Summer Reading Rocks!

I’ve tried all summer to pull away from the lure of the screen: lap top, desk top, and iPhone. Instead, I spent July teaching horseback riding, taking kids on creek hikes, picking berries, singing and more as a camp counselor at Eagle’s Nest Camp (a camp that I went to as a child and counseled at during my 20’s). June and August were dedicated to my client MaineShare as I helped them coordinate the MaineShare Fair an event that will take place next week (September 9th) in Portland, Maine.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time out on the Androscoggin River rowing and coaching others. Eagles, herons and leaping fish were a gift as I glided over some amazingly smooth water. I slipped my middle grade work in progress into sunny summer slivers of time thinking deeply and working on a revision that amplifies desire, conflict and tension.

Even with all this incredible activity I made time to read. I embraced audio books with the amazing FREE audio book summer reading program at SYNC. These books filled the time on the long drive from Maine to North Carolina and back. And without Facebook, I had plenty of time to sink into a book at night. At the beginning of the year, I’d challenged myself to read 26 books thinking that one every other week would be great, but I’ve already exceeded that goal. Now I’ve increased that goal to 40 (but really I’m hoping for 52).

I have a number of adult and poetry books on my list for fall but I’m super excited about Melanie Crowder’s next (her 3rd) novel A Nearer Moon that launches next week, and Meg Wiviott’s debut novel Paper Hearts that launches TODAY!

      

Congrats to Meg and Melanie!

Now on with my summer reading list! (Books are listed in the order I read them starting in June.)

MONSTER, Walter Dean Myers (audio book). This is an amazing full cast presentation with an extra from the author explaining his research process and his interviews with numerous incarcerated young men. Highly recommended.

BUDDHA BOY, Kathe Koja (audio book). Bullying and acceptance.

MATERIAL GIRLS, Elaine Dimopoulos (eGalley from Net Galley). More on this in a later post. Highly recommended.

CIRCUS MIRANDUS, Cassie Beasley. Gentle, loving, and magical to its core, this book is the one you want to read aloud to your students this school year. It will draw your too-big-for-read-aloud-books back to your embrace. (Evidence: my 6 foot 2 inch high school sophomore beside me nightly.) Highly recommended.

THE ADVENTURES OF BEEKLE: THE UNIMAGINARY FRIEND, Dan Santat. Caldecott winner 2015.

EL DEAFO, Cece Bell. Newbery Honor. I was especially interested in this because my major was ASL in college. I wanted to see how Bell handled the Deaf community. The book is about the main character’s struggles to fit in with her Hearing family and mainstream life even though her mother is eager to have her learn ASL. By the end of the book, her interest is piqued and I got the feeling that had the book gone on the girl may have explored the Deaf Community more. There is an excellent author’s note about the spectrum of culture and language in the Deaf Community. Highly recommended.

BROWN GIRL DREAMING, Jacqueline Woodson. What can I say about this memoir in verse that hasn’t already been said? The book won the National Book Award Winner, Coretta Scott King Award, Newbery Honor, an NAACP Image Award, and is featured on many many lists. Highly recommended.

CROWS & CARDS, Joseph Helgerson (audio book). A fun recording that harkens back to pre-Civil War days, river boat scoundrels, and Mark Twain language and humor.

THE CROSSOVER, Alexander Kwame. Newbery Winner 2015.

THE SKIN I’M IN, Sharon Flake. I picked this middle grade up at a library book sale and so glad I did. First pubbed in 1998, if you loved JUMPED by Rita Williams-Garcia you’ll be engaged by Maleeka’s struggle to love herself. Highly Recommended.

STORY OF A GIRL, Sara Zarr. A quiet YA novel that digs deeply into self acceptance, family and forgiveness.

Happy Multicultural Children’s Book Day! #readyourworld Book Reviews

Happy Multicultural Children’s Book Day!

Children’s reading and play advocates Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book and Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom teamed up in late 2013 to create an ambitious (and much needed) national event. Today, January 27th, 2015, they are hosting yet another Multicultural Children’s Book Day as a way of celebrating diversity in children’s books.

