It may go without saying but I am a bit obsessive about books.  It is not just that I enjoy reading them but I also enjoy thinking about them, talking about them, writing about them, deciding whether to keep one or let one go to a friend or the thrift store. If I do decide to keep a book after reading it, I enjoy deciding what shelf it is going to live on. I enjoy going to the library to check books out but often feel a bit sad at having to return them. I like picking out books for my kids and I love reading to my kids though they days of me reading aloud to them may be numbered. I even enjoy cataloging my books and the site I have been using to do that for a couple of years is Pinterest. I have two book boards (one for grown-up books I am reading and one for kid and teen books I am reading) though quick reads, re-reads or books read for work often don’t get pinned.  All this to say that when I was chosen to participate in the Multicultural Children’s Book Day as a blogger and book reviewer and when my book to review never arrived, I thought I could look over some recent books I’ve pinned, select a couple with multicultural characters to write about and thus still have a nice post to contribute. But, my pins demonstrate the need for this special day—finding books for kids with various cultures represented can sometimes be a bit of work. It is not that those books don’t exist, but they are just not always the ones in hand. And, more importantly, not always the ones in our kids’ hands.

Pinterest collage


Looking at the Pinterest board, the multicultural books I read in 2013 include The Path of Names by Ari Goelman (mostly Jewish characters), Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill (African American and Native American characters), The Year of Miss Agnes also by Kirkpatrick Hill (Native American characters), My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman (Jewish and Indian characters), Penina Levine is a Hard Boiled Egg by Rebecca O’Connell (Jewish and Middle Eastern characters). This is out of about 50 books and the thing is that while I read all these books, my kids didn’t. They read a couple of these but some I reviewed or read myself. Because one of my kids is in a bi-lingual program, she is exposed to a good number of Latino and other Spanish speaking characters in books at school. And, the other kid read the fantastic Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis in class this year.  I am mindful of providing them with books from a variety of cultural and historical perspectives and my obsession with books (buying, borrowing, trading, and reviewing them) means there is always a good flow of good books through the house. But, again, it would be nice to encourage them to read even more multicultural books and it would be excellent if all kids had some great and diverse books to read.

Hence Multicultural Children’s Book Day: Celebrating Diversity in Children’s Literature. The co-creators of this unique event are Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom  and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press  and they have assembled bloggers and sponsors to raise awareness of the importance of getting these kinds of books to kids. The main sponsors for this event are Wisdom Tales Press, Lee & Low Books, Chronicle Books,  and Susan Daniel Fayad: Author of My Grandfather’s Masbaha.

Here is why they are all involved…

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Mia and Valarie are on a mission to change all of that. Their mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. Another goal of this exciting event is create a compilation of books and favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.

Tomorrow, January 27th, is the big day. I will be back to link to some fabulous book reviews and websites that are involved in this event. In the meantime, because I didn’t get my book in the mail to review (and if it arrives late, I will post a review then), I have decided to share one of my favorite books with you. The ones I mention above are all wonderful and I recommend them highly. Yet the book that kept coming to mind for me is Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale by John Steptoe.

This Caldecott-medal winning story of two sisters in Africa was inspired by a folktale originally collected in the late 1800′s. It tells of Manyara and Nyasha, both beautiful but otherwise very different. Manyara was bad tempered and mean and longed to be queen. Nyasha was kind and gentle. When the king begins his search for a wife, it is Nyasha’s compassion and goodness, not her beauty, which bring her to his attention. The story is magical and enchanting and the lovely images are based on ancient ruins found in Zimbabwe. The character’s names all come from the Shona language. Though this book relates the story of a culture my family is not part of, it expresses many universal themes and so the unfamiliar setting and details are made familiar by shared archetypes and values. It is a book my children and I have treasured for year. First published in 1987, it is a book easily found in libraries and online and one that would benefit every classroom, school library and home collection.

Mary Ellen Chase said, ”There is no substitute for books in the life of a child” and who would disagree? Ideally the books are children read not only reflect the realities they know but the greater world that they are a part of. Ensuring that children have books with multicultural content can do that and create a world that is more amazing and understandable as well.




