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Jillicious Reading: December 2013

12.31.2013

Favs of 2013

SO many great books released in 2013.  Here are my favorites of the year:



Picture Books


The Day the Crayons Quit
by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Hilarious collection of letters from the crayons who have had enough!  Overworked, ignored, or misunderstood, they quit!  This clever story is perfectly drawn with Jeffers’ charming artwork and lettering.  Innovative and witty, The Day the Crayons Quit is a must for every picture book shelf.   

Exclamation Mark
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Ted Lichtenheld
Exclamation Mark is different and is trying to find his place in the world.  Funny and perfectly PUN-ny, this little book has a simple but important message for readers of all ages. Particularly for those who appreciate humor, word play, and a brilliant blend of text and illustration.   

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild
written & illustrated by Peter Brown
Mr. Tiger doesn’t really like his prim, proper world and goes a little … wild.  He learns some things in the wilderness as do his prim friends while he is away.  Another riotous romp from Peter Brown, complete with his detailed, whimsical, perfectly hand-crafted illustrations. His use of line and color (ORANGE!) are pure genius. 


Paul Meets Bernadette
written & illustrated by Rosy Lamb 
Paul swims around and around in circles in his fish bowl … until Bernadette arrives. Bernadette sees things differently and shows Paul a whole new way to view the world.  The artwork, created with broad strokes reminiscent of Monet or Matisse, adds to the charm and beauty of this gentle book celebrating the impact one individual can make on the world … even one as small as a fish bowl. 

Flora and the Flamingo 
written & illustrated by Molly Idle
This wordless interactive book is a pure delight.  Plump little Flora, in a pink swimsuit and bathing cap, imitates the moves of her friend the flamingo.  Although not quite as graceful, her efforts result in pure fun.  Young readers will want to flip the pages again and again … and likely mimic the dance!  Created by a former DreamWorks animator, this duo begs to star in an animated short, whether it’s on the screen or in the reader’s mind.   


Middle Grade

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures 
by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell 
Another Flora! … and equally as endearing.  Flora Belle Buckman, a self-described cynic, steps in to help a squirrel in a tangle with a vacuum cleaner.  The squirrel (AKA Ulysses) survives and emerges a superhero with special powers and a penchant for poetry.  DiCamillo has woven another quietly brilliant tale with her exquisite word choice, endearing characters, and trademark charm.

Counting by 7s
by Holly Goldberg Sloan 
Willow Chance is a 12-year-old genius.  She has an amazing knowledge of nature and medical conditions, but knows very little about getting along with others.  When tragedy hits, Willow must learn to exist in a new reality and makes an unexpected impact on those around her.  The writing is impeccable, and Willow a true gem.  This tragic, but ultimately hopeful tale is one-in-a-million.  

P.S. Be Eleven 
by Rita Williams-Garcia 
Delphine and her sisters are back!  Returning home from time spent with her estranged mother, Delphine must reconcile what she has experienced and her newly found independence with her grandmother’s old ways, the changes happening in her family (her father is dating!), and the trials of 6th grade. Rita Williams-Garcia has created an excellent sequel to an excellent book.   I can’t wait for #3! 

Star Wars: Jedi Academy 
by Jeffrey Brown 
This little book completely surprised and delighted me!  Roan dreamed of entering the Pilot Academy, like his father and older brother before him.  He doesn’t get in, but instead is invited to the mysterious Jedi Academy.  Told through journal entries, clippings, report cards, doodles, and letters, Star Wars: Jedi Academy tells the ups and downs of Roan’s first year at the Academy.  The book is clever and entertaining, but also surprisingly perceptive as it addresses topics such as bullying, making friends, not giving up, and handling new situations. It has huge reader appeal and makes you want to pull out your old collection of Star Wars action figures (yes, I’ve got ’em.. even the Land Rover!) and maybe even start your own journal.  Read it you must, love it you will. ;



Young Adult

One Came Home  
by Amy Timberlake 
It’s 1871 in Wisconsin, and Georgie’s sister has disappeared.  The town assumes the worst, but Georgie, armed with only her sharpshooting skills and pure determination, sets out insistent on finding her.  Part adventure, part mystery and wholly original, One Came Home is a True Grit for tweens & teens (and 40-somethings!), immediately transporting readers to a different time and into the heart of a plucky unforgettable heroine.  Funny, smart, and insightful. 

The Fire Horse Girl 
by Kay Honeyman 
Jade Moon is born under the worst sign of the Zodiac for Chinese girls ensuring that she is willful and stubborn, traits not desirable in young girls.  While her grandfather worries about marrying her off, she dreams of a different future.  Her chance comes when a distant adopted cousin arrives with an opportunity to go to America.  But, admittance to this new country is not easy for the Chinese in 1923 and detainment at Angel Island is almost unbearable.  Jade Moon’s strength and will turn out to be just what she needs to survive. This well-researched novel gives readers an authentic view into Chinese immigration as well as a strong, feisty teen to root for as she navigates her new world.  

Going Vintage 
by Lindsey Leavitt 
I am a sucker for romance, quirky, loveable characters, and books that make me laugh… Lindsey Leavitt creates all three superbly!  When Mallory’s boyfriend “cheats” on her with an online girlfriend, she swears off all technology.  Armed with a to-do list her grandmother made as a teen in 1962, Mallory decides to “go vintage,” to return to a simpler time, and to try to accomplish her grandmother’s goals.  The challenge proves to be a little more than she expected (How does she run for pep club secretary when her school doesn’t even have a pep club??).  Through it all, Mallory makes many new discoveries about herself, her family, and those around her.  Reviewers have claimed Linsdsey Leavitt’s books have “humor and heart.” I wholeheartedly agree and can’t wait for the next one!   

Winger

by Andrew Smith
Ryan Dean West is the youngest in his junior class at an elite boarding school on the West Coast. He is a frequent target for bullies, but his wits, determination, and prowess on the rugby field help him rise above.  This year he is set on making Annie, his best friend and love of his life, see him as more than a friend and a younger boy.  But the year brings more than anyone anticipated.  This honest look into the mind and heart of an insecure, hormonally-charged 14-year-old boy is a true achievement. It’s wickedly funny, intelligent, surprising, and absolutely heartbreaking.  

And my two very favorites of the year …  

All the Truth that’s In Me
by Julie Berry 
Four years ago, Judith and her best friend disappeared.  Her friend’s body was found in the river; Judith returns to town two years later, mutilated and unable to speak.  Viewed as cursed and ignored by the town and her family, Judith silently pours her heart out to Lucas, the boy she has loved since childhood.  With echoes of The Scarlet Letter and Speak, All the Truth That’s in Me is an exquisite, completely captivating novel.  Readers are immediately pulled into Judith’s silent world and compelled by the mystery surrounding her disappearance.  This quiet but determined girl grabs hold of your heart as she searches for answers, for hope, and for her lost voice.  References to Joan of Arc, emphasizing sacrifices for love, and the use of the Psalms as a mode of healing are brilliant.  This rich, beautifully executed story stays with the reader long after the final page is turned.

Fangirl 
by Rainbow Rowell 
Cath and twin sister Wren have been inseparable for years.  They share a love for the fantasy series Simon Snow and the world of fanfiction surrounding the beloved stories.  But, as they prepare to go away to college, Wren seems to be pulling away from Simon and from Cath.  Wren has always been the more confident, extroverted sister and trying to navigate college without her is a big challenge for reserved, socially-awkward Cath.  But, the year is full of surprises, new friendships, trials and triumphs, and unexpected love. Is it possible for Cath to leave the boy wizard’s magical world behind and fully embrace her own reality?  This novel is simply outstanding.  The characters are real, complicated, and funny; the dialogue quick and unforgettable (I have read the conversations over and over, treasuring the humor, originality, and emotion). This is a story that wedges into your heart and never leaves. It is pure magic.  

NOTE:  I LOVED Rowell’s Eleanor & Park, also released this year; but I decided to select just one to spotlight in this list and Fangirl won out. The deciding factor? Levi ­čśë I am head-over-heels for this guy! 

These were the standouts for me from a year of many excellent reads. What were your 2013 favs?   

12.22.2013

Jillicious Gift Ideas!

Need a few ideas for your last minute shopping?  Read on!

Everything I Need to Know I learned in a Little Golden Book   
by Diane Muldrow

I LOVED the Little Golden Books.  I read and treasured so many, favorites being The Poky Little Puppy and The Saggy Baggy Elephant.  This new book celebrating this special collection was created by Diane Muldrow.  Longtime editor of the beloved Little Golden Books, Muldrow realized that these books offer excellent advice for almost every real-life situation.  She combined these lessons and original illustrations into this special little guide to life manual.   Give Everything I Need to Know I Learned in a Little Golden Book  to those who grew up reading the Little Goldens, to  lovers of children’s literature, or to anyone who needs to be reminded what is important in life.

Book Lust To Go
by Nancy Pearl

A friend gave this at a recent book exchange, and I thought it was such an excellent idea for a book!  Librarian/author Nancy Pearl has created a guide of recommended reading for travelers.  Book Lust To Go includes fiction and nonfiction books to read before traveling to a new locale.  From San Francisco to Sri Lanka, travelers will find recommendations for over 120 travel sites.  A must for the traveler (or armchair traveler!) on your list!

  
Tequila Mockingbird  
by Tim Federle

Having recently finished Federle’s first middle grade novel, I came across this fabulous little book he also published this year.  The cocktail guide contains 65 recipes that pay homage to literary favorites including Brave New Swirled, Gin Eyre, Romeo and Julep, Huckleberry Sin, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margarita.  Tequila Mockingbird is a fun gift for the readers, book club members, or cocktail enthusiasts on your holiday gift list. 

Anna Karenina: A Fashion Primer
by Jennifer Adams 

This darling board book is perfect for every little (or not-so-little!) fashionista on your list.  A dear friend gave it to me, and I am head over heels.  Author Jennifer Adams has created several other board books for the young reader inspired by classics such as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights. I think I’ve got a new collection to work on!

Poems to Learn by Heart
by Caroline Kennedy, illustrated by Jon Muth

This collection of poems has a verse for every occasion.  Some silly, some serious, some familiar, some new, but all worth reading, reciting, and remembering.  I love this illustrated collection; it reminds the reader of the beauty of verse and the power of learning something by heart. Give this to wordsmiths young and old. 

Snowflakes Fall
by Patricia Maclachlan, illustrated by Steven Kellogg

Patricia Maclachlan and Steven Kellogg collaborated to create this heartfelt tribute to the lives lost in the Sandy Hook, Connecticut tragedy.  In this special book former Sandy Hook resident Kellogg and the Newbery Medalist Maclachlan celebrate individual uniqueness, the gift of life, and the hope that is found in renewal.  Give this to one who has experienced loss this year or to anyone as a reminder to treasure each day. 

