Allison’s Favorite Reads of 2016, Part Two

Part Two of my favorite reads is long overdue. I love to pick a variety of books for these lists and try to have books on here for every age – nonfiction, picture books, middle grade, YA, adult, fiction, graphic novels. I will admit I changed my mind about this list about 15 times. There were a lot of good books this year! But here are 5 more books I loved in 2016.

28114411Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet

Like many children, I loved E. B. White’s books growing up. I remember very fondly my teacher reading The Trumpet of the Swan to us in second grade. This biography by Melissa Sweet is a very unique book. Not quite a picture book biography, it does have chapters and feels a little thick. But the scrapbook-style illustrations are half of what makes the book so wonderful. Sweet’s description of this man’s life made me love him so much for the quiet, thoughtful man that he was. I was so touched I was brought to tears multiple times. I so appreciate E. B. White for being such a good man and one who truly loved words and nature and understood so completely the sensibilities of child readers.

11324722The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided By Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt

I ended up reading this in November during and after the elections. It was very good timing. If you want to understand why some people are conservative and some are liberal, this book is an excellent look into that question. Haidt is a moral psychologist and has done several studies on morals and deeply held beliefs. According to him morality is not just being fair or doing good but there are 6 different moral foundations we all hold to one degree or another. Liberals place more importance on some of them and conservatives on others. He also talks about how humans are 90% ape and 10% bee and that ten percent is very important in understanding how and why we form groups and are happiest in groups of like-minded people. It’s just all so really fascinating and it changed the way I see a lot of things and I can’t wait to discuss it with my book club next month.

28763485The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

I enjoyed Yoon’s first book Everything, Everything but I didn’t love it. It was a fun read, but a little too fluffy. This book is leaps and bounds above her first. The Sun is Also a Star is a really, really sweet YA romance but it is also a look at the immigrant experience, both documented and undocumented. There are also lots of fun juicy philosophical discussions and debates between the two main characters, Daniel and Natasha. Daniel is a dreamer and a poet but is feeling the pressure of his first generation Korean American parents. Natasha is a realist, a scientist, who clings to facts. Her family is about to be deported back to Jamaica. Most of the story takes place in the one day where fate or destiny brings them together in New York City. I loved that these felt like real characters and they talked like real teenagers (ahem, ahem, John Green).

1466455Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty

I am a huge fan of Liane Moriarty. I’m working my way through her backlist and of the 3 Moriarty books I read this year, this one was my favorite. It is about triplet sisters Lyn, Cat, and Gemma. They are each very different and their relationships with each other are volatile and complex. You know at the start of the book that during their 33rd birthday dinner they get into a huge fight at a restaurant and one sister throws a fork at her sister’s pregnant belly. Did I mention it was also hilarious? So we go back in time to see the events in their lives that led up to this big blowup. They are each dealing with very different issues but they are all super relate-able. And of course I extra loved it because I have two sisters myself so even though we aren’t triplets, I know how sisters can be. I listened to the audio of this through Hoopla and the narration with a slight Australian accent was absolutely perfect.

26221428The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart

I have not read the Mysterious Benedict Society series by this author but it always sounded like something I would love. So when this new series starter came out this year I snatched it up. It was a really fun Middle Grade read, especially for smart kids who love mysteries and puzzles. Our main character Reuben finds a watch with magical properties to make the owner invisible and he goes on a quest to find out more about this watch and where it came from. He makes some great friends on his quest but there are also dangerous men chasing him who want the watch for themselves. There is a family of lighthouse keepers who help him on his quest and a mansion with hidden passageways and trap doors. It was a pleasure to watch this mystery unfolded and I highly recommend it to all mystery and puzzle lovers who enjoy a good story.




Favorite Books: Baby Storytime Edition

These are some books I’m loving right now for the under twos. I use them in my baby storytimes again and again.

Selecting books to read aloud for this age group is a challenge. A lot of our favorite toddler books are just a bit too long or too complex for infants and one-year-olds. I get a mix in my storytimes from the occasional newborns up to very active walkers, so I do target my books more towards the older babies to capture their attention.There are many board books that I also love, and while I use them occasionally and recommend my favorites to parents, I try to stick to the picture book format during storytime for easier viewing.

