Bookstore Hopping Through Midcoast Maine….

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With a list of bookstores in hand, my husband and I took a road trip through Maine’s midcoast this past week. So many blueberries! So many yummy lobster rolls! And so many book-related adventures…

We spent a few days in Camden where we found Sherman’s Books on Main Street. The best part of this store was looking up and finding a sock monkey gliding across the store…

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It was while browsing in Sherman’s that we heard the sad news about Robin Williams. The man working that evening saw it on his computer and let us know….the feeling of sadness and shock was palpable. All of the customers hoped it was a mistake until everyone’s phones began buzzing with the news.  On a happier note, we bought a book about the best lobster rolls in New England for a friend of ours who will drive many miles for a good lobster roll.

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One of the highlights of a trip to Camden is spending time in their beautiful public library. I want to apply for a job there, but only for the summer months. As a person with a serious snow-phobia, I don’t think Maine is the right direction for me to move. This summer the Library is hosting an exhibit, Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War, as part of their Maine and the Civil War programs.

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Another day, we took our first trip to Monhegan Island, a small island about ten miles away from the mainland. It was a beautiful day and we hiked all around the island (which doesn’t take very long), and here’s what we found:

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It was interesting to be in a place with no paved roads or commercial activity. There are a few small stores, one hotel, and we saw two trucks on the island, but that’s about it. It truly felt like we had stepped back in time. Of course, the tourists taking picture with their phones kept the 21st century firmly in place, but it was fun (kind of) to imagine living in a place with no Starbucks!

The highlight of our bookstore visits was in Belfast, Maine where we discovered Left Bank Books. It is the perfect bookstore: cozy, warm, in a beautiful place, well edited, and a knowledgeable staff – well worth the visit if you have reason to be in Belfast or any town within an hours drive. We poked around for awhile and, of course, left with a bag full of books. Admittedly, I spent most of my time in the children’s section eavesdropping (for research purposes) on conversations between parents and kids. Among my favorite conversations were two boys – who looked about 10 – talking about The Giver movie and a sweet exchange between a dad and his daughter about finding a new chapter book to read together.

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I was especially happy to re-visit Hello Hello Books in Rockland. I love this store because it’s clearly owned by a person who loves books. My favorite display is a stack of Lacy’s favorite books – a few of her selections are in the pic below. I share her love for Three Junes by Julia Glass…Hello Hello is connected to a coffee shop. You can order a yummy drink and take it right into the store – the perfect combination!

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No visit to Maine would be complete without a visit to Freeport and the L.L. Bean Flagship store. I counted this stop as a bookstore visit because they sell a wide variety of outdoor guides at the store, but I bought boots – not books!

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Back at home, but lots of happy memories and new books!

Books From North of the Border….

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Unknown-4 As a graduate student at the Simmons Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, one of my most interesting classes was Canadian Literature.  You may be picturing a young orphan girl with red braids – I certainly did. My “word association” leap went straight to….Anne of Green Gables. But that was before I read books by Tim Wynne Jones, Kit Pearson, Brian Doyle, and Sarah Ellis – among many others. In fact, it was that class that introduced me to the Canadian classic, The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier, a book I now read annually with middle school students.

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My favorite discovery was a picture book published in 1971 – Mary of Mile 18, the story of a young girl who finds a wolf pup that she is not allowed to keep – unless she can find a way to show her father that the dog is worth feeding. The book takes place in a remote part of the Canadian wilderness in a house with no electricity. I can still remember learning that the author, Ann Blades, was only 20-years-old when she wrote the book as a story for the Canadian children she was teaching.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with a stack of new Canadian picture books published by Tradewind Books:

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Anna Carries Water by Olive Senior – Set in Jamaica, this book is a long way from Mary of Mile 18, but both stories are about girls who are experiencing rites of passage. In Anna’s case, she wants to carry water on her head just like her older siblings. When her family goes to collect water, her brothers and sisters carry buckets on their heads without spilling a drop, but Anna carries her empty coffee can in her hands. Ultimately, with the help of some cows, Anna learns to carry the water, but what I really like about this story is its message about water. At Inly, our younger students learn about the fundamental needs that all people share. Anna Carries Water is a book teachers could use to introduce a lesson about the importance of water to everyone’s daily life.

