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printz authors in 2017

True confession: I almost missed the ALA awards announcements last year.

I was fresh from maternity leave, in the thick of juggling new daily routines, childcare, childcare related upper respiratory illnesses, returning to a job that I hadn’t done in 6+ months, and nursing a sweet baby boy at all hours of the night.

This is to say, I did not feel at all knowledgeable or prepared for the big announcements. I hadn’t read very many of the honored books (aka March: Book Three). I feel like I sort of skimmed over a year of children’s and teen lit.

Fast forward to September of 2017. I have a healthy, huge, active fifteen-month-old. While I have read Steve Light’s Planes Go about 45 times since Tuesday, I am still feeling less than connected with children’s books actually written this year (except maybe this one?)

So in an effort to at least quantify what I’ve missed out on in a year, I’ve decided to resurrect an old idea: gathering up the alums.

Does an award sticker beget more award stickers? I’m sure some intrepid blogger has gathered this data. But even if the stats are not on my side, I feel like the works of former winners and honorees – of, in this case, the Printz award – are a great place to start thinking about excellence in teen lit.

So without further ado, here is a hopefully somewhat definitive list of 2017 works by Printz award or honor winning authors. A reading list for the childless and otherwise ambitious unfettered; a reference point/pipe dream for the rest of us suckers.

 

Marcus Sedgwick – Saint Death and Mister Memory

Jessie Ann Foley – Neighborhood Girls

Nick Lake – Satellite

Benjamin Alire Saenz – The Explicable Logic of My Life

Elizabeth Wein – The Pearl Thief

Maggie Stiefvater – All the Crooked Saints

Deborah Heiligman – Vincent and Theo

M.T. Anderson – Yvain: The Knight of the Lion and Landscape with Invisible Hand

E. Lockhart – Genuine Fraud

John Green – Turtles All the Way Down

Mal Peet & Meg Rosoff – Beck

Helen Frost – When My Sister Started Kissing

Ellen Wittlinger – Saturdays with Hitchcock

 

alice in august

 

 

It’s the last day of August of my thirty-second year, and I have found myself re-reading Phyllis Reynold’s Naylor’s Alice series. I began about a month ago. I was looking for a Couch Book. You know, the kind of book that you are happy to open up and read, but is also easy to dip in and out of without losing too much momentum. And it’s not The Book you are reading, because The Book could possibly be in your purse or bag or who knows where because it’s The Book and you have to read it. A Couch Book stays by the couch.

(Aside: if you have a toddler in the home, “by the couch” may be interpreted as “under the couch,” “inexplicably in the coffee table drawer” or “in the very bottom of a toy box.”)

Anyway. I started reading The Agony of Alice and it turned out to be a great couch book. I’ve read it many since 1995, so it’s an exceptionally familiar re-read. Like reuniting with the old gang. There’s guileless, often filter-less Alice bumbling her way through middle school. Older brother Lester with the purportedly sexy mustache and cadre of girlfriends. Her archetypal best friends – beautiful but prudish Elizabeth and troubled, flagrant Pamela. The chapters are episodic, each one a little story unto itself, but I flipped from one chapter to the next without much effort.

What’s best? They are all about 120 pages of easy reading. I’d pick up one in the morning before work, read on the train and while walking through Boston Common. Such slim, lightweight paperbacks! Easy to transport, to hold in one hand while trying not to run straight into fellow distracted pedestrians who are looking at their cell phones. Read on the train ride home, maybe squeeze a chapter in on the couch and oh, look at that, the book is almost done, I might as well finish it off. And in the morning: the pleasure of a fresh new book for a fresh new day.

(An Aside of Ice and Fire: You may have noticed that Alice graduated from Couch Book to The Book. Couch Book is now, FINALLY, A Dance with Dragons. Also a great Couch Book because heck if I’m lugging 1000 pages around town with me. But I’m hoping to finish by the end of September, when book review season will be upon me. I’m only about 400 pages in, so wish me luck.)