IMG665  So….

Two summer ago (yes, I am really behind on blogging this stuff) I hosted a Girls Book Club for one of my daughters and some of her friends. I selected three books for the girls (all 8 years old at the time) to read and then we met for discussion, food and a project.


The first book we read was The Penderwicks and each girl was given a small reading log/notebook to keep all summer and we decorated bookmarks. Because the theme of the book was a summer adventure, we ate outside lots of summery foods and sweets. The book has lots of Latin phrases and words and I made a little translation guide for the girls and also prepared a list of discussion questions.

Our second book was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and again we had lunch and a discussion. Our project was to create our own museum gallery centered around a fantastical or royal bed like in the book.


I cut up some old art history textbooks for the girls to use as collage material on posterboards. It was amazing to see what images they each gravitated to and, of course, to hear what they thought of the book.

My third book selection was Castle in the Attic but we were thwarted by summer colds and changing vacation plans and never had our third meeting.

It was a bit of work to put lunch, a project and a discussion together and my idea of a themed lunch for each book had to go by the wayside. But, it was worth it! I find that though my kids read a lot and read a lot in school they don’t often read to think critically but more for entertainment (which is totally fine, of course) and it was fun to see how much they really can get from books when asked to read carefully and how much they really have to say about books when asked.






blogger button  I am really excited to have been chosen as a book reviewer for this years Multicultural Children’s Book Day (1/27/14)!!!

Stay tuned for details, book lists and the book review I will be contributing.





Wow! Where have I been for almost six months? Here and there…reading, teaching, eating carbs, buying boots, writing, drinking tea…the usual.

I plan to write and post more here soon (an unofficial New Years resolution, I suppose). Stick with me!


Thrift shop book haul to get us through the last couple weeks of summer break:

For the kids

Judy Moody Declares Independence by Megan McDonald

A Year Down Under by Richard Peck

The Mysterious Four by Dan Poblocki

Kate’s Book by Mary Francis Shura

All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown by Sydney Taylor

Freddy and the French Fries: The Mystery of Silas Finklebean by David Balducci

More Help by Nancy Holyoke

Little Mermaid published by Playmore Inc

Latkes, Latkes Good to Eat by Naomi Howland

The Perfect Pony by Corinne Demas

Stormy Weather by Molly Wigand

Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew: Case of the Sneaky Snowman by Carolyn Keene

Wayside School is Falling Down by Louis Sachar

For Me

An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

The Gunslinger (Dark Tower I) by Stephen King

Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson



I would like to share with you the best spam I have ever received:

Hi!Would you like a cup of tea? The Smiths are my neighbors.This is the most wonderful day of my life, because I’m here with you now.He is taller than I by ahead.There is a chair below the window.There is a chair below the window.Feel better? Don’t let this get you down.Li Bai is one of the greatest poets that have ever lived in China.


Recently my cousin and his wife were talking about how they didn’t love many of the books they are reading to their 16 month old son (actually he is probably 17 or 18 months by now!).  I tried to remember some of the great books I read to my kids at that age.  Below are some of the ones that came to mind plus a couple recommendations from friends. The thing about reading to toddlers is that it is all about repetition (and this can last all the way through preschool with some kids). That is, they want the same couple of books, or the same book, over and over (and over and over and over) again. Hence the fact that I still have several of the books listed below at least partially memorized.

It is so worth it to take the time to find amazing books to read with your kids. There are countless excellent kids books and sometimes they will move you or thrill you or make you laugh in ways you didn’t think a kids book could. On the flip side, unless the book is utter and total crap, it is not really worth discouraging your kids from reading either. I am all for a library free for all. When they were tiny and even now, I let my kids have free reign at the library (within reason—my oldest is a very good reader so is sometimes drawn to books that are just too mature for her so I do have to be a bit careful*). Stories are stories, illustrations are mind-openers, reading is always a good thing.

Any books you loved when you were a wee one or that you enjoyed reading to your toddler that are not on the list?

