A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader: Recommended to Inspire Book Lovers, edited by Maria Popova and Claudia Zoe Bedrick

October 4, 2020

In the last several weeks, we’ve been sharing ideas for allowing reading to help us escape into new worlds, relax our bodies and our minds, and find moments of enjoyment in a chaotic world.

We are continuing this theme in October, by recommending a wonderful collection of essays perfect for all book lovers. The first line of the introduction is immediately captivating: ” When asked in a famous questionnaire devised by the great French writer Marcel Proust about his idea of perfect happiness, David Bowie answered simply: “Reading.” What follows is an anthology of short letters to young readers of today and tomorrow about how reading shaped them, and “why read.” Brilliantly, each letter is illustrated by artists or graphic designers. The result is magic. I was particularly struck by Jacqueline Woodson’s letter, as well as those by Jane Goodall, Neil Gaiman, and Parker Palmer. It’s a wonderful read when you have a few moments–or a few hours. Dig in, and Enjoy!


NIGHT SHINE by Tessa Gratton: Escape into a YA Novel of Fantasy and Magic

September 21, 2020

Lately, you’ll note I’ve been especially drawn to richly detailed “otherworld” reading.  Night Shine by Tessa Gratton is certainly in that category.  It has many elements of an extended fairy tale, but I’d still define it as a fantasy novel, as the world of the novel has its own reality, and the characters are complex and add more depth as the riveting story progresses.  The tale centers on an orphan girl left at the palace of Empress.  She is called Nothing, and becomes the close friend of the Prince Kirin, while practically invisible to the rest of the high court.  When Kirin is kidnapped, Nothing and the prince’s bodyguard Sky set out to find him.  They come to believe he has been kidnapped by The Sorceress Who Eats Girls, in the territory of the Fifth Mountain.  On their quest, the pair travel through demon-infested forests and cross dragon and spirit-filled rivers.  And as readers, we learn more and more secrets about Nothing, her hidden powers, and the ties that bind her to the Prince–and to the Sorceress.  This is a world that acknowledges genderfluidity, and world of the transgendered.  The novel’s themes are love, betrayal, and the power of finding your own truth.  The language is poetic, and I was swept into this fantasy world.  Recommended for Grade 9 and older.

ELATSOE by Darcie Little Badger: A YA Fantasy to Escape Into

September 11, 2020

Elatsoe turned out to be a wonderful novel to lose myself in and and find some stress reduction at the same time.  This fantasy novel is written by a new author, who creates a believable alternate reality world.  It’s very similar to ours, but with important differences: like everyday magic of floating orbs of light or rings of fungi that can help some travel through the world at warp speed.  People know more about the power of legends, the reality of some monsters, as well as the reality of a ghost world.  Seventeen-year-old Elatsoe is skilled at raising the ghosts of dead animals, a talent passed down through generations of her Lipan Apache family.

When Elatsoe dreams of her cousin Travis’s supposedly accidental death, she sets out to find the murderer, traveling to Texas with family and friends to investigate and help provide justice.  I so appreciated the closeness of Elatsoe’s community, and the emphasis on friendship and loyalty, courage and respect for the environment.  There is suspense, menace, humor, and characters with depth.  I love the ways that the knowledge and legends of the indigenous peoples are woven into the plot.  I look forward to reading more from this author.  Maybe more about Elatsoe’s future adventures!

Allow the World of Story to Offer Relief: Suggestions for a YA Fantasy Series: THE ALCHEMYST by Michael Scott

August 26, 2020

When we are immersed in the world of a story through reading fiction, our heart rates slow down and our muscles relax.  Actually, reading any genre you love is a stress reducer, but according to research, there is an added something about fiction and the draw of a story that helps our brains and bodies relax as we enter a “new world.” Years ago, I encountered a term I love:  “literary space,” where we know we are in the room or setting where we are reading, but we also encounter an almost dream-state of watching the story unfold in our mind’s eye.

