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Norman's Best Books of 2010

This morning I'm happy to call on my husband, Norman, an avid reader, for his recommendations. —ST

As 2010 comes to an end, I am once again happy to share some favorite books that I’ve read over the past year with Chicken Spaghetti readers. Most but not all of the books came out in 2010, and most but not all of the books are not books for children or young adult books. In other words, there is no true justification for this list being published on Chicken Spaghetti except that I like to talk books…and Susan likes lists.

The best books I read this past year were, in no particular order:

Someone Knows My Name, by Lawrence Hill

To The End of the Land, by David Grossman

How to Read the Air, by Dinaw Mengestu

American Subversive, by David Goodwillie

The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen

What is Left the Daughter, by Howard Norman

Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart

Lost City Radio, by Daniel Alarcon

The Hole We’re In, by Gabrielle Zevin

Mathilda Savitch, by Victor Lodato

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

The Death of the Adversary and Comedy in a Minor Key, both by Hans Keilson

The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman

Nemesis, by Philip Roth

In terms of the above books, I’ll add a few comments. To me, the sign of a good book is one that you want to give to everyone you like! That is the case with Someone Knows My Name and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, both of which I did give as gifts in 2010. I became hooked on Dinaw Mengestu’s writing when I read The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and Mengestu’s second novel did not disappoint. The same can be said for Freedom, which I considered to be even better than The Corrections. Two of the most intense books I read this past year were The Death of the Adversary and Lost City Radio, and two fine debut novels were Mathilda Savitch and American Subversive. 

Other books I enjoyed this past year include A Visit From The Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan; Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff; The Leopard, by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa; Atlas of Unknowns, by Tania James; Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson; Happy Now?, by Katherine Shonk; The Irrestible Henry House, by Lisa Grunwald; Union Atlantic, by Adam Haslett; The Privileges, by Jonathan Dee; and The One Hundred-Foot Journey, by Richard Morais.

Happy reading to all in 2011!


More Updates to the List, Plus Lizards, 12.18.10

This last week I've been reading Cybils books and updating The Best Children's Books 2010: A List of Lists and Awards.

While searching for kids-book items, I stumbled across some great recs for adults—the San Francisco Chronicle's Best 2010 Books by Bay Area authors. So far, I've written down seven titles from there that I want to read; I am so happy to find a list that isn't the same old, same old.

After reading lots of science-related books lately, I know of a couple that would make great gifts for the young naturalist: Nic Bishop Lizards, with its fabulous photos of the same, and Journey into the Deep: Discovering New Ocean Creatures, by Rebecca L. Johnson, featuring photographs of delightfully weird-looking animals discovered during the recent Census of Marine Life. Both are picture books for older readers--7+ for Lizards, and 10+ for Journey, younger for read-alouds, of course. Journey into the Deep was nominated for a Cybil award, and Nic Bishop Lizards should have been.

Meanwhile, some new kids-book-lists additions here at Chicken Spaghetti:

AAAS/Science Books & Film Gift Guide (AAAS=American Asssociation for the Advancement of Science)

BoingBoing Gift Guide. Includes some books for children & teens.

January Magazine Comic Log's best science books for children and teens

PRI's The World

R.J. Julia (Madison, CT, bookstore)

San Francisco Chronicle: Books for Hanukkah and Christmas

Smithsonian Magazine: Notable Books

Surprising Science, a Smithsonian Magazine blog: Great science books

Welcome to My Tweendom. Five books for tweens.

