Category Archives: Book groups

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!


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.

Reading, reading, reading

On my weekends lately, I’ve been doing a LOT of reading, mostly for book groups, but also for fun (not that book group reading isn’t fun, because it is), and I’ve also been creating a lot of new storytime lesson plans.  I’ll talk about the storytime lesson plans in an upcoming post, but meanwhile, here is an update on the books that I’ve read this fall for the various book groups at the library:

  • For the 3rd grade book group:  Dying to Meet You by Kate Klise, The Talented Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, and The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin.  All great books for this age group, and all were quite successful with the 3rd graders in the group.  I love each of these books, and for quite different reasons.  The Klise book is approachable and funny; the Pennypacker book has a wonderful, true-to-life main character, and the Lin book is poignant and lovely.
  • For the 4th grade group:  Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief by Wendelin van Draanen, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, and Dominic by William Steig.  DiCamillo’s book remains one of my all-time favorites, but I very much enjoyed the Sammy Keyes book and was glad to have finally read Dominic, though I’m not sure that I’d want to use Dominic again for a book group (the kids were a bit baffled by it, and it didn’t make for the best discussion we’ve ever had, despite this being a group of Readers who love to Discuss).
  • For the 5th grade group:  White Sands, Red Menace by Ellen Klages, The White Giraffe by Lauren St. John, and Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison.  I enjoyed The Green Glass Sea much more than its sequel, which disappointed me, and I was a bit taken aback by the Gilda Joyce book, having expected it to be more juvenile than it was.  And I enjoyed my re-reading of The White Giraffe, of course, a book that is unique today in its brevity, considering its intended audience of upper grade readers.
  • For the 6th grade group:  Whales on Stilts by M.T. Anderson, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, and The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen by M.T. Anderson.  After having connected with M.T. Anderson at the Simmons College Children’s Literature Summer Institute this year (see my posts on the Institute here, here, here, and here), I was delighted to be able to bring two of his books to the 6th grade book group this fall.  I’ve also been reading The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing (Volume I – The Pox Party) in my free time – it’s a terrific book, one of the best I’ve read in a long time.
  • For the Teen Book Group: Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin, Uglies by Michael Scott, and The Alchemyst by Michael Scott.  This group is still quite large, which means that we can’t read the hottest new young adult books, since we wouldn’t be able to get enough copies of the books for everyone in the group.  But I presented the group with one of my favorite books, Elsewhere, and they all loved it (and none of them had yet read it, even better), and with a book that had been a success with this group in past years, Uglies.   Surprisingly, none of the group members had read Uglies yet, and it too was a huge hit.  As for The Alchemyst – I had very high hopes for this book, and it didn’t quite live up to those hopes.  But, once again, none of the teens had read the book, and many of them have gone on to read the rest of the series (or, at least, what’s been published so far in the series).

It’s been a good fall and early winter for reading, and I’m now looking forward to the next batch of book group books that are sitting next to me, waiting to be read:  Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins (3rd grade), The Fairy-Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley (4th grade), Spy Mice: The Black Paw by Heather Vogel Frederick (5th grade), Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism by Georgia Byng (6th grade), and The Prophecy of the Stones by Flavia Bujor (teen book group).  The last three of these books were all chosen by kids in the book groups, which makes the whole process – reading and discussion – that much more fun.  Happy reading to me!!

The Lightning Thief…again…

It’s great that the book group members have nominated, voted on, and then chosen all of the books they have read and will be reading this school year, but this month I’m feeling a little gloomy personally about their choices.  Notice that I said “personally,” because I’m only talking about me – I think the choices are great for the kids in the groups.  Today we’re discussing The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, a book that has gotten a lot of reluctant boy readers very jazzed about reading.  And then they go on to read the rest of the series, and then other books, and it’s all good.  The Lightning Thief also introduces readers to Greek mythology, inspiring some to then go to the source and read “real” Greek mythology, which is very cool.  But, and this is where my personal opinion comes in, we’ve discussed this particular book in several book groups over the past few years, and I’m totally sick of discussing this book.  I’ve read it so many times that I didn’t even bother to re-read it this weekend – especially since I thought I might be nauseous if I did.  I have nothing against this book, I’m just tired of it.  And it doesn’t really lead to great book group discussions, at least it hasn’t in the past. 

So maybe I should have told the kids that we wouldn’t be reading it…but that doesn’t seem fair.  I wanted them to have ownership of their book choices, and the entire group was excited about this book.  If I had come in and said, “No, we’re not discussing that book,” then the whole tenor of the book selection process would have changed.  Which means that we’re discussing it today, and that it will probably come up again in some future group.  Arrgh.

