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Susan Thomsen is the author of Elvis: A Tribute to the King (Andrews McMeel), which was once in the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian gift shop, that is.
Susan's work has also appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times (a Metropolitan Diary entry after years of submissions), and the anthology Girls (Global City Press). She was an editor of Global City Review's humor issue, and served as a theater reviewer at ye olde online guide New York Sidewalk. Susan and her family live in New England.
You can reach Susan at c_spaghettiATyahooPERIODcom
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They can't transform your actual situation, but they can transform your experience of it. We don't create a fantasy world to escape reality, we create it to be able to stay.
So wise. This is from the cartoonist Lynda Barry's memoir/exploration of images What It Is (Drawn & Quarterly, 2008). I so enjoyed the whole book, especially the part about the "transformational capabilities" of old stories. Barry's ideas reinforced my tentative plan to read the second graders a whole lot of fairy tales and folk tales this year.
Good morning! Sheesh, Chicken Spaghetti is pretty dusty, and needs some tidying up. But before I do that, let's talk books.
I had a really fun year reading to second graders at a nearby city school. I visit the class once a week, share a story, and then we talk. Sometimes we stay on topic.
The class favorite of 2014-2015 was the very funny Book with No Pictures, by B.J. Novak. I could have read it 52 times, and the kids would have been happy. It's a goof on the grown-up doing the reading, forcing her to utter lines like, "My only friend in the whole wide world is a hippo named Boo-Boo Butt." I read it in January, and in June that sentence was still being remembered fondly.
Right up there with The Book with No Pictures was Rude Cakes, by Rowboat Watkins. Another hilarious title, this one led to the kids writing their own Rude stories, including one about a Rude Valentine. "On Sunday, the Rude Valentine interrupted church." I love it.
Here are some of the other selections:
Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, by Laurie Ann Thompson & Sean Qualls
Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman, written by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by David Diaz
ZooBorns! Zoo Babies from Around the World, by Andrew Bleiman and Chris Eastland
Pecan Pie Baby, written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Madame Martine, written and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen
Tia Isa Wants a Car, written by Meg Medina and illustrated by Claudio Muñoz
Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do, by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
Kat Kong and Dogzilla, by Dav Pilkey
The Three Cabritos, written by Eric A. Kimmell and illustrated by Stephen Gilpin
For the next school year I am considering reading only folk tales and fractured folk tales. It could be really fun. Think of the vast 398.2 section in the library. Endless possibilities!
It's a New Year's tradition to hand over the blog to my husband, Norman, for his annual list!
Thanks, Susan, for once again letting me tell your readers about the books I’ve enjoyed this past year. My favorite fiction books were, in no particular order, Redeployment, by Phil Klay; Family Life, by Akhil Sharma; Euphoria, by Lily King; All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr; and Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill. My top nonfiction books were Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson, and Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, by Roz Chast.
After winning the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction, Phil Klay told the Guardian, “If I was going to write about war I had to be as rigorous and as honest as possible because that’s the only way I could justify it.” The twelve short stories in Klay’s phenomenal Redeployment are about as searing and honest as I can imagine in describing the toll that war takes on the men and women who serve in the military and on the people on whose soil they fight. In my 2012 year-end roundup, Kevin Powers’ novel, The Yellow Birds, made the top of my list, and now I’m glad to spread the word about another book that will become a classic in modern-day war literature.
Family Life concerns a mother, father, and two young sons, who move from India to Queens; they have begun to build a new life when one of the boys suffers severe brain damage in a swimming-pool accident. This novel skillfully examines how everyone’s life changes after a tragedy, but, beyond that, the author does a superb job of showing how the family interacts with and is perceived by the local Indian community after the accident. Euphoria is a must-read novel set in the 1930s and inspired by the life of anthropologist Margaret Mead. I must confess that (1) I know next to nothing about Margaret Mead, (2) I never heard of the other anthropologists fictionalized in the book (Reo Fortune and Gregory Bateson), and (3) I don’t know much about New Guinea or tribal people, but this work drew me in from the beginning and was difficult to put down until the very end. What more could one ask for in a book!
In All the Light We Cannot See, the combination of well-drawn characters, strong writing, and fine pacing makes Doerr’s WWII-era book, about a blind French girl and a German boy, a great read. Dept. of Speculation is a small and amazing novel about a wife, mother, and writer (all one person) in the throes of a troubled marriage. Ms. Offill’s novel was a standout in large part because of her unique and quirky storytelling.
Susan raved to me about Brown Girl Dreaming and for good reason. This winner of the 2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature should be required reading for everyone from tweens on up. Through a series of poems, Ms. Woodson shares her experiences as an African American girl growing up in South Carolina and Brooklyn in the sixties and seventies. Some of the most poignant sections are about her roots as an artist; the Horn Book said, “…[W]e trace her development as a nascent writer, from her early, overarching love of stories through her struggles to learn to read through the thrill of her first blank composition book to her realization that ‘words are [her] brilliance.’”
The other nonfiction books I really liked was the cartoonist Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? I found Ms. Chast’s graphic memoir to be many things–sad, funny, painful to read, and honest–in depicting both our willingness (or lack thereof) to face the reality of aging parents and our complex feelings about the folks who raised us.
Two good titles that fall into the category of laugh-out-loud funny are Spoiled Brats: Stories, by Simon Rich, and To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, by Joshua Ferris. I am a big fan of David Sedaris, and I’d put most of Rich’s stories right up there with Sedaris’s essays in terms of humor and cleverness. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is filled with sharp lines and perceptions as the main character, a Manhattan dentist, grapples with identity theft, girlfriends and co-workers, religion, and loneliness.