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Dolphin SOS by Roy Miki and Slavia Miki – Based on a true story of three dolphins trapped on the coast of Newfoundland in 2009, Dolphin SOS is told from the point of view of a young girl who is awakened by the “piercing eerie” sounds of crying dolphins.  Along with her two brothers and several others in their small town, they guide the dolphins back to open water. This is definitely a book I will read to the students this year. It has everything they like most in a story: animals, kids as heroes, and a happy ending. The illustrations by Vancouver-based artist Julie Flett are crisp and elegant – I want to cut them out and hang them on the Library walls (but I won’t)!

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Time for Flowers, Time for Snow by Glen Huser – a retelling of the myth of Persephone, but what makes this one special is that the book includes a CD of the story performed as an opera. The illustrations by Philippe Beha evoke thoughts of Marc Chagall.  Look at this picture from inside:

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Huser’s book would be an excellent gift for kids who enjoy reading Greek myths. Sometimes a student who is reading the Rick Riordan series will ask me to recommend other stories based on myths. I always give them the D’Aulaires’ book, but Time for Flowers, Time for Snow would be a good one to give them as well.

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No-Matter-What Friend by Kari-Lynn Winters – a sweet elegiac story about a boy and a dog growing older together. Winters’ book is less plot-driven and more an evocation of the special relationship many of us have had with our animal friends.

I am looking forward to sharing all of these books with our students. They reminded me to pay closer attention to the excellent books being published north of the border.

(Books were provided by Tradewind Books)

 

 

 

 

 

Books and Benches….

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I find myself turning the pages more quickly these days. My hands know what the calendar confirms: it’s almost time to go back to school. Although there are lots of wonderful things about a new school year, I do miss having time to read the books on my own list rather than the next homework assignment! Here’s what I’ve been reading over the past couple of weeks:

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The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai.  I really enjoyed this symphony of a book. I refer to it as a symphony because it’s a novel in four parts, but rather than moving forward, the reader begins in the year 2000 and goes back to 1900. It’s the story of a house, Laurelfield, that belongs to a family with “old money” and like any old house worth learning about, the house is haunted. The ghost in charge of haunting Laurelfield is Violet Devohr who in true gothic fashion, killed herself in the attic.  You know about Violet right away – before beginning the novel’s first (and longest) section which belongs to two married couples who share the coach house. Dee, a professor at a local college, and Doug, her husband who is supposedly working on a book about a poet named Edwin Parfitt, but who is actually contributing installments to a formulaic middle grade series are already facing challenges in their marriage when another couple moves in to share the house. Not surprisingly, that doesn’t help. The most interesting thing about Laurelfield is that between the 1930s and 1950s, the house served as an artists’ colony, and among its well-known guests at that time was Edwin Parfitt. So much family history to unravel!  My only challenge with Makkai’s well-constructed and complex story is that I’m not good at reading books that change their focus midway. I admire Makkai’s architecture, but when I had to leave all of the characters I got to know in the novel’s first 160 pages, I was grumpy about leaving them. Now I want to read Makkai’s first book, The Borrower, which I remember hearing good things about when it was published in 2011.

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A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd. This was on my “must read right now” list since the book was published in…..February!  The reviews have been glowing from both professional journals and from friends. I knew Lloyd’s book was something special from the first sentence: “They say all the magic is gone up out of this place,” said Mama.”  It’s that phrase – “gone up” – that was the sign of a good story coming.  The sentence would be a whole lot plainer if it read: They said all the magic is gone from this place.  “Gone up” gives the reader a voice to latch on to immediately.  Anyway….a good story does follow. About magic and the power of words and friendship. The names alone are worth the price of admission – the story takes place in Midnight Gulch, Tennessee and the protagonist’s name is Felicity Pickle. Felicity, her mother and her six-year-old sister drive around in a car they call the Pickled Jalapeño. Felicity, along with her new friend Jonah, saves her family and makes some memorable friends along the way. A Snicker of Magic reminded me of Savvy by Ingrid Law, and there’s even a fun reference to Holes!  Worth the wait….

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Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. Speaking of waiting too long…almost embarrassing to list this one, but I did finally read the popular and beloved novel and now understand its enormous appeal. Admittedly, I didn’t expect to be knocked off my heals by a teenage romance, but I was. Eleanor & Park is more powerful than I would have expected – especially since I am much older than the main characters. Eleanor, in particular, became so real to me over the course of the book that I felt kind of sick when it was over.  A heartbreaking but beautiful story.

