Thursday, December 30, 2021

2021 Year in Reading

My year in blogging here was a bit hit or miss, so it only seems right that I do a big dump post of my year in reading, instead of my nicely planned out posts like last year.

First off, the general Goodreads goal. I wanted to read 125 books this year, and I read 142. Despite that leap, I'm only going to aim for 100 books in 2022. I want to read slower, feel less guilty about reading slumps, and focus more on my writing.

My son's Goodreads goal was 200 books, and he "only" read 165. I set his goal as high as it used to be because we'd read picture books together, but now we mostly read chapter books. He also reads on his own, so it's understandable he's reading fewer books even if we still read just as much. So his goal for 2022 will be 80, because there are some picture books I can't resist reading to him! So much good stuff out there, so my librarian heart needs an outlet.

It's hard to choose my favorite books of the year. This year I did my Beverly Cleary author study, and so many of those are amazing books, even as an adult reader. I also read a lot of small press books, and those are fantastic as well. If I was on my game, I could have done round-up posts for Beverly Cleary on her own, middle grade, young adult, graphic novel, small press, and adult books. And probably more subdivisions if I really tried.

But ain't nobody got time for that, so I'll just pick my favorite book from each month, whether it's old or new, small press or big 4, for kids or for adults.


Some of the Times by Gina Myers. I attended an online zoom reading event and heard Gina Myers read and was absolutely blown away. I love how she paired poetry with photos in that particular event, so I wanted to get some of her work. Her poems are really powerful on their own, but the last portion of this book includes photos that accompany her poems, and they both help elevate the stories told. More than words alone or images alone, they work together to lift your imagination up so it can run wild.


The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw. Deesha Philyaw read part of “Peach Cobbler” at an event I attended and I was hooked from the first line: “My mother’s peachy cobbler was so good, it made God himself cheat on his wife.”

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this collection, and once I got it I was torn between racing to finish it and wanting to drag it out so I’d have longer with these multi-layered characters. I can’t pick a favorite from this collection because they’re all that. damn. good. I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know, and that includes you. It’s the perfect mix of gossip, drama, and breathtaking storytelling you need in your life.

I usually try to not re-read a book until a year after my last reading, but this is one I’ll be coming back to more often than that. I can’t stop thinking about it and I want more. I've also gifted copies to several people.


Little Feasts by Jules Archer. This collection blew me away. From the cover alone I knew I was in for a treat (no pun intended), but the actual writing far exceeded my expectations. Each piece was so weird and delightful, like peeking into an entirely different world.


Love Like That by Emma Duffy-Comparone. Short stories that address all of the different relationships you have in your life. I loved getting sucked into each person’s life for a brief moment. So many of these were absolutely amazing.


The Trouble with Language by Rebecca Fishow. I heard Fishow read at a book launch and was blown away by her writing style. I ordered her book before the event was over. As soon as it arrived, I sat and read it in a day, and am already wanting to read it again. The stories are so delightfully strange that they seem almost too real, and there is always something to notice hiding beneath the words that are written.


Revenge by Yoko Ogawa. A classmate in a writing workshop recommended this collection and I was blown away by it. I love the simple language that tells such powerful stories. I love how they’re connected. I’m already going to read it again just to study it.


Watching Edie by Camilla Way. I liked another Way book I read, but I think this was much better. The twists were well done and I think this is the only borderline-unreliable narrator book I’ve enjoyed. If you know me at all, you know unreliable narrators are one of my biggest pet peeves, so that it was well-done impressed me.


Cheating and sharing two because they're worth it - plus they're short, so grab them both and read them in one sitting and thank me later.

Daughters of the State by Leigh Chadwick. Chapbook of prose poems about girls in foster care. Very powerful.

Signs by Massoud Hayoun. Psychological thriller with a suspenseful storyline and nice twist at the end. Love the structure of the story.