I can’t end my annual roundup without mentioning some titles that are too good not to pass along. Both Nora Webster, by Colm Tóibín, and The Liar’s Wife: Four Novellas, by Mary Gordon, showcase how exquisite writing can elevate a simple story; Dinaw Mengestu’s All Our Names stands out for its take on the immigrant experience. Jennifer Clement’s Prayers for the Stolen and Susan Minot’s Thirty Girls, set in Mexico and Uganda, respectively, are important, rich stories about kidnapping and survival.
Finally, A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, by Ben Macintyre, is a most-readable, true story about espionage and deceit.
As always, I wish everyone happy reading in the new year.
My New Year's resolution is always Read More Books, and usually I end it there. In 2014 I was able to do a lot of reading. Yay! Meanwhile, Norman is working on his great list. Stay tuned.
In 2015 I am most looking forward to works by my friends Mary Norris and Emily Nunn. Mary's Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen (W.W. Norton) is due out in April, and Emily's book, The Comfort Food Diaries (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster), hits the shelves in September. I can't wait!
If you have a book being published in 2015, please mention it in the comments. I don't want to miss a thing.
Here are some of my favorites from last year. Don't you love saying that on January 1st? I don't know how many books I read total; I always space out and forget to keep count. I do the same thing with swimming laps.
Bad Feminist: Essays, by Roxane Gay (Harper Perennial, 2014)
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen Books/ Simon & Schuster, 2014)
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? A Memoir, by Roz Chast (Bloomsbury, 2014)
Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner (Random House, 1987)
Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng (Penguin, 2014)
Family Life, by Akhil Sharma (W.W. Norton, 2014)
Family Trouble: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family, edited and with an introduction by Joy Castro (University of Nebraska Press, 2013)
Fire Shut Up in My Bones: A Memoir, by Charles M. Blow (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)
Gabriel: A Poem, by Edward Hirsch (Knopf, 2014)
Half a World Away, by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014)
Harumi's Japanese Cooking: More Than 75 Authentic and Contemporary Recipes from Japan's Most Popular Cooking Expert, by Harumi Kurihara (HP Trade, 2006)
In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic, by Professor X (Viking, 2011)
The Juggler's Children: A Journey Into Family, Legend, and the Genes That Bind Us, by Caroline Abraham (Random House Canada, 2013)
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo; translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano (Ten Speed Press/Random House, 2014)
Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit (Haymarket Books, 2014)
Men We Reaped: A Memoir, by Jesmyn Ward (Bloomsbury, reprint edition, 2014; original hardback, 2013)
My Life in Middlemarch, by Rebecca Mead (Crown, 2014)
Nora Webster, by Colm Tóibín (Scribner, 2014)
Postcards from Cookie: A Memoir of Motherhood, Miracles, and a Whole Lot of Mail, by Caroline Clarke (Harper, 2014)
The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood, by Richard Blanco (Ecco, 2014)
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League, by Jeff Hobbs (Scribner, 2014)
A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki (Viking, 2013)
Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books, by Nick Hornby (Believer Books/McSweeney's, 2013)
Traveling Heavy: A Memoir Between Journeys, by Ruth Behar (Duke University Press Books 2013)
The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking, by Olivia Laing (Picador, 2013)
Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education, edited by Jennifer De Leon (University of Nebraska Press, 2014)
Writing Is My Drink: A Writer's Story of Finding Her Voice (And a Guide to How You Can Too), by Theo Pauline Nestor (Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2013)
I usually have a couple of books going at once, and I love it when they talk to each other.
Virginia Woolf asks, in Hours in a Library, a series of questions about contemporary authors’ works, issues that make their work appeal to us as much as the classics. “...What do they see of the surrounding world, and what is the dream that fills the spaces of their active lives? They tell us all these things in their books.”
It’s as if Woolf knew I was reading the memoir Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, 2014), a children’s title by Jacqueline Woodson. Her dream, from childhood on, was to be a writer. Indeed, she is the author of many books for kids, including Locomotion, Each Kindness, After Tupac and D Foster, and Pecan Pie Baby. Brown Girl Dreaming takes readers about up to Woodson’s adolescence.
Born in the mid-sixties, Jacqueline Woodson, an African American, spends her young years in Ohio and a still-segregated South Carolina (“I am born as the South explodes,” she writes), the latter with her loving maternal grandparents. She later moves with her mother and her siblings to Brooklyn. Told in blank verse, the memoir is very much a middle-grade book, and grown-ups will find plenty to enjoy, too. NPR’s Terry Gross complemented Woodson for using poems to convey the story, which allows space around the words and makes the book easy to read. I finished the book in one sitting!
Children will relate to young Jackie's loving family, her best friend, childhood games, and her love of pop music. Kids may be surprised at—and reassured by—the National Book Award-winning author’s struggles at school, where she took a long time to learn to read and write because of an unnamed learning difference (“the words twist/twirl across the page”). If, like me, they are not Jehovah’s Witnesses, they’ll learn a little something about that religion; Woodson’s grandmother, an ardent believer, got the grandkids involved. (“I thought I was saving lives,” Woodson told Terry Gross.) Above all, the transformative power of words and stories shines through.
One of my favorite passages is the poem “On the Bus to Dannemora.” Jackie and members of her family are travelling upstate, from NYC, to visit a favorite uncle in prison. Needless to say, it’s a long, draining trip. The poem, however, takes its cues from the beckoning universalism of the seventies hit “Love Train”; bits of the O’Jays’ lyrics weave through a daydream Jackie has. As the scenery flashes by, she imagines the bus occupants and their loved ones are instead aboard “a whole train filled/with love and now the people on it/aren’t in prison but are free to dance/and sing and hug their families whenever they want.” We readers feel Jackie’s heartbreak, and we sense her spirit and strength, too.
