Best Books of 2017

You may remember that last year I made it my goal to read 52 books in 2017. I am thrilled to announce that I exceeded my goal and read 62 books this year! Unfortunately this goal accomplishing streak did not extend to the one new recipe a week, or the one load of laundry a day, or the stop shouting at the kids, or the start substitute teaching goals. But books. So that is enough, right?!

I should clarify that while that magical 62 does not include the 12,604 picture books I read this year, it does include many children’s novels. While I am okay with that, I understand if that fact skews my numbers in your view. For my part, the only stipulation on my reading goal was that the books be novel length chapter books. All 62 fit into that very broad category. The more specific category break down goes like this:

  1. Children’s Middle Grade – Junior High novels – 35 books
  2. Adult Literary Fiction – 11 books
  3. Adult Non – Fiction – 7 books
  4. Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy – 5
  5. Adult Historical Fiction – 2
  6. Young Adult – 2

Looking back, 2017 has been a very good literary year for me. For the most part, I have come away from this collection of books proud of my choices. I wish I had been able to read more, much more, in the fantasy genre, and in years to come I will need to step my young adult game for the oncoming teenage years, but for this year, I am contented with the content and selection represented.

Of these books, 28 of them feature a main character of a different nationality or ethnicity from my own and 26 of them were authored by writers of a different nationality or ethnicity from my own. This is very exciting to me and yet, I was hoping those numbers would be even closer to exactly half.

While it has been a successful year, reading wise, I have had a few mishaps along the way. This year I have had a record number of library fines. I have returned a book to the wrong library, not just once, but twice. I have lost a school library book for the first time ever. I have had books that were on hold for me re-shelved five times because I forgot they were there. Five times! And I have over spent my book budget (yes, that is a thing) exactly EVERY TIME! For a pretend librarian, I have been very cavalier with the book related responsibilities this year.

Now that you have heard the bad with the good, here are my favorites from my year in reading.

My Favorite Books Written in 2017:

  1. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – This is a brutal read, in the best possible way. It is an unrelenting, irreverent, often hilarious, and devastating retelling of tragic death of Abraham Lincoln’s son. I will admit, this one is not for everyone.
  2. We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehishi Coates – The book is formed from 8 different essays written by Coates over the course of the Obama administration. I found the book insightful, helpful, and very interesting. The chapter called The Case for Reparations is particularly poignant.
  3. Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo – The story follows a couple in Nigeria as they struggle with infertility, infidelity, and deep misunderstanding. It is heartbreaking and thought-provoking.
  4. Exit West by Moshin Hamid – This is a classic immigration story with a decidedly un-classical twist. Anything else will give it away!
  5. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – Police brutality, racism, and racial tension. This books does not shy away or back down from directly confronting issues through a fictionalized story of a black teenage girl whose friend is killed by police.

My Favorite Children’s Literature Written in 2017: (With recommended ages in parenthesis.)

  1. Jupiter Storm by Marti Dumas (3rd grade and up) – Dragons, magic, family drama, and life lessons! Need I say more?!
  2. Patina by Jason Reynolds (4th grade and up) – The new girl on the club track team leaves everyone guessing with her speed, her multi-racial family, and her attitude.
  3. The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (5th grade and up) – This is the sequel to the bestselling, The War That Saved My Life. It is a story of bravery, acceptance, and sacrifice.

My Favorite Young Adult Books Written in 2017:

  1. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (Young Adult)- What ifs, revenge, and consequences literally haunt a black teenage boy as he tries to decide what is right.
  2. Solo by Kwame Alexander (Young Adult)- The story follows the son of a famous musician who cannot seem to find his place in the world. His path to self discovery leads him to Ghana, West Africa.

Overall Favorites (Books I read this year that were published previously):

  1. Kindred by Octavia Butler
  2. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  3. The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
  4. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
  5. The Trouble I’ve Seen by Drew Hart

Overall Favorites in Children’s Literature:

  1. Stella by Starlight by Sharon M Draper
  2. Pax by Sarah Pennypacker
  3. The Hero and The Crown by Robin McKinley
  4. Ghost by Jason Reynolds
  5. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Most Difficult Read: Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson

Biggest Literary Regret: Not being able to finish The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson this year.

Book that Got the Most Laughs: Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett (reading for myself) and The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency: The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford (reading to my kids).

Here is my year in review, courtesy of Goodreads, if you would like to see it all in infograph form!

