Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

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Working in a school makes you hyper-aware of the passage of time. My husband’s colleagues are adults and they stay adults – so he isn’t faced with daily reminders that time truly flies. It’s different in a school. Kids change more quickly. I know a student as a sixth grader, and then may see them driving a car in what feels like minutes.

Kids proudly announce their birth dates. “I was born in 2009,” a child will say as I stand in amazement that they learned to walk during the Obama presidency. As we approach the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attack, it occurs to me that none of our current students were alive on that tragic day. They don’t arrive on earth (yet) with an implanted chip that explains the significance of cataclysmic events in our nation’s history: July 4, December 7, November 22 – and September 11.

Over the past five years, a number of books for young readers have been published – books that attempt to explain the unexplainable, but Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes is the book to give a child who wants to understand how our country changed so dramatically in one day. Pitch perfect for a middle grade audience, Towers Falling is the story of Deja, a fifth grader who lives with her family in a group home in Brooklyn. As the story opens, she is starting at a new school and fearful of kids learning where she lives. School gets much better though after Deja meets Ben, a boy whose father served in Iraq, and Sabeen, a Muslim girl, and the three become a close-knit trio.

As their warm and thoughtful teacher, Miss Garcia, introduces a project based on events of September 11, 2001, Deja (standing in for many young readers) has lots of questions. She doesn’t know what happened that day, but she quickly learns that her father becomes angry when she asks questions about it. She also doesn’t understand why Ms. Garcia keeps telling them that this is their history, that it affects all of their lives.

As Deja, with the help of Ben and Sabeen, learns more about what happened, she is able to uncover some of her own family’s past and begins to see how those events color life in America today.

Towers Falling is a good book for a teacher or parent to help facilitate a discussion about September 11.  Read aloud in a classroom, it would provide an opportunity for students to ask questions about those events – as well as identity, patriotism, and and socioeconomic issues.

As part of a summer book club at Buttonwood Books and Toys, I read Towers Falling with a group of students between the ages of 10 and 12, all of whom approached it from different starting points. For one girl with no prior knowledge, it was a gentle introduction to a complex story. For the others who had heard about “planes flying into buildings,” the book was a vehicle to deepen their understanding.  


The move is underway!  At night I count boxes (rather than sheep), and by day the books march like little soldiers to their new place in line…..

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Here’s a child who could not wait to try out the new reading area. As soon as we’re unpacked, I plan to join her!

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And there are signs of progress……

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My partner, Mary, and I frequently stop to look out the window where you never know what you’ll see.  Last week we watched a cow being readied for flight….

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and taking off….

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I hope he’s as happy in his new location as we are in ours!  Back to the boxes…

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

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Unknown-1As my friends and family know, being an Ohioan is important to me.  Although I’ve lived in Massachusetts for nearly 30 years, I grew up in Dayton and it will always be home.  It is a reflex for me to “stick up for Ohio.”  I know how much the state has changed, and looking back can be hard. But I never miss an opportunity to bring up the Wright Brothers and John Glenn and Neil Armstrong – all people, as my husband likes to remind me, who went to extraordinary measures to leave Ohio!

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Our house outside of Boston is a place for me to display Ohio swag. Our front door knocker is a buckeye. Our bulletin board is shaped like the state of Ohio. And, thanks to my sisters, I have a wide variety of Ohio t-shirts!

That being said, going home makes me sad.  I love seeing my family and eating the best chocolates in the world from Esther Price, but every time I drive through Dayton, I feel despair.  My dad, a Dayton native who worked as an electrician for thirty-five years, points out the closed factories and tells me about members of our extended family who struggle to find work.  There are bright lights, including the University of Dayton and the Dayton Art Institute, but there are too many boarded-up businesses in the small towns outside of Dayton.

I’ve read countless articles about the challenges of the white working class and the disappearance of well-paying factory jobs, but understanding it doesn’t make it easier.  I miss the vibrant mid-sized city where I grew up.

