Thursday, February 02, 2017

Book Log: January 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my second year doing this; here is a page containing the 2016 posts (or here is a list of all 2016 books, without the commentary on each one).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

1) 1/5: Chicken with Plums by Maryjane Satrapi
A friend from my neighborhood book club sent me home with this book after our last meeting. It's a graphic novel (my first?), so it's a relatively quick read. The author is Iranian, and the story follows a skilled tar player.

There are flashbacks (and scenes that take place in the future) as the protagonist is waiting to die. We gradually learn why he feels depressed and why he has lost his ability to play as well as how suffering can actually be channeled into the creation of great masterpieces. The ending is very bittersweet.




2) 1/5: Same Kind of Different as Me: A modern-day slave, an international art dealer, and the unlikely woman who bound them together by Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent
I don't recall where I first heard of this book. It was late in 2016, and a library copy was available, so I picked it up. Now I see repeated mentions of it and key positioning in the bookstore, likely due to the fact that a movie of it is coming out this year.

It's a non-fiction work, and the narrative switches between Ron and Denver. They both started life in lower-class situations; Ron, who is white, became quite wealthy and he and his wife started volunteering at a homeless shelter. Denver, a black man who grew up sharecropping, ended up homeless, and their paths cross at the shelter.

Ron's wife is the one who brought them together initially and encouraged their friendship. A true friendship does develop between the two men. There are some moving insights and it raises some interesting questions and reflections on faith, but I don't think this is one that will stick with me.

3) 1/7: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
I read this script very quickly. Having read the original seven-volume series (by the last 2-3 books, I was waiting for them in bookstores at midnight), I wasn't sure what to make of this play when I learned of its publication, but after talking with my youngest sister after she had read it, I added it to my list.

I wasn't surprised at who the "cursed child" was, but it reminded me how much enjoyment I derived from the Harry Potter stories. The Tri-Wizard Tournament is revisited because of the plot circumstances, further making me want to reread the books. I didn't anticipate how excited I would get in the story-line (I may have dreamed of using a time-turner in my own life while reading this). If you enjoyed the series and don't mind reading a script, I think you'd enjoy this.

4) 1/11: This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
I have decided I really enjoy reading Ann Patchett; her writing style is one I find very natural and easy to read. You may recall I read her book Commonwealth a couple months ago (see my reflections on it within this post), which had me searching out other works of hers.

This book is a representative collection of essays over her decades of writing. They range on a large number of topics (detailing her writing process, describing early book tours, ending her first marriage, marrying again, applying for the police academy, opening a bookstore, encountering protests when her memoir on friendship is chosen as a college freshmen-wide read, and on and on). They offer a comprehensive picture of her non-fiction work.


5) 1/13: My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
The genres of books I read might give others whiplash - going from screenplays to essays to literature to young adult and middle readers. It's not for the faint of heart, but it's how I find rhythm in my days - when my time is constrained and mental ability is at a minimum, I am drawn to simpler works, and as my mind wants to be challenged, I delve into a meatier piece.

This book was a simple read, not as much because I felt overwhelmed but more so because some friends with first graders recommended it for our young ones. It is a simple read of a boy describing an adventure his father went on to rescue a dragon.

The author illustrated the book; I read it on my Kindle Paperwhite, but I suspect they're more engaging in a physical book. My rule of thumb is to default to reading on my Kindle unless it's a cookbook, craft book, or children's book. As I was just investigating this title for its potential, though, I jumped on the electronic library copy.

It's a pleasant read, and as I learned it's the first in a trilogy, expect to see me make quick work of them (the books can be bought individually or in a volume together). My reading daughter is obsessed with the Boxcar Children, but if I can wrench her away, perhaps I'll show her this title. I think she'll enjoy Elmer's industriousness in outsmarting the dangerous animals he encounters, and I suspect her toddler sister will enjoy the story as well, especially with the frequent illustrations.

6) 1/13: Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace
I'm embarrassed to admit how long it took me to read this volume. I bought it late in 2012 at my youngest sister's recommendation. The first couple chapters charmed me, but I set it aside unfinished with visions of reading it aloud to Brennan; as she was only two at the time, I knew I needed to wait. As she got to the point where we began reading chapter books to her, I did begin this one. She enjoyed it, but then she was introduced to the Little House books, and those took precedence.

As she is caught up in all-things Boxcar Children, I decided I would just read this title without her. It's a pleasant, somewhat meandering read about friendship between two girls and all the imaginative play they enjoy. There are some author illustrations throughout.

This book was originally published in 1940. The internet tells me this book began as semi-autobiographical bedtime stories told to the author's daughter that were based on the author's childhood and, later, her journals (thanks, Wikipedia!). There are quite a few of these semi-autobiographical books in the series, so expect more mentions of them throughout the year.

Knowing this book is based on childhood reflections helps me make more sense of it. The sorts of details you have of a childhood memory are in contrast to how you could write about an imaginary adventure two young girls have. But the ways these two girls process the death of a young sibling, for instance, gives a greater insight to how these little girls processed loss.

7) 1/14: Elmer and the Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
After finishing My Father's Dragon, I continued on to the second volume. The first book described the dragon's rescue, and now Elmer needs to return home. The grateful baby dragon offers to fly him home; a storm forces them ashore an island, where some shenanigans take place, but Elmer is able to make it home in time for his father's birthday.