Back to Alice. I’m 11 books in, and I’m noticing these later installments are not quite as sweet and speedy as the earlier titles. I’m reading Alice on the Outside right now. It’s 176 pages instead of 120, and I think this one mark’s Alice’s official entrance into The YA Novel. Alice final learns about the finer points of sex from a knowledgeable cousin – not quite the detailed mechanics, but important but adult-y messages about preferences, pleasure, and expectations. Of course she parrots this information back to her eager audience of Pamela and Elizabeth. Then, her school decides to embark on a “Consciousness Raising Week” where an imposed caste system based on hair color proves that even well-meaning white kids don’t understand the pervasiveness of “prejudice” (or, more accurately I think, systemic and subconscious racial discrimination?) Oh, and of course – her first gay friend. I don’t remember if this book’s teetering stack of Contemporary Problems is an anomaly to the series, but I do remember at some point the books started regularly featuring more Issues along with the more entertaining and engaging Plot.

Ah well. Maybe this will mark and end to this little re-read-a-thon. Book Review Season does rapidly approach, when most of my The Books become Review Books. I’m also reading quickly to the end of my personal Alice paperback collection – a break to recharge, and perhaps start scouring used bookstores for out of print Alice single paperbacks, because heck if you ever catch me reading three books published in one binding under a new title. Can you even imagine? Give me the original singles with awful, 2000’s covers or give me death.

room to breathe

A few weeks ago, I completed my first full-time working mom professional review cycle. Since the last days of March, I’ve read and written short reviews for 30 novels and nonfiction books for teens and middle grade readers, plus a handful of picturebooks.

I’ve had this gig for almost five years now. From roughly April to July and October to January, there are books coming in to read and review. How I accomplish this task changes from cycle to cycle; I’m always trying to find ways to work more efficiently, write better reviews, and stick more closely to deadlines… while also, you know, sleeping enough, eating well, and not living in squalor.

Now, of course, I have a baby at home, which adds a variety of unpredictable activities to my day. I used to scrap together time for reviews here and there – a lunch and early morning here, a concentrated evening or a few weekend hours at a coffeeshop there. With a baby still waking at night, starting my day at the crack of dawn just wasn’t an option, and neither was staying up late – some night even my grandmotherly 9 p.m. bedtime was a stretch. And those evening hours between baby bedtime and mommy bedtime? For some they are a precious refuge for one’s sanity. For me, they are a precious refuge for cleaning bottles and pump parts and sippy cups and making lunches for not one but TWO people (cause that’s definitely not happening in the morning) and then collapsing on the couch for what must be the first time all day and hey wait it’s time to go to bed? Well you don’t have to ask me twice…

This time around, I wrote reviews almost exclusively on my lunch break – forty-five minutes while I was still pumping, an hour when I stopped in June. This wasn’t exactly what I’d call a universally successful experiment – I had to lug my laptop around town every day which isn’t easy on my grandmotherly back, and it added a another element of monotony to my already pretty rigid schedule. Also, I blew pretty much every deadline. BUT at the end of it all, the books got read (on the train, on the occasional elliptical session, on the couch with a toddler trying to feed me plastic toys, on a strolls through Boston Common), and the books got reviewed.

That was my first full-time working mom review cycle, and now this is my first full-time working mom review cycle BREAK and it feels like I’m a ten-year-old on summer vacation. I can read exactly what I want exactly when I want to! Right now I am taking that to mean Pick up Every Single Book and Read it. Here’s a brief but not definitive list of books I am currently in the middle of:

 

 

There are probably more that I read one chapter of and left lying around somewhere. I am feeling pretty book slutty, but I am definitely liking it.

I’m also finally feeling that sense of urgency with my time that I was hoping would come. This is it, Jessica! Your time off! You have from now until October-ish to… do all the shit you want to do with your time and life. The writing. The arts and crafts. The home projects. The writing. The socializing. The running. The binge-watching of television while you have an HBO subscription. The writing. The writing. The writing. The time is now! I’m going for it.

I don’t know if this is a related endeavor or if just concurrent, but I’m also in the midst of an impromptu digital fast. No Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Minimal mindless Internet trawling. Restricted podcast intake (only when I’m cleaning, exercising, or performing truly tedious work tasks). Again, I don’t know if this is correlation or causation or just a well-timed jostling of my usual routine, but it feels really, really great. Like I actually have thoughts in my head instead of to-do lists and free-wheeling worry.

See also: my baby is sleeping through the night. Except for, you know, last night.

So here’s to the rest of the summer – to a few more weeks of work, a few weeks of vacation, a few more months of sunny weekend morning walks in the park with my baby. To iced coffee, white wines, and summer beers. To grilled everything. To the analog life. To actual thoughts, restorative breaks, and stacks of unashamedly half-read books.

