations are told in the form of letters to his teenaged son. This book is both a memoir and social commentary that, in my opinion, was well-deserving of the National Book Award.
· Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs, by Sally Mann. Ms. Mann is a very talented photographer who faced excessive media attention in the early nineties after gallery shows of the collection "Immediate Family," which included nude photos of her then-young children. Her new book, Hold Still, is a winning combination of personal memoir and explanation of what it’s like to view life as a photographer. I do have to admit that I found a good deal of the subject matter to be unconventional and strange, which only added to my appreciation of the book.
I would now like to mention three other books much worth reading:
· The first is Thirteen Ways of Looking, by Colum McCann. The author of Let the Great World Spin and Transatlantic does not disappoint in his newest collection, which consists of a marvelous novella and three strong short stories.
· The next book is Humans of New York: Stories, by Brandon Stanton. I received this as a holiday present, and I loved it! The photographs are clear and crisp, and the stories, which range from one-sentence comments to a few pages long, cover the full emotional spectrum. What else would you expect from New Yawkas!
· And last, but certainly not least, is Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris. Mary (whom I’ve had the privilege of meeting several times when Susan worked at the New Yorker) writes with humor, intelligence, and a pragmatic approach to grammar that make Between You & Me not only helpful but also enjoyable.
Happy reading to us all in 2016!
Image 1: "Bouquinistes au bord de la Seine à Paris," by Jebulon (own work). Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Image 2:"SteacieLibrary7" by Raysonho. Steacie Science and Engineering Library, York University, Toronto. Public domain photograph, via Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
It's raining books, hallelujah!
The holiday season means an abundance of online "best books" lists, and here on Chicken Spaghetti I collect the ones for kids' books. The focus is on material published in 2015, although you'll find that a few lineups also incorporate titles from previous years. Some of them cover way more than children's books; a mention here means that somewhere on the list is at least one kids' category. I plan to update the big list regularly.
©Susan Thomsen, 2015.
Be sure to see the magnificent list of all 2015 book lists at Largehearted Boy. And my list-loving Irish friends at St. Columba's College English Department have started their annual roundup, too. Travis Jonker, over at School Library Journal's 100 Scope Notes blog, writes about "2015 Children's Lit: The Year in Miscellanea."
AAAS: SB&F holiday gift guide. (AAAS=American Association for the Advancement of Science. SB&F=Science Books & Film review journal)
AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize finalists. Science books.
Abby the Librarian. Favorites.
The Age. Same list as Sydney Morning Herald. (Australia)
Air & Space Magazine (Smithsonian). Aviation- and space-themed books.
Alaska Dispatch News. Favorite Alaska books include a couple for younger readers.
Alex Awards. Adult books appropriate for teens.
Alligator's Mouth (UK)
Anorak Magazine. Picture books. (UK)
Asian Pacific American Library Association (APALA) Literary Award. Via the Lee & Low Books blog.
Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). Notable books of the year.
Atlantic. One YA book on the list.
Audubon Magazine. Bird books, with a couple for children.
Autostraddle. "Top 10 queer and feminist" books and runners-up include a few YA titles.
Batchelder Award. For children's books in translation.
Birmingham Mail. Christmas books. (UK)
Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension. Teacher Pernille Ripp's YA gift list.
Blue Peter Book Awards. Shortlists. (UK)
Boing Boing. A few kids' books in the gift guide.
Book Chook (Australia)
Book Dragon (Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center blog). Books for adults & children.
Book Voyagers. Young adult and new adult, mostly.
Books for Keeps. Gifts. (UK)
Books Live. A couple of titles for younger readers on a long list of reviewers' favorites. (South Africa)
Booktopia. Scroll down on the list. (Australia)
British Comic Awards. Shortlists & longlists. (UK)
Bustle. Best YA book covers.
Carnegie Medal. For children's video.
CBC/Radio-Canada. List includes a few books for kids. (Canada)
Center for the Study of Multicultural Children's Literature (Pinterest page)
Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) UK
Centro Voices. "Essential Boricua Reading for the Holiday Season" includes some kids' & YA books.
Chen Bochui Awards (China). Via the Bookseller.
