Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An Invisible Thread

I must be in the mood for heartbreak and inspiration because An Invisible Thread: The True Story of an Eleven Year Old Pan Handler, a Busy Sales Executive and an Unlikely Meeting With Destiny by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski certainly had plenty of heartwarming moments within.

Schroff, a single sales executive in Manhattan, was flying high in the mid 1980s, when she was approached by an eleven year old pan-handler. At first she ignored him, but something made her turn around and ask the boy if he wanted to go to McDonalds. This wa the start of a relationship that grew and still exists today.

Maurice was a boy from the projects with drug addicted parents. He had moved many times in his short life and was often hungry. Laura didn't know all of this when she first became involved with him, and their relationship was not about money. Instead Laura became Maurice's friend, gave him opportunities he never would have had, and opened his eyes to a way of life he knew nothing of. For example, when Laura took him to visit her sister and her family one weekend, Maurice was amazed by the fact that people had an entire room just to watch television, and a room to eat food in. He also never owned a clock and was frequently late to school until Laura bought him an alarm clock of his own.

Reading about this unusual friendship shows the power that one person has to change a child's life. And although it seems that Maurice reaped the benefits of this relationship, Laura also benefited from Maurice, enjoying being able to parent him and care for him.

An Invisible Thread is a fast read, an inspiration to all of us to look for opportunities that arise every day for us to help others and to seize them.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Look What Showed Up at My House

I've upgraded a bit! Saturday my Kindle Fire arrived. I have been able to look at/play with it a little, but still need to find a bit more time to get to know it better. I did enjoy watching an episode of Wonder Years on Saturday night, and have downloaded People magazine on it since I already get a print subscription. My girls are very interested in the apps that can be downloaded, of course. I am thinking this won't be the only Kinde Fire in our house. My middle daughter has been saving her money for an iPod Touch, but after looking my new purchase over, is quickly changing her plans.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Kisses From Katie

Kisses from Katie is Katie Davis' story of her journey to Uganda and God's call to her to remain there and raise a family of girls as well as help thousands of young people receive an education.

This story is one I started on Friday night and finished quickly Saturday morning; it is a quick read. Katie is a likeable young woman with a positive outlook on life. As a teenager she began thinking about spending a year doing mission work somewhere. When she decided on Uganda, she never fathomed that this would become her home. But now at the age of twenty-two, Davis has adopted fourteen girls and raising them in this third world country. She has left her family in Tennessee, her boyfriend, and the plans she once had for her future. All because she feels God calling her to serve him by helping these children in Uganda.

Sprinkled with Scripture, Davis' decisions makes me think about my own life and how easy it is to get caught up in the rat race of having. I have many friends who have built beautiful homes - homes that are more than they need. My children have more clothes, books, toys than they could ever use. And yet, Davis' children have their needs met, but do not have lots of things. And they are happy. They are generous, wanting to care for others who are in need.

I loved seeing the pure joy on the faces of these children as I looked through the photos within this book. Katie never once complains about the work she does or the effort that she must put forth in order to help these people. There are valid points for why Davis has chosen this life throughout Kisses From Katie, but one that especially stuck with me:

There are moments when I think that because I have worked hard all day, I deserve to be able to sit down and eat my food instead of answering the door for one more person who needs help.

The truth is that these thoughts are not at all scriptural. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that I deserve a reward here on earth. Colossians 3:23 says, "Whatever you do work at it with all your heart...." It does end with, "since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward."

Kisses From Katie is inspiring, but it also offers an opportunity to do a little self reflection and take stock of where your priorities lie. If only the world could be filled with Katies.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

More Newbery Thoughts

My oldest daughter mentioned today - in disbelief- that I had not blogged since Wednesday. Honestly, I was in disbelief myself. It hasn't felt that long, and I've been busy at school basically keeping my head above water. I also noticed I have a lot of books due at the library and not many of them have even received more than a glance.

For some reason I decided to actually sit down and read this year's Newbery winner right away. Moon of Manifest, last year's winner, is still waiting to be read, so it feels good to be reading this while everyone is still talking about it. And, as I finished Dead End in Norvelt on Friday, I can now say I have read all three Newbery award books that were announced on Monday.

Dead End in Norvelt, Jack Gantos' Newbery award winning book has been and will continue to be reviewed everywhere. I doubt I can add much to the reviews out there, but there were a few thoughts I had while reading:

1. First of all, a colleague also read this book, and was commenting to me on how surprised she was that this was "the one." She has noticed that in many of the new childrens books being published authors have an agenda....yes, these books entertain, but there is vocabulary being taught in a more blatant way (not just included in the text, but often as part of the story or as a chapter title), and Dead End in Norvelt also made a point of teaching history as well.