The Evolution of Birds by Sara Hills. This collection is so beautiful I can’t stand it. I kept highlighting and underlining so many phrases that were powerful or awe-inspiring. Definitely one to revisit frequently.


A Carnival of Snackery by David Sedaris. As much as I love anything Sedaris writes, I think his diaries are my favorite. Yes, he has a lot of weird shit happen to him, but he even makes the mundane humorous and noteworthy, and I think that’s a great trait to have. So much of this book had me laughing, though he got serious as well.


Eternal Night at the Nature Museum by Tyler Barton. I loved Barton’s first collection, The Quiet Part Loud, and was eager to read more. Some stories are flash and some are longer, but all really resonated with me. I kept underlining beautiful phrases and find myself wondering about the characters even though I was only in their lives for a brief moment.


My Share of the Body by Devon Capizzi. Amazing story collection exploring grief and growth in so many different ways. It’s definitely one I’ll keep coming back to. I can’t get the egg urn from the title story out of my head as it is, and this whole collection is full of great details like that.

If you're interested, check out my 2021 Writing in Review post.

Monday, December 13, 2021

What the Dinosaurs Did the Night Before Christmas by Refe and Susan Tuma

What the Dinosaurs Did the Night Before Christmas
by Refe and Susan Tuma

If you saw a bearded dinosaur wearing a red suit on Christmas Eve, wouldn’t you think it was Santa? He even has eight tiny dinos pulling his sleigh…but they’re not really putting out gifts like Santa would. In fact, they’re making a mess!

This book uses cute photos of mischievous toy dinosaurs to tell a story of a wild Christmas Eve! If your kid loves dinosaurs and Christmas like mine, they’ll enjoy this story. 

There’s an added bonus for older readers: since the illustrations are photos of toys, it’s something they can recreate themselves! My kid loves making videos and taking pictures so I have a feeling we’ll be staging some photos similar to those in this book over winter break. This would be a really fun jumping-off point for a STEM or MakerSpace lesson, and could even progress to stop motion videos!

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Mall Rats: An Anthology

I usually post book reviews here, but this is more of a promotion, because I have a story in Mall Rats: An Anthology from the Daily Drunk!

This book was released December 7, 2021, so you can get a copy (or ebook!) NOW!

My friends and I used to walk the mall for hours because we had nowhere else to go. It seemed fun at the time, but I didn't miss it. Or at least, I didn't until I read the pieces in this collection and was overwhelmed with nostalgia. Read it and you'll be amazed at the depth of emotions a mall* can make you feel.

*or insanely talented writers, but you get what I'm saying

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Mother Ghost

 Mother Ghost: Nursery Rhymes for Little Monsters
by Rachel Kolar, illustrated by Roland Garrigue

I love creepy rhymes, as demonstrated in my video review of Your Skeleton is Showing. Twists on Mother Goose rhymes are always engaging because most kids know what the original rhyme is, so they can appreciate the satire.

My son and I read this all the way through, then talked about our favorites and went back to re-read them. I could see using these as quick breaks for use in the school library, though. They're fun to read aloud and can be shared without having all of the students sit and listen to an entire story. It'd be fun to recite them before and after books during the week leading up to Halloween. Make sure you share the illustrations for each, though - they're so cute!

Friday, October 29, 2021

The Good, the Bad, and the Spooky

 The Good, the Bad, and the Spooky
by Jory John and Pete Oswald

Who doesn't love the Bad Seed and his friends? In this book, he's grumpy that no costume seems to suit him. It's Halloween night and everyone else looks amazing, so he decides that he has to cancel the holiday. Everyone is so disappointed, but with a little help, the Bad Seed realizes that Halloween is a chance to have fun. Once he lets go of his bad mood, he's able to find the perfect costume. Can you guess what it is?

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Pick a Pumpkin

Pick a Pumpkin by Patricia Toht, illustrated by Jarvis

This fun picture book tells the story of Halloween traditions like visiting a pumpkin patch, carving a Jack-o-lantern, and trick-or-treating. The rhymes make the story nice to read aloud, and there are natural pauses built in where your kids can guess what comes next. The illustrations are gorgeous and depict diverse children.

