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Category Archives: Cover Love

A case for reading picture books

ACaseForReadingPictureBooks

This post was originally published on the Times Union Books Blog on March 24, 2018

Every reader has their preferences, yes, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with sticking with them. Children know what they like, teens, and adults alike. But I want to make the case for adults (even after their children have grown, like the excuse that the grandchildren are coming over to buy chocolate milk when you’re the one that wants the taste) to read picture books.

PictureBooks

Why? You can usually take the pulse on what’s important socially. Which are getting awards and which are in store fronts? I guarantee they’re part of a national dialogue.

Why? Because they’re just so damn good. Visually, creatively, organizationally. Why scroll Pinterest when you can borrow a picture book? Need to present in a few weeks at work? Look at how a children’s book author can write a standard 32-page book with precision over and over and over again. It’s a science. And so are great presentations (if you’ve never seen this TED talk, it’s worth a look).

Why? They make great gifts for any age. We’re all a bit exhausted purchasing copies of Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go in bulk for graduation gifts only because there librarians are waiting to recommend a few alternatives. Yet, the concept remains the same- picture books are elemental. Their dual simplicity and complexity astound us.

Of course I’m sharing this because I’m going to recommend a few that hit all the right buttons. So whether you’re 2 or 72, stop by your local independent bookstore to page through them, buy them to gift, or purchase to remind yourself of something from your own childhood worth remembering.


Du Iz Tak? By Carson Ellis

Focused on two damselflies with a language of its own, it’s an adventure of the natural world where readers can create their own annunciations to entertain young readers.

 

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James

Who doesn’t feel like they’re ready for the spotlight after a trip to the barber? It brings you right back or leaves you pulling at your own hair figuring that you’re overdue for one yourself.

 

Giant Squid by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Eric Rohmann

The ocean’s depths are always fascinating but when you spotlight an equally mysterious creature and share little-known facts with vivid illustrations, anyone would wish to dive deep.

 

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

She’s certainly kept all of America captivated through her tenure on the Supreme Court. This just brings it to the littlest of people and demonstrates that healthy discourse isn’t something to fear.

 

Love by Matt de la Pena and illustrated by Loren Long

This needs no introduction and if you didn’t read it after the last time I recommended it, consider yourself warned that you’d be missing out on a spiritual experience.

 

My Pet Wants a Pet by Elise Broach and illustrated by Eric Barclay

C’mon! Every pet needs a pet and our main character is just trying to be sure that each creature has some other creature to care for because how awesome it is to feel needed and loved.

 

Penguin Problems by Jory John and illustrated by Lane Smith

Nobody likes cranky people and that goes double for penguins. This hilarious romp might point out that you need to work on your growth mindset.

 

She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

A brief paragraph with a powerful image of each woman who persisted along with a quote showing their perseverance from Nellie Bly to Virginia Apgar is a reminder to anyone to persist.

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Posted by on March 25, 2018 in Childrens, Cover Love, Fiction

 

Whatcha been reading?

WhatchaBeenReading

March is a month of uncertainty– between weather in upstate New York (a fourth Nor’easter possible next week?!) to party schedules with numerous birthdays (including my own two sons’) and things to plan and schedule. Yet no matter what, I manage to squeeze in some reading. This is certainly not a “six sensational” list nor a glowing review of a five-star book I recently read, instead a snapshot of what I’ve been reading just in case you were about to ask.