The first time I heard about J.D. Vance’s new book, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, was on NPR. I immediately drove to the nearest bookstore, bought it, and then called my dad to suggest that we read it together.  It was not an easy read for us.  Vance’s story of growing up in Middletown, Ohio, although it differs in the specifics, is not so far from our own.  I recognize the people he describes. Hillbilly Elegy helped me make sense of what I’m seeing and is the best explanation I’ve read so far of why Trump’s message resonates with large groups of voters.

Today’s New York Times includes a review of Hillbilly Elegy that includes this passage:

“And he (Vance) frames his critique generously, stipulating that it isn’t laziness that’s destroying hillbilly culture but what the psychologist Martin Seligman calls “learned helplessness” — the fatalistic belief, born of too much adversity, that nothing can be done to change your lot.  What he’s really writing about is despair.”

Here’s a link to the review:

Reading Vance’s moving book brought up lots of emotions: sadness, frustration, understanding. But above all, it made me hopeful. I am hopeful that stories like this one will contribute to the national dialogue about jobs and the changing economy that could result in policies that will revitalize small towns.

I know how lucky I am to live in the Boston area. It’s a dynamic city that has given me opportunities I could only dream about as a child growing up in Dayton – and I’m grateful. But the Boston area has lots of fans. I will continue to watch for signs of growth and opportunity 850 miles away in my hometown.

 

Moving In…..and a Visit with Dana Alison Levy

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The new school library is beyond my wildest dreams….beautiful and comfortable and welcoming!  It makes me feel like I have a new job, but in a place where all of my colleagues and our students -and the books – have come along….

For now, though, our reality is unpacking boxes. Lots of them.

The first box we opened was full of new books, and this was the book on top:

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The Birthday Crown is a picture book celebrating the Queen of England’s 90th birthday.  Apparently, for just a moment, I forgot the outcome of the American Revolution – even though I saw Hamilton!

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As overwhelming as the task is, my colleague, Mary, and I have commented several times that there are benefits to the work. We are handling every book, rediscovering things we want to share with the kids, and making some changes to how we organize our collection.

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It’s like settling into a new house.  This morning, I went online and bought a new mousepad – all of it will be fresh and new when we open in early September!

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Selecting the perfect book for the inaugural read aloud was easy:

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The Not So Quiet Library by Zachariah Ohora will set the perfect tone for our new space!  Lively and funny, Ohoro’s book is about a boy named Oskar and his bear, Theodore who visit the library every Saturday. They start the day in the donut shop with Oskar’s dad who says that “a day of quiet exploration required a proper breakfast.”  After arriving at the library, dad heads to the “nap department,” and Oskar and Theodore are soon facing a five-headed monster in the children’s room! It seems that the monster has been trying to eat books, rather than read them, but Oskar and Theodore save the day with some fast thinking.  The Not So Quiet Library should be in the “metaphorical back pocket” of every librarian who counts on a reliable story time hit!

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I took a break from unpacking this week to listen to Dana Alison Levy speak at Buttonwood Books and Toys. Levy’s middle grade family novel, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, was a favorite at Inly this past year, and their adventures continue in The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island.  Set on an island that Levy said is “made up from parts of Nantucket, Block Island, and some of Maine’s coastal islands,” the new book about two dads and their four adopted sons is as warm-hearted as the first.

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When asked about how she “gets” the language of young boys, Levy admitted to eavesdropping on carpool conversations between her son and his friends.  “What if,” she wondered as she drove the boys to hockey practice, “the four boys in the car were all mine!”

She also told us to keep our eyes open for her new realistic and funny novel, this one a spin-off from the Family Fletcher books – due in 2017.

In honor of the publication of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I’ll leave you with a Harry Potter puppet that one of our students made this year….

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Back to the boxes!

Travels Through Lobster and Blueberry Country…

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After seven days of traveling through Maine – from the LL Bean store in Freeport, to Acadia, and then to Lubec, the easternmost town in the United States, and finally to Camden – I am back with lots of book-related pictures to share.

Lots of miles. Breathtaking scenery. A literal breath of fresh air….