That’s just what Jacqueline Woodson does in Brown Girl Dreaming: she turns a few hours of our day—the time it takes to read her book—into an unforgettable journey.
Brown Girl Dreaming, a strong contender for the 2015 Newbery Medal, won the 2014 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.
A roundup of the year-end "best of" lists and children's literature prizes. Most of the books on these lists were published in 2014; a few lists include titles from prior years, too. I will update this page regularly, so if you see something not mentioned here, give me a holler in the comments or on Twitter @Susan_Thomsen. Comments are open but moderated, due to spam woes.
See also the lists for 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008.
©Susan Thomsen, 2014.
The blog Largehearted Boy maintains a huge list of all the online "best books" lists. Also, Confessions of a Science Librarian collects lists of best science books (for adults).
American Booksellers Association
Blackwell's. Recommendations by booksellers. (UK)
Blue Peter Book Awards. Shortlists announced Dec. 4. (UK)
Boing Boing. Gift guide includes some books for kids.
A Book Long Enough. Picture book nonfiction.
Booklist: Black history
Booklist: Religion and spirituality
Booklist: Science and health
British Comic Awards (via Forbidden Planet International)
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. "Guide book to gift books." (PDF)
Caldecott Medal. To be announced Feb. 2, 2015.
Canadian Children's Book Centre. Holiday reads.
Carnegie Medal. Nominations. (UK)
Chapters Indigo (Canada)
Christchurch City Libraries (New Zealand)
Costa Children's Book Award. Shortlist. (Scroll down longer list.) UK
Financial Times (UK)
Geek Dad. Gift book list includes some children's titles.
Globe and Mail. Top 100 list includes some children's books.
Goodreads Choice Awards. Middle grade & children's. Winner announced Dec. 2.
Goodreads Choice Awards. Picture books. Winner announced Dec. 2.
Goodreads Choice Awards. Young adult. Winner announced Dec. 2.
Hockey Book Reviews. Not a "year's best," per se, but a list of 2014 hockey books includes books for children.
International Latino Book Awards
Kate Greenaway Medal. Nominations. (UK)
King County (Washington) Library. Teens.
Kirkus Reviews: "Best picture books that celebrate diversity."
Latinas for Latino Lit
Lire. In French, list of best books includes a jeunesse category. (via L'Express)
Longitude Books. Travel books.
Mumsnet. Books for the children aged 3 and younger. (UK)
National Book Award for Young People's Literature (Scroll down on page for kids' category.)
National Science Teachers Association. "Outstanding science trade books for students K–12."
National Outdoor Book Awards. Children's book category included.
New England Book Awards. List includes kids' book. (via Boston Globe)
Newbery Medal. To be announced Feb. 2, 2015.
New Jersey Family
New York Times Best Illustrated Books Award (slide show)
Publishers Weekly. Middle grade.
Publishers Weekly. Picture books.
Publishers Weekly. Young adult.
Readings. Gift guide. (Australia)
Readings. Young adult books. (Australia)
The Root: Nonfiction by black authors includes one kids' book.
Royal Society Young People's Book Prize (UK)
SF Gate/San Francisco Chronicle. Children's books gift guide.
School Library Journal
School Run (UK)
Smart Books for Smart Kids
Smithsonian: Gift guide for kids and babies includes a few books. Science nerd gift guide has more; some appropriate for older kids and teens.
Teaching for Change
Toronto Public Library. Books for children under five. (Canada)
Wall Street Journal
[Gillian] Flynn: I would love it if I could do an event without a very well-meaning man telling me, "I don't normally read books by women." Do you get that?
[Cheryl] Strayed: All the time. [...]
From "Gone Girls, Found," Cara Buckley's interview with Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and Cheryl Strayed (Wild), in the New York Times, Sunday, November 23, 2014.
School has started, and with it, I'm back in the classroom once a week, reading to second graders. So far we have read these picture books:
Tomás and the Library Lady, written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Raul Colón. A friendly bookseller at Manhattan's charming La Casa Azul recommended this one, which is sprinkled with Spanish words. Tomás, the child of migrant Texas farm workers, find a place of refuge in an Iowa library and enjoys the attention of two mentors in the "library lady" and his grandfather. It's based on the childhood experiences of Tomás Rivera, who went on to become a university chancellor.
Peanut Butter and Homework Sandwiches, written by Leslie Broadie Cook and illustrated by Jack E. Davis. A silly tale of a kid who just can't get it right, homework-wise, through no fault of his own.
The Three Bears, written and illustrated by Paul Galdone. Before hearing Mo Willems' parody Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, the second graders needed some familiarity with the fairy tale, and Galdone's is a straight-forward rendering. Of course some knew the story already, but the discussion afterward was our longest so far. Among the kids' contributions were Destiny's keen observations about the illustrations and Miguel's announcement of his birthday. Oh, and Huynh will soon have a baby brother or sister.
Some years ago I found Galdone's work through the recommendations in Esmé Raji Codell's How to Get Your Child to Love Reading. Along with Jim Trelease's Read-Aloud Handbook, Codell's guide is a must-have resource for people who share books with young children.
Another June, another school year coming to a close. Up here in New England we keep 'em in class until almost the end of the month. I've been a volunteer classroom reader for a while now, and I love it, even the unpredictable nature of the last few weeks of the academic year. I read in the afternoon, and sometimes the second graders are almost sleeping, exhausted from the heat (no a.c. at this school) and other times they are buzzing around the room like bees in a hive. They are always ready to listen to a read-aloud, though.
