More Good Books for Boys

November 24, 2008

When I was at Portland’s Wordstock book festival a couple of weeks ago, I ran into Cara Holman, who I used to see often at Girl Scout leaders meetings. We chatted for a while about this blog and the page on it where I list good books for boys. Cara graciously offered to send me a list of books that have kept her boys interested in reading through the years, even when they were maybe not so excited about reading books.

Cara’s recommendations were really great, and I’ve added them onto the Book Lists page along with a brief description of each book. Of course, you may find that girls like many of these books too, because many of them have cross-over appeal for both genders. But if you’re looking for something to keep a boy engaged, this is a good place to start.

On My Nightstand: Memo to the President Elect by Madeleine Albright

November 21, 2008

When I’m not reading for one of my mother-daughter book clubs or reviewing books for this blog and my Web site, I’m reading for a book discussion group that I’m in with my husband, Randy, and three other couples. Our group mostly reads nonfiction, and tomorrow night we’re meeting to talk about Memo to the President Elect: How We Can Restore America’s Reputation and Leadership by Madeleine Albright.

Because Albright wrote the book before she even knew who the major party nominee’s would be, she’s writing to a speculative winner that could have been Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain or Mitt Romney, among others. Albright frequently references campaign promises, and it’s apparent that any of the candidates could have made the promises she recounts. It’s interesting to see that no matter how far apart their stated views are, the same words can be used to define separate stances.

What I really like about the book is that it focuses on foreign policy. Albright goes throughout the regions of the world and talks about the history of each one as well as the current status. As you might expect, she has a lot of praise for President Clinton’s policies and harsh criticism for President Bush’s, but she both praised and criticized past presidents regardless of which political party they were part of.

Whether you agree with Albright or not, you may find this to be an interesting look at the world and our part in it. It made me think of foreign policy as a long continuum, not just isolated events that occur to get our attention. I expect our discussion tomorrow night will be very interesting.

Mother-daughter Book Club Meeting—The Glass Castle

November 19, 2008

Last night Madeleine and I went to our mother-daughter book club meeting. It was at Janelle and Emily’s house, which is just several blocks away, so despite the dark and cold, we walked. It took less than 10 minutes, but in that time I got to hear a lot of what’s on Madeleine’s mind these days. She talked about school and the play she’s directing with friends and anything else we could cram in. Later, on the way home, we debriefed on the book club meeting. This isn’t the only time we spend talking to each other, but there seems to be something about book club that brings out conversation before, during and after. I think it’s because we know we’re in for a relaxing and fun evening.

We spent lots of time talking before and during dinner. Since the girls are all seniors they are also all in some process of applying for colleges. Some have already finished and been accepted to the schools they want to attend, and some are still in the stressful period of applying. And it is stressful if only because it’s an unknown that will affect them in ways they have no way of gauging at this point in time.

We gathered around to talk about The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (watch book video here) and ended up discussing memoir more than anything else. We talked about the different kinds of memoir, and how much of the genre we expect to be the truth. Many of us, including me, look at memoir as a contract with the reader that it’s an honest recollection of the writer’s perception of the truth. But some of us said it’s not important to them, that they read a story for what they take away from it, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s fiction or truth. We got into a good-natured but heated discussion on the topic.

We also talked about memoirs that detail extreme childhood experiences, like those in Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt and The Glass Castle, versus those that are more musing on life experiences, such as A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun. I’ve also read an interesting memoir recently that combines memory with current events in a very interesting way. It’s called The Pages In Between by Erin Einhorn, and it recounts the author’s quest to reconnect with the family in Poland who sheltered her mother during the Holocaust. It blends family history research with historical facts with analysis of current cultural conditions in Poland with a personal quest of the author to search for clues about her mother (official review to come). I tend to like this type of memoir more than those about extreme childhoods (with the exception of Angela’s Ashes). It was a very interesting discussion that I believe gave us all lots to think about.

Madeleine and I will host the next meeting, which isn’t until January, and Madeleine really wanted us to tackle a Jane Austen review. We all signed up to read different books by Austen, with at least two of us choosing to read each book. When we get together in January we’ll plan to look at Austen as an author as well as gender and class issues of the times she was writing in as much as we’ll talk about the books themselves. I chose to read Mansfield Park, because I haven’t read it before, and Madeleine picked Pride and Prejudice, which she hasn’t read. Stay tuned!


Book Review: Unraveling by Lynn Biederman and Michelle Baldini

November 17, 2008


Previously I’ve written about an interview with Lynn Biederman, author of unraveling, and her mom. But I realized I never wrote my official review of the book for my blog readers. So here it is, just in time for you to pick up and read while school’s out for Thanksgiving.

unraveling by Lynn Biederman and Michelle Baldini

Amanda Himmelfarb is starting high school and is ready to grab all she can of it. She wants to leave behind the loser image that got her the one-time nickname of Himmelfart. She’s contemplating having sex with a boy she met on vacation the year before. And she’s constantly at odds with her mother, who watches her like a hawk and comes down hard on her for all the things she imagines Amanda wants to do. The reader aches for everyone involved in the dysfunctional dynamics of this family: the mother-daughter pair who are constantly at odds, the mom and dad who argue over discipline and trust, the younger sister who takes advantage of it all to gain special privileges for herself. In short, everyone is unraveling, and the more threads that get pulled away, the faster the foundation continues to crumble. Just when everyone seems on the brink of coming apart, a surprising event helps them start to put the stitches of their lives back together.