Beginning with our furthest point: Acadia National Park, where there is a calendar-worthy scene at every point on the road.  We took walks on the carriage trails, learned about the Wabanaki people who were the original inhabitants of the land, and enjoyed the famous popovers at the Jordan Pond House. A friend suggested that we stay in Southwest Harbor, away from the t-shirt shops and congestion of Bar Harbor. It was an excellent recommendation, but our favorite store was in Northeast Harbor, an even quieter village.

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The Naturalist’s Notebook is not a typical bookstore. It’s a combination bookstore and nature and science center and place to buy cool stuff. The owners, of course, describe it much better on their website: “a new way to inspire learning about nature through science, creativity and fun and as an exploration of the 13.8-billion-year history of the universe and everything in it, including us humans.”  It’s a wonderful space that made me want to begin my science education (or lack of it) all over again!  To learn more, the website is:

http://www.thenaturalistsnotebook.com

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Our travels took us as far as Lubec where we crossed the Franklin Delano Roosevelt International Bridge to Campobello Island to visit the “cottage” where Roosevelt spent summers as a child and young man.  Before the “international” part of our trip, I went to the Lubec Library which, judging from the busy circulation desk and computer stations, is clearly an integral part of the community.FullSizeRender-1

Next stop Rockland where we visited hello hello, one of my favorite independent bookshops. There’s an excellent coffee shop in front of the building which you walk through (after getting a yummy drink) to reach the store.  This was a lucky visit. Lacy Simons, hello hello’s owner, was working and we had a fun time talking about our favorite books.  She even persuaded me to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, The Signature of All Things, a book I avoided because of my less than enthusiastic response to Eat, Pray, Love and my concern that it would be too much like State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett, which I loved.

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This is the best part of the store – a towering display of Lacy’s favorites:

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While in Rockland, it’s a quick drive to see the statue of Andre the Seal in Rockport Harbor.

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Andre is the star of several books, including this one:UnknownOn the way back, we visited another favorite store, Left Bank Books in Belfast.  It is one of the best curated stores on my unofficial lifetime bookstore list – a place where you could sit in a comfy chairs, ask someone to choose any book from the shelf, and be confident that it will be a good one.  The store feels good – key to the bookstore hopping experience.  I never want to leave, but when I do, it’s always with a bag!

A few more pictures to share….

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We saw this giant blueberry on the side of the road and pulled right off the road!  As you can guess, the store sells blueberry jam, mugs, t-shirts, dish towels, and about a hundred other blueberry-covered things!

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This girl was selling seashells that she found on the beach. She is going into 5th grade, and as I selected shells to buy, I asked about her favorite book which is —- Charlotte’s Web!  She told me her favorite scene is the one where Templeton finds the goose egg.  It kind of made my day!

Another book I purchased in an antique store, mostly for the fun of reading aloud as we travelled. This is a book published in 1923 by the French’s Mustard Company, which includes “a word to American housewives on the Art of Cooking.”  The first line reads: “To American home cooks, may I not send my felicitations on your cookery.”  After reading that line, I was sold!

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But….I think the cover is graphically interesting. Look at the woman’s dress and how there is no delineating line between her and the background.

Finally, I saw this book in an antique store in Maine and paid $2.00 for it because of this two-page spread.  This would have been my childhood dream — and it’s come true!

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The Inly Library Annex….

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One of the many benefits of the Inly construction project is that – for now – my house is the closest thing we have to an Inly Library.  I could send an email (but I won’t!) to our students letting them know that the new books are right here…..

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We will move to the new space during the first week of August, but the recent deliveries are piled up around my computer. It’s kind of fun – good music, air condition, and Starbucks down the street. I’m playing library in my family room….we even have the Library robot and a calendar that is still on June 14!

