Monday, March 27, 2017

Reading Charlotte's Web as an Adult

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
Date: 1952
Format: B&N collectible edition (omnibus)
How did I get this book? purchased
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Charlotte's Web is one of the (many) classics I can't believe I never read as a kid. In fact, there are A LOT of classic children's books (chapter books, novels, and picture books) I "missed" growing up. Even some I may have read, I unfortunately don't recall very well. But instead of looking at them as missed chances, I'm taking the opportunity now to enjoy them as an adult -- and hopefully someday share them with my son. With that in mind, some months back, I revised my Classics Club list to focus on children's classics. Finally reading Charlotte's Web confirms this was a wise decision for me at this stage in my life.

Sure, there are plenty of more "difficult" classics I aspire to tackling someday, but that really isn't where my head is at right now. It's not just that children's classics are "easier" or shorter, though they often are -- and my tired mommy-brain is grateful! Wanting to focus on children's books is more about my frame of mind and priorities right now. Diving head first into picture books with my son as an infant, baby, and now toddler has reminded me how rich and engaging good children's literature can be. So many of these stories (and their artwork!) can be enjoyed by people of all ages, even if they aren't the first thing we might gravitate to as a "grown-ups."

My son may still be too young to appreciate a lot of the books I've been picking up lately, but that's not really the point. The point is that the more I learn about children's books, the more I want to experience them for myself and fill in some of the gaps in my own childhood reading. I know my parents took me to the library and read me picture books, but mostly I just remember reading Nancy Drew, The Babysitters Club, spooky books by Mary Downing Hahn, and the occasional school assignment I actually enjoyed, but that was later in my childhood. I remember my highschool reading vividly, but my younger years are understandably a bit foggy. So why not read those children's classics now? There is no good reason not to read them now, so that is exactly what I am doing and I'm really loving it.

The only (sort-of) downside to reading these childhood classics now is that there isn't any of the nostalgia factor. Charlotte's Web likely would have gotten 5 stars if I had read it as a child, but it was still a very well-written, engaging, and enjoyable story about friendship, determination, and loss. I never was much a fan of spiders, but this fictional tale has helped this scaredy-cat look at them a bit differently and reminded me of their purpose in the natural world. I appreciated that this story didn't sugarcoat some of the harsher realities of life and death on a farm, but it is ultimately a hopeful and uplifting book. It didn't turn me into a vegetarian, though at times I was wondering if the author was trying to! More E.B. White books are on my TBR for sure, namely Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan -- both of which are also in the omnibus edition I read Charlotte's Web from.

In addition to the story, the illustrations for Charlotte's Web are just wonderful and I am fast becoming a fan of Garth Williams' work. Our bookshelves and library basket are filling up with his many picture books and we've found a few new favorites. My son and I have both enjoyed My First Counting Book and Home for a Bunny in particular and look forward to exploring more of this prolific illustrator's books.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

And the winner is...

A tie!

Charlotte's Web had been in the lead almost the whole time my Classics Club (sort-of) Spin poll was open, but The Borrowers slowly gained votes to tie things up in the end. I was ready to start a new book last night, so I closed the poll after two weeks and plucked Charlotte's Web off my shelf. Since there was a tie, I actually still had a bit of choice here, but I decided to go with the early favorite. Also, I think I'll want to continue with the rest of the Borrowers series, so I figured it would be better to go for the stand-alone title first.

Thank you to everyone who voted! I really appreciate your help and enthusiasm on this little project of mine. The fact that I've already read three chapters goes to show this works better for me than a traditional Classic Club Spin. I was a little surprised Wizard of Oz got zero votes, but that's OK, I still plan to get to it eventually (and that series has 14 books, so maybe it can bide a while longer!) I will definitely try this again in the future, but for now I'll be reading off this list in the order you guys voted :)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Classics Club Spin #15 (sort of): A Poll

If you're not familiar with The Classics Club's Spin events, basically you list 20 books from your list and then read whichever one corresponds to the randomly selected number for that round. I've attempted to participate in two previous rounds and both times, I never ended up reading my chosen book. I do want to pick up a classic as one of my next reads though, so I thought I'd do my own spin on the Spin!