2. When I started reading I had visions that this was a Bill Bryson book for kids. While Bryson writes non-fiction and Dead End in Norvelt is fiction, the main character is Jack Gantos. The setting is Norvelt, the town the real Jack Gantos grew up in.

3. I found this book very funny, but I don't think kids will. A lot of this book would totally go over my students' heads. In fact out of the five classes I book talked this to, only one student new what an obituary was. (I was explaining that Jack helps an elderly lady write obituaries because her hands are arthritic he becomes her typist). One class actually thought that the word obituary was a bad word which was sort of distracting since each time I said the word a group of boys was nearly beside themselves.

4. The Newbery selection committee did select a book that will stand the test of time. I can see people fifty years from now reading and enjoying this book. I just don't think this will be elementary students.

5. I would even happily re-read this book (a rare occurrence) because I feel like there is plenty in this book that I missed or could appreciate more by re-reading.

6. Norvelt in 1962 is an interesting town full of an eclectic group of people that were fully captivating to me.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Drawing From Memory

Back before I knew very much about childrens literature, I was introduced to Allen Say in a Childrens Lit course. Tea With Milk became a favorite of mine; I fell in love with the illustrations. I have read a few other books by Say, and was happy to see he had a new book out this past year, Drawing From Memory.

This is slightly different than Say's other work, as there are not full page pictures, but rather smaller, almost cartoon-style pictures on each page. Say shares his life story and what led him to become an artist.

This book is not only a great autobiography, it also is a nice story about one boy finding his passion in life and pursuing it, as well as how an artist was able to break into his profession and make it despite a great deal of competition and challenges along the way.

Although this would be a good read aloud, Drawing From Memory is fairly long and may have to be read in a few readings if used with students. They will also appreciate being able to see the illustrations up close to fully absorb the detail in Say's work.

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week's pick: Gold by Chris Cleave

Due out July 10, 2012

Book Description taken from Amazon:

Building on the tradition of Little Bee, Chris Cleave again writes with elegance, humor, and passion about friendship, marriage, parenthood, tragedy, and redemption.Gold is the story of Zoe and Kate, world-class athletes who have been friends and rivals since their first day of Elite training. They’ve loved, fought, betrayed, forgiven, consoled, gloried, and grown up together. Now on the eve of London 2012, their last Olympics, both women will be tested to their physical and emotional limits. They must confront each other and their own mortality to decide, when lives are at stake: What would you sacrifice for the people you love, if it meant giving up the thing that was most important to you in the world?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

No More Fang

It's obvious I'm no photographer, but if you can ignore my lack of skills, I just had to share that Middle Sister lost the fang that she was sporting for the last week or two. We had a late start today because of icy roads. Since I had to go to work on time, they spent a few hours with grandma. While there my oldest two girls were wrestling around and a tooth fell out! I doubt there had to be much to make it fall out- it was hanging by a thread! I love how cute kids look with both their front teeth gone, but you will notice that Middle Sister has teeth ready to come in, so she won't be a toothless wonder for long.

Monday, January 23, 2012

And The Results Are In

What can I say? I obviously lack any real skill in predicting which books will win awards, although three of the titles I mentioned did receive recognition.
Because we had a two hour delay my oldest daughter was able to catch the live webcast. My youngest daughter was at an eye doctor appointment and my middle daughter has been unable to remove the headphones from her ears as she listens to the fourth Harry Potter book.

I'm still trying to get over the fact that there are only two Newbery honors....it feels a bit stingy to me because there are so many great books out there. It would be so interesting to be in on the discussions about these books and selecting the winners.

I have Jack Gantos' book, Dead End in Norvelt - and the winner of the 2012 Newbery Medal - sitting next to my school bag, ready to take home and read ASAP. In any event, my TBR pile just got bigger.

Click here to see a list of this year's ALA winners.

The Future of Us

Carolyn Mackler and Jay Asher have united to write an interesting and thought provoiking YA novel. Set in 1996, before the invention of Facebook, Emma is excited to have her first computer. However, when she boots it up this strange thing called Facebook appears on her screen. While looking at it, Emma finds out information about someone who looks like an older version of herself. Enlisting the help of her neighbor Josh, the two try to determine if this is someone's idea of a joke, or if they really are seeing into their future. They become aware of how little changes they make in their lives leave long lasting ripples in their futures. Should they try and change things in order to ensure their happiness? Or should they leave things as they are?