It's hard to reflect on this one without mention of My Father's Dragon - there is a distinct story within these pages, but it picks up immediately where the first book ends, so that I find them a natural pairing (who wants to read about the end of a journey without also reading what brought them there in the first place?).



8) 1/23: Staggerford by Jon Hassler
This was the January book club read; it was actually my recommendation. I first encountered this book during my first year teaching; Hassler is Minnesotan and the Minnesota high school I taught at used this novel in the College Prep Writing class.

This book covers one week in the life of Miles Pruitt. Take a middle-aged English teacher feeling in a bit of a rut, add in the elderly friend Agatha McGee whose house he lives in, as well as interactions with students, colleagues and administrators, and some walks down memory lane, and it all makes for an engaging read.

When I taught, even before students approached this book, we assigned a "What I Wish" paper assignment, to mimic the assignment given to the students in the book. There were few parameters, as it was a low pressure way for students to share something they wish for, however flippant or serious, and for us to learn about their interests and writing skill in the process.

Two "What I Wish" essays that were submitted still stand out for me after more than a decade removed from teaching.

One was a bittersweet reflection done by a boy whose grandmother lived in their house for a couple years before she died. It was a touching tribute to inter-generational living, as well as a heartfelt reflection to processing her death in their house and all he lost with her passing.

The second essay, the one that I recall most vividly, was by a student who wrote achingly about the current estrangement from her beloved older sister; the sister had become pregnant and moved in with her boyfriend, writing off her family in the process. Her essay was raw in its pain, and in my first semester of teaching, I didn't know exactly how to provide comfort.

After assigning a grade, I wrote a postscript, something to the effect of how I couldn't fully understand her own situation, but I could empathize; how I also had a sister become suddenly pregnant after high school, and although it created a temporary rift, having a child was the best thing for her - the transformation was astounding, relationships were repaired, and I wished my experience might offer her some measure of hope for future restoration in her own family.

I handed the papers back and never heard a word from that student about my personal comment. Fast-forward to parent-teacher conferences, though, and while sitting down with her parents, the mother reached out her hand to grab mine. Her daughter had shared the postscript with her mother, and when she did so, they dissolved in hopeful tears that their situation would, too, work out in time. We teared up again at conferences as we relived similar pains, and I was forever grateful I didn't ignore the urge to write that personal note.

So now you know my personal feelings surrounding this book as I encountered it with my students. I've been wanting to revisit this book, but I worried my nostalgia surrounding this book made me view it in a different lens, perhaps making it better than it really is. I need not have worried. Everyone in my book group spoke of how well they enjoyed it and how well Hassler wrote, and while I remembered the bare skeleton of the book, enough specifics had faded, making me relish it again.

Throughout the book, Miles is working through his own students' "What I Wish" essays, facing his own tension as he reads through weighty stories:
No wonder the briefcase was so heavy, thought Miles. He should have known better than to collect all 114 papers at one time. The wrongs and losses and near misses of 114 people, when packed together in one briefcase, took on the heaviness and solidity of rock. So it wasn't the poor penmanship after all that made reading these papers so difficult. Nor was it the futility of trying to teach English grammar. It was the way these papers teased him off the road of hope into the gulch of despair.
This reflection has gone on long enough, but the book held up to another reading, and it has made me want to dig out another one of his books that I picked up at a library sale so that I might visit it sooner rather than later.

9) 1/26: The Dragons of Blueland by Ruth Stiles Gannett
This was the conclusion to the My Father's Dragon trilogy; they're short reads, so it was natural to fit them in close together.

In this book, the dragon, on his way to being reunited with family, learns they are about to be captured. He asks Elmer for help, knowing he can't coordinate a rescue on his own. A sweet conclusion to the trilogy.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Books Read in 2016

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I'm sharing mine for 2016 here.

2016 was filled with some exceptional reads. I've noted which ones were especially powerful by bolding the entry below, and I've tried to select them from a variety of genres (young adult, memoir, non-fiction, fiction, poetry).

I wrote about my completed books each month throughout the year, so if you want to read my thoughts about a specific title, visit the links for the appropriate month.

January Book Log
1) 1/12: Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
2) 1/14: A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy
3) 1/23: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
4) 1/24: A Week in Summer by Maeve Binchy
5) 1/28: The Awakening and Selected Short Stories by Kate Chopin

February Book Log
6) 2/4: The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
7) 2/5: crazy love by Francis Chan (along with workbook living crazy love by Francis Chan)
8) 2/6: Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale
9) 2/15: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
10) 2/24: A Mystical Heart: 52 Weeks in the Presence of God by Edwina Gateley

March Book Log
11) 3/3: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
12) 3/4: The Best American Short Stories 2011, edited by Geraldine Brooks
13) 3/7: Rising Strong by Brene Brown
14) 3/8: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
15) 3/16: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
16) 3/23: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
17) 3/25: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
18) 3/28: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

April Book Log
19) 4/3: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
20) 4/4: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
21) 4/11: Tara Road by Maeve Binchy
22) 4/18: The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
23) 4/24: The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
24) 4/25: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
25) 4/28: Dear Mr Henshaw by Beverly Cleary

