Meet a Children’s Book Author: Jennifer L. Holm

ideal-bookshelfWelcome to the first in a series of blog posts I’ve created to introduce you to various children’s book authors. There are a lot of great ones out there and it’s worth knowing about them. Who knows, you may find yourself reading some really great (children’s) literature.

I recently had a chance to meet some children’s book authors at the Children’s Literature Conference held at Western Washington University in Bellingham. It was a pleasure to meet Jennifer L. Holm that day. Here’s a little about her for your edification:

jenniholmJennifer was born in California and lived for a short time on Whidbey Island. She spent most of her growing up years in Audobon, Pennsylvania. Constantly reading as a child, her favorite author was Lloyd Alexander. She was a broadcast producer at an advertising agency in New York City before she took up writing and quickly received three Newbery Honor Awards for historical fiction novels. Holm currently lives in California with her husband and two young children where she loves to write in her slippers and pajamas while her children are at school.

index (10)Holm started writing with a series about Boston Jane. Sixteen-year-old Jane Peck has ventured to the unknown wilds of the Northwest to wed her childhood idol, William Baldt. But her impeccable training at Miss Hepplewhite’s Young Ladies Academy in Philadelphia is hardly preparation for the colorful characters and crude life that she finds in the Washington Territory. Having to rely upon her wits in the wild, Jane must determine for herself whether she is truly proper Miss Jane Peck of Philadelphia, faultless young lady and fiance, or Boston Jane, as the Chinook dub her, fearless and loyal woman of the frontier.

index (23)Our Only May Amelia is based upon Holm’s great-aunt Alice Amelia Holm’s diary. She was a Finnish-American girl born on the Nasel River in Washington state during the nineteenth century. Mae Amelia is the only girl in a family with seven brothers and has many great adventures. You certainly will enjoy this book set in Washington state. In fact, the city of Lacey, Washington recently used this novel as their “Everyone Reads” choice.

index (24)Holm recommended that you learn from her mistake and write a novel about your mother’s side of the family before you focus on your father’s side, as she did in Mae Amelia. Thus came the inspiration for Penny from Heaven. It’s 1953 and eleven year old Penny dreams of a summer of ice cream, swimming, and baseball. But nothing is that simple for Penny. She can’t go swimming because her mother is afraid that she’ll catch polio at the pool. This is a shinning story about the everyday and the extraordinary, about a time in America’s history when being Italian meant you were the enemy. But mostly, it’s a story about family. This is a book my mother-in-law would enjoy! You may also.

index (25)Turtle in Paradise, another Newbery honor book, is inspired by stories of Holm’s great-grandmother who immigrated to Key West at the turn of the last century. It’s 1935 and Turtle heads off to Key West Florida to live with relatives that she’s never met. It’s hot and strange, with wild jungle peeping out between houses, ragtag boy cousins, and secret treasure. Before she knows what’s happening, Turtle finds herself coming out of her shell (!) and the world opens up in unexpected ways.

It would be easy to typecast Holm as a historical fiction writer since she has written this slew of great historic fiction novels. But WAIT! There’s more! She has broken any expectations that hold her to that single genre with her two graphic novel series.

Growing up with four brothers, Holm’s family devoured comic books. She, however, was bothered by the representation (of lack thereof) of girls and women in these stories and decided to do something about it. Babymouse was born, introducing a likeable character who is strong-willed, risk-taking, funny, and impulsive. Her brother, Matt Holm, is the illustrator of these pink-tinted comics that cause readers to read one after another.

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The Holm siblings also collaborate on Squish, a baseball-capped amoeba who leaves readers chuckling while also learning a few science related ideas. Holm creates mice and amoebas (as well as people) that captivate young readers in these graphic novel series.

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Stay tuned for her upcoming middle grade novel coming out later this year, The Fourteenth Goldfish, where she and Grandpa Melvin explore the wonders of science and raise big questions about family and friendship, life and death.

You can find most of Jennifer L. Holm’s books here at the Everett Public Library. Come on down and borrow a few!

Did You Know? (Rabies Edition)

You almost certainly can’t get rabies from a squirrel?

squirrelsanswerguideSquirrels can get rabies but there has never been a documented case of squirrel to human transmission.

I found this information on page 130 in the book Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide. I also never realized that prairie dogs are squirrels or that there are so many varieties of squirrels. You can see many of the varieties pictured in this book, or take a look at Squirrels of the West by Tamara Hartson. For younger kids, Squirrels: Welcome to the World of Animals by Diane Swanson will give them an inside the nest view of the daily lives of these cute little critters!

