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Novelist: A Cure for the Reading Funk

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I have been in a reading funk lately. Even as a librarian, I find myself having a hard time connecting with that just right book.  Usually my motto is “So Many Books-so little time.”

Life feels stressful at present and I want pure escapism.  Perhaps I’ve worked so hard reading children’s books for this blog that I haven’t found time to read for  me.  Usually when I walk into a library, I feel like a kid in a candy store.  But sometimes, I feel overwhelmed by the choices.  My reading life has never fit in to simple categories.

One great cure for the reading funk is the Novelist Online Database.  It’s available on most public library’s webpages.  Library employees will be happy to share this resource with you.  Novelist recommends books for adults, teens and children. It links back to the library catalog so you can reserve the book

Novelist can…

  • help you locate all the books by your favorite author.
  • provide read-alikes for popular authors and titles
  • provide genre lists for countless interests.  (There are 8 themed lists for teen graphic novels and 13 themed lists for adult mysteries.)
  • locate a book with a particular setting.
  • find books in series
  • find informational as well as fiction books.

Once you locate a book, there are book reviews, age range, lexile levels and subject headings.  I have been using Novelist and Novelist K-8 for years. I have yet to tap into to all the resources available.

Novelist is a great tool for teachers and homeschoolers.  It’s easy to find books that supplement the curriculum.  Historical fiction can be a great way to help students grasp history.  Parents can also use Novelist to help children explore their interests. This database has evolved over time to meet the changing needs of its users.

Novelist is as its best recommending books to upper elementary, teens and adults. The upper elementary years  can be a golden age of reading. .  During this time, children begin getting more specific in their reading choices. If we want children to enjoy reading, we need to offer them lots of choices. There will be more competition for entertainment as children reach their teens.   Finding the right books for children and teens is a key ingredient in creating lifelong readers.  Novelist is a great tool in this process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Audiobooks?

About 10 years ago,  I fell in love with audiobooks.  I felt torn because I had adult books I wanted to read and prize winning children’s books that also deserved my attention.  Audiobooks became part of the solution!   I began looking forward to my time in the car.

Audiobooks can be enjoyed by the whole family. Consider taking them along on your next road trip. For this post, I have selected audiobooks that families can enjoy listening to together.

On the Reading Rockets Website, Denise Johnson lists these benefits of listening to audiobooks.

  • Introduce students to books above their reading level
  • Model good interpretive reading
  • Teach critical listening
  • Highlight the humor in books
  • Introduce new genres that students might not otherwise consider
  • Introduce new vocabulary or difficult proper names or locales
  • Sidestep unfamiliar dialects or accents, Old English, and old-fashioned literary styles
  • Provide a read-aloud model
  • Provide a bridge to important topics of discussion for parents and children who can listen together while commuting to sporting events, music lessons, or on vacations
  • Recapture “the essence and the delights of hearing stories beautifully told by extraordinarily talented storytellers” (Baskin & Harris, 1995, p. 376)http://www.readingrockets.org/article/benefits-audiobooks-all-readers

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The Harry Potter books are among other things, hilarious, but never more so when they are narrated by Jim Dale who creates over 200 voices and special effects for all the wizards, muggles, goblins and house elfs that pass through Hogwarts.  The Harry Potter volumes are among the top selling audiobooks of all time.  Children who have already read these books will notice things they missed.

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Country music singer and actor, Lyle Lovett, brings  Kathi Appelt’s adventure tale, The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp to life.  Two raccoon scouts, Bingo and J’miah are trained to wake the Sugarman, a Yeti like creature, in the event of trouble.  And trouble is coming!  Jaeger Stitch, world-class alligator wrestler, plans to turn the peaceful swamp into to the world’s tackiest theme park. To make matters worse, a gang of feral hogs are headed  toward the swamp.   Lovett has the perfect southern drawl. This story will appeal to a wide range of ages.

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I raved over Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan’s Echo in an earlier post. (https://librarianlou.wordpress.com/2016/03/15/for-music-and-history-lovers-2/) This recording helps complete the book.  The harmonica pieces are printed in each section, but its not the same as hearing the music which will be more familiar to  parents than their children.

In the section set in Nazi Germany, the heavy but clear German accents are vital in creating the characters of evil Nazi leaders as well as the kind voices of Frederich’s father and uncle.  Dialogue that looks confusing in print will be clearer in the audio version.  Echo won the 2016 Newbery Honor Award and the audiobook won one of two 2016 Odyssey Awards for outstanding productions in children’s recordings.

