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November 2007
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January 2008

Good-bye, Hanukkah. Hello, Christmas.

Greetings, readers. We had such a ball with the Hanukkah books. Eric Kimmel's stories, in particular, are well-suited to the older picture-book reader. From the list that bloggers and other readers assembled this year and last, my eight year old loved Kimmel's Zigazak! A Magical Hanukkah Night and The Magic Dreidels. At school, Junior's teacher read Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins, which he now wants to own. Zimmel is far from sweetsy. In Zigazak!, two main characters are devils, and in The Magic Dreidels, someone tricks a child and steals the beloved toys. Good trumps bad in the end of both books, but the glimpses of clear wrong-doing lend some intrigue.

I liked Hanukkah Moon, by Deborah Da Costa, which tells of a little girl spending the holidays with a beloved aunt who's just moved from Mexico. The story incorporates some Hispanic Hanukkah traditions.

So, how about Christmas and New Year's books for eight-year-old readers? What are some good ones? Older books that folks can find at the library are just fine. We have the Grinch, of course, and Shanté Keys and the New Year's Peas, which highlights a variety of cultural approaches to January 1st. I wrote about that book (it's a lot of fun) during Robert's Snow: Blogging for a Cure, when the artist Marion Eldridge was featured here.

Must Reads for Book Reviewers

1. The National Book Critics Circle conducted a survey among its members about ethics in book reviewing, and I'd recommend that all bloggers who review books take a look at it. Agree or disagree, we bloggers need to be aware of what the ethical issues are. Here is one example from the post at the NBCC's blog, Critical Mass. (The full survey is linked there, as well as an earlier one from 1987.)

... new Net-based aspects of our literary life appear not to have settled in enough to create clear-cut ethical judgments. One example is the split that resulted from Question 17: "Should a literary blogger review the book of another literary blogger to whose blog she or he links?"

33.4 said "Yes."

23.4 said "No."

22.5 percent were "Not Sure."

20.7 percent retreated to "Other."

2. In "Critical Condition" at The New Republic, James Wolcott devotes many words to Gail Pool's Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America and offers his own advice, in the form of recommended reading, to novice reviewers.

Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood

I'm midway from Birzeit to Ramallah, at the Israeli army checkpoint at Surda. No one knows how long our bus will stay here. An army jeep is parked sideways to block the road. Soldiers in another jeep look on with their guns. They are ready to shoot. A barrier that punctuates tires stands near the stop sign. I regret that I chose to sit up front.

So begins Ibtisam Barakat's powerful memoir Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood. That passage takes place in 1981 when the writer was teenager, but book's main story concerns a much younger Barakat and her family during and immediately after the Six-Day War of 1967. Palestinian residents of the West Bank, they evacuated to Jordan, later to return to a different life entirely.

What is it like to grow up in a war zone? What does it mean to be a refugee? How can you leave the only home you've ever known? At turns sad and hopeful, Tasting the Sky answers these questions by documenting one young girl's experiences. Highly recommended for readers aged thirteen and older.

Ibtisam Barakat now lives in the United States. She first came here to work as an intern at The Nation, and you can read a recent interview with her at that magazine's web site.

Tasting the Sky is a Cybils nominee in the Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction category.

The Golden Compass: Movie Notes Thataway

Many readers likely went to see the movie "The Golden Compass" this weekend. For the most thorough roundup of articles, interviews, and intelligent opinions on the film, the book and its author, Philip Pullman, you should visit Monica Edinger's blog, Educating Alice. Look for the posts labelled "Waiting for Lyra" and "The Golden Compass Movie."

Meanwhile, in its December 10th issue, The New Yorker chose to run a capsule review in the Goings On About Town section instead of a longer piece in the back of the magazine by either David Denby or Anthony Lane, the main film critics. Interesting, yes?

Poetry Friday: Stopping by the Woods

I'm hoping for snow today. Cold temperatures and gray skies surely add up to snow. Even if Mother Nature doesn't grant me my wish, I'm going to dig out the picture book version of Robert Frost's classic poem Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening, which was illustrated by Susan Jeffers. She pictures a bearded traveller in a red plaid jacket who leaves bird seed and hay for the animals in Frost's woods. It's a lovely book, well suited to reading by the fireplace on a cold night, especially at the time of the winter solstice (December 22nd  in '07). After all, the poem takes place on "the darkest evening of the year."

