Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What I'm Reading Now

I recently finished a captivating young adult novel that I highly recommend, Gabrielle Zevin's All These Things I've Done. It's set in future New York where the phrase "OMG" is a relic and coffee and chocolate are illegal. Combine this dystopian backdrop with an old fashioned crime drama and a forbidden romance and you have an incredibly addictive read. Gabrielle Zevin will be co-hosting our Annual Extreme Trivia Challenge in just a few weeks and, while that's an event where trivia questions are posed to players from the CBC's member publishing houses, my questions are all for Gabrielle - most notably, how soon can I get my hands on the sequel?! Meanwhile, if meeting Gabrielle Zevin that evening isn't exciting enough (which it, most assuredly, is), her co-host will be the amazing Carolyn Mackler. It just so happens that these two women have published books with the best titles ever. Carolyn Mackler is the author of The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things and Gabrielle Zevin is the author of Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac.

When I read a satisfying book and know that I'll have to wait some time for the sequel (Fall 2012, I believe), I often opt for non-fiction as a follow-up. My current choice reads like fiction but is actually a very thorough and amazing "biography" of Cancer. Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Emperor of All Maladies presents Cancer as an antagonist with a story to tell through its relationships to the wider biological and animal world that is also, inexorably, our story. Though the style, format and purpose vary greatly, I couldn't help but think of Markus Zusak's The Book Thief when I was first introduced to Cancer. The Book Thief, you may recall, was narrated by death.I am glad that death does not narrate this one!

If , like me, you are intrigued by Siddhartha Mukherjee's book and like the idea of offering your child something to read that may invite discussion, may I suggest Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt? Seriously, it's sooooooo good. This ambitious young adult novel seems like it could work for anyone roughly 10 years old and up (way up). It runs through a multitude of themes and happenings and seamlessly weaves together so many different story threads, including one about cancer. If parallel reading doesn't work for you, then you and the children in your life may just want to read Okay for Now together.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A trip down grandparent lane

I was very fortunate growing up to develop a close bond with my grandparents. I always felt special in their eyes and I always felt cherished. My grandparents were wonderful storytellers who used to regale us with their stories. I've forgotten the details of so many of the stories but I vividly remember the way my grandparents would coax stories out of one another and nudge and wink. And I remember feeling surprised at some point when I realized that they had experienced so many adventures and lived through so much before I was even born. I remember wanting the stories to go on forever. Beyond being my amazing and beloved grandparents, they were such interesting people.

I am deeply appreciative of the years I had with my grandparents and equally appreciative of the fact that my children know and love their four grandparents. Our kids love to hear stories about Jeff's and my childhood, about our brothers and about our parents. They particularly love hearing about the first time their grandfathers met their grandmothers and the courting that ensued. I hope their interest in learning about the individuals who regally wear the grandparent crowns in their lives never wanes.

One of the most magical books to cross my desk over the last few months is an exquisite and heartwarming picture book by the talented Lane Smith called Grandpa Green. It's one of those amazing picture books that excites you when your child wants you to read it aloud over and over again. The story is told through the eyes of Grandpa Green's great grandchild and each page discloses a biographical fact about Grandpa Green, depicted by sculpted topiary trees. We get to know Grandpa Green as an individual and glimpse into his full and fantastic life. On a personal note, I found the topiaries to be extremely emotional and comforting and I think it's because the first time I ever saw sculpted trees was on my first trip to Disney World where my family traveled a million years ago after a visit with my grandparents. I loved seeing Mickey, Minnie and Donald in tree-form! In any event, the story is wonderful, the illustrations are beautiful and the themes are plentiful. I feel and hope that this is one of those books destined to become a classic.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kindness, Compassion, Integrity - Shine On!

Like many parents, I spend a good portion of my parenting efforts guiding our children to be kind and compassionate to others. I want them to think before they speak and act and consider, before it's too late to take them back, the impact their words or acts may have on others. I also want them to understand that none of us is perfect and despite best efforts, we all make mistakes; even, sadly, sometimes in the way we treat others. The way people deal with their mistakes often says more about them than the mistakes they make in the first place.