While #weneeddiversebooks focusses on changing the face of children’s literature by encouraging writers and illustrators from a variety of backgrounds to submit their work and urging changes in the publishing industry, #readyourworld seeks to get multicultural books into classrooms and libraries.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Mia and Valarie are on a mission to change all of that. Their mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. Another goal of this exciting event is create a compilation of books and favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.

Here are some ways you can celebrate Multicultural Children’s Book Day:

  • Visit The Multicultural Children’s Book Day website and view the booklists, reading resources and other useful multicultural information.
  • Visit the Multicultural Books for Kids Pinterest Board for more reading ideas.
  • Have children bring in their favorite multicultural book to school on this day and all this week and share it with the class.
  • Watch for the #ReadYourWorld hashtag on social media and share.
  • Visit MCCBD sponsors Wisdom Tales Press, Satya House Publications, DARIA (World Music with DARIA, Rainbow Books and others to discover new books to read.
  • Create a Multicultural Children’s Book Day display around the classroom or library.
  • Visit The Multicultural Children’s Book Day website on January 27th to view and participate in our huge blogger link-up, multicultural book reviews, giveaways and more!

MCCBD team hopes to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.

Today, I’m happy to share with you three of my favorite multicultural picture books to read and share.

First up, the Ezra Jack Keats Award winning, YESTERDAY I HAD THE BLUES by Jeron Ashford Frame, illustrations by R. Gregory Christie (Tricycle Press, 2003). A boy starts by exploring his “deep down in my shoes blues, the go away, Mr. Sun, quit smilin’ at me blues,” and goes on to explore other feelings as they relate to colors. His Daddy has the grays, his friend Sasha has the pinks, Talia has the Indigos, Gram the yellows and Mama the red. The author uses a jazzy string of strong and active nouns and verbs to describe each feeling and color. “Sasha says she got the pinks. The shiny tights, ballet after school, glitter on her cheeks pinks.” Jeron Ashford Frame’s poetry is toe tapping and R. Gregory Christie’s illustrations, while uniquely his, reminds me of Romare Bearden and William H. Johnson.

Next, OUT OF THE WAY! OUT OF THE WAY (Tulika Publishers, 2010, Groundwood Books, 2012), words by Uma Krishnaswami and pictures by Uma Krishnaswamy. One day, a boy finds a baby tree on a well worn path. He protects it with rocks and the path and people curve to avoid it: the bullock-cart man, the bicycles, people and animal feet. As the tree grows and spreads wider above creating a home for birds and small animals, the traffic and the town below it grows too. Krishnaswami captures the constant movement of people, carts, tires with the phrase “here to there and back again.” Soon the path is a lane and then a paved road. Krishnaswami is a master of refrain with her “Out of the way!” phrase.  The illustrator, Krishnaswamy, gives us a glimpse into the bustle of Indian culture with a lovely combination of line work and bright color.

I love this book as a multicultural substitute for that other tree book. (You know the one with the tree who tells the boy to go ahead and cut it down for his own purposes.) This one respects the interaction and connection between tree and human. It suggests that while humans grow and need, they can give space and respect to each other and to nature.

Set in old Peking, THE ELEPHANT’S PILLOW (Frances Lincoln, 2003) by Diana R. Roome and illustrator Jude Daly, tells the story of a spoiled merchant’s son named Sing Lo. Never satisfied with what he has, Sing Lo asks his rickshaw man, “What is the greatest sight of all?” Thus begins Sing Lo’s quest to see the Emperor’s elephant and to cheer him up. In the process, Sing Lo must rise to various challenges (through three tries) and transforms into the hero we knew he could be. The illustrations find their roots in the triptychs of Asian scrolls with saturated reds, blues, and oranges offset by pale yellows. It is a wonderful read aloud that is sweet and relatable. In the end, the elephant behaves much like a content puppy when it wants to be rubbed behind the ear.

You can bring books like these to children who need them by donating to First Book! 

Through First Book, MCCBD is having a virtual book drive.

A special thank you to the Children’s Book Council (CBC) for their support with Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCCBD)!

Platinum Sponsors: Wisdom Tales Press, Daybreak Press Global Bookshop, Gold SponsorsSatya House,  MulticulturalKids.com,   Author Stephen Hodges and the Magic Poof, Silver Sponsors: Junior Library GuildCapstone Publishing, Lee and Low Books,  The Omnibus Publishing. Bronze Sponsors:Double Dutch Dolls, Bliss Group Books, Snuggle with Picture Books Publishing,  Rainbow Books,   Author FeliciaCapers,   Chronicle Books   Muslim Writers Publishing ,East West Discovery Press.