We read this before decorating our pumpkins, but it’s one we’re sure to re-read once or twice more before Halloween!

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Halloween Books

As my son gets older, we're reading different books. Or, mostly, he's reading different books. He loves reading graphic novels on his own, though we still read chapter books together, alternating pages. But picture books are few and far between. (I'm not crying, you're crying!)

I still managed to sneak in a few fun Halloween picture books this year, which I'll be reviewing over the next few days. In the meantime, check out my previous Halloween recommendations. If you have any great titles to share, let me know in the comments!

Friday, May 7, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: The Art of Ramona Quimby

This is an involved look at the various illustrations that have been used in the Ramona Quimby series. Louis Darling is who I started with, so his illustrations are my favorite. He illustrated many of Cleary's books, including Henry's series and the first two Ralph books. In fact, he only illustrated the first two Ramona books before he died. There are some interesting letters between Darling and Cleary at the end of this book. I like getting a glimpse of their partnership, especially considering they only met in person once!

Alan Tiegreen took over after Darling's death; I remember him for Pee Wee Scouts just as much as Ramona. I'm not as familiar with the two later illustrators because I already had my copies of the books, but I liked comparing and contrasting their styles and reading about their approaches. There was also some interesting information about JoAnn Scribner's covers; I had wondered why they had unique cover art for many of the books instead of just picking an interior illustration for the cover!

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Just Like Beverly

Written by Vicki Conrad, illustrated by David Hohn

This is a picture book biography of Beverly Cleary. I read this soon after reading Cleary's two autobiographies, so I remembered the information and could tell the picture book pulled from those books while making that information accessible for younger children.

The illustrations are so bright and engaging! I love the idea of using this book as a jumping-off point for a unit on biographies in general or Beverly Cleary herself. It's a great introduction to both. It's also a great choice for Cleary fans to read on their own after they have read some of her books. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021


I’m thrilled to be participating in the cover reveal for Leah Angstman’s debut novel, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, coming January 2022 from Regal House Publishing.

A Novel of King William’s War in 17th-Century New England

Publication Date: January 11, 2022
Regal House Publishing
Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook; 334 pages

Genre: Historical / Literary / Epic

**Shortlisted for the Chaucer Book Award**

OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a historical epic of one woman’s survival in a time when the wilderness is still wild, heresy is publicly punishable, and being independent is worse than scorned—it is a death sentence.

At the onset of King William’s War between French and English settlers in 1689 New England, Ruth Miner is accused of witchcraft for the murder of her parents and must flee the brutality of her town. She stows away on the ship of the only other person who knows her innocence: an audacious sailor — Owen — bound to her by years of attraction, friendship, and shared secrets. But when Owen’s French ancestry finds him at odds with a violent English commander, the turmoil becomes life-or-death for the sailor, the headstrong Ruth, and the cast of Quakers, Pequot Indians, soldiers, highwaymen, and townsfolk dragged into the fray. Now Ruth must choose between sending Owen to the gallows or keeping her own neck from the noose.

Steeped in historical events and culminating in a little-known war on pre-American soil, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a story of early feminism, misogyny, arbitrary rulings, persecution, and the treatment of outcasts, with parallels still mirrored and echoed in today’s society. The debut novel will appeal to readers of Paulette Jiles, Alexander Chee, Hilary Mantel, James Clavell, Bernard Cornwell, TaraShea Nesbit, Geraldine Brooks, Stephanie Dray, Patrick O’Brian, and E. L. Doctorow.




“With OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, Leah Angstman reveals herself as a brave new voice in historical fiction. With staggering authenticity, Angstman gives us a story of America before it was America — an era rife with witch hunts and colonial intrigue and New World battles all but forgotten in our history books and popular culture. This is historical fiction that speaks to the present, recalling the bold spirits and cultural upheavals of a nation yet to be born.”

