Category Archives: Book groups

Currently reading

There’s a large stack of books next to my favorite chair, waiting to be read.  Most are for upcoming book groups, but I’m also starting to accumulate some “fun reading” books in anticipation of the June break from book groups (and then the August and September break from book groups, which allows me a lot of time to read other things!).

Here are the books that are piled next to me:

  • The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (5th grade book group)
  • Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell (6th grade book group)
  • The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan (Teen book group)
  • The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown (Teen book group)
  • Years of Dust by Albert Marrin (Teen book group)
  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
  • The Outcasts by John Flanagan
  • Marmee & Louisa by Eve LaPlante
  • My Heart is Boundless edited by Eve LaPlante
  • The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie
  • Curtain by Agatha Christie
  • The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
  • And assorted magazines, long neglected by me:  The Atlantic, many New Yorkers, and Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country.

Any other must-read suggestions for me for my upcoming season of fun reading?

Currently reading

In the last few months, I’ve read a lot of Agatha Christie mysteries – and I do mean a lot – in addition to my usual book group books.  I’m cooling down a wee bit on the Agatha Christie books now, partly because I have less time available for “fun” reading now that book groups are in full swing again (each group met only once over the summer, and not at all in September, which was a lovely gift of “fun” reading time for me) and partly because I seem to have exhausted the supply of Christie books at our two local bookstores.

This weekend I need to read The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for next Tuesday’s Teen Book Group meeting; I have great memories of reading the Sherlock Holmes stories when I was in highschool, and am looking forward to an adult re-reading of The Hound of the Baskervilles.  This reading of it will be tinged by laundry soap and dryer lint, since I need to spend a couple of hours at the laundromat today washing our comforter, but hopefully that won’t wreak the book for me.

I’m also reading The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda, a book which has happily surprised me.  I really only brought it home to read because the reviews written about the book have a wide range of reading levels – from 4th grade and up to 8th grade and up – and thus placement of the book in the library is difficult.  I placed it in our advanced reader section, which is for grades 5 & 6 and up, but now the book’s sequel is about to be published, with similarly divergent age recommendations in the reviews, so it was time for me to read the book myself and thus make a totally informed decision about placement.  It turns out that the book is well-written, engaging, full of action (which kids today demand above all else), and also gently educational as it introduces Indian mythology and culture.  I like the book enough that I may even choose it for a book group…hmmmm…

Other books in my to-be-read pile right now:

  • Atlantis Rising by T.A. Barron
  • The Outcasts by John Flanagan
  • The Royal Ranger by John Flanagan
  • Pi in the Sky by Wendy Mass
  • Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus
  • The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion
  • Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie
  • Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories by Agatha Christie

And I’ve officially given up on the Megan Whalen Turner series that begins with The Thief.  I loved the first book, hated the second, and am luke-warm on the third at the half-way point.  Frankly, the character of Eugenides got on my nerves early in the second book, and it’s tough to finish a series when the main character drives you nuts.  I’ll be taking the whole series to the used book store soon, just to get it out of my house.

On that note, time to get to the laundromat and start reading The Hound of the Baskervilles

Summer books

Today I chose the books that we’ll be reading this summer in my book groups!

Teen Book Group ~ Grades 7 to 9:  Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George

6th Grade Book Group:  From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

5th Grade Book Group:  The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester by Barbara O’Connor

Yay!  I’m really excited about all of these titles, and I think each book really suits the personality of the book group that will be reading and discussing it.

First foray

We read all kinds of books in my library book groups, but until yesterday we had not yet read and discussed a nonfiction title.  I’ve tried to convince the groups to let me try a nonfiction book, but the idea has always been promptly shut down.

I was very pleased, then, when this years’s 6th grade book group acquiesced and permitted me to thrust a nonfiction title upon them.  They weren’t enthusiastic – they were skeptical – but they still said “yes.”  And so yesterday we discussed Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose.

I purposefully chose a book that I was excited to read, knowing that some of that excitement would help carry the group, but I also chose this book because it is absolutely fascinating and engaging.  A species of shorebird that is suffering a rapidly decline, yet one individual bird of that species has thrived for twenty years or more?  And flown from the tip of South America to the Arctic and back each year?  Amazing.  I LOVED this book: it’s one of the best books I’ve read in the last year.