Rodents such as squirrels, rats, mice and prairie dogs have a genetic abnormality that  generally keeps them from getting rabies. In addition, squirrels usually aren’t around the other types of animals that carry rabies so their risk of exposure is very low.

genesanddnaAs scientists learn more and more about genetics and disease, they are understanding more about the role certain specific genes play in our health and familial hereditary. There are now many diseases that they can detect in your DNA. Genes & DNA by Richard Walker is a children’s book that is very well written and explains the basics of DNA, RNA, the double helix, and genes. It also gives examples that easily explain twins, disease, cloning and more.

rabidIt seems odd to think of a disease as deadly as rabies as being fascinating, but Rabid by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy (which gives the history of rabies and the attempts by different societies to treat and prevent this catastrophic illness through the ages) was very enlightening. The factual accounts make it that much more interesting.

There are several famous fictional stories of rabies as well. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neile Hurston and Old Yeller by Fred Gipson will touch your heartstrings, while Cujo by Stephen King is suspenseful and will keep you on the edge of your seat!

vaccineFortunately rabies is very preventable now because of the vaccines that our pets can be given, and the advanced treatments that someone can be given if suspected of being infected. Vaccine: the Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver by Arthur Allen is informative; it talks about the creation and uses of different vaccines throughout history, while telling us about the controversies and politics of immunizations at the same time .

 

Ten Books that Impacted my Life

Lately there’s been a post bouncing around Facebook asking people to list 10 favorite books. As an avid reader I gladly offered up a list, with the caveat that if I made the list another day it might consist of entirely different entries.

And now it’s another day, I’ve another list, and it is mostly different. So, more or less in the order I read them, here are 10 books that have impacted my life.

Mixed up filesFrom the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
I discovered this book in fourth grade and was immediately enchanted. A brother and sister run away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My imagination was carried away as I pictured the kids exploring the museum after closing time.

Time out of jointTime Out of Joint by Philip K. Dick
It is 1959 and the world’s crossword puzzle champion lives an idyllic life. Until one day when he reaches for a light switch that is not there and begins to question all aspects of reality. This book has continued to disturb me for decades, but it also led to a love of the writing of PKD.

HogfatherHogfather by Terry Pratchett
Post-modernism, which I think of as taking something familiar and putting it in a new, unfamiliar context, is something that has long enamored me. Pratchett is a master of taking commonplace fairy tales and folk characters and throwing them into completely sideways situations. Hogfather examines some of those characters (such as the Tooth Fairy) and ponders from whence they came.

Red Mars
Red Mars
by Kim Stanley Robinson
I read science fiction almost exclusively for 15 years before Red Mars was written, and even with all of the great books I consumed during that time I never suspected that writing like this could exist. Granted, this is not one of my favorite books and I frequently set it down from boredom whilst reading it, but the sheer immensity of this exhaustive history of a civilization from the future is simply astounding.

Notes from a small islandNotes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
Travelers’ Tales India, a book sadly no longer in the EPL collection, introduced me to the magic of travel writing. Notes from a Small Island introduced me to the concept of “some books should not be read in public or I will be labeled a lunatic while laughing maniacally, ending my days in a happy room with soft walls.” Bryson is a master of imparting information while being hysterically funny.
Wodehouse
Anything ever written by P. G. Wodehouse
Screwball comedies offer a literary format which I find quite intriguing. P. G. Wodehouse builds on this framework with the most original use of language I’ve encountered. Even while enjoying the stories, I learned what dialogue could be like in my own writings, and for this I am grateful. Wodehouse is perhaps the most important writing influence on my humble existence.

Eyre affairThe Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Perhaps the cleverest concept I’ve ever run across: In a slightly alternate reality characters in books are sentient, can move between books, and are part of a thriving industry that creates entertainment for those who read. Thursday Next, an actual living person, is able to enter books and influence the activity therein.  Mischief is afoot in Jane Eyre, and Thursday is called to rescue the novel before it’s too late. Fforde’s universe shows me the incredible level of creativity that can be achieved by a writer.

to say nothingTo Say Nothing of the Dog, or, How we Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump at Last by Connie Willis
Time travel, comedy, Victorian England, suspense – a perfect mix! One of the funniest books I’ve read mixed with a superior treatment of time travel (my hidden guilty pleasure) and appearances by historical as well as fictional characters (the men from Three Men in a Boat) all create a kaleidoscopic chaos of pure adventure and entertainment.

Madison houseMadison House by Peter Donahue
Photos of Seattle’s Denny Regrade are shocking, looking like scenes from a war-torn distant planet. This historical novel looks at how the regrade affected people living on Seattle’s hills, the corruption that shaped the decision-making process, and the bucolic geography of Seattle at a time when people were scarce. This tale has forever changed the image of Lake Union and the University district that I carry in my mind.