On a completely different note….

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I was in Boston last week and this sign caught my attention and made me laugh. I tell my students regularly (more than they want to hear) that in literature, “a garden is never just a garden.” We talk about the Garden of Eden and gardens as symbols of peace and rebirth. So…I had to take a picture of this sign to show them during a class this year!

If you’re looking for a perfect bench for your garden, you might want to plan a trip to London between now and mid-September. A friend told me about this incredible summer-long exhibit on the streets of London – Books About Town. There are 50 benches celebrating London’s literary culture. Here’s a link to see all of the benches – and thanks, Debbie!

http://www.booksabouttown.org.uk

My favorite is the Mary Poppins bench!

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Two Charming Picture Books – and a Special Display!

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I stopped by school yesterday to look at the mail and see if any boxes had arrived. Late summer boxes are the best!  Each of them contains new books for the year ahead and as I take each one out, I’m usually thinking about the student who will want to read it first – or how much our younger students will enjoy hearing the story during library visits.

Among many treasures were two stand-outs:

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Ninja! by Arree Chung is the funny story of a little boy on an important mission: to capture his sister’s milk and cookies. Chung uses panels – comic book style – to follow the adventures of the Ninja who faces obstacles around his house, including his napping father, to accomplish his task. Of course, his sister is not too happy when her brother drinks the milk from her “sacred cup!”  For a ninja-themed story time, pair this book with Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta and Ed Young – the story of another stealthy ninja on a similar mission.

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The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara is going to be hard to check-out. I want to put it on display in the library and look at it every day! The story of a library open only at night, this is one of my favorites of 2014 – the perfect book to read in your pajamas. The librarian in charge of this magical place, the “little librarian,” is assisted by three owls. Together they help the library’s animal patrons find just the right book to send them into dreamland, but one night things get a bit challenging – a hole in the roof, a wolf who reads a sad story, and a very noisy “band” of squirrels.  But the little librarian solves all of the troubles, and along with her nocturnal friends, makes sure everyone has a happy ending. The Midnight Library is a cozy and happy book – the perfect little book about books.

One more picture….

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For readers who live on the South Shore….I hope you can visit Buttonwood Books and Toys over the next few days and check out the summer reading display by two Inly students. I was happy to see that they included Grace Lin’s  Dumpling Days – their summer reading book!

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And, finally, a word about the teddy bear at the top of this post. Last week we went to the Green Animals Topiary Garden in Portsmouth, Rhode Island – the oldest topiary garden in the United States. It’s awesome to stand in the garden and be surrounded by big green (and harmless) animals including a giraffe, a unicorn, an elephant, and my favorite – the teddy bear. For more information, here’s the link:

http://www.newportmansions.org/explore/green-animals-topiary-garden

 

A Virtual Summer Book Party!

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Earlier this month I was invited to join a blog tour with a group of talented authors…

The baton has been passed among many writers, but a few leaps back was Eileen Beha, the author of Tango: The Tale of an Island Dog. An animal story set on Prince Edward Island, this one has been popular with Inly’s dog-loving students. Her new book, The Secrets of Eastcliff-by-the-Sea, has the greatest cover:

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A book about a sock monkey named Throckmorton S. Monkey seals the deal. It will be added to our school library.

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The next person in the chain was Loretta Ellsworth, the author of In Search of Mockingbird, the story of a young girl who goes in search of Harper Lee, her mother’s favorite author. I have recommended this book to middle school students after we read To Kill a Mockingbird.  With all of the attention on Marja Mills’ book, The Mockingbird Next Door, about her real-life experience as Harper Lee’s neighbor, Loretta’s book might be fun to read right now.

 Here’s a link to Loretta’s website:

http://www.lorettaellsworth.com

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After Eileen and Loretta wrote, Mary Losure added her entry. I was especially excited to see Mary’s name because I read The Fairy Ring last year and put it on this summer’s school reading list. Mary’s book is the true story of two English girls who started a “fairy hoax” which fooled lots of people, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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Next, the baton was passed to Gwenyth Swain, the author of Hopes and Tears: Ellis Island Voices. Inly has two copies of her extraordinary book about the immigrant experience. When our 4th, 5th and 6th grade groups begin their study of immigration, Swain’s is the first book I give to the teachers.

