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Susan: August 2009 Archives


Reading by Number

Posted by Susan on August 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM in
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A few weeks ago I wrote that I was a little jealous of a young patron who was reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Truth be told, it wasn't just that he was reading it for the first time... it was that he was able to read it at all. He had started the series only a month earlier and had already worked his way through nearly all seven books. It was such a contrast from all the years I waited for the entire series to be published.

Lord of the Rings.jpgWould the series have been so successful if the books had been published closer together or farther apart? I don't think it would have mattered. Series books are episodic by their very nature. At one point in time, nearly every series ever published is unfinished... but we tend to forget that when we have the whole series in front of us. For example, I remember mentioning the torturous wait for Harry Potter 6 to my boss at the time. She responded by telling me how difficult it had been for her to wait for the whole Lord of the Rings series to be published.

I think that the long agonizing wait actually made me appreciate the Harry Potter series more. I analyzed, thought about and puzzled over each book for years while waiting for the next one. Each book was a treat to savor, because I knew it would be years before I would get the next installment. (All of this is in retrospect, of course. At the time, the waiting made me crazy.)

On the other hand, there's also the sheer joy of being able to pick up the next book in a series (any series) right away. It lets you continue living in the author's magical world for just a bit longer and it helps with continuity. My mom read the first few Harry Potter books as they came out, but they didn't do much for her at the time. She kept forgetting the characters and plot lines... and reached the fourth book without being quite sure she knew who You-Know-Who was. After all the books were published, she read the whole series together and found it a far more enjoyable experience. The intricacies of the story were much easier for her to follow.

Dark Whispers.jpgSometimes, we may not even realize we're reading a series. A teenage patron recently showed me her summer reading log, and I noticed she had given a very low rating to Dark Whispers by Bruce Coville. I asked if she had enjoyed the other two books in the Unicorn Chronicles. She replied by saying she had no idea Dark Whispers was the third in a series... but that it would explain an awful lot.

I've also talked to people who claim not to mind reading out of sequence. There are kids who will read whichever book happens to be on the shelf at the library. For some series, it really doesn't matter which order you read them in. Usually, I just recommend reading the first book published before reading the rest. But I always wonder about kids who read, for example, Harry Potter #6, then #2, then #7. Are they getting anything out of the books? Does it make any sense?

On the other end of the spectrum, I frequently see kids who love to read in order. No matter the series, whether it's the Magic Tree House or Geronimo Stilton, they want to read every book according to its number. For these kids, there's nothing more valuable than a good series database.

Big Woods.jpgSometimes, the numbers themselves aren't entirely straight forward. Let's take the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder as an example. When I was reading the books, they were numbered in this order: #1 Little House in the Big Woods, #2 Little House on the Prairie, #3 Farmer Boy... etc. That has since changed, and the current numbers on the sides of the books are: #1 Little House in the Big Woods, #2 Farmer Boy, #3 Little House on the Prairie.

I had a young patron tell me recently how much she had enjoyed Little House in the Big Woods, but #2 (Farmer Boy) made her stop reading the series. Sometimes, I think in the quest to be chronological, publishers can sometimes leave a good story by the wayside. As for how to number the series, I think this list is the best.

How do you like to read a series? Slowly and methodically over time, or in one big gulp? In order or out of order? Has chronological numbering versus publication date ever been an issue for you in a series you've read? Have you ever waited for a series to be fully published before you started it?


The First Time Again

Posted by Susan on August 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM in Classics
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Last week I asked this question: "What children's book would you love to be able to read again for the first time?"

The question struck more of a chord than I ever could have imagined. Between responses on Booklights, Facebook and Twitter, my question was answered over 600 times! Being a curious person, I had to find out which books were mentioned the most. The numbers listed next to the titles refer to how many times that book or series was mentioned.

The top ten children's books readers would most like to read again for the first time are:

Anne of Green Gables.jpg10. The Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls and the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder (7 times each). I'm a huge L.M. Montgomery fan, I'd love to read some of her books again for the first time. In the Anne of Green Gables series, the one I'd pick is Anne of the Island.

9. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (8 times) At least half the respondents on this book said they prefered the French version.

8. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (10 times) The trilogy His Dark Materials was mentioned only once. Interestingly, the majority of the votes were specifically for The Golden Compass.

7. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (11 times). I just found my old dog-eared copies of these terrific books. What wonderful memories!

Secret Garden.jpg6. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (12 times). I actually just read this for the first time last year. I wish I had discovered it when I was a child.

We've reached the halfway point, and are starting to climb into the big numbers.

