The Year in Reading…



As many of you know, I keep a list of every book I read over the course of a year. After more than twenty years of doing this, the list (without comments or ratings) is a mirror into my life – what I was thinking about, the books that won major literary prizes, and how busy I was. Depending on the year, the numbers range from 50 to over 100: lower when my son was young, then slowly rising, then going way up during my graduate school years – before unexpected titles begin to appear as I started reviewing books for School Library Journal (SLJ).  As of last night, I’ve read 65 books in 2014 – but there are two I have to read in the next week and that gets me close to 70 so I’ll squeeze in a few more to reach that goal.

Here’s the whole list – from January to December….


I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson (This 2011 novel had been on my “to read” list. Set in 1974, the story of a Welsh girl obsessed with David Cassidy. A funny and insightful book that explores the nature of celebrity and how important those obsessions can be for young people just beginning to think about romantic relationships.)

Schroder by Amity Gaige (a novel loosely based on the story of Clark Rockefeller)

Fatty Legs: A True Story by Margaret Pokiak-Fenton (Set in 1941, the story of an Inuit girl whose desire to learn to read leads her to a residential church-run school where she has a traumatic experience)

Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg (The story of a Haitian girl against the backdrop of the 2010 catastrophic earthquake)

The Winter Horses by Philip Kerr (reviewed for SLJ: “This story follows the harrowing journey of Kalinka, a Jewish orphan searching for safety, and the horses that provide her with comfort, power, and hope. Set in 1941 in war-torn Ukraine, Kerr’s novel is also a tale of survival-not only Kalinka’s, but of Przewalski’s horses, a rare breed of wild horse that dates back tens of thousands of years.”)

The Boy Detective: A New York Childhood by Roger Rosenblatt

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (at the recommendation of Emily Crowe at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley – now looking forward to the movie)

The Paperboy by Vince Vawter (a Newbery-Honor book)

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala (one of the New York Times 10 Best Books of 2013 – a memoir by a woman who lost her husband, two sons and her parents in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami)

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson (a memoir by the youngest member of “Schindler’s List.”)

Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick

The Dinner by Herman Koch (I read this on a flight to Mexico – perfect vacation reading. In fact, I left it in the hotel lobby and it was gone five minutes later)

Oaxaca Journal by Oliver Sacks (read this one in the perfect place – Oaxaca)


Quesadillas: A Novel by Juan Pablo Villalobos

Can You See Me Now? by Estela Bernai  (reviewed for SLJ)

The Road to Guadalupe: A Modern Pilgrimage to the Virgin of the Americas by Eryk Hanut (while in Mexico, I became fascinated by the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe – which led me to this book)

Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

Under the Egg by Laura Mass Fitzgerald

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt  (this one took awhile – as did the next book….)

Vango by Timothee de Fombelle (loved this young adult book which was my first starred review for School Library Journal)

Losing Mum and Pup by Christopher Buckley

Everybody Paints: The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family by Susan Goldman Rubin

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

Silver People by Margarita Engle

Watch Out Hollywood! by Maria Lennon (reviewed for SLJ)

Eminent Hipsters by Donald Fagen (impulse read – don’t know why – maybe I was listening to a Steely Dan song. Fagen seemed grumpy.)

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Love Nina by Nina Stibbe (read about this in Nick Hornby’s column in The Believer. If Hornby loves a book, I read it.)

The Storied Life of A.J. Fickry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson


My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff (the best book I read this past summer)

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Malkai

The Perfect Place by Teresa Harris (reviewed for SLJ)

River Music by Leigh Sauerwein (reviewed for SLJ)

Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty by Diane Keaton

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (in the top 5 of my 2014 reading)

Grace by Grace Coddington  (I read this when the “September issue” came out and I started wondering about Grace Coddington’s career)

Stoner by John Williams (another book that would be in my top 5)

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Wilson

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

My Near Death Adventures by Alison DeCamp (reviewed for SLJ)

The Red Pencil by Andrea Pinkney

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (the best book I read all year – maybe the best in the last 5 years)


Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell

An Age of License by Lucy Knisley

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin

Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akintiorskaya

Rain Reign by Ann Martin

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin

To be continued…lots to say about all of the books on the list, but if I commented on all of them, the post would never end!