“Steeped in lush prose, authentic period detail, and edge-of-your-seat action, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a rollicking good read. Leah Angstman keeps the story moving at a breathtaking pace, and she knows more 17th-century seafaring language and items of everyday use than you can shake a stick at. The result is a compelling work of romance, adventure, and historical illumination that pulls the reader straight in.”
—Rilla Askew, author of FIRE IN BEULAH, THE MERCY SEAT, and KIND OF KIN

“Lapidary in its research and lively in its voice, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA by Leah Angstman is a rollicking story, racing along with wind in its sails. Though her tale unfolds hundreds of years in America’s past, Ruth Miner is the kind of high-spirited heroine whose high adventures haul you in and hold you fast.”

“Leah Angstman has written the historical novel that I didn’t know I needed to read. OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is set in an oft-forgotten time in the brutal wilds of pre-America that is so vividly and authentically drawn, with characters that are so alive and relevant, and a narrative so masterfully paced and plotted, that Angstman has performed the miracle of layering the tumultuous past over our troubled present to gift us a sparkling new reality.”

“OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a fascinating book, the kind of historical novel that evokes its time and place so vividly that the effect is just shy of hallucinogenic. I enjoyed it immensely.”

“OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a meticulously researched novel that mixes history, love story, and suspense. Watching Angstman’s willful protagonist, Ruth Miner, openly challenge the brutal world of 17th-century New England, with its limiting ideas about gender, race, and science, was a delight.”
—Aline Ohanesian, author of ORHAN’S INHERITANCE

“Leah Angstman is a gifted storyteller with a poet’s sense of both beauty and darkness, and her stunning historical novel, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, establishes her as one of the most exciting young novelists in the country. Angstman plunges the reader into a brilliantly realized historical milieu peopled by characters real enough to touch. And in Ruth Miner, we are introduced to one of the most compelling protagonists in contemporary literature, a penetratingly intelligent, headstrong woman who is trying to survive on her wits alone in a Colonial America that you won’t find in the history books. A compulsive, vivid read that will change the way you look at the origins of our country, Leah Angstman’s OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA announces the arrival of a preternatural talent.”
—Ashley Shelby, author of MURI and SOUTH POLE STATION

“Rich, lyrical, and atmospheric, with a poet’s hand and a historian’s attention to detail. In OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, Leah Angstman creates an immersive world for readers to get lost in and a fascinating story to propel them through it. A thoroughly engaging and compelling tale.”

“It’s a rare story that makes you thankful for having read and experienced it. It’s rarer still for a story to evoke so wholly, so powerfully, another place and time as to make you thankful for the gifts that exist around you, which you take for granted. OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a book rich with misery, yet its characters are indefatigable; they yearn, despite their troubles, for victories personal and societal. Leah Angstman’s eye is keen, and her ability to transport you into America’s beginnings is powerful. With the raw ingredients of history, she creates a story both dashing and pensive, robust yet believable. From an unforgiving time, Angstman draws out a tale of all things inhuman, but one that reminds us of that which is best in all of us.”
—Eric Shonkwiler, author of ABOVE ALL MEN and 8TH STREET POWER AND LIGHT

About the Author

Leah Angstman author photo Leah Angstman is a historian and transplanted Michigander living in Boulder. OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, her debut novel of King William’s War in 17th-century New England, is forthcoming from Regal House in January 2022. Her writing has been a finalist for the Saluda River Prize, Cowles Book Prize, Able Muse Book Award, Bevel Summers Fiction Prize, and Chaucer Book Award, and has appeared in Publishers Weekly, L.A. Review of Books, Nashville Review, Slice, and elsewhere. She serves as editor-in-chief for Alternating Current and The Coil magazine and copyeditor for Underscore News, which has included editing partnerships with ProPublica. She is an appointed vice chair of a Colorado historical commission and liaison to a Colorado historic preservation committee.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: The Ramona Quimby Diary and Two Times the Fun

Illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers 

I'm not sure if these two diaries are different, or if the one I have (2013) was just repackaged with new illustrations. The descriptions online make it sound similar, but I can't find images of the interior. The 1984 version was illustrated by Alan Tiegreen. It's an engaging journal with prompts and questions for the child to fill out. There are also stickers in the back. I really like the prompts on the pages and think it would be interesting for any Cleary fan.

