Archive for the 'Reading Commentary' Category

When I’m not reading children’s books, I’m most often found curled up with a good mystery. This is certainly due to my preoccupation with Nancy Drew in my formative years :-)

I don’t think the #1 selection surprises anyone, but maybe some of the others do. I had never read Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver, so I finished it this summer while in northern Michigan. It kept me on the edge of my seat clear through the end. The concierge at The Grand Hotel mentioned that you could visit locations in the book if you were visiting the north coast of the Upper Peninsula. Maybe on the next trip….

25 Greatest Law Novels…
ABA Journal August 2013 Vol 99 #8

25. Old Filth (2004) by Jane Gardam
25. The Ox-Bow Incident (1940) by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
24. The Fountainhead (1943) by Ayn Rand
23. Anatomy of a Murder (1958) by Robert Traver
22. The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood
21. The Count of Monte Crisco (1844) by Alexander Dumas
20. The Firm by John Grisham
19. QBVII (1970) by Leon Uris
18. Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) by Zora Neale Hurston
17. The Caine Mutiny (1951) by Herman Wouk
16. A Time to Kill (1989) by John Grisham
15. A Tale of Two Cities (1859) by Charles Dickens
14. The Stranger (1942) by Albert Camus
13. Native Son (1940) by Richard Wright
12. Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street (1853) by Herman Melville
11. The Paper Chase (1971) by John Jay Osborn Jr.
10. An American Tragedy (1925) by Theodore Dreiser
9. The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987) by Tom Wolfe
8. The Scarlet Letter (1850) by Nathanial Hawthorne
7. Presumed Innocent (1987) by Scott Turow
6. Billy Budd (1924) by Herman Melville
5. Les Miserables (1862) by Victor Hugo
4. The Trial (1925) by Franz Kafka
3. Bleak House (1852) by Charles Dickens
2. Crime and Punishment (1866) by Fydor Dostoevsky
1. To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee

Summer Reading

I’m back from my hiatus and will be actively writing about all things to do with books and reading resources, especially those geared to middle grade readers.

Since I’ve last posted, I’ve taken several classes. In the spring I was enrolled at the University of Illinois’ Graduate School of Library and Information Science as a community credit student taking a course on youth and media.

This summer, I’ve been immersed in picture books! As part of ALA, I attended the preconference sponsored by ALSC celebrating 75 years of the Caldecott Award. What a wonderful day at the Art Institute of Chicago hearing from some of the most notable illustrators in the game today talk about their work and art. I’ve followed that up with an online course through Penn State University on The Art of the Picture Book (LL ED462). I highly recommend this course. It is well facilitated with excellent feedback from Dr. Vivian Yenika-Agbaw. The readings and assignments are interesting and the dialogue with other students is top-notch.

As for actual reading, I’ve turned to some adult books. Don’t miss Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic. The lyrical writing and riveting plot will hold you spellbound. Along with practically everyone else I read Dan Brown’s Inferno, which was everything I expected from a Dan Brown book – fast paced, page-turning action with a neat plot resolution at the end. While at ALA, I picked up an advance reading copy of Sara Paretsky’s newest book, due out this November. Keep an eye out for Critical Mass. I couldn’t put it down. Next up for me, and I’m sure many others, is the Cuckoo’s Calling. Who would have thought it; JK Rowling plays detective!

Enjoy your summer reading… I know I am.

Todd Hasak-Lowy Author Visit

Thanks to The Book Stall in Winnetka, I was able to host Todd Hasak-Lowy, author of 33 Minutes, at my school. He held the rapt attention of 125 hoping-for-a-snow-day fifth graders, no small feat in and of itself, with stories of his own middle school years and how those experiences became part of the 33 Minutes narrative. Mr. Hasak-Lowy’s entire presentation was as fast-paced and quick-witted as his writing. His ability to engage students in the conversation was remarkable and even that rogue questioner, whose question is meant to get a few chuckles from his peers, was acknowledged and his question legitimized.  Of great delight to the teachers and students, was the discussion of revisions. Mr. Hasak-Lowy read a portion of the first draft and the comparable section of the published text and led the students in an insightful critique of the two versions. So open another tab on your browser and send off an email to Todd Hasak-Lowy at .  Schedule a visit for your school. You and your students will not be disappointed.

February 26, 2013 at Roosevelt School, Park Ridge, IL

February 26, 2013 at Roosevelt School, Park Ridge, IL

200 years of Pride and Prejudice

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article titled “Austen Power,” reminding me that this is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. Author Alexandra Alter noted that over a dozen books relevant to this conversation will be released in the next few months. While my enthusiasm for Austen doesn’t reach the level of the devoted Janites and I’m unlikely to pick up any of the new offerings, I am inspired to return to the originals one more time. After all, there is no opening sentence so enticing as,  “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

Educator Day at The Book Stall

My friends and colleagues at The Book Stall in Winnetka, IL hosted another successful educator event yesterday. While I think I’m up to speed on middle grade reading they never fail to surprise me. Thanks to their recommendation, on my short list is The Unwanteds series by Lisa McMann. The first two books, The Unwanteds and Island of Silence are currently out. Kirkus Reviews described this middle grade dystopian fantasy series as “Hunger Games Meets Harry Potter.” That was enough of a recommendation for me. With the popularity of the Hunger Games franchise, I have a number of lower grade readers asking for it. I’m thrilled to have an age-appropriate recommendation. Book #3 of the seven book series is slated for release this fall.

