About Leslie

When I'm not reading non-fiction or a good novel, I read a lot of picture books to myself, my grandchildren, and children at the library.

Erik Larson’s New Book

I’ll read anything by certain non-fiction writers. Timothy Egan has gotten me to read about the dust bowl era in The Worst Hard Time and forest fires in The Big Burn. Susan Orlean has fascinated me with orchids in The Orchid Thief and a German Shepherd dog in Rin Tin Tin. It’s not really the subject, but the writing that captivates.

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And hey, you guys, the writing of Seattle author Erik Larson really captivates! I have a hold on his newest book Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania and haven’t read it yet but couldn’t wait to share it with you. When a new Erik Larson book arrives, I drop everything and read it. In my opinion, he’s one of the few authors who can make history positively come alive. And his opening note held forth a big promise: “I give you now the saga of the Lusitania and the myriad forces, large and achingly small, that converged one lovely day in May 1915 to produce a tragedy of monumental scale, whose true character and import have long been obscured in the mists of history.”

The book is filled with questions worth asking: why did the Admiralty not provide an escort to the Lusitania, given that the ship carried nearly 2,000 passengers and a vital cargo of ammunition and artillery shells? Why did British intelligence obsessively protect the HMS Orion and provide no protection to the Lusitania? Why did they not divert the Lusitania to the newer and safer North Channel route? And most of all, “why was the ship left on its own, with a proven killer of men and ships dead ahead in its path?” Did the British deliberately set up the Lusitania to force America’s hand to enter the war? Read Dead Wake and find out!

index (2)If you’re stuck in the hold queue for Dead Wake, why not try one of Larson’s earlier books? The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America reads like a murder mystery, full of suspense, creepy characters and scary settings. It tells the dual tales of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago (mostly through the eyes of lead architect Daniel Burnham), along with the sordid tale of H.H. Holmes, one of the first-ever modern serial killers. Holmes built a block-long hotel across the street from the fair which turned out in reality to be a massive multi-floor torture chamber, including secret passageways, dissection tables, and a body-sized gas oven in the basement. He used this location to kill up to perhaps as many as 200 young good-looking single women before he was finally caught. It’s an utterly fascinating, well-done and easily readable book that deserves its reputation and awards.

index (3)In Thunderstruck Larson again weaves a fascinating story of two men, an inventor named Guglielmo Marconi (who raced other inventors and scientists to be the first to find a way to transmit signals wirelessly) and a doctor and murderer named Hawley Harvey Crippen who married an overbearing gold digger in England and then met his true love. Parts of Crippen’s wife’s body were found buried in his basement and he fled with his mistress by boat to Canada. He was captured due to a trans-Atlantic wireless transmission and was tried and hanged in England. The key connector between these two men comes from the critical use of Marconi’s technology in the pursuit of our murderer on the lam.

index (4)In the Garden of the Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin tells the story of Hitler’s consolidation of power in his first year as chancellor of Germany. William E. Dodd was the seventh or eighth choice of candidates FDR proposed for the post of US ambassador to Berlin in 1933. Dodd, in his 64 years, had been a professor of history at the University of Chicago and amateur farmer, and was known for his impeachable integrity and forthrightness, traits that would distance him from the courts of diplomacy. Daughter Martha was 24 years old and estranged from her banker husband. Initially seduced by the resurgence of Germany’s vitality and intellectual and political pursuits, Martha was involved with Rudolph Diels, the first commander of the Gestapo and other Nazi officials who even tried to fix her up with Hitler. Drawing on the diaries of father and daughter, Larson creates what it was like to live in Berlin: to shop, lunch, attend galas and absorb news of Hitler’s maniacal hatred for the Jews and his terrorizing of all who questioned his absolute power.

Larson’s body of work makes for fascinating reading, so don’t hesitate to check out these great books for yourself.

Northwest Flower and Garden Show Books

content_15_nwfgs_windermereIf you’re like me, you didn’t make it down to last week’s Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle and even if you did, it’s unlikely that you had time to attend all of the author seminars. Never fear because your local public library has your back. I was pleased to see that the library has almost all of the gardening books that authors were selling at the garden show. Why not just borrow them from the library? It’ll be like you attended the lecture and you can decide whether or not you’d like to purchase your own copy. Here’s a run-down of the hottest new gardening books.

index (5)index (6)Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives and Hellstrip Gardening: Create a Paradise between the Sidewalk and the Curb are both by Evelyn Hadden. These books are your ticket to a wild and crazy front yard. Let’s shake it up, Everett!