Chicago Public Library. Fiction for older readers (3rd through 8th grades).
Chicago Public Library. Informational books for older readers (3rd through 8th grades).
Chicago Public Library. Informational books for younger readers (Kindergarten through 3rd grade).
Chicago Public Library. Picture books.
Chicago Public Library. Teen fiction.
Chicago Public Library. Teen graphic novels and manga.
Chicago Public Library. Teen nonfiction.
Christchurch City Libraries (New Zealand)
Charlotte Huck Award. For fiction; sponsored by NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English).
Comics Alliance. Teens.
Cooperative Children's Book Center. CCBC Choices. (PDF)
Cosmos Magazine. Illustrated science books, with several for children. (Australia)
Culture Whisper (UK)
Cuyahoga Public Library. Gifts & "great books for kids."
Cybils (Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards). Finalists in eleven categories. Winners to be announced Feb. 14, 2016.
Daily Express (UK)
Daily O (India)
Denver Public Library. Gift guide.
EarlyWord. Spread sheet of various lists of best kids' books.
Edgar Awards. Sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America. Nominees, including "juvenile" and YA books. Winners to be announced April 28, 2016.
Elle UK. One kids' book on the list.
Entropy. Best fiction list includes a graphic novel for young adults.
Everything Zoomer. Gifts. (Canada)
Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction Award. See YALSA, below.
Ezra Jack Keats Awards. To be announced April 2016.
Financial Times (UK)
A Fuse #8 Production (School Library Journal blog). Librarian Elizabeth Bird's 100 Magnificent Children's Books 2015.
#GayYABookClub. 2015 Favorites from a Twitter chat, via Storify.
GeekDad. Gift guide, kids & adults.
Geisel Award. Beginning readers. Announced Jan. 11, 2016; link coming soon.
Globe and Mail (Canada)
Good Reads with Ronna. Picture books.
Goodreads Choice Awards. Graphic novels and comics. Some, not all, for children.
Goodreads Choice Awards. Middle grade.
Goodreads Choice Awards. Picture books.
Goodreads Choice Awards. Young adult fantasy and science fiction.
Goodreads Choice Awards. Young adult fiction.
Guardian. Best kids' books of the year. Plus, some author, editor, and reader favorites.
Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. Shortlist. Winner. (UK)
Guardian. Christmas books. (UK)
Guardian. Various authors' favorites of the year. See Lauren Child's picks for some children's books. (UK)
Guardian. Young Critics Competition winners. (UK)
Heavy Medal, A Mock Newbery Blog. Shortlist.
Imagination Soup. Board books.
io9. Science fiction and fantasy, including some YA books.
Irish Times. Robert Dunbar's favourites. (Ireland)
Japan Times. Books on Japan, including several for children. (Japan)
Jefferson County (Colorado) Public Library. Best monster books. Now we're talkin'.
Jewish Journal. Hanukkah books.
LA Weekly. LA books, one YA.
Latina Book Club. Some kids' and YA titles on the list.
Literary Hub. Booksellers' favorites, with a couple of titles for younger readers.
Londonist. Best London books, with a couple for kids. (UK)
Lone Star Literary Life. Texas books for younger readers, and Texas YA.
Masala Mommas. South Asian kids' books, with some older titles. (Canada)
Maverick Graphic Novel Reading List, from the Texas Library Association.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. List includes two kids' books.
Motherland. Books for preschoolers. (UK)
Mountain Xpress. Kids' books by local Asheville, NC, area authors.
NAACP Image Awards. Nominees in many categories, including outstanding literary works for children and for youth/teens.
Nashville Lifestyles. Southern titles, with one picture book on the list.
National Science Teachers Association. Outstanding science trade books for students K-12.
NBC News Latino. Latino books from small presses; one kids' title on the list.
Nerdy Book Club. Early readers and chapter books.
Nerdy Book Club. Fiction picture books.
Nerdy Book Club. Graphic novels.
Nerdy Book Club. Middle grade fiction.
Nerdy Book Club. Nonfiction.
Nerdy Book Club. Nonfiction picture books.
Nerdy Book Club. Poetry and novels in verse.