5. The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe and the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (19 times). Oh, the magic of discovering what's in that wardrobe! Who can forget that?

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (22 times). A perfectly written book. It's amazing what an effect Harper Lee has had on so many generations. I read this book in high school, although I recently had a mom (who hadn't read the book) try to convince me that it was appropriate for her third grader.

Wrinkle in Time.jpg3. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle (25 times). This book ranks high on every children's book poll I see such as: "What's your favorite book from childhood?" or "What's your favorite Newbery book?" The answer is always A Wrinkle in Time. Interesting side note: did you know that this book was rejected by over two dozen publishers before it was finally accepted?

The numbers jumped way up for the last two, both of which are series.

2. The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien (38 times) Great, great books. I remember my first time reading these very vividly. Frodo was climbing up Mount Doom and my mom came in and asked me to clean up my room. I recall telling her in a passionate voice that I had read hundreds and hundreds of pages just to get to that point and I couldn't stop. I had to know what happened next. Fortunately, she took pity on me.

And the books that were mentioned the most... (drum roll, please):

All Harry Potter books.jpg1. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (41 times) As a die-hard Harry Potter fan, I couldn't agree more, but I was surprised that Harry beat out Frodo.

I was on the edge of my seat for every single Harry Potter book. Whenever I thought I had figured it all out, Rowling took her story in another direction and surprised me every time. She made me gasp, cry and laugh in a way I never have while reading a book. It was an unforgettable ride.

But as much as I loved that thrilling, spine tingling first time, it was in the re-reading where I discovered the true magic. Rowling planned out all seven books before the first one was even accepted for publication. All the books are full of subtle, deftly hidden clues and wonderful misdirection that are a delight to discover. For more about the joy of reading a favorite book over and over, check out Jen's excellent post on the subject.

Now, on to the runner-ups. Although they didn't make the top ten list, here are the children's and young adult books that were mentioned multiple times. They're in alphabetical order by author.

-Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
-I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
-The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
-Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
-Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
-Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer
-The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper
-Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
-James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
-The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
-Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
-Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
-Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry
-The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
-From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
-Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
-The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
-Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
-The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
-The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
-Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
-A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
-A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
-Heidi by Johanna Spyri
-Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
-The Polar Express by Chris vanAllsburg
-The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
-Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
-The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

Several adult books were also mentioned, but they were far outdistanced by the votes for the children's books. If you're curious, here's the results:

-The hands-down winner was Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
-Animal Farm, The Grapes of Wrath, Watership Down, The Princess Bride and Mists of Avalon tied for second place.
-1984, The Foundation Trilogy, Gone with The Wind, Interview with a Vampire and Of Mice and Men came in third place.

All in all, the answers to this question were absolutely fascinating. Here's a few of my favorite comments:

Charlotte's Web.jpg"My third grade teacher read it to us aloud, and every time I read it, I can still hear her sweet voice. I wonder if she has any idea how she affected us." (Charlotte's Web)

"I would love to read Goodnight Moon with my mom and dad again for the first time."

"I can actually vividly remember hiding under the covers when Lord Voldemort made his appearance." (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

"I've read A Wrinkle in Time and A Christmas Carol more times than I can count, but nothing compares to the moment I discovered those worlds. They were more real than reality to me."

"I remember one hot summer when I was about ten reading about life in the Alps. I was hooked." (Heidi)

Princess and the Goblin.jpg"To be a child again and reading on my father's lap." (The Princess and the Goblin)

"The first book that got me really excited about reading was at about ten years old: The Silver Crown by Robert O'Brien. Nothing compares to that first book you can't put down."

"I can't leave out the first book I remember checking out from the library: The Fuzzy Duckling.

"I'd like to return to fourth grade so I could hear my teacher Mr. Orr read The Thief of Always out loud again. That was an incredible experience for me."

"So if for one more time, I could be a riveted six-year old, I would like to go sit in my father's lap, and read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone just once more."

Thanks so much for sharing all your wonderful comments and experiences.

The best part is yet to come. That will happen when you find a book on this list you've never read before and try it for the very first time. Or better yet, when you read it to a child and watch them experience it for the first time.


The First Time

Posted by Susan on August 12, 2009 at 12:00 AM in Classics
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A kid asked me a question at the children's reference desk a few days ago. While I was answering it, I saw that he was holding a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I noticed that his bookmark was fairly close to the end of the book. I asked if he had read it before. He said no. Had anyone told him what happened? Nope. Harry Potter 7.jpg

At that moment I was struck by how lucky he was. And, I have to admit, I was a little jealous. He didn't know the ending. Millions of people all of the world (including nearly everyone reading this post, I bet) know exactly what happens in those last few chapters. But he didn't and he had the joy of reading it for the very first time and finding it all out for himself. The magic was still his to discover.