index (7)Coffee for Roses is by Cynthia Fornari, a writer, professional speaker, radio host, and self-described “out-of-control plant person.” She looks at 71 common garden practices and uncovers the truth behind the lore. With humor and affection, she goes back in time to sort out the good, the bad and the just plain silly…and tells us why. This book combines gardening history and expert advice into one useful, time and money-saving package. Get those grounds from Starbucks and feed your roses.

index (8)Container Gardening for all Seasons by Barbara Wise provides a shopping list of materials and a helpful planting diagram for each of the more than 100 container options. Designed like a recipe book, the book offers even the most novice gardeners a no-fail, easy-to-follow instruction format for each container. This book includes all you need to know to plan, plant, grow and maintain a container garden.

index (10)Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer shows ways to create outdoor areas that are charming, comfortable, appealing, and reflect individuality. It features twenty-three unique garden styles accompanied by advice on how to recreate the look. Simple step-by-step projects, like how to make a macramé plant hanger, help the reader personalize the space. And helpful tips and tricks, including how to pick the right tree and pick the right combination of plants and containers, offer essential lessons in gardening and design.

index (11)Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier offers everything a tomato enthusiast needs to know about growing more than 200 varieties of tomatoes — from sowing seeds and planting to cultivating and collecting seeds at the end of the season. He also offers a comprehensive guide to the various pests and diseases of tomatoes and explains how best to avoid them. No other book offers such a detailed look at the specifics of growing tomatoes. Savor your best tomatoes ever!

indexEveryday Roses: How to Grow Knock-Out and Other Easy Care Roses by Paul Zimmerman is a complete primer on how to purchase, plant, care for and maintain easy care modern roses. Aimed at gardeners who want the beauty of roses without the fuss, this book offers an approach that is more accessible and environmentally friendly than competing volumes–and no other book in the current market focuses exclusively on modern roses and getting the most out of them.

index (10)Gardening in Miniature: Create Your Own Tiny Living World by Janit Calvo is very, very fun! It’s full of great information for the complete novice in miniature gardening. Calvo gives detailed information on materials and plants and she also gives detailed information for both outdoor and indoor creations. I’m all inspired to see if I can create some of these projects in my own home and garden.

index (11)Grow a Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning techniques for Small Space, Easy-Harvest Fruit Trees by Ann Ralph. I. Cannot. Wait. To grow a little fruit tree. This book makes fruit tree growing sound like a piece of cake. It has simple, precise directions that teach you exactly what and when to cut so that your tree doesn’t overtake you. I like Ralph’s idea that fruit trees are similar to pets – they must be trained if you want them to behave.

indexThe Know Maintenance Perennial Garden by Roy Diblik.  This book explains how knowing (get it?) your plants is the key to a beautiful, low-maintenance garden. This is your ticket to a gorgeous perennial garden packed with color, texture, and multi-season interest. Your yard will look like it was designed by a professional and maintained by a crew if you read this book.

index (1)The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage by David Culp. The author explains the design technique of layering: inter-planting many different species in the same area so that as one plant passes its peak, another takes over. The result is a nonstop parade of color that begins in spring and ends at the onset of winter. As practical as it is inspiring, this book will provide you with expert information gleaned from decades of hard work and close observation and will show you how to achieve a four-season garden.

index (2)Pacific Northwest Garden Tour: The Sixty Best Gardens to Visit in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia  by Donald Olson is a guide to take you to the best public gardens in the Pacific Northwest. Use this guide and its enticing photographs and easy to use format to discover  little-known gems or classic gardens. Everett’s own Evergreen Arboretum and gardens is one of the featured gardens.

index (6)Small Space Vegetable Gardens: Growing Edibles in Containers, Raised Beds, and Small Plots by Andrea Bellamy tells you how to grow your own incredible edibles. This book covers everything you need to know to get growing, from choosing and planting containers, to designing show-stopping edible container displays. It also covers small-space techniques such as succession sowing, vertical gardening, and season extension. This summer you’ll be harvesting a bounty of edibles.

index (4)Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening by Lorene Forkner is a growing guide that truly understands the unique eccentricities of the Northwest growing calendar covering Oregon, Washington, southeastern Alaska, and British Columbia. The month-by-month format makes it perfect for beginners and accessible to everyone – you can start gardening the month you pick it up. Here’s my own advice: plant your peas on President’s Day. Soak them first!

index (7)The Wildlife Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature by Tammi Hartung offers insights into different wildlife issues that commonly arise in the garden, and effective but peaceful ways to address those problems for gardeners wishing to co-exist with wildlife rather than “ban” wildlife. Discover which plants, tools, and remedies can be used to discourage or re-direct critters, repel or distract wildlife, and ways to totally prevent access, without causing harm, to wildlife as a last resort when all else fails.