Doomsday bookDoomsday Book by Connie Willis
Glory was the first war movie I ever saw where I felt like I understood how the soldiers felt during battle. Doomsday Book, another Connie Willis time travel story, has a protagonist who accidentally goes to plague times. She ends up in a small village, feverish and incoherent, and is nursed back to health by a local family. Because of the error in the time travel process, she is unable to communicate with her peers and is unsure if she will be able to return to her present. So she becomes a member of the small community and watches people die at a rapid pace. And for the first time I had an inkling of what it would be like to be surrounded by bubonic plague with little hope for salvation.

There you have it, 10 books that have all stuck with me in various ways over the years.

Perhaps you would like to share your list?

Best of 2013: For the Kids

Today we explore all the great picture books, fiction, how-to and much more in our list of the best books for children in 2013. Cats work construction? Who knew?

Children’s Fiction:

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That is not a Good Idea!  |  Mo Willems
A surprising lesson about the importance of listening to one’s inner gosling ensues when a very hungry fox issues a dinner invitation to a very plump goose.

This is another genius picture book from one of my favorite authors. Told in the format of an old silent movie with villains and innocent damsels, this story builds suspense and ends with a surprise. Great for storytimes! – Andrea

Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses  |  James Dean
Pete the cat is feeling glum, and a friend cheers him by giving him a pair of “magic” sunglasses that help him transform his world. A grouchy squirrel, an upside-down turtle, and a grumpy alligator want the glasses too.

Expressive paintings and lots of action make this a story that will help young children understand their own emotions. – Esta

Not Your Typical Dragon  |  Dan Bar-el
A young dragon tries to breathe out flames, but instead snorts out whipped cream, party streamers, and other hilarious things.  Other dragons are upset, but a knight who is also an oddball becomes his good friend.

Hilarious illustrations and a playful yet comforting story about being different. – Esta

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The Long, Long Line  |  Tomoko Ohmura
A very long line of 50 animals is waiting anxiously and asking “What’s this line for?” It’s a wild and wacky roller coaster ride that they all want to try, with hilarious results.

The bold graphics invite kids to count, identify the animals, and talk about the actions that they see. Great for developing a young child’s pre-math skills! – Esta

Llama Llama and the Bully Goat  |  Anna Dewdney
Gilroy Goat bullies others in school — teasing, kicking sand, snatching toys.  Little Llama dares to speak back. He shows the others how to “walk away and tell someone.”  Then the compassionate teacher leads Gilroy into learning how to be a friend.

This gentle story helps young children understand that bullying often derives from the bully’s own unhappiness. This is also a comforting story focused on caring about others’ feelings.– Esta

Ladybug Girl and the Big Snow  |  David Soman
A brave girl in red-spotted boots and ladybug costume explores the outdoors after a snowstorm.  She and her dog Bingo get stuck, build snow creatures, and explore the magic of deep snow.

This daring, spunky little girl always shows her spirit of adventure!  This is the latest in the delightful “Ladybug Girl” series of books. – Esta

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The Snatchabook  |  Helen Docherty
Young animals are reading or listening to stories at bedtime when a little creature called the “Snatchabook” sneaks in and steals the books…but why? He has no-one to read to him!  Brave rabbit figures out a delightful solution to the problem!

Lively rhyme and playful illustrations give this book great appeal.  It’s a sweet and reassuring story about the power and joy of reading. – Esta

Baby Bear Counts One |  Ashley Woolf
A young bear watches all the animals around him prepare for winter, and then sees his first snow.

This author/illustrator’s artwork is superb and dramatic, and young children will thrill as they find and count hidden details and end with snowflakes “too many to count.” – Esta

Construction Kitties  |  Judy Goodwin-Sturges
A lively crew of cats wearing their hard-hats work together with a dump truck, excavator, backhoe and other heavy trucks at a construction site.

Young children will enjoy the action as they see how these machines work.  The cats stop for their favorite lunch: sardines and milk. – Esta

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library  |  Chris Grabenstein
Twelve-year-old Kyle gets to stay overnight in the new town library, designed by his hero (the famous gamemaker Luigi Lemoncello), with other students but finds that come morning he must work with friends to solve puzzles in order to escape.

As an adult who thinks an awful lot like a 12-year-old, I found this book a hilarious adventure through one of my most favorite institutions: a public library. A “Ready Player One” for the middle-school crowd. – Carol

Children’s Non-Fiction:

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Think Again! : False Facts Attacked, Errors Exploded, Myths Busted  |  Clive Gifford
Organized into five broadly themed sections the human body, the animal world, science, history, and popular culture this book tackles commonly held and commonly repeated mistaken beliefs head-on. Each falsehood is debunked in straightforward and factual explanations grounded in real scientific research, incorporating discussions of why the myth persists.

