20 December 2016

Suggested Reading: Christmas Time Is Here

Christmas will be here before you know it! While the stores are already preparing for Valentine’s Day, let’s take a moment to read some stories before Santa Claus drops down the chimney for a visit.

Picture Books 

A Kenya Christmas 
written by Tony Johnston
illustrated by Leonard Jenkins

Christmas Wombat 
written by Jackie French
illustrated by Bruce Whatley

Flamingo’s First Christmas 
written by Nancy Raines Day
illustrated by Fiona Robinson

Christmas In the Country 
written by Cynthia Rylant
illustrated by Diane Goode

A Christmas Spider’s Miracle 
written by Trinka Hakes Noble
illustrated by Stephen Costanza

Dear Santa, Please Come to the 19th Floor 
written by Yin
illustrated by Chris Soentpiet

Happy reading!

For the purposes of the Suggested Reading posts, chapter books refers to any books with chapters. Those that are appropriate for teens are marked with an asterisk.

13 December 2016

White Christmas

First real snowfall of December saw 7.3" fall in one day.
photo by Sara K Joiner
This year is the first year we're celebrating Christmas in our new home. While I was living here last year, I was alone and had only started my new job four days earlier. It even snowed this past weekend to give us a extra-special Christmas feeling and set the stage for December 25.

But it's not the first white Christmas I've experienced.

In 2004, it snowed along the Texas Gulf Coast on Christmas Eve and the wee hours of Christmas Day. The Miracle Snow some people called it. The strangest thing about that snow was that areas closer to the beach received more snow than places farther inland. At my apartment we probably had four or five inches!

I heard stories from people waking up their children in the middle of the night to go play in the snow. It's so rare to see that much snow in Texas that it truly is astonishing. People still talk about the Christmas Snow of 2004. There was even a book published.

Now I live up north and snow has lost a little of its appeal, especially after having to shovel it for the first time ever. A snow thrower soon became my most desired Christmas gift.

But it sure is nice to sit inside with a cup of hot chocolate and watch it fall so silent and peaceful.

01 December 2016

Suggested Reading: Celebrate Hanukkah

Hanukkah begins at sundown on December 24 and to celebrate the Festival of Lights, here are some books to read with your loved ones.

Picture Books

Mrs. Greenberg’s Messy Hanukkah
written by Linda Glaser
illustrated by Nancy Cote

A Confused Hanukkah: An Original Story of Chelm
written by Jon Koons
illustrated by S.D. Schindler

The Flying Latke
written by Arthur Yorinks
illustrated by William Steig
photographs by Arthur Yorinks and Paul Colin

Chapter Books

The Stone Lamp: Eight Stories of Hanukkah Through History
written by Karen Hesse
illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Happy reading!

For the purposes of the Suggested Reading posts, chapter books refers to any books with chapters. Those that are appropriate for teens are marked with an asterisk.

23 November 2016

Books I Love: Ramona Quimby, Age 8

Ramona Quimby, Age 8
Beverly Cleary
I first read this book
during third grade, approximately 1985

Like the Harry Potter books, I truly love all the Ramona books, probably even more than Harry Potter because I read these as a child. There's that great line in You've Got Mail where Meg Ryan's character talks about books we read as children having a far greater impact on us than anything we read later in life.

I think that's true. It's certainly true of Ramona Quimby, Age 8. Ramona Quimby is still one of my very best friends, and she always will be. No one can convince me she's not real. She has a statue!

Ramona Quimby immortalized in bronze
in Portland, Oregon.
photo by Sara K Joiner
Ramona's very specific problems are what makes her so universally appealing and so enchanting to meet in the pages of a book. How on earth does a fad like cracking hard-boiled eggs on your head start anyway? I have no idea, but it does. Naturally, Ramon is going to have a problem with this situation. Does she learn a lesson? Do readers? Not necessarily the one adults might like.

Being a kid is tough. Ramona Quimby helped me through some pretty difficult times when I was younger. She still gets me through rough patches today. I can only hope the characters I create speak to my readers the same way Ramona Quimby speaks to me.