This is just a smattering of all of the fabulous gardening books available at the library where we bring the Northwest Flower and Garden show to you!

Best Blue Books

03ca60a16618b63e79a17c0fd3b2bd25Occasionally a library patron will be searching for a book and can only remember that it has a certain colored cover. It’s usually hard to find books just by color, but here’s a group of blue books that you’ll surely want to find. They obviously all have blue covers, but they are also about some sort of human frailty. I’ve read almost all of them in the last month. Mostly, they’re all excellent!

index (1)All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is the one that everyone is talking about and you’ll need to cue up for this New York Times best seller. It is a brilliantly beautiful novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied St. Malo, France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. That sounds like it’s been written before, doesn’t it? Yet, this book was amazing because of wonderfully complex characters, brilliant writing, a fast-paced tempo, a romantic setting and an interesting plot. I highly recommend it!

indexMoonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic by Nora Gallagher was recommended by a co-worker (Thanks, Julie!). It is a poignant memoir about a woman who is healthy and happy and competent but who all of a sudden has vision problems which lead to a spiral into a new life she calls “Oz”: a life full of doctors, medical appointments, and feelings of powerlessness. She also gains a deeper understanding of human frailty and questions her religion and her God. I enjoyed this introspective book about facing disease.

index (2)The Story of Land and Sea is by Katy Simpson Smith who in elegant, lyrical prose, confronts the stark cruelty and hypocrisy of Revolutionary-era slavery, as well as the pain and grief suffered by the powerless and powerful alike. At first, this slim historical novel seems to be this simple story of a Revolutionary-era family, a former sailor whose wife died in childbirth and who is now taking his young daughter to sea in hopes of curing her yellow fever. The story quickly opens up, however, jumping back in time to his wife Helen’s youth on her father’s plantation. There we meet Moll, a slave given to Helen when both were children, and see how uneasily their relationship, a disturbing blend of friendship and mistress-servant obligation, unfolds as they grow up.

index (3)Still Alice by Lisa Genova was also recommended by Julie (I make a habit of asking folks if they’ve read anything good lately). This novel reads like a memoir because Genova has used her own background in Neuroscience at Harvard to create a realistic portrait of 50 year-old Alice Howland who is also a professor of Linguistics at Harvard. When Alice begins to forget things -even words- she must face the horrific possibility that she has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. This book is far from depressing as it clearly explains the testing, treatment options, and symptoms of the disease within the context of an absorbing family drama. It is a very readable primer for anyone touched by Alzheimer’s.

The Light Between Oceans index (4)by M. L. Stedman is the perennial New York Times bestseller soon to be a major motion picture from Spielberg that is “irresistible…seductive…with a high concept plot that keeps you riveted from the first page” (O, The Oprah Magazine). After four years in the Great War, Tom Sherbourne takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on a remote Australian island. His young wife, Isabel, who has suffered two miscarriages and a still-birth, finds a boat washed ashore with a dead man and a live baby. Tom wants to report it straightaway, but Isabel convinces him that Lucy is a ‘gift from God.’ They return to the mainland when Lucy is two and learn that their decision has greatly impacted others. To quote Julie: “Oh my goodness! That was a great book!”

indexindexIf you’ll humor me, I’ll add two more blue books to this list even though I haven’t read them yet: The Vacationers by Emma Straub and Crusoe’s Daughter by Jane Gardam. They’re on my to-be-read pile, they look like great novels and, hey, they’re blue! If you need help finding any of these blue books, just ask your friendly librarians (or Julie) at the Everett Public Library!

The Library and Family Holiday Traditions

Do you celebrate the holidays? My family celebrates Christmas and this year I turned to the library for help with all of the decorating, events, and family gatherings. Here’s what I found!

index (3)We cut down a tree at the Happy Valley Tree Farm every year and while it might sound like a wonderful time, in truth it was cold and the babies cried and all of the trees were Charlie Brown ones. So I checked out Country Living Merry and Bright to help decorate our pathetic tree. It is filled with hundreds of ideas for creating Christmas beauty everywhere and there’s also help for entertaining and crafts and baking. Bingo.

index (6)I have sent what one friend called ‘the best Christmas card ever’ but the photo shoot was pure hell: the same babies didn’t want to be photographed and fought over the props. Awkward Family Holiday Photos will help you to feel better about your own holiday card. Or check out one of our many books on making your own cards, if you have time.