Unfortunately, as I had predicted to myself, it didn’t go over so well with the book group.  Of six group members, only three attended yesterday (one who couldn’t come most surely had read the book, though), and of those three, only one had actually read the whole book.  One other had read four pages, and the third hadn’t read any of it.  Fortunately, Phillip Hoose’s website has some great links to useful video and audio, so we watched (and heard) Hoose discuss why he wrote the book and read an excerpt from it.  We also watched part of a great informative video by Parks Canada about the rufa red knot to bring everyone up to speed on the subject of the book.  And the group member who had read it helped me discuss and explain the most interesting parts of the book to the other two sixth graders present.

All in all, not a failure, this first foray into having a nonfiction title to discuss in book group.  Perhaps the secret might be to introduce nonfiction titles right at the beginning, with our youngest book group (the third graders) so that it doesn’t seem odd or unusual the way that it did to the sixth graders.  I’ll keep trying, definitely, and I’m very glad to have had a reason to read this excellent book.

Still here…

Yes, I’m still here – but I’m finding that my still-healing broken foot is limiting my evening creativity.  While at work, I think of things that would be awesome blog post topics: a very young child who says or does something charming, a book group that takes the book discussion to a new level, an idea for a new program.  But I can’t write blog posts at work, and by the time I get home I’m a bit cooked, mentally and physically, after stumping around at the library all day with the walking boot on my foot.

So here’s a quick summary of what I’ve been up to for the last couple of weeks:

  • Lots of storytimes, which have been especially crowded now that the gloom of winter and cabin fever has set in for everyone.  Last week there were forty-one adults and kids at the Thursday storytime, which is about the limit of what we can fit into the story room.  But it’s such a nice group of attendees, all of whom participate enthusiastically.  There was a wonderful moment at one recent storytime where every single adult in the room was belting out (in harmony, of course!) “Where is Thumbkin?”.  Very very cool.
  • Lots of great book groups.  Of course I’ve waited too long to write up coherent retellings of each book group discussion, so I’ll just sum up each one quickly.  The 5th grade group read Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, and eleven out of twelve kids disliked the book because it was “too slow.”  The teen book group read The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan, and while talking about what kind of book it is I discovered that most of the group had never heard of caviar, creme brulee, or Agatha Christie.  The 4th grade group discussed Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, and they unanimously loved it.  (They were also happy to hear that a book they read earlier this year, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, was the winner of this year’s Newbery award.)  And the 6th grade group discussed Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, which they mostly loved; it interested me that they were all surprised to find out that Brian Selznick both wrote and illustrated the book – the group members thought that he was only the author.
  • And then there are the random things: sweet moments at the art portion of the storytime for 4’s & 5’s (a five year old discovering that he can “erase” his painting and start fresh, thus prolonging the creative experience); an eighteen month old finding his dancing legs and grinning ecstatically while bobbing up and down to some Zydeco; two sweet girls at the Create a Valentine program surprising me with Valentine cards (one said “Feel Better!” and the other – launched at my back – was emblazoned with “Guess Who???”…the artist finally came over and told me she had made it, since I was clearly confused); and the daily niceties of working in a small town filled with caring people.

Hopefully my foot will be fully healed soon (eight weeks and counting right now, this is a loooooooong process), but until then please forgive me if I have lapses of blog entries.  I’m still here!

My New Books

Thanks to N—-, I had a sizable gift certificate to the Concord Bookshop burning a hole in my pocket.  The Concord Bookshop is my favorite bookstore, and I can’t think of anything more fun than having a guilt-free shopping trip there.

Monday was the day I got to use my gift certificate, and for the first time in years (more years than I can count), I didn’t make an immediate beeline for the children’s and young adult section at the back of the store.  In fact, I realized that I had absolutely no interest in looking at books in either of those sections; I wanted and needed to avoid them for a change.  One bad side effect of being a children’s librarian is that you need to read gobs of children’s and young adult books, and it becomes very hard to have enough time left to read grown-up books.  And, for the first time in years, I think that I’m actually burnt-out on juvenile literature.