I loved the 90's references to music and television....Josh and Emma are reliving my high school years. The only flaw I could find with references to life in 1996 is the number of characters that owned cell phones. In 1996 the cell phone I owned was a phone in a bag.... a large telephone that plugged in to my cigarette lighter in my vehicle. I didn't know anyone who regularly carried a cell phone with them. (Picky, huh?) Despite that, this is a book sure to get you thinking about what Josh and Emma should do. And even though I thought I would do a great job making decisions for them, Josh and Emma find a fitting resolution for themselves.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Predictions, Predictions

Tomorrow is the day I have been waiting for. The ALA Winter Conference in Dallas is underway and tomorrow morning a variety of literary awards for childrens literature will be announced. I have long since given up guessing at the Caldecott because I am just never right. However, there are a few that I hope get a little attention:
Blackout by John Rocco - I've checked this one out so many times and it's all because I am in love with it. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick - I don't know if this is a Newbery or or Caldecott contender. I could see it go either way, but I did love the illustrations in it and the story they tell.

Drawing From Memory by Allen Say - I am reading this one today (review to come) and enjoying it a lot. This book reminds me of how much I have enjoyed Say's other books.

As for the Newbery- I have read more books this year than in past years, and I can see several of the ones I have gushed about getting some type of recognition. And then there are those by first time authors that haven't received much buzz, but that I have loved and that I want others to hear about.

Some of my favorites:
When Life Gives You O.J. by Erica Perl-Realistic fiction with a great message and several themes- relationships with grandparents, recognizing it is OK to be different, growing up
Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepytis- Realistically this is probably a YA selection. What an amazing story about life in Stalinist Russia. Shares a little known part of history and an amazing will to survive.

OK For Now by Gary Schmidt- This could possibly be a YA selection, but this second installment by Schmidt is as good as, if not better than, The Wednesday Wars. However, this title has been on so many Newbery lists I fear that the recognition might jinx it.
Junonia by Kevin Henkes- This book is more about character development than plot, but I loved the story of a ten year old girl and her family spending the summer at their cabin and the changes they must make.
A Year Without Autumn by Liz Kessler- A mix of fantasy and realistic fiction - I loved this one for its message.
Something to Hold by Katherine Schlick Noe- a first novel for Noe, somewhat autobiographical about Noe's own childhood living on an Indian reservation. Plenty to think about and discussInside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai - Maybe this one has received too much recognition to receive an award, but this is an amazing novel in verse about a young Vietnamese girl who moves to the United States.

I am so interested in what books make the cut and which will be passed over. There are so many great books each year to choose from and it's always fun to add some new titles to the TBR pile.

Sunday Salon

I have had another three day weekend due to our snow day on Friday. This should mean my house is extra clean and I am ready for the week, but that is not the truth. I have read a bit, but my new obsession is the Masterpiece Theatre show, Downton Abbey. As someone who rarely watches television, I have certainly done my fair share of watching lately in an effort to get caught up with this show.

Yesterday I finished up Season 1. I am recommending this to many of my friends. In some ways it reminds me of the Luxe novels, although Downton Abbey is set in England, a decade after the Luxe takes place. The clothes the women wear are beautiful as are the women. The three sisters Mary, Edith, and Sybil work to meddle a bit in each other's lives and I found myself always being a bit surprised at how nasty these ladies could be. There is romance, suspense, and a lot of storylines going on at once - just like a good soap opera.

I am still two episodes behind, but am happy to report that I can watch them on the PBS website. Forget laundry and cooking. I am planning on a day of Downton Abbey.

This has also cut into my reading time, which I am feeling guilty about. However, I feel a bit of a reading slump is taking place. Once again I have a bag of books to return to the library, only one of which I've read. I have started reading more of the books on my own shelves which should delight my husband. It will take a lot of books to make my shelves look a bit thinned out, but it is a start. I read a ridiculous number of books last year, and while I would always like to top that number, I have also decided that I don't need to read as frantically as I do. I would like to relax and savor what I am reading instead of always looking ahead at the next dozen books I need to get to. (Of course as I write this I still have checked out an enormous stack of books). So we shall see how this plan works for me. As soon as I see a good book I find it nearly impossible not to check it out. And my interests are varied so many books appeal to me. But overall I want to slow down and enjoy what I am reading.

