Author Kim Culbertson’s Summer Reading List

June 19, 2009

Kim Culbertson

Kim Culbertson, author of Songs for a Teenage Nomad (which is a great summer read too), has sent in her summer reading list for herself and her daughter. She says it’s a partial reading list, but it’s certainly ambitious.  Here it is:

My five year old daughter and I are looking forward to reading (and re-reading):
Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman
The Girl and The Elephant by Nicole de Cock
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Ella Sets Sail Carmela and Steve D’Amico
Anything Angelina Ballerina by Katharine Holabird and Helen Craig
Falling Up by Shel Silverstein
An assortment of Beatrix Potter

YA books I plan to read this summer:
Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass
Honey, Baby, Sweetheart by Deb Caletti
King Dork by Frank Portman

And those grown-up books I’m looking forward to:
How To Buy A Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson (I’ll re-read this for my book club in August!)
Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
The Scenic Route by Binnie Kirshenbaum

Summer Reading List

June 17, 2009

Ah yes, summertime and the living is easy. No 5:40 a.m. alarms, no rushed breakfasts, no making quick lunches and helping kids fly out the door by 7 a.m. While there’s still plenty of work to be done in the summer, I welcome the slower pace and the opportunity to relax a bit and spend time with my daughters.

We read together a lot more in the summer. Without a heavy homework load looming every evening it’s easier to find time to snuggle up together with a good book. Even my 18-year-old still enjoys having that kind of “mom time.”

What’s on our list to read this summer? Well, the list is certainly too long, and we will only make our way through part of it. But it includes a combination of classics and new books that we expect to get happily lost in during the next few months.

Here’s a look at some of the books on our lists as well as summer reading suggestions for younger readers.

Ages 7–8
Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede—a princess defies the stereotyped expectations of her position to forge her own way and help her friends when they need her.

Frindle by Andrew Clements—When Nick is assigned a report on how entries are added to the dictionary, he is inspired to coin his own new word. His teacher is not amused, and a war about words ensues.

Piper Reed: Navy Brat by Kimberly Willis Holt—Follow the adventures of Piper, a middle child with a winning voice, and catch a glimpse into the life of a military family.

The Real Thief by William Steig—Gawain the goose guards the royal treasury, and he is fiercely loyal to King Basil. When jewels and other treasures go missing, Gawain is unjustly accused. He escapes and hides out until he can discover the real thief.

The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill—Miss Agnes arrives on the Alaskan frontier to take over a one-room schoolhouse in 1948. She’s different from any teacher the students have ever had, playing opera music, reading books about Greek Myths, and even learning sign language so she can teach a deaf student.

Ages 9–10
11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass—Amanda and Leo are best friends who have shared birthday celebrations for each of their last ten years. A rift keeps them apart on their eleventh birthday, and they find themselves waking to relive their birthday every day until they find a way to come back together.

Boy by Roald Dahl—Find out where Roald Dahl got his inspiration for the wacky and wicked characters that populate his books when you read these tales from his childhood. You’ll read stories of Dahl pulling pranks on candy-store owners and his older sister’s fiancé, harrowing accounts of crude-for-today medical procedures, and life inside British boarding schools.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman—A baby orphaned by an attack on his family finds refuge in a graveyard, where he is named Nobody, or Bod for short, by the long-dead inhabitants. The graveyard’s night guardian provides human sustenance, while its ghostly residents teach him how to live.

My Louisiana Sky by Kimberly Willis Holt—When her grandmother dies, Tiger Ann must decide whether she’ll stay with her mentally slow parents in their small Louisiana town, or move in with her glamorous aunt in the big city of Baton Rouge.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum—Filled with many adventures of Dorothy Gale and her little dog that you won’t find in the movie, this classic is the first in a long series of books about Oz.

Ages 11–13
Alligator Bayou
by Donna Jo Napoli—Sicilian immigrant Calogero finds it difficult to fit into life in a small Louisiana town in the late 1800s. He’s not supposed to socialize with whites or blacks, and tension between the races is building.

Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison—Fourteen-year-old Georgia worries about her breasts, her looks, and learning how to kiss a boy while dealing with her neurotic cat, clueless parents, and her baby sister still in diapers.

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson—Since Hattie’s parents died she has been shuttled from one relative to another. When an uncle in Montana dies leaving her his land claim, she finally gets a chance to create a place for herself. First she has to find out if she can handle the hard life of a homesteader on her own.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett—Mary is an orphan left to mostly fend for herself in her uncle’s English castle. When she discovers her crippled cousin Colin, she finds a way to bring life back to a hidden garden and the family that has taken her in.

Tangerine by Edward Bloor—Paul is legally blind and overshadowed by his football-hero brother. When his family moves to Tangerine County, Fla., Paul rejects his upscale school for one with a poor reputation so he can play soccer. As he discovers more about the accident that blinded him, he turns his town and his family upside down.

Ages 14 and up
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green—Colin has had nineteen girlfriends named Katherine. While on a summer road trip with his friend, he creates a plan to study the reasons they have all broken up with him, then apply a mathematic formula to find out the length of any future relationship.