 

  • Some true crime… The Girl on the Velvet Swing: Sex, Murder, and Madness at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century by Simon Baatz
    • Who doesn’t love true crime, honestly? Give me documentaries, podcasts, and books about real life crime dramas and I’m hooked!
  • Some middle grade… Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
    • Read this award-winner so that I can meet up with some librarians and eat some pizza and discuss some books #mykindofparty
  • Some re-tellings… The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice writing under her pen name A.N. Roquelaure
    • Ask me to tell you this story in person
  • Some nonfiction… Noah Webster: Man of Many Words by Catherine Reef
    • Who doesn’t love someone who loves words? And to know that many people disliked him made it even more fascinating
  • Some graphic novels… Speak illustrated by Emily Carroll based on Laurie Halse Anderson’s 2001 classic and another The Breadwinner: A Graphic Novel based on Deborah Ellis’ series of the same name adapted from the animated film available on Netflix that I literally watched a week before this book was shipping to our library through Junior Library Guild
    • I get that visual content appeals sometimes to a different audience, but I’d say both graphic adaptations captured the mood of the original books in a way that makes me adore them both.
  • Some feel-good humor and hijinks that never gets old… Lumberjanes: The Moon is Up by Mariko Tamaki
    • Three words: hecka heart eyes
  • Some more “love and madness”… Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lita Judge
    • I’ve already tweeted my adoration for the mashup of beautiful black and white images and the captivating story Judge shares about our favorite haunted woman who created a horror classic
  • Some women’s empowerment for Women’s History Month… What Would She Do?: 25 True Stories of Trailblazing Rebel Women by Kay Woodward
    • With a vivid cover and a unique voice, it stands above others being published in recent years focusing on women who made an impression

While these are just a handful, it’s a taste of the wide-ranging reading that I do daily because I follow my interests and passions, want to be sure I have books in my back pocket to recommend to my students, and heck, there’s just awesome books being published every day by awesome authors. If you want to follow every book I read, you can find me on Goodreads.

 

 

I Maya want more from Samira Ahmed

LoveHateFilters

Coming off of reading American Panda at the end of 2017, I stayed up past my bedtime to finish the last chapters of Love, Hate, and Other Filters which I consider its sister book or really: if you like this, you’ll love this. They feature female main characters struggling with the traditional beliefs of their parents’ non-native backgrounds and the fast-moving changes that they believe raising their child in America is causing. You can see my homage to American Panda here, but now I’m going to gush about Love, Hate, and Other Filters. Bonus points that I discovered through some Twitter conversation that Samira Ahmed and Gloria Chao are friends and neighbors!

LoveHateOtherFiltersOf course again, there are wonderfully realized secondary characters to talk about including the two boys in Maya’s life: the “good on paper” older Indian college student, Kareem, and the white all-American classmate that she’s been pining away for, Phil. There’s Maya’s best friend, Violet, Maya’s dentist parents, and Hina, the coolest aunt ever who has deigned to swim against the current and be an Indian American woman who has forged a career in graphic design but has not married and has never had children. But, I digress and focus on the most memorable character, the main character Maya who is in her senior year and feeling the pressure from family to go to one college and study a certain thing rather than attend another college in another state and pursue her passion of film-making. Understandably, her parents moved to the United States for more opportunities for her, but they still have traditional values and want to keep Maya safe. So whether it’s her post-graduation plans or her love life, Maya is confused and needing to work through her doubts but empower her needs and wants. Her complexity of feelings and emotions are what drive readers to follow Maya on her journey.

That journey, especially as it relates to her parental problems is by far one of the most realistic portrayals featured in the memorable quote:

“The best way to get out of this conversation is to keep my mouth shut. I totally know this, yet apparently I prefer to bang my head against the wall over and over because I think arguing can change my mother’s mind. Note to self: It can’t. It never has.”

Yeah, I remember those teenage thoughts. I know my own kids who are not yet teenagers likely think this. Every teenager thinks this and yet, the arguing still happens because everyone involved in stubborn.

And while there are any number of scenes from the book that are memorable for their romance, their realism, their beauty, I think the scene that portrays a dark reality of hatred toward Muslims is the most memorable scene. I will not go into details because readers must experience it for themselves (actually several different times throughout the story), but Ahmed builds a secondary story from intermittent italicized pages that collide with Maya’s story in a powerfully contemporary way.

