Book Review: If I’d Known Then, Women in Their 20s and 30s Writer Letters to Their Younger Selves

June 24, 2008

Have you ever wished you could write a letter to yourself when you were younger to give yourself hope or encouragement to get through a difficult time? That’s what the 35 women did who appear in If I’d Know Then, Women in Their 20s and 30s Write Letters to Their Younger Selves by Ellyn Spragins.

Readers will recognize many of the writers as well as receive introductions to remarkable women they may not have heard of before. The letters are all heartfelt, with the authors talking directly to the young girls they once were. It’s a wonderful reminder that no matter how famous or wealthy or popular someone is, we all share many of the same insecurities, doubts, fears and self-imposed limitations.

This book is part of the What I Know Now series, and I think it’s a great addition for younger readers. I was particularly struck by the story of  Mindy Lam, who was labeled an unlucky child when she was born in China and treated harshly during her childhood. She overcame incredible hurdles to come this country, learn to speak English and find a way to support herself before stumbling upon an idea for creating jewelry that has made her successful beyond her imagining. All the stories are inspiring.

Moms in a mother-daughter book club can write letters to their younger selves as a meeting activity to inspire discussion. And girls could also think about issues they’re dealing with now that they may see differently in a few years.

I believe girls aged 13 and up would enjoy reading If I’d Known Then.

The World that Made New Orleans

April 10, 2008

I attended an author’s talk last night at Portland State University. I almost didn’t go, because I’m usually cooking, helping with homework and generally tired at night. But I’m glad I made the effort. Ned Sublette talked about his new book, The World that Made New Orleans. Sublette, who is a musician as well as an author of history, sprinkled his conversation with current tales of New Orleans as well as the historical facts the book concentrates on (the period from founding through 1812). I was fascinated listening to him talk about the Africans slaves and free people of color and their music. As New Orleans has become less of a major hub for commerce in the United States and more what some consider a theme park for tourists, it’s easy for people to forget about the crucial role it has played in the ongoing history of our country.

I bought a copy of the book and can’t wait to start reading it.

Blog on New Mother Daughter Book Club

April 1, 2008

I’ve been following a blog called Booking Mama, where Julie Peterson is writing about a new mother-daughter book club that she started with her daughter a few months ago. The book reviews are great, and Booking Mama’s descriptions of her mother-daughter book club meetings are really good too. The girls in the group are 8 years old, and if you have younger girls in your group this is a wonderful place to get ideas of what to read and discuss.

I also enjoy the reviews of books for adult readers that are included on the site. Julie reads even more than I do! Here’s a link to the Booking Mama blog so you can check it out.



Book Review: The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages

February 7, 2008


I just finished reading The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages. It’s been highly recommended from friends, and the recommendations are warranted. The Green Glass Sea is about two girls who live in Los Alamos in the closing days of World War II where their parents are working on a “gadget” that will help to win the war. It’s very top secret, and their community doesn’t even appear on a map. Dewey is a whiz at building gadgets of her own from scrounged parts that she finds in the dump and Suze is a budding artist. Neither fits into the inevitable hierarchy of kids in their community, and they don’t like each other either. But when they’re forced to spend time together, their relationship grows in ways that neither of them expect.

While the relationship story may be familiar, the way the girls interact and the way the story progresses is anything but formula. And the historical background of the story provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of Los Alamos and life in that desert complex. This book doesn’t shy away from tough issues dealing with family, friendship and the moral dilemma of the bomb. I highly recommend it.

January—A Good Month to Curl Up with a Good Book

January 10, 2008

I’m looking at raindrops out my window and gray skies in the distance. I’ve got a long day ahead typing on the keyboard of my computer when what I really want to do is curl up on the couch with a blanket and a cup of tea or hot cocoa and read.

I’ve got a stack of books just waiting for me to pick them up and turn the pages, and maybe I can carve out some time after lunch to do just that. Here’s what’s on my list of books to read:

  • The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages – This story of two girls living with their families in Los Alamos, New Mexico during the development of the Atomic bomb has gotten rave reviews. It’s a story about friendship and the struggle of fitting in set in a historical backdrop.
  • The Mother Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick – This is a story of four sixth-grade girls who are coerced (!) into joining a Mother Daughter Book Club where they will read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott as their first pick. Alternating chapters gives each girls point of view. Sound like fun!
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – Dodie Smith also wrote The 101 Dalmations, which of course Disney turned into a movie. This book has been resurrected recently, but is considered a classic. It’s the story of two sisters who live in a ruined castle in Britain, and it takes place between Word War I and World War II. Their lives change when a wealthy American family move to the area. It definitely sounds like a book that’s good for cuddling up with on the couch.
  • What’s Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges – Many people are familiar with this story because of the movie, which featured Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio. The book is for mature high school readers and adults. It’s a story about Gilbert, trapped in a small town in Iowa because he’s loyal to his family. We see that family through Gilbert’s eyes and find people who are far from perfect but trying to do their best. I hear the story stays with you long after the book is finished.

As I’m a writer, I also try to get a bit of professional reading in, and I’m currently inspired by Guerrilla Marketing for Writers by Jay conrad Levinson, Rick Frishman and Michael Larsen.

I you had a day just to curl up on the couch and read, what would you pick up?