May Book Log
26) 5/16: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
27) 5/22: Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
28) 5/22: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
29) 5/24: The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall
30) 5/29: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

June Book Log
31) 6/7: Quiet Strength by Tony Dungy
32) 6/17: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
33) 6/29: Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber

July Book Log
34) 7/3: The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall
35) 7/25: The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher
36) 7/27: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
37) 7/30: Eggs by Jerry Spinelli

August Book Log
38) 8/8: Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber
39) 8/20: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
40) 8/29: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

September Book Log
41) 9/4: Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
42) 9/11: The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens
43) 9/14: Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair by Anne Lamott
44) 9/20: Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy
45) 9/21: The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton
46) 9/30: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

October Book Log
47) 10/17: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story by Donald Miller
48) 10/20: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
49) 12/23: Chocolat by Joanne Harris
50) 10/31: Dear Hank Williams by Kimberly Willis Holt
51) 10/31: Still Alice by Lisa Genova

November Book Log
52: 11/14: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

December Book Log
53) 12/4: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Blackman
54) 12/8: Don't Want to Miss a Thing by Jill Mansell
55) 12/11: The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew -- Three Women Search for Understanding by Ranya Idilby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner
56) 12/25: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
57) 12/26: Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
58) 12/31: Between the World and Me by Ta-Neshi Coates

Monday, January 02, 2017

Book Log: December 2016

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them.

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

53) 12/4: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Blackman
This was published in Swedish, then translated into English. In it we meet Ove and discover he is a widower. The chapters build - there's some repetition as information is slowly meted out to reveal what happened to his wife, beginning with their courtship and concluding with her passing.

Ove grew up learning the importance of good character and has become a curmudgeon who likes routine and dislikes human interaction. As a widower, he is lost and struggles to find meaning, believing that his wife was the worthy, loveable one, and he should have been the one to die. The separation from her is too overwhelming that he is considering ways to hasten his death.

Neighbors force him to get involved, often due to their ineptness, and the world is constantly foiling his plans. We see Ove's heart gradually soften.

This was an easy read, although it started slow for me (not necessarily any fault of its own - I kept putting it on the back burner as other things took precedence, and I'm the first to admit books that start gradually can grow into powerful stories; this was certainly true to my experience with Empire Falls, when at first I made myself continue because of a rousing recommendation, and by the end, I hated to pull myself away).

54) 12/8: Don't Want to Miss a Thing by Jill Mansell
This was a palate cleanser between some more thought-provoking books (what a pretentious way to spin chick lit!). Jill Mansell was a British author I'd heard mentioned before, well-known for her women's fiction.

This is a simple story centered around a free-spirited uncle becoming a guardian when his single sister passes away. He removes himself from his old life and retreats to a quiet village. In the village we see relationships begin and play out among a handful of members on a variety of levels (parents and children, spouses, etc).

Will it be receiving accolades and awards right and left? No, but it falls into that beach-read chick-lit if you're just looking for something quick and undemanding.

55) 12/11: The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, a Jew -- Three Women Search for Understanding by Ranya Idilby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner

This was the December book club selection. In short, after 9/11, three women, representing three different faiths, start meeting regularly, first under the guise of writing a children's book detailing the stories their faiths all have in common, and then it evolves into deep friendships with probing conversations and self-examination.

At one point during our discussion someone made the comment that Gilead (last month's read) was more thought-provoking theologically, and this one isn't mind-blowing in its contents, but it does a good job showing how three women with differing beliefs, through regular meetings, find ways to share similarities and differences in their faiths as well as ways to appreciate ways they are similar and different.

I will say that, although I had a library copy, I also ended up checking out the audiobook version since I was running out of time to read due to other responsibilities, and the majority of the book was listened to. I don't recommend the audiobook, since I found myself multitasking and sometimes forgetting which individual was writing at any given time, and it was stilted when there were dictated conversations within the chapters as the reader would announce each name, followed by their line, and they would engage back and forth. I'm not sure there's a smooth way to get around this, but one way could have been to employ three different readers, one for each woman writing the book.

56) 12/25: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
You've grown accustomed to how I come at these summaries with tangents. How I first discovered Elizabeth Gaskell is a particularly amusing one to me.

I taught for two years after graduating college. One day during my second year, I found a coupon good for one free Barnes & Noble Classic in my work mailbox. I do love books, but I also love bargains. I dutifully took my coupon to the bookstore and began trying to narrow down my choices. I already owned several yet-unread B&N Classics, so my aim was to select one that I hadn't yet read while also capitalizing on my free title -- the biggest bang for my non-existent buck, if you will. One hefty book I was drawn to was Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell. I hadn't read any of her work before, but I was amused by the first paragraph:

To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood. In a country there was a shire, and in that shire there was a town, and in that town there was a house, and in that house there was a room, and in that room there was a bed, and in that bed there lay a little girl; wide awake and longing to get up, but not daring to do so for fear of the unseen power in the next room—a certain Betty, whose slumbers must not be disturbed until six o'clock struck, when she wakened of herself "as sure as clockwork," and left the household very little peace afterwards. It was a June morning, and early as it was, the room was full of sunny warmth and light. 

So purchase it I did.