- - -

Illustrated by Carol Thompson

I read and reviewed this book as originally published as the four separate stories. They were initially picture books or easy readers. I like the stories but am not too sure of the audience when they're published together as a chapter book. My dust jacket says ages 3-7 so I guess parents can read each chapter aloud as if it were a standalone book, and a 7-year-old who can read on their own might still be interested in the antics of 4-year-olds.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Ramona's World

Illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers, cover by Ramona Kaulitzki

The last Ramona book, and the last new/original book ever published by Beverly Cleary. She was 83 when she wrote this, and it was published 15 years after Ramona Forever!

Ramona is in the 4th grade, Beezus is in high school, and Roberta (born at the end of Ramona Forever) is teething and learning to walk. This is kind of a feel-good book with no big drama, just everyday Ramona problems. It's a nice ending note for the series.

I know an author can't always wrap up all of their work, but I do wonder what Cleary envisioned for her characters' futures. Not just the Quimbys, but everyone in the Cleary universe. It's something nice to daydream about...

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: My Own Two Feet

This is the second installment of Cleary's autobiography, from college to the publication of Henry Huggins. Her life was so interesting. After working her way through junior college and college during the Depression, she puts herself through graduate school studying library science. Cleary works for a year as a children's librarian, then works for several years as an Army librarian during World War II. She wrote Henry Huggins when she was 33!

I would have loved a third installment all about her writing, fame, motherhood, and awards because she's so fascinating. Her writing style was always matter-of-fact and humorous, which gave great insight into her personality while making every book a joy to read. What a treasure.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Petey's Bedtime Story

 Illustrated by David Small

I had never heard of this book so I was looking forward to reading it. Beverly Cleary has a magic touch with picture books, just as she does with chapter books. She makes characters that are overflowing with personality, even if they're just one-off characters instead of developed over a series.

Petey is a toddler who doesn't mind getting ready for bed. He knows he'll get to hear bedtime stories, so he's always good in the bath and putting on his pjs. His mom reads him one bedtime story, but Petey isn't tired yet. His dad reads him another, but Petey still isn't tired. He decides to tell his sleepy parents his favorite bedtime story - the one about the night he was born! Except the way Petey tells it makes it way more adventurous than it actually was.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Strider

 Illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky. 

This book is the sequel to Dear Mr. Henshaw. I don't think I read this when I was younger. Honestly, Dear Mr. Henshaw was pretty dark for me as a sheltered kid. I don't think I was drawn to the character himself. I also had bad luck with dog books (see: Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows) so I didn't try this one based on the cover alone.

It was nice to have a "new" Cleary book to read in adulthood. I love Leigh Botts now, so I was glad to read more about him and see how he's grown. I especially think the sequel was necessary because Leigh seemed really torn up about his dad in the first book, and now he's come to accept his life. I think that could be helpful to a lot of kids going through something similar.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Muggie Maggie

Illustrations by Kay Life, though the
cover artist is the "Rubes" signature again.

I say this about every other Cleary book, but I remember this so vividly from my own childhood. I think my mom bought it for me when I was struggling with my own handwriting. This book was written in response to a third-grader who wanted a book about cursive writing. It's a quick read but I do think it's a necessary subject. Cleary addresses it with her signature natural and fun style. Maggie is only a character for this one short book, but she feels as real and well-developed as the kids from Klickitat Street.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: A Girl From Yamhill


Beverly Cleary shares her childhood up through high school graduation in the first installment of her autobiography. She includes a lot of historical information about her pioneer ancestors. When she wrote about her early childhood on the farm, I could see where a lot of Emily's Runaway Imagination came from. 