Nerdy Book Club. Young adult fiction, Part 1 and Part 2.
New Scientist. One kids' book on the list. (UK)
New Statesman. Critic Amanda Craig's selections. (UK)
News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
Not My Typewriter. List includes a few books for kids.
Odyssey Award. For audiobooks.
Orbis Pictus Award. For nonfiction; sponsored by NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English).
Pages & Pages (Australia)
Parnassus Musing. Gift list for children and teens.
Penn GSE [Graduate School of Education] Newsroom. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas's picks.
Planetary Society. Books about space.
Port Huron (Mich.) Times Herald. Gifts.
Prime Minister's Literary Awards. Shortlists. (Australia)
Printz Award. Announced Jan. 11, 2016; link coming soon.
Project Eve Moms. Picture books.
Queensland Literary Awards (Australia)
Quill & Quire (Canada)
Rainbow List. GLBTQ books.
Reading Rockets. Gift guide.
Readings. Emily Gale's picks for her family. (Australia)
Readings. Junior fiction. (Australia)
Readings. Middle fiction. (Australia)
Readings. Picture books. (Australia)
Readings. Young adult. (Australia)
Red Magazine (UK)
Rookie. Gifts (teens).
Royal Society Young People's Book Prize. Science books. (UK)
Sakura Medal. Nominees. (Japan)
San Francisco Chronicle. Gift guide include books for children.
Sarah Webb (Ireland)
Schneider Family Book Award. Announced Jan. 11, 2016; link coming soon.
School Library Journal. Adult books for teens.
School Library Journal. Middle grade.
School Library Journal. Nonfiction.
School Library Journal. Picture books.
School Library Journal. Top 10 audiobooks.
School Library Journal. Top 10 graphic novels.
School Library Journal. Top 10 Latin@ books.
School Library Journal. Young adult.
Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction. Via Read Roger at the Horn Book.
Seattle Review of Books. Teens.
Slate. Laura Miller's list includes a kids' book.
South Coast Today (MA)
Spectator. One kids' book included. (UK)
Spinoff (New Zealand)
Sunday Express (UK)
Sydney Taylor Book Awards. Sponsored by the Association of Jewish Libraries. (PDF)
Tablet Magazine. Marjorie Ingall's roundup of the best Jewish children's books.
Tejas Star Reading List. Bilingual English/Spanish books, and books in Spanish.
Telegraph. Young adult. (UK)
Today's Parent. Picture books. (Canada)
Tor.com. Staff favorites include some YA.
Toronto Public Library. Books for children under 5. (Canada)
Tri-City News (Canada)
USA Today. Christmas books.
Vampire Book Club. Some YA books on the list.
Victorian Premier's Literary Awards (Australia)
Vikki VanSickle (Canada)
Vox. Comics, some for kids.
Vulture (New York Magazine). Graphic novels, some for kids.
We Need Diverse Books. Middle grade.
- Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults
- Best Fiction for Young Adults
- Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults
- Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
- Teens' top ten
Zooglobble. Best kids' music. Not books but still fun.
They can't transform your actual situation, but they can transform your experience of it. We don't create a fantasy world to escape reality, we create it to be able to stay.
So wise. This is from the cartoonist Lynda Barry's memoir/exploration of images What It Is (Drawn & Quarterly, 2008). I so enjoyed the whole book, especially the part about the "transformational capabilities" of old stories. Barry's ideas reinforced my tentative plan to read the second graders a whole lot of fairy tales and folk tales this year.
Good morning! Sheesh, Chicken Spaghetti is pretty dusty, and needs some tidying up. But before I do that, let's talk books.
I had a really fun year reading to second graders at a nearby city school. I visit the class once a week, share a story, and then we talk. Sometimes we stay on topic.
The class favorite of 2014-2015 was the very funny Book with No Pictures, by B.J. Novak. I could have read it 52 times, and the kids would have been happy. It's a goof on the grown-up doing the reading, forcing her to utter lines like, "My only friend in the whole wide world is a hippo named Boo-Boo Butt." I read it in January, and in June that sentence was still being remembered fondly.