Now I'm not one to want to know much about a movie or book before beginning it; if it comes recommended by a trusted friend, I will look into it with no background needed. The initial paragraph was enough to charm me, and when I could find time away from teaching responsibilities, I truly enjoyed retreating to read it.

I knew how many pages were in the book, and as I grew invested in the culmination of everything, I found myself staying up exceedingly late one night to finish. I was reading in bed, growing increasingly confused as to how Gaskell would be able to bring closure to everything in the dwindling pages. I finished one of the final chapters, only to turn to the next page to read something to the effect of, "And that was as far as Gaskell got before she died."

WHAT?!?! I wanted to wake up Eric next to me to complain about having read hundreds of pages -- having stayed up late to finish -- only to find NO ENDING.

It was clear that there were only a couple more chapters that were going to be written, and in the last few pages, the editor summarized how Gaskell had told friends she was going to finish it. This does give a measure of closure. However, I was not prepared for the abrupt shift.  Imagine watching a great movie, getting invested in the storyline and characters, only to have a friend turn it off and say, "Aren't you loving it so far? I'm just going to summarize how it ends, okay?" No, not okay. Turn the frickin' movie back on!!

And had I allowed myself to read the back of the book at anytime previous, I would have seen that the summary began with something akin to, "Gaskell's unfinished work Wives and Daughters, ..." This had been published serially, and she passed away before the completion. But I sure didn't expect a volume of this size to be unfinished.

Anyway, in spite of that jarring introduction to Gaskell, I did enjoy her style and I then read North and South shortly afterwards. This revisiting of it was due to the CraftLit podcast.

North and South gets its title from the North and South of England. The primary character has spent much of her life in the idyllic south of England, when circumstances have her relocated with her parents to the industrial north. Margaret is a strong protagonist; Heather Ordover from CraftLit admits she feels like the story could have been called Pride and Prejudice given the personalities at play and the strong opinions held (and, you know, if there hadn't already been a book with that title published a few decades earlier). Slowly Margaret thaws and gains new insight to the worth of her new home of Milton.

For a happily ever after story there's certainly a lot of death, but I still appreciated it.

57) 12/26: Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
I first encountered Jacqueline Woodson through her autobiographical poetry book Brown Girl Dreaming, which received the National Book Award and was a Newbery Honor winner. It was a beautiful collection of poems, and I've been waiting to return to her work. Her poetry book, as well as this one, are geared towards middle grade/young adult readers.

In this book we meet Lonnie Collins Motion, or Locomotion. He and his sister are orphaned and in separate foster home settings. He is writing this series of letters to his sister, to act as the "rememberer" and put stories of his parents on paper so that they're not forgotten; through the letters, we see him process his grief and become confident in his writing skills (there's minimal poetry in this book, but we read often about how he thinks of himself as a poet; only now as I added the Amazon links did I learn that this book is actually a sequel to Locomotion, a book told through Lonnie's poems).

This book sees Locomotion come to peace with where he and his sister are situated (both of them are in good homes, even as they miss each other). There's also some talk of PTSD when Lonnie interacts with someone who has returned home after losing a leg due to an IED.

58) 12/31: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
I feel an obligation to read works that portray worlds and realities different than my own, be they different in time, location, time, or circumstance. This may look like reading books by authors who herald from other countries (Jhumpa Lahiri, Khaled Hosseini, or Gabriel Garcia Marquez are three I've enjoyed). This might look like reading classics like Les Miserables or something by Charles Dickens. And this might look like reading books from people whose experiences in America are so different from my own (Just Mercy and Evicted are two powerful ones that I read this year that fall in this category; Hillbilly Elegy is on my 2017 reading list).

This is a book that falls in that last category.

The author recently published a piece called "My President Was Black" in The Atlantic.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, a black man, writes Between the World and Me as a letter to his son. In it, he discusses what it has been like to be a black man living in America, as well as his experiences when he has been abroad, and also ways in which his life is already noticeably different than his son's life. There's an undercurrent of anger and frustration (well, I guess it's pretty blatant) about ways in which his life has been lessened because of how he has to be constantly aware of how he is perceived, how he has been taught to carry himself one way on the street to not seem to be an easy target, carry himself another way not to seem a threat to whites. He describes how the streets and schools both fail black people. And he reflects on the death of a black man he went to college with who was trailed and then shot and killed by police when he was mistaken for someone else.

This is an important read. I found myself marking up my Kindle copy with large passages I wanted to reflect further on. I mentioned above that there's this feeling of anger and even helplessness, but I feel that he finds some encouragement for his son as he concludes.

If you read this and you are white, you need to be prepared to absorb his anger without getting offended - this is his heartfelt account of what his life has been like as a black man.  You may not agree with it all, but you have to understand this is his experience. I know when I feel threatened, fight or flight tendencies creep in, but it's important to read this as it is without trying to return fire or disregard it. That anyone has these experiences should break us all.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Advent: Nativity Books

Our family loves books, and years ago I stumbled upon the idea to wrap up holiday books before the start of advent, and mark the countdown to Christmas by opening up a book each day. We've done this several years now, and it's a tradition that both of my girls love - as soon as they awake in the morning, they are making their selection for the day and tearing into it.

There are some books that I know are only in our home temporarily (especially board books, which will age out as my youngest develops a longer attention span), but I thought it would be fun to share what is currently in our collection. Please feel free to contribute suggestions; there are several titles on my wishlist, and each year I try to add at least one new book to the rotation.