And if someone decides to build a statue of one of them? That wouldn't be so bad either.

20 November 2016

Suggested Reading: Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving—a time to celebrate family and food, a time to be grateful for the many blessings in our lives. Here are some of stories to share after you’ve eaten before the tryptophan from all that turkey kicks in.

Picture Books

Duck for Turkey Day
written by Jacqueline Jules
illustrated by Kathryn Mitter

The Secret of Saying Thanks
written by Douglas Wood
illustrated by Greg Shed

Over the River: A Turkey’s Tale
written and illustrated by Derek Anderson

Chapter Books

Gooney Bird and the Room Mother
written by Lois Lowry
illustrated by Middy Thomas

Giving Thanks: Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs of Thanksgiving
edited by Katherine Paterson
illustrated by Pamela Dalton

Happy reading!

For the purposes of the Suggested Reading posts, chapter books refers to any books with chapters. Those that are appropriate for teens are marked with an asterisk.

01 November 2016

Suggested Reading: Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month. As with other heritage months, Native heritage should be celebrated year round, and here are some books to encourage that celebration. When the author or illustrator is Native, I have included the tribal affiliation.

Picture Books

Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom
written by Tim Tingle (Choctaw)
illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges (Cherokee)

Proud to Be Inuvialuit / Quviahuktunga Inuvialuugama
written by James Pokiak (Inuvialuit) and Mindy Willett
photographs by Tessa Macintosh

The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood
written by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve (Lakota)
illustrated by Ellen Beier

Chapter Books

The Birchbark House
written by Louise Erdrich (Chippewa)

Indian Shoes
written by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek)

The Night Wanderer: A Native Gothic Novel*
written by Drew Hayden Taylor (Ojibway)

Happy reading!

For the purposes of the Suggested Reading posts, chapter books refers to any books with chapters. Those that are appropriate for teens are marked with an asterisk.

20 October 2016

Suggested Reading: Spooky Halloween

Halloween is coming (said in a stentorian voice as if I were on Game of Thrones) which means it is time for some scary stories. While I wouldn’t call myself a fan of horror stories, I do enjoy a good scare especially at this time of year

Picture Books

The Dangerous Alphabet
written by Neil Gaiman
illustrated by Gris Grimly

written by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
illustrated by Howard Fine

I’m Not Afraid of This Haunted House
written by Laurie Friedman
illustrated by Teresa Murfin

Chapter Books

All Hallow’s Eve: 13 Stories*
written by Vivian Vande Velde

written by Joseph Bruchac

written by Lauren Myracle

Happy reading!

For the purposes of the Suggested Reading posts, chapter books refers to any books with chapters. Those that are appropriate for teens are marked with an asterisk.

12 October 2016

And It Really Happened

When I was in graduate school, I worked on the If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything reading incentive project at the Laguna Elementary School on the Pueblo of Laguna Reservation in New Mexico. My professor and I would go out to visit the school about every six to eight weeks bringing books and some sort of giveaway prize.

Most of the books were donated, and the students and teachers loved them. Their favorites—above any other genre—were scary stories, and the best ones were the scariest ones. In fact, the school's librarian told a version of "The Ribbon" in one of the best ways possible. She would bring the students into the library's storage closet, which was big enough to accommodate everyone, and turn off the lights before launching into the story. No matter how many times those children heard that story, they always screamed at the climax. It was such a scary, fun, glorious moment to be a part of.

Of course, my professor and I couldn't get away without telling a scary story of our own. While I always read one from a book, my professor would tell one. She did, however, have a rule that she would only tell scary stories that had happened to her or someone she knew—and she had some scary stories! The children loved hearing them, too.

In honor of that tradition, I will tell a scary story that happened to me and friend of mine when I was about eleven years old.