This week we are expecting some freezing rain today -boo. Considering we had such great weather earlier this month, we shouldn't complain. Yet, I am ready for spring.

What do you have planned for your day?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Berlin Boxing Club

In 1930's Germany, still several years before World War II began, Hitler was already beginning to cause problems for Jews. Karl Stern is entering his teen years, a thin unathletic young man who is beat up by boys at school who know of his status as a Jew. When he meets famous boxing champion, Max Schlesing, at an art gallery show at his father's gallery, he is offered boxing lesson in exchange for a painting. Karl is excited about this and takes Schlesing's advice to heart. He pushes himself to do push-ups, sit-ups, chin-ups, and a 50 minute run each day, something that is difficult at first, but becomes easier over time. While Karl's body is being transformed, Germany is also undergoing a transformation. Stricter rules and regulations are being imposed on Jews and the Sterns are very aware of their reduced means. Food is scarce, Karl's uncle has been taken to Dachau, and Karl is kicked out of school for being a Jew. The one thing Karl is able to focus on is his training. He is also encouraged by his reading which shows that there are a number of successful Jewish fighters. This shows that the Aryan race is not truly superior in everything. Jesse Owens' Olympic medals highlights the successes of other races as well and gives Karl a bit of hope in a very dark time.

Although much of this novel is about Karl's boxing and his passion for this sport, it is also about Germany at this time in history. Through Karl's eyes we are able to see how young Jews felt and the experiences they had in their formative years. As the novel progresses things continue to get worse for the Sterns, eventually taking away the one thing Karl relies on.

I was hoping for Karl and his family, praying they would find a way to leave Germany. The suspense Sharenow created in this story had me unable to put this novel down.

I absolutely loved The Berlin Boxing Club. There are many subplots- Karl's cartooning, his relationship with a gentile girl, his own father's background, and Max Schlesing's role in Karl's life that add such a depth to this book.

The Sterns feel like friends and although Sharenow's ending is fitting, I still want more and would love to check in with this family again.

The picture above is of Max Schlesing, famous German boxer.

Middle Sister - Turning Into a Reader

It isn't really a secret in our house that while my middle daughter enjoys being read to, there are lots of other things she does in her free time. And while Middle Sister still enjoys lots of things, more and more she is turning to books to fill her free time. (I am sure that some of it is due to the fact that I have put some strict limitations on her TV viewing time). It is fun to watch her find new and exciting books, and entertaining to watch her discuss them with me. We are midway through Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and several times now I have caught her with the book, stuck in a corner trying to read ahead. This book is still a bit too hard for her to read in its entirety by herself, but I think she gets the main points as she is reading. And I am still re-reading anything she has peeked at.
Other big hits with her are the Babymouse books by Jennifer Holm. A few weeks ago Middle Sister checked out every single Babymouse book during a library visit and read them within two days. She has moved on to the Little Lulu books as well as the Adventures of Tin Tin series. While graphic novels aren't my cup of tea, she certainly is having a great time with this genre.
And just to show how versatile she is, she has started reading a biography on Sitting Bull.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Underside of Joy

Sere Prince Halverson's debut novel was a pleasure to read. I love women's fiction and the beautiful Redwoods setting all helped create a great reading experience.

Ella is busy raising her husband's children with him, until tragedy strikes and she suddenly becomes a single mother. For the past three years she is the only mother these children know. When their biological mother, Paige, who deserted them, shows up seeking custody, Ella fights to keep these children with her in the only home they know. Paige suffered from debilitating post partum depression and did abandon her family in order to get care. She claims she tried many times to reconnect with them and sent many letters. Ella knows nothing of this, although there are a few other secrets Joe kept from her during their marriage that have cropped up after his death.

It is hard for me to imagine either woman living without the children. Halverson did a great job presenting both characters in a way that I could empathize with them both. I also enjoyed the subplot surrounding Joe's Italian ancestors who were sent to an internment camp because of their Italian heritage, a little known fact about the World War II years.

The Underside of Joy will also make a superb book club selection. I can see a lot of great discussion on this one.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Unmeasured Strength

Back in 2001, I was a new mom, still off on maternity leave when 9/11 happened. I spent hours watching the news footage. I just couldn't help myself and often felt connected to the young moms who were tragically widowed.

A little while later, after 9/11 wasn't quite so present in our minds, I came upon a book called Love, Greg and Lauren, a collection of emails written by Greg Manning while his wife Lauren was in the hospital after being badly burned on September 11.