Dr. Seuss—the easier ones like Hop on Pop and One Fish, Two Fish…These can be fun to read if you read them in the spirit in which Seuss intended; with wild abandon. I think I still have the ABC book memorized.

Elisa Kleven—sweet stories with fantastic and detailed illustrations. We liked them all and still read The Lion and the Little Red Bird on occasion.

Richard Scarry—these books can be hard to read but the pictures are so much fun. I loved them as a kid and my kids loved them when they were little. I once had a cat I named after Lowly Worm.

Elsa Minarik—Little Bear books.  These are so sweet and but not sappy and Sendak’s illustrations are perfect.

Todd Parr—very simple messages and illustrations; bright and entertaining for toddlers.

Peggy Rathman—-The Day the Babies Crawled Away. This was a favorite bedtime story in our house for years.  Also, Goodnight Gorilla!

Jan Peck—Way Up High in a Tall Green Tree.  Another bedtime favorite.

Olivier Dunrea—My kids liked all the Ollie and Gussie books when they were toddlers.

Laura Numeroff—If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, etc.  These are popular with little kids for a reason.  They are silly but interesting .  In our house If You Give a Pig a Pancake was the one we read again and again.

Crockett Johnson—Harold and the Purple Crayon.  Classic!!

Eric Hill—The Spot books. These are not going to be great fun for parents but kids like the puppy character and lifting flaps is always cool for toddlers.

Bill Martin Jr.—Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.  Fun to read until it’s not anymore but you will read it all the time because your kid will love it.

Ezra Jack Keats—-The Snowy Day. Another classic and this one is so lovely!

Jane Yolen—How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight.  For when your little one goes through the dinosaur phase.  Funny pictures and sweet narrative.

Bruce Degen—Jamberry. This was often requested by my kids.

Honorable Mentions: Sandra Boynton and Eric Carle. These are really classics at this point and your kids have probably already gotten them as gifts. These weren’t my personal favorites (or my children’s favorites) but they are sweet and generally enjoyable.

  • Recommendations from Friends: “Mo Wiilems stories. My kids always acted them out after I read them. “
  • “ Also have to mention “Roxaboxen” by Alice McClaren. Not toddler, really more preschool and up, but one of my all time favorites!…”I Know a Rhino” by Charles Fuge; “Bear on a Bike” by Stella Blackstone; “The Tomorrow Book” by Doris Schwerin; “May I Bring a Friend?” by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers. Another favorite for slightly older than toddlers: “Jumpy Jack & Googily.”

*I will put together a preschool and elementary school list, too.






Review books tend to arrive in my mailbox in clusters.  I get two, three or even four a week.  Some are long and some quick reads; some are kids chapter books and others dense non-fiction.  Most are novels, though.  I tried to read them all carefully and I am honest in my reviews. I am not a critic so try not to get too fancy.  These days because I am writing almost exclusively for one place, I don’t even have to think about format or length—it comes easily.  Suddenly, all the reviews are done. I have a week, maybe even two where I can read any old book I want with no pressure at all.  I love both these kinds of reading: the thoughtful kind where my head gets full of synonyms and I know I will have to explain the strengths and weaknesses of the book to an audience and the kind of reading done for pure pleasure with no agenda or deadline.

Some recent non-review books I have read:

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. Someone lent me this short, strange fantasy. I adored it.  It was creepy and sad and great fun to read.

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin. Having already read the whole series I started reading them all again because 1) I wanted to re-read each to watch the television series, 2) I was getting ready to play a special pub trivia game all about GoT, and 3) I am just that kind of nerd.  The first go through, Game of Thrones was my favorite of the series but on re-reading, this one, the third book, is.

Saga by Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples. I don’t generally get into comic books or graphic novels though there are some that I really love. A friend lent me this, knowing I don’t generally read comics, thinking I would like this one. He was right—it is great fun with an interesting story and fantastic illustrations.