 

index (1)This year our grand-daughter went to the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker which is a big holiday tradition. It’s the Nutcracker designed by Maurice Sendak with brilliant sets and costumes. If you can’t make it this year, which is the last, check out  Nutcracker from the library. The long text is broken up by small cameos and full-page art and many of Sendak’s pictures are highly dramatic.

 

index (2)Some families read The Polar Express by Van Allsburg on Christmas Eve. The story we read over and over again is Santa Calls by William Joyce.  Art, Spaulding, and Esther are summoned to the North Pole on Christmas Eve, 1908. They have a grand adventure, including battling dark elves and an evil queen. Along the way Art learns how to get along with his sister.

index (4)index (5)Music is always part of our celebration and a favorite is this instrumental CD Christmas Spirit. Other times, it’s great to sing along with Tony Bennett. Come and browse the Holiday Music section of the Library’s CD collection to find tunes to your liking.

indexMy own personal holiday tradition is to wrap gifts while ‘watching’, actually listening to, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey, a desperate and suicidal man, is visited by a guardian angel who shows him how important he has been to those around him in his life. Clarence the angel says: “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

Perhaps you get together with your wonderful and/or neurotic family to celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas or the New Year and you need a little comic relief. If so, you will surely enjoy these two humorous treasures from the library:

index (4)Holidays On Ice by David Sedaris is a collection of hilarious short stories perfect for those dreading the holiday season. Bestseller Sedaris (When You Are Engulfed In Flames) makes life a little easier with this re-release of his uproarious essay collection. Sedaris gets the most mileage out of Christmas, from his stint as a Macy’s elf in “Santa Land Diaries,” to comparing American and Dutch holiday traditions in “Six to Eight Black Men.” Read it and laugh and better yet, listen to the author read it on CD.

index (5)You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas by Augusten Burroughs is a similar collection of funny yule-tide tales from a childhood complete with a mentally ill mother and an alcoholic father. “As a young child I had Santa and Jesus all mixed up. I could identify Coke or Pepsi with just one sip, but I could not tell you for sure why they strapped Santa to a cross. Had he missed a house? Had a good little girl somewhere in the world not received the doll he’d promised her, making the father angry?”

pausfamilyportraitnfb-18645If all of that family togetherness makes you want to know more about the origins and history of your family, mark your calendars for Saturday, January 24th at 2 PM at the Main Library. Jeremiah Karpowicz of the Chronos Society and eHeritages.com will introduce essential digital tools for genealogical work today. Software, digital media formats, and the file types you will need to preserve your work for posterity will be discussed.

Good luck with your family gatherings this season.  Happy Holidays!

Kid’s Music: Old and New Favorites

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I’ve been listening to children’s music ever since my children were little and my son turns thirty this week! Back then, we loved Raffi, Disney songs and Pete Seeger. Children’s music has come a very long way in recent years. I know because now I listen to music with my granddaughters and the children in story times at the library. I also purchase the children’s music CD’s for the library. It’s important to know which artists can pass both the kid’s and adult’s quality tests. By this I mean that young children will listen to the latest Disney songs (FROZEN) for ever, but you may not want that in your home or life. Here are some artists which I listen to alone. By myself. Willingly.

indexQM6GB4RGMy absolute favorite children’s recording artist is the fabulous Elizabeth Mitchell. Her compact disc You Are My Little Bird is so wonderful that you can just leave it in your CD player because it is primarily acoustic and purposefully low-key, which allows the melodies of her songs to shine through. Mitchell’s singing is elegant, unforced, and a thoroughly natural pleasure to listen to.

seedElizabeth Mitchell has been lending her lovely voice to folk-leaning indie rock for years, and in recent years she’s been displaying the same intelligence and playful joie de vivre on a handful of recordings for children. Her album Little Seed: Songs for Children by Woody Guthrie collects recordings of Mitchell’s interpretations of the legendary folksinger’s songs.  What a pleasure!

nancyNancy Stewart is a children’s singer-songwriter based in Seattle and be sure to check out her fabulous website. This website is dedicated to providing FREE songs, resources and information for teachers, parents, librarians, and home schooling families. You can download her music onto a CD or just click and play. I get so many wonderful tunes from Nancy and you could too.