My friend V and her older sister were spending the night at my house. We lived out in the country down a gravel road, five miles from town and a mile and a half from our nearest neighbors. The house was an old farmhouse with no air conditioning and large windows. Because we had no neighbors, we only had lace valance curtains. 
All three of us were in the living room. It was terribly late (or incredibly early, depending on your point of view), and V's sister was asleep on the couch. V and I were watching videotaped music videos on TV because we didn't have cable, and I relied on my cousins to record videos on VHS and mail them to me (this is why I will NEVER not have cable as an adult). 
We were total dorks, but we didn't care. We were having a great time singing along and goofing off when we heard a voice by the window.  Both V and I distinctly heard a male voice say exactly the same thing—"They're awake. They're watching TV."—like he was talking to someone else! 
I paused the video and stared at V. "Did you hear that?" I asked. 
She nodded. 
Naturally, we did not look out the windows. We never saw nor heard a car. We woke up V's sister, but she thought we were crazy and told us to go to sleep. Deciding that was sound advice, we turned off the TV and the lights and tried to fall asleep. It took a while. 
While I have my suspicions about who I think the mystery boys were, I can never prove it. In the end, nothing happened, but it sure was terrifying at the time. Even now I get chills thinking about it.

28 September 2016

Books I Love: Habibi

Naomi Shihab Nye
I first read this book
during my senior year of college in 1998

I first learned about Naomi Shihab Nye from a poetry reading she gave at Texas Lutheran University, the college I attended. During her presentation, she read a poem about Shiner, a small town in central Texas that was ten miles from my own hometown.

At that point in time, lots of people in Texas had never heard of Shiner (although that has changed now due to increased marketing of Shiner Beer), so it was quite a shock to hear a poet mention it. After the reading, Nye was signing books, and I went up to her and asked if she had ever been to my hometown. She said, "No, but I want to live there for a year."

This baffled me. Like people from small towns often do, I thought my hometown was the dead end of the world. Who in their right mind would want to live there?

But I was also baffled for another reason. Why would anyone want to live somewhere for only a year? Why go to all that trouble to move if it's only temporary?

I remained fascinated by Nye, however. Something about her poetry combined with her amazingly open way of seeing the world intrigued me.

While I was attending my first Texas Library Association conference (technically the exhibits only) in San Antonio, I spotted a children's book with a gorgeous cover. Seeing Nye's name on it meant I had to read it. As it was a finished book and not an advanced reader copy, I paid for it and took it back to my college apartment to read. What a wise decision that was!

Habibi is inspired by Nye's own childhood when her family moved to Jerusalem to be closer to her paternal grandmother. It is a beautiful story of an American girl learning about her cultural heritage, her family, and herself while far away from the life she is used to living.

Each chapter begins with these poetic sentences that are simply perfect. I wish I could write like that. I wish I could think like that. I'll never be a poet, but I do love to read it. Habibi is prose, but it reads like poetry. It's nothing less than beautiful and has stayed with me all these years.

Books like Habibi make me think there could be a more peaceful, tolerant future for the world. People like Naomi Shihab Nye make me think that, too.

20 September 2016

Suggested Reading: Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month began September 15 and continues through mid-October. Of course, Hispanic heritage should be celebrated year-round, and here are some books to kick off that celebration.

Picture Books

Just In Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book
written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez
written by Kathleen Krull
illustrated by Yuyi Morales

written by C. Drew Lamm
illustrated by Fabian Negrin

Chapter Books

Before We Were Free*
written by Julia Alvarez

Frida ¡Viva la vida! Long Live Life!
written by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand

written by Bettina Restrepo

Happy reading!

For the purposes of the Suggested Reading posts, chapter books refers to any books with chapters. Those that are appropriate for teens are marked with an asterisk.

14 September 2016

Teen Services Today: A Practical Guide for Librarians

I have a new book out! It's a nonfiction book about teen services in public libraries that I co-wrote with Geri Swanzy, a friend and colleague, called Teen Services Today: A Practical Guide for Librarians.

Writing this book was a different experience from writing fiction. For one thing, my name was suggested to the editor by another library colleague. I knew writing nonfiction would be different and recruited my friend Geri, so we could share the work. The two of us wrote a proposal for the book and were pleasantly surprised when it was accepted by Rowman & Littlefield.