Right up there with The Book with No Pictures was Rude Cakes, by Rowboat Watkins. Another hilarious title, this one led to the kids writing their own Rude stories, including one about a Rude Valentine. "On Sunday, the Rude Valentine interrupted church." I love it.
Here are some of the other selections:
Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, by Laurie Ann Thompson & Sean Qualls
Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman, written by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by David Diaz
ZooBorns! Zoo Babies from Around the World, by Andrew Bleiman and Chris Eastland
Pecan Pie Baby, written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Madame Martine, written and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen
Tia Isa Wants a Car, written by Meg Medina and illustrated by Claudio Muñoz
Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do, by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
Kat Kong and Dogzilla, by Dav Pilkey
The Three Cabritos, written by Eric A. Kimmell and illustrated by Stephen Gilpin
For the next school year I am considering reading only folk tales and fractured folk tales. It could be really fun. Think of the vast 398.2 section in the library. Endless possibilities!
It's a New Year's tradition to hand over the blog to my husband, Norman, for his annual list!
Thanks, Susan, for once again letting me tell your readers about the books I’ve enjoyed this past year. My favorite fiction books were, in no particular order, Redeployment, by Phil Klay; Family Life, by Akhil Sharma; Euphoria, by Lily King; All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr; and Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill. My top nonfiction books were Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson, and Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, by Roz Chast.
After winning the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction, Phil Klay told the Guardian, “If I was going to write about war I had to be as rigorous and as honest as possible because that’s the only way I could justify it.” The twelve short stories in Klay’s phenomenal Redeployment are about as searing and honest as I can imagine in describing the toll that war takes on the men and women who serve in the military and on the people on whose soil they fight. In my 2012 year-end roundup, Kevin Powers’ novel, The Yellow Birds, made the top of my list, and now I’m glad to spread the word about another book that will become a classic in modern-day war literature.
Family Life concerns a mother, father, and two young sons, who move from India to Queens; they have begun to build a new life when one of the boys suffers severe brain damage in a swimming-pool accident. This novel skillfully examines how everyone’s life changes after a tragedy, but, beyond that, the author does a superb job of showing how the family interacts with and is perceived by the local Indian community after the accident. Euphoria is a must-read novel set in the 1930s and inspired by the life of anthropologist Margaret Mead. I must confess that (1) I know next to nothing about Margaret Mead, (2) I never heard of the other anthropologists fictionalized in the book (Reo Fortune and Gregory Bateson), and (3) I don’t know much about New Guinea or tribal people, but this work drew me in from the beginning and was difficult to put down until the very end. What more could one ask for in a book!
In All the Light We Cannot See, the combination of well-drawn characters, strong writing, and fine pacing makes Doerr’s WWII-era book, about a blind French girl and a German boy, a great read. Dept. of Speculation is a small and amazing novel about a wife, mother, and writer (all one person) in the throes of a troubled marriage. Ms. Offill’s novel was a standout in large part because of her unique and quirky storytelling.
Susan raved to me about Brown Girl Dreaming and for good reason. This winner of the 2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature should be required reading for everyone from tweens on up. Through a series of poems, Ms. Woodson shares her experiences as an African American girl growing up in South Carolina and Brooklyn in the sixties and seventies. Some of the most poignant sections are about her roots as an artist; the Horn Book said, “…[W]e trace her development as a nascent writer, from her early, overarching love of stories through her struggles to learn to read through the thrill of her first blank composition book to her realization that ‘words are [her] brilliance.’”
The other nonfiction books I really liked was the cartoonist Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? I found Ms. Chast’s graphic memoir to be many things–sad, funny, painful to read, and honest–in depicting both our willingness (or lack thereof) to face the reality of aging parents and our complex feelings about the folks who raised us.
Two good titles that fall into the category of laugh-out-loud funny are Spoiled Brats: Stories, by Simon Rich, and To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, by Joshua Ferris. I am a big fan of David Sedaris, and I’d put most of Rich’s stories right up there with Sedaris’s essays in terms of humor and cleverness. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is filled with sharp lines and perceptions as the main character, a Manhattan dentist, grapples with identity theft, girlfriends and co-workers, religion, and loneliness.