index (2)I asked my fellow children’s librarians who their favorite musicians are and one loves the Laurie Berkner Band. I do too!  It doesn’t get much better than the Best of the Laurie Berkner Band which features twenty tracks taken from her first five albums. It’s bouncy and fun. The production and performances are top notch which makes it music for all ages.

indexT4OJMRVKJim Gill is the favorite children’s music artist for two of our librarians. He is a nationally acclaimed author and musician who has received five separate awards from the American Library Association. Studies have shown that there are many connections between music, play and literacy. This is wonderfully playful music for the little ones in your life.

indexX12JJSPSSome of my favorite CD’s are from Putumayo Kids. This world music label is dedicated to providing high-quality music played by traditional and contemporary artists. You must listen to Hawaiian Playground if you’re making a trip to the islands or just want to pretend by listening to the song “Come to Hawaii”. Just try to get the tune of the “Cockeyed Mayor of Kaunakakai” out of your head.

indexB8E1SJGCLikewise, check out Cowboy Playground if you’re driving to Idaho or Montana or any other horsey place out west. You’ll love singing along with “Back in the Saddle Again”, “Don’t Fence Me In” and “Happy Trails.”  It was perfect for my cowboy storytime.

indexH51ZRUETAnd who can resist Reggae Playground? This is an outstanding album for children and moreover an entirely enjoyable album for adults also. There are excellent performances all through this upbeat offering which does not dumb-down music for children. Everett Public Library has no less than 28 Putumayo Kids CD’s, so there’s sure to be one to your liking in the bunch.

index (3)Caspar Babypants has a new CD of Beatles music for children and it’s marvelous!  He’s also coming to the Main Branch of the Everett Public Library on Wednesday, December 10th at 10:30 AM. Be sure to come to the auditorium to hear this acclaimed local children’s musician and author present his signature mix of catchy lyrics and bouncy beats. Families with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers will especially enjoy this performance. After the show, be sure to take home some of these fabulous children’s music CD’s. Rock on!

You Just Need a Good Book!

Recently Christin Rude from the University of Washington Bookstore came to the Everett Public Library and presented some reading recommendations to the Everett Woman’s Book Club. I have been attacking this list with fervor and have found the books to be not just good, but excellent.

index (19)The first book I picked up was non-fiction. I think we all know what we would learn if we read the book The Shallows: What the internet is Doing to Our Brains. We would find what author Nicholas Carr presents: that books and reading help to focus our minds and promote deep thoughts while the internet, with its rapid, distracted sampling of small bits and pieces, is making us good at scanning and skimming. What we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection. We don’t have time to read and even if we did, we’d be too distracted to concentrate.

That is exactly what we’d learn if we had time to read The Shallows. I know I don’t.  I’m too busy with Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and my other online obsessions. Until I find a good book. And, you guys, I have! I have found two from Rude’s list that I’ve read more quickly than any in recent memory because they grabbed me and I was consumed with their worlds. In the interest of fighting Internet distraction, I’d like to share them with you.

index (20)Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin is fabulous. This literary murder mystery won the Gold Dagger Award in 2011 because of wonderfully drawn characters and a setting which sucks you into the world of rural Mississippi of the 1970’s. Silas was the son of a poor, single black mother, and Larry was the child of lower middle-class white parents. Despite the racial tensions of the era, they become friends until a girl goes missing after a date with Larry. She is never found and Larry lives with the suspicion of her murder for years, spending his days as a lonely mechanic and becoming known as ‘Scary Larry’ to the folks in the town. He’s a compelling character as he visits his mother daily and keeps her chickens (named after the first ladies) and home up, all the while just hoping for a friend. His boyhood friend Silas returns after many years to become the town ‘constable’ who must investigate a new murder. It turns out that Silas does know something of the long ago murder and what he has left unsaid impacts his life and that of many others. Read this book if you want an engrossing novel which you will contemplate and reflect upon for many days.

index (1)The second book I read from Rude’s list has been a runaway number one best-seller in France and is the first work translated into English by author Gregoire Delacourt. My Wish List  is the story of Jocelyne, a wife and mother living in a small French town. She runs a haberdashery and writes a successful crafting blog. Her best friends work at the hairdressers next door and dream of winning big on the Euromillions. Convinced that Jocelyne will get a taste for their lottery habit, they encourage her to buy a ticket and, amazingly, Jocelyne wins 18 million euros. Before cashing her winnings, Jocelyne begins to list her ‘desires’ which are mostly simple, everyday objects.  She ponders whether money can truly bring happiness. Should she cash the check? Or will having such a large sum of money cause more problems than it solves?