The link to Gwenyth’s blog:

http://story-slinger.blogspot.com

 

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On to the questions….

What am I currently working on?

 My story is a bit different from the talented writers in this blog hop. I enjoyed writing the two biographies – I learned so much, worked with dedicated editors and was happy to send the stories of two inspiring figures out into the world. That being said, while working on both projects, I missed reading. I remember reading books about Hank Greenberg and enjoying them – but was also aware of my nightstand table filled with books I really wanted to read. I love to read and share my favorite books with others. I especially enjoy reviewing middle grade fiction for School Library Journal, writing my blog posts, and recommending books to kids and adults which, luckily, I have many opportunities to do.  It was a special pleasure when Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg won a 2012 Sydney Taylor Honor Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries. Greenberg deserves more recognition for what he achieved both on and off the field, and the award ensured that more kids would hear his story. But when that book was published – and I had a renewed sense of appreciation for the work that goes into good nonfiction for kids – I returned to reading and recommending.

 Why do I write what I write?

 Both of my books came from a personal connection with the subjects. My first biography for young readers, John F. Kennedy: His Life and Legacy, was a direct result of my 15-year career at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston. Because of my work there, I was already immersed in Kennedy’s life and the goal of my book was to share his inspiring story with young people. Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg: Baseball Pioneer, my second book, was a very different experience. While I knew a lot about President Kennedy and my goal was to share his story with young people, I knew very little (initially) about Hank Greenberg. But my son played a lot of baseball when he was young and, along with that, he read books about baseball. I began to notice the name Hank Greenberg in several of his books about famous players and soon discovered that Greenberg, a first baseman for the Detroit Tigers, had an amazing story which was not as well known as it should be. He was the first Jewish baseball star – in fact, he almost broke Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1938. After a visit to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown to learn more, I had my new subject.

How does my writing process work?

 I like to spread out: colored note cards, lots of paper, post-it notes, books, and copies of old newspaper articles. My process reflects my hyper-organized approach to most of my work.

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One of the best things about participating in this blog hop is the chance to introduce my readers to Larry Dane Brimner, the author of Birmingham Sunday and Black & White: The Confrontation Between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor.  In her review of Birmingham Sunday (for Booklist) Hazel Rochman wrote: “This moving photo-essay covers much more than just an account of the Birmingham, Alabama, Baptist Church bombing that killed four young girls in 1963. The detailed text, illustrated with black-and-white photos on every spacious double-page spread, sets the shocking assassination of the children within a general overview of both the racist segregation of the times and the struggle against it….” When Inly’s middle school students study the Civil Rights Movement, Larry’s books are in the classroom.

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 Larry’s new book, Strike!: The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights, will be published in October. I just got a copy and am looking forward to reading it, but until then, here’s an excerpt from the School Library Journal review:

 “Brimner’s comprehensive history of the United Farm Workers (UFW) begins not with Cesar Chavez but with the action of a group of Filipino farm workers who walked off the California fields in 1965. He combines the little-known story of the Filipino workers, a significant segment of migrant farm workers, with that of Chavez and the Hispanic workers, whose actions have received far more attention…He is objective about Chavez, providing both praise and criticism of his role as union and civil rights leader. One of the book’s strongest points is a discussion of how Hispanic organizers Chavez and Deloris Huerta and their Filipino counterpart Larry Itliong worked to overcome grower-exploited cultural differences between the two groups and persuade them to trust and work together. The text is supplemented with well-chosen primary source quotes, large period photos and political cartoons, and sidebars….Brimner’s inclusion of information about the Filipino workers who began the movement, quotes and balanced discussion of Chavez’s strengths and weaknesses provides a fresh perspective on the movement, making this book a first-purchase choice for middle-level researchers.

Check Larry’s blog  in the next few days where he will answer the same questions about his work.

http://larrydanebrimner.blogspot.com

A note about the picture at the top of the post….

This is Jeff Koons’ piece – Split Rocker – which is half toy pony and half toy dinosaur!  At over 37-feet-high and covered with flowers, it’s the festive centerpiece of Rockefeller Square this summer.

 

 

 

A Book-Themed Trip to New York….