So here is what I ended up buying:  two Agatha Christie books, The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side and The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and a Philip Pullman book, Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, A New English Version (which was shelved in the adult section).  Admittedly, fairy tales are often viewed as children’s literature, but I like to remember that they were not always intended for just children; I’ll be reading Pullman’s versions of the tales from that perspective.  And, admittedly, Agatha Christie’s books aren’t necessarily deep and challenging novels for adults, but oh how I do love them.  Nothing like a good murder mystery to keep you company by the woodstove on a winter’s evening.

It’s been lovely reading these books the last few nights, knowing that I don’t have to read them, and that I can savor and enjoy them just because I want to.  I’ll need to kick into gear this evening and reread Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon for tomorrow’s book group, but then I’ll move right back into one of my new purchases for a little study break before I dig into next week’s book group book.  And I have a feeling that I’m entering a phase of obsessive reading of Agatha Christie…

Book lists updated!

I’ve been procrastinating for a while (almost four years, shockingly) on updating the lists of books that Jennifer and I have used for our book groups, but today I finally got around to this large project.

Sadly, the Excel spreadsheet that I use at the library for tracking the books we discuss in the book groups cannot be easily pasted into my blog; I learned my lesson about the incompatibility of Microsoft products and WordPress a few years ago when I lost my entire blog after pasting something from a Word document into a blog post.  But today the library opened late due to the snowstorm, and then my boss and I agreed that perhaps it would be better if I and my broken foot stayed home today rather than try to negotiate the slickery snowiness from home to car and car to library – which meant that I had time to tackle this updating project.  (And, yes, I have a broken foot.  Four weeks on crutches, and now I have graduated to walking with a walking boot, which is both awkward and a bit slippery.)

As I added to the book lists, I was impressed by how many titles Jennifer and I have used with the groups over the years.  Some of the books have been terrific for discussion, others have been terrible, and the majority have been adequate.  If you have questions about any particular title and its success with book group discussion, please feel free to contact me about it, either here in the comments or by sending me an email (see my email address information in the “Comments” informational section in the blog header).

When a book isn’t what you expect it to be

This evening I finally had a chance to start reading Mr. and Mrs. Bunny – Detectives Extraordinaire! by Mrs. Bunny and translated from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath.  My first plan was to read The Georges and the Jewels by Jane Smiley, which I’ve been itching to read for a long time, but when I opened my library copy it looked as if someone had peed on the lower right corner of the pages.  Ick.  Guess I’ll be ordering a new copy for the library tomorrow…

At any rate, I was equally excited to read Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, and my plan was to preview it to see if it would be appropriate for the third grade book group.  Not that I personally believe that children’s literature has to be all cute and fluffy, but I have found that for the books I choose to read with my younger book groups, cute and fluffy is a good path to take, considering the variety of readers in any book group.  Mr. and Mrs. Bunny seemed like it would fit the bill.

But I was pleasantly surprised to find that Mrs. Bunny has written a book with some bite to it – humor that appeals to me, and surely will appeal to a lot of kids who are older than third grade.  Mr. and Mrs. Bunny engage in some wonderful spousal repartee, such as their animated conversation after Mr. Bunny comes home with the news that he has bought a new hutch for them without Mrs. Bunny’s input.  Mrs. Bunny ends up with her head down on the table, then comes this lovely exchange:

“Mrs. Bunny, I am sure you are only hungry.  Once you have a little carrot stew in you, this mood of yours will pass in a trice.”

“DON’T TELL ME ABOUT MY MOODS!” began Mrs. Bunny, and that is when Mr. Bunny, in one of his few smart moves that day, pulled out the picture of the hutch and shoved it in her face.