I can’t end my annual roundup without mentioning some titles that are too good not to pass along. Both Nora Webster, by Colm Tóibín, and The Liar’s Wife: Four Novellas, by Mary Gordon, showcase how exquisite writing can elevate a simple story; Dinaw Mengestu’s All Our Names stands out for its take on the immigrant experience. Jennifer Clement’s Prayers for the Stolen and Susan Minot’s Thirty Girls, set in Mexico and Uganda, respectively, are important, rich stories about kidnapping and survival.
Finally, A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, by Ben Macintyre, is a most-readable, true story about espionage and deceit.
As always, I wish everyone happy reading in the new year.
My New Year's resolution is always Read More Books, and usually I end it there. In 2014 I was able to do a lot of reading. Yay! Meanwhile, Norman is working on his great list. Stay tuned.
In 2015 I am most looking forward to works by my friends Mary Norris and Emily Nunn. Mary's Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen (W.W. Norton) is due out in April, and Emily's book, The Comfort Food Diaries (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster), hits the shelves in September. I can't wait!
If you have a book being published in 2015, please mention it in the comments. I don't want to miss a thing.
Here are some of my favorites from last year. Don't you love saying that on January 1st? I don't know how many books I read total; I always space out and forget to keep count. I do the same thing with swimming laps.
Bad Feminist: Essays, by Roxane Gay (Harper Perennial, 2014)
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen Books/ Simon & Schuster, 2014)
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? A Memoir, by Roz Chast (Bloomsbury, 2014)
Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner (Random House, 1987)
Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng (Penguin, 2014)
Family Life, by Akhil Sharma (W.W. Norton, 2014)
Family Trouble: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family, edited and with an introduction by Joy Castro (University of Nebraska Press, 2013)
Fire Shut Up in My Bones: A Memoir, by Charles M. Blow (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)
Gabriel: A Poem, by Edward Hirsch (Knopf, 2014)
Half a World Away, by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014)
Harumi's Japanese Cooking: More Than 75 Authentic and Contemporary Recipes from Japan's Most Popular Cooking Expert, by Harumi Kurihara (HP Trade, 2006)
In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic, by Professor X (Viking, 2011)
The Juggler's Children: A Journey Into Family, Legend, and the Genes That Bind Us, by Caroline Abraham (Random House Canada, 2013)
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo; translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano (Ten Speed Press/Random House, 2014)
Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit (Haymarket Books, 2014)
Men We Reaped: A Memoir, by Jesmyn Ward (Bloomsbury, reprint edition, 2014; original hardback, 2013)
My Life in Middlemarch, by Rebecca Mead (Crown, 2014)
Nora Webster, by Colm Tóibín (Scribner, 2014)
Postcards from Cookie: A Memoir of Motherhood, Miracles, and a Whole Lot of Mail, by Caroline Clarke (Harper, 2014)
The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood, by Richard Blanco (Ecco, 2014)
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League, by Jeff Hobbs (Scribner, 2014)
A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki (Viking, 2013)
Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books, by Nick Hornby (Believer Books/McSweeney's, 2013)
Traveling Heavy: A Memoir Between Journeys, by Ruth Behar (Duke University Press Books 2013)
The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking, by Olivia Laing (Picador, 2013)
Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education, edited by Jennifer De Leon (University of Nebraska Press, 2014)
Writing Is My Drink: A Writer's Story of Finding Her Voice (And a Guide to How You Can Too), by Theo Pauline Nestor (Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2013)
Virginia Woolf asks, in Hours in a Library, a series of questions about contemporary authors’ works, issues that make their work appeal to us as much as the classics. “...What do they see of the surrounding world, and what is the dream that fills the spaces of their active lives? They tell us all these things in their books.”
It’s as if Woolf knew I was reading the memoir Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, 2014), a children’s title by Jacqueline Woodson. Her dream, from childhood on, was to be a writer. Indeed, she is the author of many books for kids, including Locomotion, Each Kindness, After Tupac and D Foster, and Pecan Pie Baby. Brown Girl Dreaming takes readers about up to Woodson’s adolescence.
