Favorites of 2011

My Goodreads tells me that I did reach my goal of 50 books for 2011 (ahem, 53!). Whoop whoop! No, I didn't review them all on this here bloggety blog, but I read them and that's what matters. :)

By the way, are we friends on Goodreads? We should be. Let's make that happen.

So, of my 53, these are my favorites from 2011.

Sex on the Moon (Ben Mezrich)

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou)

Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen)

Bossypants (Tina Fey)

Percy Jackson Series (Rick Riordan): Lightning Thief, Sea of Monsters

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot)

Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid (Lemony Snicket)

I Have a Dream (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

The Help (Kathryn Stockett)

Mockinjay (Suzanne Collins)

Happy New Year! I'm thinking of going for 75 in 2012. What about you?


The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows (Jacqueline West)

Olive and her family have just moved into the creepiest house on the block. It feels weird, looks weird, and smells weird. Still, the family (known to have a hefty dose of weird themselves) moves in and begins to settle.

The weird thing is, the walls are covered with paintings...creepy, beautiful, sinister, and classic-looking paintings. Odder still, the paintings are fixed fast to the walls. Before long, Olive discovers that there is way more to this new house of hers...and its paintings...than meets the eye.



13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey (Kathryn Tucker Windham and Margaret Gillis Figh)

June 12, 2011 marked the passing of Kathryn Tucker Windham, one of Alabama's most famous authors. Known for her storytelling abilities, Windham's most notable works were her Jeffrey books. 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey was Windham's first, and though it was published in 1969 it remains one of the most popular items in my nonfiction section to date.

From the ghost of a forlorn captain haunting Mobile's State Street to the sulking phantom of a young girl at Huntingdon College, 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey takes readers all over the state of Alabama in an adventure of legend and mystery.


M.C. Higgins, the Great (Virginia Hamilton)

The latest installment in my Hamilton series...

In M.C. Higgins, the Great, M.C.’s family lives in hill country near the Ohio River. M.C. knows his land well, and one day when he encounters two newcomers, he wonders if his hope for leaving the hills behind for a better life is going to happen after all. One of the strangers is a wandering girl who says her name is Lurhetta Outlaw who inspires M.C. by showing him that it is scary and even dangerous to undertake new adventures, but rewarding nonetheless. The other stranger is someone who has come to confirm rumors of and even record the talented voice of M.C.’s mother.  At odds with the neighboring hill people for a long time, M.C.’s family comes to develop a better relationship with them despite their strange ways. Though not the main character, to me the most memorable character in this book was
Lurhetta. She is so mysterious and so eager for adventure, yet simultaneously afraid of change. This makes Lurhetta one complex character, and the fact that she totally uprooted M.C. the Great’s world makes her memorable as well.



The House of Dies Drear (Virginia Hamilton)

I don't know about you people, but I think ghost stories are lame. They're creepy, and weird, and give me the heebies jeebies. I really can't back that up with anything substantial or scientific or factual...just not a fan of the weirdness.

I thought Dies Drear was going to be different. I had such hopes that this book would be as much about the history of the Underground Railroad as some of its reviews tout. The first few chapters were promising. I learned that approximately 100,000 slaves fled to Canada for freedom between 1810 and 1850, and that 40,000 of them had passed through Ohio. However, that fact was pretty much it as far as the Underground Railroad goes. The rest of the book was suspenseful at times, but had more to do with the supposed ghosts inhabiting Dies Drear's house (the secret chambers of which he used to hide runaways) than anything else.

Here's my other beef with this book: [whispering] I don't really like Virgnia Hamilton's style. [cue "shocking" music]
I want to. I like her. I like her purpose. She must have been something special because she won numerous awards, including a Coretta Scott King, a Newbery, and an ALA Lifetime Achievement Award. She was one of the best known and most distinguished children's book authors in American history. But I just don't like her style. The dialogue is dry and choppy. The characters are emotional wastelands. The plot, even when multiple stories intertwine, are shallow and lack complexity.

The thing is, I'm supposed to like her style. She's a very important author in our history! What am I missing?


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie)

Born "with water on the brain," 14 year old Junior is seizure-prone and poor as dirt. Here he tells the story of life on his Spokane Indian reservation, in all its shocking and gut-wrenching glory. Junior's physical issues and desire for a different life cause him to be something of a target on the "rez," and before long he finds himself enrolled at Reardan, the closest mostly white high school. Violence, cruelty, alcoholism, racism, and tragedy are normal daily occurrences for Junior; though his voice is laden with wit and charm, still the book is peppered with negative stereotypes about the Native American culture.

The oppressive poverty is the worst, and the root of all the other issues. Junior's take:

"It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you're poor because you're stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you're stupid and ugly because you're Indian. And because you're Indian you start believing you're destined to be poor. It's an ugly circle and there's nothing you can do about it. Poverty doesn't give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor."  (pg. 13)

Though it is overrun with stereotypes, the difference for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is that as the narrator, Junior is a funny yet deeply self-reflective Native American. He describes experiences with his culture that cannot be disputed by those of another race. Another consideration is that through use of Junior’s very strong, specific voice, these stereotypes are brought to light to reveal their complex combination of truth and utter ridiculousness.

Because it is so heavy laden with negative stereotypes, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian may at first seem a risk to young readers in promoting the very untrue notion that Native Americans are inferior to other ethnicities. Because of the way Alexie tells Junior’s story, the novel does more good than harm in the realm of typecasts. Awareness of the stereotypes and disputing the untruths promotes the integrity of the Native American culture. Young readers without experience in or with the Native American culture will be surprised at what Junior has to say about his life, but one of the most essential qualities of great literature is that it brings awareness to and appreciation of cultures different from our own. 



Zeely (Virginia Hamilton)

Elizabeth and her brother John are sent off for a summer of adventure down to their uncle's house in "the country." They aren't even settled into the house before Elizabeth (who has renamed herself Geeder and her brother Toeboy) becomes obsessed with a neighbor named Zeely Tayber.

Zeely Tayber is the tallest, most richly dark, beautiful, most regal lady Geeder has ever seen. She appears to float instead of walking, she has a supernatural ability with the farm animals, and above all Zeely Tayber is nothing like the other women in town.

When Geeder comes across a photograph in an article about the Watutsi, an ancient African tribe known for their height, she is convinced that Zeely is a Watutsi queen.

By the end of their adventures together, Geeder realizes that Zeely Tayber is very much a queen after all.

I had not read Virginia Hamilton before Zeely, yet for some reason (possibly their collective inclusion on certain reading lists), I had equated her style with Zora Neal Hurston and perhaps even a hint of Maya Angelou. Going into this book with that expectation left me deeply disappointed in Hamilton's prose. Dry, choppy, and free of emotion, Zeely couldn't be farther from what I expected.


Brave New World (Alduous Huxley)

This book totally gives me the heebie jeebies. Set in this futuristic society, humans are scientifically mass produced rather than reproduced naturally in families. There are no families at all, actually. The term  and concept of "family" is shunned as scandalous. Because the people are produced this way, the population is easily maintained (limited, rather), which promotes the overall societal peace. Another contributor to this "peace" is the fact that soma, which is a hallucinogenic drug, is given freely and encouraged to be taken. High people generally tend to be pretty compliant. That much is true no matter what the century is. Sex is also encouraged, but only recreationally. There is a repetitive mantra of "everyone belongs to everyone else" within the society that makes it permissive for any man to have any woman he so desires, and vice versa. The soma prevents emotional attachment in such encounters.

Comprehending the construct of the society itself is exhausting and mentally taxing. Intertwined with the cultural parameters is the story of a man named Bernard. Bernard is a guy who has taken a preference to one of the girls. This is forbidden, of course, so everyone Bernard shares this with just shoves more soma down his throat. Eventually Bernard and the girl take a trip to a village operating outside the rules of their society, and they witness shocking situations between the people, such as a play which suddenly turns to the mob beating of a young boy. Bernard begins to question the structure of their world, and the result is a ripple effect ending with more soma and recreational sex.