Plot is not the main thing when picking books for this group, in fact, with the possible exception of Baby Danced the Polka, none of these books have any plot at all. They are simple, repetitious books about every day events that babies can recognize from their lives.  Illustrations are simple and clean and in bright primary colors. I Like it When… is especially exemplary in this way.

Baby Danced the Polka by Karen Beaumont. A charming, romping, rhyming story of a little one who does not want to go to bed. I absolutely LOVE a book with a good rhythm, and this one is just begging to be read aloud.

The Baby Goes Beep by Rebecca O’Connell. A day in the life of a toddler, complete with fun sound effects on every page as the “baby goes yum, yum, yum” eating lunch or “the baby goes splash, splash, splash” while taking a bath. I love the level of interaction the sound effects bring and parents often join in.

Hello Day! by Anita Lobel. This one has the feel of a classic and is just perfect for an animal sound theme. I quite love the cheerful watercolor and marker illustrations. It is a quiet book compared to some I use, so it also adds balance that way.

I Like it When… by Mary Murphy. I like to read this one around Valentine’s Day because it is a very sweet tale of a little penguin and her parent and the things they like to do together. It’s sentimental but in a fresh and non-saccharine way. And I can’t say enough good about the illustrations

Toddlerobics by Zita Newcome. This one’s perfect for your very active one-year-olds. It is not a sit still and listen book, it is a get up and move book! The actions are lots of fun, and the pictures show a very cute group of toddlers having a blast moving around.

Please share your favorite books for baby storytime! I would love to hear what books you read to your under two lapsits.

Favorite Reads of 2013 (Part One)

10836471 Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

This novel begins in the year 2073 when a man named Eric visits the island of Blessed and meets a woman named Merle. After this beginning section we have six different parts and each one goes back further in time, all the way back to the tenth century. The stories seem very different from one another, but they are all intertwined in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. There is a lot of symbolism in this book and the setting and atmosphere are just the right amount of spooky and mysterious. This is a beautiful book about love and sacrifice and one that is begging to be reread again and again.

FangirlFangirl by Rainbow Rowell

After I read this, I knew I had found my new favorite book. I already posted a review of this book here. Here, I’ll just say if you would like an amazing book about the first year college experience, fandom, writing, social anxiety, and family relationships with the best romance I have probably ever read, then you must absolutely read this book! Even if none of those things sound interesting to you, read it anyway. It is that good.

15819028 The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

It’s no secret I love speculative fiction/magic realism/literary fantasy/whatever you want to call it. And this book was just my cup of tea. It takes place in the immigrant neighborhoods of New York in 1899. A Jewish man has a rabbi use old magic to make him a wife out of clay, a golem. When the man dies on the passage to the United States, the golem must make her own way in the city. A few blocks away, an Arabic tinsmith accidentally releases an ancient powerful jinni and worlds collide in beautiful ways when the two magical beings meet. I love what one of my new favorite authors, Anne Ursu, had to say about this book, “Here’s an adult book smart and inventive enough to be written for children.”

15953632If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin Stead

It’s also no secret that I love whales. Whales are my favorite animal and my dream is to go whale watching, so I found this picture book about whale watching absolutely delightful. In this quiet and thoughtful book, the narrator describes the many things you must not do if you want to see a whale. Erin Stead won the Caldecott Medal a few years ago for A Sick Day for Amos McGee, also delightful. When I went to the ALA exhibits in Chicago this year, I got to meet her and she signed this book for me! I was in heaven.

1161536 The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont

Even though this was written over thirty years ago, this was the best graphic novel/comic book I read all year and it also made me a dying and eternal fan of the X-Men. I’m always on the lookout for comics with strong female characters, and this story about Jean Grey of the X-Men could very well be the best I’ve read yet. I was initially put off by the retro comics style artwork and coloring, but once I was hooked on the story, it really started to grow on me. When it was over I was begging Michael for more amazing stories like this. Sadly, there really aren’t enough out there. But for a good read in its current run, definitely check out the new all-female cast X-Men title by Brian Wood.