Colorful illustrations and tons of fascinating information.  You can open to any page and learn something new. – Theresa

The Big Book of Crafts & Activities  |   James Mitchem, editor 
This book is packed with crafts, recipes, games and activities for children who want to get creative and try new things-from growing tasty fruit and vegetables to customizing your furniture.

This book is full of crafts and activities that are fun and don’t require specialized materials or equipment. – Theresa

Myths Busted! Just When You Thought You Knew What You Knew– |  Emily Krieger 
From the origins of fortune cookies to alligators living in the sewers of New York City, this book gives kids the tools to break and bust wild and wacky myths from around the world.

More than 100 ‘myths’ are debunked, first with a suggestion of how they came to be believed and then with the science that disproves them. – Theresa

Star Wars: Science Fair Book  |  Samantha Margles
Presents thirty step-by-step instructions for science projects and experiments based on elements from the “Star Wars” film series, including how to create crystals, make a hydrometer, and move objects with “the force.”

An engaging concept to encourage young scientists with all the tips needed to make a great science fair project. – Theresa

Girl Books

The last student in the bookmobile wasn’t finding a book that she wanted. She finally asked me for a ‘girl book.’  I knew what she wanted: a Disney or Barbie Princess book. Those books are very poorly written but the little girls love them because of all of the pretty pictures. So, what did I do? I put my hand down and, without looking, grabbed the first book I could touch.  It was about Space.  “Here’s a girl book!”  I exclaimed.

index (5)index (4)The little girl said, “That’s not a girl book! It’s not pink!” The teacher and I exchanged sad looks before I brought out the pink princess books. Yay! She found the one she wanted: The Perfect Princess Tea Party. She left a happy customer.

Then I saw this awesome GoldieBlox ad on the internet which shows three little girls absolutely bored, bored, bored with a pink toy commercial. They turn off the TV and create a fantastic Rube Goldberg set-up in their home. It was inspirational! One of the lines set to the Beastie Boys tune says, “Girls!  Don’t underestimate girls!” It got me thinking about all of the little princesses out there and how to get better books into their hands so they’re not bored, bored, bored. Here are some great picture books for your little princesses.

index (6)Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson is one of my favorites. Cinder Edna lives next door to Cinderella and they each end up with the prince of their dreams but Cinder Edna is so much happier because she has her priorities straight. While Ella gets the help of her Fairy Godmother and ultimately lands Prince Charming, Edna figures out a way to get to the ball herself and has a rollicking good time! Guess who lives happily ever after?

index (7)In Olivia and the Fairy Princesses by Ian Falconer, Olivia embarks upon a quest for identity with lofty goals and being a princess is NOT one of them. Olivia is having an identity crisis. There are too many ruffly, sparkly princesses around these days, and Olivia has had quite enough. She needs to stand out. She wants to do more than just fit in. So what will she be? The answer is marvelous!

index (8)Princess Me by Karma Wilson is a rhyming story about a little girl who imagines being a princess, with her stuffed animals serving as royal subjects:

Make way! Make way!
Here comes the princess of the land. She’s sweet and kind.
She’s oh-so-grand. And just who is she, this lovely Princess Me? Come inside this book to see!

index (9)Not All Princesses Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen is a winner, pure and simple. These princesses dig in the dirt, kick soccer balls, and splash in muddy puddles–all in their sparkly crowns. I love the rhyming text:

Not all princesses dress in pink. Some play in bright red socks that stink, blue team jerseys that don’t quite fit, accessorized with a baseball mitt, and a sparkly crown.

Don’t forget to wear your sparkly crown!

index (10)In The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke, Violetta is a little princess who wishes she could be as big and strong as her brothers. But what she lacks in size, she makes up for in determination. At night Violetta slips out into the woods and secretly teaches herself to become the cleverest, bravest, most nimble knight in the land. She’s ready to fight as a knight and wins the prize of living happily ever after.

index (11)Pirates & Princesses by Jill Kargman is the story of Ivy and Fletch who have been best friends since babyhood. They’re in for a surprise when they start kindergarten. The girls play with the girls and the boys play with the boys on the playground. Ivy likes the girls’ princess game and Fletch likes the pirate game but they miss each other. I won’t say much more other than the book is sweet, hysterically funny in its narration, and has a great message about being who you want to be regardless of gender stereotypes.

index (12)If you’d like to read an adult book on this whole pink princess idea, try Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. The author concludes that parents who think through their values early on and set reasonable limits, encourage dialogue and skepticism, and are canny about the consumer culture, can combat the 24/7 “media machine” aimed at girls and hold off the focus on beauty, materialism, and the color pink somewhat.