In short, the book seems rather pointless on the whole. Even as I attempt to present a brief summary on the work, I find that it is difficult to synthesize the story because so much of it is...well, ridiculous.

And I hated every word of it.


Good in Bed (Jennifer Weiner)

Cannie Shapiro is a beautiful, intelligent, hilarious young writer who experiences her life's mortification when one day she cracks open a popular magazine and realizes that her very recently ex-boyfriend has written an article. About her. Including embarrassing information. She confronts him, which ends badly. She tries to win him back, which also ends badly. Eventually, Cannie realizes that of all the things she wants in life, this guy is not on the list. It would have ended nicely right there. Until....Cannie realizes she's pregnant with jerk ex-boyfriend's baby, which also very nearly ends badly. But finally, through a series of miracles and the rallying of her unusual posse of friends, Cannie figures out that she has everything and everyone she could ever want or need. Even the love of her life, who was right under her nose all along.


Blood on the Tracks (Cecelia Holland)

In 1877, the United States was just recovering from the Civil War. The railroad industry was booming, which meant the men who owned the railroads were fantastically rich. And greedy. In a meeting the men decided they weren't as rich as they wanted to be, so they agreed to kick it up a notch by cutting the railroad workers' wages by 10% and increase their workloads. The result was overwhelmingly catastrophic.

The workers began a strike, which snowballed into an all-out war between the remaining local militia and a mob of railroad workers driven crazy by anger. The railroad business owners completely underestimated the mob, and in the span of one night (July 20, 1877), the entire town of Pittsburgh was thrown into complete chaos. Innocent people were shot and killed by stray bullets, buildings were set on fire, and firefighters were held at gunpoint to prevent them from putting the fires out. After the massacre, the number of people who died resulting from wounds inflicted during the chaos is still unknown to this day. That which was documented is completely harrowing. One 4 year old girl was shot in the knee and her leg had to be sawed off. Another Irish immigrant who had only been in the country for a few days was killed without ever even realizing what the fight was even about. Because of the damage inflicted to the cities and to the railroad businesses, the "bosses" learned a lesson that has impacted the way workers have been treated ever since. The workers learned the very same lesson. There is great power, and great responsibility, in mass revolt.

Maybe I just never paid attention in history class, but I must shamefully admit, I didn't even know there was a "Great Railroad Strike of 1877." Did you?


Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History (Ben Mezrich)

Thad Roberts was a co-op working for NASA at Johnson Space Center, and in his brief time there he experienced some rather amazing aspects of the study of space, including what astronauts experience in training, and what they bring back from voyages to space. One day Thad was shown a safe of moon rocks which were considered "garbage" by NASA because they had been removed from a controlled storage and preservation environment so they could be used in scientific research. One thing lead to another, and eventually Thad decided to try taking NASA's trash and turn it into his treasure by selling it to a mineral collector he located online. Yada yada yada, he got busted. Sent to jail for 8 years. Scorned by NASA, scientists, and geologists worldwide. A pock upon the American culture for attempting to profit from the sale of a national treasure. 

This is Thad's story as told by Mezrich, and it is note-worthy to point out that as such, this is the story from Thad's point of view. Controversy has already surrounded this book because people criticize the imbalance and the fantasy communicated through Thad's delusions. (That it was ok to steal lunar samples, that he was helping science by making them more valuable, that this girl he met and fell in love with while still married was his catalyst and inspiration for an adventure. Sounds like hooey to me.) 

Having said that, Thad's story is an incredible one. Though I fall very short of having ample knowledge on the topic, I've long been a NASA junkie. When I saw the description of this book in an email from Amazon regarding summer releases, I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. (Side note: this was my first experience pre-ordering a Kindle book, and I so loved how it was magically delivered to my device at midnight on release date. Very cool!) This book is one of the best nonfiction pieces I have read in a very, very long time. I loved Mezrich's style so much that I automatically began to search out other books he has penned. I love the mystery and mystique of NASA, and this book captures the awe so many of us have for the organization and its missions. 

The timing of the book's release is interesting to me. The last shuttle mission was July 14, 2011. This mission signifies the end of our nation's pride in and fascination with the moon missions and the beginning of our single minded focus on the journey to Mars. The book's release date was July 12, 2011. In it Thad Roberts's thoughts and fascinations regarding his dream of becoming the first man to walk on Mars is described numerous times and in great detail. Could it be that Thad Roberts, in an attempt to make up for his great offense to NASA and science itself, used his book to help convert some of the widespread criticism about the end of the shuttle program to some excitement about the Mars discovery and exploration program? Talk about turning his trash into NASA's treasure! Hmmm...

As terrific as this tale is, there are a few things that irk me a bit. For starters, I believe that the blurbs posted for marketing purposes are drastically misleading. First of all, the book does not at any point state that Thad's reason for wanting to steal the moon rocks was because "he wanted to give his girlfriend the moon." I'm fairly certain I didn't skip a chapter, and by no means did the book ever state that the reason Thad robbed NASA was to give his girl the moon. There may have been a brief mention when the deed was nearly complete that it would be pretty exciting to give her a piece of the moon, but this was about Thad and Thad alone. Additionally, some reviews also state that he "convinced" his accomplices to assist him in the crime; on the contrary, the picture Mezrich paints is one of the accomplices offering themselves up willingly. I mean, it sounds like these reviewers didn't read the galleys at all. Or maybe they did, and it was merely a continued effort to market this book specifically to men. 

And make no mistake, Sex on the Moon is heavily marketed to the man crowd. The title itself isn't one that is going to pique the interest of many ladies. The heavy use of adjectives like "daring" and "audacious" are commonly used in marketing strategies for guys. There are a few scenes in the book describing Thad's lust after and physical encounters both with his wife and with his girlfriend (while still married-the jerk) that aren't necessarily graphic but definitely explicit in detail. Unnecessarily so. I mean, you're chugging along and here's this intimate scene and you think "Hey, I thought this was a book about NASA and moon rocks." 

As for Thad Roberts, I don't know where he is or what he is up to these days, but one thing I know for certain is that the guy is quite the brain. Despite going to federal prison for a sentence of 100 months and hacking off the greatest scientists in the world, his book is absolutely fantastic.

He just may make his millions on those moon rocks after all...


Wonderful Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum)

I love the Wizard of Oz. Seriously. Love. It. I am all about some "Somewhere oooover the rainbow..." "Follow the yellow brick road!" and "If I only had a brain." and "I'll get you, and your little dog, too!" and "I'm mellllttttiiiinnnggg!"

And those Munchkins? Don't you dare get me started.

But y'all. Judy Garland had it all wrong. All joking aside, the movie version should have had a disclaimer stating that it was loosely based on the book. There is so much left out, so much that is changed in the version written for the big screen.

Originally published in 1900, it all starts out about the same way. Dorothy has lost both her parents and is living with her aunt and uncle. A cyclone takes away Dorothy and her dog Toto to Munchkin Land, where her house accidentally kills the Wicked Witch of the East. The Good Witch of the North sends Dorothy (with the East Witch's silver shoes-NOT ruby slippers) on a journey to the Emerald City to get help there from the Wizard of Oz. Along her way, she meets the characters we know and love so well from the 1939 movie: Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. In the book, however, the story goes into great detail about the Tin Woodman and how he came to be rusted there on the side of the road. As the book tells it, the Tin Man used to be just a woodman who was in love with a girl. The Wicked Witch of the East put a hex on his axe, which turned against him and chopped his limbs off one by one. They were replaced with tin prosthetics until his entire body was made only of tin. His tin body was not given a heart, so he was unable to continue loving the girl he had lost his life over.