The other day I finished Nos4a2 by Joe Hill. I do like a good scary story and this one fit the bill. It was long enough to keep me occupied for a few days and was high on the creep-o-meter (more creepy than scary really though because enough of what happens was in the realm of reality and not fantasy, it was scary, too).  I loved that the protagonist was a crazy mom and that another hero and all around great character was an obese comic book geek.  Because everyone knows Hill is S. King’s son he has done the right thing and totally embraced that with a few cool references to his dad’s work (as well as some Lovecraft references and others—it is a very smart book in that way).  It also plays with ideas about reality (are thoughts real, etc) and has just enough humor in it.

Now I am on to The Dog Stars by Peter Heller which is satisfying my post-apocalyptic story itch.  The language is choppy and disjointed (for good reason) and though it works, it is challenging to read.

Next time you come by I’ll share some recent reviews with you.



Spring seems to have sproinged today…or something like that.  I am busy busy with grading and all the special events that take place at the end of the kids’ school year as well. So, for now, just some links to some reviews:

Jacob’s Folly

The Good Nurse –true crime about a killer nurse.

The Accursed  by Joyce Carol Oates.   Also, my review is quoted here which is pretty cool!

Secrets From the Past—I read a romance novel….

Maya’s Notebook—the new Isabel Allende

I also recently read two books which I really loved: Magnificence by Lydia Millet and The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi.  The first is Millet’s brand of strange and natural wonder and tells the story of one woman’s loss and her recovery with the help of a crazy mansion full of taxidermy. It is not a perfect book by any means but I enjoyed it immensely! The second of these two was a harder read for me; also strange and full of natural wonder. It is the spooky story of a young girl tortured by either a spirit, the ghost of her dead twin or mental illness (or maybe all three). It nicely blends the rhythms of modern European life with that of traditional African beliefs.


I live very far from any beaches. Spring Break may conjure images of bathing suits and sunny southern days and that does seem pretty fantastic.  For us this year, Spring Break was spent on a three day backpacking trip. Four adults, four kids, one dog, a rapidly rushing river and the beauty of the Gila Wilderness, stark on first glance but revealing a lushness to those who care to look carefully.

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Backpacking is not my ideal vacation (that would be a trip to Prague or New York City, taking in museums, architecture, sampling the food and watching all the interesting people) but on this, my second backpacking trip ever, I think I began to see the appeal. The reward for shlepping my essentials on my back (and, granted our hike in was just four miles) was a landscape like no other, a full day of exploration in water and dirt, canyons and riverbanks, birdsong in the morning, a beer in the shade of a tree in the afternoon, the sound of happy kids, moss and rock, bats at dusk and the biggest sky full of stars, planets and a crescent moon at night.

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On Pinterest I started keeping track of the books I am reading (on a board oh so cleverly titled, “What I am Reading..”) and recently started noting the month I read the book in as well.  This is not that interesting except that it has shown that I am averaging about 4 books a month, not counting kids chapter books I am either reviewing or reading to/with my kids. A lot of 4 monthly books have been fantasy novels lately as I have a friend who has really gotten into the genre lately and lent me some good ones. Here are my 2013 reads so far with either a link to my official review or a one sentence review:

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett—contemporary classic I avoided for years but it turns out this is a great book: beautifully written with a unique premise and some good surprises.

Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde by Rebecca Dana–my review of this short memoir here.

When the Danube Ran Red by Zsuzsanna Ozsvath —a very short, unsettling and interesting memoir about a Jewish childhood in Hungary during the Nazi Occupation.

To The Power of Three by Laura Lippman—I have a soft spot for the crime-mysteries of Lippman and this may be my favorite so far!

The Tommyknockers by Stephen King—I also have a soft spot for King and had never read this hugey huge book about aliens and a small town in Maine: it was a fun and satisfying read.

Fuse by Julianna Baggott—My review of this book, which is Book 2 of the “Pure” trilogy, will be published soon…

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie—the first book in a fantasy trilogy: I am not done yet but will comment on it when I am.

I have some end of 2012 reviews to post as well but I am off to start my Friday with lots of coffee.