“SEE?” said Mr. Bunny, a trifle hysterically.  “SEE?”    (pages 18 – 19)

And, of course, the hutch is beautiful and perfect and just what Mrs. Bunny would have picked herself.  And I realized that I was holding a book that is far, far better than I had expected – and I’m hooked.  It’s not for my third grade book group, but that’s ok.  I’ll use it with one of my older book groups, kids who have enough life experience to “get” the wry humor, and I’ll be sure to put it into the hands of those library kids who like the quirky and fun and unusual, with a little dash of gory (did I mention that there are foxes who kidnap and are looking to open a canned rabbit products plant?  and that the foxes like to say and write “Mwa-haha”?).  Ah, how I do love a book that’s unexpectedly much better than I thought it would be – especially when I thought it would be pretty good.

Three quick things

Thing number 1:  I really enjoyed Silverfin by Charlie Higson.  I had expected it to be purely an action story, but Higson takes the time to establish the character of James Bond at age 13.  He also gives us a good sense of what it would have been like to be a student at Eton in the 1930’s.  And then, of course, the story moves away from Eton and into some good fun Bondish action.  Definitely a good book for any of you James Bond fans.

Thing number two:  yesterday’s Book Gobblers program was interesting for me.  Usually we have fourth and fifth graders who attend this read aloud program for older kids, and they have really enjoyed hearing selections from Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories.  Given that past history, yesterday I decided that I would read “The Cat That Walked By Himself” to them.  But there was a little change in demographics yesterday, with mostly second graders attending.  They mostly liked the story, but they didn’t love Kipling’s language like the older kids have; the older kids have literally sat in rapt attention, almost devouring Kipling’s words as I read them.  But the younger ones looked slightly puzzled at times.  The second story I read them, though, was a huge hit:  Ghost Hands by T.A. Barron.  As you may remember, T.A. Barron spent the early years of his life in the town in which I work, so I always love sharing his books with kids at my programs.  And Ghost Hands, which provides an imagined reason for paintings of hands in a real cave in Patagonia, really grabbed their attention – total focus from the group as I read, and lots of great questions and discussion after the story was done.  I’ll definitely be reading this book to kids at the school when I do summer reading visits in June.

Thing number 3:  Last but very definitely not least, the third grade book group had an exciting and wonderful meeting on Monday as we had a Skype visit with author Sara Pennypacker.  I will be writing a full post on this visit over the weekend to do it full justice, but wanted to mention it here in brief to whet your appetite.  Ms. Pennypacker is an incredibly generous, kind, open, and engaging speaker, and I believe that this Skype visit was a really transformative moment for several of the kids in the group.  More on this visit in a day or two…and now it’s time to get ready for work!

Leviathan

At last Tuesday’s Teen Book Group meeting, we discussed Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.  I have to admit that I was unable to finish the book myself, much as I usually like Westerfeld’s writing, because I think I have read the maximum amount of steampunk fiction that my brain can handle and absorb.  Maybe I’m just a little too old to “get” steampunk, or maybe my taste has never gone down those lines, but by half-way through Leviathan I was done – fed up – annoyed.

Luckily, all seven of the book group members who came to Tuesday’s meeting were enthusiastic about the book (whether they had been able to finish reading it or not), and the conversation was terrific.  We discussed the book for an entire hour, and probably could have gone on for much longer if we’d had the time available.

All of the teens enjoyed the steampunk genre, and several of them had already read a few other steampunk books.  And the ninth graders in the group had an additional attraction to the book, since it is an alternate, steampunk style version of the events leading up to and the beginning of World War I: the ninth graders had been studying WWI in school, and their test on WWI was earlier in the day on Tuesday.  I was blown away by their intelligent comparison and contrast of the real history of WWI and the version presented in the book.  Smart, smart kids.

And I loved hearing the enthusiasm they all felt for the steampunk style.  Things that I found rather revolting and hard to visualize (like the giant genetically modified jellyfish that exhale hydrogen and thus are used as hot air balloons) greatly intrigued the members of the book group, and I was able to better appreciate certain aspects of the book after hearing their perspective.

This is such a great book group, and I really look forward to their meetings each month.  And it will be sad when we bid good-bye to the ninth graders at the end of this school year – they’ll be moving on up to Lisa’s 10 – 12th grade book group – all of the ninth graders have been in my book groups for many years, and I’ll miss their insights and enthusiasm.