If you are interested in starting your own tradition but don't have many Christmas books on hand and are intimidated by the cost of buying dozens of books, I recommend you collect all year, keeping an eye out at garage sales and library sales (my library is kind enough to have a holiday section, which I go straight to each year). Then I enhance my collection via Amazon (the Amazon links here are affiliate links, meaning that should you make any purchase via these links, Amazon will give me a small percentage, at no additional cost to you).

As our pile is pretty diverse, I'm going to do this in installments. The first (and largest) installment focused on the general interest Christmas books, which was followed by a list of our winter-themed books, and our small collection of baby- and toddler-friendly board books. Here I conclude by sharing the books that celebrate the nativity story.

Also, one suggestion (that I have yet to implement myself): when you're packing away the books for the year, I suggest taking the time to wrap them then, so you're not rushing yourself once Advent rolls around again (one year I was wrapping some books every few days, as I didn't have enough time to do them all before we began). Otherwise, I'm hoping to sew reusable bags to easily insert them in, so as to save time and eliminate the wrapping paper waste.

The First Night by B.G. Hennessy
This is a simple story, starting from the edge of the town and steadily centering on the stable and then ending with Jesus seeing the world for the first time as a small baby.










The Nativity illustrated by Julie Vivas
The text of this story is the King James version of the familiar account in Luke. What is especially charming about this book, and what makes me want to keep this in rotation for as long as I do this advent calendar with the girls, are the illustrations. They're so distinctive and done in a beautiful way that makes the story approachable.








Room for a Little One: A Christmas Tale by Martin Waddell
In a beautifully illustrated book, animals, one by one, are looking for warm shelter and find comfort in a stable. There is pleasant repetition with animals pledging safety to each other and how there's always room for another little one. The hospitality is extended to Tired Donkey, who is traveling with Mary and Joseph.








The Story of the Three Wise Kings retold and illustrated by Tomie dePaola
Here we have a story that focuses on the journey of the wise kings. The illustrations are classic dePaola, which make the book especially captivating. It was one I picked up at the local library book sale a few years back, although I see now that it's hard to come by, so keep your eyes open at thrift stores and garage sales if you don't want to pony up the money for a used copy.







This Is the Stable by Cynthia Cotten
Rhyming couplets describe Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph, Jesus' birth, the visit from the shepherds, and so on ("This is the stable, dusty and brown, in a quiet corner of Bethlehem town.")











This Is the Star by Joyce Dunbar
The illustrations are prints of oil paintings, and the text of this book steadily grows (page one: "This is the star in the sky"; page two: "These are the shepherds watching by night that saw the star in the sky.")

Advent: Christmas Board Books

Our family loves books, and years ago I stumbled upon the idea to wrap up holiday books before the start of advent, and mark the countdown to Christmas by opening up a book each day. We've done this several years now, and it's a tradition that both of my girls love - as soon as they awake in the morning, they are making their selection for the day and tearing into it.

There are some books that I know are only in our home temporarily (especially board books, which will age out as my youngest develops a longer attention span), but I thought it would be fun to share what is currently in our collection. Please feel free to contribute suggestions; there are several titles on my wishlist, and each year I try to add at least one new book to the rotation.

If you are interested in starting your own tradition but don't have many Christmas books on hand and are intimidated by the cost of buying dozens of books, I recommend you collect all year, keeping an eye out at garage sales and library sales (my library is kind enough to have a holiday section, which I go straight to each year). Then I enhance my collection via Amazon (the Amazon links here are affiliate links, meaning that should you make any purchase via these links, Amazon will give me a small percentage, at no additional cost to you).

As our pile is pretty diverse, I'm doing this in installments. The first (and largest) installment focused on the general interest Christmas books, which was followed up with a list of books that celebrate the winter season. Here is a collection of our board books, and soon I'll show you our nativity books.

Also, one suggestion (that I have yet to implement myself): when you're packing away the books for the year, I suggest taking the time to wrap them then, so you're not rushing yourself once Advent rolls around again (one year I was wrapping some books every few days, as I didn't have enough time to do them all before we began). Otherwise, I'm hoping to sew reusable bags to easily insert them in, so as to save time and eliminate the wrapping paper waste.

The Christmas Story (lift-the-flap book)
This is a simple nativity story, purchased when my girls were young so that I could let them pore over the book without worrying about damage to the pages. Pages alternate between having some texture to engage the child (feel the donkey's soft coat, etc) or a flap to lift.






The Christmas Story (another large lift-the-flap book)
This is another nativity story. In this one, each page has half a dozen different flaps to explore. The story of the birth of Jesus is told, but each page also offers a handful of questions to guide the child ("What baby animals can you find? How many shepherds do you see?").






Dora's Counting Christmas
A simple counting book, highlighting Dora and Boots as they prepare for Christmas by hanging stockings, baking cookies, decorating the tree, and exchanging gifts.











Elmo's 12 Days of Christmas
This is a cute story - the initial alterations are clever ("three French friends"), but it's difficult to keep up that level of cleverness throughout. All the same, a nice addition for the Sesame Street fans.