Attention in my industry over the last week has been focused on what may go down in children's book publishing history as the National Book Awards Debacle of 2011. Early last week, the National Book Foundation (NBF) notified a select group of authors that they are finalists for the coveted National Book Award. By mid-week, the list of finalists was announced publicly. After the public announcement was made, the NBF people realized that they'd made a mistake. They had notified author Lauren Myracle that her book Shine was a finalist in the Young People's Literature category when they had meant to include Franny Billingsley’s book, Chime. Bear in mind that this is not a post about reading ability or reading comprehension or proofreading or even the ridiculousness of a particular mistake in the first place. After congratulating Lauren and then discovering an error, the NBF chose not to swallow their error but instead to let the author and the public know they had made an error. Necessary disclosure? I think not. They bittersweetly let Lauren know that they had made a mistake but that they had decided to keep both her book and Chime as finalists, on the merits. Had the story ended there, it might have been a little bumpy but it would have been a happy one. Not so. The error and the proposed solution were debated publicly over the next few days. By the end of the week, the NBF  had the nerve to ask Lauren Myracle to withdraw from National Book Award consideration in order to preserve the integrity of the award and the judges' decision. Oy! Integrity?! It used to be one of my favorite words! So Lauren Myracle withdrew from 2011 National Book Award consideration. She did so gracefully and brilliantly. Her book Shine centers on the wrenching aftermath of a hate crime against a gay teen,  and following her withdrawal, the NBF announced that “At her suggestion we will be pleased to make a $5,000 donation to the Matthew Shepard Foundation in her name.” The Matthew Shepard Foundation is a charity focused on respecting human dignity among young people. Bravo Lauren Myracle!

I want my children to understand all the elements of this story that were wrong and hurtful. I want them to be aware of the vital point that the NBF seemed to have forgotten - at the center of this controversy is and was a person; in this case, a woman who by all accounts is a treasure and is an indisputably cherished author of books for our young people. I want them to appreciate how one person can make a mistake that can steamroll out of control but that they had choices and opportunities and could have handled things differently. And I want them to admire the grace and humility with which a person can choose to deal with the mistakes and bad acts of another.

It probably doesn't take a genius to figure out what book needs to accompany today's post. It just so happens to be Teen Read Week so what better time to pick up a copy of Shine by Lauren Myracle. And while you're at it, pick up a copy of Chime by Franny Billingsley too!

Playlist for today's post
1. Let the sun SHINE, Hair
2. Nobody's Perfect, Hannah Montana
3. Miracles, Pet Shop Boys

Thursday, October 6, 2011

You've got the whole world in your hands; the whole wide world

A dear member of my staff is going to crack up when she reads this post and she should know that her email yesterday inspired the topic. The topic is globalization.

In selecting middle and high schools for our children, Jeff and I made a point of listening to the way the different schools expressed their plans for integrating this notion into their curriculum and the consciousness of their students. In the earlier school years, the focus is more on teaching a child to participate in a world where they are not alone and not the center. In the upper grades, students start to get a more vivid picture of the global landscape and, hopefully, a sense of their place in it and the opportunities it presents them. Our children attend the Hewitt School and Riverdale Country School in New York City and we are impressed by the efforts both schools make to get kids thinking globally and acting both locally and globally.

Earlier this week, I attended a meeting at school with one of our daughters that represented one small step on our family's part to think and participate globally. We will be hosting a French exchange student for 10 days at the end of the month. Though we're a little bit nervous (okay, completely overwhelmed) and still have some planning to do, we are very excited. It would be nice if our children could develop a lifelong connection with our guest and we're certainly hoping they all become fast friends but there's more. As hosts, our children will need to be flexible and hospitable and we're happy to give them and us this chance to practice important interpersonal skills. We're also hoping this experience helps spark an interest in the world for our children or ignite a spark that's already there. We're hoping all three of our children will want to travel, see the world and actively participate in it as they get older. On a more local level, we'll also be connecting to our own community in a different way. We'll be sharing the American way of life with our visitor and engaging in experiential storytelling. We're told that they do not celebrate Halloween in France and that the children coming to visit are very excited to experience American Halloween. You can only imagine the theme decor we're considering!

In honor of the world, take a look at Matt Phelan's Around The World. In graphic novel format, Phelan tells the stories of Thomas Stevens, Nellie Bly and Joshua Slocum and their adventures as they traveled around the world. Their journeys all took place in the late 19th century and were inspired by Jules Verne's novel Around the World in 80 Days. Nellie Bly's tour was, in fact, a race against the very novel that set her story in motion. She was determined to travel the world in less than 80 days and was delayed by a request from Jules Verne himself for a visit when she came to town. The stories are fascinating and the illustrations are full of feeling, enabling  the reader to peer into the emotions of the intrepid explorers. This book publishes next week, on October 11, to be exact, and is a great addition to a global library. And when you're in the bookstore or trolling around Amazon on October 11, be sure to pick up a copy of Jarrett Krosoczka's new masterpiece, Ollie, the delightful and hysterically funny story of a purple elephant who just wants a place to call home and a family to love. Really, is that too much to ask?!