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The Ten Final Round Nominees for Best Children’s Picture Book in the Goodreads Choice Awards

  1. Triangle by Mac Barnett, Illustrations by Jon Klassen (ages 2-4) – This is a mostly black and white book about a triangle that plays a sneaky trick on his friend, square.  It is a simple story with silly humor meant for very young children.
  2. A Greyhound,  A Groundhog by Emily Jenkins, Illustrated by Chris Appelhans (ages 2-6) – A beautifully illustrated book that reads like a long poem with dreamy whimsical illustrations.   The words repeat, rhyme, and transform into new meanings with very slight variations.   A joyful reading experience for meant for young children, but a book adults will enjoy reading again and again as well.
  3.  Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin (ages 3-7) – This is a fantastic magical wordless picture  book for youngsters.  The only words in this story appear on the chalkboard, school or a box.  The story, told in picture boxes in shades of blue and white only, are of a young girl bringing her favorite stuffed animal, a fox, for show and tell.  After school, she stops at the playground to swing and places her backpack on the ground.  A colorful orange fox in a yellow sweater sneakily steals the stuffed fox away.  The little girl and her friend set out through this blue and white shaded background in search of her beloved stuffed animal and slowly come upon more colorful creatures and trees until at last they arrive at this very colorful animal city which its own stores, restaurants and homes.  At last they find the home of the young fox who took her blue stuffed fox.  He is reluctant to return it and  offers a purple unicorn instead.  That night the little girl is asleep with this wonderfully colored purple unicorn from the fox’s brilliant world and the fox is tucking in his blue fox from her world.  Imaginative, lovely and highly recommended!
  4. Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner with art by Christopher Silas Neal (ages 4-8) A gorgeously illustrated and beautifully written book about the animals over and under the pond upon which a mother and son canoe.  There is much action of the animals observed by the pair that creates a quiet excitement for what they might see next.  The pond ecosystem is explored in its entirety within this fun children’s book.  At the end, a picture of each animal mentioned or illustrated is set next to a longer description of the animal.  My children had a great time reading these informational pieces and then searching back through the book to find where each were illustrated.  This is a highly recommended book for nature lovers to explore the pond ecosystem.  It is a beautiful and informational read!
  5. She Persisted:  13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton, Illustrated by Alexandra Boigner (ages 4-8) – This book is about 13 women, important to American history, who persisted despite obstacles in doing something important to improving lives and humanity.  Each pages tells the story of a different woman.  It moves through history from the time of slavery with Harriet Tubman to more recent times with Sonia Sotomayor.  Upon each page is also a quote from the woman being described that serves to inspire young people.  This book has a great message to young girls to follow their dreams, even if told they are impossible.  This book is highly recommended for young girls determined to change the world!
  6. The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt, Illustrated by Adam Rex (ages 4-10). The dramatic effect of this book with legends, battles, and duels creates great excitement and  enthusiasm in children reading this or listening to this book.  Everyone knows how to play rock, paper scissors, but did they know the legend behind it?  This book is sure to be a favorite of youngsters everywhere and will lead to many more games of rock paper scissors shoot as a result.
  7. The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken (ages 4-12)   This is an artistic book where continued mistakes in the artwork lead to changes and elaborations of the beautiful fun artwork that is developing.  The message of this book is to not let mistakes frustrate you or set you back.  Mistakes could lead to discovering beautiful unique ideas or expressions.  Learn from and explore your mistakes!  This is a beautifully illustrated book sure to inspire young artists everywhere!
  8. We’re All Wonders by R. J. Palacio (ages 5-8) This is the abbreviated children’s picture book version of R.J. Palacio’s much acclaimed Wonder.  It is about a boy with facial deformities who is felt to be a wonder by his immediate family, but he knows that other people look at him differently.  He hears the unkind things they say behind his back and his feelings are hurt as a result.  He escapes into an imaginary world on Pluto with strange space creatures.   He realizes from this far away vantage point that the world is big enough for all kinds of people.  He can’t change the way he looks… but maybe people can change the way they view others. This book has wonderful message about kindness.  It is a message to everyone to look for the beauty, the wonder, the good in other people.  Highly recommended!
  9. Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, Illustrated by Kerascoet (ages 5-8)- This picture book details Malala’s childhood in Pakistan.  It describes the poverty, the reasons some children might not go to school – needing to help make money for food or perhaps parental beliefs that only boys go to school as girls should stay home and cook and clean.  The “men with guns” come into their city and make it unlawful for girls to go to school.  Despite this, Malala continues her education and writes and speaks out about her belief that everyone deserves education.  The Taliban try to silence her but they fail.  There are many parts of this book that parents are able to go into more detail with their children or simply leave it at that if they feel the truth may scare their children.  This is a wonderful book about an amazing young woman and an excellent story for young children to be familiar with.  This book can be a great jumping off point for much further discussion and conversation about certain issues.  This is a book that should be in classrooms everywhere!
  10. The Youngest Marcher:  The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton (ages 7-10) – This inspirational biography is about the courage of 9 year old Audrey Faye Hendricks and her role in the Civil Rights Movement. Audrey grew up in Birmingham, Alabama at a time when black people could not be served food in the same room at restaurants together. The year is 1963 and black children went to different schools and had hand-me-down textbooks from the white students. Audrey did not feel this was fair and when Dr. Martin Luther King visited their church, she wanted to be part of the solution. His call to “fill the jails” was heeded by children, as part of the Children’s March (May 1963). Audrey was arrested and spent a week in juvenile hall. Two months later Birmingham rescinded its segregation ordinances. This book does an excellent job of portraying the childhood figure of Audrey, her home life, and her tremendous courage and heroism at such a young age fighting for what she believed in. This is an amazing book that reminds us how recent in history these events occurred. This book brought up great questions and discussion from my kids. Highly informative, incredibly interesting, and most highly recommended!