 

Battle Bunny
by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett, illustrated by Matthew Myers

Now to end on a light note … and to bring things full circle.  Hilarious authors Scieszka and Barnett along with illustrator Myers have created a truly original picture book.  It begins as a gentle, Little-Golden-Book-like story about a bunny’s surprise birthday party.  Then, Alex, who receives the book from his Gammy, takes a pencil to the sweet Birthday Bunny and turns it into Battle Bunny, a devil-may-care rabbit intent to take over the world.  It is a riot!  Give this to young readers with a sense of humor.  After reading, these young creators can go to the Birthday Bunny site to download a clean copy of Birthday Bunny and then recreate the story in their own way.   

Good luck finishing up the last minute shopping.  Best wishes for a happy, book-filled holiday!  ­čÖé

12.12.2013

Jillicious Reading: P.S. Be Eleven

P.S. Be Eleven
by Rita Williams-Garcia

Summary:  After spending the summer of 1968 with their estranged mother, Delphine and her little sisters, Vonetta and Fern, are heading back to Brooklyn. They take with them a deeper understanding of their mother (a poet/activist), experiences with the Black Panthers, and newly discovered independence. Back home, Delphine struggles to reconcile new thoughts and perspectives with her changing family and the struggles of sixth grade. And, the only help her mother is offering is a continual reminder at the end of her letters to “Be Eleven.” 

Thoughts:  I loved One Crazy Summer.  It was the perfect blend of family drama, 1960s tensions, differing

perspectives, strong female characters, and the universal struggles of growing up, all explored with humor and heart.  And now in the sequel P.S. Be Eleven, Rita Williams-Garcia completely succeeds again!  I may even like this one better than the first.  

This novel picks up right where the last ended, allowing the reader to immediately see the way the girls’ summer experiences affected them and how balancing new thoughts and independent streaks is going to be a challenge at home.  As in One Crazy Summer, the story is told from the strong, honest voice of eleven-going-on-twelve-year-old Delphine.  She faces many obstacles as she tries to control her headstrong little sisters, laments being the tallest girl in her class, worries about the Valentine Dance, tries to accept that her father is dating, and seeks to understand her uncle who has returned from Vietnam a changed, melancholy man.  The story is interspersed with letters to and from her mother, Cecile; the correspondence perfectly contrasts the perspective of a woman dedicated to a cause and that of a young girl trying to figure things out, many times simply her own feelings.

One of my favorite parts is when the girls fall in love at first sight with The Jackson Five. ­čÖé Williams-Garcia perfectly depicts the thrill of being swept away by new music and celebrity infatuation.  Reading it, I was immediately a kid again falling for Sean Cassidy, listening to Da Doo Run Run over and over (“Somebody told me that her name was JILL!!“)  ­čÖé

Through it all, Delphine begins to reconcile her experiences, learn from new ones, and figure out who she is in … her family, in her class, and in the tumultuous world.  

Read P.S. Be Eleven, if you … 

  • read One Crazy Summer
  • enjoy quality historical fiction
  • like stories about strong, feisty girls
  • struggled being the oldest sister (or the youngest … or stuck in the middle!)  
  • want to expand your views of life in the 1960s
  • have ever fallen head-over-heels for a celebrity or boy band!  ­čÖé     

Click here to visit Rita Williams-Garcia’s website to learn more about these books and her writing.  I hear she is working on another story about these plucky Gaither sisters… I’ll be the first in line!

12.11.2013

Jillicious Reading: We Were Liars

We Were Liars
by E. Lockhart

Summary: Cadence Sinclair Eastman is the oldest grandchild of the flawless Sinclair family.  Her summers are spent on a private island with her cousins … her best friends …and the boy she loves. Together they are The Liars. Then, friendships turn destructive, lies are told, secrets are buried. Cady desperately seeks to discover the painful truth behind the accident and the family’s false facade. 

Thoughts: We Were Liars is a truly remarkable novel.  It is like none I have ever read.  From the first page, the reader is swept into the “perfect” world of the Sinclairs and absorbed by the secrets this privileged family hides.  

Lockhart masterfully crafts vivid characters – Johnny, he is bounce, effort, and snark… Mirren, she is sugar, curiosity, and rain... – and tells a haunting tale that stuns at every turn.  It is tense, atmospheric, exquisite. 

I highly recommend this book to teen and adult readers looking for a captivating, unforgettable story.  And if anyone asks how it ends, LIE!

Read We Were Liars, if you … 

  • are a fan of E.Lockhart 
  • enjoy sophisticated, intelligent writing
  • like suspense, plot twists, and surprises
  • are intrigued with the lives of those who “summer” on islands ­čśë 
  • want to read the book that everyone will be talking about!

Click here to learn more about E. Lockhart and her books.  Click here to hear the author reading an excerpt from We Were Liars.    

NoteWe Were Liars will be released May 13, 2014.  Click here to pre-order a copy!

12.10.2013

Follow me!

In effort to organize my life ­čÖé , I have created a new Twitter handle to go along with the blog.

Please follow @JilliciousRdg for tweets about books, libraries, and all things literary.

Continue to follow @jillbellomy for musings about food, travels, college sports, Texas A&M, and pugs!  ­čÖé

See you in the Twitterverse!  