The Night Before Christmas and The Perfect Snowman (Read Along with Elmo Books)
These are simple board books from Sesame Street. They're slim and about four-inches square, easy to squirrel away in a purse. I don't anticipate these staying around much longer - they're temporary, primarily because the snowman story is simple, and while The Night Before Christmas is a classic, there are various Sesame Street characters making asides during the stories that I'm always struggling to find a way to include (or, honestly, more often I skip them entirely).







Ten Christmas Lights
This is a simple counting book in rhyme - Gretchen is infatuated with this (most likely because there is a button to push that activates lights on each page).









Winnie the Pooh's Jingle Bells
The text is identical to the popular holiday song, but the images show Winnie the Pooh and his friends out for a sleigh ride; it's a simple way to introduce children to the song by engaging them with familiar characters.










Winnie the Pooh's Twelve Days of Christmas 
A simple book detailing the gifts Christopher Robin gave to Pooh and his friends.




Saturday, December 10, 2016

Advent: Winter Books

Our family loves books, and years ago I stumbled upon the idea to wrap up holiday books before the start of advent, and mark the countdown to Christmas by opening up a book each day. We've done this several years now, and it's a tradition that both of my girls love - as soon as they awake in the morning, they are making their selection for the day and tearing into it.

There are some books that I know are only in our home temporarily (especially board books, which will age out as my youngest develops a longer attention span), but I thought it would be fun to share what is currently in our collection. Please feel free to contribute suggestions; there are several titles on my wishlist, and each year I try to add at least one new book to the rotation.

If you are interested in starting your own tradition but don't have many Christmas books on hand and are intimidated by the cost of buying dozens of books, I recommend you collect all year, keeping an eye out at garage sales and library sales (my library is kind enough to have a holiday section, which I go straight to each year). Then I enhance my collection via Amazon (the Amazon links here are affiliate links, meaning that should you make any purchase via these links, Amazon will give me a small percentage, at no additional cost to you).

As our pile is pretty diverse, I'm going to do this in installments. Here I share the books that celebrate the winter season, and I also shared collections that focused on the general interest Christmas booksour nativity books, and our board books.

Also, one suggestion (that I have yet to implement myself): when you're packing away the books for the year, I suggest taking the time to wrap them then, so you're not rushing yourself once Advent rolls around again (one year I was wrapping some books every few days, as I didn't have enough time to do them all before we began). Otherwise, I'm hoping to sew reusable bags to easily insert them in, so as to save time and eliminate the wrapping paper waste.

The Big Snow by Berta and Elmer Hader
This is a Caldecott Medal book, but it's not for the faint of heart if you have young children with short attention spans. As the weather turns, this book shows the animals preparing for winter, whether through food storage, migration, or hibernation. At the close, we even see a family putting food out for the animals.









The Biggest Snowman Ever by Steven Kroll
A simple story about a snowman-building competition. The challenge is to make the biggest snowman. Two young mice work independently, then learn the benefits of joining forces.











The Mitten by Jan Brett
As a knitter, I have a fondness for this book. In it, a boy asks his grandmother to knit him mittens, white as snow. She scoffs, fearing they would be quickly lost, but he remains firm, and she relents. When they are finished, he goes off exploring. Unbeknownst to him, one mitten drops on the snow, and the majority of the book shows various animals taking shelter inside its warmth.





Snow by Steve Sanfield and Jeanette Winter
This book celebrates the first snowfall. A boy wakes up to snow outside and he goes exploring.












Snow by Uri Shulevitz
I love the illustrations in this book. We start with an overcast, gray sky, and slowly the flakes start to fall. A boy and his dog are delighted, while those around him remain skeptical it will amount to anything. There's not much text, but it captures the delight of snowfall.








Snowball Soup by Mercer Mayer
We love Little Critter books and have quite the collection. This particular story has very simple words and sentences, as it's geared towards beginning readers, so it's not the most engaging compared to some other Mercer Mayer works, but the girls enjoy it.










Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
This Caldecott book tells the true story of Wilson Bentley; as a young child, he is charmed by ice crystals, and while he initially examined them visually and then later drew their detailed shapes, he finally found a way to photograph them. This is an informative story of his journey overcoming the challenges to capture them, and then trying to convince people of the merit of his work.

The final page includes a quotation as well as several of his stunning photographs.




The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
I believe this is a simplified version of the original Briggs story (or, from a quick examination, the original story is wordless but is all visual). This edition is a beginning reader book; in it, a boy builds a snowman and it comes to life, taking him on a flying adventure after discovering things like the cat and paper towels.


Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Advent: General Christmas Interest Books

Our family loves books, and years ago I stumbled upon the idea to wrap up holiday books before the start of advent, and mark the countdown to Christmas by opening up a book each day. We've done this several years now, and it's a tradition that both of my girls love - as soon as they awake in the morning, they are making their selection for the day and tearing into it.

There are some books that I know are only in our home temporarily (especially board books, which will age out as my youngest develops a longer attention span), but I thought it would be fun to share what is currently in our collection. Please feel free to contribute suggestions; there are several titles on my wishlist, and each year I try to add at least one new book to the rotation.

If you are interested in starting your own tradition but don't have many Christmas books on hand and are intimidated by the cost of buying dozens of books, I recommend you collect all year, keeping an eye out at garage sales and library sales (my library is kind enough to have a holiday section, which I go straight to each year). Then I enhance my collection via Amazon (the Amazon links here are affiliate links, meaning that should you make any purchase via these links, Amazon will give me a small percentage, at no additional cost to you).