Our CoHosts: We have NINE amazing Co-Hosts. You can view them here.

Five on Friday: Flurry and Snowe

1. This week has been weird political whirlwind that included the Maine Democratic Caucus, Republican Senator Snowe’s retirement announcement, a flurry of speculation regarding new candidates and a March 1st snow storm. I had collected a bunch of signatures for Chellie Pingree’s 1st District Congress seat and was then happy to learn that I should be prepared for another set of papers any time now. I’m crossing my fingers that she decides to run. At this writing, she has not confirmed or announced either way. Also pleased to say that the Blunt amendment was blocked.

2. I wish I could say that the snow day let me get a bunch of work done on my WIP. Sadly, no. Instead I caught up on my volunteer efforts for the Junior High Music Boosters, did laundry and watched a movie with my kiddos.

3. I am training in earnest again. My first tri of the season is in about 7 or so weeks. The Nor’Easter a backwards triathlon. I’ve started the multisport class at the Y and had a blast getting my butt kicked by our drill master instructor, Jen on Monday. If I don’t finish this blog soon I’m going to be late for the Friday class. Eek!

4. My second “Book Review Brigade” class (hosted by Maine Writers and Publishers) is tomorrow. I stayed up late working on four different book reviews for the class (adult fiction) and didn’t get to post my kidlit Book Review Wednesday. I apologize and will double up next Wednesday.

5. Two months officially down on this deployment and about 10 months to go. There are good days and bad days. The worst days have me screaming like a banshee. The best days  include small intimate moments with my children. Day by day, folks. Day by day.

Book Review Wednesday: Pennies for Elephants


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Judge, Lita. Pennies for Elephants. Hyperion. New York, 2009.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should tell you that Lita Judge is a dear friend who I met when she was just starting in the world of children’s book illustration. In the following years, she illustrated covers, and picture books written by others. Most recently she has had a string of amazing, award winning picture books published (see awards listed here) that she both wrote and illustrated. Lita comes from a background of fine art which is crystal clear from her command of color and composition. She also comes from a science background and knows how to research a subject. Pennies for Elephants, shows-off Lita’s command of research and painting technique.

Pennies for Elephants is based on the true story of the children of Boston in 1914 who purchased three elephants for the Franklin Park Zoo. The story follows Dorothy and her brother Henry who earn and save pennies, nickels, and dimes to help make the purchase of the elephants a reality.

One of the most interesting editorial and design decisions for the book is the use of newspaper clippings to update the reader on the fundraising developments and provide information about the sale of the three elephants. These bits of newspaper are masterfully painted gray scale reproductions of the Boston Post by the author. This is where Lita’s research really shines. The newspaper clippings throughout the book and on the endpapers contain wonderful old ads (Children’s 49¢ rompers at 29¢, The Grant Car $495) that pull us right into Boston at the turn of the century.

The reader is immersed in setting and mood through the vibrant full color watercolors of Dorothy, Henry and their neighbors as they navigate Boston and the purchase of the elephants. I know that as reference for the people, Lita had a costume party for local kids in her New Hampshire community. The cityscapes reveal Lita’s research of clothing, style, automobiles and transportation, economics, and architecture.

The prose, told from Dorothy’s point of view is well written and engaging. While the text in the news clippings adds to the content, I found that while reading the book aloud, the clippings sometimes hindered the flow of the story.

The book recently received the 2009 New Hampshire Literary Awards as an Outstanding Work of Children’s Literature. Pennies for Elephants, like Lita’s One Thousand Tracings, and the newly released Yellowstone Moran, is a wonderful example of a literary nonfiction for children. Teachers and parents should make sure to visit the Pennies for Elephants webpage with young readers for wonderful activities, a book trailer with a Scott Joplin soundtrack, and old photographs from the era.

Thank you for such wonderful book, Lita!

Book Review Wednesday: Kittens and Wombats, Oh my!