Well, I hope that this list gives you a start on finding interesting and well written books for your little princesses. They surely won’t be bored, bored, bored with these great picture books!

Things That Go Bump in The Night

It was a dark and quiet night around midnight when I heard a scritch, scritch, scritch from the corner of the bedroom. Was it the dog? I stumbled over without glasses or turning on the light because I wouldn’t want to wake my dear husband, now would I? I saw something on the window screen. “Oh!  A butterfly!” I thought. “I’ll just lift up this screen and let the little fellow outside.”

“EEEKK!” the bat and I both cried at once! The little thing started circling  around the bedroom as I dropped to the floor and covered my head. “What’s wrong?” asked dear husband. “Go back to sleep,” he said. ” Bats are good.  They eat insects!” And he promptly went back to sleep.

Like fun I’d sleep with a bat flying over head! What to do? The bat was obviously attracted to light so I decided to turn on the lights in another bedroom. Bingo. Little Battie flew in there and started flying madly in circles. As I quickly shut the door, I realized that I saw the dog in there and the windows weren’t open. I summoned up the nerve to coax the dog out and sneak in and open the windows. Then I realized that I had to turn the bedroom lights off and the porch light on. The bat was still there an hour later, but hanging up near the ceiling. In the morning, he was gone.

Of course, I had to check the attic the next day and was relieved to discover that it was simply a renegade single bat and we didn’t have hoards of them living above us.

Driving to work just a day later I heard a fascinating story on NPR about bats. My fear quickly changed to fascination. Perhaps you knew that bats are the world’s only flying mammals? (Those flying squirrels actually just glide.) Their echolocation helps them to circle bedrooms at an amazing speed. You also probably knew that they eat insects, but did you know that they help pollinate plants and trees?

And though it hasn’t yet affected bats in the western U.S., a tragic disease called the White-nose Syndrome has plagued the bat population in the east. The fungus infects the bats while they hibernate. The bats go back to the caves and they get all comfy and go to sleep. And all of a sudden, they wake up itching like crazy. And they literally won’t go back to sleep. They use up their fat reserves, which are designed to get them through five or six months they are hibernating. They burn it up very quickly, and then die of starvation.  White-nose syndrome has killed millions of bats since it spread from New York, where it was first discovered six years ago. Researchers believe it came from Europe, through trade or tourism. Its spores have now been found as far west as Minnesota. My empathy for bats increased as did my desire to know more.

I searched the library for bat books and, to be honest, they are creepy because bats are, frankly, very ugly. Witness the cover of this book, Bats by Phil Richardson:

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See what I mean? Is it the fangs? The ears? The arm-wings? The total package adds up to one freaky little animal!

indexCAOCGX7ZBats in Question: The Smithsonian Answer Book will answer your many questions such as:  Will bats really drink blood? How fast can bats fly? Are they related to birds? What are the largest and smallest bats? Why do they live in colonies? And the photo on the cover is blessedly small. Enough of realistic books, let’s turn to children’s picture books since they are some of the best bat books by far and bats seem so much more appealing in them!

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Stellaluna is the classic children’s picture book about a young bat who loses her mother and grows up with a family of birds. Stellaluna begins to see how different she is from her new mother and brothers and sisters when they do weird things like eat worms, sleep right-side up, and sleep at night.  Stellaluna finally meets her real mother and all the other bats and realizes why she felt like she didn’t belong with the bird family. She learns that it is alright to sleep upside down and that she is nocturnal. She finds herself.

indexCA10IP39Bat’s Big Game is a re-telling of a traditional fable from Aesop by Seattle author Margaret Read MacDonald whose books are always sure winners in my preschool story times. Bat keeps switching sides to be on the winning side of a soccer game between the animals and the birds. The other animals find his lack of loyalty distasteful and they eject Bat from the game. Kids will find Bat’s escapades entertaining, and they may also appreciate the lessons in loyalty and sportsmanship.

index (2)Bats at the Ballgame by Brian Lies has beautiful illustrations and is in my favorite category of children’s books: ones that rhyme. “Restless wings begin to itch-  excitement’s at a fever pitch. At last it’s time, and with a sigh, we hustle out to diamond sky.  Hurry up! Come one-come all! We’re off to watch the bats play ball!” This book is a home run.

index (3)Bats at the Library by Brian Lies has those little guys looking ding-dang cute. This is how it ends: “Through the window, into sky-it’s much too late – we’ve got to fly. But maybe a librarian will give us bats this chance again- and leave a window open wide to let us share the world inside!”