As our pile is pretty diverse, I'm going to do this in installments. This first (and largest) installment focuses on the general interest Christmas books. Then I show you our winter-themed books, our nativity books, and our board books.

Also, one suggestion (that I have yet to implement myself): when you're packing away the books for the year, I suggest taking the time to wrap them then, so you're not rushing yourself once Advent rolls around again (one year I was wrapping some books every few days, as I didn't have enough time to do them all before we began). Otherwise, I'm hoping to sew reusable bags to easily insert them in, so as to save time and eliminate the wrapping paper waste.

Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson
This is a new addition to my library. I'm aware there are other Bear books (including one where he sleeps through winter, Bear Snores On), but they aren't (yet) in our home library.

It's well known that bears hibernate through the winter, so this story shows how hard the bear fights his desire to sleep so that he can celebrate the holiday with his friends.






The Berenstain Bears Meet Santa Bear by Stan and Jan Berenstain
We have quite the collection of Berenstain Bear books, and I try to keep the holiday-themed ones out of circulation until the corresponding holiday is near. This is the Christmas book, where Sister Bear especially struggles with greed.










The Biggest, Most Beautiful Christmas Tree by Amye Rosenberg
We meet forest animals that live in a large evergreen tree. At Christmas time, they grow sad that Santa never fills their stockings or brings them gifts, but they realize they must be hard to find in the middle of the forest. They decorate their tree; Christmas Day arrives, and there are gifts for the first time.









A Charlie Brown Christmas, Pop-Up Edition by Charles M. Schulz
I have fond memories watching this Christmas special every year - in high school, I put the soundtrack on my Christmas list, so that music is in regular rotation during the holidays. As I was tweaking my holiday book offerings for this advent activity, I knew I wanted to include this volume. The pop-up feature charms my girls, and it's regularly in rotation.







A Christmas Carol illustrated by Joe Boddy
The classic Dickens tale is re-imagined with animal characters, although the storyline is unchanged. I've had this book awhile, but it's pretty long, so the girls flip through the pages for the pictures, but they default to shorter variations to be read aloud (a la Mickey's Christmas Carol, detailed later on this page). With Brennan becoming an avid reader, though, this may be the year I get to read it in its entirety.







The Christmas Crocodile by Bonny Becker
This was an accidental discovery for me, found when I was digging through the holiday offerings at the local library book sale. I bought it after only a cursory glance (there's a lot of competition at those sales - no time to linger!), but it has become one of our favorites to read.

A crocodile is delivered as a gift to the family, and they're coming to terms with him eating everything in sight. At the end, there is regret when they learn the gift was delivered to them by mistake. The illustrations are charming, the family members are distinct in their personalities and reactions, and it's just a fun story overall.



The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
This book contains highly detailed illustrations and is more serious in nature. The title character is an older man who is sullen and withdrawn. He is a woodcarver. Early on it's revealed that his wife and baby became quite sick and died. He has retreated into himself, and this story details his heart thawing and him finding peace.








The Christmas Tree That Grew by Phyllis Krasilovsky
This story shines a spotlight at how easy it is to live around neighbors but have no interaction with them. We see an apartment building where people kept to themselves. However, one year when the family on the ground floor gets a Christmas tree, it grows at record speeds, forcing them to initiate contact with the neighbors above them. A new community of friends is forged through the experience.







An Early American Christmas by Tomie dePaola
The author sets the scene in New England in the early 1800s around Christmas time, when holiday traditions weren't practiced, and he imagines how a German family moving into town could begin to influence others to begin lighting candles in the windows, decorating trees, and so on.

This is a harder book to come across compared to some of dePaola's other work, but it has his characteristic illustrations and can be a good conversation starter about how (and why) various traditions came to be.





Find the Nutcracker in His Christmas Ballet
This is an interactive book. Think back to the days when you'd pore over the Where's Waldo books, but replace Waldo with the nutcracker, and you have this book. Each page spotlights a part of the ballet with a key of items to find hidden in the pages.










How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss
I have fond memories watching the video of How the Grinch Stole Christmas every year, so I bought this classic story.












Just Right for Christmas by Birdie Black and Rosalind Beardshaw
This book is reminiscent of Mr Willowby's Christmas Tree, detailed below. A king purchases a bolt of beautiful red cloth and has a cloak made for the princess. The scraps are left outside the castle, where they are discovered by a maid, who makes a jacket out of it for her mother. Then she leaves her scraps out for another, and the generosity continues, each recipient creating a gift from it.






The Legend of the Poinsettia retold and illustrated by Tomie dePaola
Tomie dePaola has a distinctive illustrating style, one that I'm drawn to. This book tells the traditional Mexican legend of the poinsettia.

There's a beautiful line when Lucida is anxious about attending the Christmas service since she has no gift to offer after her mother becomes ill and cannot finish her woven blanket that was to cover Jesus in the annual procession. An older woman tells her, "Any gift is beautiful because it is given." In this spirit, Lucida gather up tall green weeds nearby, and a transformation happens.