Impossible by Nancy Werlin—Lucy is almost seventeen when she discovers a curse that leaves all the women in her family pregnant, insane and abandoning their child when they are her age. With the help of her foster parents and her friend Zach, she must find a way to break the curse before it all comes true.

Light Years by Tammar Stein—Maya leaves Israel for college in the U.S., but she can’t leave the feeling she is responsible for her boyfriend’s death by a suicide bomber. Her story alternates between both countries, highlighting the distances between the two cultures.

Torched by April Henry—Ellie’s parents are aging hippies arrested by the FBI for growing marijuana. When Ellie agrees to infiltrate an eco-terrorist group for the FBI in exchange for her parent’s freedom, she begins to see good and bad in both organizations.

West With the Night by Beryl Markham—As a child growing up in Africa, Beryl Markham faced down lions and wild boar. As an adult she trained racehorses, learned to fly airplanes, and became a bush pilot. Eventually she became the first pilot to fly solo west with the night, crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Europe to North America.

If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to sneak in a few books that are just for me. Here’s what’s on my list:

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines—Gaines has the uncanny ability to tell a big story in a simple way so the messages that come through tend to last. Although I saw the mad- for-TV movie based on this book years ago, I don’t remember much of the story. But if it is anything like A Gathering of Old Men or A Lesson Before Dying, also by Gaines, this small book spanning nearly 100 years of U.S. history should be a big treat.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows—I have heard nothing but rave reviews for this book set in both London and the island of Guernsey during and after World War II. It’s been described as lovely, sweet, charming and thought provoking; sounds like a perfect summer read to me.

The Last Cavalier by Alexandre Dumas—Over the years I have read most of Alexandre Dumas’s published books, so when I heard about a newly discovered work of his that has only recently been published, I knew it had to go on my list. This promises to be another grand adventure set during the Napoleonic years.

Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie—Ever since I first read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian I’ve been a fan of Alexie’s and intrigued to read more of his work. This book is also set on the Spokane Indian Reservation. It follows the fortunes of Thomas-Builds-the-Fire, a reservation Indian who uses a magical guitar to form a band. The book promises an unflinching look at life both on and off the reservation.

Stone’s Fall: A Novel by Iain Pears—While I’m not expecting this book to be a light summer read, I am intrigued by its setting: London, Paris and Venice in different time periods ranging from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s. I’ve read An Instance of the Fingerpost and The Dream of Scipio, also by Pears, and can’t wait to see what intrigue he has cooked up this time.

What’s on your summer reading list? Share your reading choices with us by commenting here.

Sign Up for Summer Reading at Your Library

June 15, 2009

Wherever you live, most likely your public library is taking sign-ups for a summer reading program. If you read a lot anyway, you may wonder why it’s still important to sign up for  program like this. I believe there are several reasons. For one, you’ll be encouraged to visit your library more often so your kids can claim the prizes they are earning. And that could have you choosing books out of your normal pattern. I know when my kids and I are in the library, we end up browsing books we would not be exposed to otherwise, and we check out titles that are totally new to us.

There has also been research conducted on summer reading programs. The New York State Library’s Web site,, has posted research results of studies conducted on summer reading. Here are some of the results cited:

Celano, Donna and Susan B. Neuman. The Role of Public Libraries in Children’s Literacy Development: An Evaluation Report. Pennsylvania Library Association, 2001.

In this 2001 LSTA-funded report, Drs. Donna Celano and Susan Neuman describe the ways in which public libraries foster literacy skills through summer reading programs and preschool programs. Recent literature they studied showed:

  • Libraries continue to play a major role in fostering literacy, especially among those most needing assistance in developing literacy skills (e.g., preschool and elementary school children).
  • Children who have been exposed to library preschool programs showed a greater number of emergent literacy behaviors and pre-reading skills than those in a control group.
  • Children who participate in summer reading programs benefit from the many literacy-related activities offered, aiding significantly in literacy development.
  • Public Library preschool and summer reading programs encourage children to spend a significant amount of time with books.

I’m headed down to my library today, and I hope to be surprised by what the librarians are featuring on the display shelves.

Book Review: The Fetch by Laura Whitcomb

June 3, 2009

The Fetch

The Fetch by Laura Whitcomb

Calder left his human life when he was only nineteen, and in the 300+ years since then he has been a Fetch, a being sent to guide humans to the afterworld when they die. Calder enjoys helping people find the peacefulness that comes when their souls move on, and he’s never been tempted to alter the decision of a soul teetering between life and death. That changes in the early 1900s when he ends up fascinated by the caregiver at the bedside of a boy. He wills the boy to live for her sake.

Years later, he ends up at the same bedside, and he decides he must meet the woman who cares for the boy. Calder enters the body of a dying man, trading places with him in the process, and he sets in motion a series of events that threaten to overwhelm the land of the living and unbalance the land of the dead.

On earth, Calder becomes involved with the lives of Rasputin and the Russian royal family shortly before and after they are taken hostage during the revolution. He realizes he must set the earthly world and the spiritual one back to rights, but first he must discover how.