Earlier this week I shared Oliver Jeffers' picture book The Incredible Book Eating Boy because the kids asked to hear something funny. Until it dawns on him to read books, the protagonist, Henry, eats them. Things get out of hand, naturally, before Henry's epiphany. The back cover and last few pages are missing a bit-sized chunk, and we readers talked a lot about that. I had to walk around the room and show everyone. Henry really bit it! Or did he? I'm going to buy one for the class so that the kids can pore over all the fun details. (I had to return my copy to the library.)
Other books that the group enjoyed include Harry Allard and James Marshall's Miss Nelson Is Missing!, Meg Medina and Claudio Muñoz's Tia Isa Wants a Car, Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri's Dragons Love Tacos, and Dav Pilkey's wacky Dogzilla and Kat Kong. Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin's Giggle, Giggle, Quack garnered the most guffaws.
I run into alumni—third, fourth, fifth graders—all the time at the school. "Remember when you used to read with us?" they ask. The kids grow up so quickly. What a gift I've been given to be able to spend time with them and talk about books.
Announced this morning: the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards, a.k.a., the Cybils. You'll find many ideas for good reading in the lists of winners.
Take a look.
Today I'm turning over the space to my husband, Norman Trepner, an avid reader and an all-around good guy. Take it away, Norm. —Susan
Once again Susan has asked me to share with her Chicken Spaghetti friends my favorite books I’ve read this past year, and once again I’m more than happy to comply!
Three of my top ten books were stories about teens and tweens. A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki, is the story of a 16 year old Japanese girl who writes in her diary about her 104-year old Buddhist nun great-grandmother, and the book also tells of a woman in a remote British Columbian island who finds the diary. At times laugh-out-loud funny and at times disturbing, this book, which was short listed for the Man Booker Prize, is a must read. Another powerful book that was short listed for the Man Booker Prize is We Need New Names, by NoViolet Bulawayo. This excellent debut novel follows the protagonist, named Darling, from her life as a 10 year old in Zimbabwe to her teen years living in Michigan. The third book, Brewster, by Mark Slouka, is the story of two teenage boys from troubled homes who become close friends. Set in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in working class Brewster, New York, this hard-to-put down book is storytelling at its finest.
Four other fiction titles that made my top ten were: Someone, by Alice McDermott; The Sound of Things Falling, by Juan Gabriel Vásquez (translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean); TransAtlantic, by Colum McCann; and The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride. I could think of no better way to describe McDermott’s extraordinary novel about an ordinary woman than Janet Maslin does in her October 6th review for the New York Times, “…quietly exquisite…a wonderfully modest title for such a fine-tuned, beautiful book filled with so much universal experience, such haunting imagery, such urgent matters of life and death.” Set in Colombia, The Sound of Things Falling centers on a law professor who investigates the life of a man shot down on the streets of Bogotá. This deeply affecting book stayed with me long after I read the last page. TransAtlantic and The Good Lord Bird are both enjoyable novels that are based on historical events and figures. I found the 2013 National Book Award winner for fiction, The Good Lord Bird, to be the more imaginative and creative of the two, but I recommend both books.
Three nonfiction books made my top ten list.
- Wave is Sonali Deraniyagala’s memoir about the loss of her family in the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. The author’s direct and brave telling of this devastating event and the impact on her life makes this otherwise too-sad-to-read book not only readable, but outstanding.
- Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, by Andrew Solomon, was a highly acclaimed, 2012 book that I initially had no interest in reading due in part to the length of the book (900+ pages) and in part due to the subject matter (families of individuals affected by a spectrum of cognitive, physical or psychological differences). Then I heard an interview with the author on NPR and this became a book I had to read. Solomon writes with compassion and intelligence about people with differences and parenting to these people, and the book comes to a wonderful full circle as the author talks about his own challenges and feelings and his longing to be a parent.
- Compared to Wave and Far from the Tree, George Packer’s book The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, was practically light reading…yet it wasn’t. In alternating chapters Packer follows the lives of several individuals struggling to make it, and profiles various political, economic, and cultural figures (including Newt Gingrich, Colin Powell, Oprah, Sam Walton, Jay Z, and Andrew Breitbart). The result is a fast-moving socioeconomic history of the United States from the late 1970’s to 2012, and it is a warning about our country’s future if we can’t move toward a more just and balanced society. Last fall The Unwinding won the National Book Award for nonfiction.
Beyond my top ten, there are many books I read this past year that I would recommend. In no particular order they are as follows: The River Swimmer: Novellas, by Jim Harrison (two strong stories, with the title story being the more engaging of the two); the comic Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls: Essays, Etc., by David Sedaris (a pleasant change from some of my more intense books!); The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt (descriptions of the individuals and families of Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Greenwich Village more than compensate for an unbelievable story); Memories of a Marriage, by Louis Begley (a great dissection of a marriage between a socialite and her working class-turned successful husband); The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer (I really liked this book that follows the lives of a group of friends who meet at a summer camp in the 1970’s even though at times I found myself playing Match the Character to the Real Life Person—think Steve Jobs, Alex Kelly); The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri (not Lahiri’s best but still a worthwhile read); Harvest, by Jim Crace (if my top 10 list were a top 11 list, this book would be on it); Reconstructing Amelia, by Kimberly McCreight (the story is told in short chapters, texts, e-mails, and blog postings --- yes, it’s a gimmick but the plot and characters pulled me in and kept me engrossed); andIndiscretion, by Charles Dubow (high society, beautiful people, Manhattan, Paris, the Hamptons, betrayal, loss, and heartbreak; okay, I’ve sunk that low…and I loved it!)