These memories reminded me a lot of my maternal grandmother, too. She grew up on a farm and was close to the same age as Cleary. We had read some Cleary books together, including Emily's Runaway Imagination, so I had my grandmother's memories going through my head as I read this book. It made for a very cozy experience.

Cleary's story is touching and real and interesting. She is very honest about her childhood and her relationship with her mother. As she grew into a teenager, I could see where some of the subject matter for her YA books came from as well. Her writing style in this book is just as natural as it is in her fiction books. 

Friday, April 16, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Janet's Thingamajigs

Original illustrations by DyAnne DiSalvo, though my copy
is a re-release with illustrations redone by Carol Thompson.

Janet loves how her mother calls stuff "thingamajigs" when she can't remember the word for them. Janet wants thingamajigs of her own, so she starts collecting small items she sees every day. 

Jimmy wants to play with Janet's thingamajigs, so Janet wraps them up in brown paper bags and keeps them on her bed to prevent him from messing with them. The bags rustle every time Janet moves on her bed, and her mother says she sounds like a mouse in a wastepaper basket.

This short story was funny to me because my kid also likes to collect anything and everything. I think it's a perfect example of how kids like what they like, and if you give them the space to get it out of their system, they'll come through it on their own and save a lot of disagreements!

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Lucky Chuck

 Illustrations by J. Winslow Higginbottom

Chuck has a job and a motorcycle license and bought a used bike. He knows the rules of the road and usually follows them, but sometimes he just wants to have fun while he rides.

I felt bad that I wanted him to learn a lesson, but I was initially projecting because motorcycle drivers around here are completely awful. However, he does learn a lesson the hard way, and I love Cleary even more for writing it that way! She did a lot of research into motorcycles and it comes through in how she explains the bike parts and the driving laws so it's a very interesting picture book.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Happy Birthday!

Beverly Cleary
April 12, 1916 to March 25, 2021

In 2012, a friend and I visited Portland and I made sure we stopped to see Klickitat Street and Grant Park. I knew there were statues of Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby there, and Cleary was one of my favorite authors from childhood. At the time, I was just a big book nerd; I wasn't a librarian yet. Though we visited other libraries on this trip, including a tiny one-room library in Scio, Oregon, we didn't visit the Beverly Cleary Children's Library at the Central Branch of the Portland library. We also didn't visit the Beverly Cleary School, but I guess that just gives me good reasons to go back!

When I visited these statues, I had fond memories of the books I had read as a child. There were some lines and scenes I remembered vividly, and I've enjoyed reading them again as an adult. But above all, it's really impressed me how wonderful Cleary's writing is. I understand why children love it, because she's truly writing on their level. But as an adult, I'm still drawn in to each story because the characters are so well-developed and the problems are so real. Some of it is nostalgia, true, but there are several books of hers that I hadn't read as a kid and still really enjoyed this time around.

Grant Park was the setting for many scenes in children's books by Beverly Cleary. In 1991, a group of teachers, librarians, and business people formed the Friends of Henry & Ramona, and began to raise funds for the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden for Children. Portland artist Lee Hunt created life-sized bronze statues of three of Cleary's best-loved characters - Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, and Henry's dog Ribsy. Scattered around the concrete slab are granite plaques engraved with the titles of the Cleary books that take place in Portland - and a map of the neighborhood showing where events in the books "really happened." The Sculpture Garden was dedicated on October 13, 1995. 

Friday, April 9, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Ramona Forever

Illustrations by Alan Tiegreen, though my copy 
has a revised cover by JoAnn Scribner.

This book encompasses everything you could want from a chapter book! Ramona fights with her sister, gets a bit of after-school freedom, has to bury her cat, learns her mom is pregnant, and plays a part in her aunt's wedding! So much excitement, and I never had that in my childhood so I loved living vicariously through Ramona.