With an intention to enter that literary space myself, I decided to try out a new YA series that I’ve heard is addictive, and draws readers into a believable fantasy story world:  The Alchemyst:  The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott. The Alchemist, Nicholas Flamel, is a fascinating real person from history.  If the name sounds familiar, you’ve likely read another fictional world that includes him: the Harry Potter series. The actual Flamel died in 1418, but the premise of this fantasy series is that he actually discovered an elixir for immortality that he and his wife have been making–and using–for centuries.  The secrets for eternal life are carefully and secretly recorded in a powerful and dangerous book which Nicholas protects: the Book of Abraham the Mage. Contemporary (21st century) twins  Sophie and Josh become the potential saviors of the Earth when the book threatens to get into the hands of the evil Dr. John Dee and their charge is to rescue it.  Michael Scott is a masterful writer and draws readers into his fantasy world of mystery and magic, with a healthy dose of Good Versus Evil.  It’s a six-book series that has worked its magic on me, and I imagine other readers will delight in a gripping novel that takes you away.  Happy Reading!

Family Reading Challenge: Choose a Book Published in the Year You Were Born

August 17, 2020

This month, we are exploring ways to choose books to lose ourselves in, as a way to find an oasis of calm in our daily lives.  Last week, we suggested some book lists to get you started.  Our three-generation family is exploring another way to keep it going:  we are each committing to read a book published in the year we were born.  It’s a fascinating task to research and choose a book from a very different kind of list, one based on a uniquely personal snapshot in time.  I found so many interesting possibilities for my own birth year:  enduring classics that I have read before (and am considering rereading); books by well-known authors of series, like Agatha Christie and Erle Stanley Gardner; and of course, some authors and books I have never read before.  The twins are considering rereading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or digging into The Invention of Hugo Cabret for the first time.  The choices we consider and the reasons are making wonderful pre-reading discussions and now we can’t wait to get started and have a chance to share what we’ve learned.  I have already begun, and I have discovered the crisp writing and plotting of the Perry Mason books–and also the casual and normalized sexism  that I never noticed as a younger reader. I look forward to our family discussions!

If you decide to take up this challenge, I suggest you just begin with a Google search:  Best books published in (the year of your birth).  Or you might go to The New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year (and add the target year). Then, let the adventure begin!  Enjoy!

Books and Self-Care: Reduce Stress and Lose Yourself in a Good Book

August 6, 2020

This month–and beyond–we are focusing on taking care of ourselves and reducing stress levels.  The good news is that reading, in particular losing yourself in a book that takes you into the story world, is proving to be a sensible, as well as delightful, strategy.  Good stories can ease muscle tension and lower heart rates in as little as six minutes ! In fact, reading can reduce stress up to 68%, having a greater effect than going for a walk or listening to music.

There are so many books that create an “other-worlds” experience. Book lists can be a great starting place.  Here are some suggestions for captivating stories at different age levels to get you started:

Nursery and Pre-School 

Early Readers


Early Adolescents

Young Adults

You can also check out our book lists in different genres and most recent releases through reading our recommendations for Readers by Age. 

You also might look at books on different topics for the whole family to share: Book Flights and Pairings:  Something for Everyone.

Next week, we’ll have some other recommendations for finding books to lose yourself in.  Keep yourself safe, and make sure to find some time to relax and read. . .


July 18, 2020

Last week, I posted a blog that told the story of the Children’s March in the award-winning and beautifully-illustrated non-fiction picture book Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson.  This week, as I continued my research into children’s literature about the struggle for civil rights in the United States, I found a wonderful photo-essay for children and adolescents that tells the story of the Children’s March from the vantage point of 4 children who were at the heart of the march: We’ve Got a Job:  The 1963 Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson. Audrey Hendricks, Wash Booker, James Stewart, and Ametta Streeter were among the 4,000 Black elementary, middle, and high school students who voluntarily went to jail between May 2 and May 11, 1963. In-depth interviews and extensive research make this a compelling addition to must-reads about the power of marching and non-violent protest.  As one reviewer raved:
“This photo-essay stands out for its engrossing content, excellent composition, and riveting use of primary-source material. Covering the history of the Birmingham Children’s March from inception to full impact, Levinson traces the stories of four young people between the ages of 9 and 15 in 1963…With a helpful list of abbreviations, excellent source notes, photo credits, a fine bibliography, and a comprehensive index, this a great research source, but it’s also just plain thought-provoking reading about a time that was both sobering and stirring.”

Highly recommended.

LET THE CHILDREN MARCH by Monica Clark-Robinson, Illustrated by Frank Morrison

July 4, 2020

This is a very different 4th of July celebration.  Rather than picnics and  fireworks, amid thousands of protests against police brutality and a pandemic that has disproportionately ravaged communities of color, many people are spending Fourth of July drawing attention to what they say is a hypocritical celebration of freedom. The Independence Day holiday “doesn’t really mean anything when Black people weren’t free on July 4th and those same liberties weren’t afforded to us,” said Kerrigan Williams, co-founder of Freedom Fighters D.C., who has been co-organizing marches in the city for at least three weeks.