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Of course, the best part is having a chance to look at the wonderful new books before they make the four mile trip back to school.  Here are three of the picture books that I’m most looking forward to sharing with our younger students:

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Excellent Ed by Stacy McAnulty

Ed is a lucky dog. He belongs to the Ellis family and they are all, as McAnulty announces on the first page, “excellent at something.”  The problem for Ed is figuring out what he’s good at.  The five children  all have a gift: Elaine plays soccer. Twins Emily and Elmer “could add faster than a calculator.”  Edith is a ballerina. Ernie can bake cupcakes.  But when Ed tries to figure out what makes him special, his good-hearted efforts fail.  Ultimately, Ed learns what he brings to his warm and loving family and recognizes his special place in their hearts. This is a funny book with lots of word play and funny pictures.

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In addition to being a fun read aloud, Excellent Ed has an encouraging message for kids who need a gentle reminder that everyone has something to offer.

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Chimpanzees for Tea! by Jo Empson

When the kitchen cabinet begin looking a little empty, Vincent’s mother sends him to the store to get: “a bunch of carrots, a box of rice, some tasty cheese, a big firm pear, a can of peas.” Simple enough, right?  But…in a gust of wind, the list flies away and Vincent begins to recite the list to himself.   There are so many distractions on the way to the store though – a circus performer on stilts and other friends to greet. Although Vincent tries to stay on task, he gets a bit confused and begins to recite the list with words that rhyme with the original list. For example, a box of rice becomes a box of mice!   It’s a colorful and energetic book that is sure to put a smile on a child’s face.

For a fun story time, pair Chimpanzees for Tea! with Bunny Cakes by Rosemary Wells.

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Lion Lessons by Jon Agee

When I see a new book with Jon Agee’s name on the cover, I order it sight unseen – and I’m always rewarded. He’s awesome.  If you’re new to Agee’s world, check out The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau and Milo’s Hat Trick and It’s Only Stanley – and all of the others.  This new one about a young boy who wants to earn his lion diploma is equally engaging, smart, and even a bit poignant.

More stories from the Library Annex coming….

 

 

 

 

Scattered Summer Notes….

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It’s summer, and all attempts at a regular routine have been forgotten.  My reading is scattered – in a good way. In an interview with the New York Times Book Review, Geoff Dwyer said that his favorite short story is “The Gardener” by Rudyard Kipling.  Two hours later, I was on the deck reading Kipling’s story about a mother searching for her son’s grave after WWI.

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On Monday, although the plan was to begin reading Emma Straub’s new novel, Modern Lovers, I read Terry Tempest Williams’ essay about Acadia National Park.  The essay is part of her new collection, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks.  Later this summer, we are visiting Acadia for the first time so I was an easy target for her beautiful new book. “Acadia is another breathing space,” Williams writes. “Perhaps that is what parks are – breathing spaces for a society that increasingly holds its breath.”  A memorable sentence that elegantly captures the anxiety many of us feel as we try to comprehend Orlando, Brexit, and Trump…

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Yesterday I continued my scattershot reading, but my distraction may be helpful to those of you with children who have a summer reading list.  I read the short middle grade novel, Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little by Peggy Gifford.  It was published in 2008, and I remember reading it then, but for some reason, I took Inly’s copy before it was packed in a moving box and read it again. This is literally the perfect novel for every kid who has a tendency to procrastinate.

Nine-year-old Moxy is supposed to read Stuart Little during the summer before fourth grade, but it’s the day before school starts and she hasn’t even started it.  She’s busy “cleaning” her room and making plans for a peach orchard.  Basically anything besides reading Stuart Little!  The chapters are short and funny and Moxy is great – add this one to your summer library list!

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles….

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My transportation-based reading plans trended the same way.  During a flight to and from Ohio, I read Stephanie Danler’s bestseller Sweetbitter.  It was not the book I had tucked in my travel bag. I started Sweetbitter in the Boston airport bookstore – drawn to it by the hype around Danler’s debut novel.  After reading five pages standing in the store (carrying other books in my tote bag), I walked to the cash register and didn’t stop reading until the plane landed and I was back in the land of Buckeyes!