I think this might be the Ramona book I read most as a kid; I remember so much about it, so vividly. I remember thinking recently while reading Ramona and Her Mother: doesn't Ramona's family have a baby? I just couldn't remember when! I do kind of remember watching some episodes on TV as well because my original book had a yellow cover with a photograph of a real girl on the front.

Just an aside: I had Beverly Cleary's books arranged on my shelf in publication order, and also have a list of titles and publication dates in a notebook I'm using for this project. The copyright page of my book says 1979! There's nothing wrong with reading them out of order, but I want to see the progression of the stories and her writing. Everything I can find online verifies the 1984 publication date, but I thought it was strange and worth noting.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Dear Mr. Henshaw

 Illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky. 

I read this as a kid and it’s always stuck out in my mind as the first book I read written in epistolary form, but it wasn’t until re-reading it as an adult that the gravity of the overall book really hit me. 

I had remembered Leigh as being a kid writing to an author, but I forgot how much you learn about him through the letters. It’s interesting to see what he thinks of his life and how he portrays that to Mr. Henshaw. I especially love that we never see Mr. Henshaw’s letters to Leigh, but can still fill in the blanks by what’s written.

This book is really deep, and I think it was ahead of its time. I think Cleary is touching on so many interesting aspects of family life and divorced parents, especially considering this was published in 1983.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Zara Hossain is Here by Sabina Khan

Thanks to @kidlitexchange and @sabina_writer for sharing the ARC of this book with me. It’s out TODAY from @scholasticinc!

Zara was born in Pakistan and moved to Texas with her parents when she was three. Now she’s seventeen, with college on the horizon. But she has to make it through her senior year first, and it seems like one classmate, in particular, has it out for her. Tyler keeps leaving racist notes and saying racist remarks when she walks by. When he graffitis Zara’s house, her dad stands up for his family. Things get twisted around and her dad ends up hurt and charged with a crime, leaving Zara’s family’s green card in the balance.

This is an interesting book based on the subject matter alone, and I especially love that it goes into detail about how the family has been waiting for their green cards for years, even though Zara’s father’s employer sponsored them. I didn’t know a lot of the ins and outs of the process, so it was very eye-opening. I think it’s easy for teens to empathize with Zara because she’s on the cusp of being “free” for college, but this stands in her way to completely throw her life off track. I especially like how it’s framed as being the only country Zara has really known, while her mother is missing her own home country, so there’s this complex pull for both of them.

This might be nit-picky, but I think the LGBTQIA aspect of the book was a little over the top. It’s fine that Zara is bi, and I know some of the focus was that her parents were more accepting of it than other parents, but all of the scenes with her girlfriend seemed rushed. I don’t think the relationship was as well-developed as it could have been. I would either prefer the relationship to step up and balance the story more, or be taken out and those words used more for the injustice behind green cards, racism, etc.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Ralph S. Mouse

 Illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky, who might have also done the cover art? 
I can't see a signature and there's no additional credit. 

Once again, Ralph is unhappy about the rules where he lives. He's feeling suffocated by his extended family so he asks the son of the inn's housekeeper to take him to school. Ralph has never imagined what school would be like, so he loves exploring the new building. He can't stay out of sight though, so he inspires a classroom to do a mouse study. The students write poems and essays about Ralph, and one boy makes a maze for him to run. Ralph is nervous about this task.

I like the progression of meeting Ralph in the inn, seeing him go to camp, and now seeing him go to school. In my opinion, The Mouse and the Motorcycle is the best of this series.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Ramona Quimby, Age 8

Illustrations by Alan Tiegreen, though my copy
has a revised cover by JoAnn Scribner.

Ramona starts third grade at a new school when her neighborhood is rezoned. Beezus is in junior high, and even their dad is back in school! He's finishing his college degree to become an art teacher. Again, Ramona spends a lot of this book wondering if her teacher likes her and worrying that her family isn't happy. 

