Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt: A Review

For the 2020 Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt #3, a book with a great first line, I chose to read Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt. I ran across this book sitting on my kitchen counter where my fourth grader had left it. He was reading it for school. Like any good mom, I picked it up and took a look at it to see what sort of material the school expected my children to read. I read the prologue, and I was hooked.

Here’s the first line:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.

The metaphor is carried along for a few more sentences and the book comes back to this image again later in the story. As I read this line, I could feel the hitch in my breath and the anticipation that comes from being at that top position of a Ferris wheel. This is the sort of sentence that drops you immediately into place within the fictional story world.

This is primarily the story of Winnie Foster, a ten-year-old girl living at the edge of a wood. She’s bored with her extremely orderly life, strictly enforced by over-protective parents. It is also the story of the Tuck family, who after drinking from a magic spring, are unwittingly blessed – cursed? – with eternal life.

The Tucks have been living as discreetly as possible, and have managed to keep their secret for 87 years. Until Winnie reaches her breaking point and runs away from home. She wanders into the wood and stumbles on the Tucks’ secret. The Tucks take Winnie to their home with the goal of getting her to agree not to tell anyone their secret.

Winnie doesn’t know whether the Tucks are telling the truth, or if they are crazy. She wants to go home, but is at the same time, intrigued by the lifestyle of this other family which is so different from her own. The situation grows even more complicated when it turns out Winnie was followed to the Tucks’ home by a curious stranger who seems to know more than he should.

I enjoyed this book very much. It is written for children, so therefore short. It didn’t take me very long at all to finish it. It is funny and surprising and even a little bit sad. I’m not entirely sure it lived up to the breathless anticipation initiated by that opening line, but it is still a good read. My son enjoyed it, and was anxious for me to finish it so we could talk about it. If for nothing else, that would have made it worthwhile to read this book.

The Reptile Room, by Lemony Snicket: A Review

For the 2019 Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt #3, a book written by a musician, I chose to read The Reptile Room, by Lemony Snicket. I chose this book because it was the only one I found on my shelves that fit the category. I started the Series of Unfortunate Events last year, reading the books aloud with my eldest son, and he has been happy to continue it with me.

Book two finds the unhappy Baudelaire orphans in a new home with a new guardian, their Uncle Monty (who isn’t truly their uncle). Uncle Monty is a collector of reptiles, and is delighted to introduce his new charges to his passion. For a while, things seem to be going well for the Baudelaires, especially after the disastrous events of book one. They even begin to think they could be happy here.

However, it isn’t long before their nemesis, Count Olaf arrives on the scene. But he has disguised himself as Uncle Monty’s newly hired assistant, and no one but the children recognize his true identity. And so it falls once more to the children to save themselves.

I enjoy Lemony Snicket as the narrator of these books. He uses sarcasm, dark humor and a sense of the ridiculous to tell his stories. He often breaks into the story with a side note about his own woes, or to define a word or phrase. While this particular episode has not been my favorite so far, I have continued with the series, and I’m still having fun. If you enjoy a bit of dark humor, this series could be for you.

The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley: A Review

The 2019 Popsugar Reading Challenge, prompt #2, is a book that makes me feel nostalgic. I pondered my choice for this one for a little bit, but soon settled on The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley. As a young girl I read many of Farley’s books, including this one. I remember loving it very much. This time, I got to read it aloud with my nine-year old son, which only added to the nostalgia factor.

In this story, a boy, Alec Ramsey, is on his way home to New York from India. I still can hardly believe the idea of a boy his age traveling along like this, but it was a different time. Along the way, a horse, black as midnight, is brought on board, and Alec is fascinated.

Before the ship can reach its destination, there is a massive storm and the ship goes down. In the chaos of evacuation, Alec remembers the horse which has been abandoned, still tied into his stall. Alec manages to cut the horse loose, but in the process is swept overboard. He latches on to the ropes still attached to the horse, and together they make it to a deserted island.

Much of the book details the time spent on the island, Alec’s efforts to survive and to save the horse – which he dubs the Black – as well. Eventually the two are rescued and the second half of the story tells of Alec and the Black’s adventures in New York.