Lauren was on her way to work at Cantor Fitzgerald, and had just entered the World Trade Center when a fireball roared down an elevator shaft and engulfed her in flames, propelling her out the door back outside. With burns on 82% of her body, Lauren had just an 18% chance of survival. Greg's emails were orginally sent to family and friends to update them on his wife's progress.

Now, ten years later, Lauren Manning has written her own book, Unmeasured Strength. Although I have seen her on talk shows (Oprah and the Today Show), reading her account of 9/11 and the years she spent recovering, has left me once again in awe of this woman. Although not given much of a chance of survival, Lauren managed to prove everyone wrong. Her desire to see her infant son Tyler grow up created a will to live despite all the pain she endured. I was amazed by her ability to retell how she was engulfed in flames, and then remained conscious until she was in the hospital and her husband had arrived. I also had tears in my eyes several times as I read, saddened by all Manning suffered.

This book is truly about Lauren and what she went through, but it is also a story about a husband and wife who have worked hard to remain together despite life-altering circumstances. She is quick to point out that even though she argued with her Greg on September 10, and was annoyed with him, his devotion to her never wavered. He has remained by her side, and the photograph showing the two of them running with the Olympic torch in 2004, seemed signifcant to me, showing how through it all the two were in this together.

Through reading Greg's book and seeing them on televison I always wondered how someone so obviously attractive would deal with much altered looks. Lauren addresses this in Unmeasured Strength, and her cover picture depicts once again a beautiful woman - both inside and out.

Unmeasured Strength is a story of survival, of hope, of determination. A decade after the attacks, I feel connected to Manning as I once felt to the young widows of 9/11. Everyone has unique challenges in life, and watching my oldest daughter suffer through chemotherapy treatments when she was four, came to mind as I read Manning's book. Two very different challenges, yet two incredibly determined strong willed people. Much of this memoir spoke to me because of that, but Lauren Manning's story is one that is an inspiration to all.

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week's selection: The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

Due out April 24, 2012

Product Description taken from Amazon:

The majestic and haunting beauty of the Italian Alps is the setting of the first meeting of Enza, a practical beauty, and Ciro, a strapping mountain boy, who meet as teenagers, despite growing up in villages just a few miles apart. At the turn of the last century, when Ciro catches the local priest in a scandal, he is banished from his village and sent to hide in America as an apprentice to a shoemaker in Little Italy. Without explanation, he leaves a bereft Enza behind. Soon, Enza's family faces disaster and she, too, is forced to go to America with her father to secure their future.
Unbeknownst to one another, they both build fledgling lives in America, Ciro masters shoemaking and Enza takes a factory job in Hoboken until fate intervenes and reunites them. But it is too late: Ciro has volunteered to serve in World War I and Enza, determined to forge a life without him, begins her impressive career as a seamstress at the Metropolitan Opera House that will sweep her into the glamorous salons of Manhattan and into the life of the international singing sensation, Enrico Caruso.
From the stately mansions of Carnegie Hill, to the cobblestone streets of Little Italy, over the perilous cliffs of northern Italy, to the white-capped lakes of northern Minnesota, these star-crossed lovers meet and separate, until, finally, the power of their love changes both of their lives forever.
Lush and evocative, told in tantalizing detail and enriched with lovable, unforgettable characters, The Shoemaker's Wife is a portrait of the times, the places and the people who defined the immigrant experience, claiming their portion of the American dream with ambition and resolve, cutting it to fit their needs like the finest Italian silk.
This riveting historical epic of love and family, war and loss, risk and destiny is the novel Adriana Trigiani was born to write, one inspired by her own family history and the love of tradition that has propelled her body of bestselling novels to international acclaim. Like Lucia, Lucia, The Shoemaker's Wife defines an era with clarity and splendor, with operatic scope and a vivid cast of characters who will live on in the imaginations of readers for years to come.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

One Small Boat

Kathy Harrison, foster mother to over a hundred children through the years, has written a new memoir about her experiences with Daisy, one of her foster daughters.

I enjoyed Harrison's first book, Another Place at the Table, but had never read her second book which was published in 2006. These books remind me of the Torey Hayden books I read and enjoyed while growing up (Hayden was a special education teacher who shared stories of her time in the classroom and the students that touched her life). Harrison is also impacted by the children she provides a home to, whether it is for a short duration or for a long span of time.

Daisy is one child that Harrison and her family became emotionally attached to despite the fact that she arrived at their home with many problems. Sexually abused, anorexic, and violent and uncooperative (to put it mildly) for her mother, Daisy's mother, Glenna, willingly gives up custody of her child. Her story is unlike that of most other foster children. Daisy is from a home with educated parents and enough money. Her mother is simply unable - or unwilling- to care for her daughter.