And now for a quick update in book review land… I’ve reviewed two books this week. However, this is the third week I’ve written book reviews and while I’m enjoying it and keeping up, my other work (critical essays and my novel for my MFA program) is falling behind. Therefore, I’ve decided that each week I’ll only do one review and it will either be a picture book or a book for middle grade kiddos. I’ll try to alternate but I don’t want to promise anything.


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Newbery, Linda. Illo: Rayner, Catherine. Posy. Atheneum Books for Young Readers. New York, 2008.

Posy is a delightful picture book for the youngest children in your life. Linda Newbery’s sparse, rhyming text describes different situations that Posy the kitten gets into. “She’s a whiskers wiper, crayon swiper…”

Catherine Rayner has created a sweet-faced kitten to embody the text. The mixed media illustrations have a lovely texture. Heavily applied, metallic, acrylic paint makes up Posy’s fur and is paired with a fluid India ink line that captures the playful gestures of the kitten. The design of the book is simple and classic with a brown serif font and plenty of white space.

This is one of those books that, if it was picked off the slush pile, an editor might call “slight.” However the author’s history as an award-winning novelist probably helped make this manuscript into a book. Young children don’t always need complex and they don’t always need story, sometimes play: word play, and image play is enough. This is one book that your toddler will ask for over and over and you will be happy to oblige.


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French, Jackie. Illo: Whatley, Bruce. How to Scratch a Wombat: where to find it…What to feed it…Why it sleeps all day. Clarion Books. New York, 2009.

How to Scratch a Wombat: where to find it…What to feed it…Why it sleeps all day is the perfect book for all of the animal lovers and “infokids” out there. Infokids like to find out how, and why, and they hang out in the nonfiction section of the library. While the book is a republication of an Australian edition published by Harper Collins in 2005, this edition features a humorous word list in the beginning so that you can translate between the Australian bum, pong, rubbish, scat, and torch to the American bottom, stink, trash, dung, and flashlight.

The book keeps kids reading and laughing with funny sidebars: “Are you a wombat?” and “Who’s the greatest- you or a wombat?” French has made her home on the edge of the bush in New South Wales and she intersperses nimbly written information about wombats with wonderful stories of the personal relationships she has had with these wild creatures who live around her home.

If your kiddos are anything like mine, they will be acting like wombats for days, trying to bite each other on the bum and head butting you in the stomach. Enjoy!

Book Review Wednesday


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I am thrilled to review fellow Maine illustrator, Chris Van Dusen’s, new book The Circus Ship. You may already know Chris from his illustrations of Kate DiCamillo’s, Mercy books. He is also the author of the rhyming Mr. Magee books, and If I Built a Car. I happen to know that Chris did some circus posters for Barnum early in his career. The story of The Circus Ship is based on a true story and is also told in rhyme. When the mean and selfish Mr. Paine, the circus owner, runs into bad weather while transporting the circus off the cost of Maine, he abandons the animals and saves himself. The animals, all bedraggled, end up on an island of Mainers not too thrilled with their new guests. A heroic act by the tiger endears the animals to the island residents who then cleverly fool Mr. Paine so the animals can safely stay with them.

The illustrations for this book are so lush and vibrant that you will be mesmerized by each spread. Incredible sunrises with gradients as smooth as silk will have you reaching for your sunglasses. This is one good reason to read this book with a child who will nudge you after a few minutes and remind you to turn the page. The other good reason is to share the intense emotions with some one you love. From Mr. Paine’s yellow toothed screams, to the weary and worried expressions on the animals’ faces, to the look of surprise and relief of the island folk when one of their own is saved, Chris Van Dusen connects with the core of the reader/viewer. Finally, you will need a small friend to help you find all the animals when Mr. Paine comes to town to claim them.

Chris is an expert of exaggerated angle and point of view. If you are a Van Dusen fan like me, you may remember the impossibly large waterfall in Camping Spree With Mr. Magee. In Circus Ship, when the ship carrying the animals crashes, Chris puts the viewer in the middle of the action. Mr. Paine and the circus animals are propelled overboard and right into the reader’s lap. (click to see this image on Chris’ blog) The reader is treated to this in-your-lap 3-D action in the image of the tiger leaping from the flames and when Mr. Paine strides into town to claim his animals. Both times, Chris uses elongation so that the subject of the illustration straddles the spread creating movement and tension for the reader.