Update
While the following books were not a part of my overall book count this year, I wanted to add a section for my favorite picture books and early chapter books from 2017.

Picture Books:

Early Chapter Books: Jaden Toussaint is the only early chapter book we read that was published this year. The others were all published previously. A few of my favorites were: Fantastic Mr. Fox, Mrs Piggle Wiggle, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, and Ralph S. Mouse.

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On Turning 40

According to my birth certificate, today is the day I turn forty. Aside from the deepening lines on my face, the increasing number of silver strands in my hair, and the need to take my glasses off while I read, this birthday feels much like the ones before it. Although, there is some solemnity to the turning of a decade, or four. While I have not fretted over the visual aspects of aging, yet, I have still reached this milestone with some foreboding.

As I look ahead, I am acutely aware that this was the decade in which my grandmother was widowed. It was the decade in which my father was diagnosed with cancer.  And it was the decade in which my mother was widowed. These facts give me pause.

As I look ahead, I also realize that this is the decade in which three of my children will learn to drive. It is the decade in which two of my children will graduate from high school. And it is the decade in which I will be the mother of four teenagers. These facts give me nightmares.

As I look ahead, I trust what everyone keeps telling me: that despite all of these things, the decade of the forties is the best. This “fact” gives me hope. Hope I can see from the decades before, when life was its chaotic, messy, unpredictable self but still managed joy, laughter, life, and blessing in the midst of it all.

My twenties were spent trying to undo everything I thought I knew about living in America, about being married, about being a Christian, about loss, about family, about everything. It was an exciting, soul crushing, and ultimately hopeful decade.

My thirties were spent trying to re-establish what mattered most to me, what I wanted to pass on to my children, what I wanted my adult life to be given to, what was worth my time and what was not. It was an inspiring, exhausting, and ultimately hopeful decade.

Right now, on the cusp of a new decade, life feels a bit like eating a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans…anything could happen. I look ahead to the forties with hope, and not a little trepidation. I wonder what will define this decade and how I will respond. With my identity, priorities, and focus firmly solidified, what questions will loom large over me?

In the midst of all the unknowns, one thing I know is that books will still hold a place of prominence in my daily life. To that end, inspired by a good friend, I would love it if you would tell me one book you think I should read during my fortieth year. I will update this post with all the suggestions I get so we can all benefit from my virtual birthday present!

Thank you, in advance! I cannot wait to hear what you suggest!

 

 

 

 

Best Books to Give Your Kids This Christmas

Here’s how the Christmas cycle goes. At the dawn of December there is a magical anticipation of what is to come. You find creative ways to get everyone in your family exactly what they have spent all year dreaming about. You dance and sing along to “All I Want For Christmas” with an enthusiasm that could rival Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister dance in Love, Actually. You organize the perfect advent countdown events that will have your family bonding like frosting to gingerbread.

But then something happens. Disillusionment creeps into that cinnamon scented air. You begin to ask yourself, “Why am I happily singing, ‘The weather outside is frightful,’ and ‘Let it snow’ when it is 86* F outside?” You begin to experience something that can only be described as song rage every time you hear “Last Christmas.” You begin to have an allergic reaction to the cinnamon stick smell that is every. where. You even dare to think maybe you can just give the teachers homemade cards. With nothing inside. (You know you’ve thought it too. If it works for Mother’s Day, it ought to work for teacher’s too, right? NO! This is wrong. Never think this again! Even if someone plays “Baby It’s Cold Outside” on repeat. Fight. It.)

And then just before you lose your ever-loving mind, suddenly it is the Twelve Days of Christmas and all is merry and bright again! You have a renewed excitement for Christmas morning and all that it means. Not merely a thing in a box, but a Baby and an Ultimate gift. You have a deepened gratitude for those close to you. You have a growing sense of comfort and joy. You weathered that proverbial storm and now solidly, once again, appreciate what Christmas is all about.

The only problem being, all that perspective and depth gained does not, in fact, fill stockings. But books do! And I can help with that.

Board Books

This year is all about board book collections. What could be better than opening a present you think is one book only to discover eight books within! As an added bonus, my personal favorites can be found at Costco right now and are cheaper than on Amazon!

BabyLit Classic Box Set – Admittedly, this is the least practical of the suggested gifts. However, think about how cool that impracticality will look on your baby’s book shelf! (This is only $15.99 at Costco right now.)