On deck is a book I am reviewing for SLJ and Greenglass House by Kate Milford. Based on student reviews, Milford’s book has been on my list for awhile, but I had to get on the wait list in the school library!  Onward to 70…






The President Goes Book Shopping – and Holiday Joy!

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President Obama participated in Small Business Saturday by going to Politics and Prose, a highly-regarded independent bookstore in Washington, D.C.  He was accompanied by his two daughters, Malia and Sasha, and judging from the “official” list of purchases, it looks like they were buying books for themselves and a few to give away.

Here’s the list:

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business by Barbara Park (this must be for a young friend – maybe someone with a new baby in the family since in this installment of the popular series, Junie has a new baby brother.)

A Barnyard Collection: Click, Clack, Moo and More by Doreen Cronin

I Spy Sticker Book and Picture Riddles by Jean Marzollo


Nuts to You by Lynn Rae Perkins (This is on my list to read over the holidays. A few kids have reported back that it is awesome!)

Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park


Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (I hope this is the Obama family’s holiday read-aloud. Woodson’s memoir in verse is the best book published for young readers in 2014 – actually one of the best in general)

Redwall by Brian Jacques (It looks like Sasha is starting a new series)

Mossflower by Brian Jacques

Mattimeo by Brian Jacques


Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell (so happy to see this on their list – one of my favorite books of the past year. If you still need a gift for a reader between the ages of 9 and 12, consider Rundell’s beautiful novel)

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize)

The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (No surprise here – one of the most beautiful and memorable novels I’ve ever read. My husband just started it last night and I even felt a bit jealous that he was entering the special universe of that book for the first time.)

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad


Nora Webster by Colm Toibin (I’m reading this right now!)

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos

On another holiday note….

One of our teachers brought a little “joy” into the Library by making this sparkling decoration for us:


My Favorite Children’s Books of 2014….

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This is my list of the best children’s books of the past year. It’s a highly subjective list, but they are all books that put good words and pictures in children’s hands and help them to explore and understand the world.

Some of the books can fit into two categories. For example, there are a few picture books on the Preschooler list, but I put them there because the books are perfect for very young children. Also, there are no descriptions here – the post would have been too long!  More information is available in lots of places online or from your local library or bookseller.

Happy Shopping and Reading….


For Preschoolers

Flashlight by Lizi Boyd

Ninja! by Arree Chung

Sleepover With Beatrice and Bear by Monica Carnesi

Five Trucks by Brian Floca

Countablock by Christopher Franceschelli

The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara

Planes Go, Diggers Go, Trains Go by Steve Light

100 Things That Make Me Happy by Amy Schwartz

Mix It Up! by Herve Tullet


Picture Books

My Grandfather’s Coat by Jim Ayelsworth

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet

Firebird by Misty Copland

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies

Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio

The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee

Once Upon An Alphabet: Short Stories For All the Letters by Oliver Jeffers

The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan

A Perfectly Messed-Up Story by Patrick McDonnelll

The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak

Before After by Anne-Margot Ramstein and Matthias Aregui

Uni the Unicorn by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman

Malala/Iqbal: Two Stories of Bravery by Jeanette Winter


Early Chapter Books

The Chicken Squad by Doreen Cronin

Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate DiCamillo

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale

Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon

Shelter Pet Squad by Cynthia Lord


Middle Grade

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey by Nick Bertozzi

Space Case by Stuart Gibbs

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

The Perfect Place by Teresa Harris

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm

Explorer: The Hidden Doors by Kazu Kibuishi

The Only Thing Worse Than Witches by Lauren Magaziner

Rain Reign by Ann Martin

Greenglass House by Kate Milford

The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye

Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell

Friendship Over by Julie Sternberg

Sisters by Raina Telagmier

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson


Middle School

Beetle Busters by Loree Griffin Burns

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow

Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming

Skink: No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson

Little Man by Elizabeth Mann

The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman



The Most Beautiful Book….