I won’t list all of the all the books I managed to read this past year, but instead I’ll end by mentioning three good short story collections and my winner of the Stick with It & You Will Be Rewarded Award. The best short stories I read were Damage Control, by Amber Dermont; Siege 13, by Tamas Dobozy; and Tenth of December, by George Saunders. And the winner of the Stick with It Award is...drum roll please...The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton. I felt compelled to read this book because I wanted to read all this year’s books that were short listed for the Man Booker Prize. For the first 350 pages of this 848-page book I had to push myself to keep going, but then something clicked and the book got better and better and better. Should The Luminaries have won the Booker Prize? In my humble opinion, no, but nevertheless it was very good book that I’d recommend to people with patience...and time!
Happy reading to us all in 2014!
In the book What W.H. Auden Can Do For You (Princeton University Press, 2013), Alexander McCall Smith writes, "[The poet W.H.] Auden reminds us to be grateful, and that is something that we increasingly need to be reminded of in a culture of expectations and entitlement."
McCall laments a consumerist culture in which we're pushed to complain rather than express gratitude. But "Why not say thank you?" McCall Smith asks.
He goes on to say that Auden's work points us in a appreciative direction because the poems after 1940 "tend to be poems of celebration, written with great charity and with love for the ordinary pleasures of life."
McCall Smith's lovely book is a good one for this season, and reminds me to say thank you, readers, for continuing to visit Chicken Spaghetti. I hope your holidays are grand.
Yippee! It's "best books of the year" season. Once again I'll be gathering the online lists of best kids' books right here. The Chicken Spaghetti compilation features books published in 2013, no matter when the list or awards are announced. Readers can expect to see this post amended many times, especially over the next few months.
Looking for older titles? Since this blog has been around a while, you'll find more Chicken Spaghetti lists at the following links: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.
Don't miss Largehearted Boy's amazing annual roundup of all the best-book lists.
And please do give me a holler if you see any I've overlooked, via Susan_Thomsen on Twitter or c_spaghetti AT yahoo DOT com.
AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books: Finalists and winners
Air & Space magazine/Smithsonian: Aviation- and space-themed children's books
Amazon: Ages 0-2 (board books)
Amazon: Ages 3-5
Amazon: Ages 6-8
Amazon: Ages 9-12
Amazon: Editors' picks, including teen and young adults
Amelia Bloomer Project (feminist books for children)
American Indian Youth Literature Award
Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA) Awards
Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC): Tween Recommended Reads (PDF file; books from 2012 and 2013)
Band of Thebes. 92 writers recommend best LGBT books of the year, including a couple of YA titles. (Some older books on this list, too.)
Bank Street Children's Book Committee Awards
Barnes and Noble
Batchelder Award (for books in translation)
Bellingham (WA) Herald
Belmont (MA) Public Library Children's Room
Blue Peter Book Awards shortlist (UK)
Boing Boing Gift Guide: Books (some YA and kids' titles in a longer list)
Book Diaries: Picture books
Booklist: Black history
Booklist: Crafts and gardening
Booklist: Religion and spirituality
Booklist: Science and health
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. Annual gift guide (PDF) includes 2013 titles and older books. Also, Blue Ribbons (best-of-the-year books).
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Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Children's Video
Carnegie Medal nominations (UK)
CBCA [Children's Book Council of Australia] Tasmania Blog
Center for the Study of Multicultural Children's Literature . Via CBC (Children's Book Council) Diversity
Charlotte Zolotow Award. Honors picture-book text. (PDF file)
Chicago Tribune: Books as gifts
Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (Cybils). Finalists and winners.
Children's Book Review: Board books
Children's Book Review: Elementary and Middle Grade
Children's Book Review: Picture books
Children's Book Review: Series books
Children's Book Review: Young adult novels
Christchurch City Libraries: Best covers of New Zealand books, including a few kids' titles (New Zealand)
Christchurch Kids Blog (New Zealand)
Christian Science Monitor: "New" picture books
Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch
Cool Mom Picks: Another list of lists!
Coretta Scott King Awards
Costa Book Awards: Shortlists (scroll down on a PDF list for the children's book category) UK
EarlyWord: Best Preschool and Family Books to Give to Kids You Don't Know Very Well
Edgar Award nominations Honors mysteries; categories include juvenile and YA.
Edmonton Journal (Canada)
Ezra Jack Keats Book Award
Financial Times (Children's and YA books are toward the end.) UK
Flowering Minds: Picture books
A Fuse #8 Production, at School Library Journal: 100 Magnificent Children's Books
Globe and Mail (Canada)
Goodreads Choice Award: Graphic novels and comics (adult titles on this list, too)
Goodreads Choice Award: Middle Grade and Children's
Goodreads Choice Award: Picture books
Goodreads Choice Award: Young adult
Goodreads Choice Award: Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction
Governor General's Literary Awards. A number of categories, including some for children's books in French. (Canada)
Greenaway Medal nominations (UK)
Horn Book: Fanfare
Huffington Post: Picture books
Huffington Post: Halloween books
Hudson Booksellers. Scroll down for the children's books.
Imagination Soup (gift books)
Indigo Books (Canada)
Inky Awards: Winners and shortlist (Australia)
International Reading Association (IRA)/Reading Today Online blog: Picture books
Iowa Public Radio
Irish Independent (See also Sarah Webb for an expanded version of this list.) Ireland
January Magazine (Canada)
Kirkus Reviews: Children and teens
KPCC public radio, Take Two
L.A. Times Book Prize finalists. A number of categories, including YA.
Latinas for Latino Literature
Los Angeles Public Library
Metro US: John Green's favorite 2013 YA novels, also James Dashner's favorites
Mingling with Words
Morris Debut YA Award
National Book Award for Young People's Literature Scroll down on page.