 

 

Summer Reading 2017

I have been crafting Summer Reading lists for a number of years, and while my track record for SRL completion is not great, this year seems particularly hopeless. It has been years since I’ve experienced a true Summer Off at this point – oh, the pleasures of youth! Instead, I have Summers Living with a Schoolteacher: we must accomplish all of the Summer Fun and I must assist with the Summer Projects and do any major trips during our Summer Traveling. While I also work full time, with kind of a lot of madness going on at work. NBD.

Also, I have a freshly-toddling toddler who is probably going to learn how to climb the furniture and maybe the walls any day now. He’s going to need a new level of supervision soon. Also, he thinks snatching Mommy’s books out of her hands is a fun game.

Ah, Summer Relaxation.

So this year, I’m sticking more stringently to the following Summer Mantra:

SUMMER BOOKS SHALT BE ENJOYABLE.

I tried to divide my list evenly amongst the various audiences and forms I enjoy, and between backlist and new stuff, but I also asked myself repeatedly: “Would you be excited to pick this up? Would you be interested in reading it even with a toddler sticking a chubby, grimy finger in your ear? Would you want to read a few pages even if you are exhausted and sweaty after a long day and your shiny, mind-numbing phone was within arm’s reach? Here’s what I came up with. Wish me luck!

 

Young Adult Books

The President’s Daughter by Ellen Emerson White

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman

 

Middle Grade Books

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

Real Friends by Shannon Hale, illustrated by Leuyen Pham

 

Adult Fiction

Marlena by Julie Buntin

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

 

Adult Nonfiction

The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells us about the Relationship between Parents and Children by Alison Gopnik

Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro

Homing Instincts: Early Motherhood on a Midwestern Farm by Sarah Menkedick

 

Summer Reading Lists Past

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everything that i am doing that is not writing

One. Dealing with my personal data situation. Aka, wading through the hundreds of GB of digital photography that are clogging up my various hard- drives. New personal mantra: “Never take 25 shots when 3 will do.”

Two. Night weaning my eleven-month-old. I wasn’t ready at six months, or nine months, but I decided I’d rather do it now than deal with a surly nursing two-year-old in my bed. We’ve moved him to his own room, are allowing more time for him to “settle” in the middle of the night (aka, letting him moan for 10-15 minutes at a time), and are gradually reducing middle of the night nursing sessions… when I can stay awake long enough to do so, that is.

Three. Sewing. My mother bought me a sewing machine for Christmas, and I’ve been trying to actually use it! I am almost done with one crooked baby-sized quilt – just need to finish tying it up – and I have sewed some uber-practical reusable mesh produce bags. Next, I want to do another quilt (I discovered Wise Craft and am obsessed), some baby bibs, some more produce bags, and maybe a dress?

Four. Celebrating my Nursing Mom Metabolism with baked goodsYes, I am still nursing, and yes, I am usually hungry. So much so that my usual 2 snacks-and-a-lunch at work were not cutting it. I started buying a pastry pretty much every day. This is not a bad way to live, but I started to go broke. My instincts said “cut back” but my metabolism said “Hey, Jessica, you why don’t you just bake some of those zillions of tasty recipes you keep on Pinterest but are always feeling too dietarily austere to create, and then take those to work!” I’m loving it. So far I’ve made Blueberry Lemon Cake, (Not) Derby Pie Bars, Date Spice Loaf, and some chocolate chip blondies.

Five. Listening to Reproductive Podcasts. Pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting have always been pet interests of mine, but interests I’ve tried not indulge too much because of some weird, pointless combination of superstition and shame. So now that I have entered my Official Reproductive Years, I am allowing myself to go to town. Favorites include The Birth Hour, The Longest Shortest Time, Matt and Doree’s Eggcellent Adventure, Pregnant Pause, One Bad Mother, and Common Sense Pregnancy and Parenting. Are there even any more good Reproductive Podcasts out there? If I’m missing any, let me know!

Six. Getting Things Done, David Allen-style. Full-time, out of the house, working mom life has got me feeling… dizzyingly swamped. So I started carrying around a little notebook devoted to writing down every undone task I think of, as I think of it. Then I started a formal “Next Actions” list in my main notebook/bullet journal. Then I started making project sheets. So I’m about 30% GTD, and I’m digging it.