Members of mother-daughter book clubs will find unraveling by Lynn Biederman and Michelle Baldini a safe place to discuss mother-daughter conflicts and look at how they affect the whole family. So much of the conflict comes about through misunderstanding and miscommunication, it’s a primer on what not to say or do if you want to maintain good relationships between parents and children. There’s also lots to talk about, particularly on the topic of girls who feel unloved and unaccepted may be less able to set acceptable boundaries for all areas of their lives.

If you’d like to check out the interview, here’s the link to Good News Broadcast.

Write4Kids Features Mother-Daughter Book Club as one of “Best Children’s Lit Blog Post of the Day”

November 14, 2008

I was very excited to see that the blog post I wrote comparing The Secret Life of Bees book and movie was featured by Children’s Writing Web Journal as a “Best Children’s Lit Blog Post of the Day” yesterday. The journal serves writers of children’s literature, and as you may imagine some of the information featured is also very relevant to reader’s of children’s literature. Since the Children’s Writing Web Journal is combing the Web to find the best blog posts relevant to children’s lit, you may want to check out it’s list often for ideas about what’s going on in the book world.

Here’s a link to the post and the YouTube video that goes with it, at

The Secret Life of Bees Movie/Book Comparison

November 12, 2008


Yesterday Catherine and I went to see The Secret Life of Bees with her book club. It was a school holiday and Madeleine joined us, since we had previously read the book with her book club too. We enjoyed the movie, and there were quite a few tears flowing during the show. We also had an interesting discussion comparing the movie and the book over ice cream afterward.

First I have to say we all liked the book hands-down better than the movie. The book is beautifully written, and it brings up issues of racism, familial love and acceptance of people for who they are. It’s not tidy, and by the end you know that the characters will go on trying to make sense of the times they live in and their reaction to them as well as to personal events in their own lives. There was lots of information about bee life that tied in as a wonderful metaphor to what the characters were experiencing.

While we liked the movie, we were very aware of things they changed from the book that made it flawed for us. For one thing, the movie seemed to add the bees as an afterthought, which seems strange. There were lots of scenes with August and Lily in bee clothing, but most of the bee talk seemed more informational about keeping bees and not metaphorical. Three other major differences between the book and the movie made up the bulk of our complaints about how the movie could have been better.

In the movie Zach ends up beaten up by white men for sneaking Lily, a white girl, into the colored section of a movie theater. This placed the blame on Lily and Zach for what came next. In the book, I was worried that something like that would happen because the two were so close, and I was glad when it didn’t. We all  thought it was much better for the story for Zach to end up in jail, suspected of assaulting a white man even though he had done nothing. It showed how people tend to see faces different than their own as all looking the same, hence stripping the identity from an ethnic group. If you can get in trouble because all black people look alike to white people, then your individual actions cannot be counted on to set you apart.

Also, in the movie, Our Lady of Chains loses part of her story, and part of her significance. In the book, she is depicted as being a carved ship’s masthead that probably started out as a representation of a white woman, but through her trials and tribulations the color of her wood turned black. One of the girls mentioned she was a great symbol to show that we are all the same inside, regardless of the color of our skin, and she’s a bridge to heal racial issues. In the movie, she was depicted as being originally carved as a black woman, so the symbolism is lost.

The ending of the book was also much more satisfying than the ending of the movie, although we all got the feeling it was intended to be just the opposite. I won’t detail the endings except to say that in the book it’s not tidy, which is more like real life and more satisfying somehow. The movie wraps it all up in a nice tidy package that trivializes what’s come before. It felt trite to many of us.

Regardless of noticing things we liked or disliked about the movie and the book, we all thought it was a great discussion for our mother-daughter book club.

Book Review: Savvy by Ingrid Law

November 10, 2008


I recently read Savvy by Ingrid Law with my daughter Catherine, who’s 14. We both liked it, and we thought it finds an interesting balance between realistic and fantasy fiction while giving the reader lots to think about. It’s most approachable for upper elementary and middle school readers, but older readers can appreciate it too. Here’s my review:

Mississippi Beaumont can’t wait for her 13th birthday, only days away, because that’s when she’ll officially get her savvy. All the Beaumont’s, except Poppa, have a savvy that is uniquely their own.  Mama is perfect, Grandpa Bomba makes new land, Rocket controls electricity and Fish can create storms and move water. Trouble is, the savvy is hard to control when it first comes in, and Mississippi, better known as Mibs, is nervous about what will happen at her party.