National Outdoor Book Awards. Including a children's book category.
National Parenting Publications (NAPPA) Awards
National Science Teachers Association: Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12
Nerdy Book Club
New Statesman: Critic Amanda Craig's picks (UK)
New York Public Library: 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing (PDF), also in an interactive list
New York Public Library: Graphic novels
New York Times: Best Illustrated Children's Books
New York Times: Notable Children's Books
New Zealand Listener (NZ)
Nonfiction Detectives: Nonfiction
NPR: Comics and graphic novels (titles for adults on this list, too)
NPR: Young adult
Odyssey Award (audiobooks)
Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children
Publishers Weekly: Children's fiction
Publishers Weekly: Children's nonfiction
Publishers Weekly: Children's picture books
Pura Belpré Awards
Quill and Quire (Canada)
Rainbow Project: GLBTQ books for children and teens
Reading Rockets: Books as gifts (PDF file)
Readings (bookstore): Junior & middle fiction (Australia)
Readings (bookstore): Picture books (Australia)
Readings (bookstore): Young adult novels (Australia)
San Francisco Chronicle
Sarah Webb (Ireland)
Schneider Family Book Award
School Library Journal: Adult Books 4 Teens
School Library Journal: Audiobooks
School Library Journal: Fiction
School Library Journal: Nonfiction
School Library Journal: Picture Books
School Library Journal's Top 10 Graphic novels (chosen by the Good Comics for Kids bloggers) and Latino-themed books
Sibert Informational Book Medal
Sidney Taylor Book Awards, sponsored by the Association of Jewish Libraries (PDF file)
Slate: Dan Kois' favorite books (list includes titles for grown-ups and kids)
Slate: Science books for kids
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books: YA Romance
Society of Illustrators: Best children's book art
Stonewall Book Awards
Tablet: Jewish books for kids and teens
Telegraph: Older children (UK)
Telegraph: Young children (UK)
TimeOut London (UK)
TimeOut New York Kids: Pop-up books
Toronto Public Library: Best books for children under 5 (Canada)
Washington Post: New science books
Wall Street Journal: Gift books
WAMU/Kojo Nnamdi Show
What Do We Do All Day? Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3
Words Without Borders: Holiday Reading List (2013 books in translation and older titles; a few kids books on the list)
YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association): Amazing Audiobooks nominations and Top Ten
YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults
YALSA: Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA) nominations and final list
YALSA: Morris Award finalists
Don't you love that Twitter announcement!
The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Alice Munro, "master of the contemporary short story." As a fan of Munro's writing, I am marking the following To Read:
"Alice Munro, LLD'76, wins 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature." Jason Winders at the Western News. Good local angle from the University of Western Ontario, which Munro attended. Later she was the writer in residence at the school.
"Editing Alice Munro." Deborah Treisman, at the New Yorker.
"Alice Munro, Our Chekhov." Critic James Wood, at the New Yorker.
"Margaret Atwood: Alice Munro's Road to Nobel Literature Was Not Easy," at the Guardian.
"Alice Munro: AS Byatt, Anne Enright and Colm Tóibín hail the Nobel laureate," at the Guardian.
"Why Alice Munro Won the Nobel Prize in Literature," by Jens Hansegard. Remarks from the press conference following yesterday's announcement, at the Wall Street Journal.
"Alice Munro, Nobel Winner and a Writer's Peerless Teacher." Hector Tobar, at the Los Angeles Times
"A Beginner's Guide to Alice Munro." A timely re-run of an older piece, by Ben Dolnick, at the Millions.
The annual "Growing Good Kids" awards, for children's books with an ecological theme, were announced last summer. You'll find a list of the winners here. The American Horticultural Society and the Junior Master Gardener program are the sponsors.
Catching up on some spring news, I was thrilled to learn that the annual "Best Books for Babies" list is still being compiled. I had thought this list had gone the way of a defunct organization in Pittsburgh. My bad! Yay for the project's organizers, the Carnegie Library, the Fred Rogers Company, and the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children.
The New York Public Library recently unveiled its list of the best 100 children's books of the last 100 years, which goes along with an exhibit at the library.
Soon to be added to this blog's project "The Best Children's Books of 2012: A List of Lists and Awards" are the following, some of which were announced quite a while ago. (I go by the year the book is published. Soon I'll start the 2013 list of lists.)
Bank Street College, Center for Children's Literature. Books of the Year.
Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. Honoring titles from both 2012 and 2013.
Canadian Children's Book Centre: TD Canadian Children's Literature Award finalists
Children's Book Council of Australia: Book of the Year Awards.
Children's Choice Book Awards
Emu's Debuts (blog): Best under the radar books of 2012
Ezra Jack Keats Book Award
Jane Addams Children's Book Award
South Asia Book Award, sponsored by the South Asia National Outreach Consortium
School has started and with it my volunteer gig as a classroom reader in a city school. After a year with third graders, I am back with the second grade. I follow the same teacher wherever she goes. If Ms. B. heads to kindergarten next year, I'll tag along.
I'm finding that I need to readjust to a younger group; some of my picture-book selections so far have been too wordy. And too big-wordy at that. But Earl the Squirrel? Perfect! It's one of my favorites anyway. Published in 2005 (fifty years after it was written), the book is by Don Freeman, of Corduroy fame. The young Earl gains some independence after discovering an unusual way to find acorns. The plot involves a bull who sees red.
Since taking a workshop at the Eric Carle Museum, I've spent more class time with the art, talking about a book's cover, end pages, and so on. Actually I try to get the kids talking and thinking about the book's art. They are great observers and always notice things that I didn't. Freeman used scratchboard for Earl the Squirrel, which features only three colors: black, white, and a very important red. The students got a real kick of the different ways the red color was employed.