And then the 6th grade choice for this month is another well-worn book group book, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.  Yawn.  Again.

Talking about Terrier and Fantasy and Books and Reading…

In my last post, I talked about my struggles with the book Terrier by Tamora Pierce.  Today was the meeting of the teen book group, and I hadn’t finished reading the book; I only got to page 248 out of 561, which is a shameful thing.  I thought about my options: I could lie to the teens and tell them I read the whole book, or I could fudge my way through the book group, not lying outright but also not confessing my sin, or I could tell them the truth.  I chose the truthful option – I respect these teens, and they deserve the truth.  (Actually, every teen deserves to hear the truth from adults in situations like this, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Only half of the group made it to today’s meeting, due to play rehearsals and illness, but that half of the group had all read the book, some of them twice, and were very well-prepared to discuss it.  J—-, the teen who nominated Terrier as a book group choice, started off the meeting by saying that one of the teens who didn’t attend today’s meeting had not finished the book, “How could she not finish??!?!?!  This is such a great book!!!  How could she put it down without finishing?!?!?”  To which I gently cleared my throat and pointed to my bookmark sitting happily at page 248.  J—–, bless her soul, figured out what I was telling them, and said, “Well, for Abby it’s different – she has a full-time job.”  What a sweetie, that J—–, trying to give me some wiggle room.  But I told them, no, it’s not just that I work full-time and have had two oral surgeries in recent weeks; it’s because I don’t like high fantasy.  And that got us off and running on a great hour-long conversation about this book and high fantasy and books that we want to re-read and books that just don’t cut it for us. 

After defining high fantasy, we found out that only one of these teens dislikes high fantasy as much as I do, and that teen commented on how much fantasy we had read in the book group this year.  Which is true, and is something that has been bothering me; in the group in years past I used to always aim for a mix of genres, but that usually involved me choosing all the books.  This year I had wanted the teens to have control of the choices, and we ended up with all fantasy.  Maybe, I suggested, we should read some realistic fiction or historical fiction or a mystery this summer, and the consensus was that was a good idea.  I have a great mystery in mind that I’d love to foist upon the group, so perhaps that will be our choice.

And then the conversation  veered towards books that we choose to read over and over again.  Some of the members of this group are very fast readers, and plow through dozens upon dozens of books, and thus end up re-reading many books.  The Harry Potter books were popular choices for re-reading with these girls, and also certain books out of the Lightning Thief series (as I remember, the third and fourth in the series were labelled by the group as not being worth a second read, but the rest past the test).  The main reason given for choosing to read a book again was to discover a new element of the plot that had been missed before; or perhaps a book had been read before but was not very memorable, so another reading of it actually seemed fresh.  I mentioned that there are very few books I like to read over and over, and the only adult books that come to mind are Jane Austen’s novels – and that I read them again to savor her use of language. 

I wish, as always, that I could remember verbatim all that was said in today’s group; but I don’t.  I do know that I did very, very little talking in the hour-long meeting, and that today’s meeting was the epitome of an excellent book group.  Everyone contributed, we stayed mostly on topic (but all deviations were quite interesting), and civility was the rule of the day – no one even thought about talking over anyone else.  I love this group of teens (and yes, I did very much miss the teens who were absent today), and am so honored to be connected with this bunch of articulate, critical thinkers who love to read.  I’ll be so sad to see our two 9th graders graduate after the meeting in May – they’ll be moving on to Lisa’s book group for 10th to 12th graders this summer – and I’ll be hopeful that the rising 7th graders who will be joining the group in July will continue the streak of excellent, thoughtful discussion that has been the cornerstone of this teen book group for these past five years.


I’ve been struggling – struggling, I tell you – to get through Tamora Pierce’s book Terrier, first in the Beka Cooper series.  It’s not that I don’t like the book, because I do, it’s just that I have SUCH a hard time reading high fantasy, and really long high fantasy (Terrier is 563 pages) just compounds the misery for me.  Misery is actually too strong a word; discomfort might be better.  Or perhaps I should go back to that word struggle. 

Pierce is a good writer, and I know many teens who devour her books.  And in fact, I’m reading Terrier because it’s the next Teen Book Group book, for our meeting on Tuesday – it was nominated by one of the group’s most dedicated readers, and the rest of the group almost unanimously chose it as one of this year’s books.  I’ve already heard from another group member who loved the book so much that she asked me to request the second book in the series for her.