“We’re still marching for the same things.”

The Birmingham Children’s March is an important historical event in our country and timely for context and understanding of the current marches.  There are several books that are wonderful additions to your anti-racist bookshelf. Let the Children March tops my recommended list; it is a stunningly illustrated, and highly readable historical account.  I especially appreciate the relevance for today’s young readers as they think about their roles in the on-going struggle for justice.  In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested in Birmingham after leading a non-violent protest without a permit.  He and other protesters were responding to Governor George Wallace calling for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation  forever.”   Dr. King hoped to raise an army of peaceful protesters to fight for freedom; he said the time had come to march.  Many parents were hesitant to march; they knew they would lose their jobs if they participated and felt the responsibility to be able to support and feed their families. Amazingly, children began to speak and offer to be Dr. King’s army.  Though Dr. King didn’t want to have children in harm’s way, he respected them–and the children did march.  Thousands of children took part in the marches, bravely singing freedom songs, despite being sprayed with fire hoses, pushed to the ground, and being jailed.  The power of the children’s march cannot be over-estimated; it led to important new legislation and changes in people’s perceptions.  So much to read and discuss in this award-winning book. . . I could go on and on–and probably was a bit wordy in this blog, but it is an important event and story, crucial for us and our children to share and discuss.

A IS FOR ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE: A JOYFUL ABC BOOK by by Anna Forgerson Hindley, and illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo

June 20, 2020

I’ve always been a museum lover, and I appreciate the chance to keep learning about museum resources that have interactive elements that inform, delight, and inspire awe.  The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Cultures   tops my list of new favorites.  There is so much to check out at the site; you’ll want to browse artifacts, art, posters, and more.  I especially appreciate the books that they both write and recommend. A Is for All the Things You are: A Joyful ABC Book is written by Anna Forgerson Hindley, and illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo with support from The African-American History and Cultures Museum.  The “About the Authors” tells us a little more about this important foundation: “SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE’S mission is to provide for the collection, study, and establishment of programs and exhibitions relating to African American life, art, history, and culture. ANNA FORGERSON HINDLEY is the supervisory coordinator of the Early Childhood Education Initiative at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Her work focuses on supporting positive identity development for all young children. KETURAH A. BOBO is a BFA graduate from the Columbus College of Art and Design known for her vibrant illustrations.”

This board book is a celebration–both of what makes us unique as individuals and what connects us as humans. Each page invites interaction, as it describes and illustrates a trait, then invites the reader to think about–and talk about–how he or she experiences that attribute.  The illustrations are diverse and inclusive; children of all colors, cultures, and abilities and are illustrated with respect, delight, and love.

It’s not easy to find good anti-racist books for our youngest readers.  Too often, they are jargon-y and preachy and are really meant for the parents rather than the toddlers.  This book is a rare exception, as it invites discussion and discovery with each new reading.  Stay tuned for more suggestions for all ages, including the infant through toddler set.



Anti-Racist Book Recommendations for Children and Adolescents

June 3, 2020

It’s hard to know how to talk to our children about racism, protests, and injustice. “Not talking about it sends a message that maybe what (children are) feeling isn’t right,” says Dr. Jacqueline Dougé, a Maryland pediatrician and an author of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement The Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health. “It also sends a message when it comes time to deal with hard conversations and hard issues … that perception that child has is, ‘I’m not going to be able to open up my (parents).’”  Adults don’t have answers, but it’s still so important to have conversations about what is going on. (Dougé, and colleagues Heard-Garris and Nunez share ways to talk to children about the protests, Floyd’s death and racism. ) As we all tread the difficult path of trying to figure out how to Do Somethingand make a difference, books and reading with our families can support our actions.  In the past, I have recommended some books that can form a basis, and I hope to add to them in the coming days.  Here are a few you might start with:

Read-Aloud for the Whole Family:

Let It Shine:  Stories of Black Women Freedom Fightersby Andrea Pinkney, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn

Portraits of 10 important women who were key player in the causes of  Civil Rights, Abolition, and Women’s Rights–painted in bright and vivid images and words in the dialect of “Spoken Soul” create a perfect inspiration for exploring the lives of  these brave and spirited personalities.  As readers, we are introduced to these women as children and learn about what influenced their lives as activists.  The narration includes excerpts from speeches, quotes, and references to key events, all woven into very engaging biographical sketches.  But the full-page paintings of each woman are more than a complement to the words–they are filled with symbols and metaphors that beg further exploration.