Animalium by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom



Two Lists….



Since this is the season for lists, I have two of them for you today…

On Small Business Saturday, I went to Buttonwood Books and Toys in Cohasset where there were local authors in the store to talk about their own books – and suggest a few of their favorites for holiday gifts. I was especially excited that one of the authors was Susan Cooper, the author of The Dark is Rising series among other award-winning books for middle grade readers. Events like these are when I feel most “different” from the mainstream. I looked at Susan Cooper standing there and thought “why are we all staying so calm?” If you could have read my mind, it was going something like this: There is one of the most respected children’s writers in the world just standing there willing to talk with anyone. This is better than realizing Taylor Swift is in the same store!

Of course, I asked Susan to sign one of her books as a gift for a young relative, but I also enjoyed seeing her list of favorite children’s books. Here it is:


If you can’t read it very well (using cell phone in store), her list includes:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (note: recommended for ages 12 and up)

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Skellig by David Almond

Holes by Louis Satire

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Half Magic by Edward Eager

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannet

Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame


Last week, walking through a crowded pre-Thanksgiving grocery store, I saw a friend who teaches 5th grade. She told me that her class has a large group of reluctant readers, mostly boys, and asked for book recommendations. Here are ten ideas for her class – and parents or teachers who face the same challenge:

- The Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (an obvious choice for a good reason…every reluctant reader I know loves stories about Greg Heffley)

- The Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger (In the first entry, a sixth grade boy talks to his classmates using a finger puppet of Yoda – the Star Wars character)

- Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies by Andrea Beaty (The title explains the appeal!)

- Holes by Louis Sachar (one of the greatest children’s books in the world – I’ve yet to meet a reader who didn’t love it. See Susan’s list above)

- Ungifted by Gordan Korman (a story about a boy who could be described as a troublemaker who – through an administrative error – ends up on a list of gifted students and sent to a new school – but it works out pretty well)

- Starjumper: Journal of a Cardboard Genius by Frank Asch (an inventive boy builds the Starjumper, a cardboard spaceship, to get away from his younger brother – give this one to kids who like to tinker)

- The Genius Files by Dan Gutman (a fast-paced adventure series about twelve-year-old twins named…..Coke and Pepsi)

- Lug, Dawn of the Ice Age by David Zeltser (the story of a Stone Age boy who would rather paint pictures on cave walls than catch a “jungle llama”)

- Sidekicks by Dan Santat (this list would not be complete without graphic novels. The mix of limited text and images are perfect for reluctant readers. Graphic novels teach visual literacy and build a reader’s fluency.  Give this one to superhero fans!)

- Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales by Nathan Hale (a series of historical graphic novels. Recommend this one to kids who think history is boring – this series is guaranteed to change their minds…)

More end-of-year lists to come….




A New Series – and Readers to be Thankful for ….

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If I made a wish list of the elements that combine to make a perfect series of early chapter books for new readers, here’s what I would include:

- books written by a respected children’s book author

- a series that would appeal to both boys and girls

- a diverse cast of likable characters

- preferably the series would center around animals

- easy to read chapter books for newly independent readers with lots of dialogue and illustrations to break up the text

After reading the first entry in Cynthia Lord’s Shelter Pet Squad, I knew it was time to start a new waiting list in the school library. This is a series that will make school librarians and parents of new chapter book readers very happy.

Jelly Bean, the guinea pig at the center of Lord’s first Pet Squad book, needs a new home. Luckily for him, there is a group of kids who volunteer at the local pet shelter who want to help – especially Suzannah, a second grade girl who loves animals, but lives in an apartment that does not allow pets. She wants a pet so much that she carries her stuffed-animal mouse in her pocket and leaves her stuffed dog in the window so he can “watch” her come home from school.  Her mom comes up with a solution: a program at the local animal shelter where kids can help feed the animals and make toys and treats for them. After joining the Pet Squad, Suzannah makes lots of new friends – both human and animals.

Another feature that makes this book so perfect is that the engaging story is followed by information about guinea pigs and animal shelters, giving readers a chance to learn more.  A series to be “thankful” for!