Ultimately, I dislike insta-romances and while Ahmed has a saccharine romance unfolding, it was not so unbelievable. Rather, it provided a juxtaposition to the harsher elements of tradition and Islamaphobia that Maya experiences. There’s commentary on fashion, school, friendship– literally everything that exists in a teenage world. It has a calming effect but serves as a lesson and discussion for any book club wanting to dive in.

And it is so worthy of being a book club book. It hits shelves on January 16th and when American Panda arrives on shelves on February 6th, book them close together, like an awesome book pairing of peanut butter and jelly, chocolate and more chocolate, or milk and cookies (or in Maya’s case- chocolate cake).

 

Covers to keep you warm or make you cold

CoverstoKeepyouWarmorMakeyouCold

Books covers to warm you up… 

AmericanPanda

Who doesn’t love hot chocolate with heaps of whipped cream?

American Panda by Gloria Chao

Patina

Running will certainly keep you warm.

Patina by Jason Reynolds

SunnySideUp

So will basking in the sun while sitting on a pool floatie like our title character, Sunny!

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm

Invisible

But a flame can only do so much, I’m sure you’d rather than a heater than a match. Invisible by Pete Hautman

90DaysofDifferent

And there’s only one thing that will get anyone thinking of summer and that’s ice cream. 90 Days of Different by Eric Walters

Book covers to keep you cold… 

AndWeStay

Even in tights, wearing a skirt in winter is it’s own kind of chilly. And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

TheSnowChild

A little girl with snow in her her bones and beautiful (but still cold) lashes lined with frost running around the Alaskan wilderness.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Peak

I make sure I’m bundled up on my way to the car, but Peak Marcello needs more to summit Mount Everest, that’s for sure.

Peak by Roland Smith

Winterdance

And speaking of extreme sports, what about the Iditarod that Gary Paulsen ran and wrote about several times?

Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod by Gary Paulsen

IfYouComeSoftly

It looks beautiful, only if you’re not standing out in it.

If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

 

Best of 2017: Six sensational YA + MG

I’m going to feature two “six sensational” lists: one for YA and MG and one for adult, so stay tuned for the adult list coming in a few days. But let’s focus in on the best published in 2017, not just what I read, but specifically what was published. And it was hard. So hard. Please don’t ask me to rank them one to six, simply it is a list of the six most sensational.

The irony is that I either specifically posted about the book I picked or had it in mind when I was posting about another topic. So beside a recap of why it belongs on this list, I’m linking to the previous post too.

LongWayDown1. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Here is the entire post where I featured Reynolds’ book, but he’s been making the rounds on social media and in pop culture by being featured as the sexiest author and professing the importance of poetry in turning kids on to literature. We need to listen to this voice in young adult and middle grade literature. Not only is he successful for both audiences, he inspires both youth and teachers and librarians.

GoodbyeDays2. Goodbye Days by Jeffrey Zentner

You’ll see more about Jeffrey Zentner in a post in April, since he’ll be visiting our high school library and it was after reading Goodbye Days that solidified the need for a visit. Clearly The Serpent King took everyone by storm, but to follow it up with another rock-solid, thoughtful, and contemporary story made him someone to pay attention too. Here was the original post on Goodbye Days. It makes us think about the different people we are in different situations and also the consequences of one bad decision.

whatgirlsaremadeof3. What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold

I know ’em when I see ’em and I will always read Arnold’s books. They are haunting, imaginative, and unique. Not for every reader, but when they’re the right ones, it’s like magic. The post focused on the tragedy of the main character which was painful but evocative, which is obviously why it also made the National Book Award finals. The book is deep and painful like Demetrios’ Bad Romance and worth taking note.

Pashmina4. Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

While I didn’t post directly about Chanani’s graphic novel for middle grade readers, I had it in mind for the post Cover love. Specifically after reading this article on the cover development of the graphic novel. As a reader, I’m always curious about the design process for the superb covers and what went wrong when they turn out bad (and I’ll not talk about the publishers who slap the movie posters on the covers of books-turned-to-movies because UGH, I can’t even go there).

