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National Book Festival 2014 (part 2)

Hello again! I got to see and do so much at the Library of Congress National Book Festival this year, that I couldn’t possibly fit it all in one post! Today I’ll write more about the authors I saw.

E. L. Doctorow

E. L. Doctorow

I started by going to see E. L. Doctorow, who won the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction for his latest novel, Andrew’s Brain.  Instead of speaking alone, he answered questions in more of an interview format.  I was interested to learn about his inspiration for his books, specifically that he often imagines an image to begin his writing process.  (Sorry for the poor picture quality, the lighting in the conference center was a challenge.)

After that, I went to see Kai Bird, whose latest book is a biography of the CIA operative Robert Ames.  He talked about how he researched the book, which I appreciated, since a lot of the nonfiction authors just summarize their books.  This way I stay interested in reading it.  Besides, writing a biography about a spy poses some research challenges, since a lot of the information might still be confidential.  It made for an interesting talk.


Sara Sue Hoklotubbe signing my copy of Sinking Suspicions

Sara Sue Hoklotubbe signing my copy of Sinking Suspicions

I headed back to the Fiction and Mystery room to see an author who was new to me, Sara Sue Hoklotubbe.  She writes a mystery series set in Cherokee country.  As soon as I heard about it, I knew I had to read it, so I bought her book and went to the signing.  (I might look for the other two books so I can read them in order though.)  Someone who got up to ask a question began with, “I haven’t read the series yet, but I like you, so I know I’m going to like your books,” and that’s exactly how I felt.  I think every year I found a great new book or series through hearing an author talk, and that’s probably one of my favorite things about going to the National Book Festival.

The last author talk I attended was by Lisa See.  I read one of her books, Peony in Love, in college.  Her new novel is set in California, and I enjoyed hearing about her family’s history and her research about the history of Chinese Americans in California.  I’d like to read one of her books set in my home state!

I started my Christmas shopping by going to two more book signings.  I got a book signed by Anne Hillerman, who is continuing her father’s mystery series.  (That was a nice surprise-we’ve got some big Tony Hillerman fans in the Of Print and Prose family.  I also went to Judith Viorst’s book signing and got two Alexander books signed, one for our nephew’s Christmas gift and an extra one to donate to our mom’s third grade class.  I was especially excited that the authors had time to personalize the books this year!  Although I didn’t see their talks, I plan on watching them on the Library of Congress website.  All the talks from the festival are posted here.

Judith Viorst signing a book for the third graders

Judith Viorst signing a book for the third graders


Read Across America Day

Read Across America

As much as I love snow days, I’m a little disappointed not to be participating in Read Across America day with some of my kindergarten friends at a local elementary school.  Read Across America is an annual event, held on Dr. Seuss’s birthday, to celebrate reading.  It was created by the National Education Association.  Their goals for the event are summed up nicely in their Reader’s Oath-and may I congratulate the author on writing an oath worthy of Dr. Seuss?  Here it is, in full:

I promise to read
Each day and each night.
I know it’s the key
To growing up right.

I’ll read to myself,
I’ll read to a crowd.
It makes no difference
If silent or loud.

I’ll read at my desk,
At home and at school,
On my bean bag or bed,
By the fire or pool.

Each book that I read
Puts smarts in my head,
‘Cause brains grow more thoughts
The more they are fed.

So I take this oath
To make reading my way
Of feeding my brain
What it needs every day.

Last year, I participated by wearing a Cat in the Hat hat, reading lots of Dr. Seuss books, and helping welcome “celebrity guest readers” (student volunteers from a nearby high school).  If you would like to help out, here are some ideas!

1. Volunteer at a local elementary school or public library.  If you have kids or teachers in your life, volunteer in their class.  If not, your workplace may already have a  school they support (or you could help get the ball rolling at the nearest school.) Local libraries, scout troops, etc can also use your help.  Being a guest reader doesn’t take much time, but it is a great way to show your love of reading.  And Dr. Seuss books are especially fun to read out loud!

