Monday, January 28, 2013

Raising a Reader--Birth to Toddler

I'm not sure how qualified I am to talk about reading with children but I thought I'd start sharing a few of my ideas, tips and favorite books to go along with my Parenting Book Challenge for this year.

When my son was about two years old, some out-of-town guests came to visit.  The little boy was the same age as my son and he was a little whirling dervish.  His energy was both infectious and overwhelming.  My son didn't know what to think about his energetic new friend and had the wisdom to withdraw to a corner when he felt overwhelmed and page through a book.  The mother was really surprised.  She couldn't believe Noodlebug would sit still with a book AND calmly turn paper pages without ripping them. "How did you get him to do that?!" she asked me.

The answer....."I don't know."

I started reading to Noodlebug when I brought him home from the hospital. It might feel a little strange to be reading to a newborn but I liked the idea of him hearing my voice.  Once he was able to grasp things and start sitting up, I started giving him board books.  I would sit him in my lap and read to him and say "turn page!" to signal him to turn the page. He got the idea pretty quickly.

Here are some of our favorites:

1. We adored the whole Karen Katz series of Lift-a-Flap books. 

 If you enjoy her books, she has versions for most holidays which adds to the fun.

2. John Schindel's BUSY books are delightful with their wonderful photographs and great vocab words:

Since we are cat people, we especially loved BUSY KITTIES although BUSY MONKEYS was also a favorite.

3. I adored Sandra Boynton as a child and love her board books which will entertain adults as well:

4.  An oldie but goodie:

There is a good reason why these have been around for so long.  And now you can get other editions like PAT THE CAT!

5. Once your little reader gets a little older and has more control, I highly recommend Matthew van Fleet's books:

 There are a whole bunch of them now!!! They are a little more advanced than board books with lots of moving parts and interactives.

6. I also recommend looking for classic children's picture books that come in both hardcover and board book editions. You can start your little one on the board book edition and then work your way up to the picture book.  So many great picture books are now available in board book format.

Of course, the most important thing is to read to your child.  By taking the time to do this, you are demonstrating the importance and value of reading.  It can get really difficult sometimes when a child wants to hear the same story fifteen times in a row but try to do it if you can.  They are learning the story, listening for words and identifying rhymes and patterns.  It may get old for you but not for them!!! Book with repetition, rhythm and rhyme always go over big!

I don't know when my son will start reading on his own and I'm not worried about it.  Right now, I'm just enjoying the experience of reading with him.  A few months ago, we started reading beginning reader chapter books together. He is 4.5 years old.  I can't wait to see what happens next!

DEATH OF BEES by Lisa O'Donnell

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

This book was a real surprise to me.  It is not your average coming-of-age story.  The book begins with sisters Marnie and her younger sister Nelly burying their parents in the backyard.  We don't find out until later what happened to their parents.  Marnie is on the verge of turning 16 and will soon be considered a legal adult and able to care for her younger sister. (who seems to have some sort of autism-like disability)  Until then, the two sisters try to hide the fact that their parents are dead so that they will not be separated.  Their next-door neighbor, an elderly gay man labeled as a sex offender, begins to suspect that something is amiss with the two girls next door.  Their lives intersect in surprising ways.

This book comes off as a bit macabre as a coming-of-age story but I found it both compelling and effective.  The book is filled with lost souls who come together in unexpected ways.  Marnie's story is so heartbreaking. She is clearly a good kid in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.  And help doesn't always come in a traditional form.  Nelly, on the other hand, seems oblivious to the world around her and operates on a different plane which makes it even more difficult for Marnie. I loved how the story unfolded and how heartbreaking it was.  I found myself caring for characters that seemed so rough on the outside that I probably wouldn't give them a second glance in real life.  O'Donnell does a wonderful job of moving us beyond the external characteristics of these people and giving insight into their souls.

I am tagging this as "young adult" novel because I think it may be very appropriate for many young adult readers.  However, I must warn you that the book contains sex, drugs and suicide.  These are all damaged people trying to make the best of their lives and situations.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended.  A very unusual and unexpectedly moving story about a young girl thrust into adulthood before her time.

Friday, January 25, 2013


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I wasn't sure what to expect with this book. I am not a widow nor am I experiencing recent grief.  I was worried that there wouldn't be anything relevant to me in these pages.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  While this book definitely deals with the challenges of working through grief, it is about much more than that. When Becky Aikman lost her husband to cancer in her late forties, she searched for a support group to help her through her grief.  She quickly found, however, that most of these groups were filled with elderly women wallowing in grief.  There were no kindred spirits to be found.  A year later, Aikman decided to try an experiment.  After putting the word out that she was looking for young widows, she managed to gather together a small group of women for a unique grief/recovery project.  They would meet once a month on a Saturday night for one year not only to support one another but also to get out there and try new things together.  This group of women, seemingly connected only be their shared grief experience, begins to try out everything from cooking classes to a personalized tour of the Met. In doing so, they not only find ways to move forward  but they make some surprising new friendships as well.

I loved reading about these women!  I loved how different their experiences were and how they each brought something special and unique to the table.  My one complaint is that they were all beautiful and thin and well-off.  It certainly makes it easier to move forward when you hold some if not all of those traits.  The book become much more for me than witnessing a group of women overcomiing their grief. For me, it was much more about how powerful it can be when women support one another. This club created a real sisterhood...if only for a short time.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended!  This would be a GREAT book club book for all-female book clubs.  I think women who enjoyed EAT PRAY LOVE would find much to enjoy here.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I had no idea what to expect with this one when it arrived on my doorstep.  The Kipling-esque title led me to believe that I would be heading on a journey to darkest Africa.  Not quite.