Willa Jean is becoming a bigger character, reminiscent of a young Ramona in the early Henry Huggins books. In fact, the adventures Ramona has in this book remind me a lot of Cleary's earlier works.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

An Emotional Menagerie: Feelings from A to Z

Happy National Poetry Month!

I always loved calling attention to Poetry Month in both the public and school libraries because there's no much potential for sharing poems and interacting with an often-overlooked form of literature. I had fun choosing lesson plans relating to poetry for different ages, and An Emotional Menagerie: Feelings from A to Z is brimming with wonderful potential lessons.

Before sharing my lesson ideas, it's important to establish the quality of this book just as a read-aloud. Even if you don't tie lessons into it, these poems are meant to be read to a classroom of students. The book is listed as being for ages 5+, but coming from a Montessori background had me envisioning reading these poems to Early Childhood students (as young as 3).

The book has an emotion assigned to each letter of the alphabet, and each emotion is described with animal qualities. These animals are amazing choices for each emotion; even as an adult reading it on my own, I was impressed with how the animal qualities truly described each emotion. A monkey is naughty, a chameleon changing its colors is uncertain, just for a teaser.

Each poem is six stanzas long, but each emotion gets its own spread, so you can hold the book up as you're reading and the children can take in the vivid illustrations. (I love that each emotion gets its own spread because there's no reading ahead to the next emotion!)

When you use this book with younger students, you can show them the picture of the animal, have them name it, and ask students to share what they know about the animal. After reading the poem aloud, you can ask the students to share what they know about the emotion, or if they've felt it. Then you can discuss how the emotion and the animal relate to each other.

I think this book would be great to use when discussing emotions with younger children. It could also be incorporated into lesson plans if you have a letter of the week since there's an emotion for every letter of the alphabet. The book could also be used as a tie-in when you're studying animals since the emotions and animals match so well.

With older elementary students, I feel like there are several ways to approach this book. You could plan lessons and storytime based on the letter, emotion, or animal. A, for example, is Anger, with a roaring lion. You could read the A poem with Lion Lessons by Jon Agee and compare and contrast the lions. Or you could read it with My No No No Day by Rebecca Patterson and talk about anger.

You could also open the floor up for discussion about emotions before you even open the book. Go through the letters and see what emotions students can name for each letter. Once they guess the emotion that is used in the book, you can then have them brainstorm what animal they think would be associated with that emotion and why. 

I also had a creative writing club with older elementary and middle school students, and I think this book provides great jumping-off points even for that age. You could ask students to think of an emotion for a certain letter and have them write a poem about it. After reading some of the examples from this book aloud, you could ask them to think of an animal, and write a poem about emotions they associate with the animal. For an extra challenge, you could ask them to choose an emotion and write a poem using only words that express that emotion, or only words that start with the same letter as that emotion!

This book is one of those gems that not only gives you a great read-aloud for the classroom or storytime, but also is full of potential lessons for a variety of ages. It's enjoyable to read and will be even more fun to share with students to help activation their imaginations while cultivating emotional awareness.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Ramona and Her Mother

  Illustrations by Alan Tiegreen, though my copy 
has a revised cover by JoAnn Scribner.

From the earlier Ramona books, I thought she was closer to her mother; I guess because that's who she spent time with on her half days of kindergarten. Now her mother has gone back to work and Ramona misses the time they spent together. She feels like her mother prefers Beezus. After not getting along with her new teachers, Ramona starts to think that no one likes her!

This book accurately captures the highs and lows of childhood, as Cleary always does. It seemed more light-hearted than Ramona and Her Father. I don't know if that was done on purpose - a more emotionally involved book followed by something lighter, or if it's just how I'm perceiving things since Ramona and Her Father was the first book I read after Cleary's death. Either way, it's a fun story that captures Ramona's personality in an engaging way for readers.