The story of how the Earl manuscript was re-discovered in Don Freeman's papers can be found here.
Photograph by BirdPhotos.com (BirdPhotos.com) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Every once and a while, I come across some true weirdness in the New York Times. I actually love when the Times gets odd and unpredictable. A phrase from today's paper (online edition) inspired this doggerel poem, which I wrote before reading the article. It was just too delicious to pass up.
Feeling a Warm Embrace from a Tortilla
(headline on the front page of the New York Times, web edition, Wednesday, October 2, 2013)
When I hugged a cucumber,
It didn't hug me back
Cold, lifeless, green,
It stared without seeing,
wordless, rejecting, and cold.
I turned to the tortilla,
Soon to become my taco.
And wrapped it 'round my shoulders,
Savoring its warm embrace,
This humble shawl of corn,
Destined for the dinner plate.
A comfort food who
Put the cuke to shame.
The last school year was a good one for reading aloud with third graders. After participating in an online class on the Caldecott Medal and a workshop on the "whole book approach" at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, I feel like both our class discussions and my book choices improved.
Here are the best of the books I read aloud in 2012-2013. The children were great about drawing connections and seeing parallels, often coming up with things I had not noticed.
Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, by Mo Willems (Balzer & Bray, 2012) and The Three Bears, by Paul Galdone (Clarion, 1972). Willems' spin on the classic tale tickled me, but the kids especially appreciated the Galdone version and even laughed more at it. The exact opposite of what I expected—which is one reason I love reading with a group like this. You just never know.
Veronica, by Roger Duvoisin (Knopf, 1961, 2006). A hippo with a big behind at sea in the big city, where she is most definitely "conspicuous." Fun way to teach everyone a new word. As a big fan of Duvoisin's Petunia books, I want to track down Our Veronica Goes to Petunia's Farm. I didn't realize that the two had ever met.
The Funny Little Woman, written by Arlene Mosel and illustrated by Blair Lent (Dutton, 1972). Winner of the 1973 Caldecott, this Japanese folk tale and another, The Furry-Legged Teapot (Marshall Cavendish, 2007), provoked long, on-topic conversations. Tim Myers wrote the latter, and Robert McGuire illustrated it. The class loved the oni (ogres) in The Funny Little Woman and the tanuki (raccoon dog) in the other.
Library Lion, written by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Candlewick, 2006). The kids pointed out that I favored books about animals who don't fit in at first. Hmm. Little therapists in the making?
Dragons Love Tacos, written by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri (Dial, 2012). Wonderfully funny.
National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry: 200 Poems That Squeak, Soar, and Roar, edited by J. Patrick Lewis (National Geographic, 2012). I read five or six short poems, then left it in the classroom for a few weeks so that everyone got a chance to read as much as he or she wanted. Very popular. Large color photographs of animals enhance the book's appeal.
Me and Momma and Big John, written by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by William Low (Candlewick, 2012). Momma is a stone cutter at New York's unfinished Cathedral of St. John the Divine. I chose this one because it was an honor book for the Charlotte Zolotow Award, which recognizes picture book text. The Zolotow winner, Each Kindness (written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis), was also on our list. There was not a huge conversation about it the day I read the book. Months later, though, someone brought it up in regard to another story, and several kids chimed in with details. They really remembered this picture book and its lessons on inclusion well. Each Kindness (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, 2012) also won a Coretta Scott King Award author honor.
Owl Moon, written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by John Schoenherr (Philomel, 1987), is a beautiful book; in fact, it won the Caldecott Medal. This selection was the biggest surprise to me in that the class did not respond to it much. Too quiet? Too outdoorsy for the screen-time generation? Maybe it works better one-on-one. I remember my own kiddo liking it.
It Jes' Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw (Lee & Low, 2012). I wrote about our delightful experience with Don Tate and R. Gregory Christie's book earlier back in January.
Broken Beaks, written by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer and illustrated by Robert R. Ingpen (Michelle Anderson, 2003) A touching story about a homeless man and an injured sparrow who befriend each other. It provides an gentle opening for talking about mental illness, too.
Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team, written by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Steven Salerno (Clarion, 2012), made a fun start to spring. The boys and girls had just read Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates (written by Jonah Winter, with art by Raul Colon; Atheneum, 2005) in class, so they had a lot to say.
Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing, written by Judi Barrett and drawn by Ron Barrett (Atheneum, 1970). I brought something really fun and silly for the last reading of the year, and told the third graders that this was the kind of book they could read to younger siblings, cousins, or friends. After all, it contains many hilarious visual jokes. I reminded the students that they were role models. We talked about what that meant, and everyone piped up with an idea of whom he or she could read to over the summer.
Although we take satisfaction in being a safe place for people to tell their stories, please don't get the impression that running a bookshop is all bittersweetness and light. Much of it is dusting and heavy lifting.
from The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, by Wendy Welch (St. Martin's Press, 2012)
A charming tale of "friendship, community, and the uncommon pleasure of a good book," this memoir is about two newcomers to a small Appalachian town who open a used book shop. Wendy Welch writes with compassion and smart-ass humor as she describes her and her husband Jack's adventures in "being independent booksellers in the face of big-box stores and e-readers." I thoroughly enjoyed The Little Bookstore, and had to finish it in a hurry as my eightysomething mother had already asked me twice to borrow the book.
Photograph by Saroy. Source: Flickr. Used under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-NoDervivs 2.0 Generic license.
When I started this blog in 2005, my first idea was to make the whole thing about chicken spaghetti, a favorite casserole of my Southern childhood. I thought about posting variations on the recipe and photos of how they turned out. However, I soon realized that an audience for such a blog would be non-existent tiny. So, instead I turned my attention to kids' books, but kept the name since it seemed child-friendly.