Oh, That Dratted Louisa May Alcott

In Lucretia's [Lucretia Jones, Edith Wharton's mother] view, books could be dangerous. Not only were they full of bad people, they were full of bad English. Especially children's books. Louisa May Alcott was so sloppy with her grammar in Little Women that Lucretia was appalled. A few children's books—such as George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin and Charles Kinglsey's The Water-Babies—met Lucretia's standard. But adult books were grammatically more correct and therefore safer. So from that time on, Edith [aged 7 or so] was permitted to read only adult classics approved by her mother.

from The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton, by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge (Clarion Books, 2010)

51CYIGDFe2L._SL500_AA300_ Helicopter parenting, 1860s upper-crust-NYC style! Some things never change; I was reminded of the picture-book brouhaha from earlier this fall. Of course, now I'm itching to go back to Little Women and try to figure out what riled up Lucretia Jones. To judge from what Connie Wooldridge writes, though, it wouldn't take much.

Edith Wharton survived her upbringing and went on to write such fine novels as The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence and many other books and short stories.

The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton is a nominee for a Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Award (a Cybil) in young adult/middle grade nonfiction.

Some Best-Kids-Books Lists to Read

Happy Friday! For the past few years I've collected online links to many "best of the year" lists for children's books. Here are some recent additions to The Best Children's Books 2010: A List of Lists and Awards.


Apartment Therapy Ohdeedoh: Best Jewish children's books Audiobooks.

AudioFile. Best audiobooks, including a "Children's and Family Listening" category.

Boston Globe. Anita Silvey's picks.

Bruneau Family Children's/Young Adult Literature Award. Honors excellence in Newfoundland and Labrador writing. (Canada)

Chapters Indigo (Canada)

A Fuse #8 Production, a School Library Journal blog. 100 "magnificent books."

Grand Rapids Press. Books by Michigan authors.

Hockey Book Not a "best" list, per se, but a good roundup of 2010 hockey books for children and teens.

The Hornbook's Fanfare list

The Inkys longlist, shortlist, and winners. Teenage choice book award. (Australia)

Irish Book Awards, including the Dublin Airport Authority Irish Children's Book of the Year

The Manga Critic

National Outdoor Book Award. Includes a children's book category.

New York Public Library: 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing (PDF file)

New York Times Book Review: Notable children's books

The New Yorker: The Book Bench blog's Holiday Gift Guide: "For the Precocious Child"

Ottawa Citizen. List includes books for children. (Canada)

Romantic Times. YA nominees at the end of a long list.

YALSA Morris Award shortlist. Honors debut YA authors.

Zooglobble. Best kids' music, not books. Hey, we needed a Z!

The Bat Scientists


They are certainly not cute,


but they're important.

The Bat Scientists, a Scientists in the Field book by Mary Kay Carson, makes a good case.

"'We can't just help the most popular animals and save ecosystems,'explains Merlin [Tuttle, founder of Bat Conservation International]. Bats play an important role in so many ecosystems. They eat insects, pollinate plants, and spread seeds. Whether you like bats or not, the plants and animals of many ecosystems depend on them."

The Bat Scientists, with photography by Carson's husband, Tom Uhlman, is a Cybils middle grade/YA nonfiction nominee. Children aged ten or so and older are the target audience for the popular Scientists in the Field series, but grown-ups will find plenty to like, too.

Note: The bat photograph is not in the book, but from Wikimedia Commons. Taken by Mnolf, "Whiskered Bat (Myotis mysticinus)" appears here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

Book details:

The Bat Scientists
by Mary Kay Carson, with photography by Tom Uhlman
Houghton Mifflin, 2010
80 pages

Quite a Few Nature Books for Kids, or Spying at the New York Botanical Garden


Loyal Chicken Spaghetti readers know that I like to take pictures of book displays. (On a similar post last summer, a few others confessed to doing this, too. My people!) Yesterday's family outing to the charming holiday train show at the New York Botanical Garden gave me an excuse to hang around its gift shop, acting like a spy and taking pictures with my shoe phone.