I’m also thankful for scenes like the ones below that I get to experience every day….

photo 1

photo 3

photo 4

Happy Thanksgiving!


B.J. Novak, A Prize, and an Event…

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Until yesterday, I had only read B.J. Novak’s new children’s book, The Book With No Pictures, to myself – which is not the way this book should be experienced. I knew Novak’s smart and clever book would be fun to read with a group of kids, but I was not at all prepared for their reaction. I read it to two groups of 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade students during their Library visits in what will go down as one of the most fun story times ever – much of it happily at my expense as I read lines like “I am a monkey who taught myself to read!’  There were literally a few children in each group that laughed so hard that calling the school nurse crossed my mind!  It was fun to watch the kids listening to the book – as they began to understand what was going on. Their look of pure delight reminded me, again, of the power of words to transport us quite literally into another state.  After we read it as a group, a few of the kids wanted to look again….


I am so happy that Jacqueline Woodson’s eloquent and moving memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.


Woodson’s story of growing up as African American in Ohio, South Carolina and Brooklyn is a book I’ve left on my bedside table since I finished reading it months ago. You can pick it up, open to any page, and find something beautiful. Like this…

And somehow, one day, it’s just there

speckled black and white, the paper

inside smelling like something I could fall right into,

live there – inside those clean white pages.

I don’t know how my first composition notebook

ended up in my hands, long before I could really write

someone must have known that this

was all I needed.

Below is the flyer for the December 2 program at the James in Norwell. If you’re local, come by and take a look at some of the best children’s books of 2014….


One more thing….when you have time, watch Ursula LeGuin deliver her passionate defense of books and words in a world governed by capitalism. Her remarks were part of last night’s National Book Award ceremony.

Here’s the link:



Three Books, Two Movies, and One List…



I’ve been reading stacks of books and end-of-year lists in preparation for my December 2 program at the James in Norwell. I’ll share the whole list soon, but if you’re like the little guy in the picture, you may be looking for some good books to read over the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend!  If so, check these out….


- Before After by Anne-Margot Ramstein and Matthias Aregui – I love this wordless picture book. It’s meant for kids between the ages of 4 and maybe 8, but it would be especially fun to look at with a group of children. Each two page spread features a “before” and an “after.”  Like this:


Most of the connections between the before and after are obvious, but there are a few that kids may have to think about for a minute. Some are funny (a slingshot on one page and a broken window on the other) and some are just beautiful (a nest of eggs followed by a mother bird feeding her young hungry baby birds).


- 100 Things That Make Me Happy by Amy Schwartz – This is another book that lends itself to a fun family activity.  A book of 100 things that will be familiar to young children – grocery carts, yellow ducks, jellybeans and 97 more!  In rhyming prose, this list of books lends itself to the obvious question: what would you add?  Sweet and engaging, Schwartz’s book is guaranteed to brighten a child’s day.


- The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara – After everyone has eaten their second piece of pie, it might be time for the kids to put on their pajamas and hear a bedtime story. Kohara’s story about a library open only at night and patronized by animals, is a cozy way to end the day.

In movie news….I just read that Netflix has acquired the rights to A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler) for a possible series. While you’re waiting for that, here are two movies based on children’s books to watch out for in 2015…

- Insurgent, the second installment of the Divergent series, starring Kate Winslet and Shailene Woodley, opens on March 20

- The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling starring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray opens on October 9 – eleven months from now!

Finally, from the Fall 2014 issue of Milton Academy’s magazine, a list from Nick Clark of “Twenty Books You Should Read to a Child You Love.” Clark is a 1965 graduate of Milton Academy and the Chief Curator of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

Millions of Cats by Wanda Gág

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt

Curious George by H.  A. and Margret Rey

Swimmy by Leo Lionni

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

Charlotte’s Web by E.  B. White

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

Eloise by Kay Thompson

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel

Snow White by Nancy Ekholm Burkert

George and Martha by James Marshall

Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg

For the complete article about Nick Clark, here’s the link: