Audiobooking May 2012

This week J. (my 12-year-old son) and I finished the audiobook version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in J.K. Rowling's epic series. We started listening to the first one in September 2010. J. was just starting sixth grade at a new school, and, until then, J. would have nothing to do with the series whatsoever. (Occasionally, and unfortunately, people become competitive about who has read what, and the same holds true even in elementary school.) I had read only the first book, and was neither here nor there about it. But the audiobooks! We became complete converts to the series and to Jim Dale's fabulous narration. Some evenings we sat in the car in the driveway, just to hear what would happen next, and I almost cried exiting I-95 as the last book came to an end. J. has read the books many times over, while I read ahead only once, preferring to be surprised. 

As the HPs got longer and longer, I did need a break between 5 and 6. We listened to and enjoyed When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead's Newbery-winning novel, although I have to admit that I am thick-headed when it comes to understanding time travel. I loved the New York setting and could completely picture those kids working in the sandwich shop. 

Now we're onto a classic, Charlotte's Web, read by its author, E.B. White. Isn't that so cool that you can still hear E.B. White's voice? Out of nowhere J. remarked, "This is a good book." High praise!

My friend Mary Parmelee at the Westport Library says Eva Ibbotson's One Dog and His Boy, read by Steve West, is one of the best audiobooks she's ever heard. Now that we're dog owners, this novel sounds perfect. The online card catalogue summarizes the story this way, "When lonely, ten-year-old Hal learns that his wealthy but neglectful parents only rented Fleck, the dog he always wanted, he and new friend Pippa take Fleck and four other dogs from the rental agency on a trek from London to Scotland, where Hal's grandparents live." I'm putting it on the list now.

Correction: An earlier version of this post had the wrong last name for Rebecca Stead, author of When You Reach Me. My apologies.

Finding Good Children's Books

Over at What Do We Do All Day?, you'll find an excellent post about ways to locate good books for children. The blog kindly includes a nod to Chicken Spaghetti's love of book lists. So, yeah! Let's break out a couple of new kid-book lists that popped up recently.

Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, for kids 12-18 (via Bartography)

Charlotte Zolotow Award books, honoring writing for picture books

Edgar Award finalists, mysteries (books for grown-ups, too)

NAACP Image Award nominees for literature, featuring books in a number of categories, including ones for children and teens

APALA Asian/Pacific American Awards

Amelia Bloomer Project, feminist literature

Rainbow List, GLTBQ books

American Indian Youth Literature Awards, "created to identify and honor the very best writing and illustrations by and about American Indians, Alaska Natives, Canadian First Nations and Native Hawaiians"

Best Children's Science Books of the Year (According to the NSTA)

The list of best children's science books of the year is out! Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12: 2012 (PDF file) was announced last week at a meeting of the National Science Teachers Association. This list with the dry title is always a good resource for gift givers, librarians, teachers, parents, and scientifically minded kids. After a quick scan of the titles, one publisher looks overrepresented to me, but I suppose I'll just have to read up and see.

Quoted: The House Baba Built

9780316076289_1681X2544 "Shanghai summers were long, hot, and humid—and as the war went on, the pool became too expensive to fill. So we spent the long summer days in the shade of the garden, with the shrill, hissing cicadas. They sang in unison whenever the sun reached them. Some of us read books from our family library or played cards and board games. [My brother] Hardy and I trained and fought our crickets."

from artist Ed Young's beautiful autobiographical book The House Baba Built: An Artist's Childhood in China (Little, Brown, 2011. Text as told to Libby Koponen.)

The scrapbook-style, multimedia (collages incorporating photographs, sketches, cut paper, and more) picture book, set during the World War II years, stays focused on its subject: a family's strength and resilience. Highly recommended.

Books for One Seventh Grade Boy

9780802798176 Our seventh grader does not jump up and down with wild abandon when we hand him a book and say, "You'd like this." However, leaving intriguing-looking titles lying around to be "discovered" often works like a charm. Author Melissa Wiley once called this "strategic strewing." 

Here a few books that happen to have been left out on the couch and in someone's favorite chair last spring and summer. I go by J.'s interests more than reading levels. Levels, schmevels. 

Amulet #4: The Last Council, by Kazu Kibuishi (Graphix, 2011) The latest in a popular series of graphic novels. J. actually turned off the computer to read it.

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous, written by Georgia Bragg and illustrated by Kevin O'Malley (Walker, 2011)

Impressed by kids who substitute blog for their parents, I asked J. how he'd describe this book for people who hadn't read it. 

"It's about how some famous people died," he said.

"Anything you want to add?" I asked.


Moving right along...

Darth Paper Strikes Back: An Origami Yoda Book, by Tom Angleberger (Amulet Books, 2011) Like its predecessor, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, this is a funny book with a middle-school setting.

Garter Snakes, by Heather L. Montgomery (Capstone, 2011). From a series called Wild About Snakes. 

Oil Spill! Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, by Elaine Landau (Millbrook, 2011)

What to Expect When You're Expecting Larvae: A Guide for Insect Parents (and Curious Kids), written by Bridget Heos and illustrated by Stephane Jorisch. "Whether your babies are wriggly maggots, fat grubs, or fuzzy caterpillars, your larvae will look different from you." Geared to elementary-school-age children but the almost-12 J. still read it with appreciation. I think the title of the informational picture book is hilarious.

Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities, by Chris Barton. Like How They Croaked and the next book, it was one of the great suggestions on the Westport (CT) Library's 6th grade summer reading lists.

Queen of the Falls, by Chris Van Allsburgh (Houghton Mifflin, 2011). I picked up my own strewn book and read it out loud. Fantastic! A widow in need of money decides to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Dude, that's crazy. And it's true.

Books I plan to "strategically strew" (but haven't yet seen)

Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick (Scholastic, 2011). Great writeup at Brain Pickings. J. enjoyed Selznick's Caldecott-winning Invention of Hugo Cabret.

America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell, by Don Brown (Flash Point/Roaring Brook, 2011) Reviewed at The Nonfiction Detectives

Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert, by Marc Aronson (Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, 2011) Reviewed by Betsy Bird at School Library Journal's A Fuse #8 Production.

The Elephant Scientist, by Donna M. Jackson, Caitlin O'Connell Rodwell, and Timothy Rodwell. A new book in Houghton Mifflin's Scientists in the Field series. Another one that sounds good, Loree Griffin Burns' Citizen Scientists, is due out early next year.  

Best Australian Children's Books 2011

The Midnight Zoo, a novel by Sonya Hartnett due out here next month, took the top honors in the "older readers" category when the Children's Book Council of Australia announced its 2011 books of the year last Friday. The Eve Pownall nonfiction award went to Ursula Dubosarsky's Return of the Word Spy, illustrated by Tohby Riddle. Jeannie Baker's Mirror, also published to acclaim here in the States, was one of two picture books of the year. For all the winners and honorees, click on the above link.

A Girl After My Own Heart

"And just look at these books!" said Hermione excitedly, running a finger along the spines of the large leather-bound tomes. "A Compendium of Common Curses and Their Counter-Actions...The Dark Arts Outsmarted... Self-Defensive" She looked around at Harry, her face glowing, and he saw that the presence of hundreds of books had finally convinced Hermione that what they were doing was right.

from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling

When I heard Hermione proclaiming on the audiobook we were listening to, I was reminded of Katharine Hepburn (as Jo) in the 1933 movie "Little Women" on her first visit to the Laurences' home next door. "What richness!" she sings out in joy.

I understand completely.

Children's Books in New England's Top 100

A few children's classics made the cut in the Boston Globe's recent list of  100 "essential" books either about New England or written by an author with ties to the region. 

Little Women (#2)

Make Way for Ducklings (#3)

Charlotte's Web (#15)

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (#54)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (#100).

Avid readers could make a case for lots of others, like anything by Dr. Seuss (born in Springfield, Mass.), Where the Wild Things Are (Sendak lives in CT) Barbara Cooney's Miss Rumphius, Donald Hall (author) & Barbara Cooney's (illustrator) Ox-Cart Man, Candace  Fleming's The Great and Only Barnum (not to mention many other biographies of famous New Englanders), and The Story of Ferdinand (illustrator Robert Lawson was a CT resident). 

Summer in the Field

Junior is now a rising 7th grader. How did that happen? I could have sworn that he just finished kindergarten.

This summer, when he's not app-surfing, he wants to read more Scientists in the Field books. That's the great series from Houghton Mifflin. Some that he has not gotten to yet are Diving to a Deep Sea Volcano; Saving the Ghost of the Mountain; and Wildlife Detectives. Along with many others, he's re-reading Harry Potter, too.

What are your kids reading these days? 

The Latest Book: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading
by Nina Sankovitch
HarperCollins, 2011

I admire Nina Sankovitch, although I've never met her. Every day for an entire year, she sat down and read a book, and blogged about it all.  She even wrote her own book, afterward. I just finished the resulting Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, a lovely collection of personal-and-literary essays. The author began her year as an antidote to the overwhelming sadness she was still feeling three years after the death of a beloved sister, and her conclusions about the value of memory and the backward glance inform every chapter.

Books like Sankovitch's always give me additions to my wish list. I wrote down these titles: The Open Door, by Elizabeth Maguire; The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon; A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest J. Gaines; Hannah Coulter, by Wendell Berry; Little Bee, by Chris Cleve; Indignation, by Philip Roth; The Sunday Philosophy Club, by Alexander McCall Smith; and Pastoralia, by George Saunders.

Not surprisingly, Sankovitch was an avid reader as a child—Harriet the Spy was especially beloved—and she does include some children's and YA books on her list of 365. Among the titles are American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang; Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card; Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke; The Picts and the Martyrs, by Arthur Ransome; Silverwing, by Kenneth Oppel; Twenty Boy Summer, by Sarah Ockler; Wizard's Hall, by Jane Yolen; and The Wright 3, by Blue Balliett. 

If you need some lit-blogging inspiration, or just like to read about reading, don't miss Tolstoy and the Purple Chair.