Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite books I’ve read so far in 2017

I have yet to post one of these on a Tuesday, except by chance. Once again Linda inspired me with her list. Here are mine, listed from January (#1) to June (#10-11). Not only are there eleven instead of ten, I actually snuck (or sneaked, if you prefer) a couple extra onto the list using the “same author” justification.

  1. Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving: This was one of the Arlington Reads Together candidates for last year, and I’m glad I finally read it – less because of the quality of writing (it was fine but not exceptional) or the format (workbook-type questions at the end of each chapter) than because of the messages about privilege, oppression, and how to work effectively for social justice. “Discrimination and privilege are flip sides of the same coin.
  2. The Wyrd Sisters and Dodger by Terry Pratchett: After years of other people indicating to me that I might really like Terry Pratchett, I read some…and I really like Terry Pratchett! The Wyrd Sisters was like Macbeth meets Oscar Wilde, and Dodger was pure fun (if you enjoy the details of the sewer system in Victorian London); I listened to the audiobook, and it was a splendid production.
  3. Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham: Having just watched the four Gilmore Girls reunion episodes, I was excited to read this, and it did not disappoint. I listened to the audiobook, which Graham reads herself of course, and it was just delightful; I was sad when it ended and wanted something just like it. (I ended up with Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick, which was also good.)
  4. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: A big, multi-generational novel that starts in 1910 and stretches into the late 1980s. I learned so much about Korean history, and particularly the difficult status of Koreans living in Japan (“For people like us, home doesn’t exist”).The Left-Handed Fate cover
  5. The Left-Handed Fate and Bluecrowne by Kate Milford: I love Greenglass House so much and was thrilled to read a story even faintly connected. The Left-Handed Fate was a perfect historical adventure story with a touch of fantasy, and Bluecrowne provided a solid link between Fate and Greenglass. So satisfying.
  6. Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt: If you’re anti-abortion, you’re unlikely to pick up this book, but if you do, it might change your mind or at least soften your position somewhat. If you’re already pro-choice, it will give you new angles to consider and strong ways to articulate your reasoning for your beliefs.
  7. The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue: I’ve read nearly all of Donoghue’s novels for adult readers, so I happily followed her into middle grade territory. The story of nine-year-old Sumac and her nontraditional (but normal to her) family celebrates diversity not by making a big deal out of it, but by making it seem like not a big deal. It’s realistic and funny and poignant.
  8. Gracious by Kelly Williams Brown: I should probably re-read this every six months or so. “There is one kind of thought that’s always useful and always gracious. That kind of thought is, “What can I do for someone else?” …This kind of thought makes the world, and you, a better place.”The Paper Menagerie cover
  9. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu: Someone in my book club suggested this, and I’m so glad she did. It’s long, and I had only intended to read the title story and a few others, but I read the whole thing. It’s an absolutely unique collection: stories are set in the past and future, alternative histories, on Earth and in outer space, and more. Liu has a tremendous imagination and a great gift for storytelling and character.
  10. Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan: This was as good as Maine, my favorite of Sullivan’s novels: a story of two sisters who come to Boston from Ireland in the 1950s, their diverging paths and stories, and how they come together again after a tragic event. Family secrets galore, and multiple perspectives, including those in the next generation.
  11. The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein: I devoured this novel about pre-Code Name Verity Julie in two days. It stands alone, but having already read Code Name Verity, it was especially wonderful to see Julie brought back to life, as it were, and at home in her native Scotland. She narrates in first person, which is a different perspective than the journal entries from Verity.

Have I interested you in any of the books above? What are your favorite books that you’ve read so far this year? What books are you looking forward to?

Board books for babies and toddlers

A friend with a four-month-old recently asked me for recommendations for board books for babies – not because she couldn’t find any, but because the selection in bookstores and libraries was overwhelming. Of course, I suggested she ask booksellers and librarians, who usually know exactly what book(s) to give to kids of every age, but here is my own list:

  • I Kissed the Baby by Mary MurphyI Kissed the Baby! by Mary Murphy: This is my favorite for little babies! It has the high contrast of Tana Hoban’s Black & White books, but also has repetitive, sing-song words and a touch of color.
  • Peek-a-Who? by Nina Laden: Another favorite for little babies, or kids of any age who still enjoy peek-a-boo.
  • The “That’s Not My….” series: These touch & feel books are thin on plot, but nice and tactile for when infants start reaching for the pages. They’ll start to remember where the different textures are on each page.
  • The BabyLit series: These board book versions of classics are a little silly, but a good introduction to the world of literature. We like Jabberwocky (though it’s not the complete poem), and Don Quixote, which is bilingual.
  • A Kiss Like This by Mary Murphy: Murphy’s books are sweet without being cloying. Again, this one has the repetition that kids love, and you can do the different kinds of kisses (gentle and tall, quick and small, etc.).Wow said the owl
  • Wow! Said the Owl by Tim Hopgood: A little owl stays up all day and is wowed by all the colors she sees.
  • What a Wonderful World, illustrated by Tim Hopgood: Can you sing as well as Louis Armstrong? Give it a try! Or just read it.
  • Happy Hippo, Angry Duck: A Book of Moods by Sandra Boynton: Boynton is one of the queens of board books. I don’t love all of her books universally, but Happy Hippo, Angry Duck is just the right amount of goofy (and also teaches that moods change). Others of hers that I like are Hippos Go Berserk, But Not the Hippopotamus, Tickle Time, and The Belly Button Book.
  • Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett: Gravett’s watercolors are simple and charming. For babies who like single images on white backgrounds, this is a good choice; toddlers will enjoy the fruit and the bear.Orange Pear Apple Bear
  • I Dreamt I Was a Dinosaur by Stella Blackstone: These unique illustrations are made from felt, sequins, beads, and other craft supplies, and the text rhymes.
  • How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? by Jane Yolen: A perfect rhyming goodnight book, this outlines all the bad behavior and ends with the good (“they tuck in their tails, they whisper ‘good night’…”).
  • All three of Chris Haughton’s board books: Oh No, George!, Shh…We Have A Plan, and Little Owl Lost. The first is my favorite but they all bear up well under endless repetition. The illustrations look like they were done in MS Paint, but don’t be put off.The Monster at the End of this Book
  • The Monster at the End of This Book (Sesame Street): Grover is frightened of the monster and implores the reader to STOP TURNING PAGES, taking more and more extreme measures…but it turns out the monster is not so scary after all. Great opportunity for dramatic reading here.
  • Hug by Jez Alborough: A baby monkey observes other animals hugging, then goes in search of its mommy for a hug.
  • Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann: Should you get sick of Goodnight Moon, here’s an alternative featuring a mischievous gorilla and a clueless zookeeper.
  • Finger Worms by Herve Tullet: This book has holes in the covers and through the pages so readers can stick their fingers through to become part of the illustrations – very interactive! (Older kids will enjoy Press Here and Mix It Up by the same author.)
  • Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? by Dr. Seuss: Rhymes and sound effects, what could be better?
  • Dr. Seuss’s ABCs: The board book version is slightly abridged from the picture book version; both are good and include plenty of Dr. Seuss’s invented words.Chu's Day
  • Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman: This is a huge hit with my toddler (she also loves Chu’s Day at the Beach and Chu’s First Day of School). Fake sneezes are very entertaining! (See also: The Mitten by Jan Brett)
  • I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen: stories of hats stolen and retrieved, the implications are dark but babies won’t notice. Anything Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett write together is worth checking out; I love Extra Yarn.

Poems

  • My First Winnie the PoohClassic Mother Goose poems in board book form, such as The Real Mother Goose Board Book and Tomie’s Little Mother Goose (that’s Tomie dePaola, author/illustrator of Strega Nona).
  • My First Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne: short versions of the gentle poems we all know and love, including “The Engineer,” “Halfway Down,” and “Us Two.”
  • The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, compiled by Jack Prelutsky, is a collection that truly has something for everyone: poems short and long, funny and saccharine and sad, rhyming and not.

Read-aloud tip: “For infants, what book you read is less important than your enjoyment of it. If you have fun, baby will too!” (From my library’s pamphlet on Books for Babies, which also includes a book list by section: Board books, nursery rhymes, picture books, lullabies and songs, and poetry.)

Read-aloud tip: More often than not, the character(s) in children’s books is/are male. If this isn’t an important part of the story (e.g. the character is nameless), try using female pronouns some of the time. There’s no reason the default needs to be male.

 

Swooning over signage at the Medfield Public Library

It is a truth universally acknowledged that meetings are (a) boring, and (b) a waste of time. But! That is only true of poorly run and/or unnecessary meetings. I’m lucky that my presence is required at relatively few meetings on a regular basis: my department meets monthly (and we start off with a “lightning round” for everyone to share what they’re reading/watching/listening to), the network committee I’ve been on for the past four years meets quarterly, and those have been my only regularly scheduled meetings.

Now that my tenure on the network committee has come to an end, I’ve joined a new committee that meets every other month (and not at all in the summer, which I’m actually kind of sad about). This is a committee for library staff who plan programs at their libraries, so it’s a great way to gather ideas for programs and get contact information for good presenters. It’s also fun and interesting to hear what’s going on at other libraries, what’s working well and what isn’t. As a really excellent added bonus, most meetings are held at a different library each time, rather than our usual central meeting site, so it’s an opportunity to visit libraries I might not see otherwise.