15944406The Doll Bones by Holly Black

This is probably my favorite middle grade book of the year. It has just the right elements creepy old dolls, friendships, magic, quest adventures, and themes of growing up to make it a nearly perfect book. Zach, Poppy, and Alice are three friends who have always created fantasy worlds in their play together. Now that they are growing older, Zach is having doubts about whether he wants to keep playing the game. Then, Poppy tells Zach and Alice a dark story about an old doll in her mother’s cabinet and the ghost of the doll that is haunting her until she returns the doll to the site of her burial. Spooky but not too spooky and lots of fun, I highly recommend this book to readers of all ages, especially since I wish it had been around for me to read when I was younger because I could absolutely relate to these characters and their struggles with growing up and letting go of their fantasy worlds.

Allison’s Favorite 2011 Reads (Part One)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Young Adult Paranormal Fantasy. I loved this book way more than I thought I would. When I heard the book was about angels and demons (chimera) I didn’t think it was really my thing. But so many people were raving about it so I decided to give it a try. I’m so glad I did! Karou is a young woman with bright blue hair studying at an art school in Prague. She also has a secret life – she was raised by chimera and these demon-like creatures are the only family she has ever known. She doesn’t know who or what she is, but when an angel named Akiva shows up and tries to kill her, she is on her way to finding out. The thing that really sold me on this book is how vivid and imaginative Karou’s world is. It was like nothing I had ever read, but it also felt so real and so alive. I recommend this book to anyone with an imagination who likes to think there might be a little bit more to life.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Adult Literary Fantasy. (I listened to this on audiobook read by Mark Bramhall). I am almost done listening to the second book in the series now (The Magician King) and I have to say I may like it even better than the first. But we’ll have to wait and see how it ends. So, The Magicians is about Quentin Coldwater, a highly intelligent young man who feels restless and unsatisfied with his life. Then he discovers that magic is real and is admitted into Brakebills, a college for magicians. And then he also discovers that Fillory is real, the land he loved and read about as a child (think Narnia) and gets to go there, but it isn’t quite as fun and rosy as it was in the books. This book is so perfect for anyone who loves Harry Potter and Narnia and Middle Earth and all things fantasy/nerdy. A beautiful, if sometimes dark and gritty, homage to the great fantasy stories I love.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. Ages 9 and up Illustrated Historical Fiction. This is a new book by the author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret. You’ve probably heard of the movie Hugo, out just this year. I haven’t actually read the book yet (I know, it’s on my list!) but I can tell you that Wonderstruck was amazing. The book interweaves the stories of two characters, Rose and Ben. Rose’s story is told only through full-page illustrations. You have to see these to believe them. They are so realistic and Selznick’s ability to tell a story without any words is amazing. Rose and Ben live in two different eras and their stories tell of two different quests but the ways they are connected will just leave you in awe.

Hereville: How Mirka Got her Sword by Barry Deutsch. Ages 9 and up Fantasy Graphic Novel. The subtitle of this book is seriously: “Yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl.” I love it! Mirka doesn’t want to knit, she doesn’t want to spend all her time learning to become a good Orthodox Jewish wife. She just wants to be a dragon slayer! This lovely humorous graphic novel tells Mirka’s story. This book is cool for so many reasons. The illustrations and layout of the book were just really cool. I loved the strong-willed female protagonist. And it was a really cool glimpse into Orthodox Jewish life, which I really don’t know a lot about. Even though the story is clearly fiction with a lot of fantastical elements, I think it is great to see this culture represented in children’s literature. This book is great for anyone who craves a little more adventure.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. Ages 4-8 Picture Book. I gave a review of this book previously on this blog, Lost in the Pages. Check it out. On here, let me just say, I’m so glad this book is getting a lot of love this year because it totally deserves it! If you like your picture books with a little bit of cheeky humor that appeals to both young children and adults, this is the perfect book. Even if you don’t have any children in your life you should read this book. It’s that good. Honestly. My favorite picture book of the year.