Like fun I will!

Caught in the Act: We Read Banned Books

Sex, drugs, and bathroom humor – all of these and more could land a book on the American Library Association’s list of frequently challenged books. In honor of Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of our freedom to read whatever we see fit, we’ve asked A Reading Life regulars and guest posters to tell us about their favorite banned books.

The Face on the Milk Carton coverTheresa
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
Janie Johnston’s life was boring, boring, boring until one day at lunch when she grabbed her friend’s milk carton. She was allergic to milk, but one little sip wouldn’t be a big deal, would it? On the milk carton was a picture of a little girl kidnapped from a shopping mall 12 years earlier. Suddenly, Janie remembered the dress, the way the starched collar itched, and the way her braids tickled her cheeks. “The girl on the back of the carton,” she whispered to her friends, “it’s me.” Janie cannot believe that her loving parents kidnapped her, but as she tries to piece together what happened, no other answer makes sense.

This story of Janie’s quest to find answers and to discover her true identity is a captivating read; a book that I have easily sold to teens looking for a good book. I was surprised to find it on a list of frequently challenged books. The most common reasons listed were: challenge to authority, sexual content, and inappropriate for age group. Yes, Janie skips school with her boyfriend Reeve to try to find some clues as to what is the truth of her parentage, (challenge to authority?). The complaint about sexual content really surprised me. I had to reread the book to figure out where that came from. Reeve asks Janie how they will explain skipping school, he says, “they’ll figure it’s sex we wanted….” (sexual content?). “Inappropriate for age group”, is the one complaint that may have some merit when it is coming from elementary school parents since the book deals with teenagers and high school issues. Grade school readers might not be familiar with high school life, and they might not be interested in dating and such, but the plot isn’t particularly what I would consider to be for mature audiences.

I will continue to recommend The Face on the Milk Carton and its sequels. Janie’s dilemma, “What if I am not who I think I am?” is a theme that resonates with teens as they look for their place in the world, and the intrigue as she unravels the mystery of her origin make for a fast read.

The Stupids Step Out coverRon
The Stupids series, by Harry Allard
The Stupids are a wonderful non-conformist family whose adventures can be read about in The Stupids Step Out and The Stupids Have a Ball, among others. Along with their cat Xylophone and dog Kitty, Stanley Stupid, his wife and their two children Buster and Petunia look at life a little differently than most.

A typical day in the Stupid household might include breakfasting in the shower, mowing the rug, interpreting a power outage as death, and sleeping with their feet on their pillows. Illustrations are filled with weird touches such as strangely labeled pictures hanging on walls, people engaged in bizarre activities or wearing odd clothing, and pets who are more clever than their owners.

In other words, these are silly books. There is something for both kids and adults to enjoy and little chance that children will be permanently warped through reading about the Stupids. So be a rebel, read a banned book to your kid. Just make sure to wash their pillowcase after they use it for their stinky feet.

The Glass Castle coverMarge
The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls
“Don’t I always take care of you,” asks Jeannette Walls’s father, in her memoir, The Glass Castle. In reality he almost never did. Raised by both a father and a mother who seemed genuinely oblivious to the needs of their children, Walls recalls frequent moves, poverty, hunger and neglect. Remarkably, she describes her turbulent family life in a matter-of-fact tone without bitterness or self pity and with flashes of humor and a sense of the ridiculous.

A popular book on the New York Times bestseller list for many weeks, The Glass Castle was also among the top 10 most challenged books in 2012 for offensive language and sexually explicit content according to the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom. Indeed, there is some foul language and one particularly distasteful scene but the language and content simply seem appropriate to the story the author is telling.

Those unlucky enough to be deprived of the opportunity to read this book would miss the story of a woman of great resilience and forbearance who not only survives but prevails. Refusing to let her past define her, Walls moves to New York City at seventeen, finds work, graduates from Barnard College and begins a career as a journalist. As the book ends, she is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner at her home for her mother and siblings seemingly at peace with the past.

Blankets cover imageAlan
Blankets by Craig Thompson
This terrific coming-of-age graphic novel was pretty famously challenged for its depiction of a nude teen. How bad is it? Out of 592 pages, we’ve got 1 or 2 pages that are risqué (and beautiful, brutal, and true). Pick up this phonebook-sized volume and your reward is the real deal, a literary depiction of what it is to: come of age with a brother, fall in love, lose your faith, and be a human being. The art is incredibly evocative. Innocence is wide-eyed, with thin lines and graceful flow. Anger is expressionistic, jagged, thick, and black, black, black. Highest possible recommendation.