In this book, Harrison shares Daisy's time with their family, the other foster children also in their care, and various occurences within their household during this time. As she and her family fall in love with Daisy, they are always aware that she is not "theirs" and may be gone at any moment.

Atlhough this story does not have the ending I wished for, Harrison and her work with foster children is amazing. One Small Boat should serve as an example that there are truly caring and competent foster parents out there doing their best to love and care for children with a wide variety of complex needs.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Friends Like Us

I was already reading Lauren Fox's Friends Like Us before I realized I had read her previous novel, Still Life With Husband.

As this novel Willa runs into her best friend and roommate Jane one day, meeting her infant son for the first time and confronting their parting of ways for the first time. The reason the two are no longer friends isn't revealed, rather the entire novel is then Willa's story, remembering their friendship from its beginning.

The two met in college and now live together. Both are struggling in their careers - Willa as an artist and Jane as a writer. Both also happen to be single, but looking. When Willa reconnects with her best friend from high school, a now handsome Ben, he begins hanging out at her apartment. He also reveals the huge crush he had on Willa. The two briefly contemplate a relationship, but shortly after this he and Jane begin seriously dating.

Writing too much will reveal what truly comes between this friendship, and although the reason will not surprise you, Fox's novel is so well written it shouldn't be missed. Willa and Jane's witty dialogue made me smile a time or two, and although different in subtle ways, Friends Like Us is reminiscent of Emily Giffin's Something Borrowed, another novel I loved.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Absolute Value of Mike

Mike spends his summer with his father's aunt and uncle, an elderly couple who cared for Mike's father during the summers of his childhood. Mike tries hard to please his father, but there is little his father is interested in outside of mathematics, a subject Mike struggles with. In fact, Mike's dad often seemed to be somewhere on the autsim spectrum to me, with his inability to relate to people and his laser-like focus on math.

When Mike arrives in Do Over (the N no longer present on the town's welcom sign), he enters a world unlike one he has ever known. His great-uncle Poppy is catatonic, not moving or speaking after the death of his son Douglas. His great-aunt Moo is more than a little hard of hearing making for some hilarious misunderstandings. And they are poor- so poor they can't pay their electicity bill or phone bill.

Add to this quirky cast of characters a homeless man who isn't really homeless and becomes Mike's good friend and advisor as Mike is elected to plan the adoption of Misha from an orphanage in Romania by Do Over's local minister.

Erskine's latest novel is a funny, yet thoughtful, look at a boy who tries to find his own talents despite what he thinks is expected of him. The Absolute Value of Mike is another wonderful tween novel by Erskine.

Sunday Salon

I am happily enjoying my three day weekend - there is no school tomorrow in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. I have been sucked in - along with millions of other people - to watching Downton Abbey. Considering I rarely watch television, I have already exceeded my monthly viewing average in just the past two days. Unfortunately, I have a lot of library books due on Monday or Tuesday and several of them I am not going to get to. I will be jotting down the titles today in hopes that in some future time I will once again check them out and then attempt to read them.

We are finally feeling like winter here, having had snow on Thursday. My girls finally were able to play outside in the snow for a while and enjoyed doing this again last night with their cousins. Today they are planning on finishing the fort they were constructing at my parents' house.

For lunch I tried a new recipe compliments of Janssen at Everyday Reading. Spaghetti Pie was a hit with two of my three daughters. (My middle daughter dislikes anything at all on her noodles, so this was not a great recipe for her, although she did eat some).

This weekend has been blissfully unhurried. Even though I did run errands yesterday and we had church today, there are no other commitments (my husband would disagree. The Packers game at 3 PM is calling his name).

I'm off to curl up with a good book and enjoy this sunny winter day.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

War and Watermelon

I seem to be in love with the 1960s, or at least books set in this time period. Rich Wallace's War and Watermelon gives us a look at the 1960s through the eyes of thirteen year old Brody.

Brody's older brother Ryan is closing in on his eighteenth birthday, a time his parents fear because of the possibility of being drafted to fight in Vietnam. Ryan is against the war, looking for peaceful ways to express his disfavor with the President.

Brody knows their is tension at home. He is also savoring his last days of summer, anticipating junior high. His beloved Mets, despite many losing seasons, have become a team to watch (or listen to on the radio at night), and Brody also shares his favorite songs in a list that changes as the story progresses - giving us a real feel for 1967 in America.