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Three days in New York City and such a perfect weekend – spending time with my family, cool weather, and so many book-related activities!  As soon as I settled into my seat on the train, I entered the land of books…

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First, I finished reading The Vacationers by Emma Straub. According to yesterday’s New York Times Book Review, Straub’s novel has been on the hardcover fiction best seller list for four weeks. The story of a New York City family vacationing in Mallorca is a smart summer read. Sunny setting, but clever writing about all kinds of vacations – especially those from the truth. Almost everyone in this novel is taking a break from doing what’s expected of them. I was so invested in this story that the miles flew by and we were walking through Penn Station in what felt like minutes.

Our first destination was the New York Historical Society where one of this summer’s special exhibits is Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans. This is what we saw as we approached the museum:

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The exhibit celebrates the 75th anniversary of Madeline’s publication and it is so beautiful!  But… no pictures allowed so I don’t have any to share. There are drawings from all six of the Madeline picture books and the panels Bemelmans painted for the playroom in Aristotle Onassis’ yacht, The Christina.  One of Bemelmans’ most beautiful paintings was a cover he did of horses and riders in Central Park for the October 9, 1954 issue of The New Yorker. The original is in the exhibit, and it took my breath away. Here’s a pic of the magazine cover, but if you want to see the real one, plan a trip to New York before October 19 when the exhibit closes.

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I re-read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn a few years ago, and it was a totally different book than the one I read as a teenager. I loved it just as much, but while the first time I read it, it was the story of a girl growing up in Brooklyn, this time I was fascinated by the adults in Francie’s life. It was a far richer and more complicated story than I remembered.

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The next day, while my husband and son were taking a Big Onion walking tour, I went to the New York Public Library to see the exhibit – The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter. I had taken a quick walk through the special exhibit a few months ago, but this time I was able to look at everything more closely. The “tower” of books that have been banned or challenged is disturbing and moving. I was especially disappointed to see a quote about the dangers of Judy Blume’s novel, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. That was my handbook to growing up!  The silly comment betrays the “commenter’s” total failure to see how this classic continues to help millions of young girls navigate the early stages of adolescence. What totally bummed me out is that the small-minded person who wrote this is from Xenia, Ohio where I grew up.

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On a happier note, after seeing the exhibit, I went to the NYPL Children’s Room where this awesome piece by Todd Parr is on the wall:

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Leaving the Library, I looked down and saw this yellow brick road of sorts…

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Another thing on my New York Wish List was a visit to the Pierpont Morgan Library to see Gatsby to Garp: Modern Masterpieces from the Carter Burden Collection. Carter Burden, as I learned, was a New York City council member who had an important collection of American literature – first editions of major works, letters and galleys. Again, no pictures allowed in exhibit, but there was a guide (for in-gallery use only) and I was allowed to step into the hallway and take pictures from that. The third picture is from a copy of The Great Gatsby that Fitzgerald signed for a friend. The inscription is pretty funny….

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The print is small – hard to read. I had to be quick with my picture taking!  Fitzgerald wrote:

If it weren’t for libraries how would 100,000 women like my mother ever get to sleep?

There was no answer – only the squeaky rustle of paper as 100,000 women turned another page.

We did other fun things in New York – went to the Village Vanguard, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, and ate good food – but as we got back on the train yesterday to return home, I had visions of books dancing in my head!

 

New Books and Watermelon….

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An article on The Millions (an online book magazine) website caught my attention: “Most Anticipated – The Great Second Half 2014 Book Preview.”  So many good books coming soon, but I still have a big stack of summer reading!  No matter. As soon as I looked at this list, I began making plans for my holiday shopping. With no reviews read, the two books that most interest me are:

- Ian McEwan’s 13th novel, The Children Act, which addresses whether it’s right for parents to refuse medical treatment for their children based on religious beliefs.

- The Dog by Joseph O’Neill. My interest in O’Neill’s novel is based completely on how much I admired his 2008 book, Netherland. The Dog is about a man who takes a job working as a “family officer” for a family in Dubai.

Here’s the list:

http://www.themillions.com/2014/07/most-anticipated-the-great-second-half-2014-book-preview.html

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Don’t forget to celebrate National Watermelon Month by eating lots of watermelon and reading The Watermelon Seed, Greg Pizzoli’s awesome book about an alligator who swallows a watermelon seed!

Currently Reading: The Vacationers by Emma Straub (review to come!)