Born in the mid-sixties, Jacqueline Woodson, an African American, spends her youngest years in Ohio and a still-segregated South Carolina (“I am born as the South explodes,” she writes), the latter with her loving maternal grandparents. She later moves with her mother and her siblings to Brooklyn. Told in blank verse, the memoir is very much a middle-grade book, and grown-ups will find plenty to enjoy, too. NPR’s Terry Gross complemented Woodson for using poems to convey the story, which allows space around the words and makes the book easy to read. I finished the book in one sitting!
Children will relate to young Jackie's loving family, her best friend, childhood games, and her love of pop music. Kids may be surprised at—and reassured by—the National Book Award-winning author’s struggles at school, where she took a long time to learn to read and write because of an unnamed learning difference (“the words twist/twirl across the page”). If, like me, they are not Jehovah’s Witnesses, they’ll learn a little something about that religion; Woodson’s grandmother, an ardent believer, got the grandkids involved. (“I thought I was saving lives,” Woodson told Terry Gross.) Above all, the transformative power of words and stories shines through.
One of my favorite passages is the poem “On the Bus to Dannemora.” Jackie and members of her family are travelling upstate, from NYC, to visit a favorite uncle in prison. Needless to say, it’s a long, draining trip. The poem, however, takes its cues from the beckoning universalism of the seventies hit “Love Train”; bits of the O’Jays’ lyrics weave through a daydream Jackie has. As the scenery flashes by, she imagines the bus occupants and their loved ones are instead aboard “a whole train filled/with love and now the people on it/aren’t in prison but are free to dance/and sing and hug their families whenever they want.” We readers feel Jackie’s heartbreak, and we sense her spirit and strength, too.
That’s just what Jacqueline Woodson does in Brown Girl Dreaming: she turns a few hours of our day—the time it takes to read her book—into an unforgettable journey.
Brown Girl Dreaming, a strong contender for the 2015 Newbery Medal, won the 2014 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.
A roundup of the year-end "best of" lists and children's literature prizes. Most of the books on these lists were published in 2014; a few lists include titles from prior years, too. I will update this page regularly, so if you see something not mentioned here, give me a holler in the comments or on Twitter @Susan_Thomsen. Comments are open but moderated, due to spam woes.
©Susan Thomsen, 2014.
The blog Largehearted Boy maintains a huge list of all the online "best books" lists. The English department at St. Columba's College, Dublin, keeps a good annotated list of book lists. Also, Confessions of a Science Librarian collects lists of best science books (for adults). Don't miss librarian Travis Jonker's smart and funny "Children's Literature 2014: The Year in Miscellanea," at School Library Journal's 100 Scope Notes blog. Holiday shoppers will want to peruse the great suggestions at MotherReader's list of "150 Ways to Give a Book." Betsy Bird, of the New York Public Library, makes her Caldecott and Newbery predictions at another School Library Journal blog, A Fuse #8 Production.
AAAS Science Books & Film. Gift guide. (AAAS = American Association for the Advancement of Science)
Air & Space Magazine (Smithsonian). Aviation- and space-themed books.
Alex Award, for adult books with teen appeal (PDF)
Arab American Book Award. Several categories, including books for children.
[Gillian] Flynn: I would love it if I could do an event without a very well-meaning man telling me, "I don't normally read books by women." Do you get that?
[Cheryl] Strayed: All the time. [...]
From "Gone Girls, Found," Cara Buckley's interview with Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and Cheryl Strayed (Wild), in the New York Times, Sunday, November 23, 2014.
School has started, and with it, I'm back in the classroom once a week, reading to second graders. So far we have read these picture books:
Tomás and the Library Lady, written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Raul Colón. A friendly bookseller at Manhattan's charming La Casa Azul recommended this one, which is sprinkled with Spanish words. Tomás, the child of migrant Texas farm workers, find a place of refuge in an Iowa library and enjoys the attention of two mentors in the "library lady" and his grandfather. It's based on the childhood experiences of Tomás Rivera, who went on to become a university chancellor.
Peanut Butter and Homework Sandwiches, written by Leslie Broadie Cook and illustrated by Jack E. Davis. A silly tale of a kid who just can't get it right, homework-wise, through no fault of his own.