But as for me, well, the problem with me and high fantasy is that I just can’t get fully immersed in an author’s created world.  I get frustrated by words that I have to look up in the appended glossary, and annoyed by needing to refer to the inevitable endpaper maps of the land.  It’s not just Pierce’s high fantasy, it’s any high fantasy.  Simply put, I’m the wrong person to read this genre because I’m a little too firmly rooted in reality and too unwilling to jump into an imaginary world.

And I’m only on page 150, with two good reading days to go before the book group meets.  And I need to do our taxes in those two days.  I’m in TROUBLE, and the teens in the group are bound to figure out that I wasn’t able to get through the entire book.  I’ll just have to tell them it’s not for lack of trying.  Sigh.


I’ve been avoiding a book – a book that I have to read for an upcoming meeting of one of the library book groups.  It’s by an author who just doesn’t, shall we say, “do it” for me.  I’ve read one other book by this author, also for a book group meeting, and finishing it was pure torture for me.  Why this second book by an author I firmly dislike, you ask?  Because the book group members suggested it and then voted on it, and it received a lot of votes.  There was no avoiding it: after the vote, I knew I was going to have to read it.

So it’s sitting on the arm of my comfy Ikea chair right now, all 581 pages of it, sitting heavily and glaring at me as I write a post to avoid the inevitable reading.  Obviously, I’m not going to identify the book or the author, because that would just be mean-spirited, but I will say that one reason I struggle with this author’s body of work is that this author uses an awful lot of detail, so much detail that a reader can’t even begin to skim for fear of missing something really important.  I tried to skim the last book, and sure enough I’d miss something key, then have to backtrack and find out what I had missed and then go forward again – ultimately taking more time than if I had just read carefully from the start.  Actually, the detail wouldn’t be such a problem if I enjoyed the genre and the author’s style; but I don’t, at all.  Torture, I tell you, torture.  I’ve allowed myself three full weekends to read this book; but so far I’m only on page 25, and one weekend is now officially over.  Not promising!!

But oh, look!  It’s bedtime.  No more reading tonight!  Instead I’ll just procrastinate until next weekend…

Jessica Day George Visit

It’s been a long day (a very long day), and I’m so exhausted I can barely keep my eyes open, but I really want to write this post tonight, so have patience with any upcoming slight incoherence…

Today the Teen Book Group had a fabulous experience – a Skype visit with author Jessica Day George, author of many books, including Dragon Slippers, Princess of the Midnight Ball, and the book that the group had read for today’s meeting, Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow.  I’ve read and enjoyed two of Jessica’s books prior to this book, the two Princess books, but I absolutely love, love, LOVED Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow.  As I got towards the end of the book, I found that I was reading slower and slower in order to extend my reading pleasure… and once I had finished the book, I felt that deep sense of loss of having finished a wonderful book.  It’s not often that I have that feeling of loss after reading a book anymore, and it was delightful (and sad) to experience it again.

So, needless to say, I was looking forward to today’s Skype visit, and I know all of the teens in the group were very excited about it, too.  And Jessica did not disappoint – she was charming, funny, cool, and incredibly intelligent as she answered the group’s questions for her.  And patient, too, since a certain amount of shyness came over everyone once Jessica popped up on the computer screen, and all those well-thought-out questions disappeared from everyone’s minds in a poof of starstruck awe. 

I loved that the teens got to talk with someone who is clearly very intelligent (Jessica speaks Old Norse, for heavens sake!), and well-educated, but also fun and cool.  What a great role model for them, someone to show that it’s ok to be brainy and enjoy learning.  And that through hard work and persistence, you can achieve your goals; Jessica talked a bit about how many rejection letters she had received from publishers prior to having a manuscript accepted, and I could see the budding writers amongst the teens first look deflated, and then empowered by the thought that a writer can survive rejection and achieve success.

After we ended our forty minute or so conversation with Jessica, I handed out paper and pencils and asked if everyone would take a minute to write a thank you note to her.  Twenty minutes later, the notes were just getting finished, and they were really, really nice thank you notes: heartfelt, detailed, and sincere.  After reading these great notes, I felt bad that I’d only passed out pencils as writing instruments – I wish I’d had some pens and nicer paper on hand so that the end products were as visually beautiful as the words on the page.  The notes will be going into the mail soon, along with one of my handmade bracelets as a thank-you gift, though no notes or gift can fully thank Jessica for taking the time out of her day to share such wisdom and wit and sage advice with the group.  I know that they’ll remember their visit with her for a very long time, and that is a thing of immeasurable value. 

Thank you, Jessica!!!!!!!!!!