Madeline's Christmas by Ludwig Bemelmans
This book opens on Christmas Eve. Madeline is carrying for everyone, as she is the only one not suffering from a cold.  A knock at the door provides her opportunity to purchase gifts for her peers, and a little magic happens along the way.










Merry Christmas, Curious George by Margret and H.A. Rey
A certain curious monkey and the man with the yellow hat go to a tree lot. While there, Curious George has climbed to the top of the perfect tree, only to have it cut down beneath him. He is whisked away to the tree's new home: the children's hospital. George, in an attempt to be helpful, creates some trouble, but as we all have learned to expect, things are smoothed out in the end.







Merry Christmas, Everybody!
Grover keeps turning down various fun winter activities with his Sesame Street friends because he is in a hurry to complete a task. On the last page, his mission is revealed, to much amusement.










Merry Christmas Mom and Dad by Mercer Mayer
We have a relatively extensive collection of Little Critter books. This is a fun book in the Christmas rotation. The earnest words of Little Critter don't exactly match up with the visuals, so my girls giggle over his less-than-helpful antics.










Merry Christmas, Mouse! by Laura Numeroff
This is the mouse of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie fame. It's a numerical book, detailing all of the ornaments Mouse is using to decorate his tree.











The Merry Christmas Mystery by Betty Birney
Winnie the Pooh wakes up on Christmas Day, excited to check his stocking. He's puzzled when he sees thistles instead of honey. As he encounters his friends, they, also, are confused about their gift from Santa. At the end, all is revealed and made right.









Mickey's Christmas Carol: A Little Golden Book
There are several holiday videos that make me very nostalgic. Every Thanksgiving, my maternal grandparents would help transition us to Christmas time; my grandma would bring a toy magazine that we would pore over to give her gift ideas, and my grandpa would pull out a VCR tape of Mickey's Christmas Carol. It was a given that I wanted this book in my collection (we also have a longer version of this story, but the toddler doesn't yet sit through that reading).






The Mole Family's Christmas by Russell Hoban
A mole family is learning about Christmas and Santa for the first time, and they hope to receive a telescope from Santa so they can see the stars (being near-sighted, they've never had that opportunity before).










Mr Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert Barry
When Mr Willowby's Christmas tree is delivered, he is delighted by its size, only to learn it won't fit in the corner. He instructs his butler to chop off the very top. The butler gives that remnant to the maid. The maid adores it, but it's a smidge too tall, so she snips off the top and the gardener ends up with it. On and on it goes, even making its way through the animal kingdom; each new recipient needs to alter the size of the tree, until many are blessed by the offering.







The Muppet Christmas Carol
Clearly there's a theme here - I like to include books whose stories I first knew in movie form. The Muppet Christmas Carol movie is actually one I didn't see until having children (my husband was the one who was familiar with it growing up), but now it's in regular rotation during the Christmas season and I really enjoy it.








The Muppets: The Gift of the Magi
This is at least our third Christmas with this charming advent calendar, and it's a favorite. Many are familiar with O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi. This is slightly altered to star Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog. When you open the cover of this book, there are 24 little books that break up the story day by day, and each mini book doubles as an ornament. This isn't one of the books we wrap up in our advent pile, but we keep it near our tree and read each daily installment before hanging it up. I suspect our newly blossoming reader will take over the reading duties this Christmas.



Noel by Romeo Muller
If you've ever wondered about the emotions of your Christmas tree ornaments, look no further! This book opens with a glassblower making globe ornaments when he learns he has become a grandfather. A tear of joy falls upon the ornament he was making, embodying that ornament with a special happiness. The rest of the story is from the ornament;s perspective: being purchased, annually decorating the tree, and so on.







Not Enough Beds! A Christmas Alphabet Book by Lisa Bullard
This was another delightful surprise. It's a rhyming alphabet book detailing the troubles fitting a large extended family into one house for the holidays ("Aunt Alison snores in an overstuffed chair, while my young brother Ben stretches out on a stair"). The illustrations are amusing and this has become one of my favorites.




The Nutcracker based on the classic story by E.T.A. Hoffmann
The Nutcracker story was written by Hoffmann, and after its publication, Tchaikovsky was approached to translate it for a ballet; some of the darker elements were softened or eliminated in the production we know today. This book does describe the original story, giving background as to why the nutcracker was ugly and it details his only hope for transforming back into a prince.

It's an interesting read, but if you're looking for an account that will more closely match the ballet, check out something like this Little Golden Book, which we also have. This retelling of the story closely matches the popular ballet. I love the music and the dancing and have been waiting patiently until my oldest daughter was old enough to enjoy the production, and this was the year. After I bought the tickets, I pulled out these two books and we read them both so she would have the story fresh in mind. Just as I'd hoped, she was on the edge of her seat.

The Perfect Christmas Tree by Rita Walsh
This is a small book, both in size and length. It's a simple story about animals mourning their beloved tree having fallen over. They all individually go on a search through the forest to find a new tree, and at the close, they learn they all found the same tree.










Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a Little Golden Book
Yet another holiday classic.

One thing we sometimes do, after opening a book that also has a movie, is make a point to watch the corresponding show that night (easy to do for something like the animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Mickey's Christmas Carol, and A Charlie Brown Christmas, but the movie-length ones usually have to wait for the nearest weekend, what with our oldest in school).