12.09.2013

NCTE & ALAN

In November, I had the chance to attend my first NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Annual Convention. The conference was in Boston – one of my very favorite cities … added bonus!

Four colleagues and I presented a session on igniting middle school readers and building a reading community.   

Our t-shirts advertising the session were a hit! 

We presented Friday afternoon, the first day of the conference.  We had a lovely crowd, and the presentation went very smoothly … quite a relief after planning and preparing for so many months!  After presenting, we were able to relax and just enjoy the conference and the sharing of ideas. 

Highlights of included: 

  • a fabulous dinner with Little, Brown.  I was able to sit next to the amazing Matthew Quick., author of The Silver Linings Playbook, and my favorite, Sorta Like a Rock Star.   What a treat to hear about his upcoming releases and many movie deals!  
  • an excellent session featuring some literary rock stars  … master teachers Colby Sharp and Donalyn Miller, literature guru Teri Lesesne, literacy experts Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, and hilarious author and reading promoter Jon Scieszka.  The standing-room-only session was entertaining, informative, and inspiring.

    Jon Scieszka … such a hoot!

  • a delightful Scholastic brunch with Reader’s Theater readings from fabulous authors including Rodman Philbrick, Elizabeth Eulberg, and Barbara Kerley.  The room fell in love with Natalie Lloyd, debut author of A Snicker of Magic
  • Delicious East Coast food!  One of my favorites was the lobster roll at Island Creek Oyster Bar (Best Lobster Roll 2013… definitely earned my vote!) And, a stop at Flour Bakery, breakfast at The Paramount, and a dinner in the North End are Boston musts!





Blueberry Pancakes at The Paramount

  • Visiting the amazing Boston Public Library.  I may move to this city just so I can go here on a regular basis.  It was almost a religious experience.  ­čśë  


  • Sitting with incredible Jerry Spinelli at a Random House dinner.  He is such a talented man and a truly amazing person.  It was an honor to get to talk with him.

  •  Meeting Lindsey Leavitt.  She is one of my favorite “chick lit” authors.  Her books are heartfelt and hilarious.  I really want her for my BFF.  ­čśë

 

  • Meeting SCOUT! … aka Mary Badham, the darling lady who played Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird!  

 

 

After the conference, we were able to stay for the ALAN (Assembly on Literature for Adolescents) Workshop. The event kicks off with a cocktail party for all attendees and featured authors.  

The lovely Sarah Dessen


The hilarious Jon Scieszka

The next morning you show up, and they hand you a HUGE box of books!  Opening it feels like Christmas morning!  Then you get to listen to author panels all day and get books signed by favorite authors.  Pure heaven for lovers of young adult lit!

It was a terrific weekend celebrating books, authors, and literacy in an amazing city.  I am thankful for the chance to attend, and can’t for next year!   

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Jillicious Reading: Jillicious Healthy Bites: True Stories from the Holocaust

3.17.2014

Jillicious Healthy Bites: True Stories from the Holocaust

Stories from the Jewish Holocaust during WW II continue to captivate readers.  As difficult as it is to read about the depths of human evil reached during this time, it is also incredibly inspiring to read of those who held onto hope in horrific circumstances and ultimately survived to tell their story.  It is also so vitally important to read these narratives and remember how simply and subtly these dreadfully evil initiatives began.  

Below are three 2013 releases, two nonfiction and one fiction based on a true story, that tell the hopeful, heroic stories that came from this time of persecution: 

Odette’s Secrets
by Maryann MacDonald

Odette’s Secrets tells the story of a young Jewish girl living in Paris during the Nazi occupation.  Her father joins the French army, her mother joins the Resistance, and Odette is sent to the French countryside for safety.   

Throughout the frightening time, young Odette is both terrified and confused.  She fears the soldiers, worries about her father, and runs from those who bully her for her yellow star.  She also wonders about her Polish roots, her Jewish faith, and later the Christian values of the foster family that cares for her while she seeks refuge in the country.  She gets used to silently observing, keeping secrets, and hiding in plain sight.  

I never thought of what these young people must have endured as they tried to make sense of the terrifying world around them as well as their own identity.  And what extremes their parents went to for their protection!  This moving novel also shows what the survivors faced when they triumphed over their persecutors, but then tried to return to their homes and to their former lives.

Author Maryann MacDonald was deeply moved by Odette’s story and asked her family permission to share her experience in a book for children.  She ultimately chose to tell the story as a first person novel-in-verse instead of a factual biography to allow a more intimate view into the young poet-to-be’s thoughts and feelings.  The result is a accessible, personal narrative that immediately pulls the reader into Paris in 1942 and provides another perspective from this time.
Odette’s Secrets is a selection on the 2014-2015 Texas Bluebonnet List.

 

The Boy on the Wooden Box 
by Leon Leyson

Leon Leyson was the youngest survivor on what became the world famous “Schindler’s List.” This memoir tells how Leyson’s life went from a happy childhood to a terrible nightmare at the hand of the Nazis and their occupation of his Polish homeland.  Leon’s family was forced to move to the Krakow ghetto, but through determination, luck, and ultimately the attention of the man named Oskar Schindler,  Leon, his parents and a few of his siblings’ avoided placement in the horrific concentration camps. 