Seven. Actively looking for things to let go. I have a natural tendency to take on responsibilities, projects, and moral imperatives fairly without discrimination, so I’m keeping an eye out for ways to make my life easier that I can actually stomach. Can I bring myself to shop more at Amazon or Marshalls, to save my weekends from errands? That would be nice, but no, I can’t do that.  Can I pack squeezy-food for my baby’s daycare lunches, even though I read somewhere online that feeding your baby squeezy-food is simply a terribly idea? Yes. I can save some time and stress and shovel some yogurt into a squeezy-food pack.

Eight. Thinking about writing. And how to do more of it. And trying to actually do some. Stressing, fretting, etc. But mostly thinking. Scheming. And trying to get more sleep so I can get up earlier, drink a cup of coffee, and do it.

32

Hello, and welcome to my blog where I write about books but also lament, worry, and try to staunch the unrelenting passage of time. I show up every few months and proclaim “oh, what a year!” before retreating back to my non-Internet life, where I go to work, write book reviews, care for my family, and go to bed at 9pm.

Now, I am thirty-two years old. Mom age. Like I worried about a year ago. A year ago! How could a year have gone by already! This has definitely been the quickest year of my life. An actual blink of an eye. Oh, what a year! So much has happened since March of 2016. I went to Denver. I went to Michigan. I moved apartments again. I pushed a baby out of my body. My baby was a little baby with lots of hair and then a chunky little baby with less hair and then a bigger bald baby and now he is a scooching all over my apartment, pulling himself up to stand, almost toddler baby. With hair. And seven teeth.

For seven of the last months, I was a stay at home baby-mom. For two, I was a full-time working-baby-mom. Before that I was a blithe, dewey-eyed, Zantac-popping pregnant lady who probably had her hardships but had also never fished a half-melted baby bottle from the bottom of her dishwasher four minutes before she needed to leave for work or been peed upon during a 4 a.m. nursing session.

We went to North Carolina. We went to Michigan and Illinois. And then Michigan again. Then Mexico. And although I was technically already 32, we did just get back from a whirlwind 48 hours in Michigan. Again.

And although it may not seem that there would be any days left in between all of this, we also had eleventy-million out of town visitors and houseguests.

Oh, what a year!

It’s March now. We’ll probably have a few more houseguests, but now that I’m a Working Mom who needs to earn back her vacation hours after taking a long(er than 12 wk) leave and everyone who needs to get married is married we will be sticking close to home until August. Five whole months to… be whoever I am at thirty-two. I’m feeling grateful that the unnerving post-baby dissociation has indeed lifted and that I’m feeling pretty settled into a work+baby routine, but I also feel like I’m still feeling out the edges of my personal life, to be honest. What time should be mine and what time should be for my family? Is getting up early even worth attempting when your baby is still an unpredictable night-nurser? Is going to the gym once a week adequate, or should I force myself to do push-ups in my living room after bedtime? Should I even be trying to do any single thing other than writing letters to Senators and watching the news and throwing money at people who can do more to help than I can because by the time I’m 33 every cultural and political institution that I esteem and rely on might evaporate if I don’t?

I’m thirty-two. I generally eat good food and read good books and get enough sleep. I have this little family I can’t get enough of. I don’t have time to do my hair or Photoshop my pimples away.

I feel afraid every day, but so lucky. So, so lucky.

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Best Reads of 2016

Hey, look, it’s still January!

(Please let it still be January when I finish this post, please, please, please)

Oh, 2016. What a year. I read 106 books last year without much effort; yes, I met my annual “read 100 books” marker, but not by much. This is actually the fewest books I’ve read in a year since 2010, and a solid 50% were books read for review or other assorted Professional Book Person reasons.

Additionally, while I have always enjoyed the occasional parenting/baby related text, I never really let myself indulge in the genre… until, you know, I was actually pregnant. I really don’t recommend this tactic, by the way. There is WAY too much to read about for a 9-ish month span! At any rate, I chose to read a handful of pregnancy, birth, and baby books – and while informative, they were not necessarily groundbreaking pieces of literature.

And then, of course, there was the whole Miracle of Gestation thing hovering over my year. A baby in June means 6 months of preparation and becoming distractingly larger by the day and 6 months of new babydom. There goes your year. Add to that a heaping dose of political panic post November 8th (Which is actually still making me feel sick to be writing this. Like there is any tiny speck of importance to what books I read when our republic democracy is on its last legs.)

So, when I looked back over the books I’d read, I found myself not thinking about which books I liked more than other but which ones even remembered reading. Oof.

AT ANY RATE, I have gathered the top ten books of those that I can remember reading in 2016. An honorable list that I am happy to share with you at the dawn of this new year.