The Wicked Witch of the West blames Dorothy for her sister's death and sets out to doing whatever she can to keep her from getting to the Land of Oz. She sends hordes of crows, bees, and wolves to try and stop them. Two additional differences from the movie are that the Wicked Witch of the West has an army of Winkies in her service AND the witch has this Golden Hat. The Golden Hat grants permission to the owner to summon an army of winged monkeys to do her/his bidding. The witch uses her last summoning on Dorothy and her gang, and the monkeys tear apart the Tin Man and Scarecrow. Dorothy gets angry and throws a bucket of water on the witch, wherein she melts theatrically. No surprise there, at least.

So now Dorothy has the Golden Hat. She uses it to get the winged monkeys and the Winkies to help them all get put back together and taken to the Emerald City. They meet the wizard who really isn't a wizard at all, and he accidentally leaves Dorothy and Toto behind when his hot air balloon takes off unexpectedly. Dorothy and her friends make the long journey to see Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. After another series of adventures involving a giant spider and crazy trees, they make it to Glinda. Glinda tells Dorothy that the silver shoes have been her way home the entire time, and so they are. Dorothy and Toto are returned to her aunt's and uncle's house, and they all live happily ever after.

Check it out yourself in Google Books.



I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou)

There are some books, some authors, whose styles resonate soundly within me. To Kill a Mockingbird is that way. Every time I crack it open, I literally sigh my way through it because it is just so...beautiful.

I really like to read and enjoy a rather nice variety of genres, but I LOVE it when an author takes ordinary words and crafts them into something so pretty it can only be called art.

Maya Angelou is an amazing wordsmith, and I adore her style. When I was about 2 chapters in to this book, all I could think was I will never forgive my high school English teachers for not exposing us to this.* I mean, we had to read "Hedda Gabler," for cryin' out loud! Ugh.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is Maya Angelou's autobiography. She and her older brother Bailey were brought South to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas when they were children (this would be the 50's), and encountered more than one brush with racism in its ugliest forms. The best parts of this book are Maya's penning of segregation and racism in ways most people have never fathomed. Before long they were returned to live with their mother, in California. She was a wild woman with a fierce love for her children but little regard for structured parenting. Maya's experiences living with her mother taught her everything she wanted to know and didn't want to know about family. Sadly, young Maya was sexually abused for a lengthy period of time, and soon after she and her brother returned to Arkansas for a time before a string of moves involving their father, their mother, and their grandmother. As Maya grew into a young woman, she questioned everything about herself, including her appearance, her sexuality, and her relationships with her family members. This "self-discovery" led to a pregnancy, and at a very young age Maya Angelou became a mother to her son.

Eventually Maya ended up in the theater and, through both her innate ability to paint pictures with her words and her proclivity for delivering them theatrically, has become an icon of both this century and the last. She continues to write and speak about her life, and the literary world is a better place because she's in it.

Some of my favorite lines from the book:

On Maya's and Bailey's arriving in Stamps, Arkansas: "The town reacted to us as its inhabitants had reacted to all things new before our coming. It regarded us a while without curiosity but with caution, and after we were seen to be harmless (and children) it closed in around us, as a real mother embrace's a stranger's child. Warmly, but not too familiarly." pg. 5

"Of all the needs (and there are none imaginary) a lonely child has, the one that must be satisfied, if there is going to be hope and a hope of wholeness, is the unshaking need for an unshakable God." pg. 23

On her relationship with her brother: "Bailey was the greatest person in my world. And the fact that he was my brother, my only brother, and I had no sisters to share him with, was such good fortune that it made me want to live a Christian life just to show God I was grateful." pg. 22

Maya's feelings while listening to a white politician giving a speech at her high school graduation: "We were maids and farmers, handymen and washerwomen, and anything higher we aspired to was farcical and presumptuous." pg. 180

*I suspect that the reason I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was kept from us in high school was the chapter toward the end in which she struggles with issues relating to her sexuality. If I'm right, I find this rather unfortunate. I'm a full believer in taking care not to expose children and young adults to material not developmentally appropriate. I also believe that we all need to do a better job of making sure that we aren't "protecting" children and teenagers from issues we find too uncomfortable ourselves. Yet again, a post for another day.


Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen)

When you reach the end of the short time each of us is given on this Earth, what will be your most memorable moments? For Jacob Jankowski, who is in his nineties, his most powerful memories are from the days he worked for the traveling circus. Starting with the very unexpected death of his parents, Jacob's circus story is filled with sadness, violence, poverty, and injustice. In one situation after another, Jacob (and his new friend Rosie) are connected in a supernatural way. They are both alone and in need of a place to belong. Only for Jacob and Rosie, because it's filled with selfless, crazy people who want only to hurt them, the circus will never be the right home for either of them.

Oh, and another thing...Rosie isn't who you think she is. 


School of Fear (Gitty Daneshvari)

School of Fear is one of the (many, many, MANY) books I have purchased at my school book fair over recent years. Published in 2009, this story is about 4 students who have terribly ferocious fears of...something. Bugs, dying, tight quarters, and deep water are among the paralyzing fears of these 12 year old kids. In an act of desperation and desire to be free of their children's paranoias, their parents send them away to an exclusive school designed entirely for curing phobic children of their fears.

I liked the vocabulary exposure readers get in this book. I like the adventure, even if it does get a bit wonky at times. I love the sarcasm. I like the characters a lot, and suspect that many children today can identify with this exaggerated form of unique fears. It has favorable reviews from reputable school library book reviewers, but take a look at the cover. What do you notice?

I am concerned about the lack of cultural diversity in the book. Granted, ethnic diversity just for the sake of diversity is just as shallow as no diversity at all...but that is a post for another day.

It's a great piece to be included in a school library, and would be especially satisfying to Lemony Snicket fans.


Harvesting the Heart (Jodi Picoult)

Because Paige O'Toole's mother abandoned her and Paige's father at a young age, she has been left with a lifetime of empty, longing memories and curiosities about what would possibly cause a mother to leave her child. Because of the scar left on her by this abandonment, Paige develops a proclivity for running herself. Though she has a wonderful and supportive father, as soon as she graduates from high school, Paige runs away from home to pursue art school...

And then she meets Nicholas. Nicholas, the cardiothoracic surgeon. Nicholas, the (not by much) older man. Nicholas, her knight in shining armor. 

They have a wildly brief courtship and marriage, and just as Paige is about to be on the brink of starting the art school she always dreamed of, they have a son. Max is the love, delight, and the great terror of Paige's life. Overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood, her perceived loss of herself, and by an increasingly unhappy marriage, Paige does the one thing Paige knows how to do. She runs. She runs far away from what and who she has, at the same time running toward who and what she wants. 

I love Jodi Picoult. This wasn't my favorite of her works, as in my opinion it was a bit lengthy at the expense of precision. Still, pretty good for some heavy mom-introspection. 




The Weird Sisters (Eleanor Brown)

The Andreas sisters (Cordelia-Cordy, Bianca-Bean, and Rosalind-Rose) are all grown up and living their lives quite separately until their mother is diagnosed with breast cancer. They have come back home as though magnetized, with much devotion to help their mother even despite their own capricious self-centerdness. In short, these girls are a mess.

Bean has destroyed her career and is over her head in tremendous debt despite egregious embezzlement from her company.

Rose has finally met and fallen in love with a real life Prince Charming, only the choice to build a life with him means letting go of all she has ever known and counted as her life...even if she can't reconcile the fact that her life as it is isn't what she wants.

Cordy has floated aimlessly from one hippie compound to another, lacking for even basic necessities of life in favor of her freedom. Suddenly, Cordy has another life to consider, and this sends her into a tailspin of despair.

The women do their best to give one another the impression that they don't need the other, but it is when they come home again that they figure out that sisters can be the only people they do need.

*This was Eleanor Brown's debut novel.


Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney)

My students are obsessed with the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. At no less than 5 requests every single day, these items are hot commodities in my school library. At the end of the year I was finally able to wrangle the first installment to see for myself just what all the fuss is about.