The biggest difference between my experiences writing fiction and my experience writing nonfiction was the actual process of writing. And I don't just mean having a collaborator. We wrote this book out of chapter order and sent the individual chapters to our editor as we completed them. With fiction, the entire book is written before I send it to my agent.

While we were writing this book, we faced a number of hurdles. Since we set our own deadline with the initial proposal, we foolishly gave ourselves about six months to get this all done. Little did we know that I would accept another job and move 1200 miles during that time. And that's not even factoring in vacations and conferences!

We wrote the book for new librarians or paraprofessionals to give them some background, history, resources, and programming ideas to help them serve the teens in their communities. Our goal was to make it chatty and easy to read.

I hope Teen Services Today proves helpful to those library staff members who need and use it.

01 September 2016

Suggested Reading: Don't Forget Your Library Card!

Do you have a library card? If not, you’re in luck because September is Library Card Sign-up Month! Head on over to your nearest public library and sign up for a library card. You’ll have access to a world of online resources plus all those wonderful books. To celebrate Library Card Sign-up Month, here are some books about libraries.

Picture Books

Finding Lincoln
written by Ann Malaspina
illustrated by Colin Bootman

ABC Letters In the Library
written by Bonnie Farmer
illustrated by Chum McLeod

The Plot Chickens
written and illustrated by Mary Jane and Herm Auch

Chapter Books

My Librarian Is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World
written by Margriet Ruurs

Alcatraz Vs. the Evil Librarians
written by Brandon Sanderson
illustrated by Hayley Lazo

Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq*
written and illustrated by Mark Alan Stamaty

Happy reading!

For the purposes of the Suggested Reading posts, chapter books refers to any books with chapters. Those that are appropriate for teens are marked with an asterisk.

24 August 2016

Books I Love: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
J.K. Rowling
Mary GrandPré
I first read this book
during graduate school in 1999

While I love all the Harry Potter books, my favorite is the third book in the series. This is the book where all the pieces fit together so perfectly that it feels like the world's most complicated jigsaw puzzle. It also expands the universe of the story Rowling is telling as we learn more about Harry's history and see the full scope of his loss.

It introduces us to Dementors, utterly terrifying creations that are the personification of depression. What I find most fascinating about Dementors is that the best treatment for an encounter with them is chocolate. Of course it is! Chocolate is the best cure for anything.

But what truly inspires me about this book is the plot. I do not possess Rowling's skill at plotting, and I am envious. Every piece of this story falls perfectly into place, creating one whole story while still feeling like part of a larger work.

Harry? Is that you?
photo by Sara K Joiner
Rowling is a master at doling out clues in little bits and pieces throughout the course of the series. There are clues in the second book that don't become important until the sixth! How does Rowling do this? I've seen that plot outline for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (the longest of the books), and it absolutely terrifies me.

I am not a plotter. When I write, I have a beginning (which usually changes over the course of numerous drafts) and an ending. I also have what I call "things that need to happen" throughout the course of the book. In some cases, because I generally write historical fiction, I might have a specific order in which those things must happen, but sometimes I can move them around as I need.

I don't outline. I feel like once I've outlined a story, before I've finished a first draft, I've told it, and I no longer have an interest in writing it.

When I read something like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban or any of the other Harry Potter books, it challenges me. I'll never be able to plot a book like J.K. Rowling, but I can keep trying.

20 August 2016

Suggested Reading: The School Year Begins

August means it's time to head back to school for all of you still in school, either student or teacher. I thought I would highlight some school stories for you to enjoy.

Picture Books

Dear Mr. Rosenwald
written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

An Annoying ABC
written by Barbara Bottner, illustrated by Michael Emberley

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow
written by Amy Lee-Tai, illustrated by Felicia Hoshino

Chapter Books

The Accidental Genius of Weasel High
written by Rick Detorie

*Appetite for Detention
written by Sloane Tanen, illustrated by Stefan Hagen

Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading
written by Tommy Greenwald, illustrated by J.P. Coovert

Happy reading!

For the purposes of the Suggested Reading posts, chapter books refers to any books with chapters. Those that are appropriate for teens are marked with an asterisk.