Store displays are great ways to get recommendations. I spotted a mix of fiction and nonfiction, including Big Yellow Sunflower, by Frances Barry; Bugs in a Blanket, by Beatrice Alemagna; The Grouchy Ladybug and The Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle; I Love Dirt: 52 Ways to Help Your and Your Kids Discover the Wonders of Nature, by Jennifer Ward; Snow Is Falling, by Franklyn M. Branley;  The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Krauss; a new edition of The Secret Garden, illustrated by Inga Moore; The Practical Naturalist, by Chris Packham; Blue Potatoes, Orange Tomatoes: How to Grow a Rainbow Garden, by Rosalind Creasy; and NYC books like Old Penn Station, by William Low, and I Love N.Y., by Christoph Niemann.

Continue reading "Quite a Few Nature Books for Kids, or Spying at the New York Botanical Garden" »

Directions to the Winter Blog Blast Tour '10

Blog Blast Tours, organized by Colleen Mondor, feature interviews with authors who write for children and teens. Taking place at different blogs during the week, the chats cover many ideas and genres, from nonfiction to fantasy and more. Always interesting and original, without the canned PR spiel that one sees elsewhere.

The latest Winter Blog Blast Tour starts on Monday, December 6th. Colleen Mondor says, "This schedule will be updated daily with quotes and direct urls so be sure to check back as the week goes on." Check this page at Colleen's blog, Chasing Ray, for links.


Elizabeth Hand at Chasing Ray
Maya Gold at Bildungsroman
L.K. Madigan at Writing & Ruminating
Paolo Bacigalupi at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
R.J. Anderson at Hip Writer Mama


B.A. Binns at The Happy Nappy Bookseller
Daisy Whitney at Bildungsroman
Adam Gidwitz at A Fuse #8 Production
Salley Mavor at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Josh Berk at Finding Wonderland


Andrea Seigel at Shaken & Stirred
Adele Griffin at Bildungsroman
Susan Campbell Bartoletti at Chasing Ray
Charles Benoit at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Sarah MacLean at Writing & Ruminating
Allen Zadoff at Hip Writer Mama


Kathi Appelt at Shelf Elf
Heidi Ayarbe at The Happy Nappy Bookseller
Julia DeVillers & Jennifer Roy at Bildungsroman
LeUyen Pham at Finding Wonderland


Marilyn Singer at Writing and Ruminating
Jennifer Donnelly at Shelf Elf
Ted Chiang at Shaken & Stirred
Sofia Quintero at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Maria Snyder at Finding Wonderland

Poetry Friday: Dad's Cooking!

John Ciardi's poem "Mummy Slept Late and Daddy Fixed Breakfast" begins, "Daddy fixed the breakfast./He made us each a waffle./It looked like gravel pudding./It tasted something awful[,]" and goes on to describe an utter fiasco. The poem is one of many included in the "I'm Hungry!" section of The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, an anthology that I highly recommend, especially for parents to share with kids nine or so and younger.

Quite the contrast to the scene Ciardi depicts is Stay at Stove Dad, the blog of my friend and former colleague John Donohue. Gwyneth Paltrow's GOOP newsletter recently said, "[John's] recipes are great for parents who, like him, are thrifty shoppers and like for their families to try lots of different kinds of food without getting too complicated." His recipe for pancakes with fruit sounds delicious—and as unlike gravel pudding as you can get.

Next May will bring Man With a Pan: The Culinary Adventures and Misadventures of Fathers Who Cook for Their Families (Algonquin Books), which John edited. He told me that it's a recipe and essay collection featuring works by the likes of Mario Batali, Mark Bittman, Mark Kurlansky, Jim Harrison, and Stephen King. Nice!

Finally, among the many "best of 2010" lists popping up is Smithsonian Magazine's guide to new children's books about food. The Food & Think blog sets out an enticing array of picture books, chapter books, and cookbooks.

For more poetry talk, see the Poetry Friday roundup at the always lovely blog The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Kids' book mentioned above

The Random House Book of Poetry for Children:
A Treasury of 572 Poems for Today's Child
Selected by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Arnold Lobel
Random House, 1983

This book is still on the shelves at bookstores and in libraries, of course.