My Wish List made me contemplate just how much influence money has over our lives, not just the opportunities it can afford but also affecting how you are perceived by others and whether it is healthy to be able to afford everything you wish for. From the opening sentence to the closing message, it was a literary, yet very accessible book. Touching and heart-wrenching, My Wish List lives up to the hype surrounding it. It is a well crafted and all-consuming novel.

I am looking forward to reading more books on Rude’s list and perhaps sharing them with you. But right now, I gotta go check my Facebook page. Squirrel!

Top Ten Books That Have Stayed With Us

If you’re on Facebook and have friends who read, you may have come across the recent meme which asks you to list the top ten books that have influenced and stayed with you in some way. You’re not supposed to think hard about this or take too long to do it. Just list ten!

I thought that it would be interesting to conduct a (very unscientific) poll of the library staff to see which books have stayed with us as a whole. The results included a lot of children’s books and that might be because we tend to read these books at a very impressionable age. Favorite books from these years are more likely to lodge themselves deeply into our memories. It’s probable that the book that made you love reading was a children’s book because that’s when you first had an all-night, under-the-covers, flashlight-lit reading binge.

So what did I do with my responses? I tallied them up, of course, and rated them by their popularity. That, unfortunately, left many favorites by the wayside. I have included a quote from each book that got at least two votes. Here they are in all of their glory:

index (1)The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder was the clear winner with a total of four votes. “The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”  I read the whole series over and over again and it was pure pleasure to read about a young girl who was happy to have an orange at Christmas.

index (3)Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montegomery was a close second with three votes. Anne, an eleven-year-old orphan, is sent to live with a lonely, middle-aged brother and sister on a Prince Edward Island farm and proceeds to make an indelible impression on everyone around her. This series would make an excellent family read-aloud. Anne: “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

index (4)The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien was right up there with Anne and that’s no surprise. This book is a glorious account of a magnificent adventure, filled with suspense and seasoned with a quiet humor that is irresistible. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” until the day the wandering wizard Gandalf chooses him to take part in an adventure from which he may never return.

index (5)Rounding out the three vote category is (gasp!) an adult book: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. This is a humorous memoir of a Scottish vet who roamed the remote Yorkshire Dales treating every patient that came his way, from smallest to largest, and observing animals and humans alike with his keen eye. “If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.” This is superb comfort reading.

There were many, many books with one vote, but these are the ones which got two votes (in alphabetical order):

index (6)Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy isn’t one that I read as a child, but it was one I read in college and the one that taught me to love great literary works. It has been described as the best novel ever written and is considered flawless by many. Anna Karenina tells the story of the doomed love affair between the sensuous, rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

index (7)Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, the author of Stuart Little, is a classic of children’s literature that is just about perfect.  “Some Pig. Humble. Radiant.” These are the words in Charlotte’s web, high up in Zuckerman’s barn. Charlotte’s spiderweb tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his litter. E. B. White’s Newbery Honor Book is a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.

index (8)The Harry Potter series was THE most popular on Facebook, but just one of our books with two votes. We must be older. This is the book that ushered in an entire generation of readers, my children included. You know the plot: Harry is an orphan who lives a rather dismal life until he gets a message from an owl which summons him to a life of magic and quidditch at Hogwart’s School. “The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with caution.”

index (10)The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams was perhaps the first Sci-Fi book you read. Seconds before the Earth is demolished for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is saved by Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised Guide. Together they stick out their thumbs, travel to the stars and begin a wild journey through time and space. You either love this or put it down like a hot potato. “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

index (11)I read all of the Nancy Drew Series the summer before fourth grade and oh, how I loved Nancy and Ned! This series had an enormous impact on the popular imagination because it features a female main character who is smart and brave and rescues her boyfriend instead of the other way around. These books were so much better than the Hardy boys. “Nancy, every place you go, it seems as if mysteries just pile up one after another.”

indexPaddle-To-The-Sea  is a 1942 Caldecott Honor Book written and illustrated by Holling Clancy Holling. At Lake Nipigon Canada, a native boy carves a wooden model of an Indian in a canoe and sets it free to travel the Great Lakes to the Atlantic ocean. The story follows the progress of the little wooden Indian on its journey through all five Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, finally arriving at the Atlantic Ocean. “Put me back into the water for I am Paddle-to-the Sea.” 

So, there you have it. Perhaps you can get some of these books into the hands of an impressionable reader, or would even like to re-read them yourself. I can’t leave you without giving you my own personal list. I love each and every one of these!

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