I still think about the dish, though, and, after a Twitter search, have located my fellow casserole people. Like me, lots of other folks like their mom's version, Grandma's, Aunt So-and-So's, and when they're really pleased with their own efforts, they post pictures.
On Twitter, chicken spaghetti = happiness, and these tweets are music to my ears. I removed hash tags, added some punctuation, and stirred some of the short odes into a poem. Here goes:
Chicken Spaghetti: A Found Poem from Twitter
Y'all, I can cook.
Sauteeing burns my eyes
but it is worth it
in the end.
Remember how excited we got
when we thought about
Ya girl throws down
and garlic bread.
Anna Beth is at it again.
Chicken spaghetti, rolls, corn on a cob,
kiss the cook.
And on the 8th day
God made chicken spaghetti,
and all was good.
I'm cooking collard greens,
chicken spaghetti and fried porkchops!!
Jalapeño cornbread! Boom!
If you can cook chicken spaghetti, I'll probably
Do I have
to post an entire work, a photograph, a painting by
a poet? A lyricist? An artist?
Public domain? What's that?
Fair Use? Who's she?
Is Intellectual Property
really that smart?
There's the Cardinal.
Copyright & Fair Use at the Stanford University Libraries.
US Copyright Office at the Library of Congress
Understanding Fair Use at the University of Minnesota Libraries.
Electronic Frontier Foundation, Legal Guide for Bloggers.
Not to mention
Blogger copyright tips.
A college is even offering
a free course on
copyright, but I missed
Maybe next time?
The Caldecott and Newbery Medals, the two most prestigious awards for US children's literature, will be announced tomorrow (Monday, January 28th) morning at a meeting of the American Library Association. Details here.
The Caldecott "honors the illustrator of the year's most distinguished American picture book for children," according to ALA's website, and the Newbery goes to the author of "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children."
Author/librarian Elizabeth Bird speculates about who might win, over at the blog A Fuse #8 Production,
A number of other prizes for kids' books will be announced, too.
Meanwhile, here are some book-related accolades from other organizations:
CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center) Choices (PDF file)
Charlotte Zolotow Award. Honoring picture book writing.
Edgar Awards. Sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America. Nominees in a number of categories of books, including juvenile and young adult.
Marsh Children's Literature in Translation Award (UK)
Orbis Pictus Award. For "outstanding nonfiction for children." Sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). PDF file.
Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction
Hey, y'all! I hibernated for a few weeks during the cold weather, and then the robins returned and reminded me that it's almost spring and time to post. This morning, though, whew. We're having quite a wind storm, and a small tree fell on top of the backyard chicken coop. I made a quick dash outside to determine that all was fine. The girls are inside the hutch, most likely complaining and contemplating a rent strike.
Anyway, back to books.
Here are some recent book awards and award nominations.
The Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards, a.k.a. the Cybils. Many categories, from book apps to young adult fiction.
Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award
Nebula Award nominees, sponsored by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. This list includes the finalists for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Red House Children's Book Award (UK)
Waterstones Children's Book Prize shortlists (UK)
Stella Prize longlist (Australia). Honoring women's writing. The nominees include at least one YA book.
Australian Independent Bookseller Awards shortlists. Including a kids' book category.
National Book Critics Circle Awards nominees. (Honoring adult books only.) Winners announced tomorrow, Feb. 28.
Scottish Children's Book Awards shortlist
Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year (UK). Funny! All nominated books are for grown-ups, as far as I know.
For all you list-crazy folks, here are some more awards and finalists that I've heard about in the last couple of weeks.
CILIP Carnegie Medal shortlist. This UK award is the equivalent of the Newbery. CILIP stands for Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.
CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal shortlist. Similar to the Carnegie shortlist, above, this list includes some American books, too. The prize is similar to the Caldecott.
Ezra Jack Keats New Writer and New Illustrator Awards for Children's Books
Bankstreet College of Education Children's Book Committee: Children's Book Awards
Golden Kite and Sid Fleischman Award Winners and Honorees, presented by the Society for Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI).
Blue Peter Book Awards (UK)
Bram Stoker Award finalists. These prizes, sponsored by the Horror Writers Association, include a YA category. News via Locus Online. (Hat tip: A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy.)
Bologna Ragazzi Digital Prize for Non-fiction. News via Achockablog.
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Yawn. Stretch. Um, good morning.
It's March 16th, right? Snow still on the ground?
(My last post was on March 15th.)
What! It's July 4th? So, that's what all the noise is about.
Oh, dear. I have missed a day or two a few months. We're all fine, the chickens are fine (and sassy), and the summer is really fine. My son, J., and I are listening to an audiobook of The Outsiders, narrated by Jim Fyfe. I cannot remember if I ever read the young adult novel before, but hearing it this way is wonderful. Fyfe does a great job with different voices for all the characters.
My 13-year-old Minecraft devotee must read the Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf this summer for school. I refuse to make any comments indicating doubt here. Fortunately, there's an audiobook for that one, too.
I've been reading a lot since I'm taking a Coursera course called "The Fiction of Relationship" and just finished up Kafka's Metamorphosis for the first time ever. Gregor Samsa the bug made me incredibly sad. (Pssst: why don't you join me as a fellow student in the fall for "Modern and Contemporary American Poetry"?)
My year with the sweet class of third-grade rowdies is over, and we had a great time reading together and talking about books. I hope to post about what we read soon. At year's end I was invited to a third-grade pool party. Featuring an in-ground pool, it was noted with pride. The other details—date, time, address—were not spelled out, but I loved the thought nonetheless.