To be as spoiler-free as possible, I'll just say that he was at the beginning of Chapter 34 and Harry was starting to walk into the forest. I vividly remember the suspense I felt when I was at that point and didn't know what was going to happen next. He started reading again the second I answered his question.

It's one of the things I love the most about children's literature. Nothing ever really gets old because there is always a new generation to discover it for the first time.

Golden Compass.jpgAnd it's not just the kids who get to explore new worlds. A few years ago, at the first Kidlitosphere conference, there was a dinner table discussion about the upcoming movie version of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. I had been very vocal up until that point but got quiet as soon as that particular conversation started. When I got asked for my opinion about the book, I said I was embarrassed to admit that I had never read it. Someone at the table (Pam, was it you? Or maybe you, Kelly?) told me not to feel embarrassed, but to feel lucky instead. After all, I still had it to look forward to.

Charlotte's Web.jpgThink about all the children who haven't met Ramona yet. Or Paddington. Or Mr. Popper and his penguins. How about those who haven't gone down the rabbit hole? Or through the tollbooth? Or found out where Platform 9 and 3/4 is? Or what Charlotte writes in her web?

They have so many magical people and places they get to discover.... for the very first time. And to them, the books will be just as new as they were to you the first time you read. How lucky they are.

What book would you love to be able to read again for the first time? What book or series are you still looking forward to?

Update: Thank you all for your wonderful and insightful comments! I was absolutely overwhelmed at the hundreds of responses this post generated here and on Facebook. Curious to find out which books were mentioned the most? See this post for a top ten list.


Out of this world

Posted by Susan on August 5, 2009 at 12:00 AM in Middle Grade BooksNonfiction BooksRecommendations
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I recently read a book that was so good it made me want to shout about it from the rooftops. But my roof is incredibly slanted, my voice doesn't reach that far and my neighbors would think I was extremely odd. So, all in all, blogging about it seemed like a better idea.

What's the book about? Something really original, right? Something unique, that nobody else has written about? Nope. It's about man landing on the moon, a subject that has been fully explored this year because of the 40th anniversary of the iconic Apollo 11 mission.

Mission Control.jpg

How is this book different from all other moon books? Three reasons:

The research
Andrew Chaikin is an expert on the manned Apollo missions. He's the author of A Man on the Moon, a comprehensive 700 page book for adults that explains every minute detail of the Apollo space program. It was also the basis for the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon. Chaikin has done exhaustive research on the missions, read thousands of transcripts, and reports. He's interviewed a multitude of NASA employees including every Apollo astronaut except for Jack Swigert who passed away in 1982. He knows what he's talking about.

The illustrations
Astronaut Alan Bean journeyed to the moon as part of the Apollo 12 mission and was the fourth moonwalker in history. After retiring from NASA, he became a full time artist. The fantastic paintings in the book encompass several decades of his work.

Bean imbues his pictures with details that only the 12 men who have walked on the moon could know. He shows us what it was like to land on the moon, walk in space and conduct science experiments. His captions capture a true sense of the experience and makes the reader feel (almost) if they had traveled into space, too. His pictures of both astronauts and equipment are incredibly detailed right down to the accessories on each astronaut's space suit.

The writing
NASA's universe is very technical, complicated and filled with acronyms. Chaikin and his co-author and wife Victoria Kohl, manage to bring this world to kids with clear and thorough explanations that never become condescending, dull, repetitive or confusing. Also included are extremely informative sidebars that answer common questions and point out intriguing aspects of Apollo. For those looking for more information, check the back for a good overview of additional material.

Take a look at the title of the book again. Mission Control, This is Apollo: The Story of the First Voyages to the Moon. As of right now, the Apollo missions have been the only moon missions. Nobody has been back since December, 1972. I love the optimism and vision in the subtitle that suggests that the Apollo missions are the first of many.

All in all, a great book. As an added bonus, Alan Bean's paintings are currently on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC through January 13, 2010. Can't make the trip? Check out Alan Bean's online gallery and enjoy your trip from the earth to the moon.

Team Moon.jpg For another excellent book on the subject, I highly recommend Catherine Thimmesh's Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon. It shows what a team effort the moon missions really were and provides a terrific behind the scenes perspective. This well researched book won the 2007 Siebert Informational Book Medal.

Got a favorite space book of your own? I'd love to hear what it is.

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