(Please let me finish writing these little blurbs before February. Please let me finish writing these little blurbs before February…)

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  1. The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones

A teenage boy comes to live with his surly grandfather – then he discovers a strange book containing a purportedly true account of two WWII soldiers from opposite sides and their supernatural experience stranded on a remote Pacific island. This was a pick for my book club, which usually means a book that is slightly out of my wheelhouse – I don’t usually seek out supernatural war stories? – but also a book that is excellently crafted. The story-within-a-story was expertly woven, and together the two narratives led up to a quietly moving conclusion.

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  1. The Romantics by Leah Konen

Gael, a high-strung semi-geek, is going through his first big break-up. Gael is distraught but Love, our narrator, isn’t worried. There’s a better girl out there for him, if only Gael could ignore his rebound – Cara the outdoorsy, hot sauce-loving college girl – long enough to figure out who it is. The silliest premise? Oh yes. But the writing is crisp, the characters fun and well-drawn, and funny. Funny! Actually made me laugh funny. I’ve read a lot of YA books that think they are funny over the past few years, but very very few that actually were. Just hardly any. This was a delightful exception.

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  1. Making Babies: Stumbling Into Motherhood by Anne Enright

An essay collection by a Man Booker winning Irish author about – you guessed it – babies. This is probably the only book on this list that I really, honestly, actually don’t-remember-much-at-all, because I read it entirely with a sleeping lump of newborn on my chest. But of all the books about babies and motherhood that I read this year, this was my favorite. I found it to be an honest, absorbing, and raw attempt to elucidate the barely comprehensible experience of creating and caring for new life. I hope I have time to re-read this, now that my reading comprehension has (maybe?) returned.

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  1. American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

I probably would have liked this book if it were just a collection of contemporary short stories about women, tbh. However, this was a collection of sharp, satirical, frequently twisted contemporary short stories about women. All the better. Whenever I think about my decidedly non-sinister book club, I think about Ellis’s “Hello! Welcome to the Book Club,” where a meeting of literary women transforms slowly into something somewhat horrifying.

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  1. Eleven Hours by Pamela Erens

As far as this fairly search-savvy librarian can tell, there’s not much out there in the way of “childbirth fiction.” Probably because the subset of people who love fiction and are also totally down with reading about childbirth is likely rather small. Or, perhaps because it’s a narratively tricky topic to tell stories about? Well, good news for childbirth/reader-types: Erens figured it out. This is the story of one woman’s childbirth experience (she’s a NYC schoolteacher, she wants a natural birth, she’s alone) and the pregnant nurse who stays by her side during her labor and delivery. A caveat: I checked this out when I was about 7 months along, but then I saw a Goodreads review that warned against reading this while pregnant with your first. I heeded the warning, and I’m glad I did.

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  1. Ask Me How I Got Here by Christine Heppermann

This is a novel-in-verse about the aftermath of a high school student’s decision to have an abortion. It’s a bold, sophisticated “issue book” that muddles around in the gray areas of religion, morality, sexual activity, sexual preference, and more. But even better: it’s a damn solid girl-narrated realistic fiction novel. I finished it with the same kind of feeling I get at the end of a Sarah Dessen book – like I was glad to get to know the characters and am kind of wishing I could see where they end up.

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  1. Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M. T. Anderson

In World War II, Nazi Germany took siege of Stalingrad and held it for five long months. While Stalingrad’s civilian inhabitants were lucky to survive the lack of food, supplies, and deplorable, dangerous conditions, composer Shostakovich survived AND wrote a symphony. How does that make you feel about how you spend your free time, hmmm? Although the first quarter or so is a bit dense, this is a historical piece that feels like a special story Anderson uncovered and scooped out himself, just for you. It’s also a disturbing account of one artist’s relationship with his own authoritarian government that feels unfortunately relevant for us pretty, privileged Americans these days.

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  1. Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth

The first of a trio of memoirs about Nurse Jenny and her adventures in mid-century British midwifery. In case you are one of the twelve people who haven’t seen the BBC television show (I was one of them until after reading this), Jenny was a nurse-midwife, working for a convent that provided healthcare for a working-class, high-poverty neighborhood of London in the 1950s; specifically providing in-home childbirth assistance. This memoir covers the details of her unique job, the intimate stories of individual patients and other idiosyncratic community members, and historical context. A great read for childbirth junkies (or is that just me?), but also a fascinating and warm painting of a singular time and place in history – and specifically, women’s lives and jobs within it.