Brody is lucky to have an older brother like Ryan and he knows it. He comments that Ryan has never made him feel bad and never fought with him. Ryan even willingly takes Brody along to Woodstock, a true adventure, history in the making.

Wallace has done a great job of making this book feel authentic. TV shows, music, and the various world events all make up this story set in the 1960s, a time of great change in our country. I loved Deborah Wiles' Countdown, another novel set during this same time, and this is a great companion novel.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week's pick: The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

Due out: June 5, 2012

Product Description taken from Amazon:
A captivating novel about the woman who chaperoned an irreverent Louise Brooks to New York City in 1922, and the summer that would change them both.

Only a few years before becoming a famous actress and an icon for her generation, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita to make it big in New York. Much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by a thirty-six-year-old chaperone who is neither mother nor friend. Cora Carlisle is a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip. She has no idea what she’s in for: Young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous blunt bangs and black bob, is known for her arrogance and her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will change their lives forever.

For Cora, New York holds the promise of discovery that might prove an answer to the question at the center of her being, and even as she does her best to watch over Louise in a strange and bustling city, she embarks on her own mission. And while what she finds isn’t what she anticipated, it liberates her in a way she could not have imagined. Over the course of the summer, Cora’s eyes are opened to the promise of the twentieth century and a new understanding of the possibilities for being fully alive.

How about you? What are you waiting on this week?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

When Life Gives You OJ

I am totally in love with Erica Perl's book When Life Gives You O.J. Zelly wants a dog - badly. She and her family have moved from Brooklyn to Burlington, Vermont, to be with her grandfather after his wife (Zelly's grandma) died. Ace, her grandfather, comes up with a plan of sorts. He gives Zelly an orange juice jug that she will care for as if it were a pet- walking it three times a day, feeding it, cleaning up after it. This will show her parents that she is responsible, and although it won't guarantee a dog of her own, it might make her parents take notice.
As you can imagine, walking a plastic jug around town is a bit embarrassing, and Zelly doesn't want to be made fun of. She is also getting used to life in a small town. When she meets Jeremy, another Jewish kid, Zelly begins to realize there may be other people just like her that live near her after all.
As I was reading last night, my ten year old asked about this book. I told her a bit about it, and am so glad that I can pass it on to her.
To learn more about this fabulous author and her work, visit ericaperl.com

Shared with me by some book loving friends.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

You Know When the Men Are Gone

I'm feeling pretty good about finishing off another book from my own TBR pile. Siobhan Fallon's short story collection gives insight into a variety of military families living at Fort Hood, Texas. Fallon knows this scenario well, being a military wife herself.

Normally I am not a short story lover, but these worked for me, and are a bit connected as we see a recurring character from time to time. There is the wife who has cancer, the husband who suspects his wife of having an affair while he is gone, a wife who suspects her husband of infidelity and hacks into his email to check up on him, a foreign military wife who keeps to herself, and a wife who can't handle her husband's long absences. Just as Fallon covers a variety of likely family issues and conflicts she acknowledges there are many different family dynamics she has not written about.

I'd like to check in with these characters again, or perhaps learn a bit more about other residents of this Fort Hood community.

Sunday Salon

Another beautiful Sunday in Iowa! Amazingly warm weather for winter, and I am loving every minute of it. This past week we went back to school, a rather big adjustment after sleeping in and hanging out over break. However, I am happy for the routine, which allows me to be much more productive and to remove the temptation to snack on food whenever I feel like it.

My husband and I have both commented on the busy-ness ahead this week. His wrestling coaching has really kept him busy and he has a few meets this week along with practice. I have two late nights this week at work as well, and add gymnastics class, piano lessons, Girl Scouts, and a dental appointment to our evenings- it doesn't make this week look anything but exhausting

Middle Sister has discovered the BabyMouse series by Jennifer Holm. She spent hours yesterday reading several of them. Big Sister is reading The Mother Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel and loving it. We are all reading the 3rd Harry Potter book together.

I am working on a few books for Amazon Vine, but will need to spend my day working on making a book trailer to share with kids at school. I have also started to look at different publishing house's spring 2012 catalogs. Oh, the amazing books coming out!

After I get some cleaning done, I need to finish the Christmas cards I was addressing yesterday. The girls really want to go swimming at the local health club, which I will probably try and make happen even though it isn't the most convenient.

