Books to Go on Your Last Minute Gift List

December 20, 2007

Here are a few ideas for great books to give as Christmas presents if you’re still shopping. These books qualify as great gifts because they’re the type your daughters will want to read again and again.

1. Boy and Going Solo by Roald Dahl. I’ve read these books more than once and so has my husband and both of my daughters. It’s a pretty tall order to find something that we all enjoy more than once. Dahl’s stories of his life growing up and his young adulthood in Africa and as a pilot in World War II are fascinating historically. They also give a glimpse into the mind of this author who wrote so many original books for children. They’re both fairly small, so they can be read quickly.

2. Framed and Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce. You’ll fall in love with the protagonists of both of these books. Again, everyone in my family enjoyed them. Millions tells the bittersweet story of young, innocent Damian who has recently lost his mother. He and his brother Anthony as well as their Dad are struggling to figure out what life without her means. When Damian finds a duffel of money that drops out of the sky, he believes it is a gift from God, and he must spend it helping the poor. Anthony has different ideas, and while the tension rises throughout the book as the reader knows a resolution must come, it’s all very lighthearted and touching. Framed tells the story of Dylan and his small town in Wales where people are moving out in droves to look for better opportunities elsewhere. When art from the National Museum arrives for storing in the caves outside of town, the reader follows the path of redemption the art brings to the town.

3. West with the Night by Beryl Markham should be on every older girls bookshelf. Markham was the first person to fly solo from Europe to North America, and her story of being an aviatrix in the early 1900s is fascinating. She grew up in Africa with her father, and she knew other well known people such as Denys Finch-Hatton from Out of Africa fame. Her stories of boar and elephant hunts, flying over desert terrain and other stories of African bush life are fascinating to read.

4. Firestarters, 100 Job Profiles to Inspire Young Women by Kelly Beatty and Dale Salvaggio Bradshaw is a great book to help girls explore careers. Everything from the traditional to the non-traditional is included in this book that is easy to digest in bites.

5. The Trumpet of the Swan by E.D. White is wonderful for younger readers. The story of a Louis, a mute trumpeter swan who learns how to make his way in the world is sweet and inspiring.

6. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is another book that appeals to a broad range of people. My husband, my older daughter and I all rank it as one of the best books we’ve ever read. Zusak’s writing is so original that I found myself reading the tale slowly to savor every word. The story takes place in Nazi Germany during World War II, and it follows the exploits of Leisel, an orphan living with foster parents near Munich.

Here’s a list of other book club favorites to consider:

  • A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck.
  • Bloomability by Sharon Creech.
  • Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.
  • Red Scarf Girl by Ji-Li Jiang.
  • Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen
  • Zlata’s Diary by Zlata Fililpovic
  • I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
  • Light Years by Tamar Stein

You can shop online for all of these titles at my favorite bookstore, Powell’s, at

New Page with List of Books for Boys Posted

December 18, 2007

I posted the list of books recommended for boys as well as girls to read on their own or with a group. Many of these books are timeless, and classics as well as new books are on the list.

I’ve listed them by recommended age group. If you’d like to see something added to the list write in to let me know.

Good Books for Boys

December 13, 2007

Recently, I’ve been asked several times if I have recommendations for good books for boys to read. Many of the books read in mother-daughter book clubs are appropriate for boys too. A few that come to mind right away are Framed and Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce, The Book Thief and I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak, and Boy and Going Solo by Roald Dahl.

I’m working on creating a new listing of Good Books for Boys. It will go up next week, so if you have recommendations you’d like to see on the list, send them in to me and I’ll include them.

Cindy Hudson. Photo by Jill Greenseth

The Build-a-Library Project

December 11, 2007

I recently received an email from Julie Bennett, who is senior acquisitions editor for Ten Speed Press in Berkeley, California, about The Build-A-Library Project. As a member of two mother-daughter book clubs and author of this  Web site, books are a big part of my life and dear to my heart. I’m making a contribution to the efforts. I will also approach other members of my book clubs to request that we make a group donation.

Please read Julie’s request below, and if you feel as strongly about the cause as we do, make a donation to the project today.

Here is the information from Julie:

“As some of you know, in the last year I’ve been volunteering for Room to Read (, an organization founded by former Microsoft executive John Wood (author of Leaving Microsoft to Change the World). Room to Read builds schools, libraries, and computer labs; funds scholarships for girls; and publishes children’s books in developing countries in Asia and Africa.

Last month I heard John speak at the annual San Francisco fundraiser and was blown away by how much his organization accomplishes with relatively small amounts of money–roughly $250 to educate a girl for an entire year, and about $10,000 to construct a library AND fill it with books, puzzles, games, and furniture.

Because this organization does so much with so little (for people who often have so little), I wanted to do more than sort books in a warehouse or staff a donation table. So I’m rallying my family, friends, coworkers, and fellow publishing professionals to help raise enough money to build a library in Vietnam (exact location to be determined by Room to Read once we raise a good portion of the funds).