As with many beautiful books that feel like a work of art, this one is published by Candlewick and includes many lovely design elements. The end papers are a lovely two-toned gold stripe that mimic the tents of the big top. The book starts right after the title page with a lush spread and the front matter is in the back. The back matter page contains an author’s note that let’s us know more about sadder true story that sparked The Circus Ship, the sinking of the the Royal Tar in 1836.

On the flap text, Chris says, "I’ve focused on light sources and textures in the artwork for this story– on details like paint peeling off the clapboards of the houses. This makes the book more complex and richer overall than my previous work." The reader is the richer for The Circus Ship. Congratulations, Chris!


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Colfer, Eoin. Half-Moon Investigations. New York, NY: Miramax Books/Hyperion Books for Children, 2006.

Doubtless, Eoin (pronounced Owen) Colfer does not need me to help him with marketing. However, I could not pass up a review of Half-Moon Investigations. Fletcher Moon is a kid with curiosity coursing through his veins and an eye for details. After graduating from FBI Detective Bob Berstein’s online investigators course, Fletcher has the know-how and a badge to prove it.

Colfer uses the old-time, hard-boiled detective as his mold for Fletcher Moon, but he makes it accessible to kids with a theft mystery that is completely believable to his readers. The language in this style is so fun to read but sometimes authors overdo it or use similes that don’t mean anything to kids. Colfer gets it right.

The book is filled with the usual cast of characters: bullies, princesses, and nerds, but Colfer manages to use the stereotypes to the advantage of the mystery– leading the reader and Fletcher down various paths of inquiry and surprising them with a twist of character. Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books are far from tame but the violence in this book is minimal and propels the plot.

If your reader enjoys connecting to other on-line resources connected to the books they read, this Puffin Publishing sponsored website has plenty to offer. There is a web comic version of some of the cases in the book as well as a newsletter with cases your young detective can crack.

Half-Moon Investigations is an engaging book to offer boys ages 10 and up but the book is great for any mystery or an adventure fan at home.

The First Book Review Wednesday

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It has been one of those days. One of those unproductive Wednesdays when I just can’t seem to get over the hump. Lucky for me, today is also suppose to be my first day of book review. In the future, I will try to get these written in advance so I can post them in the early morning on Wednesdays, but that is another goal. The first is just to write and post one Middle Grade and one Picture Book review.

 

Many reviewers focus on books that are new and shiny, some might even have release days in the near future. Those are the books that everyone crowds around, bringing casseroles for the new author, asking if they can booksit to give the new author some time for a nap. I will certainly try to get my hands on some of those books. (Look for my upcoming Circus Ship review.) Then there are other books that have sat on bookshelves, growing past their crawling and walking stages until they are no longer cute and dimpled from shipping. I’ll be looking at these books too, hopefully adding some personal insight or observation. I tend to skip over longer blog posts so you can bet that I’ll keep these short and sweet. Any suggestions? Leave a comment. (Click on the book cover to link to Indiebound. Support your independent book stores!)


 

Law, Ingrid. Savvy. New York  ;Boston  Mass.: Dial Books for Young Readers;Walden Media, 2008.

 

            Mibs is turning thirteen, and in the Beaumont family, that means that her savvy is about to be revealed. Mibs’ family tree is filled with characters who create storms, sparkle with electricity, or jump back in time when they sneeze. When Mibs’ father is injured in a car accident, her mother and older brother travel to the hospital leaving Mibs and her two other brothers at home. Mibs will not sit around and wait. She embarks on a journey to the hospital, sure that her savvy will save her father.

 

            Mibs’ voice is so genuine in this middle grade novel that, at times, I felt she was telling the story right into my head. Descriptions such as “a small-fry hobbledehoy boy,” or “harum-scarum hurly-burly of a rising storm,” or “My insides went wishy-washy” makes Mibs an endearing and three-dimensional character even though her adventures border on the unbelievable.

 

            Readers will be eager to ride along with her on the pink bible bus to see if she gets what she wants. Most interesting to writers will be how her desires evolve and change throughout the story. Law leaves us with an ending that might not fulfill the original promise in the way the reader expects, but provides hope all the same. My son was especially drawn to the adventures that stem from the family’s super hero-like abilities. The more nuanced story is about finding what you do well, that special something that makes you uniquely you, whether you are a member of the Beaumont family or not. Newberry Honor Book, 2009

 

 

Hutchins, H and Herbert,G. Mattland. Toronto: Annick Press, 2008.