Don’t let the costs of audiobooks discourage you.  Many are available at the public library. Services like Audible are also making these books more accessible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Star of Kazan

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This is another delightful novel from Eva Ibbotson.  She  grew up in pre-World War II Vienna.  Because her family was Jewish, they escaped to England.  The Star of Kazan reflects her love of Austria and her dread of Germany.   The observant reader will notice the presence of early Nazi philosophy in her writing.

Annika is an orphan with a mysterious  past.  Two servants discovered her as infant abandoned in a mountainside chapel. They brought her home and raised in her in the servant’s quarters of a grand house. (think Downton Abbey)

Early on Annika delights in the domestic arts, learning at an early age to make gourmet meals and keep house.  She is happy but she often wonders about her “real mother”

Annika delights in her friendship with the lady across the street, the unwanted aunt of  a dutiful family.   Annika enjoys hearing the older lady’s stories about her days touring in Europe with the theatre.  When she dies, she leaves Annika a trunk full of theatre props and costume jewelry, or so she thinks,  but  a scheming woman in Germany knows better.

While Annika has often fantasized about her mother’s return, she is unprepared when Edeltraut Von Tannenburg knocks on her door and insists on taking her to Germany. Annika always dreamed that her mother would come for her but she never thought about saying goodbye to all the  people she loves in Vienna.

Annika’s new home in Germany is a dark and forbidding mansion. It is bitterly cold inside and out. . The walls are covered with dark heavy hangings embroidered with battle scenes. The rugs on the floor are threadbare and the drapes faded.   She is baffled when her mother insists that she is never to cook or do housework.

Then it gets worse. Annika is sent away to a boarding school called Grossenfluss for “daughters of the nobility” so she can be trained to serve the Fatherland. She is assigned to be pupil 127. (No one will say what happened to pupil 126.) She is issued a uniform and assigned to a room with thirty iron beds covered with gray blankets   The school is run by Fraulein Von Donner, the only  woman in Germany who had received “The Order of the Closed Fist.”

This is a great adventure story with lively characters and crafty villains.  There are some dark moments  but in Ibbotson’s world, the good are rewarded and the evil are punished.

Recommended  for fourth grade and up.

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Journey to the River Sea

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Eva Ibbotson is my favorite author. Her style is similar to Roald Dahl and E. Nestbit. Whether her setting  is the Amazon Jungle or prewar Vienna, she creates delightful descriptions of her surroundings.  Her characters are always colorful and her villains deliciously creepy.

Like many great heroines of literature, Maia is an orphan.  She is attending boarding school in England when her lawyer discovers that she has relatives living near the Amazon River in Brazil.  While classmates warn her about frightening creatures and wild jungles, Maia does her research and anticipates a grand adventure.  She is especially excited to meet her twin cousins, Gwendolyn and Beatrice.

Maia and her guardian Miss Minchin sail from England to Brazil.   On the ship, she befriends Clovis, another orphan, who is acting with a traveling company.  Clovis hates his life in the theatre and longs to go back to a more civilized life in England.

In Brazil, Maia discovers that her new relatives despise Brazil and most everything else.  They never venture outside avoiding the heat  and the mosquitos.  They reject the fresh bananas and local seafood in favor of imported beet root, corn beef and green jelly from England.  Gwendolyn and Beatrice are especially disagreeable.  From the start, they attempt to make Maia’s life miserable.

Maia is enchanted by the Amazon River, often called the River Sea, and the nearby rainforest where howler monkeys swing from the trees as scarlet parakeets and clusters of butterflies fly overhead.

Maia also meets Finn (yet another orphan) who lives among the natives on the edge of the Amazon. His father was a wealthy man with an estate in England.  He was an outdoorsman who married a native and settled in Brazil.

Two men from his father’s estate, known to the natives as “the Crows”, because of their grey suits, are trying to capture Finn and take him back to England.  The bumbling crows are constantly thwarted by Finn’s friends who send them in the opposite direction.

So Maia and Finn develop an elaborate plan to ship Clovis to England and then set off a journey of their own, with chaperones, down the Amazon River for the most magical journey of all.

This is a great book for fourth grade and up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Countess Below Stairs

 

untitled (2)A Countess Below Stairs is a must read for any fan of Downton Abbey.