Set in the early 1940s, it might feel dated to some, but Farley captures the excitement of the time very well, drawing no doubt from personal experience to create an intensely believable atmosphere. Also, having recently read the story of Seabiscuit, I enjoyed this aspect of the story even more.

I loved this book all over again. And loved even more my son’s response to it. It was a magical time we shared together, and definitely made me feel nostalgic!

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, by Paul Fleischman – A Review

I purchased this book a while back because I ran across a good deal on the ebook version. It is on the Newbery Honor list, so I picked it up. I decided it fits the ATY 2019 Reading Challenge prompt #38, a book not written in traditional novel format. It isn’t even traditional poem format.

I didn’t realize just how unique the format of this book is when I purchased it. This is a collection of poems about a variety of insects – grasshoppers, honeybees, mayflies, and so on. Each poem is written in two columns, intended to be read aloud by two people. One individual reads the column on the left, one reads the column on the right. Some lines are read separately, some simultaneously.

I was so intrigued by the idea of two voices, I decided I had to hear it. I purchased an audio version of this book and listened to it in a single session. It’s a very short book, so this was not difficult to do. My favorite poem is “Whirligig Beetles”. So much fun!

I also wanted to try this for myself, so I invited my son to read this aloud with me. My son is nine years old, and is quite a competent reader. However, the poems in this collection do include words not commonly used by nine year olds. My son struggled a little bit with some of the words, making it a little cumbersome to read aloud. He found it a little annoying, he said, with the voices talking at the same time. To be fair, it does sound somewhat chaotic, but I think that’s what I liked about it.

I look forward to reading it with my other two sons one day. They seem to have more of a chaotic free-spirit about them than my analytical eldest.

While it isn’t impossible to enjoy a visual read through of this book, it is far more interesting to read out loud, or at least to listen to. This book is a very unique and enjoyable experience.

Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech: A Review

For Popsugar’s 2019 Reading Challenge, prompt #29 – a book with “love” in the title – I chose to read Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech. I wanted to use books from my overflowing bookshelves, but sadly, have no books whose titles contain the word “love.” I found this book by Sharon Creech when I went searching for books that qualified.

I was intrigued by the description, so I borrowed a copy from my local library. Goodreads describes the book this way:

Jack hates poetry. Only girls write it and every time he tries to, his brain feels empty. But his teacher, Ms. Stretchberry, won’t stop giving her class poetry assignments – and Jack can’t avoid them. But then something amazing happens. The more he writes, the more he learns he does have something to say.

This book is labeled a “novel,” but is written in the format of a poem, or series of poems. It is the story of Jack, a middle-grader, who learns a thing or two about poetry. It’s a story about a boy and his dog. It’s about a boy finding his voice.

This book moves fast. I read it in a single sitting. I think I would like to read it again sometime, a little slower, perhaps.

I enjoyed it so much, I immediately handed it off to my 9 year old son. I did finally get him to read it. My son learned a few things about poetry. For one, it doesn’t necessarily have to rhyme. Two, poems shaped like the object they are about are a little weird (his words). When I asked him if he would recommend the book to someone else, he said maybe. He rated it a four out of five, and asked me to get the next book, Hate That Cat. That sounds like a recommendation to me.

Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-Thon, October 2018: The End Results

I participated in my second Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-Thon this weekend. I did my best to read for as much of those 24 hours as I could, read as many pages as possible and have fun along the way! I followed along with the hourly blogs and tried to keep up on Goodreads. It was a lot of fun.

One thing I didn’t do was try to post my progress along the way. So, I’ll share my responses to the three surveys here. I also have my final stats for the event ready to share.

The highlight of the event for me was all the time I got to spend reading with my boys. My youngest read aloud to me a collection of Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie books – 300 pages of delightfully funny dialogue between unlikely friends. My eldest read Tornado Slim and the Magic Cowboy Hat, by Bryan Langdo, to both myself and his youngest brother. Later, I allowed him to stay up late and read with me until he fell asleep.

Aren’t they adorable?

Boys reading

Opening Survey:
1. What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
I did my reading from the beautiful state of Oregon on the West Coast of the United States. The morning dawned cold and foggy, but it warmed up nicely by mid-morning football/soccer games. My primary reading spot was the couch in my living room with my snugly blanket and surrounded by all my books.

2. Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
I’m probably most excited about Assassin’s Quest, by Robin Hobb. I’ve been reading this series along with another group on Goodreads, but I’ve fallen behind because of other reading commitments (I’m looking at you, Popsugar!). I’m hoping to spend a little time with this book during the read-a-thon.

3. Which snack are you most looking forward to?
Coffee!

4. Tell us a little something about yourself!
I might have a book problem. Despite shelves overflowing with unread books, I can’t stay away from the library book sales, the half-off book sales, or any other place where books are sold.

5. If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today?
This is my second read-a-thon, and the only thing I’m really doing different is that I have fewer books on my TBR. I didn’t choose books exclusively for the read-a-thon, but rather I’m just continuing with the books I’m already reading.

Mid-Event Survey:
1. What are you reading right now?
After brief forays into Dune (audio) and Zenith (ebook) and reading with two of my sons, I am about to return to my primary reading goal of the day, Gone With the Wind.

2. How many books have you read so far?
I have read parts of three books so far (Gone With the Wind, Dune and Zenith) and my children read aloud to me six books: Today I Will Fly!, Watch Me Throw the Ball!, Can I Play Too?, Let’s Go For a Drive, I Really Like Slop! (by Mo Willems, read to me by my 6yr old) and Tornado Slim and the Magic Cowboy Hat (by Bryan Langdo, read to me by my 8yr old.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
I’m still looking forward to Assassin’s Quest, by Robin Hobb. Maybe I will hold that in reserve for a few more hours and see if I can get further on Gone With the Wind before I switch it up.

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
There are always interruptions in the life of a mom. Two of my sons had games today – one is playing flag football (his team lost) and the other is playing soccer (his team also lost). This outing took up four hours of read-a-thon time, and I just had to let it go. The kiddos will always be more important than the books. (Sorry, books!)

Once I returned home from the sports activities, I got to single parent two of the children while their father squired the third off to a classmate’s birthday party. I used this time to read with my boys (see the above answers!). Literacy is important to me, and I’m so proud of the progress my kids are making into their own reading success!

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
I can’t say that anything has surprised me thus far. Well, maybe this delightful quote I found on page 116 of Gone With the Wind:

The dim room with towering walls completely filled with dark books depressed her. Large numbers of books always depressed her, as did people who liked to read large numbers of books.

I couldn’t help laughing at this in light of large number of people reading a large number of books today! The only thing I find depressing about a large number of books is the lack of adequate time to read them all.

Closing Survey:
1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
I guess that would be hour 22 (2 a.m. my time). The words were swimming across the pages and my eyes no longer wanted to stay open.

2. Tell us ALLLLL the books you read!
I made progress on Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, Assassin’s Quest, by Robin Hobb, Dune, by Frank Herbert and Zenith, by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings. My 6yr old son read to me Today I Will Fly!, Watch Me Throw the Ball!, Can I Play Too?, Let’s Go For a Drive!, I Really Like Slop!, from an Elephant and Piggie Biggie combined book by Mo Willems. And my 8yr old son read aloud to me Tornado Slim and the Magic Cowboy Hat, by Bryan Langdo. When I put my kiddos to bed, I also got to read aloud bits from Eragon, by Christopher Paolini and The Tiger Rising, by Kate DiCamillo.

3. Which books would you recommend to other Read-a-thoners?
Whether it’s the books I’ve listed here or something else, what I’d recommend to any read-a-thoner with children is to just dedicate an hour or two, more if there’s interest, in reading with or listening to your children read to you. It was my favorite part of the read-a-thon!

4. What’s a really rad thing we could do during the next Read-a-thon that would make you happy?
I don’t know that I have any suggestions. There is a great mix of activities and conversations so everyone can participate the way they want to. I love how flexible the event is.

5. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? Would you be interested in volunteering to help organize and prep?
There’s a very good chance I’ll participate again. I would still like to see more progress on my reading. But I need to just face it, I’m probably the slowest reader ever. As for volunteering, I love the energy that the hosts provide for this event, and to be honest, I don’t think I could offer that same level of enthusiasm. At least not at this time. But let me take this opportunity to give a HUGE thank you to all of those responsible for making this event so great!