My family had a great time exploring these books as well as the full list of children’s books that were listed in the beginning round.  The book I was most sad to see not move forward into the final round was A Different Pond by Bao Phi.  It’s an amazing book, one that I will probably devote a full post to reviewing.  Trying to choose a favorite of these ten books is very difficult because each book is so unique and speaks to children of varying ages and interests..  My 5 year old daughter was captivated with The Youngest Marcher and Malala’s Magic Pencil.  We read each of these  books countless times.  Despite her fascination with the stories of these two young women who courageously stood up for what they believed in, she was entirely bored with Chelsea Clinton’s She Persisted.  In Clinton’s book, a new woman is presented upon each page and this proved to be less engaging and harder to relate to, as many of the women’s accomplishments were in adulthood rather than childhood.  All of my children as well as my husband were thoroughly entertained by The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors.  It is an incredibly well told exciting story that is fun to read.   My overall favorite and the one I voted for was The Youngest Marcher.  It is a great story about a young heroine whose story I did not know previously.  The reader gets to know this young girl, her family, and her values.  The reader can empathize with her feelings about inequality and marvel at her bravery.

Did you read these books?  If so, which was your favorite?  The winning book will be announced in two days.  Which do you think will win?

10 Incredibly Popular Book Club Choices of the First Half of 2017 with Links to Book Club Questions

  1.  The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (August 2016) – This is a novel about slavery and the underground railroad, which in this novel, becomes a virtual railroad.  Review & Book Club Guide.
  2. Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance (June 2016) – This is a memoir from a young man who grew up living between Kentucky and Ohio in the hillbilly culture.  A few things steered his life away from the direction he was headed.  He ended up going on to Ohio State for college and to Yale Law School.  He writes about his experience growing up as a hillbilly as well as the hillbilly culture at large.  There is a political bent to the way he thinks and this book has been touted as one of the best books to read to understand Trump’s presidential success.  Review & Book Club Guide.
  3. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanthini (January 2016)- This book is a memoir of a neurosurgeon who is faced with a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer at the age of 39.   He has grappled with the meaning of life since high school and his search for life’s essence led him to a career in neurosurgery.  Having spent so much time reflecting on life’s meaning, makes his memoir especially poignant.  That combined with his medical background and longtime interest in writing creates the right conditions for a well versed and thoughtful memoir on death and dying.  Review & Book Club Guide.
  4. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (September 2016) – An aristocrat  is found guilty of writing a poem inciting resistance to Bolshevism.  He is placed under house arrest in the Hotel Metrol in Moscow over a period of 30 years as the world outside undergoes tremendous change.  Review & Book Club Guide.
  5. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (February 2015) – A beautiful emotional novel about two sisters in France during WWII and the ways in which they resist the Nazis.  It is a love story, a story of loss and tragedy and a wonderful tribute to all the women who played important and dangerous roles in WWII behind the battle lines.  Review & Book Club Guide.