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  1. The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

Faith, the daughter of a respected Reverend/natural scientist, wants to follow in her father’s footsteps, to uncover the mysteries of the world through science. Unfortunately, it’s 1860; Faith is valued for minding her younger brother, and perhaps as a future wife to someone with money and esteem, but not much else. Then her father dies, under questionable circumstances. And oh, Faith also discovers a bizarre, powerful, potentially mystical specimen that her father had been hiding in a creepy dark cave only accessible by rowboat. I loved Hardinge’s storytelling – the chapters were brief, but each one seemed to tumble on into the next – the genuine suspense, and the underlying commentary about a woman’s value and power in Victorian society. But most of all, I loved how I couldn’t figure out what the heck kind of book I was reading – historical fiction? Science fiction? A ghost story? A murder mystery? Hardinge dipped into all of these genres and their conventions, and what results is something entirely unique.

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  1. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman

This is an older title that has been on the edges of my reading radar for quite some time. It caught my attention most recently when I was working at my college’s writing center – it seemed the many, many first-year nursing students who came in seeking my essay help had all read the book for assignment. After reading a variety of short reflections on the book over the course of a few months, I could glean enough about it to tell it would be something I like. A family story. A medical story. Nonfiction where the author doesn’t distance herself from herself from the narrative (think Jon Krakauer). Jessica-bait.

It was all of those things, yes, but even better, it was the kind of adult nonfiction I love the most: a small but powerful personal story, elevated to a grander, more universal scale by an author’s careful research and accessible presentation of the social and political context. While the narrative follows a unique family who struggle with finding help for their sick child, it’s also a story about the Hmong people – both their strong cultural identity and traumatic history. It’s a story about that family’s heritage and what it means to be Hmong in America. It’s a story about the limits and blind spots of Western medicine. And it’s also a story about finding common ground and avenues of trust between those who are different from you – and what a difficult but crucially divine part of human being that task is.

I read this mostly with a sleeping baby on my chest, thinking about what a vast, complex, and fuzzy-gray world we live in – him, my little baby, whose health was so newly mine to watch over, to safeguard. Me, feeling suddenly connected to the mothers of the world, of all cultures and languages, who only want the same. This was a fascinating, deep, and moving read that I won’t soon forget.

 

aaaaaaaand it’s February. Crap.

getting things done (or not): new mom style

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For a few weeks, I’ve been trying to throw together a particular post. Something poignant about what it’s like to try to get things done while also keeping a small baby alive. Something useful. Something hopeful.

Then, my darling baby boy decided that while he would continue to enjoy long stretches of sleep at night, he would not drift off to a peaceful sleep without a fight. Like, an hours-long, everyone weeping fight. And napping? Maybe. If Mom can jiggle at the right speed and shush at the proper frequency and align the stars and maybe just hang out in bed with a boob at the ready, perhaps he may sleep. For exactly 41 minutes. And wake up cranky.

After a few days of that, I abandoned all hope of Getting Anything Done, including writing blog posts about my supposed ability to Get Anything Done. It was Family Survival Mode – if all three human members of this little family ingested enough food, had the bare minimum of required sleep, and went to bed before 10 p.m., then we’d call it a win.

Our day-to-day has been improving since then, but even when the baby is asleep/otherwise happily occupied, I’m finding it quite difficult to let go of that edgy, antsy “but what if he…” kind of feeling. I suspect this is part of parenting – that even once I’m done obsessively Googling variants of “cranky 3 month old baby fights sleep,” I’ll still keep myself up at night wondering what he needs from me and how to provide it. And I have probably given over a permanent portion of my consciousness to some sort of general vigilance, so I’ll be ready to spring to action just as soon as my baby needs me. Even if my baby is 25 years old.

So how do I operate now, with these new constants? These inconstant-constants? Times of great change, I’ve found, come with new skills. When I went to college, I learned how to study. When I graduated, I learned how to go after what I wanted. When I worked four jobs, I learned how to shut down procrastination. Now I’m not saying I’m still great at all of these skills (I’m looking at YOU, procrastination), but they are definitely part of my life’s toolkit now. And I’m feeling a few more coming down the line.