Constructed from Leyson’s personal notes and speeches, The Boy on the Wooden Box tells of how he survived in Schindler’s factory with almost nothing to eat but holding onto hope and believing in Oskar Schindler, who became his lifelong hero.  Leyson tale’s is honest and reflective, but told without bitterness and hatred.  It is a powerful, moving memoir that celebrates the risks taken and the perseverance necessary to survive during this time of persecution.

 The Boy on the Wooden Box is a title on the 2014 Texas Lone Star Reading List.


The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi
by Neal Bascomb

After WWII ended, one of the highest ranking Nazi officers, Adolf Eichmann, vanished.  Believed to have eradicated over 700,000 Jews from Hungary and to have been responsible for millions of Jewish deaths, Eichmann was a prime war criminal to be brought to justice; but he had not been seen or heard of in years. Until a clue finally surfaces from a blind Argentinean man and his teenage daughter.  Then the manhunt begins. 

The Nazi Hunters tells the riveting true story of how the Eichmann case went from a desire to find the man to promising leads to dead ends to the forming of an elite team of Israeli spies to plan and execute an incredible capture.  This team – all of whom had been directly affected somehow by Eichmann’s crimes – would have to secretly enter Argentina, capture Eichmann, and smuggle him out of the country and return him safely to Israel so he could be brought to justice on Israeli soil.   

Neal Bascomb has crafted a work of narrative nonfiction that expertly provides historical facts and reads like a spy novel.  I was on the edge of my seat reading this book!  It is truly fascinating.  The author does an outstanding job of introducing the young, powerful Eichmann, later showing what he has become during his years in hiding and his views of his actions, and finally showing what an impact the time with Eichmann has on his captors.  Bascomb also effectively weaves in the story of an Auschwitz survivor, Zeev Sapir. The reader meets him early in the book when he has an encounter with Eichmann; later Sapir has a chance to testify against Eichmann.  It’s quite powerful to see one survivor get to face his tormenter and get to share his story with the world.  Photographs and documents are included throughout the book that add intrigue and authenticity to the captivating account. 

This is a must-read for anyone interested in WWII, Jewish and Holocaust history, narrative nonfiction, and/or page-turning tales of spying and intrigue.          

The Nazi Hunters is a title on the 2014 TAYSHAS Reading List

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Jillicious Reading: Caldecott!

7.03.2014

Caldecott!

May 2 was the longest day of my life.  I knew all of the candidates on the Caldecott ballot would be contacted at some point to learn if they had been elected (or not).  I kept the phone with me all day awaiting the call and praying for good news.  Friends were texting, some were also awaiting election results, others were just encouraging me as I waited.   

The call finally came that afternoon, and it was Dan Bostrom, the ALSC Marketing Manager.  He asked how my day was going and then said, “I have some news that’s going to make it even better.”  I almost jumped out of my skin. I had been elected!  I squealed and danced all through the library!  


Serving on the Caldecott Committee has been a dream of mine for many, many years … ever since I started sharing picture books with students.  I love art and words and marvel at the way the two come together so exquisitely in this format.  The privilege of serving on this committee is an honor and a responsibility I will not take lightly.  It will be hard work, but I look forward to the reading, evaluation, discussions,  debates, and challenge of working with a group to select one medal winner.  

This weekend at the ALA Annual Conference I was able to attend a lovely Random House cocktail party celebrating illustrators Chris Appelhans, Marc Brown, Brian Floca, Mary GrandPre, and Kevin Hawkes.  Hearing these talented artists talk about their work filled my heart and reaffirmed my love for illustration and the power of the picture book.  (This basically happens every time I hear an author or illustrator speak or read a picture book!)  My heart swelled knowing that I will play a small part in making picture book history. 

Thank you to all the ALSC members who voted for me and gave me this special opportunity.  I can’t wait to get started!

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Jillicious Reading: Jillicious Desserts: Recent Adult Reads

7.07.2014

Jillicious Desserts: Recent Adult Reads

It’s summer!  Time to sleep in, sit in the sun, catch up on home projects, prepare for next year, and read, read, read!  The summer is also the time I allow myself to indulge in a few adult books.  Here some recent reads:


The Pink Suit
by Nicole Mary Kelby 

The Pink Suit  is based on the story behind the iconic pink suit Jacqueline Kennedy wore that fateful day in Dallas in 1963.  This unforgettable ensemble and many others from “The Wife’s” wardrobe came from Chez Ninon, an exclusive New York  boutique which specialized in creating French-inspired designs for American royalty.  The book incorporates factual information into a fictionalized tale about all those involved in the creation of the suit – from the President who ordered the suit for the First Lady to Coco Chanel who designed it to the eclectic ladies who ran Chez Ninon to Kate, the talented seamstress who labored over every stitch and pleat to craft the perfect pieces.  
 
This is a fascinating tale of fashion, politics, New York City, and love.  It focuses mostly on the seamstress Kate, which I didn’t expect, but really enjoyed.  The novel transports the reader into 1960s NYC as experienced by an Irish immigrant.  Kate lives in an Irish neighborhood and has captured the attention of Patrick the local butcher.  But, her world is quite different than his as she selects fabrics, perfects stitches, and imagines but never attends the events for which her designs are created.  The Pink Suit is a unique, captivating novel that takes readers behind-the-scenes of a fashion boutique and of an unforgettable moment of history.      