Snow&Rose5. Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin

It is no secret that I’m a fan of a fairy tale retelling as evidenced by my obsession with the Beau Rivage series Sarah Cross pens. And this one was a sleeper, an ARC I received at an event that I got lost in. As with the best ones, I featured the book in this post, and think its value is in the cyclical storytelling that focused on family and friendship in a magical forest. Martin is a captivating writer that does not hide darker elements with the fluffier side of fantasy.

WordsonBathroomWalls6. Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton

Score another one for young adult novels that focus on mental health topics but the humor and engaging characters are what caught me off guard and the reason for the post on Walton’s book. Adam has schizophrenia and is dealing with everyone’s fear of him while trying to find a balance and a relationship. The character development was fully-realized from the main character through secondary characters and provided a balance of perspectives and included a very recent tragedy to demonstrate the fear society sometimes has for those with mental illness.

 

Insta-reviews part II

This post originally appeared on the Times Union books blog

As the end of the month ended with a bang for Halloween and a particularly spooky prompt for the Book Riot #riotgrams challenge, I’ll share a few more recommendations via the challenge along with their photogenic counterparts as the final post to my initial one on October 15th.

2017-10-31 06.34.26Odd & True by Cat Winters

I’ll start with yesterday’s Halloween post that I had waited all month to photograph and share. It is no secret from some of my reviews on my personal blog that I am a dedicated Cat Winters fan. Her writing is atmospheric, thoughtful, and beautiful always touching on topics like feminism, race, and death. In her newest book, though shallowly thought to be a magical story about monsters is really a story of relationships set in 1909.

This post’s inspiration was get spooky.

 

2017-10-30 13.41.27

 

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

And talk about books that go way deeper than the surface story! Lee’s book explores themes of class, race, and sexuality in the 1700s with teenage characters living in the shadow of their parents’ expectations. It’s the hijinks and humor that plays to Monty’s bisexuality and Percy’s epilepsy and skin color as they are robbed by highwaymen and Monty’s little sister secretly (oh my!) learns science rather than truly caring about “being a lady” and attending finishing school.  It’s a haul at more than 500 pages, but it’s so easily read that it flew by.

This post’s inspiration was best side character.

2017-10-17 14.17.18-1Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

The next two books explore the female experience and being Latina. In Gabi, her father’s meth addiction and her mother’s decision to have a baby in Gabi’s senior year of high school are nothing compared to her struggles to navigate impending adulthood. Her biting humor told in epistolary form (that I’m sometimes wary of) works perfectly to tell her story. Her voice is engaging and the few illustrations added for effect are reminiscent of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

This post’s inspiration was weirdest book cover.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez2017-10-29 07.24.54

Speaking of realistic, remember when I said the next two books were exploring being Latina and the female experience? I just finished this one last night and adored it. It is Gabi with an edge of mystery. Gabi’s experiences are forthright while Julia must uncover the secrets in her own family including her parents’ travel across the border illegally and who her dead twenty-something year old sister really was. Her depression nearly takes her life, but in the recuperation she learns to look at her family with new eyes and appreciate her complexities.

This post’s inspiration was a recent acquisition.

2017-10-15 08.53.41Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Then there’s the complexity of poetry. And the seamless magic that Kaur weaves in this collection. I have not yet picked up her recent publication The Sun and Her Flowers, but I will in short order. And there’s a reason it is a popular title among teens since Kaur dives into abuse and violence but also love in a roller coaster of emotions with my favorite lines at the end of the book: “i want to apologize to all the women / i have called pretty / before i’ve called them intelligent or brave / i am sorry i made it sound as though / something as simple as what you’re born with / is the most you have to be proud of when your / spirit has crushed mountains / from now on i will say things like / you are resilient or you are extraordinary / not because i don’t think you’re pretty / but because you are so much more than that”

This post’s inspiration was poetry.