I don’t pick up a lot of YA fiction, but now on my short list are two recommendations — Just One Day by Gayle Forman and Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara. When you have such knowledgeable book sellers making the recommendations, you can’t go wrong. Oh, so may books and so little time. :-)



Authors Galore

Its been a week filled with writers and discussions of writing! Thanks to my friends at The Book Stall in Winnetka, IL, Clare Vanderpool came to speak to the 4th and 5th graders at my school. Ms. Vanderpool was promoting her recently released book, Navigating Early.

Navigating Early is the quest of two boys, Early Auden and Jack Baker. The boys don’t quite fit in at their Maine boarding school and when a school holiday leaves them to fend for themselves, they set off on the Appalachian Trail to discover the great black bear. A second, parallel, quest is featured in the book. Early, being a math wiz, has created a story of pi. Not the number, per se, but of Polaris, nicknamed Pi. Vanderpool’s ability to weave the two narratives into a cohesive whole is nothing short of masterful. I was spellbound by her practice of the craft — multiple story lines and nuanced characters brought to like with beautiful descriptions and authentic dialogue. It doesn’t get any better than Navigating Early.

Several weeks ago, I reviewed Todd Hasak-Lowy’s novel 33 Minutes. The launch party was held on the weekend at The Book Stall. I wanted to meet Mr. Hasak-Lowy. There were references in the book to locations that I was sure I knew from my high school years in Farmington Hills, MI. Sure enough, Todd graduated from the same high school I attended. Comparing notes on his setting was great fun!  The reasons I liked 33 Minutes still hold and I enjoyed hearing Todd describe the writing process for the novel. Using such a narrow time frame to tell the story is not all that common, maybe even unique.

I enjoyed the week immersed in books and talk of writing. Thank goodness for the lingering warm feelings it created as we settle in for a cold week here in the Chicago area.



Kudos to The Book Stall

The Book Stall in Winnetka, Illinois hosted their annual educator’s in-service on Saturday, September 29th. The incredibly knowledgeable staff headed by Robert McDonald showcased a number of exciting new offerings. While the middle grade list included many of the titles I’ve reviewed here, some highly recommended titles you’ll want to check out are:
In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz
Almost Home by Joan Bauer
One for the Murphys by Linda Mullaly Hunt
Malcolm at Midnight by W. H. Beck
Floors, Book One and 3 Below (Book Two) by Patrick Carman
Third Grade Angels by Jerry Spinelli
The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech and
The Second Life of Abigail Walker by Francis O’Roark Dowell.

Esme Raji Codell talked about the writing of her new book, Seed by Seed: The Legend and Legacy of John “Appleseed” Chapman out just in time to celebrate his birthday on September 26th. Johnny Appleseed is certainly worthy of being called an “American Hero.”

Many thanks to The Book Stall for hosting this event and sharing their love of books!

Summer Reading

It’s officially the end of summer for me. School starts next week, the library is looking ready to go, and first week lessons are planned. I’m wondering what I’ll wear on the first day of school and hoping that I’ll make a new friend or two. (See, some things never change!)

My summer reading focused on classics — Hemingway, Faulkner and Tennessee Williams topped the list. I enjoyed rereading Gone With the Wind and pairing that with The Help by Kathryn Stockett. The last few weeks I have been drawn to thrillers and can highly recommend Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Tigers in Red Weather by Liz Klaussmann, and Broken Harbour by Tana French. I was also intrigued by Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell. This multilayered, coming-of-age, adventure story kept me riveted.

Now its back to reading children’s literature. This fall has some wonderful offerings, including the long-awaited conclusion to Lois Lowry’s The Giver titled simply Son. It will be available in early October. Don’t miss it!

88 Books That Shaped America

The Library of Congress has published a list of 88 books, all by American authors, that have shaped America. The earliest book on the list was published in 1751 and the latest in 2002. Only Benjamin Franklin was worthy of a repeat with three of his books on the list. Having read many of the books, I can see where this could lead to many discussions among friends and colleagues.

For more information on the list, including a video describing some of the selected books visit the Library of Congress website at: or download the video directly:

Have a comment about this list? Think the selectors missed a title of two? Give your input at:

Summer Reading

Summer reading is always a point of contention. Should it be assigned? What should be assigned? How much should be assigned? Is it enough to merely read the book or should a paper be required as “proof” that reading occured? The questions go on and on. I found this article by Claire Hollander to raise some interesting points. In particular, she stresses that the reading should be “intentional.” By this she means that the outcome for the reading should be clear at the outset. If the outcome is to read for reading’s sake, have at it. If the outcome is to read off a prescribed list for fall discussions, state that. If a paper or reflection is required, make sure students (and parents!) know that up front. More headaches are caused by the last minute cramming of Catcher in the Rye the evening before school starts than one can imagine. Hollander also makes mention of the value of non-fiction reading. She argues that these books expand a student’s world view as well as expand vocabulary. I couldn’t agree more and with so much non-fiction for teens (and adults) being written in such approachable and manageable formats it makes it all the more interesting. Check out Hollander’s article at:

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