Last summer I participated in a Make Me Read it Readathon and it really worked for me in terms of choosing my next book and actually sticking with it. So I thought I'd do a version of that by putting 6 of my Classics Club titles up for a vote here on the blog. With only 6 choices instead of 20, I can focus just on books I realistically want to read next. By leaving the final decision up to you guys, I think it retains a bit of the Spin's element of surprise. And best of all, I know hearing what book YOU are most excited about will provide an extra boost of motivation and encouragement. So, help a bookworm out? I'll keep the poll open for a week or two -- or until there have been at least a few votes and I'm ready to read :)

UPDATE: Voting is now closed! THANK YOU to everyone who voted :)

What children's classic should I read next?

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle
The Borrowers
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Charlotte's Web
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Bedknob and Broomstick

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Take Control TBR Challenge: Sign-Up Post

I'm supposed to be reading more from my own shelves this year, so this month-long challenge is perfect for me! Any book with 100+ pages (or the equivalent on audio) published prior to March 1st counts. Though I do want to read from my own collection, that isn't actually a requirement for the challenge, so reading from my library stack is OK too. The challenge officially started yesterday and there is plenty of time left to sign-up if anyone else wants to join in. This will be my fourth time participating since 2013 (I skipped when I was 8 months pregnant -- haha!) Thanks to Kim of Caffeinated Book Reviewer for hosting again! 

I'm not making a TBR list for this challenge because I always end up changing my mind anyway. But I will post again once the challenge is over to share what books I ended up reading. Happy reading everyone :)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Show and Tell: Exploring the Fine Art of Children's Book Illustration

Show and Tell: Exploring the Fine Art of Children's Book Illustration by Dilys Evans
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Date: March 2008
Format: hardcover
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a very informative exploration of picture book art focusing on 12 different illustrators. As the author states, this is not meant to be a "best of" list, but rather she chose a group of artists she felt offered "a wide range of styles, technique, and content" and I feel she certainly delivered on that. All of the featured artists may not be my particular favorites, but I definitely learned a lot by reading more about their work, background, inspirations, and process.

Only three of the featured artists were completely new to me (Trina Schart Hyman, Petra Mathers, and Harry Bliss), but this book piqued my interest in their work -- particularly the prolific Trina Schart Hyman whose chapter I found particularly intriguing. The other nine illustrators (Brian Selznick, Bryan Collier, Paul O. Zelinsky, Hilary Knight, David Wiesner, David Shannon, Betsy Lewin, Denise Fleming, and Lane Smith) I had previously read at least one of their books, but oftentimes it was their most popular work or their Caldecott award-winning work. So even for those artists I previously was somewhat familiar with, I've now been introduced to a broader range of their work. While I probably won't seek out every single one mentioned, I have certainly added to my picture book TBR list! I've already borrowed quite a few from the library and (shocker!) ordered used copies of two out of print titles my library system didn't have.

This sort of deep-dive into picture books and illustration won't be for everyone, but as someone who reads a ton of picture books these days -- both with my son and now on my own -- it is an area I want to learn more about. Out of habit, I still tend to focus on the text more than the art when I read a picture book. So the more I learn about illustration, the more I feel I can appreciate and understand it in its own right.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Current Events & Children's Lit: Sharing Two Book Lists

I don't really talk politics here. And if I'm perfectly honest, I'm pretty sick of politics lately. I both do and don't want to stick my head in the sand. I want to be informed and involved, but it's all pretty overwhelming. And I know it's a privilege to just feel overwhelmed and take a break or tune it out because I am not directly affected by a lot of what has been happening lately. I am not afraid for my life or my family's lives, I'm not worried about getting deported, and I am not the target of hate crimes or hate speech. I don't always know the right thing to do in response to everything happening in my country right now. In fact, I hardly ever know the right thing to do, but there is one thing I know I can do: read. It doesn't feel like enough, but it still feels important. There are a multitude of issues we can be reading up on, but two related posts showed up in my blog feed yesterday I wanted to share:


The first is from a new-to-me children's literature blog I've really been loving called Orange Marmalade. The beginning of the post is so thoughtful and spot-on, and it is followed by a recommended reading list. I have only read two books on her list, but will definitely be reading more. Good children's books excel at expanding our worlds and our hearts, teaching us about other people, helping us metaphorically walk in another person's shoes, and grow in empathy -- no matter how old we are. So it's no surprise the other post was also on a children's blog -- a commercial one, but one I'm a fan of and read regularly nonetheless -- BN KIDS. Of course there are lots of adult books relevant to the issues of our times, but I think great children's books have a knack for cutting to the heart of things.