The very first observation I had about this book was that Greg Heffley is a little jerk. He's narcissistic, rude to his parents, completely self-absorbed, and the most inconsiderate, selfish "friend" any kid could ever have. But, you know what? A lot of upper elementary/middle school boys are just like Greg Heffley. I suppose at the end of the say, it's all a part of their emotional development and that they are who they are at this stage for a reason. Still. He might be funny, but he's still a little tool.

And he is most definitely funny. Greg Heffley makes some pretty witty observations about the social order in schools that I think most educators and maybe even parents miss out on. There is a tinge of a "bully or be bullied" theme which I definitely believe is part of the under-the-table social interactions between students. Another observation I have is that the books are 5th grade level readers, which I think is overestimating a bit. These books are not exactly solid 5th grade level material. There are illustrative comics interspersed throughout, which make it even more popular with kids. These kiddos do love their graphic novels (sigh)...

Overall, it's a good set to have in the school library. As for me, I'm done with you, Greg Heffley. But I like that my kids like you, so maybe you were worth my time after all.


The Sea of Monsters (Rick Riordan)

This is the second installment in the Percy Jackson series. Percy's friend Groves is in big trouble, and it will take everything he and Annabeth can do to save both their friend and all of Camp Half-blood.

The camp is in utter chaos when one of their long-standing defenses begins to fail. Everyone will be killed unless Percy and Annabeth can retrieve the golden fleece from Polyphemos (a giant Cyclops), which just happens to be in the middle of the Sea of Monsters (commonly known as the Bermuda Triangle). One disaster after another awaits them in this portion of the sea, but it is their friendship that keeps them pressing on. A new characters introduced in this book is Tyson, a young Cyclops. It is difficult to determine whether he is friend or foe, and as Percy figures that out, he reveals some interesting pieces of his character and his relationship with Annabeth.


The Lightning Thief (Rick Riordan) [Percy Jackson Series: #1]

Percy Jackson is just a regular kid. Just a regular, middle school kid. Sure, weird things happen to him. Water does strange things when he feels strong emotions. Or does it? Maybe he imagines it.

Actually, Percy J is sort of a son of Poseidon. It's kind of a long story, but Papa Poseidon and human Mama Jackson go their separate ways and Percy never knows his father. And it's all fun and games until a lightning bolt gets stolen. A rather important lightning bolt. Zeus's lightning bolt, to be exact. Zeus thinks Poseidon took it, Poseidon blames Hades, Hades blames everyone, and the world is going to implode unless that bolt can be recovered.

Percy Jackson and his friends are the kids for the job. They trek all over tarnation trying to locate the bolt and then return it back to Zeus in order to stop World War III, and all along the way it seems that everyone and everything are trying to stop them.

This is the first installment in the Percy Jackson series. The series is wildly popular with kids, and in its movie form as well. I can see why! Incredible suspense, Greek mythology, and classic good vs. evil all make for strong elements in young adult literature. I found it interesting that the author is a middle school English teacher. That explains how he nails middle school humor and logic so well.


Bossypants (Tina Fey)

Good for reflection as working moms and GREAT for a laugh, Bossypants is by far one of the most entertaining autobiographies I've ever read. With her classic wit and hilarious sarcasm, Tina Fey sends readers to the floor in all-out gut chuckles over her antics, experiences, and observations. She tells her side of the whole Palin impersonation gig, shares insight into work on the SNL set, and gives her inner monologue on the conflict (every working mom's conflict) between a desire to work and a desire to be with her children. It's a short, light read and you close it (or click out, in case of e-readers) with a greater respect and appreciation for Tina Fey's work than ever before. 

Just do not, don't even think of it, ask her about her scar. 
What scar? 
Yeah, that's what I said! 




Choosing to SEE (Mary Beth Chapman)

Thanks to a hot Kindle sale, I was able to read this narrative biographical journey of Mary Beth and the Chapman family throughout their rather tumultuous life experiences. In the book, she tells of her early life together with Christian singer/songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman. She also tells of their family's growth through birth and through adoption. She writes very candidly about the sad accident which caused the death of little Maria, one of their daughters. This is a book that resonates with every mother, and unlike many of the popular "celebrity" books written today, Mrs. Mary Beth is as real as it gets. I'm thankful for her courage in writing this book.

Deuteronomy (Moses)

Deuteronomy is all about the remembrance. It's the 5th book in the Pentateuch, and a rather lovely synopsis of the history of the Israelites and of God's instructions for their new nation. Moses summoned the people, and reminded them all about how the Lord had done for them. He reminded them of the rules for the clean and unclean meats. He reminded them of how God provided for them in the desert. He reminded them of how they were to make sacrifices. He reminded them over and over and over how important it was to care for the immigrants, orphans, and widows.

In every single community, there are immigrants and orphans and widows. Just as in the day that Moses authored the book of Deuteronomy, the immigrants and orphans and widows are still the most fragile, vulnerable people in our midst. The Bible is very clear: it is our responsibility to care for those who need it, in whatever way we can, which includes the immigrants and orphans and widows.


Raising Adopted Children (Lois Ruskai Molina)

Of all the adoption books I read, this was by far one of the most comprehensive. It is my opinion that frequently adoption book authors make the mistake of either being either too flowery with not enough actual helpful content or being too cold and diagnostic without the proper accent of emotion. This book struck a good balance between the two. 

One of my favorite aspects was that she went to great care to include tips and advice for every possible scenario in adoptive families. It was the first time I've read a book that includes information for adoptive families who already have biological children, and advice on how to promote bonding between the two. It was for the first time that I read in this book a several-page section detailing adoption and breastfeeding, and how and when to decide if it's right for your family. 

I've long since returned this one to the library, but still my mind drifts back to statements of truth about the adoption experience from this book. That probably means it's time for a hard copy to go on my shelf! 



Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret (Dr. & Mrs. Howard Taylor)

What do you believe in? 

I'm not talking Mac over PC, or Percy Jackson over Harry Potter, or even Nutella over peanut butter. (Though of course, the correct choices are in fact Mac, Harry, and Nutella.)

No, but really...what do you really believe in? What do you believe in so strongly that you would give up your money, your home...even your family?

Hudson Taylor's single focused passion, which fueled his efforts as a pioneer missionary to China in the 1800's, was his salvation in Jesus Christ.  

Hudson Taylor lived a life of sacrifice just to have the opportunity to travel to China and work with the people there, and during his years serving the Chinese he experienced death, destruction, violence, and resistance from the government. He lost children and even his wife. He lost his health. At one point, he even lost his mobility. But, champion of faith that he was, Hudson Taylor never wavered from his calling to serve the people of inland China through medical and evangelical missions. He was known as an oddball because he was the first to dress in traditional Chinese attire and to shave his head (leaving the long braided ponytail) in the customary manner of the people he was serving. But eventually others realized that his strategy was working, as it earned him favor and understanding with the Chinese. 

His biography, written in 1932 by his son and daughter-in-law, alternates betwixt excerpts from Hudson's personal letters and journal to narrative descriptions of the events he and his family faced during their years in China. The book emphasizes the strength of his faith, and explains throughout that his "spiritual secret" was a joyful and willing submission of trust to God's plan for his life and for the people of China. 

I found this book oddly sluggish at times yet compelling at others. Ultimately, I was utterly fascinated by Hudson Taylor, but I found this particular telling of his life and work substandard. His legacy deserves a better, more clarified biography than this particular book offers.



The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot)

Ever heard of something called HeLa cells? Yeah, umm, me either...not until a few months ago, anyway.

HeLa is a building block of cell science and a cornerstone of modern medical research. Among numerous other very interesting uses, HeLa cells were used in the first space missions to test the effects of space on human cells, they were used in nuclear experiments, and they were (and still are) used to develop important vaccines, chemotherapies, and radiation treatments that have and continue to save millions of human lives. HeLa is widely known in the medical science community as one of the most important tools in the development of modern medicine. The purchase and sale of HeLa cells for the purpose of medical research over time likely numbers somewhere in the billions.