The One and Only
by Emily Giffin 


The One and Only is the story of Shea Rigsby, a 33-year-old avid football fan who has spent her whole life in the small town of Walker, Texas supporting and then working for her beloved college football team.  The novel opens at the funeral of the wife of the football team’s beloved coach and mother of Shea’s best friend Lucy.  In light of this tragedy, Shea begins to question the choices she has made and must face her deepest desires.  

I was drawn to this book because of the subject & setting – college football in a small Texas town. It isn’t a top pick, but I did like the football and all of the Dallas references (the small town is outside of Dallas), including The Ticket (my favorite radio station), Highland Park HS (the high school in my school district), and Mi Cocina (my favorite Mexican restaurant).  ­čÖé 




Me Before You
by Jojo Moyes  

Louisa is from a working class family and has never thought much beyond her small British town.  She lives an ordinary life and enjoys her simple job in a local cafe.  But when her boss has to let go, her life is shaken up, and she is suddenly in desperate need of a job.  She finds work caring for Will Traynor, a highly successful man who lived his life on the edge until a paralyzing accident confined him to a wheelchair.  Will is bitter and depressed.  Louisa isn’t sure she can make it a day in this new situation, but she needs the money and is out of options.  Slowly things start to thaw between her and Will, and he begins to show her a world beyond their town, a world she never expected. 

I adored this book. Louisa is funny, original and endearing.  She lives in the shadow of her sister and has settled into the life and family role that she believes she is fit to play.  But gradually, she starts to wonder and to dream.  

Me Before You is an excellent novel. It breaks your heart and also inspires you to live every moment to the fullest. Read it, and be sure to have a box of tissue nearby.       

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Jillicious Reading: Jillicious Reading: Beach Reads

7.15.2014

Jillicious Reading: Beach Reads

Beaches, summer, romance …  all things I love and all elements of a good beach read.  Here are a few I enjoyed this summer while sunning at the beach ….   ­čÖé  


Nantucket Blue
by Leila Howland

Summary:  Cricket is elated when her best friend Jules asks her to spend the summer on Nantucket with her family.  Cricket adores the Claytons and is thrilled about the possibilities of the months ahead … particularly since her longtime crush Jay Logan will also be summering on the island. But an unexpected tragedy changes everyone’s plans. Cricket is still determined to spend her summer on Nantucket; but when she gets there, nothing turns out like she planned.

Thoughts: I must start by saying that I love Nantucket.  The grey shingled houses, the bursting blue hydrangea, the idyllic main street, lobster rolls … it’s like a postcard come to life.  I wish I could afford to summer there myself!  So, I was already excited about this book just because of the setting. And, author Leila Howland does an incredible job recreating this magical place, taking the reader right to the

quaint streets and sandy shores of Nantucket.  

But, I was surprised by the story.  It’s a summer romance, but has a lot more depth and plot development than I expected.  I fell in love with the interesting cast of characters including Cricket, her family, and the many people she meets on the island.  The novel explores the challenges of friendship, family relationships, loss, and self-discovery in addition to navigating first love. I really enjoyed this book and immediately treated myself to the juicy sequel, Nantucket Red!   

I recommend the book duo to anyone looking for good beach reads, hoping to be transported to a picturesque summer town, or seeking a compelling story about figuring out who you are and who you really belong with in the world.  
  





Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend
by Katie Finn


Summary: Gemma is looking forward to the summer ahead and having time to spend with her perfect boyfriend, Teddy.  But when Teddy shocks her with a sudden breakup, she is devastated. Instead of traveling across the world with him, she ends up in the Hamptons with her father. The Hamptons is an amazing destination, to be sure, but it’s also the place where Gemma must face her past and a friend she betrayed years ago. She wants to make things right; but a case of mistaken identity, an unforgettable, cute boy on the train, and the effort of keeping up a charade creates one complicated summer.


Thoughts: As soon as I heard Katie Finn is another pen name for author Morgan Matson, I was totally in.  I loved Matson’s Second Chance Summer and was eager to try another novel

Photo: Long Island CVB

by her.  I also liked that this story was set in the Hamptons; it sounded like the perfect book for my beach bag! 

After I started, though, I wasn’t sure about the mistaken identity storyline.  I don’t always like excessive hijinks.  ­čśë  But, I did like the characters and felt the story had heart and promise.  Gemma is a funny, engaging character.  Nothing goes her way, and although her case is extreme, I think we can all relate to those times when things seem to be falling apart around us.  

I am really glad I stuck with the novel.  It’s humorous, takes an interesting turn, and leaves the reader eager for the next book in the series, Revenge, Ice Cream, and Other Things Best Served Cold (which comes out next spring).    
  
The author’s Second Chance Summer is also a summer story, but it’s a heavier drama dealing with intense loss and grief as well as finding love.  Although lighter, Broken Hearts, Fences, and Others Things to Mend does explore important themes of friendship, trust, betrayal, and family relationships.  I would recommend it to someone looking for a fun summer read, someone who can relate to having made mistakes and living with regrets, or someone looking for a book with humor and heart. 

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Jillicious Reading: Jillicious Reading: All the Bright Places

8.24.2014

Jillicious Reading: All the Bright Places

All the Bright Places
by Jennifer Niven

Summary: Theodore Finch. He is a tortured soul, completely obsessed with death.  Everyday he thinks of ways he might die, but also desperately seeks something –  anything – that will keep him here. 

Violet Markey. She is struggling to make it through each day without her sister.  She is counting down the days until graduation when she can get out of her town and begin to live again, away from the memories and the pain.  