If you've written or seen any other reading lists relating to current issues, particularly children's book lists, please share in the comments!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Thoughts From Last Weekend's Readathon

Last weekend, I participated in the most recent 24in48 Readathon which was a lot of fun. I messed up keeping track of my time the second day, but I think I read around 4-5 hours. Add that to 6 hours on the first day and I do believe this was the most I've ever read for a weekend readathon. So, I've been thinking some things over since then and wanted to share a few thoughts on the experience and reading in general.

1. Timing/tracking my reading is not for me. I don't mind doing it for a special event like this, but I thought maybe I'd want to start using the Bookout app more regularly after trying it out for the Readathon. But, no, I absolutely do not want to start doing that. It works for some people and that's great, but I don't like have a timer running while I read. I don't like stopping and starting that timer on my phone if I get sidetracked or need to take a few minutes break. And I'm on my phone more than enough as it is. I really don't need to also be going on and off my phone while I'm reading, even if it is just to tap a button. Also, I already know I am not a fast reader. I don't need digital proof of it, nor do I feel the need to "improve" my speed -- so I really don't see any sense in tracking my reading this way. Keeping track of what I read on Goodreads is more than enough data and tracking for me.

2. I miss reading in longer stretches. Usually my more sustained reading happens on audiobook these days because I "allow" myself to read for longer amounts of time if I am also doing something else like walking or housework (laundry, dishes, cooking, etc). I don't often just sit and read a print book for significant lengths of time anymore. I try to read a bit at night before bed and I try to sneak a little in here and there, but with a kid, a house, and working from home, there is always other stuff to do. I don't intend to start neglecting my responsibilities, but I do think with better time management, I could find some more reading time during the week. Far too often, when I do have a chance to take a break, I waste it on my phone or computer. If I am more intentional about my break times, I definitely could make it a habit to pick up a book instead -- like I used to when I had a more conventional job. I also have realized I don't take advantage of weekend nap times to read for longer stretches as often as I could -- that was really lovely and I'd love to do it more often on those quieter days.

3. If I spent less time planning, researching, browsing, etc., I would have more time to actually read! I very often read a blog post or article and then go down a Goodreads/library catalog rabbit hole of looking up titles, adding them to my virtual shelves, and/or requesting them. That's all well and good, but it takes away from reading time. And if I keep replenishing my library stack at the rate I have been lately, it's not going to help me read what I have at home. (Not to mention that I've also spent far too much time browsing Book Outlet and, ahem, seem to want to really challenge myself for Read the Books You Buy this year, especially considering it is still only January!) I wrote about this in my 2017 bookish plans post and I must admit I have not yet made any improvements in this area. Habits are hard to break, so I'm acknowledging it here as something I would like to work on more. Over the readathon weekend, I steered clear from the book browsing/research and it definitely made a difference.

4. I love the feeling of pulling an unread book off our shelves and sitting down to read it. Whether it is a picture book or a novel, I got those books for a reason. It's far too easy to favor the library books because they have a due date, but I shouldn't forget our own shelves. This is another thing I've been working on for 2017, but the readathon weekend reinforced the idea for me. I finished two middle grade books and most of a picture book treasury from our collection last weekend and it was wonderful. Library books are great, but they don't have to take priority simply because there have to be returned -- they can be borrowed again!

* * * * *

Now we are almost one month into the New Year, I can already see areas I am doing well on in terms of my plans/goals for the year and areas I definitely am struggling in. This readathon just sort of helped clarify those areas for me. How is your reading going so far this year?

Friday, January 20, 2017

24in48 Winter 2017 Readathon

When I signed up for the last Bout of Books, I mentioned that more intensive readathons had been a bit of a bust for me last year. So, I ignored all the announcements for the next 24in48 up until practically the last minute...and decided to sign-up! We were going to be out of town this weekend, but the little man has been in an extended sleep regression and we are feeling pretty worn out. Plus I did something funky to my back the other day and my husband had a pretty rough week at work. So I felt bad about cancelling our visit, but we very much need a travel-free weekend at home. So why not sign-up for a readathon?