This book goes into painstaking detail about the relevance of HeLa cells in the existence of mankind, but its primary purpose is to shed some light on how HeLa came to be...which went a little something like this:

Once upon a time there was a woman, a wife and mother to several children. She suffered several medical ailments on and off in her life, but one day she became very ill and was diagnosed with cervical cancer. The doctor treated her with radiation, but the cancer spread and in her very early thirties this young woman died. After her death, cells were removed from her body and used in an experiment of cell division. Unlike any other cell in that experiment, this woman's cells kept dividing. And kept dividing. And kept dividing. And even unto this very day, they are still continuing to divide. Because of this unique type of cell division and multiplication, the woman's cells were extremely valuable for a multitude of research purposes. The woman's name was Henrietta Lacks. Likely because it was the 1950's and even more likely because Henrietta Lacks was a black woman, her family was never informed of the cultivation of her cells for research and certainly not informed of their value. Today, Henrietta's family is trapped between an expired statute of limitations on the several infringements committed toward them and an understandable inability to trust anyone in the legal or medical communities after a lifetime of  betrayals they have experienced. They have lived 60 years of intense frustration, and no one in the Lacks family has lived happily ever after. 

What a sad, sad story. Henrietta Lacks left a legacy that has transformed medical science, yet her own children stated at one point that they were so poor that they couldn't even afford health insurance.

Somehow the author of this book won the trust of the Lacks family and was therefore able to put together this very comprehensive tale of Henrietta's life and background, her medical treatments, and the process of the discovery and subsequent uses of HeLa cells. It is incredibly thorough and in the author's own words was extensively fact-checked.

The thoughts that continued to run through my mind while trudging through the bits of cellular science history were that the real untold story here is that this family has been exploited in ways unimaginable. Their disadvantages due to poverty and race (at that time) made them easy prey for the people who they should have been able to trust: the doctors. What has been done to the Lacks family is positively inexcusable, and why no reparations have been made to Henrietta's descendants is beyond me.

In addition to her cells' contributions to science, the controversy surrounding Henrietta's family's experience has led to a revolution in the way patients are required to be informed and to give consent for their treatments or for bits removed from their bodies. What you and I take for granted in that stack of release, privacy, and consent forms we fill out at the doc's office or for pre-operative processing, Henrietta was never given the opportunity to consider. You can thank Henrietta Lacks for her seemingly ceaseless contributions to science, but you can also thank her for your right today as a patient to be informed and to give consent to procedures that involve your body and what is removed from it. And we can all thank Rebecca Skloot for telling Henrietta's story.

*The author used a portion of her earnings from sale of her book to establish the Henrietta Lacks Foundation, which is a foundation that provides scholarships and grants for descendants of Henrietta Lacks as well as descendants of other research subjects (ex: the Tuskegee experiments). Learn more about that here: http://www.henriettalacksfoundation.org/

For more about the author and Henrietta's story, go to http://rebeccaskloot.com/.


Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother (Jana Wolff)

(This library issue was an older copy. The newer version features updated cover art.)

In this charmingly poignant memoir, Jana Wolff gets away with the kind of transparency most adoptive moms find elusive. In her honesty, she gets to say all the things adoptive mothers think at one point or another in their process. She gets to share the brutally honest "Dear Birth Mother" letter she really wanted to write, and she gets the chance to pop off all the witty retorts she'd ever thought toward people's nosy inquiries or observations about her son.

She gets to do all of this because Jana Wolff knows she is preaching to the audience. She has adoptive moms pegged from the prologue, and that makes this a great read; light, simple, and fun, but also serious and emotional.

Wolff and her husband (both Jewish) adopted their biracial son (whose heritage is a blend of black and Hispanic races) through a domestic, open adoption. This book chronicles their adoption experience from facing infertility to moving along into the adoption process, and all the way from interviewing with birth mothers to witnessing the birth of their son and beyond into their new life as a family. Wolff infuses each step with a clear depiction of her thoughts and emotions at each stage, which makes this an invaluable book for adoptive mothers. Having recently completed an adoption process (even though mine was neither domestic nor open), I found myself deeply comforted by Wolff's observations and emotional candor. I wish I'd had this book to read at the beginning of our journey!

For more information on Jana Wolff, go to: http://www.janawolff.com. I found the page with her articles and blog posts quite interesting!


Too Small to Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most (Wess Stafford)

Today, Wess Stafford is the president and CEO of Compassion International, which is a global child-focused sponsorship organization grounded in Christlike principles. Compassion International helps over 1 million impoverished children and their families with basic needs and education in at least 26 different countries. Today, Wess Stafford is at the helm of one of the largest and most efficient aid organizations in the world.

Fifty years ago, Wess Stafford was growing up in a tiny West African village (with French influence) called Nielle. In this book, he describes his childhood and the wonderful pieces of wisdom he discovered about life through the people of Nielle...the most important being that all children are important. He writes about the differences in typical American culture and typical African culture, and how valued children tend to be in African circles. Children are given important jobs. They are always included, never shut out or sent to a play room to be occupied while dinner was cooked. They were watched over but not hovered over. Life was and is very dangerous for a child in Africa, so they were and are taught responsibility and how to contribute at a very early age. Children are counted on because all children are important.

Stafford's interesting perspective on child advocacy comes from his experiences of being highly valued as a child in Nielle, but it also grows out of some very ugly experiences in a boarding school several months out of the year in another part of West Africa. There he and his sister, along with hundreds of other kids, were abused in the worst ways possible by people who had been entrusted with their care. Describing a few dark memories from this time, he shows how ugly people can be to innocent children...especially when those people know that the children cannot speak out for themselves and will not be heard by anyone who could help them. Their experiences are much like that of millions of children who are abused and neglected on a regular basis. Adults abuse children because they are powerless. Most of the time adults abuse children who are too small to have a voice, or they scare them into silence. Stafford challenges readers to view children as God sees them: as important. He gives several examples from Scripture when God had a big task and only a little child would do. Jesus Himself publicly admonished his disciples at least twice because they were trying to belittle the relevance of children in His presence.

If this sounds like a book for you, be warned that there are some truly horrific stories within these pages. Some of them are from Wess Stafford's visit to Haiti or Rwanda. All of these stories, combined with Stafford's personal childhood, have sparked a bottomless passion within him to advocate for children on every level of society but especially the most powerless: the poor. He presents some specific ideas for changing the way the world thinks about children, and ways to elevate them from being a discarded member or society to an intensely valued member of society. Wess Stafford is intensely passionate that all children are important, and by the time you finish the last page, you'll believe that just as deeply as he does.


African Mythology (Anansi)

Welcome to my maiden voyage into the world of graphic novels. Don't get me wrong, I know what the research says about graphic novels (specifically, boys and graphic novels) and I certainly have chosen several of them to enhance my school library collection, but I've simply never wanted to read one myself. 

Graphic novels are basically comic book-style books. They usually come in chapter books and are rich with illustrations. That feature, in addition to the chunking of text within subsections, is attractive to many reluctant readers. Which (not always) usually means boys. My graphic novel collection extends from Greek and Roman mythology to biographies of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington to plain old Spider Man and the Hulk. 

Personally, I would not choose to read a graphic novel. I'm definitely a visual learner, but my brain gets nervous when trying to decide which frames and text bubbles to read next. I caution all my kiddos who select these types of books about this, and instruct them on the LEFT-RIGHT, TOP-DOWN strategy for interpreting text within a graphic novel. 

But enough about graphic novels. 

This one is about Anansi, who was the world's first spider and desired to own the world's stories so he could know the beginnings and the ends of all things. To do this, he had to capture 3 creatures and take them to the sky god. (Can you tell this is from the 389.2 section?). Through some classic fable drama, he accomplishes his goal and lessons are learned in the process. This one is short enough for a student to read in a few minutes, and move right along to something else. 

Yeah, so the graphic novel thing is never going to be my bag, but there's always value in exploring something for the value of passing it along to someone who'll need it one day. 



Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid (Lemony Snicket)

Lemony Snicket (which I think is a pseudonym for Daniel Handler, and a writer who I find fabulously entertaining) is best known for his authorship of the Series of Unfortunate Events. I have a few books left to complete the series, but I know enough about them to know that A) Lemony Snicket is hilarious, and B) this series in particular is most delicious when consumed audibly.

Horseradish is a collection of maxims that are categorized by applicable areas of life (as Lemony Snicket sees them), including Home, Family, Literature, A Life of Mystery, the Mystery of Life, and An Overall Feeling of Doom that One Cannot Ever Escape No Matter What One Does, etc. There are some adages that are of a more serious nature, and others which seem serious but end silly. And then there are those that start silly and end serious. Something for everyone, you see.

Just a few of my favorites:

"No matter who you are, no matter where you live, and no matter how many people are chasing you, what you don't read is often as important as what you do read."

"A good library will never be too neat, or too dusty, because somebody will always be in it, taking books off the shelves and staying up late to read them."

"A library is like an island in the middle of a vast sea of ignorance, particularly if the library is very tall and the surrounding area has been flooded."

"Love can change a person the way a parent can change a baby - awkwardly, and often with a great deal of mess."

"Just about everything in this world is easier said than done, with the exception of "systematically assisting Sisyphus's stealthy, cyst-susceptible sister," which is easier done than said."

Easily consumed in one sitting, Horseradish is sarcasm at its best.


Gone With the Wand (Margie Palatini)

Margie Palatini is one of the funniest children's authors there is. I fell for her at Piggie Pie, and have long since been her biggest fan. She manages to write in such a witty, funny way that makes kids roll around on the carpet laughing and it gives us grown-ups a good chuckle too. I love the way her stories are just plain funny, and I love the way kids love her books. 

Gone With the Wand is the tale of a fairy godmother who was having a "bad wand day." Suddenly her wand wouldn't work, and through the help of another fairy friend, she makes a valiant attempt at finding another line of fairy godmother work that would crank up her wand magic once more. There are some zany adventures that will crack your kids up before this fairy godmother gets her very own "happily ever after."



I Have a Dream (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

In this book, fifteen winners of the Coretta Scott King Award come together to illustrate Dr. King's most famous oratory in its entirety. Each page illustrates a section of his "I Have a Dream" speech that was given on the steps of the Lincoln monument on August 28,1963. It is a brilliant work, giving readers a visual connection to the events that had taken place to inspire Dr. King's speech.

My favorite line from each page:
-I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
-This momentous decree [the Emancipation Proclamation] came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering justice.
-But one hundred years later...the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination...
-When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir....It is obvious today that America has defaulted on the promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned....But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.
-This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.
-There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.
-Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.
-We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality...We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto into a larger one.
-We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating, "For Whites Only."
-You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
-I have a dream one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed - we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
-I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
-I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with words of interposition and nullification, one day, right there in Alabama, little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today!
-With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
-...And when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children - black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics - will be able to join hands and to sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last, free at last; thank God Almighty, we are free at last."

After slowly reading through the book, I then located the audio of Dr. King's speech online, and read it again, this time listening to this great man deliver his speech. And I cannot tell you how moving it is. Over and over I got chills, hearing the passion of Dr. King and the people whose voices are heard cheering in the background. Especially as the mother to two daughters, one who is white and one who is Ugandan American, the line about little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers is especially moving to me. Thank God for Dr. King and others who had the courage to stand up for freedom!

There is a special foreword written by Coretta Scott King. Her comments are the book include the following quote:
"His vision of peace with justice and love for everyone still inspires and challenges us to create the beloved community. His legacy of courage, determination, and nonviolence still lights the way to the fulfillment of his dream. May God give us the wisdom and strength to carry forward his unfinished work."

Amen and amen.

Listen to Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech here.


David Goes to School (David Shannon)

Poor David. Wherever he goes, someone is always telling him not to do this or not to do that. In this school version of No, David! this mischievous little guy gets reprimanded for everything from needing to go to the bathroom too many times to having a food fight in the lunchroom.

If you work with school age kids in any capacity, you know a David. That kid who always gets in trouble, who always has a rough time making the right choices. I love these books because they remind me what life is like from David's perspective. They remind me how bad it must feel for those kids who have the hard time making good choices and hear about it all day long, everywhere they go-from Mama, from the teacher, from the cafeteria workers... And these David books also remind me of just how good it feels when those kids hear that rare "yes" or "good job."

The David books make want to be that teacher, that librarian who gives my kids a happy encouragement.


Tell the Truth, B.B. Wolf (Judy Sierra)

B.B. (Big Bad) Wolf has been invited to the library to tell the story of how he met the three little pigs. He agrees, but tries to tell a modified, more self-flattering version of the tale. The pigs aren't going to let him get away with it, though, when they show up at the wolf's story-time.At the end, he confesses the truth and asks for the pigs' forgiveness, which makes this a fabulous extension of the original story. Once they reconcile, B.B. comes to stand for something entirely new (which makes this a great book for teaching synonyms, use of the thesaurus, and the word choice trait of writing).

It's hysterical how the author weaves in characters from well-known children's books and fairy tales, including the Little Engine That Could, the troll from Three Billy Goats Gruff, and Humpty Dumpty. In a funny way, this book reminds me of how when our kids at school get caught doing something wrong and they try to talk their way out of it. 

This is the Big Bad Wolf's very own version of "See, what had happened was..."


Malia and Sasha Obama (Jennifer M. Besel)

I always find the Biography section of the library a most interesting place. This section is filled with the life stories of people who have lived important lives and done important things and experienced important events. Anytime I browse a new vendor catalog I am always a wee bit concerned over the saturation of biographies of young people who (Lord willing) still have 3/4's of their lives left to lead on this earth. Is it appropriate to write biographies of children and young adults? Is it appropriate for kids to read these stories of lives that can so easily change in the next month, or perhaps were drastically changed even before the book was completed, printed, and published? Is that contributing to the amount of inaccurate information our kids can take in, if we are not careful? And I wonder also about the subjects' opinion of people writing books about them. What are Malia and Sasha going to think in 20 years when there is a book on a library shelf stating that their favorite musicians are the Jonas Brothers? (Nothing against the JB, I'm just sayin'...)

Maybe I'm overthinking it.

After all, Malia and Sasha Obama are easily the most famous kids in America right now. With their dad as President Barack Obama, that makes them the youngest children to live in the White House in a very long time. As school-age children learn about how our government functions, they are naturally curious about current leaders and their families. This book, this biography of America's most popular 12 year old and 9 year old, barely stays on the shelf in my school library. I can hardly check it in before another child wants to check  it out, and unlike most biographies there are no boundaries in its target audience. Boys want to read it, girls want to read it, high readers, low readers, etc. Even teachers are interested to flip through it.

Here are a few things that I learned about the Obama girls from this book:
-Malia's birthday is July 4th; she gets to be in a parade every year on her bday (how fun is that!)
-Her dad calls her "Little Miss Articulate" because she has a talent for saying just the right thing.
-Malia suffers from allergies and asthma.
-Sasha's real name is Natasha; Sasha is just a nickname.
-Her dad calls her his "precious pea."
-Sasha had meningitis when she was just 3 months old.
-Their room at the White House was decorated from items from Pottery Barn, Target, and Crate & Barrel. When they moved into the White House, they brought their own Jonas Brothers posters from home.
-They have chores, which include cleaning up their own rooms, making their own beds, clearing the dishes after supper. If they complete all of these, they get $1 a week as their allowance.

The pictures of the girls at places such as the presidential inauguration, serving troops by stuffing backpacks for their children, helping serve food to the homeless, and looking beautiful in their famous attire are probably what draws most readers to this book. I like that the visuals communicate to kids that being the child of the American president doesn't make you a princess; it makes you a joyful servant of the nation's people...and that makes me think that this is a pretty great addition to my library.


Kindle convert-3rd edition

Read about why a book-lover would even care about a Kindle here and here.