The cost of funding a library construction project includes bilingual books for kids ages 3-16, the creation of a child-friendly learning environment, posters and educational games, teacher training, and support for the library’s first three years—it’s an all-inclusive deal!

If you want to help me (please, please, please), here’s what you can do:

  • Go to and make a donation (big, small, or otherwise). In the “Special Instructions” portion of the online or mail-in form (and in the memo section of your check, if donating that way), please write “Julie Bennett’s Build-a-Library Project” so the donation gets applied to our library in Vietnam.
  • Make a donation in honor of a friend, family member, coworker, your kids–and build up serious karma points with your holiday giving. You can download a gift card to send to your honoree once you donate (or in the “Special Instructions” box, request that a gift card be sent to you; be sure to include your contact information). Please also write “Julie Bennett’s Build-a-Library Project” in that same “Special Instructions” box so the donation gets applied to our library in Vietnam.
  • If your company offers corporate matching, beg, plead, or otherwise convince them to kick in for this donation. And remember to reference “Julie Bennett’s Build-a-Library Project” in the “Special Instructions” box so the donation gets applied to our library in Vietnam.
  • Forward this email to everyone you know who loves and appreciates books and wants to be more than a slave to soul-sucking consumerism this holiday season!
  • Send me new (not used) children’s books to add to the donation being made by Tricycle Press (the children’s book imprint of my generous employer, Ten Speed Press). I’ll be packing up boxes of books and driving them to Room to Read’s partner warehouse in the Bay Area for shipping overseas. My address is below.
  • If you work for a children’s publisher and want to donate more than just a few books (like hundreds or thousands) or you want to set up a regular donation cycle, call or email me and I’ll hook you up with Room to Read’s publishing liaison. Scholastic, Chronicle, HarperCollins, McGraw-Hill, Pearson, Reader’s Digest, and others have already jumped on the donation bandwagon.

All of your donations are tax deductible (if you donate online, tax documents are automatically generated that you can print out; if you donate by mail or phone, or donate books, tax docs will be mailed to you).

Three more cool things: once we’ve raised this money, Room to Read will send me updates on the construction of our library, including photos, which I’ll share with everyone. Once the construction is finished, a plaque commemorating our Build-a-Library Project will be hung in the library. And if you happen to travel to Vietnam, you can even visit our library.

Thanks for reading this, even bigger thanks if you donate, and happy holidays!”

Warm regards,

Julie Bennett

Senior Acquisitions Manager

Ten Speed Press

999 Harrison Street

Berkeley, CA 94710


Mom’s Only Night for Mother-Daughter Book Clubs

December 7, 2007

Last night the moms from my daughter Catherine’s book club gathered for a night out of our own. One of the moms volunteered to host a movie night at her house, and we each brought something yummy for dessert to share, then settled in to watch the movie, Love Actually.

With all the busyness of the holidays and extra night-time events on the schedule, we had worried that this would seem like an obligation, a chore that we had to show up for. But it was just the opposite! I was excited about my girls’ night all day long, and when I arrived I felt the stress of the week lifting off my shoulders.

We drank tea and dessert wine and ate tasty desserts and cried and laughed during throughout the evening. When it was over we talked about all the different kinds of love and what we thought about the relationships we had just watched in the movie. We reveled in the fact that we were actually watching an R-rated movie, and it was definitely something we wouldn’t watch with our kids.

Next time we get together we talked about going out for a movie and ice cream. It’s not exactly living the wild life, but it’s lots of fun all the same. I highly recommend scheduling a grown-up night just for the moms at least once or twice a year.

Book Review: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

December 5, 2007


Last night my daughter, Madeleine, and I met with our book club to talk about Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer. Kirsten started the conversation by saying she loved! the book and she thought Edward was the perfect guy. The other girls jumped right in and echoed the exact same thought. The moms tried to bring the discussion around several times to other things that went on in the book: Would you so eagerly put yourself at risk in a relationship? Do you think Bella would continue to be so enamored of Edward if she had time away from him? Would you trade your life for an eternity with someone else if it meant never having children or forming close ties with anyone else?

Clearly the girls were more interested in the image of Edward as the perfect boyfriend than in thinking about any lasting consequences. A couple of us moms said we thought Twilight was an Outlander (an adult series by Diana Gabaldon) book for teens. While Outlander involves a totally different plot line, time travel in Scotland as opposed to moral vampires in Washington, the books are similar in that they feature a male hero who is loving, attentive, protective, strong and seemingly perfect (except for an endearing flaw or two).

The girls say everyone else they know who has read Twilight loves it. It certainly has it’s place as a light, fun book to read as long as you’re not expecting to explore issues in-depth during a discussion. We all need that sometimes.