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Don’t Forget These Favorite Children Winter Reads (and they make good gifts too!)

Whenever the Christmas season rolls around, I think I’m still a big kid. I can’t help myself! This is the time of year when I get to remember special moments with my family growing up, and relive them and expand on them with my own family. In that vein, it wouldn’t be Christmas without classic Christmas stories. Sure, people may make fun of me for picking Elf and Home Alone as my favorite Christmas movies (supposedly, classy people pick It’s a Wonderful Life). However, when it comes to children and teen books, I love stories that make me smile…and make me cry. Here’s a list to get you started. Classic Christmas for the kids. On my latest Black Friday “Get your signed copy” run at Barnes and Noble, I discovered that Polar Express was available signed by Chris Van Allsburg. My kids love the magical story, but it is in tight competition with Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Don’t miss either, because both of these have stood the test of time! Taste of the fantastic. This is a season of imagination, and nothing is more imaginative than a fantasy world covered in snow. For a littler shiver of winter, read the children’s classics The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis or The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. For heavier snow…This is a season to remember our blessings. Nothing brings that home better than listening to tales that remind us what we have to be thankful for…and what joy and peace really mean. Two artfully written tales from World War II with Christmas seasons in them (and a wintery feel) are the award-winning The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. For the Christmas romantic. Brand new to the market, What Light by Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why) is getting great reviews for being a romantic Christmas teen read. Also, for a teen read with a beautifully written Christmas season, those who can stand a little more solid fare might try Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park. Have a happy holidays, and merry... read more

Summer Reading?

Well folks, I’m about to drop a well-kept secret on you that I’m sure will shock and astound you!  Are you ready?  For most public librarians, summer is the time we do the least reading.  I know what you’re thinking.  WHAT?  But you’re a librarian, Anna!  Isn’t reading, like, your job?   Sadly, it is not.  When summer rolls around, my sole purpose is to ensure that YOU have the BEST summer reading experience EVER. I plan programs, I ready my awesome teen volunteers, I make sure we’re not going to run out of incentives when you come to tell us you achieved all your reading goals. And I love it!  But to be honest, because we’re all friends here, I get very little reading done during the summer because I’m too busy.   One book I did manage to make time for was The Leaving by Tara Altebrando.  This thrill ride of a YA novel begins with the mysterious return of five teenagers who went missing on the first day of Kindergarten.  The teens remember nothing of where they’ve been, who took them, or each other.  And no one can remember the sixth kid who disappeared with them but didn’t return.  Told through the perspectives of two of the kidnapped and the sister of the one who didn’t return, this is one of those novels you can’t put down. Fair warning: it will keep you up at night until you finish it because you just have to know. What I loved about this novel is Altebrando keeps you guessing with her narrative.  You never know who to trust.  She scatters clues here and there, some with purpose while others are red herrings.  I found myself loathing one of the narrators right from the start but as more is revealed, I began to see the character’s purpose.  It’s one of those books that grabs you from the start and keeps you up at night thinking about it. So there you have it!  Enjoy The Leaving by Tara Altebrando and show your local librarians some love for sacrificing their summer reading lists.   Happy... read more

The Summer of Something New

This was the summer of fantasy – with the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson.  I thought it might be fun to try something different, because that is how we grow both as writers and as people.  There are plenty of reviews out there, so I won’t repeat that information beyond a basic premise; rather, I’d like to explore what I learned from reading these books and how they affected me as a reader and, ultimately, as a writer. Mistborn was one of Sanderson’s first books, and, in it, we find our protagonist, Vin.  She is a thief, scared and friendless, but she will discover not only a hidden power but also learn much about herself and the very essence of trust and friendship. What struck me about this book (well, actually, 2 books – I just started reading book 3 in the series) is just how true the characters are.  Great characters are so important to a story.  Can anyone forget Gollum in Lord of the Rings or Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet?  But characters can be tricky.  I see so many writers fall into the trap of making a character fit into their plotline, but a character should live and breathe and be alive.  They should above all else be true to who they are.  Sometimes, that means that they do things as characters that we might not like as readers, and that is ok.  They can change over time, but only in believable ways and usually only gradually. In this, Sanderson excels.  His characters sometimes leave us wishing we could whisper to them through the veil of the page, but they act in exactly the way that someone in their situation would act.  This gives them not only believability, but, as a reader, I found myself hoping that they would not only survive and thrive but also find those qualities that they most needed – qualities that would allow them to redeem themselves. Another thing that struck me are some of the twists.  They caught me by surprise, and surprise is the delight of the reader.  That said, I hate when the twist is really convoluted, and here, also, I found them surprisingly deft.  Things unfolded naturally (with one notable exception that Sanderson explains and handles explicitly), and when the author threw absolutely everything he could at the protagonist, I found myself rooting all the harder for her to succeed.  Even with the twists, the book is... read more