One of the more intriguing aspects of my Kindle is that I can post quotes from books I'm reading to Facebook and Twitter. I enjoy social media, and what better way to share interesting thoughts from a book you are working on than a tweet or FB status? It's a way of sharing interesting thoughts, and sparking discussions. I like how people comment or reply with their own take on the book, which sometimes is quite different from my own. And I really like how sometimes people will suggest other books I might like based on a quote or note or thought I share through the Kindle on these social networking tools. I like being part of a community of thinkers, and it has surprised me how my Kindle has contributed to that.

I held back for a while because I feared the fragility of the device, but I finally got brave enough to tote my Kindle to the gym. I was totally surprised by how much I thoroughly love it! Reading on a treadmill is...tricky, to say the least. It still requires some effort at concentration, but what I love about the Kindle is that you don't have pages flopping over or have to be worried about losing your place. You hit the "next page" button mid-stride, and it waits for you to consume it. It's sweet like that. :)

An ed-tech blogger recently posted this about the "eBook Revolution" in schools.
I also caught this link on Twitter about the Kindle Revolution.
Great stuff!


Reclaiming Adoption: Missional Living Through the Rediscovery of Abba Father (Dan Cruver, John Piper, Jason Kovacs, Scotty Smith, & Richard Phillips)

Having recently experienced international adoption and having my eyes opened in such radical ways, I've also become sensitive to the adoption community. My family has attended adoption conferences and seminars, and have been able to learn from some incredible thinkers in the adoption world. The authors of this book are among them.

My husband and I felt called to adopt an orphan, and it was during the long and arduous process that we learned levels of Ephesians 1 that we had never contemplated before. How very interesting it is that while the most significant encounter of our lives is becoming adopted into the family of God, (and for Christians is the primary motive for adopting), it is nearly insurmountable that we truly and fully understand the depth of our adoption by God until we have experienced the adoption of our own child.

"One of my dreams is that when Christians hear the word adoption, they will think first about their adoption by God." (author Dan Cruver, first chapter, first sentence). Dan, along with several other authors, sets out to encourage just that in their newly released book Reclaiming Adoption. Within each chapter, John Piper, Dan Cruver, Jason Kovacs, Scotty Smith, and Richard Phillips each take turns delving into separate and unique characteristics of our vertical adoption as God's children, along with application in the horizontal adoption of our own children here on Earth.

The voice of each writer is evident, as is their careful choreography of collective authorship. I found their words encouraging as an adoptive mother and as a believer striving to grow in my relationship with God.  I also found myself quite pleasantly surprised and challenged by their fresh ideas in our meditations as believers of being adopted as heirs with Christ, as well as some cutting edge thoughts and philosophies in regard to orphan care within the church.

Thanks to my Kindle, I can easily navigate back to my list of notes, marks, and highlights from this book. It is truly the mark of a great work when, out of its 100 or so pages, I have 50 of these notations to review.

For more information about the authors, the book, or the T4A network, visit:



The Help (Kathryn Stockett)

Of all the books I read, there are precious few that grab hold of my heart the way this one has. I have not fallen so deeply in love with a book like this since To Kill a Mockingbird. The hubs was privy to many of the hilarious occurrences buried in these twenty or so odd chapters, and I love him for always listening when I started out with "You are not gonna believe what Minny Jackson has done to Miss Hilly Holbrook now!"

Set in the tumultuous 1960's in the even more volatile city of Jackson, Mississippi, this is the tale of a blossoming novelist and her desire to write about the precarious relationship between white ladies and their black maids. "The help" finally get their chance to tell their side of the story, but it is not without consequence for these truly brave women of Jackson.

Like all great novels, The Help is wondrously complex, with its side stories twisting and turning all over one another in one red hot mess. Skeeter is a new graduate with no prospects for a husband and, much to her momma's chagrin, is itching to put her shiny new English degree to use. While writing for the town paper, Skeeter's eyes become opened to the injustice of the way black people are treated. She begins to question the lines that have always been so clearly assumed between the white family and the help. Aibileen is one of the first maids willing to share her stories, and is soon followed by several others, all with the strictest condition of anonymity. They all have much to lose if they are discovered.

There are some truly lovable women in this book. Minny, Aibileen, and Skeeter are just the kinds of characters you love to love. Hilly, Stuart, and Elizabeth are simply the ones you love to hate. Regardless of which side they are on, every character is distinctively complicated. Their natures and their situations would easily give way to endless discussions in a book club or high school lit class.

I'm definitely filing this one under "Favorites." :)

For more about the author: http://www.kathrynstockett.com/ 

I also just discovered that The Help is coming to a theater near you in August! :)


Numbers (Moses)

The book of Numbers kicks off about a year after the Israelites were liberated from Egyptian bondage, about a year after the Lord sent the people the 10 Commandments (which formed them into a nation).

The next step for the nation of Israel was to form their military. The Lord decreed that a census be taken, in order to discover the number of men available for military service in each of the 12 tribes. At this time they were also given their assigned places in the camp setup. Every time the cloud or fire of the Lord that hovered over the tabernacle indicated that it was time to stop, the tribes were to form a rectangular shape, with the tabernacle in the center. And actually, there were 13 tribes, but the tribe of Levi had been set aside as the priesthood. The Levites were in charge of the tabernacle; all the tedious setting-up and taking-down of the place with every change of campsite. They were in charge of making offerings, and had a gajillion specific things to do to properly prepare. There were tens of thousands of Levites, and all the guys were numbered off to take their turn in the tabernacle. Being born as a Levite meant lifetime of preparing for entering the presence of the Lord. To do so in that time without proper preparation would result in immediate death, so it was a rather hazardous career.

One especially interesting chapter was Numbers 5, which is subtitled in my Bible as the "Adultery Test." It was decreed that if a "spirit of jealousy" were to come over a man regarding whether his wife might have committed adultery, he could take her to the priest for the adultery test. The woman would have to stand before the presence of the Lord with her hair let down and holding a grain offering, and the priest would have the woman swear an oath. If she had not committed adultery, she would be free to conceive children. If she was guilty, she would be cursed with a swollen abdomen and her thigh would waste away. I'm still reading and re-reading this chapter to try and sort it out. I have questions. One is, why single out the women? Dudes were much more likely to have relations with another woman/wife than women were to go looking for a man to cheat with. Another question is, um, wouldn't a pregnant belly look like a "swollen abdomen?" Say the wife was innocent and resumed her life, only when she conceived and her womb began to grow, how were people to know whether she was living the curse of the swollen belly or simply with child? I can't imagine that they would go peeking around under the girls' dresses, checking for that whole wasted thigh thing. Or who knows...maybe they did. This perplexes me.  And it certainly seems to me like such a provision in the culture would give rise to paranoid husbands.

Another Numbers chapter that sparked questions within me was Numbers 12. Miriam and Aaron were super duper important to Moses. However, apparently they had let their importance to him go to their heads because suddenly they were criticizing his choice of a wife and became greedy for the power he had. They grumbled and whined and complained, and even argued with Moses to his face. They made a critical mistake, and certainly deserved punishment. Numbers 12:9-15 tells us that the anger of the Lord burned against them, and "their" punishment was that Miriam was stricken with leprosy and shut outside the camp for 7 days. Uh, what about Aaron? I haven't been able to find what his punishment was, though it's possible that I've missed it.

Also as part of their first anniversary of their exodus from Egypt, the people observed the Passover. Instructions were given for this, as well as descriptions of the various types of offerings to be given and their purposes.

Enter Caleb. He was a good chap, and one of the only 2 who left Egypt as an adult who would actually enter the promised land. Caleb was part of the group of spies sent on a recon mission in Israel's first approach to the land that God had promised them, and one of the only team members who didn't return with exaggerative statements about how gigantic the people were and how they were like grasshoppers in comparison.