What did Thompson do next? The gorgeous, even more care wrought Habibi.

We hope this short list has tempted you to take a walk on the wild side and read some banned book with us. For more information about Banned Books Week, and why books are challenged or banned, check out ALA’s excellent collection of resources on the topic.

Summer Reading Program 2013: Dig Into Reading

Embedded Frog lilly pad

The first Summer Reading Program I remember participating in was when I went with my two sisters to spend the summer with Uncle Carl and Aunt Gladys in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. What magical memories I have of going to the library with Aunt Gladys each Tuesday to get new books. I was so excited to keep track of my progress and earn my prizes!

I still have the reading log. It was an under the sea theme which seems odd for such a land-locked state, doesn’t it?  I’ve lost the wonderful little clay animals that you were allowed to make after completing each reading column, but vividly recall them: a grey-blue clay dolphin, complete with little hand squeeze marks, a sand dollar and, of course, a fish. Even though my treasures are lost, I keep them in my mind as a happy memory.

How about creating some happy memories for your child or even yourself this summer? It’s time for everyone, young and those also not as young, to sign up for Everett Public Library’s Summer Reading Program. We have programs for the read-to-me set, young readers, teens and even adults! The theme for 2013 is ‘Dig into Reading’.

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Summer reading begins the instant school ends and that was last week for the Everett School District. That means you can start your reading log on the first day of summer vacation. For each column completed, bring your reading log to the library to receive a prize courtesy of our sponsors. Prizes are available while supplies last. The summer reading prizes are made possible by the Friends of the Everett Public Library, AFSCME Local 113, Rotary Club of Everett, Rodland Toyota, Subway, Taco Time and Masonic Lodge #95 F & AM.

Summer reading at the Everett Public Library also offers programs and activities designed to inspire children’s creativity and imagination. This summer’s programming is sure to excite children with the varied offerings, which include everything from musical concerts and puppet shows to themed story times and Wednesday ‘crafternoons’. Programs begin in June. Some of the highlights will be a Nancy Stewart concert Saturday, July 27th at both libraries, and the super fun ‘Dig into Art’ (‘crafternoon’)  craft time at the Main Library at 3 PM on Wednesday afternoons.

Everett Public Library’s 2013 summer schedule  is available online. This is where children can find activities just for them! Copies of the Reading Program brochures are available at both library locations.

Everett Public Library is dedicated to providing educational programming for youth during the summer months, helping keep children engaged in reading and in their communities while out of school. Summer reading programs are designed for children to have positive learning experiences and to encourage reading as a lifelong habit.

I read Dr. Seuss and Are You My Mother? and other such literary tomes during that long-ago summer in Iowa. This summer I have quite a long list of books to enjoy including: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, Bring up the Bodies also by Hilary Mantel (Thanks, Eileen, for the suggestions), The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, and Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.

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Some titles I’ve read recently and can recommend for your (adult) summer list include: The Language of Flowers by Victoria Diffenbaugh, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple, and Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris (for a little chuckle).

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If you’d like to help a child find age appropriate and exciting reads this summer, check out these lists from the American Library Association.

There’s no need to go all the way to Iowa to enjoy summer reading. Join me in creating more happy summer reading memories right here in Everett!

Leslie

Release Your Inner Toddler

Now that my daughter is of an age where she reads books about gruesome murders, ghosts and hungry games, I seldom delve into children’s picture books. However, I recently ran across an interesting review, read the book, and was entranced. This made me recall that some picture books are at least as equally entertaining for adults as for children. So I sought out a few titles that would delight grown-ups, and here’s what I found.

Black Book
The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin and Rosana Faria

Imagine that you can see a color that no one else can see. You try to describe the color, but it’s so different from all other colors that it can’t be described by referring to known colors.

Now imagine describing any color to someone who has never seen a color. Saying that it’s light or dark or bright would not be helpful. Which leads me to wonder, how do unsighted people perceive colors? The Black Book of Colors is an entirely black book with short, poetic descriptions of colors, both in braille and text, followed by raised pictures for the reader to feel.

“Thomas says that yellow tastes like mustard, but is as soft as a baby chick’s feathers.”

The purpose of this book is to give sighted people an opportunity to explore what it’s like to be blind. As I felt the raised pictures (without looking at them), I had no idea what they depicted. It was actually a frustrating experience, which makes me think that the book is effective.

For those who might want to read the text in Braille, the Braille alphabet can be found at the end of the book.