The Three Bears, written and illustrated by Paul Galdone. Before hearing Mo Willems' parody Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, the second graders needed some familiarity with the fairy tale, and Galdone's is a straight-forward rendering. Of course some knew the story already, but the discussion afterward was our longest so far. Among the kids' contributions were Destiny's keen observations about the illustrations and Miguel's announcement of his birthday. Oh, and Huynh will soon have a baby brother or sister.
Some years ago I found Galdone's work through the recommendations in Esmé Raji Codell's How to Get Your Child to Love Reading. Along with Jim Trelease's Read-Aloud Handbook, Codell's guide is a must-have resource for people who share books with young children.
Another June, another school year coming to a close. Up here in New England we keep 'em in class until almost the end of the month. I've been a volunteer classroom reader for a while now, and I love it, even the unpredictable nature of the last few weeks of the academic year. I read in the afternoon, and sometimes the second graders are almost sleeping, exhausted from the heat (no a.c. at this school) and other times they are buzzing around the room like bees in a hive. They are always ready to listen to a read-aloud, though.
Earlier this week I shared Oliver Jeffers' picture book The Incredible Book Eating Boy because the kids asked to hear something funny. Until it dawns on him to read books, the protagonist, Henry, eats them. Things get out of hand, naturally, before Henry's epiphany. The back cover and last few pages are missing a bit-sized chunk, and we readers talked a lot about that. I had to walk around the room and show everyone. Henry really bit it! Or did he? I'm going to buy one for the class so that the kids can pore over all the fun details. (I had to return my copy to the library.)
Other books that the group enjoyed include Harry Allard and James Marshall's Miss Nelson Is Missing!, Meg Medina and Claudio Muñoz's Tia Isa Wants a Car, Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri's Dragons Love Tacos, and Dav Pilkey's wacky Dogzilla and Kat Kong. Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin's Giggle, Giggle, Quack garnered the most guffaws.
I run into alumni—third, fourth, fifth graders—all the time at the school. "Remember when you used to read with us?" they ask. The kids grow up so quickly. What a gift I've been given to be able to spend time with them and talk about books.
June 26, 2014. Edited to add: I forgot to mention Peter Brown's subversive Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, another big favorite.
Announced this morning: the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards, a.k.a., the Cybils. You'll find many ideas for good reading in the lists of winners.
Today I'm turning over the space to my husband, Norman Trepner, an avid reader and an all-around good guy. Take it away, Norm. —Susan
Once again Susan has asked me to share with her Chicken Spaghetti friends my favorite books I’ve read this past year, and once again I’m more than happy to comply!
Three of my top ten books were stories about teens and tweens. A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki, is the story of a 16 year old Japanese girl who writes in her diary about her 104-year old Buddhist nun great-grandmother, and the book also tells of a woman in a remote British Columbian island who finds the diary. At times laugh-out-loud funny and at times disturbing, this book, which was short listed for the Man Booker Prize, is a must read. Another powerful book that was short listed for the Man Booker Prize is We Need New Names, by NoViolet Bulawayo. This excellent debut novel follows the protagonist, named Darling, from her life as a 10 year old in Zimbabwe to her teen years living in Michigan. The third book, Brewster, by Mark Slouka, is the story of two teenage boys from troubled homes who become close friends. Set in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in working class Brewster, New York, this hard-to-put down book is storytelling at its finest.
In the book What W.H. Auden Can Do For You (Princeton University Press, 2013), Alexander McCall Smith writes, "[The poet W.H.] Auden reminds us to be grateful, and that is something that we increasingly need to be reminded of in a culture of expectations and entitlement."
McCall laments a consumerist culture in which we're pushed to complain rather than express gratitude. But "Why not say thank you?" McCall Smith asks.
He goes on to say that Auden's work points us in a appreciative direction because the poems after 1940 "tend to be poems of celebration, written with great charity and with love for the ordinary pleasures of life."
McCall Smith's lovely book is a good one for this season, and reminds me to say thank you, readers, for continuing to visit Chicken Spaghetti. I hope your holidays are grand.