 

            In this interesting picture book, from Canada, the text is sparse. The illustrations by Dusan Petricic, are wonderful, and in my opinion, carry the book. The subject is the timeless story of moving to a new neighborhood and finding friends. Interestingly, the reader only sees the main character through shadow and reflection. This technique lets the reader identify with the main character who feels overlooked and invisible.

            The illustrations change from dull and muddy, to green, to lush and rainbow bright as children build an imaginary city from “scattered building scraps” and recycled materials. As the story continues, the illustrator uses white space to create room for text just as the children in the neighborhood make room for their new friend. The children build and rebuild the imaginary city while they build real friendships. Best for children 3-6, Mattland is an excellent read aloud choice for pre-school and kindergarten educators who want to address acceptance and welcoming attitudes in their new classroom communities. Just give plenty of time for the illustrations to sit before you turn the page.

 

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Spotty Blogging Citation

You may have noticed that my blog posts are few and far between. So much so, that perhaps I am probably writing this only for myself as any audience I may have garnered in the past has probably disappeared. 

There are a couple of reasons that I’ve been posting less:

  1. I am neck-deep in my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adult program with Vermont College of Fine Arts. The packets require a great deal of me in terms of time and emotion and reading and writing.
  2. I am illustrating a lovely picture book manuscript for an organization called the Telling Room in Portland. The manuscript was written by two high school authors and tells the story of a Sudanese child who moves into a neighborhood filled with silent, disconnected residents. He and his new friend create community through gardening. The book will be released in May of 2010.
  3. I am journaling for myself more in a paper and pen way. Most of my entries there are about my insecurities and my process as I go through the MFA program. Some of that will come up here too so don’t feel that you are missing out on anything.
  4. I’m also journaling for my main character in his own composition book. This helps me get to the voice and emotional core of my character in a messy, down and dirty way.
  5. I’m using all the in-the-cracks time to read books for children and young adults and yes old adults as well.

So I have the following thought:

Since tonight is the beginning of Rosh Hashanah (The Jewish New Year) and I need to make a resolution, and also to make this blog relevant to the wider world, I will review some of the wonderful books that I’ve been reading. I know, this is not a new or unique idea and there are plenty of other blogs out there for this but I’m going to give it a try. I will attempt to post reviews each Wednesday and will review at least one Middle Grade book, and one Picture Book. These could be fiction or nonfiction, audio or traditional. I’m not going to venture into the YA realm here, there are so many other wonderful blogs out there for that.

So what will you get here that you won’t get anywhere else? Me. I bring my experience as a writer but also as a parent of two boys, a teacher, a student of writing and an illustrator. I’m hoping that the reviews will help parents find books that their children will love. As my son’s teacher said last night, "If your child doesn’t like reading they just haven’t found the right book for them." If you have titles that you’d like me to review, leave a note in the comments. If you’d like a fresh start to your year, you can also leave your New Year’s Resolution in the comments. Happy Reading! See you on Wednesday.

Recent Reads

Recently, much of my time alone has been spent working on my freelance writing or reading. Here is a short list with brief notes and thoughts.
Papertowns: This brandy new young adult release from Co-King of Nerdfighteria, John Green debuted on the New York Times Bestsellers list. (With a little help from his brother, Co-King Hank Green and a whole lot of help from the nerdfighters.) Q, the main character, while journeying to find his missing next door neighbor, Margo, also goes on an existential journey to find himself. What do we project to the world? Who are we under our projections? Do we really know the people we call our friends? What are we capable of? How are we connected? Q, tackles all of these questions as he explores a clue that Margo left behind. "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman. John delivers a smart mystery (both the clues and the structure) and his grasp of modern young adult technology and dialogue is spot on. 