Stop by Becky's Book Reviews for today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Are You a Library Person?

Over at the Constant Reader group at Goodreads, someone asked, "Are you a bookstore person or a library person?" This was my reply.

I grew up going to the library and getting big stacks of books to take home. In my Southern city we had both a big Carnegie library downtown and a convenient neighborhood branch. The downtown library was across the street from the bus station, a Sears, and the YWCA, so I considered the whole experience of borrowing books there to be very cosmopolitan.

For a while when my son was younger I bought tons of books at the local Goodwill store for a song. Then I realized we just had too many books, we weren't reading them all, and I took 25 paper bags full of books (grownups' and kids') back to Goodwill and the local library for its annual sale.

I use my New England town's public library a lot, and I'm lucky because it has a nice-sized acquisitions budget. And what isn't available can be ordered through inter-library loan. I've pretty much gotten over having to have all my books around me, though quite a few manage to creep into our house and clutter our shelves. I weed books several times a year.

In my hometown, the Carnegie library became a state office building and the Sears became the flagship Eudora Welty Library. Every time I go in there when I visit I expect to smell candy and peanuts at the entrance. And I still feel a little cosmopolitan just to be downtown.

Eight Crazy Nights, or Books for Hanukkah

Happy Hanukkah, folks. The Jewish festival of lights starts this evening at sundown. Last year readers and fellow bloggers helped me compile the following list of book recommendations, which I re-post with gratitude and pleasure. Also be sure to see the blog Wild Rose Reader, which offers a whole bunch of suggestions.

My First Chanukah, by Tomie DePaola

Eric Kimmel's Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins; The Magic Dreidels; Zigazak! A Magical Hanukkah Night; and The Chanukkah Guest (For even more Hanukkah picture books by Eric Kimmel, visit his web site.)

Steven Schnur's Tie Man's Miracle

The Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes, by Linda Glaser

In the Month of Kislev, by Nina Jaffe

Hanukkah Lights: Holiday Poetry, an easy reader compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins. (This is one of our favorite "discoveries" last year. My son and I read it many times.)

Chanukah Lights Everywhere, by Michael J. Rosen

The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate, by Janice Cohn

Deborah Heiligman's Celebrate Hanukkah

All-of-a-Kind Family books by Sydney Taylor

Hanukkah Lights, Hanukkah Nights, by Leslie Kimmelman

Shira's Hanukkah Gift (a.k.a., Kugel Valley Klezmer Band), by Joan Betty Stuchner

Hanukkah, O Hannukah, by Susan L. Roth

Elijah's Angel: A Story for Chanukah and Christmas, by Michael J. Rosen

There's No Such Thing as a Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein, by Susan Sussman

I Have a Little Dreidel, by Maxie Baum

The  Eight Crazy Nights reference comes from Adam Sandler's "Chanukah Song."

Edited to add these recommendations and comments from reader Heidi Estrin, who hosts The Book of Life podcast and directs the library at Congregation B'Nai Israel, in Boca Raton, Florida. Thanks, Heidi!

When Mindy Saved Hanukkah, by Eric A. Kimmel

The Runaway Latkes, by Leslie Kimmelman, a riff on the gingerbread man

The Eight Nights of Chanukah, by Leslea Newman, sung to the tune of 12 days of Xmas

Alexandra's Scroll, by Miriam Chaikin, a chapter book historical novel set in the time of the Maccabees

Hanukkah Moon, by Deborah da Costa, picture book about Mexican Hanukkah customs

Letter on the Wind: A Chanukah Tale, by Sarah Lamstein, a mystical and beautiful picture book about faith in God

Like a Maccabee, by Barbara Bietz, a contemporary family story with a soccer theme

Kelly, from MsAbcMom, adds:

Latkes, Latkes, Good to Eat, by Naomi Howland

Wild Rose Reader's Elaine remembers one more:

Moishe's Miracle: A Hanukkah Story, by Laura Krauss Melmed

Monday Morning Miscellany, 12.05.07

"Best books of the year" watch: The Horn Book names its Fanfare selections; The New York Times Book Review turns in its kids' book Notables; and Australia's Read Alert blog, which is affiliated with the State Library of Victoria, makes the case for "the best reading of 2007." 

The Daring Book for Girls gets some PR from NPR.

Quiet Bubble pens a thoughtful review of The Arrival, by Shaun Tan, which is making everyone's Best of 2007 lists.