Referred to in many reviews as a cross between Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City, Sweetbitter is a riveting and smart book. It’s the story of Tess, a young woman who arrives in New York and almost immediately starts working in an upscale restaurant.  It’s a coming-of-age novel with memorable scenes of life behind the kitchen door, lots of cocaine snorted behind bathroom doors, and a young woman who is pulled along by all of it.

I will never eat at a “fancy restaurant” again without thinking of Sweetbitter – not sure if that’s good or bad.  As much as I appreciated how Danler brings the reader hurtling along with Tess, I felt vaguely depressed while reading it. I kept wanting to go to the restaurant and get her out!  She was making bad decisions on every page.  I understand that I’m bringing my judgement to her situation – and that Tess is young and learning and we all make bad decisions.  That being said, it made me uneasy to witness her journey.

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I was also in New York for a few days, and the train ride was perfect for catching up on my stack of unread New Yorker magazines.  So many good articles – and cartoons – that stack up during the school year!

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Of course, we found time to visit McNally Jackson, our favorite bookstore in New York (traveling by an uber-mobile to complete the transport trio).

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The store’s window display pays tribute to people who tackle a “big” book over the summer.  My thoughts went immediately to a friend who just finished reading The Brothers Karamazov – an impressive feat.

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Next up: Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager.  It’s the first middle grade novel I’m reading with a group of kids at Buttonwood Books and Toys this summer. Eager’s novel takes place in New Mexico, a state I know and love.  I plan to bring a few souvenirs along so we can channel a southwestern mood. Chips and salsa will help!

Finally, I saw a picture of this new novel today:

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It looks like this one, doesn’t it?

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I’ll end this reading round-up with two pictures from the end of the school year.  As I looked at these pics today, I recalled a conversation I overheard a few days ago at Barnes and Noble. A boy, who was about 10 or 11, was consulting his summer reading list.  His mother reminded him to choose carefully because he had to write a summary of each chapter!  Ugh. And we wonder why kids don’t want to read.  Of course, work like that is often necessary (but not always) during the school year, but in the summer?  Why not give kids a list of books they might enjoy reading and encourage them to read. That’s it. No summaries. No assignments. Just read.

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Sharks and Ann Patchett’s List of 75…

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Unknown-15There were other topics I considered writing about today, but when I heard that this is Shark Week – and then read Ann Patchett’s list of the “75 Best Books of the Past 75 Years,” I forgot everything else!

Sharks are not my favorite animal to read about. I haven’t even seen Jaws. But as children’s librarians know, you can’t keep a good shark book on the shelf.  Years ago, dinosaur books were the “scary” animals of choice for the eight-and-under crowd, but for the past two years, sharks have left dinosaurs in the dust!

Here are ten recommendations for the young shark lover in your life:

PICTURE BOOKS

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Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton

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Flip & Fin: Super Sharks to the Rescue! by Timothy Gill

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Clark the Shark by Bruce Hale

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Shark Detective! by Jessica Olien

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I’m a Shark by Bob Shea

FACT BOOKS

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Fly Guy Presents: Sharks by Tedd Arnold

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Surprising Sharks by Nicola Davies

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Sharks: Biggest! Littlest! by Sandra Markle

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Discovering Sharks by Donna Potter Parham

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Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy (for ages 7-10.  A bit too vividly realistic for the five-year-old shark fan!)

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On a completely different note…..

Ann Patchett’s list is a keeper.  Here’s a link:

http://parade.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/AnnPatchett75BestBooks.pdf

Patchett and her staff at Parnassus Books in Nashville compiled the list for Parade magazine’s 75th anniversary. The books are organized by decades.   I filled out the check list…

-I am familiar with 74 of the books.  The one I had never heard of: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn

-I’ve read 29 of them.

-There are three collections of short stories that I did not count, but I’ve read stories from the books.

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Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel is on the list. I didn’t read it, but if watching the mini series counted….

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-One of the books is on my nightstand – in the queue!  (When Breath Becomes Air)

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– One of the books would have to be the only printed material on a desert island for me to open.  (Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child)

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-and, yes – of course – Charlotte’s Web is on the list!

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HAPPY READING and be careful in the water!  Sharks may be fun to read about, but….