The Best Classic Christmas Stories – This set is worth it for Little Blue Truck’s Christmas alone, but the seven other books seal the deal. (Again, $15.99 at Costco.)

The Eric Carle Library – You may already have Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? and The Very Hungry Caterpillar but do you have The Greedy Python or A House for Hermit Crab? With this box set you could own those plus six other lesser known Carle books.

The Harper Collins Classic Library – This box set includes some of my all time favorites like, Mommy’s Best Kisses, Freight Train, and Harold and the Purple Crayon! Go ahead and buy extras of this set because they would also be perfect baby shower gifts.

Alphaprints Library – If you are looking to go the educational route, these are perfect! You have animals, colors, shapes, and first words galore.

Picture Books

Jabari Jumps – Gaia Cornwall’s story of trying to overcome fear is a must-have. This is a particularly good book for those with a knack for bravado.

Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors – This book is hilarious, as one comes to expect from Drew Daywalt. The back story of this legendary meeting is epic and a blast to read out loud.

I’ll Wait, Mr. Panda – I think this may be my favorite of Steve Anthony’s Mr. Panda books. This is a very cute story about the good that can come from just a little bit of patience.

Plant the Tiny Seed – Christie Matheson does these interactive books so well. Plant the Tiny Seed is a fun way to get young kids excited about spring and planting flowers.

What To Do With A Problem – When I think of a book I want to give to every child, this is in the top five. Kobi Yamada has such a gifted way of using a story to help give children tangible tools for problem solving.

*Bonus* – My Busy Books are excellent gifts for any occasion, Christmas included. There is guaranteed to be one for any child’s character preferences and they produce endless hours of fun.

Early Grade Chapter Books

Like box sets with board books, collections with these early chapter books make excellent gifts. One book is good, but more books are always better!

Jaden Toussaint (Marti Dumas) – This five book series is funny, adventurous, smart, and creative. My kids quote lines from these books all the time because the stories have a way of engaging kids (and adults) in a unique way.

Magic Tree House (Mary Pope Osborne) – Time traveling tree houses, historical fiction disguised as magic, and kids consantly outwitting their parents…what could be better?! These books are well-established favorites and for good reason.

Boxcar Children (Gertrude Chandler Warner) – These books are great for the future Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys loving kids. There is a mystery around every corner and these four orphans always seem to find themselves right smack in the middle of every single one.

Beverly Cleary – This treasured author wrote something for everyone, from her Ramona books, to the Henry series, to the Ralph Mouse tales, you will find a set that grabs your child’s literary attention.

Roald Dahl – Every child should have Matilda, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The BFG, and Danny Champion of the World on their shelves, not to mention, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach.

Middle Grade Chapter Books

Track series (Jason Reynolds) – This series, which includes Ghost, Patina, and the newly released Sunny, has been my favorite to read this year. The books follow a group of five kids who are new to the club track team they run with. Reynolds’ writing pulls you into the story and brings life to characters you feel like you remember from your days in school. My oldest daughter could not put these books down.

Jupiter Storm (Marti Dumas) – If you follow Well Worn Pages on Facebook, then you have already heard me talk about my love for this book. Dragons, magic, family drama, and life lessons…that is the stuff of captivating storytelling!

Echo (Pam Munoz Ryan) – This 2016 Newberry Medal winner was one of my daughter’s favorite books to read this year. This is the one book of this list I have not read, but it is on my desk to read over the break.

Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series (Jordan Stratford) – The premise of these books alone makes them uniquely intrguing, but then the writing and storytelling within their pages are equally as engaging. Imagine Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley living at the same time, homeschooling together, and then deciding to become detectives! I highly recommend this series for some light, fun, and imaginative reading.

A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle) – Because of March 9th! If you plan to go watch the movie with your kids, please for the love of everything, read the book first!

This is a list of books that gets me in the Christmas spirit! Now to somehow avoid ever hearing “I Saw Mama Kissing Santa Claus” again so we can keep that Christmas spirit going for the next twelve days!

20 Bookish Christmas Gifts: Kids Edition

It is the first week of December and all of my Christmas shopping is done. I am not going to lie, I have been feeling pretty good about myself with this one. To make it even better, when I looked through the Christmas bins to get out the decorations I found an entire bin full of stocking presents I had bought during the week after Christmas clearance sales last year! WHAT?!?! How smart was I?!