Anna and her family fled their native Russia during the  Revolution to make a new home in London. Attempts to bring their valuables with them are foiled, leaving them penniless.

Anna takes a job as a housemaid in a grand house. In spite of growing up in a wealthy estate, she is kind and unspoiled. She decides that working downstairs can be a grand adventure. She clings to her copy of The Domestic Servant’s Compendium by Selina Strickland, determined to be the best servant ever.

Rupert is an unlikely Earl. He always assumed his charismatic older brother would inherit Mersham, the family estate. After his brother dies in the first world war, he agrees to be the Earl of Westerholme because his family expects it.

Rupert is engaged to Muriel who nursed him back to health after being wounded in battle. No one can deny that Muriel is beautiful and seems charming. Rupert is really not sure how they came to be engaged.

Muriel espouses an early Nazi philosophy known as Eugenics. She wants to apply the same principles of breeding  racehorses to human reproduction, beautiful people mating with other beautiful people with no room for disease or decay.

Muriel fires one of the footmen because he is too short. She sends the mute servant girl to an institution where she can be with her “own kind of people.” She is distressed when she discovers that Ollie, the flower girl in her wedding, has a limp.

The tone of this novel is light and comical. As a romance, it is fairly predictable. The fun of the novel comes from a wide variety of interesting characters and vivid descriptions. It is clear early on that Anna is lovely and kind, spreading joy to everyone she meets.  Rupert is obviously attracted to Anna but promised to Muriel. Both Rupert and Anna are committed to doing the right thing almost to the point of absurdity.  No one can set up a scene or create characters like Eva Ibbotson. She is a master of vivid imagery.

I first discovered Eva Ibbotson through her children’s books, Journey to the River Sea and The Star of Kazan.  When I found one of her adult books on the library shelves, it looked quite nondescript.  I would never have selected it if I had not known about the author. People say we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we all do.

Her books were originally written for an adult audience.  Ibbotson wrote mostly children books in her later years.  Until recently, her adult title were hard to locate.  In 2008, MacMillan publishing has begun marketing her older titles to teens.  They simply changed the covers.  I think both adults and teens will enjoy these chaste romances.

A Countess Below Stairs is sometimes published under the title, The Secret Countess.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Winnie the Pooh and the Caldecott Too

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I am in love with the newest Caldecott Winner Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall.

This book is best shared with older children in a classroom or individual setting, where an adult can share background information about the first world war and A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh.

Finding Winnie is a story about a man leaving Canada to fight in a war in Europe and adopting a bear cub along the way. Winnie, short for Winnipeg, becomes the mascot and morale booster of the regiment.

It’s also the story of young Christopher Robin Milne visiting the London Zoo and making friends with a bear.  He then names his stuffed bear, Winnie.  His father, A. A. Milne, wrote poems and stories about Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh,  creating one of the most lovable duos of all time.

The illustrations in Finding Winnie are extraordinary!   The front cover shows a bear cub curled up on a soldier’s boot. The back cover shows the bottom portion of a pajama clad child holding a teddy bear.

Inside the book is a visual feast. Blackall captures the war era with uniforms, period clothing, trains and scenery. At the train station, there is an emotional scene where loved ones are saying goodbye to soldiers. Another moving illustration has the soldiers marching head down in the pouring rain.

(Courtsey Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

 

Pictures of Winnie lighten the mood of the war story. The men are crazy about the cub. One light hearted picture shows Henry driving a jeep with Winnie enjoying the view from the front seat as the wind blows her hair back. Stonehenge and a primitive plane are in the background.

The last few pages are an album of World War One pictures. This section adds credibility to some of the less believable aspects, proving once again that truth can be stranger than fiction. For example, there is a picture of Winnie and Christopher Robin alone inside the enclosure at the London Zoo in 1925.

I was intrigued enough by this book to visit Sophie Blackall’s website.  http://www.sophieblackall.blogspot.com/ It was well worth the visit. She took great pains to make the pictures historically accurate, using archival pictures to create her own original illustrations.   She shows the sources of  most of her work.

Lyndsay Mattick, the author of this book, is the great granddaughter of Henry Coleburn, the soldier who adopted Winnie. In the book, she is sharing his story with her son, Cole. Personally, I didn’t think this was the strongest part of the story. Cole appears to be about three, much too young to comprehend the historic details, the length of the text and the highly detailed drawings.