Fuzzy Mud, Mysterious Messages, and The Blackthorn Key

My summer of reading was an odd assortment. I started with Louis Sachar’s Fuzzy Mud. Not a bad read at all. A story of a bully, the bullied, and a girl in the middle all wrapped up in a scientific mystery of what’s really out there in the woods. I thought the suspense was great. While not as magical as Holes (what is?), the story was great for writers wanting to see how to build character and suspense. Next on my list was a non-fiction title, Mysterious Messages. Both kids and adults will love this book and its magnificent illustrations. From coding systems to coding machines, this book offers a concise and fascinating look into the complex world of espionage and how codes and cyphers have been used throughout the ages. My final book was an MG historical The Blackthorn Key. This book was awesome. Wonderfully steeped in 1600s England, this book is full of intrigue, suspense, and science. Like many other readers, I enjoyed the puzzles the character must solve to unravel the final mystery. One thing I noted was the humor–or lack there of. The tone isn’t whimsical or silly like many MG books. This book carries a strong story, with young but mature characters dealing with issues that most MG readers can identify with (family and belonging). I even wonder if this could be a sign of things to come with more true upper-middle-grade books. Regardless, I highly recommend it. While there were other books, I reported on these as they were “purpose” reads–all selected because of a writing project I’m working on, mentor texts so to speak. Hopefully, with more hard work and editing, the project I’m working on will make its way to print. If so, the books above will have been more than just amazing... read more

A Summer of Fairytales and Monsters

     It’s summertime and the reading’s pleasing! I started off the summer with a wonderful historical fairytale: Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. I sought this book out originally because it was a 2016 Newbery Honor and was not disappointed. It is beautiful and powerful storytelling. It has the magic and mystery of the woods, the depth of a past vividly retold, and music that strengthens 4 different lives. I spent a lot of time with comics as well. I especially looked forward to each new monthly installment of Paper Girls by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Cliff Chiang. It’s a teen scifi/horror story set in the 1980s. Filled with girl power, as four 12-year old paper girls take on time travel and aliens in their suburban hometown. To top off a great story, its filled with lots of fun nostalgia just as another summer favorite: Netflix’s Stranger Things. Overall this was the summer of Yancey, Rick Yancey. I finally picked up The 5th Wave and was not disappointed. I had tried my best to write my own interpretation of finding hope when one can’t trust and Yancey showed me how it’s done. But this wasn’t even my favorite of his. I was looking for a good monster book this summer and by finding The 5th Wave, I was led to his earlier work: The Monstrumologist. It was filled with a creepy monster, unknown to me, and was delightfully filled with appropriate amounts of guts and gore. Not to mention, the monster hunting filled my Supernatural withdrawals due to summer show break. The best part of my summer was a visit to Tarrytown, NY. Every fall I read Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow and every fall I am transported to the Hudson Valley where I’m introduced to his richly imagined characters of Ichabod Crane, Brom Bones, and the Headless Horseman. Washington Irving was America’s first internationally famous author, an ambassador to Spain, an art and theatre enthusiast, and socialite. His home, Sunnyside was most impressive. It reflected his romantic views of art, nature, and history. He planned out his yard with garden paths, trees, and water paths to look natural. He built up the walls of the stream so that it would echo throughout the pathways and he built his house behind a hill so that as one approached from the walkway one would gradually see it covered in wisteria sitting on the Hudson. The house itself seems to have... read more

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