  6. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett (September 2016) – This novel shows how a seemingly enchanted moment in time completely disrupts two families resulting in divorce and remarriage, leading to neglect, anger, and distance.  It is beautifully written, each chapter effectively it’s own short story.  Review & Book Club Guide.
  7. My Grandmother Asked me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman (June 2015) – A fairy tale of a novel in which an 8 year old Elsa and a dying grandmother have a very close relationship.  The grandmother weaves complicated fairy tales that after her death help to make sense of the world around the young Elsa.  Review & Book Club Guide.
  8. Born a Crime:  Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (November 2016) – An amazing collection of autobiographical essays about Trevor Noah, a boy born to a black mother and a Swiss/German father under apartheid in South Africa. The essays are incredible, shedding much light on life in South Africa during and after apartheid. There is so much heart, courage, strength, humor and tremendous good fortune contained within these essays.  Review & Book Club Guide.
  9. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (June 2016) – This is an epic novel spanning hundreds of years, beginning in Africa and following two sides of a family as one side is sold into slavery and brought to America and the other side remains in Africa. It is a story of race, roots, and remembrance.  Review & Book Club Guide.
  10. The Girls by Emma Cline (June 2016) – This novel is Emma Cline’s re-imagining of Charles Manson’s ranch.  It is much less focused on Charles Manson and more so on “the girls” who are drawn to it.   It imagines the allure of the ranch to these girls, their connections to each other and to the outside world.  It is told from the viewpoint of a woman who had been a young girl at the ranch, at a point in time when this grown adult encounters another “girl” who could have just as easily been pulled into the ranch’s enticements.  Review & Book Club Guide.

5 Debut Novels of 2016 and the New Authors Behind Them

What is better than finding a new author to love?  It opens up a whole new perspective, vantage point, and reads differently from what we are used to.   Here are 5 debut books of 2016 and the authors behind these great new works.

  1.  “Ways to Disappear” by Idra Novey – Published February 9, 2016

idra_photo25746685Residence:  She grew up in a small mining town in Pennsylvania.  She has lived in Chile and Brazil.  She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Work:  She has translated the work of several Brazilian writers; she’s taught at Princeton, Columbia, Fordham, NYU, The Catholic University of Chile, and in the Bard Prison Initiative

Something Interesting:  She met her husband on the subway and immediately knew she would marry him before even speaking to him.

 

 

2.  Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler – Published May 24, 2016

 

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th-4Lives:  Brooklyn, NY.  She moved to NYC after graduating from Kenyon College.

Work:  After waitressing, she obtained a MFA in creative writing from the New School and began work on her novel.

Something Interesting:  She is obsessed with poetry, there are pieces of poetry scattered throughout this novel.

3.  Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam – Published June 7, 2016

 

th-1Lives: in New York with his husband and 2 sons

Work: Has worked in magazine publish26890725-1ing and advertising.  Now, he writes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.  Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi– Published June 7, 2016

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Residence:  Born in Ghana, raised in Huntsville, Alabama.  She and her boyfriend now live in the Bay area.

Work: She is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.  She spent 7 years writing and researching this novel, which was published when she was only 26 years old.  The novel has been nominated for many awards.