That was the case with Medfield. “Enter, engage, enjoy,” their website says, and that’s exactly what I did. The staff let us in a few minutes before the library opened, and I darted around taking pictures of everything: their displays, their signage, their collection of “unusual items” to borrow, their seed library, their chalkboard, their amazing murals (not just in the children’s area!).

I created a Google album of all my photos, annotated with comments, but here are a few of my favorite signs, because signage is so important in communicating – not just information, but atmosphere and tone and mood.

Directional signage in main room near circ desk

Directional signage on the main floor, straight ahead from the entrance, near the circulation desk.

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On a computer table on the lower floor, this sign communicates that talking is allowed, and tells those looking for quiet space where they can find it.

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This sign in the teen space made me laugh. Check out a book to save it from extinction!

Study room door sign

This sign on a study room door tells users where to get the key.

Inside voices and walking feet

A sign in the children’s area asks for “inside voices & walking feet.”

I really think Medfield knocked it out of the park: their wayfinding/directional signage is helpful, their informational signage is concise and friendly, and they also use signage to draw attention to unique collections in clear ways. It’s also both consistent and tailored: the directional signage is the same throughout the building, with white (or off-white?) text on a gray background, but smaller signs in each area have some personality that’s appropriate to the area in which they’re located (children’s, teen, etc.).

And did I mention the murals?

TARDIS mural

A TARDIS mural in the stairwell

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R2D2 on one of the study room doors

Do you frequent public libraries? What is some of the best signage you have seen?

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I was/am looking forward to

This list is a combination of two recent Top Ten Tuesday topics: most anticipated books for the second half of 2017, and books I’ve recently added to my to-read list.

The Pearl ThiefRecently finished or in-progress:

  • The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein: I added this to my to-read list the instant I heard about it, and got a library copy as soon as it came out. It was a delight; I devoured it in two days. So lovely to see Julie (from Code Name Verity) again, at home in her native Scotland. With the first-person narration, her pride and courage are even more immediate, though the stakes are a bit lower this go-round, as she’s not a Nazi prisoner.
  • Holding Up the Universe and All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven: I’ve been hearing good things about Jennifer Niven for a while now – the Not-So-Young-Adult book group at my library read All the Bright Places – so I finally picked up Holding Up the Universe on audio. I finished it on the way to a meeting at the Medfield Public Library at the end of May (more on Medfield later) and picked up All The Bright Places while I was there; I’m about halfway through now. I really like her writing: it reminds me of Cammie McGovern, Julie Murphy, and Rainbow Rowell.

Published recently(ish)

  • Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy: I loved Dumplin’ and was thrilled to learn about Murphy’s new novel; a co-worker has already read and liked it. I’m waiting for a library copy.
  • Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister: I liked Macallister’s first novel, The Magician’s Lie, and the description of this one looks equally intriguing.Eleanor Oliphant
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: How can you not want to read a book with this title? And it has a great cover. And it’s set in Scotland.
  • The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson: Again, I’m cribbing my co-worker’s list; I too loved Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and I don’t know why I didn’t read The Summer Before the War as soon as it came out.
  • Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen: I had this in my hand a couple months ago but didn’t bring it home on account of the already precarious height of my to-read stack. But I haven’t read Anna Quindlen in ages, this got great reviews, and the description is appealing.
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: The word “essential” has been used in every review of this book that I’ve seen, and it’s a short book. There’s no reason I haven’t read it yet and I intend to read it before the end of the year.Life on Mars
  • Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith: I don’t pick up new poetry collections often, but she’s the new poet laureate, and this sentence from a review compelled me: “As all the best poetry does, “Life on Mars” first sends us out into the magnificent chill of the imagination and then returns us to ourselves, both changed and consoled.”

Not Yet Published

  • The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman, obviously. The first installment comes out October 19 (though I’m hoping to snag a galley before then) and is called La Belle Sauvage. There was already an extract in The Guardian.
  • Jane, UnlimitedJane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore(!!!): Just heard about this from a co-worker. Beyond excited for a new (standalone?) book from Kristin Cashore (Graceling).
  • Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin: I’ve loved Zevin’s books in the past, and the Kirkus (starred) review said it’s pleasingly feminist.
  • The Runaways by Rainbow Rowell: I don’t read graphic novels or comics that much but I will follow Rainbow Rowell across genres and formats and anywhere else she goes. I want to catch up on the earlier volumes first, and Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga has also been on my list.

6/23/17 Edited to add: Turtles All The Way Down by John Green(!!!!!), coming October 10! And new E. Lockhart, Genuine Fraud, coming September 5.