  • Better compartmentalization – the ability to think about work when I’m working and not-work when I’m not-working.
  • Being able to work in spurts and chunks, and to be able to quickly identify when those spurts and chunks arrive, prioritize instantly, and tackle them.
  • Harnessing the power of wanting to be a good role model when trying to improve my day-to-day habits: family dinners, exercise, staying off of my gd phone (please, oh, please I hope I can stay off of my phone).

So yeah, despite my non-napping baby, I’m hopeful. but I’m also trying not to get upset when my best intentions don’t pan out. My baby is still little, but he’s already gone through so many day-to-day schedule iterations; it’s all I can do to keep up with his cues and needs and he grows and changes so dang quickly. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing a good job, sometimes I feel like I’m doing it all wrong. Sometimes I have time and mental energy to Do a Non-Baby Related Thing, sometimes I don’t.

I keep reminding myself that while some of these parenting changes are permanent, this little-baby-time is a drop in the bucket. A relentless drop in the bucket. A mostly enjoyable, entirely temporary, completely relentless drop in the bucket. And what have I learned from other relentless times in my life? From finals weeks and Hell Weeks and other times of temporary chaos? Keep it simple. Eat enough good food. Drink enough water. Try to get a little exercise. Read something and write something every day. Hang on tight – days are long, years are short, etc., etc., etc.

reading wishlist: fall 2016 YA releases

I am three months into my maternity leave. I’ve had plenty of time to get into the *conceptual* groove of parenting if not the *actual* groove. That’s to say, my brain is slightly more amenable to non-baby-related notions, but I’m still far from figuring out how and when to… well… do anything about those notions. Heck, I can barely figure out how and when to eat lunch. But all caloric deficits aside, I’m starting to think about Stuff I Used to Do and Things I Used to Be Interested in. Like reading new YA books.

Unfortunately… it just doesn’t seem like the new YA books are interesting me this year. It could be the luck of the publishing season. It could be that my tastes are changing and that I’m having trouble divining the kind of YA book that I would like to read. I think I’ve written about this before, and I could probably write more. But although YA is purportedly still booming, with tons and tons of books to choose from, I had trouble coming up with just a handful that caught my attention. I’m sure there will be more titles of interest once more reviews come out and Fall awards buzz starts percolating, but for now, here’s a few that I might read this Fall.

(Or I just might keep reading confessional memoirs, parenting manuals, and Game of Thrones. WE SHALL SEE!)

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The Light Fantastic by Sarah Combs

An exception to my general unimpressed-ness? Candlewick’s fall YA lineup. Candlewick has like, three or four YA titles that look really great. I chose this one even though it’s about one of my least favorite YA contemporary topics – school shootings. Last year I read and enjoyed Combs’s debut, Breakfast Served Anytime – I found it to be a thoughtful character-driven coming of age story  – so I’m hoping that this novel might bring a quieter, resonant voice to the high-concept story-line.

Still Life with Tornado by A. S. King

After Please Ignore Vera Dietz, Ask the Passengers, and Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, if A. S. King writes, I shall read.

Although I did miss her last (and purportedly weirdest) I Crawl Through It. I don’t think now would be a great time for me to pick up something narratively challenging (see: all the memoirs), so I’ll skip one. And come back to it. Someday.

I wonder how many of these “someday” books I’ll actually read before I die. I wonder how many books I will read before I die. Oh no. I can’t be pondering my mortality on book #2. I still have four to go! And nap-time is going to end any minute! Stay focused.

Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung

Oh look! A dual narrated book that’s not being pitched as the next Eleanor & Park! What a novelty. Maybe because this one has two female narrators – Lucy who’s off at fancy private school and best friend Linh who is left behind – who don’t seem to be romantically involved Well, I mean, I haven’t read it, so maybe there’s a romantic second act twist! Anyway, speaking of pitches, this one is billed as “Gilmore Girls meets Fresh Off the Boat,” which I can dig.

You in Five Acts by Una LaMarche

Speeeeeeaking of the next Eleanor & Park, remember 2014’s Like No Other? I liked it, but it didn’t blow me away. Certain authors write YA stories with premises that always pique my interest, but the execution doesn’t *quite* get there: I’m starting to think LaMarche is one of those. HOWEVER, I will challenge my own skepticism for multi-voiced books set in prestigious performing arts high schools. I will also gladly do a little FAME! dance for you the next time we meet.