Chloe and the Lion
Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, pictures by Adam Rex

Here we find lovely pictures that illustrate a story where both the author and illustrator are also characters in the story, however with a more realistic appearance than that of the other characters. The action occurs on a stage set with scenery (as in a play), although the story is told as if it’s really happening rather than being acted out. All grinds to a halt when the illustrator thinks his idea for a beastie is way cooler than the author’s. A fight ensues ending with the author firing the illustrator and hiring a different artist. The new artist is somewhat less talented than the original, but he also thinks that he has cooler ideas than the author. Soon he too is fired and the author decides to both write and illustrate. One tiny problem: he can’t draw. Finally, he invites the original illustrator to come back (after an abject apology), and the story concludes with a mystery and a surprise ending.

Squirrels
Those Darn Squirrels! by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

Old Man Fookwire has few joys in life, but he loves to paint pictures of the birds in his yard. Every winter when the birds fly south he feels sad and lonely. One particular winter he comes up with a plan to keep the birds from leaving: build bird feeders to provide food for the birds in the cold foodless months. The problem, as most Northwesterners know: bird feeders are actually squirrel feeders. When the weather turns cold, the birds leave, and the old man is lonely once again. However the squirrels, who are hungry but not bad at heart, devise a plan to bring some joy into Fookwire’s life.

The following passage gives a feel for this book’s prose:

“The squirrels stayed up all night working out their strategy. They drank cherry cola and ate salt-and-vinegar chips to help them stay awake. Finally, they had it: the perfect plan! They put on their tiny helmets and prepared to launch themselves into the air, over the fence, between the lasers and onto the bird feeders.”

 A fun read with silly pictures conveying a silly story.

There are countless other enticing picture books as well. I encourage you to share some titles with the rest of us so that we may let loose our inner toddlers (which is already pretty close to the surface in some cases). And if you see Harold with his crayon, say, “Hi!”

Ron

Wrong Question, Right Book

Who Could That Be at This Hour

What happened to his parents?
Where is that screaming coming from?
Is it too late?
This book contains these and other wrong questions.

Thus begins the dust jacket for “Who Could That Be at This Hour?” by Lemony Snicket. I, however, didn’t see this description initially. When I experienced book one in the All the Wrong Questions series, I was listening to the story on CD. Liam Aiken, who played Klaus in the movie adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, performed the audio version. Between his cadence and Snicket’s prose I was hooked.

Our story begins at the Hemlock Tearoom and Stationery Shop where twelve-year-old Lemony Snicket is about to have tea with his parents. Having just graduated, he is soon to board a train for a new life, a new adventure. But then he receives this note, and all his carefully laid plans go up in smoke:

Climb out the window in the bathroom and meet me in the alley behind the shop. I will be waiting in the green roadster. You have five minutes.          –S

The adventure begins! Soon Snicket is off with a stranger, a one S. Theodora Markson. He is now her apprentice and she is now his chaperon. They set off for a small coastal town called Stain’d-by-the Sea, where his training is to commence. It’s not an ordinary town, however. The ocean has been somewhat drained. There are large machines extracting octopus ink from those living in the remaining waters. Octopus ink is very dark and the reason the town got its odd name. There’s also the Clusterous Forest, which was once under the sea but is now home to seaweed that learned to grow on dry land. Never, ever, under any circumstances should you enter the Clusterous Forest.

Lemony and S. Theodora’s first client is Stain’d-by-the-Sea’s elderly matriarch, Mrs. Murphy Sallis. A priceless item, a frightening statue of something called the Bombinating Beast, has been stolen from Mrs. Sallis. It’s up to our fearless heroes to solve the case and return the beast to its rightful owner.

But, as in real life, not everything is just as it seems. The town, once thriving on the ink exports, has died off. The newspaper has closed and many of the shops are closed as well. In fact, the only places that still appear to be open are the inn, the coffee shop, and the library. Those who would appear to be knowledgeable, or even trustworthy, may in fact be deceitful or, quite frankly, stupid.

As the plot unravels and secrets are exposed, things get very dangerous for young Mr. Snicket. Will he be able to recover the Bombinating Beast? Will he even survive his apprenticeship?

Fans of Lemony Snicket will adore this tome. This is my first foray into his work and I am happy to say I am hooked. While the story of the Bombinating Beast is resolved at the end of the book, the overarching storyline that is Lemony Snicket’s apprenticeship continues on.

Book two in the All the Wrong Questions series won’t be out until October. While this distresses me, as someone who really wants to ask more wrong questions right along with Mr. Snicket, I am appeased by knowing that I can make this series last and savor it like a chewy caramel with my cup of tea. But definitely not tea from the Hemlock.

Carol