The narrator of this book (never named) has always wanted to be a writer. Always on the outside of the world of privilege looking in, he spends years riding on the coattails of his wealthy friend and fellow writer, Julian.  The narrator becomes part of a trio with his friend Julian and Julian's longtime friend Evelyn.  He falls hopelessly in love with Evelyn while competing with Julian in writing.  He never manages to overtake Julian's brilliance, however, and ends up traveling the world while writing term papers for various students.  The further the narrator travels, the more he gets caught up in his own web of lies until even he isn't sure of the truth.

This is a very difficult novel to describe because the reader is never sure of the truth.  The narrator offers us various versions throughout the story.  The reader always feels slightly off-balance while trying to figure out the truth.  If I were to describe the style of the book to someone, I would say "John Irving crossed with Jennifer Egan."  It is a compelling and interesting read that can often be quite frustrating.  Jansma leaves us with many unanswered questions.  I really enjoyed the book, though.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended.  A really intriguing and original story that will keep you guessing to the end and beyond.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Best of 2012

I had a hard time narrowing down my list for 2012 to just 10 books.  I couldn't do it!!!  So, here are my favorites of 2012:

19. DEARIE by Bob Spitz--Perfect for any Julia Child fans out there.

18. THE TWELVE by Justin Cronin--this sequel to THE PASSAGE was much much better than the first in the trilogy

17. SHADOW OF NIGHT by Deborah Harkness--Another sequel that surpasses the first book in the series

16. MRS QUEEN TAKE THE TRAIN by William Kuhn--a charming little tale about Queen Elizabeth that is perfect for any anglophiles out there

15.  SANDCASTLE GIRLS by Chris Bohjalian--This book educated so much on a horrible genocide that I had known nothing about.

14. BELLWETHER REVIVALS by Benjamin Wood--While this book had its problems, I still enjoyed its depiction of madness and genius.

13.WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Maria Semple--This quirky book had some great characters.

12. IN ONE PERSON by John Irving---Irving proves again what a gifted writer he really is

11. CITY OF WOMEN by David R. Gillham--Another side to WWII that I had never explored before

10. HEADING OUT TO WONDERFUL by Robert Goolrick---Some may be put off by this dark tale but I thought it was really well done.

9. PLACE OF SECRETS by Rachel Hore--I love a good "family secrets" drama and this one even had a little astronomy in it!

8. GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn--Infuriating by also fascinating.  A great vacation read.

7. HEFT by Liz Moore--A sweet book about misfits who are struggling to find their place in the world

6. ROUND HOUSE by Louise Erdrich--A terrific coming-of-age tale

5. LET'S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED by Jenny Lawson--I haven't laughed so hard in a long long time.

4. SATURDAY NIGHT WIDOWS by Becky Aikman--A wonderful tale of women supporting each other and finding healing and purpose in doing so

3. SECRET KEEPER by Kate Morton--Morton is one of my favorite writers and she doesn't disappoint with this one

2.  END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB by Will Schwalbe--For anyone who has ever loved a book

1. UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY by Rachel Joyce--This sweet and moving tale is my favorite of the year!

All of these books have been reviewed on this blog.

Looking forward to 2013!!!

Parenting Book Challenge Book #1

For our first selection of the 2013 Parenting Book Challenge, I will be reading Margaret Levine's TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL.  I encourage you to read along with me and send me suggestions for your own favorite parenting/education books throughout 2013. 

Friday, January 04, 2013

2012 in Review

Here is the list of book I read in 2012.  I did not write a review for every single one.  I'm happy to say that I DID meet my yearly goal of 52 books.  My Best of 2012 list will be coming soon!!!

1. Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
2. Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
3. The Technologists by Matthew Pearl
4. Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jabar
5. American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar
6. Place of Secrets by Rachel Hore
7. Snowman by Jo Nesbo
8. Darlings by Cristina Alger
9. Heft by Liz Moore
10. Heading out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick
11. Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
12. Expats by Chris Pavone
13. Heaven is Here by Stephanie Nielson
14. Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls
15. Vanishers by Heidi Julavits
16. Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
17. Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman
18. Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James
19. Molokai by Alan Brennert
20. Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani
21. Helen Keller in Love by Rosie Sultan
22. Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones
23. In One Person by John Irving
24. Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood
25. Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon
26. Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
27. Red House by Mark Haddon
28. Fifty Shades Darker by EL James
29. Fifty Shades Freed by EL James
30. Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
31. Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
32.Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
33. City of Women by David R. Gillham
34. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
35. The Twelve by Justin Cronin
36. Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
37. Let's Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
38. Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
39. Dearie by Bob Spitz
40. Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins
41. There Goes the Bride by MC Beaton
42. Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn
43. End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
44. Unburied by Charles Palliser
45. Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
46. Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
47. Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
48. Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
49. Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub
50. City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte
51. Dog Stars by Peter Heller
52. At Home by Bill Bryson
53. Above All Things by Tanis Rideout
54. Round House by Louise Erdrich
55. Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
56. Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee
57. Finding Camlann by Sean Pidgeon
58. Being Santa Claus by Sal Lizard
59. Obituary Writer by Ann Hood
60. Saturday Night Widows by Becky Aikman

Whew! What a year!!! It will be really hard to narrow down the Top 10.