I wholeheartedly recommend these titles whether you’re nineteen or forty-nine because they speak to relationships that encourage reflection on who we are. And while we’re months away from the barrage of “best of” the year lists and resolutions for our future selves, all the titles provide a mirror or a doorway to think about ourselves.

 
 

Insta-reviews

I’ve written before about completing Riotgrams Instagram challenges– a photo each day for a month around the prompt set forth that usually aligns in part with holidays, seasons, and suggestions from Book Riot‘s followers. I thought I’d share some book recommendations based on the prompts and my pictures so far this month. Keep in mind it’s only October 15th, which means there’s still a half of a month to go!

2017-10-14 08.43.42Tales of the Peculiar by Ransom Riggs is an addition to the Miss Peregrine’s series. This book is a collection of short stories written under the guise of a historian for peculiars and tells the tall tales that only another peculiar can tell. Some are light-hearted but some are downright depressing. But it brings out the best in Riggs’ creativity and is a perfectly natural (see what I did there?) addition to the family of books.

This post’s inspiration was “books in nature”.

 

 

 


2017-10-09 11.40.35The Round House by Louise Erdrich is an adult novel written in 2012 that is a multi-layered and emotionally-draining portrayal of a family torn apart on the North Dakota reservation of the Ojibwe tribe. This is the kind of book you dive into with every fiber of your being and continue to think about after you’re finished. It’s likely a book I will re-read when I don’t often do that.

This post’s inspiration was “Native and indigenous reads.” 

 

 


2017-10-10 19.19.47-1Into the Bright Unknown by Rae Carson is the final book in her Gold Seer trilogy that I finished about fifteen minutes ago. I bought it on it’s book birthday because I had to have it and finished it within a few days, though if I could ignore adulthood, I could have been done the following day. Carson demonstrates the facets of immigration and race relations in the 1850s during the Gold Rush though it began years before that in the south after Leah’s parents were murdered and she needed to run, hiding herself in plain sight as a boy and meeting up with a band of interesting people all pushing their way west. If I can provide more encouragement to read the series, know that I had at least one night of dreams set in the wild West myself that demonstrates Carson’s command of setting.

This post’s inspiration was “books & candy”.


2017-10-04 08.01.19Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence is a must-read for librarians (duh) and avid book lovers. Her uniquely humorous style provides glimpses into her reading habits and her life. Her and I are kindred spirits because we share an all-time book favorite The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. Her approach had me laughing and smirking making for awkward public interactions. But readers certainly can find ways to incorporate this style– a love letter to your books– into some epic internal conversations or as part of your next book group meeting. Love, Alicia.

This post’s inspiration was “current read.”


2017-10-03 16.03.30-1And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard has one of my favorite covers. So while it’s not winter and I wasn’t going to dress in all-black, you get the point. This young adult novel features poetry and inspiration from Emily Dickinson in one of the ways I appreciate contemporary YA authors– bringing back the old by incorporating it into the new. The main character has experienced something tragic and is now at a boarding school and channeling Emily Dickinson to heal. The mystery unfolds over the course of the book and readers get to go back in time and revisit some of Emily Dickinson’s best poetry while Hubbard flexes her own poetry muscles and has Emily writing her own which is just as beautiful.

This post’s inspiration was “three word titles.”


2017-10-11 15.34.27Lab Girl by Hope Jahren is an adult biography that I have recommended widely since reading. While I will never know what it’s like to be a scientist, I felt like I understood the life of one, with the added benefits of chronicling Jahren’s personal life alongside her academic one. Without a doubt, it is eloquently written and organized in a studious manner, with three sections being named for plant life weaving these plants into the story of her own life and her lab partner. It’s as serious as it is cerebral with commentary on mental health, family, friendship, and science itself.

This post’s inspiration was “underrated read”.