And oh my word, these Israelites were some whiney hineys in Numbers. They whined about the food (apparently their miracle manna was sub-par to their spoiled little taste buds), about Moses's leadership, about not having any meat, about the land, etc. They even try to stone old Moses before this book is up! God got a wee bit angry with them, and threatened to "smite them with pestilence," and Moses pleaded on their behalf. God spared them, but decrees that the whiney hineys shall not be entering the promised land. Which meant the nation of Israel then had to wander around for about 40 years, until the generation of losers died off. Gracious, this challenged me so much! I do not want to be the stumbling block that prevents my children from receiving blessings from the Lord.

Chapter 15 goes into great length about the laws for atoning for unintentional sin. This was a good reminder for me that the Bible is clear: even unintentional sin is still sin. Chapter 16 is wildly dramatic, when another dumb gang of rebel leaders starts verbally condemning the leadership of Moses, and they come to a strange demise when the ground opens up and swallows them whole.

And it is in chapter 20 that Moses makes a critical error. God was using him in yet another miracle, which of course had become routine for Moses. Only Moses made the mistake of stating that "we bring forth water for you out of this rock." Oooh, Moses. It makes me cringe. The Lord's response was something like, "Uh, excuse Me?! NO PROMISED LAND FOR YOU!"

A note I had previously written in my Bible beside this passage was "May we never attempt to share in God's glory." For Moses, this cost him his entrance to the promised land. For us, this is costly as well. I can't imagine how much Moses would have grieved this punishment. But if he was half the man I think he was, he would have understood the justice of it.

The end of Numbers is filled with brief but important milestones for Israel. There's this dude named Balaam who had a rather interesting encounter with a talking donkey. The army that assembled at the beginning of this book eventually began to take action going about the physical conquering of the promised land. There was a second census, which proved that the generation of whiney hineys were gone. Joshua was named as Moses's successor as leader of the Israelites. Inheritance guidelines were set in place.

The nation of Israel was beginning to prepare for their promised land.


20 Boy Summer (Sarah Ockler)

Anna and Frankie are best friends and have grown up together, spending their whole lives as next-door neighbors. The one and only secret that they have between them is Anna's crush on Frankie's brother, Matt, and his reciprocated feelings. Anna and Matt fall in love, and plan to tell Frankie about their relationship...until Matt's very sudden death. Anna stows Matt away in her heart and grieves alone with her secret, all while trying to help her friend deal with the loss of her brother. Frankie's parents are of very little help to their daughter as they are cycling through their own waves of despair. 

Frankie deals with Matt's death by closing herself off from the world and becoming barely recognizable to her family and friends. Perpetually living on the dangerous edge, her newest wild notion is a competition between herself and Anna, in how many guys they can meet in the 20 days of their summer trip to the beach. An attempt to lose themselves in a sloppy mess of boys proves to be both an adventure and a mistake. 

Eventually, Anna and Frankie have their first real conversation about Matt, and it becomes evident that this book is not about whether friendships can withstand secrets, it's about whether friendships can survive secrets revealed. The answer for Anna and Frankie will surprise you. 

*I won this book in a giveaway over at this blog, along with some homemade oatmeal soaps, some fun office supplies, and a lovely bookmark. Isn't it super fun to win something? It's even better to win something that you actually like. Thanks again, @mrsookworm! :) Y'all be sure to check out her blog, too.



Leviticus (Moses)

The third book in the Bible deals with the holiness of God. In my Bible there is a footnote that I found quite interesting. In this book alone, the term "holiness" is mentioned 152 times, significantly more than in any other book of the Bible. In a word cloud of Leviticus, "holiness" would likely be one of the largest words visible. Interesting. And rather humbling. I could not be less worthy of reading a book from God's Word specifically written about holiness. Yet, here we are. This is grace.

The book is divided into two main sections: the people's worship of a holy God through sacrifices and celebration, and directions for living a holy life. Leviticus shows His very specific instructions for the priests (from the tribe of Levi), as well as guidelines for the nation of Israel. The type of sacrifices and manner in which they were to be presented, the feasts and times of worship for the people to set apart from their normal routine, and precepts for the preservation of the health of people in the community are listed in painstaking detail. The people knew without question what the Lord expected of them and their society as a whole. I like that. There is safety in clearly-communicated expectations. And there is the gracious provision of atonement through burnt, grain, wave, etc. offerings when those clearly-communicated expectations are broken.

In the first several chapters, the people are presented with directions for preparing their offerings and sacrifices to the Lord. When worshiping the one true holy God, the people had to provide a sacrifice on behalf of their breaking of the law of that time. He permitted them to lay their hands on the animal and transfer their sin to the animal in order for them to retain favor with God. There are explicit admonishments against idol worship, especially offering human sacrifices to such idols; they were strictly forbidden.

Near the middle of this book, Aaron and his sons are set aside and consecrated as the priests of Israel. There is a very fancy ceremony, with oil and anointing and all that jazz. As I read about all the specific things that Aaron and his sons had to do in order to prepare the altar for offerings, I noted that it must have taken them HOURS to prepare. Their whole life was wrapped up in preparing the altar.

In chapter 11, the Lord gives the people boundaries for the consumption of animals as food. I found this extremely interesting, because the hubs and I have done a lot of research lately about the most healthful and wholesome foods, and much of what we have discovered was right here all along in Leviticus.

Check this out:
-11:3-DO eat animals whose hooves are completely divided and chews cud (this has to do with the type of digestive system the animal has-the whole chewing the cud deal is really the animal's filtration system-examples: buffalo, cow, goat, sheep/lamb, moose, deer, giraffe)
-11:4-DO NOT eat of animals whose hooves are divided and/or does not chew cud (camel, pig, rabbit, shaphan/hyrax, etc.)
-11:9-DO eat anything in the water that has fins and scales (fish)
-11:12-DO NOT eat anything in the water without fins and scales (again, these are the animals on the lowest levels of life in the sea and have very poor filtration systems; examples: shrimp, lobster, catfish, crabs, oysters)
-11:13-19-DO NOT eat these birds: eagle, vulture, buzzard, kite/raptor, falcon, raven, ostrich, owl, hawk, sea gull, pelican, stork, heron, bat, hoopoe (OK, so that means we get a pass on chicken)
-11:20-DO eat these insects: locust, cricket, grasshopper (all other are "detestable")
-11:27-DO NOT eat an animal that walks on its paws (cat, dog, etc.)
-11:29-30-DO NOT eat things that swarm on the earth (mouse, mole, snake, gecko, crocodile, chameleon, "great lizard"-dinosaur? Komodo dragon? etc.)

It's definitely very thought-provoking.

Continuing on, there are guidelines for cleanliness as related to childbirth, leprosy and other diseases, and the cleansing of germies. All of this was for the protection of the people.

Many times I noticed (and underlined) that all throughout Leviticus, as soon as the Lord issued a guideline for a certain category, He always included provisions for the poor...for them to offer what they can afford, for their sacrifice to be acceptable, etc. This is a noteworthy observation because it indicates yet again God's heart for the impoverished. It challenges me not to overlook the poor and ways to help them.

In chapter 18, I chuckled a bit because there are several verses that deal with not viewing so-and-so in his or her nakedness. Seems like one blanket verse could have worked, but I suppose there is a reason for the specificity. But seriously. Apparently they must have been having a lot of trouble with nakedness and peepers, and that sort of just makes me laugh when I imagine it!

Leviticus is wrapped up with the instructions for parties, celebrations, and festivals to be conducted as part of rest and worship. The Year of Jubilee was particularly interesting as they were supposed to celebrate in the 50th year with total amnesty from debt, servitude, and returning all land to its original owners. I had not heard or read of the Year of Jubilee before (other than that "Days of Elijah" song from 10 years ago) and was intrigued by it. I haven't discovered much more about it, but it's nice to think about. That would be quite a party, wouldn't it? It's on my list of things to ask Him about.

I'm glad that the same God who very specifically lays out the details of living a life of holiness and offering sacrifices is also a God who likes to plan parties.