Final Event Stats:

  • total time reading: 12 hrs
  • time spent on blog, Goodreads and Twitter: 2 hrs
  • real life interruptions: 5 hrs
  • sleeping: 5 hrs (started late, and quit early)
  • total pages: 184 (+ ebook and audio) + 6 pictures books
  • books read/listened to during readathon: 12

(Gone With the Wind, Assassin’s Quest, Dune, Zenith, Eragon, The Tiger Rising, Today I Will Fly!, Watch Me Throw the Ball!, Can I Play Too?, Let’s Go For a Drive!, I Really Like Slop!, by Mo Willems and Tornado Slim and the Magic Cowboy Hat, by Bryan Langdo)

If you participated in the Read-a-Thon, how did you do? Did you meet your goals/expectations? What was your favorite book?

On Your Mark, Get Set… Read! – Why I Love My Local Library

Without libraries, what do we have? We have no past and no future. – Ray Bradbury

My kids, like most kids in America, are out of school for the summer. Now, what to do about the “brain-drain” and keep them occupied for three months? Public library summer reading programs, of course!

The local library in my city, the Salem Public Library, offers a fantastic summer reading program for all ages, from preschool, grade school, teenagers, even adults. Yes, I signed myself up for the program too! The kids earn the chance to win prizes for every ten hours of reading (or listening) they do. Plus they can earn extra chances by participating in all kinds of summer activities: outdoor play, visiting a local park, cooking with their adult and so much more. For the adults, there is the Exercise Your Mind Bingo game, with chances to earn prizes for each bingo completed. To complete a bingo, I have to do things like read a book with a happy ending, or participate in a library event.

My youngest is a preschooler, and only my oldest is actually reading by himself, so our summer will involve a lot of reading aloud. So far we have read nearly seven hours worth of children’s books such as I Stink! by Kate & Jim McMullan and Kindergarten, Here I Come! by D. J. Steinberg. We are reading through the Minecraft Handbook series and the Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis. We went to the library on the weekend and filled our book bags with amazing tales. And, I even got a chance to pick up a book for myself!

DiscoveryRoomThe children’s section of our city library offers some incredible fun for young people. First off, when I go with my boys, we like to see if the Discovery Room is open. Dependent on volunteer staffing, the room isn’t always available when we go. Most recently, the Discovery Room was set up with stations celebrating the human boy. Displays, games and puzzles showing the human skeleton and musculature, stations encouraging physical activity such as yoga, a hopscotch rug and so much more! One such station asks, “How far can you jump?” encouraging kids to test their horizontal leap. My oldest jumped five feet!

After Discovery Room play, we go to the story room where one of the children’s librarians reads three or four story books and sings several songs with young children and their parents. The books and songs center around a theme and encourage the children to engage with the storyteller in a variety of ways. The theme when we went last time was Bugs! We listened to The Fly, by Petr Horacek, Butterfly, Butterfly: a Book of Colors, by Petr Horacek, and Tiny Little Fly, by Michael Rosen & Kevin Waldron. As we leave, the kids get a theme-centered stamp on their hand and a fun coloring page.

Before we can leave the library, we go to the shelves and fill our bags with books. Books! So many books! The children’s story book section is also full of more fun things like puppets and phone booths, all designed to encourage the imaginations of the very young. My children subscribe to a sort of “smash and grab” method of choosing their library books. Or maybe it’s more like a “grab and stash” where they pull books off shelves and stuff them into our bags, usually without even looking at the cover. So when we get home, we  have a glorious variety of books to discover.

Besides our city library, I was pleased to learn that my child’s school is providing a weekly library event for students throughout the summer. They can go to the library each week, listen to a teacher or staff member read a story, and select two books to borrow for the week. And there’s also a chance to win prizes if they attend at least five times. I had the day off from work for the first event, so I had the privilege to go with them. We brought home a book on Captain America and a giant book about dinosaurs.

Local libraries are an important part of our communities. No matter what age you are, learning never has to end. Libraries provide learning, entertainment and an opportunity to explore endless worlds. If you’re looking for something to do this summer, whether you have kids or not, I encourage you to check out your local library. I have to agree with Mr. Bradbury, without libraries, what do we have?

SummerReading

What are you reading this summer? Do you have children you’re reading with? What do you love about your local library?

Happy reading!