 

5.  Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris – Published August 9, 2016

 

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Residence:  She grew up in England but has spent much of her adult life in France.  She is the mother of 5 daughters.

Work:  She has wo29437949rked both in finance and as a teacher.

Something Interesting:  She had suspicions about a friend’s marriage and her imagination is what provided the inspiration for writing this novel.

 

 

 

9 of the Most Popular Book Club Books of 2016

Choosing a book for book club can often be a fun yet laborious process.  I love the choosing of new books, hearing recommendations from others, discussing the pros and cons of reading different books, and trying to look for a book from a different genre than previously read.  Here are some books that have been repeatedly tagged on goodreads as “book club 2016.”  For each, I have attached a link to my review which  contains discussion questions as well as links to excellent reviews published in highly regarded places.  These books will be listed in the order of popularity.  Following the title are 3 words to try to best describe each novel.

 

 

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  1.  The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah –                                  Historical, France, WW2

This book is about the experience of two sisters during World War II in France and the ways in which they aid in the French resistance. It is a moving, emotional book, one in which you are not sure who the narrator is looking back over that time period.

Published Feb 2015

Review & discussion questions for The Nightingale

 

 

 

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2.  Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff – Literary, Marriage, Secrets

This novel is about a marriage. It is told in two parts, the first half from his perspective, the second half from hers. It is brilliantly written and a fascinating read. It was President Obama’s favorite book of 2015.

Published Sept 2015

Full review with discussion questions for Fates and Furies

 

 

 

 

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3.  My Grandmother asked me to tell you she’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman – Fantasy, Humor, Family

This novel, written by Swedish author, Fredrik Backman, is about the relationship between an 8 year girl and her grandmother. The grandmother has created a magical fantastical world which serves as a framework for understanding the people in her life and apartment building after her grandmother dies.

Published June 2015

Full review with discussion questions for My Grandmother asked me to tell you she’s Sorry

 

 

 

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4.  The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood –                                          Dystopian, Sci-Fi, Fantasy

This novel is about a dystopian society in which a young couple is given the option to live inside this compound where they will live in an idealistic community one month and prison on alternating months. It is a hilarious spoof on society as well as a chilling warning.

Published September 2015

Full review and discussion questions for The Heart Goes Last

 

 

 

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5.  Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld – Romance, Chick-lit, Retelling

This is a hilarious and addictive read.  Even though it is 500 pages long, it flies by.  This novel is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice set in Cincinnati.  It is so fun and light and leaves the reader with all the warm fuzzy excitement that Pride and Prejudice did.

Published April 2016

Full review and discussion questions for Eligible

 

 

 

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6. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi –                                       Memoir, Medicine, Death

This is the only non-fiction book on this list.  It is the memoir of a  young neurosurgeon facing a terminal cancer diagnosis.  It is deeply philosophical and offers beautiful insights on life and death.

Published January 2016

Full review and discussion questions for When Breath becomes Air

 

 

 

 

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7.  The Girls by Emma Cline – Historical, Coming-of-Age, Thriller

 

A piece of historical fiction, reimagining the draw of Charles Manson’s ranch and the girls who lived there.  It is told from the perspective of adulthood and the contrast between girlhood and adulthood is shocking, amazing and informative.

Published June 2016

Full review and discussion questions for The Girls

 

 

 

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8.  My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout –                        Literary, Family, Poverty

A beautiful piece of writing by Elizabeth Strout that begins with the relationship and conversations between a mother and daughter.  The daughter is in the hospital for complications of appendicitis.  What goes unsaid between them is just as important as what is said.

Published January 2016

Full review and discussion questions for My Name is Lucy Barton

 

 

 

9.   The Underground Railroad by Colson Whithead                       Historical, Slavery, Race

A brilliant insightful novel highlighting the horrors of slavery and some of its aftermath.  It features a virtual underground railroad.

Published in August 2016

Full Review and discussion questions for Underground Railroad