I did not envision this forethought and efficiency coming with any complications. Except that it has. Now, I realize, I have to not spend anymore money on presents for the next twenty days. No matter how many that-would-be-perfect-for deals I see. And so to help me with this impulse control, I have started shopping for the readers in your home. Since I am already done with my shopping, none of my kids will be getting any of these things but your kids; your kids could have it all!

Here are twenty perfect gifts for the young reader in your life:

Book light – After looking at entirely too many book lights, I am going to give this one a try. This is perfect for your night owl and when the kids want to read in the car but it is already dark at 2:13 pm!

Magazine Subscription – There are several that are literary in nature. These expose kids to different kinds of literature, like short stories, poems, and non-fiction content. I recommend Top Secret Adventures by Highlights Magazine, which is kind of like a literary “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” and Cricket magazine, with its eleven different off-shoots, it has been dubbed “The New Yorker” for kids.

Post Its – Every reader knows the importance of annotation. Here is your perfect chance to teach them this exciting and essential past time. Post Its are a guaranteed hit, with their half sticker, half note pad self, also they are very cheap (as presents go). I am partial to the book dart size post its, but to each their own (unless you like something else, in which case, you are wrong).

Reading Logs and Journals –  These are the perfect gift for your book lover. They are books. That you write in. Yep. You can pick from any number of the bajillion blank journals out there, like these. If you are looking for something more like a reading log, two I have seen recommended for kids are the Bookworm Journal and My Reading Adventure Journal.

Framed Book Covers – I first saw this brilliant idea in a good friend of mine’s kids’ bedrooms. She took their favorite books and framed the book covers! I love, love, love this idea! It is such a cool, personal, creative, and, as an added bonus, inexpensive gift.

Framed Book Quotes – I got going with the wall hangings and now I just can’t stop. But again, this can be a very personalized gift. Those are always the best gifts. You can, of course, go the ultra fancy lithograph route or you can fall down the Pinterest rabbit hole and make your own.

Bookmarks – Please, let us give these children some bookmarks. I need my random receipts, socks, game cards, etc back for my book marking use. Fortunately for us, BookRiot just compiled a list of 50 FREE printable bookmarks. Some of these I will be gifting to myself this year.

Book Shelf – It is a book lovers dream to have book shelves all your own to arrange (and rearrange and rearrange again) in whichever way pleases you most. This is a joy your child should know.

Apparel – From socks to T-shirts to onesies, there are some very creative and fantastic options out there. While this will not be your cheapest route, gift wise, choose wisely and this will be a favorite.

Library Stamp – I am partial to the embossers because stamps have to dry and children have no patience. Anything that removes the ink of any given scenario is alright by me. You can find places that will do this on Etsy that may be a bit cheaper.

Book Related Toys – The beauty of this option is that it is open to wild speculation. For example, while this taco holder is neither a toy nor directly related to Dragons Love Tacos, it must be gifted to the child (or adult) who reads that book again and again. If speculation is not your thing, rest assured there are a limitless number of options directly related to books, all ages: babies, younger kids, and older ones too.

Ornaments -This would be a fantastic way to document your child’s favorite book that year. Recycle book covers or pictures from old favorites and turn them into ornaments. I have no idea how…but I have heard there is a site for that (lookin’ at you, Pinterest). You can also just buy beauties like this or this.

Jewelry – Earrings and necklaces galore. Etsy and Bookish Gifts are two excellent places to find uncommon treasures.

Games and PuzzlesThe Very Hungry Caterpillar Game is a favorite in our house. Or, once again, you can do it yourself! Puzzles are a difficult thing, with the losing of the pieces, the fighting over how the puzzling process is done (free-for-all versus edge pieces first), and the quarantined off space required to accommodate a work in progress. However, all of that aside, if your kids are older, puzzles can be awesome. Like this one.

Totes – All those books have to go where they go somehow (unless you want to carry them)! As in all things, these range from simple, like the $1 section of Target that often has Dr. Seuss themed totes, to the elaborate, like these.

Pencil Cases – I realize that $12 for a pencil case is a bit much, but just have a look!

Magnetic Character scenes – Mudpuppy.com has options for both Good Night, Good Night Construction Site and Eric Carle books.

Lap Trays – I love these ones that you can find at Michael’s. They do not take up too much room on the couch or, more importantly, in the car. These specific ones fit over the arms of booster seats, so even my younger kids are able to use them. It gives them somewhere to store their books and then a level surface to read on.

Gift Cards – You love buying your own books, chances are, so would they!

Phew! Now you are done Christmas shopping, too!