Sign-up here!

The idea is to read for 24 of the 48 hours of Saturday and Sunday. I have zero ambitions of completing that with a toddler running around, but I figured this would be a good opportunity to see how much I can squeeze in if I make a point to read during more of my downtime. Because let's face it, with a house and a kid, there's always stuff to do, but I'm going to try to really take it easy this weekend. And cleaning landed me with the sore back sooo... reading it is!

I hope to be sleeping when this kicks off at midnight, but I'll be joining in tomorrow. I have a bunch of picture books, poetry books, and middle grade books on my radar. I have plenty of choices -- the challenge might be reading something from my own shelves rather than just the library stack! I do hope to finish Brown Girl Dreaming though, which is from my collection.

If I do any updates, it will likely be on Twitter. And I'm toying with the idea of tracking my time with the Bookout app. When I first heard about it, the idea of an app to track my reading seemed too stressful and like I was turning a hobby into a job. But for one weekend for a readathon? I figure I just might try it out.

Anyone else read-a-thoning this weekend?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Reading Paddington as an Adult

As a kid, I had a Paddington Bear stuffed animal -- in fact, I do believe it's still at my parents' house! We have pictures of me carrying him around (at the park, no less!), but I don't have any memory of reading the Paddington books as a child. If we did read any of them, they likely were the picture book adaptations and not the full-length novels. The picture books are lovely -- and I have a treasury of them on my son's shelves -- but I really wanted to read Paddington's full story and experience it for myself. 

Picture Book Collection

Once I saw that the audiobook of A Bear Called Paddington was narrated by Stephen Fry, I decided to go with that format. He is such a fantastic narrator (and boy do I wish I could listen to the UK audiobooks of Harry Potter he narrates!) and delivers this classic story flawlessly. The only thing missing is the illustrations of the print edition, so I ended up getting a lovely hardcover anniversary edition for our shelves as well. I'd love to get the full series in print someday, but have held off so far since I already have the next few books queued up in my Audible library. 

First full-length novel

The second novel, More About Paddington, is the only other one narrated by Stephen Fry and that is as far as I've gotten in the series thus far. In fact, I've now read them twice and they were just as good the second time through. While the first novel is surely the most well known and widely read, the follow-up was an equally wonderful reading experience for me. Although the books are divided into chapters to be read in sequence, most feel like they can be read as their own stories as well. Particularly once you are past the initial few chapters that introduce Paddington and the Brown family, they start to read more and more like individual adventures within the established framework. I feel much the same about the Winnie-the-Pooh books, as a matter of fact.

Paddington is an endearing character and I can certainly see why his popularity has endured through the decades. He has a knack for getting himself into trouble and it's always interesting to see how he gets himself out of that trouble -- one way or another. Like many well-loved children's book characters, he means well, but mishaps, misadventures, and misunderstandings happen -- and make for great storytelling along the way. The novels are definitely still far above my son's level, but I do look forward to sharing them with him someday. In the meantime, I will continue reading/listening to the rest of the series myself and I'll have to remember to pull down our picture book versions at storytime!

Classics Club Review #10

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2017 Beat the Backlist Challenge Sign-Up

OK, this is my last year-long challenge for 2017. For real this time -- I'm sure everyone is sick of all the sign-up posts by now!

So at first, I thought this was too similar to the ShelfLove Challenge I am already participating in and didn't think another TBR-type challenge was a good idea. BUT this challenge includes all books published prior to 2017, so I can include my library reads. AND there is a Harry Potter House Cup mini challenge element and, seriously, how fun is that?!?

You make your own goals, there is no specification about type of books, and you earn points based on the number of pages in each book read, so I don't think they are excluding children's picture books (which I read a ton of), however, for my own sanity I am not including them for this challenge. It would be too much to keep track of, and honestly, I think they would start to exclude them if they had to deal with my gazillion picture book submissions!

I logged into my neglected Pottermore account and got myself sorted, so I'm going to join as a Ravenclaw. And while I won't be making a specific list of titles, I will set an overall number goal.

Hosted by Novel Night
Goal: 50 books published prior to 2017

On the one hand, 50 feels overambitious, but on the other hand I listen to a lot of audiobooks and am in two book clubs that typically don't read new releases. So I think 50 is reasonable without being too easy. Anyone want to join me?