And, then Finch and Violet meet.  On the ledge of the bell tower at school. One rescues the other, and a relationship begins that changes everyone’s’ lives forever.  

ThoughtsAll the Bright Places grabs you from page 1 and never lets go.  Teens Finch and Violet are both seriously struggling.  Finch is an outsider.  Getting up, making it through the day, and finding a reason to do it again the next is a constant challenge.  Violet’s struggle is new.  It began when her sister died in a car accident in which Violet was a passenger and survived.  Everyone wants her to start moving on, getting back into life.  But she just can’t do it.  Being a sole survivor is incredibly difficult, and Violet is consumed by guilt.  When the two meet, both find a kindred spirit that neither expected, but is exactly who both need. 

This powerful novel and these afflicted characters are unforgettable.  Inspired from events from her own high school experience, Jennifer Niven tells a story that is gripping, honest, and completely heart-breaking.  It explores these teens’ struggle to truly live as well as navigating difficult family relationships and intense first love.  It inspires readers to look for the bright places in their lives and to also look for those around them who might be silently suffering.  Get your tissues (and your Post-its!) ready. This one will touch your heart forever.  

Read All the Bright Places if you … 

  • enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars, Eleanor and Park, Thirteen Reasons Why or If I Stay 
  • have lost someone close to you
  • sometimes feel lost – or like a “weary traveler” – in this world
  • are a tortured soul or commiserate with those who are
  • you remember (or dream of!) your first true love

Click here to read more about All the Bright Places, Jennifer Niven, and her critically-acclaimed books published for adults. 

Note: The movie rights of All the Bright Places have already been sold, and Elle Fanning has been cast to play Violet!  



I created a wall of some of my bright places and was honored that author Jennifer Niven added it to her blog!  ­čÖé 

1 comment:

  1. This sounds beautiful (and heartbreaking)! I will be adding this to my TBR pile. Thanks for the review!

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Jillicious Reading: Jillicious Reading: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

8.07.2014

Jillicious Reading: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before
by Jenny Han

Summary:  Lara Jean has never really dated.  But, she has loved several boys who, unknowingly, have broken her heart.  She writes to each, pouring out her soul in letters that she never mails; all notes are kept safely in a hatbox under her bed.  Until one day the secret letters are mysteriously mailed.  Suddenly, eyes that were never meant to see the letters are exactly the ones who receive them. Overnight Lara Jean’s very private love life becomes very public, and she is forced to deal with the mess. 

Thoughts:  This is a delicious novel, and I just gobbled it up.  It is a romance, but it also tackles important themes of family relationships, loss, and identity with the perfect combination of depth and humor. 

Lara Jean is the middle daughter of three who lost their mother at a young age.  The oldest, Margot, is going away to college and the family is dealing with this change.  Skilled author Jenny Han explores the complicated relationships of the sisters – their strong bond as they care for each other and their father, but also the added pressures they put on one another in the absence of their mother.  

The debacle of the mailed letters is a creative premise.  It brings different characters into Lara Jean’s life, forces her to face her feelings, and allows her to begin to realize who she really is.  Han works it all adeptly, not bringing in too many past loves, and perfectly pacing the chaos with character development and self-discovery.  The boys are believable, intriguing characters, full of personality and surprises. The youngest sister, Kitty, brings additional humor and heart to the story.  The result is a delightful novel that explores what happens when one is faced with the truth and new possibilities. 

Read To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before if you … 

  • enjoyed Jenny Han’s previous writing
  • like books by Stephanie Perkins or Lindsey Leavitt
  • have ever had a secret crush
  • have a sister 
  • have a complicated family relationship 
  • wonder what would happen if your private thoughts were made public! Gasp!

Click here to read more about the hilarious Jenny Han, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and her other novels.  

SPOILER ALERT:  Ms. Han has already announced that there will be a sequel, P.S. I Still Love You. (Thank goodness!!)   I can hardly wait, and, judging from the Good Reads page, I am not the only one.  Many other fans are feeling equally tortured having to wait until 2015 for the story to continue!  But don’t visit the page until you’ve finished the first novel.  ­čÖé 

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Jillicious Reading: Jillicious Reading: The Winner’s Curse

8.06.2014

Jillicious Reading: The Winner’s Curse

The Winner’s Curse
by Marie Rutkoski

Summary: Kestrel is the daughter of the general, part of the aristocracy.  She is used to winning and to getting what she wants.  On a whim, she purchases a slave, Arin, in an auction.  It is not long before he starts to change the way Kestrel thinks, the way she sees the world, the way she feels about everything.  But Arin is not what he seems.   

Thoughts: The Winner’s Curse is a completely enthralling novel. It pulled me in from the very beginning because of its originality…. a world of indulgent aristocrats, a conquered people-turned-slaves, and a society that values military strategy and prowess in combat over the arts.  

Kestrel is passionate about music, but it is not seen as a worthy pursuit of the upper class.  Her father insists that she join the military or get married, so she looks for ways to exert control in her life.  This is quickly lost when her world is turned upside down.  The novel is lush and intoxicating, pulling the reader into a world of high society, political intrigue, secrets, forbidden love, and betrayal.  Kestrel and Arin are complex, well-developed characters, both full of surprises.  I look forward to their continued story in the next two books of the trilogy.                