In The Fetch, Laura Whitcomb has created an inventive tale that is part supernatural mystery and romance, and part historical fiction. With Calder we travel from the unrest in Russia, to the first Hollywood movie studios, to New York and London. Larger than life historical figures Rasputin, Anastasia and Alexis join Calder on his quest while also searching for their own peaceful afterlife. Can they succeed? The Fetch leaves you guessing right up to the end.

Madeleine’s Last Official Mother-Daughter Book Club Meeting

June 1, 2009

Last week Madeleine and I went to the last official meeting of our mother-daughter book club. I think we’re all in denial because it was just like a regular ol’ meeting. No fanfare or anything out of the ordinary. We just can’t quite admit yet that our little girls are all grown up and will soon head off on their own.

The girls graduate soon, and then they’re all off to college. As a sign of just how much has changed since we all started out together when the girls were 9, we finished by reading an assortment of David Sedaris books. That’s a far cry from the sweet books we read back then.

We talked about a few of our favorites over the years. Many people said their favorite book of all was the one we started with: The Hermit Thrush Sings by Susan Butler. There was the time we went together as a group to hear Richard Peck talk about his books and writing and read from his yet to be published The Teacher’s Funeral. We read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and went to see a theater production adapted from it. And of course, our weekends away have been great fun every time we’ve been able to schedule them.

We’re still trying to figure out how to keep our group together in some way. The moms are talking about signing up for a  series of author lectures. And we plan to have a reunion every year when the girls come home from college. We’re not all on Facebook yet, but that may be an option at some point.

Here’s the list of books we’ve read during our eight years together. Our favorites are followed by stars:


  • The Hermit Thrush Sings—Susan Butler*
  • Dealing with Dragons—Patricia Wrede*
  • Ginger Pye—Eleanor Estes
  • Julie of the Wolves—Jean Craighead George*
  • Our Only May Amelia—Jennifer Holm*
  • Ella Enchanted—Gail Carson Levine*
  • Nancy Drew Mysteries—Carolyn Keene
  • Bat 6—Virginia Euwer Wollf*
  • Stargirl—Jerry Spinelli*


  • The Heart of a Chief—Joseph Bruchac*
  • Jacob Have I Loved—Katherine Paterson
  • Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl—Anne Frank*
  • Boy—Roald Dahl*
  • Boston Jane—Jennifer Holm*
  • Walk Across the Sea—Susan Fletcher*
  • The Secret Garden—Frances Hodgson Burnett*
  • Joey Pigza Loses Control—Jack Gantos
  • Coraline—Neil Gaiman


  • Everything on a Waffle—Polly Horvath*
  • Goddesses:  Heaven Sent—Clea Hantman
  • Tangerine—Edward Bloor*
  • A Year Down Yonder—Richard Peck*
  • Going Solo—Roald Dahl*
  • Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging—Louise Rennison*
  • Fair Weather—Richard Peck*
  • A Step from Heaven—An Na
  • Mates, Dates and Inflatable Bras—Cathy Hopkins*
  • The Second Summer of the Sisterhood—Ann Brashares*


  • Biting the Moon—Martha Grimes
  • A Matter of Profit—Hilari Bell*
  • The Adrian Mole Diaries—Sara Thompson
  • The First Part Last—Angela Johnson
  • The Princess Diaries—Meg Cabot*
  • Hoot—Carl Hiassen*
  • Holding Up the Earth—Dianne Gray
  • Missing Persons:  The Rose Queen—M.E. Rabb
  • The Pearl—John Steinbeck


  • Hope Was Here—Joan Bauer*
  • West With the Night—Beryl Markham
  • Speak—Laurie Halse Anderson*
  • Search of the Moon King’s Daughter—Linda Holeman
  • Keeping the Moon—Sarah Dessen
  • The Secret Life of Bees—Sue Monk Kidd*
  • Ready or Not—Meg Cabot


  • Light Years—Tammar Stein*
  • A Certain Slant of Light—Laura Whitcomb*
  • The Kite Runner—Khaled Hosseini
  • The Life of Pi—Yann Martel
  • In the Time of the Butterflies—Julia Alvarez
  • Girls for Breakfast—Jimmy Woo


  • Millions—Frank Cottrell Boyce*
  • Driver’s Ed—Caroline Cooney
  • The Crucible—Arthur Miller
  • The Higher Power of Lucky—Susan Patron
  • The Pilot’s Wife—Anita Shreve
  • Uglies—Scott Westerfeld*
  • Voices from the Street—Jessica Morrell
  • Twilight—Stephenie Meyer*


  • What’s Eating Gilbert Grape—Peter Hedges*
  • Water for Elephants—Sara Gruen*
  • Looking for Alaska—John Green
  • This Boy’s Life—Tobias Wolf
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—Ken Kesey*
  • The Glass Castle—Jeannette Walls


  • Jane Austen novels*
  • Revolutionary Road—Richard Yates
  • The Bonesetter’s Daughter—Amy Tan*
  • Various titles—David Sedaris*