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, Wendy Mass: Jeremy Fink also has an existential journey to find out the meaning of life and his place in the world. Jeremy’s father sends him a locked box on his 13th birthday that holds the meaning of life. The problem? Jeremy’s dad died five years ago and the keys are missing. Jeremy and his best friend go on a path that intersects with interesting people and forces them to look at the importance (or irrelevance) of things. This book is best when Mass introduces us (and Jeremy) to interesting characters but I had a hard time believing the structure of the mystery. Without spoiling, it seemed that too many adults were involved in helping Jeremy make the discoveries that were necessary.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: There are few Holocaust/World War II books that I would characterize as light but this is one of them. Let me explain that by light I don’t mean slight or funny but hopeful and accessible. This book is told at the end of the war in letters from a London writer, Juliet Ashton, to her publisher and the inhabitants of Guernsey Island. Their trials and tribulations are made light by Juliet’s positive spirit and the amazing island community into which she is adopted. Readers be warned: there are tears involved. The book was written by Marianne Shaffer who died earlier this year and the task to complete the book was take on by Anne Barrows. A huge thank you to kellyrfineman for reviewing this book and bringing it to my attention. Perhaps she’ll post the link to her review in the comments. There is a video interview with the one of the author’s here.

Audio Books:

Rowan Hood, Nancy Springer: An English adventure is made even more believable with the narration of Emily Gray. Rowan is the daughter of Robin Hood. That is what she’s always been told by her magical mother. But is she? In this swashbuckling coming of age tale, Rowan (Rosemary) reconnects with the spirits of the Earth, the Alpha, and taps her inner strength to become a true outlaw. 

The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman: Perhaps I am the only one to come so late to the His Dark Materials series but I am truly enjoying it. As any good second in a trilogy, (for movies think Empire Strikes Back or Dead Man’s Chest (Pirates of the Carribean)) The Subtle Knife takes us deeper into the characters and defines the hero’s journey more clearly. It also leaves us with an ending that is less than satisfying but leads us deftly into the third book (The Amber Spyglass) and into the inevitable battle. Pullman introduces worlds upon worlds that all have their own set of rules and characters. This full cast recording was fabulous. The voices help you keep the worlds distinct and also make the listener’s imagining more vivd. 

What are your reading?

A Taste of Southern Maryland

By the time dinner rolls around, my Southern Maryland home, with an ineffective AC unit, is hot enough to drive this woman out of the house and into a restaurant. With my visiting parents, I took a suggestion from my new editor to go to Fitzy’s restaurant. Fitzy’s is perched on the end of Newtown Neck about 15 minutes from my home. I had the distinct feeling of deja vu’ as the setting was so similar to the Dolphin Marina in Harpswell, Maine.  Water surrounds the little peninsula and the restaurant has windows all around to let you enjoy the islands that pillow the horizon and sailboats that skim along in the windy waves. I had the expectation that Fitzy’s, located in a working marina, would be a crabber’s bar. It is nothing of the sort.

Danny Fitzgerald, son of the original Fitzy, showed me around. Danny is an impressive man. Ruddy and white-blond from the sun, he stands about seven feet tall. Okay maybe not that tall, but I’m already 5 foot 10 and it takes a lot of height to impress me. He told me that the original building was destroyed during hurricane Isabel in 2003. Clean and newish with butter-yellow siding, the two-story building is large with two wings. One wing houses a dining room and the other a bar. The bar room is complete with two pinball machines and a 75 cent pool table that my kiddos loved.  There is an outside tiki bar and tables in the sand for beach party nights when bands play. Upstairs, there is a room for private parties of as many as 50.

Fitzy’s isn’t cheap. The price of a dinner ranges from $15 to $30 but the food was delicious and the portions large. We started with a pound of steamed shrimp that were spiced with Old Bay and cloves. Each shrimp was huge and tasty. Things just kept getting better. The broiled crab cakes were big enough to share and I loved that you could really taste and appreciate the crab meat. (Not a single shell, by the way.) My Dad had a broiled cod and my husband had salmon. Both loved their meals. My favorite part of the meal were the hush puppies dipped in honey. They were moist and just a little spicy.

Heather, our waitress was chipper and attentive. She introduced herself  and made a point of moving around the table to take orders and give specials so that even my father (83) could hear and be heard. I can’t say enough about her amazing service. She was so attentive that she literally offered her back as a place for my hubby to sign the credit receipt. (He declined.)

I hope that some of my Maine friends will come visit if they can stand the heat. If they can’t, we’ll get out of the kitchen and go to Fitzy’s for a game of pool, a drink and some hush puppies.