Blood Red Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick

Here’s another kind of author: the author who doesn’t not write stories that have anything to do with MUSIC! DANCE! or ACTING! or even high school for that matter. But everything he writes is like nothing else I’ve ever read, and everything he writes is festooned with literary accolades and awards. So while Fun Fame books beckon, I should probably add Mr. Sedgwick to my Must Read list. Honestly, I have no idea how this is considered a YA book – it’s narrated by a fictional version of an actual British author and is billed as a “Soviet Thriller.” Now have you ever read anything like that? I thought not.

Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel

Mr. Oppel is a favorite of some of my more fantasy-lovin’ friends, but he’s not an author whose work usually calls to me. I read Airborn in grad school – it was fun but too steampunk-y for my tastes. I read The Boundless for the William C. Morris seminar – it was fun, but a little too middle-grade-y and a bit too indulgent in the historical cultural stereotype. I read The Nest for my book club – it was fun, and suuuuper creepy. Anyway, the common denominator seems to be “fun.” And since I pretty much don’t like any of the YA that I usually like these days, maybe I’ll give a YA about dinosaur bones a try.

 

 

her life with (picture)books vol. 1

Reading for a book award committee was all sort of insane… but also just really really fun. Unlike a lot of folks, I’m a fan of the imposed read – of reading lists, personal goals, syllabi and required reads. Limits give me a mental freedom to really sink into the reading experience. Or I’m just really hopelessly Type A. Either way, I’m working with what I got over here.

Anyway, the most fun reading requirement of this particular committee was the Reading Stacks and Stacks of Picturebooks edict. Most weekends, I’d grab a tall stack, plunk it down beside the couch, and read until I hit the bottom. Not a bad way to live whatsoever.

You guys. I really really really love picturebooks. They are little lyrical short stories, concept lessons, mini-graphic novels, existential meditations, portable works of art. I haven’t kept up with what’s going on in picturebook-land (other than for work purposes) since I read hundreds and hundreds for grad school 5 years ago (FIVE YEARS AGO??), but I want desperately to mend my ways. Beautiful, funny, lovely, thoughtful, weird picturebooks: come to me.

An-y-wayyyyyyyy…

I read a lot a lot a lot of picturebooks, and so many I just loved. I mean my three favorites still stand, but if I could have awarded two dozen picturebooks I probably would have. So I’m going to share some of my favorites with you, my dear blog readers (hi, mom. hi, dad.) You might find these suggestion a bit… ah… dated, since they were all published between June 2014 to May 2015, BUT I still wanted to share them. I’m hoping that now that I have a little guy in the house, I’ll have incentive to share some newer books with you in the future.

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Sam and Dave and their Dog dig a hole and don’t find anything. Until they find something VERY WEIRD. I love a good picturebook with something VERY WEIRD at the end of it…

More graphic novel than picturebook, with fun, iconic art that feels like old comic strips. Also, ghost cats.

I am super into Lauren Castillo’s art right now, probably because I am 100% obsessed with her instagram account. Anyway, this one she writes and illustrates – there’s a naughty boy and a naught raccoon and just all the thick black outlining a girl could want. And I usually want a lot.

This is most certainly a picturebook, but it’s got chapters. And it’s about some heavy family shit. Can you say the word “shit” when describing picturebooks? Well, I’m just going to let someone else worry about that question and move on with my day. Anywayyyy, one might call this a Picturebook for Older Readers, which I usually interpret as books for 2nd grade and up. I feel like most of the PicBooksforOldReaders I come across are about Important Times in History and are usually illustrated with a heavy, painterly style, so I really liked seeing Emily’s realistic story coupled with Brown’s lovely, straightforward art.

 

Picture2

A little boy finds a little whale and hides it in his bathtub. Davies is really great at setting a scene – both his exteriors and interiors are evocative and delightfully detailed. I suspect his animation background has something to do with it. Also, the cutest teeny little whale ever.

  • Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Love, love, love this one. The story – puppies switched at birth – is simple, fun, and fits perfectly into 32 pages. And Robinson’s art is just lovely. Great interiors (I really am a sucker for interiors…), expressive little pups, and some great page turns.

An unconventional tale about a family of hipster bunnies who adopt a small wolf. The story leads to a fun twist at the end and OHora’s art is – again – all thick black lines and blocks of color. I’m a girl who knows what I like.

Four little hunters trying to catch a little bird. The blue on blue on even more blue art is unique and sets the stealthy, sneaky mood – reviewers called the style “nocturnal,” which I think is apt. It also reminded me of Tomi Ungerer’s The Three Robbers, which is a high compliment.