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Vespers

Little Boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head.
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.
God bless Mummy. I know that’s right.
Wasn’t it fun in the bath to-night?
The cold’s so cold, and the hot’s so hot.
Oh! God bless Daddy – I quite forgot.If I open my fingers a little bit more,
I can see Nanny’s dressing-gown on the door.
It’s a beautiful blue, but it hasn’t a hood.
Oh! God bless Nanny and make her good.Mine has a hood, and I lie in bed,
And pull the hood right over my head,
And I shut my eyes, and I curl up small,
And nobody knows that I’m there at all.Oh! Thank you, God, for a lovely day.
And what was the other I had to say?
I said “Bless Daddy,” so what can it be?
Oh! Now I remember it. God bless Me.Little Boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head.
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers

A.A. Milne

 

 

 

 

 

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2016 Newbery Honors Books

So yesterday, the ALA Book awards were announced.  For me, this is a more exciting event than the Oscars, The Golden Globes or the Super Bowl.  I was pleased that two of my favorites were chosen as Newbery Honor untitled (3)Books. (more about the Newbery Award later)

       The War That Saved My Live. by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, is a powerful novel that takes a unique focus on the second world war.  Many children were being evacuated out of London and sent to live with families in safer areas of England.  It’s a good novel for 4th-7th grade.

Ada narrates her story. She has a club foot and knows that she is different from other children.  She can’t remember ever leaving her small London flat where she spends her days gazing out the window at the other children and families on their way to school and work.  She knows that her mother is ashamed of her.  Most people assume that Ada is slow minded.  Ada has been gradually teaching herself to walk but it is a painful process.

When Ada learns that her brother Jamie’s class is being sent away from London to escape the bombs, she sees this as a grand opportunity.  Ada and Jamie have lived in squalor for years.  They catch the train with only the clothes on their backs.  When they arrive at their location, all the children are lined up.  People from the community arrive to take the other children into their homes but nobody choses Ada  or Jamie.

The woman in charge takes them to the home of Susan Smith.   Ms. Smith has been a recluse for years. She lets everyone know that she doesn’t like children or anyone else for that matter.   She reluctantly agrees to take the children out of a sense of duty.

There are big changes for Ada and Jamie.  They have to get used to things like baths, changes of clothing, underwear and pajamas.  Susan takes them to the doctor where they are diagnosed with malnutrition and impetigo.   Ada is granted greater mobility when she is given a pair of crutches. Since they are eating three meals a day,  Jamie and Ada decide that Susan must be very rich.

Ada is a gutsy little girl. She and Jamie thrive under the care of Susan who immediately recognizes that Ada is intelligent even though she is not allowed to attend school.  Susan teaches her to read. “That foot is a long way from your brain,” Susan tells her.

Ada becomes a valuable volunteer and makes new friends. She falls in love with a pony   and learns to ride him using an old fashioned side saddle. She even helps capture a spy.

After years of neglect, Ada and Jamie have many struggles with their new life and there is always the threat of their mother who might come to claim them. This is a wonderful story of three people becoming a family even as the war wreaks havoc all around them.untitled (4)

 

 

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson is a well-written graphic novel about the Roller Derby.  Roller Girl is a good book for upper elementary and middle school.

When Astrid goes to the Roller Derby, she is instantly hooked.  She is so excited about attending Roller Derby  Camp.  She is disappointed that her friend doesn’t want to join her.  The camp is harder than she ever imagined, but Astrid pushes on in spite of  falls and bruises.

Astrid also learns about friendship when she and her closest friend seem to be moving in different directions. Astrid learns to appreciate old and new friendships.

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        Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan was also named a Newbery Honor Book.  I have read two excellent books by this author, Becoming Naomi Leone (upper elementary) and Esperanza Rising (middle and high school).  I am going to reserve this one today.

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        The Newbery Award is given to the  book selected as the most outstanding contribution for  children’s literature.  This year’s  winner is Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena.   This story about a boy and his grandmother has lots of critical acclaim. Many predicted that it would win the Caldecott Award or The Coretta Scott King Award.  Traditionally  Newbery awards go to juvenile fiction and occasionally Young Adult Books.  So I imagine this choice was a surprise to almost everyone.  I will talk about it more when I get more time to look at the book.

The War That Saved My Life won the Odyssey Award for the best audio book production and Echo won the Odyssey Honor Awards. I highly recommend audio books.  They can be great on long car trips.  They are usually narrated by actors.