How about you? What do you have planned for your day?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Breaking Stalin's Nose

Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin shows the life of one boy in Communist Russia. Sasha Zaichik is anxious to join the Soviet Young Pioneers and has known his rules since he was very young. However, on the day when his dream is to be realized things don't go at all as planned. The night before Sasha's father is arrested, and when a string of events happen at school that cause the students to point fingers of blame at each other it is obvious that Sasha's world - everything he believed in-isn't as wonderful as he once thought.

While this book is about Stalin era Russia, something I am interested in, I am not sure my elementary students would have enough background knowledge to understand the idea of Communism and the way in which it failed Sasha. Accompanying illustrations help tell the story, a fast read, and the first I have encountered written for tween readers.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Snaggle Tooth

Middle Sister has finally lost her front tooth....leaving another fang just hanging by a thread! She waited until she was eight before her first tooth fell out, and now will be a toothless wonder for a while. I made sure to get a few pictures of her with her first middle tooth out, since the other will soon follow.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


So far in 2012 I haven't signed up for a single challenge. While I keep thinking I will look for a TBR challenge, I also know myself. And yet, as I say that, I have already begun my second book off my stacks in the past two days. So, while two books does not reduce my TBR pile or even make a dent in it, it is a start. And this way since I am not naming titles of books I intend to read, I have a wide selection to choose from.

The first book plucked from one of the many TBR piles in my home was Wingshooters by Nina Revoyr. Back when it was published - really not so long ago- Feb, 2011- it was an Indie Bound Indienext selection. The honor is well deserved.

There is a lot to like in this book. Being a midwesterner, I loved the small town, Deerhorn, Wisconsin setting. While I am a bit too young to remember the early 70s, I liked the 1974 setting and Revoyr's ability to make it feel like 1974. And, I loved the plot.

Michelle, or Mike, as her grandfather calls her, is being raised by her father's parents. Her dad has gone off to try and find her mother, although as time passes there is a question of whether he is really looking or just moving on with his life. Michelle is the only person in Deerhorn, Wisconsin, who is not white. Her mother is Japanese, and in fact, Michelle spent part of her early childhood living in Japan. Because of her Japanese heritage, Michelle is picked on and set apart. She doesn't have friends, and although her grandparents love her and raise her as if she were their own, her grandfather is a bigot. Charles doesn't appear to notice that Michelle is treated differently, but he is the first to join up with some friends and cause trouble when a young African American couple move to town. Mr. Garrett is a substitute teacher in Deerhorn and his wife is a nurse at a clinic that has opened to treat the poor from the area. Michelle chronicles the events surrounding the Garrett's arrival and their eventual departure from this small community. Initially believing that all of Deerhorn's residents felt like her grandfather, it surprises Michelle to learn that not everyone subscribed to the same viewpoint.
Long before this book was done, I was in love with this story. Although not a cheerful book, it certainly gives a picture of what life could have been like in 1974 in small town America. It is hard for me to believe that people could be so close minded and racist in such recent times, and yet we have seen proof of that throughout history. Revoyr also does a great job of creating complex characters. Michelle's grandfather should have been easy to hate, and yet the love and care he showed for her makes us see him in a different light.

Wingshooters could easily have been an Oprah Book Club pick. It has that sort of feel to it, and I will definitely be looking at other books this author has already published.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Defending Jacob

William Landay's latest novel, Defending Jacob, has left me thinking long after I have turned the last page. This novel was so interesting to me that I began it late one night and couldn't put it down until it was finished.

Andrew Barber has spent his life building a reputation as a competent County DA, a good husband, and good father. When a fourteen year old classmate of his son Jacob's is murdered in a nearby park along a walking path, Barber does what he always does - begins looking for clues as to what happened.

However, before long he is removed from the case and his son is arrested for killing Ben Rifkin. While there is some evidence that Jacob was at the crime scene, Jacob is able to reasonably explain this. Yet other disturbing things pop up, too. Jacob lacks the ability to empathize with others. He owned a knife much like the one used to kill Ben. And he also possesses a gene that makes him prone to violence. A gene Andrew has just discovered he has as well, as does his father who is serving a life sentence in prison.

I debated over the course of this book whether I thought Jacob was guilty or not. Landay does a great job of presenting both sides and letting readers do some of their own interpreting. And in a way reminiscent of Jodi Picoult, throws in a twist at the end that will leave you with your mouth open.

I am so excited for this one to be published because I can't wait to talk about it with someone who has read it. My reading in 2012 has certainly started on a high note. I can't wait to see what other fabulous books are out there.