When her dad ends up in a coma in the hospital after a car accident and her mother leaves the family to be with him, the preacher’s wife organizes a birthday party for Mibs, making all the Beaumonts nervous about what will happen on the big day. But the fun really starts when Mibs decides to stow away on a broken down Bible-delivery bus, hoping to reach Salina, Kansas, where she believes she can wake Poppa up. Along for the ride are her older brother Fish, her younger brother Samson, and the preacher’s children, Bobbi and Will Junior.

Mibs has a great, down-to-earth voice, and readers will happily follow her as she explores issues of family, friendship, budding romance, and finding the things that are special inside each of us. You may just find yourself looking for your own special savvy. You can also look for games and a discussion guide at the publisher’s Web site,

Readergirlz New Blog

November 7, 2008


Readergirlz has a new blog that looks great. For those of you who don’t know about readergirlz, you may want to check out the blog and their Web site. You can find author chats, month-long book chats about a selected book, and a Facebook page. Readergirlz is also on YouTube, where you’ll find videos of author interviews and this explanation of what readergirlz is all about:

“Linking girls with great books so they can read, reflect, and reach out! Readergirlz is an online book community celebrating gutsy girls in life and lit. We read, reflect, and reach out. The readergirlz divas are: Lorie Ann Grover, Justina Chen Headley, Dia Calhoun, and Mitali Perkins.

The Secret Life of Bees – Mother-Daughter Book Club Meeting

November 5, 2008


This past Sunday Catherine and I went to our mother-daughter book club meeting to talk about The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. Ellen cooked a great southern-themed dinner to go with the book; we feasted on ham, biscuits, corn fritters and green beans. Of course there was honey. It’s hard to read this book and not start to crave honey on the comb. As a southern-born-and-raised girl I was as happy as could be.

When the book was chosen, I was a little worried that I would be bored reading it. I had already read it twice: first in a women’s book club I used to belong to and the second time with Madeleine for her mother-daughter book club. But I need not have worried.

I started to read the first page to Catherine and was instantly reminded of how much I love the book, and how much I admire the way Sue Monk Kidd writes. The characters are well developed and their emotions leap off the page as real, not just words written about what they are feeling. I ache for Lily in so much of the book, and it’s easy to see that her need to have a mother who loves her influences everything she does.

We all talked about a favorite character, and it was interesting to note that nearly every character in the book is developed well enough to have a following. Some of us thought that August was too perfect, and that the pink house was too much of a eutopia. But we also recognized that the issues dealt with were very complicated, and the story needed August’s wise voice to sort through them.

Racial tension and the civil rights movement was also a large issue underlying the story. It’s interesting how relevant that issue is today in light of the presidential campaign and election. When I shared some of my stories about growing up in the south during those racially turbulent times, the girls looked on as though I was talking about a foreign country. In many ways, that era does seem foreign, and Obama’s election is testament to how far we’ve come since then.

We plan to see the movie as a group next week. We’re looking forward to talking afterward about how the two compare. I highly recommend The Secret Life of Bees for mother-daughter book clubs with girls in high school.

Blog the Vote

November 3, 2008

I met with Catherine’s mother-daughter book club last night, and we couldn’t help but talk a bit about the election tomorrow in the midst of our book discussion. Since we live in Oregon, which has mail-in ballots for everyone, most of us had already cast our votes, but we still wanted to talk about the issues.

I know our daughters are discussing the election in school, and it’s provided a great entrée for discussions of our own when Madeleine wants to share something with me that her class read and discussed form the voters pamphlet, or Catherine wants to talk about the results of a mock election in her class.

Neither of my daughters is old enough to vote, but I’m glad they are engaged in a discussion on the issues so they’ll know how important it is for them, as part of a democracy, to think about what they believe and to vote thoughtfully once they register. And I do believe my husband and I are setting an example when they see us reading the voters’ pamphlet, talking about ballot measures and candidates, then carefully filling out our ballots and mailing them in.

There are several books I can recommend about elections and the political process. These books can be read anytime, even when it’s not an election year, and they show a glimpse into the process.

Children’s Books—Elizabeth Kennedy at has a list of The Top 6 Books About the Political Process/Elections/Voting. They run the gamut from fiction to non-fiction, and they range from books for 4 year olds to 14 year olds. To that I’ll add one I read and reviewed here recently. It’s called as if being 12-3/4 isn’t bad enough, my mother is running for president by Donna Gephart. Woven into the story about a middle school girl whose mother is running for president, are thoughts about why anyone with children would choose to be president of our country. It’s very interesting reading.

For teens, I can’t say enough about Gore Vidal’s American History series of historical fiction. Starting with Burr, which covers the founding of our country through Andrew Jackson’s presidency, continuing with Lincoln, my favorite which gives incredible insight into the issues at stake in our country leading up to and during the Civil War. Vidal continues with the series through the mid-20th century with 1878, Empire, Hollywood, Washington, D.C. and The Golden Age. All together they present a fascinating look at the politics and politicians of our country for its first 200 years.

So don’t forget to vote in tomorrow’s election. And check out a few other blog posts from the children’s literature world as part of the effort to blog the vote. This link will bring you to Chasing Ray, written by Colleen Mondor. Colleen has many links to authors, librarians, and others writing about the importance of voting.