Read The Winner’s Curse if you …

  • like books that pull you into a completely different, fully imagined new world
  • liked the Incarceron series by Catherine Fisher, the Shadow and Bone series by Leigh Bardugo or For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
  • look for atmospheric novels with a unique feel
  • enjoy stories with unexpected plot twists and turns
  • love stories of star-crossed love!  ­čÖé

Click here to read more about The Winner’s Trilogy and author Marie Rutkoski. 

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Jillicious Reading: Jillicious Reading: The Paper Cowboy

11.16.2014

Jillicious Reading: The Paper Cowboy

The Paper Cowboy 
by Kristin Levine

Summary: Tommy is a good looking kid who is liked and followed by the kids at his school.  But what they don’t know is that he is hiding many secrets.  At home, his mother is prone to severe mood swings and Tommy has to help a great deal with his little sisters. When his older sister is severely burned in an accident, things go from bad to worse.  As Mary Lou, his only ally in the house, heals in the hospital,Tommy must take over Mary Lou’s early morning paper route and try to hold things together at home as his mother becomes more and more violent. Tommy lashes out, becoming a cruel bully at school, stealing from a neighborhood store, and even framing the store owner. 

Tommy dreams of being a cowboy, like the great Gary Cooper in the movie High Noon.  But instead, he is acting like one of the bad guys.  Is it too late for Tommy to make things right?   

Thoughts:  The Paper Cowboy is a powerful, authentic story of a young boy’s struggle to deal with a troubled home life and to figure out who he is in the process.  Levine adeptly pulls the reader into the fragile setting where everything depends on Tommy’s mother’s mood and his overwhelmed father has no idea how to handle the situation.  Levine develops a complex character in Tommy – he bravely withstands his mother’s abuse, tenderly protects his little sisters, and worries about the healing of his older sister; then the next day, he harshly treats kids at school, steals, and lies.  But, his inner struggle with his behaviors and the way he grows with each chapter provides hope and has the reader cheering for Tommy to do the right things. 

The historical backdrop of McCarthyism adds depth and interest to the novel.  Levine’s excellent connections between the boys’ bullying on the schoolyard to the adult targeting of alleged Communists allow for much thought and discussion. The theme of bullying is contrasted perfectly with the caring friendships that develop in the community once Tommy takes the time to truly get to know the people in his school and in his neighborhood.  

The Paper Cowboy is a thoughtful novel about acceptance, compassion, and overcoming life’s struggles. Inspired by the author’s father’s childhood, the book ends with interesting notes and photographs.  

Read The Paper Cowboy if you …  

  • enjoyed Kristin Levine’s previous novels
  • like engaging historical fiction that is well-researched and immediately transports you to a different place in time
  • have ever been a bully or the victim of a bully
  • are inspired by stories of characters overcoming difficult circumstances
  • enjoy books where the characters greatly develop and grow 
  • ever wanted to be a cowboy, a hero, or just one of the good guys 
Visit Kristin Levine’s website for more information about The Paper Cowboy and Ms. Levine’s writing.  

NOTE:  Last year several of our 7th grade classes read Ms. Levine’s The Lions of Little Rock as a class novel.  At the completion of the novel study, we Skyped with the author.  What a great experience!   She is a fun, inspiring lady.  

2 comments:

  1. The Paper Cowboy is a well written story about a family growing up in the 1950's in a small Midwestern town. I loved the perspective in the story of bullying through the bully's eyes. While there are a lot of characters that are easy to despise, there are a lot that are extremely lovable as well and Levine did a fantastic job showing how complex people can be. This was a book that I enjoyed as a mom and so did my 10 year old son!

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  2. A thoughtful story about understanding and compassion, distinguished by complex characters and a supportive, tight-knit community.

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Jillicious Reading: Jillicious Reading: Zebra Forest

7.08.2013

Jillicious Reading: Zebra Forest

Zebra Forest
by Adina Rishe Gewirtz

Summary: Annie and her brother Rew know very little about their parents, just the few things Gran has told them.  Since Gran is a master of lies, the little they know might not even be true.  Gran is getting worse, spending more and more days up in her room, frequently leaving the siblings to fend for themselves. Then ,a stranger shows up at their door.  The stranger brings answers, but these answers make Annie and Rew question everything.  

ThoughtsZebra Forest is a powerful little novel.  Annie B, the spunky sixth-grader at the center of the story, stole my heart immediately.  She has been forced to grow up beyond her years and has done her best to care for Rew, her mentally ill grandmother, and herself.  She longs to know about her past, her dead father, and the mother who left her when she was three.  The story takes place during the Iran Hostage Crisis which sets the perfect backdrop as Annie and Rew become trapped in their own family crisis.   

Zebra Forest explores heavy themes such as family secrets, lies, betrayal, complicated relationships, crime, and abandonment.  But, all is done adeptly and beautifully through realistic, well-developed characters and a suspenseful plot that grab and hold the reader to the hopeful end.  The classic Treasure Island, the siblings’ beloved book, is used effectively as the children seek escape from their circumstances, question the world, and find the truth.  

Read Zebra Forest if you … 

  • are looking for a gripping read 
  • enjoy a short novel that packs a powerful punch
  • appreciate books about children dealing with tough circumstances such So B. It by Sarah Weeks and Homesick by Kate Klise
  • love heroines with pluck
  • like reading debut novels by exciting new authors 

  Visit Adina Rishe Gewirtz’s webpage and expect more from this debut YA author!   
 

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