Young children will love the language and vibrant pictures; older readers will be drawn in to the fascinating and inspiring stories.

Picture Books for Everyone

Martin’s Big Words By Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier

There are many beautiful and well-written picture book biographies of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but this one stands out.  Not only is it a great introduction to the words and work of Dr.King, but it is written with simple elegance and grace, and can be appreciated and understood by very young children.  Scenes from King’s life are illustrated by Bryan Collier’s simply stunning paintings and collages. Many pages have intricate stained glass backgrounds which serve as a backdrop to some of the most powerful scenes.


Sit-In:  How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Fifty years ago, four young black men decided to take a stand against the injustice of integration and began a sit-down strike at Woolworth’s luncheon counter, where “Whites Only” was the rule.  It’s not easy to tell their story simply, but the Pinkney’s write poetically, clearly, and with energetic pictures to show how these young people peacefully protested and changed communities in the South forever.  “Their order was simple.  A doughnut and coffee with cream on the side.”  At the end of the book, there’s a very informative Civil Right Timeline that shows how these four friends’ bravery was the beginning of a groundswell of support, friends coming together, to change the world.


Kids on Strike by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Before the child labor laws, young children in the United States worked long hours, often in terrible environments alongside their older working companions.  And they were at their side as well during the labor strikes.  Children as young as 11-year-old Harriet Hanson took steps to change workers’ situations, joining in strikes, leading rent protests, walking hours in long marches.  Written as narratives, the stories are very accessible and filled with rich historical details. A wonderful resource as well as inspiring historical information.

Tweens and Teens:

Rosa Parks:  My Story by Rosa Parks

Often the most compelling versions of the lives of people who made a difference comes in their own voice.  This is definitely the case for Rosa Parks, who writes with wisdom, honesty, and grace.  Readers learn about her life as a child growing up in segregated America and how she became involved in the Civil Rights movement. Her words also show the importance of the many people with whom she worked, countering the misinformation in the media’s version of the Rosa Parks myth. Great black-and-white photographs bring her story to life.

Brwon-GirlBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Newbery Honor Book 2015)

What was it like for writer Jacqueline Woodson to grow up in the 1960’s and 1970’s as an African-American with the remnants of the Jim Crow laws and the growing Civil Rights movement?  Her touching and eloquent poems tell the reader what she experienced in South Carolina and New York City as she came of age.  Her early literacy struggles are a revelation, yet it is no surprise she always loved words and story, spinning tales for her family and friends, and publishing her own little books of poems and stories.  As different as her experiences were, her memories spark connections for me and bring me back to my own youth during that time.  It’s truly a beautifully crafted work, a joy for families to share together.


Young Adults (and Older Adults, too!)

In My Hands:  Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Opdyke

Irene Opdyke wrote this riveting memoir when she was only 23 years old, about her experiences as a 17-year-old during World War II in Poland. During her years in Nazi-occupied Poland, she is raped by Russian soldiers and forced to work serving German soldiers who are stationed at a hotel. Despite enormous risk, she worked to help Jews in the ghetto by smuggling in food and helping them escape.  Despite the heavy content, this book is a riveting story, and appropriate for early adolescents up.  We know 9th-grade classrooms that this book heads the list of top recommendations.


King of the World Muhammed Ali and the Rise of an American Hero by David Remnick

So much has been written about Muhammed Ali, world heavyweight boxing champion.  Yet this biography manages to offer new insights and also a framework for understanding Cassius Clay’s growth into the great Muhammed Ali,  hero and inspiration for pushing back against the establishment. The information is fascinating and presented in a readable style, interesting for boxing fans–and those of us who are non-fans as well. One 14-year-old read it and said, This is the best book I’ve read since The Cat in the Hat!” High praise indeed!


Americans Who Tell the Truth by Robert Shetterly

Yes, it’s a picture book, but definitely for all ages! Artist Robert Shetterly painted portraits of 50 people he greatly admired–all of them important activists and freedom fighters.  A wonderful range of important Americans are included–some are well-known, like Henry David Thoreau, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King, Jr.  We also delight in the inclusion of Molly Ivins, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and others.  Besides the beautiful illustrations, the brief bios and quotes make this book a rich resource.