2. Donate some books.  New or used, for any age group, sharing your books is a great way to help other readers.  New teachers (like Becca!) are especially in need of books in order to start class libraries.  Most local libraries have programs where volunteers raise money for the library by selling used books.  Many hospitals also accept donations, especially of children’s books.  Many of us avid readers were fortunate enough to grow up surrounded by lots of books, but this is an advantage that students from low income families often lack.  Our local teachers and librarians are working hard to try to remedy this situation, and they need all the help they can get!

3. Plan some fun, reading-related activities for the young readers in your life!  Are your kids snowed in during Read Across America day like me?  You can still celebrate at home.  In addition to doing some reading, consider a book-related snack or craft.  With a little food coloring, you can make your own green eggs and ham.  Making and decorating your own bookmarks is an easy craft, too.  Little ones can do this with paper and crayons (0r popsicle sticks, paper clips, or ribbon-whatever you happen to have!), but here are a few tutorials if you’d like something more challenging/fancy:

Above all, I hope you take some time to enjoy reading today!  I am currently caught up in Elizabeth Peters’s Crocodile on the Sandbank, and I am enjoying the luxury of some extra reading time!


The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordin

Since I work with kids, I like to try to read a few of the books they are reading.  One series that is very popular (I taught a 4th grade class where every kid but one had read at least the first book) is the Percy Jackson books.  I recently read the first book in the series, The Lightning Thief.

Percy Jackson is a kid that has a lot of trouble at school.  He is usually in trouble, and he changes schools every year.  But this year has been different.  He finally makes a friend, finds a teacher that believes in him, and starts learning about Ancient Greece and Rome.  Then, he starts to have run-ins with monsters, one of which used to be his Algebra teacher…

When Percy’s mother and his new friend Grover find out what is going on, they insist that Percy go to a summer camp where he will be safe.  But Camp Halfblood is no ordinary summer camp.  Percy soon learns that it is a special camp for half human children born to the Greek gods, which means that Percy’s father must be a god as well.

One of the fun things about reading this book as an adult is that the mythological characters are probably familiar from high school or college English classes.  As a result, you might find that you recognize certain characters (especially the villains) before Percy and his friends do.

I enjoyed reading this book.  Although the target audience is children, it is an imaginative book that adults can enjoy.  It’s easy to see why so many kids are fans of the series.  I would give this book four stars, and I’m considering reading the next book in the series sometime.  ★★★★


Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll

Hello again, everyone, and happy (almost) Mardi Gras!  In honor of that festive holiday, I’d like to share a review of a very nonsensical book.

My book club’s theme for this year is “seventh grade reading list.”  We took a real 7th grade core literature reading list, voted for our favorites, and the twelve books on the list that received the most votes are our books for the year.  For January, we all read Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and we had a tea party at our monthly meeting.

This was not the first time I had read Alice in Wonderland, but I find that I like it better each time I read it.  To be honest, I think the first time I read it I was thrown off by the lack of a plot arc.  The book is very episodic, so much so that many of the chapters could almost stand alone as short stories.  I was also surprised to find how different it was from the Disney movie I had grown up with.  (Actually, several parts of the movie are taken from Alice through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Alice in Wonderland.)  The lack of a plot arc was quite intentional on Carroll’s part; the lack of structure also reflects the nonsensical nature of the book.

The thing I enjoy the most about this book is Carroll’s talent for playing with words.  From poetry to puns, his playful use of language is, in my opinion, what makes this book stand out.  It’s a classic for a reason, and I would recommend this book to absolutely anyone.  I give it four and a half stars, because it is still so enjoyable after three readings. ★★★★1/2

Some scones

Some scones

I want to conclude by recommending tea parties as a great theme or activity for book club meetings.  Alice in Wonderland is just one of many novels that lends itself to this theme.  And while a tea party may sound fancy, it can be as simple or as elaborate as you like.  You can pick up pastries from a store or bakery (scones are my favorite) and mugs with tea bags (or even hot chocolate) work just fine if you don’t have a tea set.  Or go all out with tea sandwiches, little cakes, and other finger foods-whatever you prefer!


Update: Children’s Books for Future Strong Women

This weekend, I was invited to a young family member’s birthday party.  She is turning six.  When I was deciding what to get her, naturally I thought of getting a book and that reminded me of our list, 11 Children’s Books for Future Strong Women.  It was between Madeline and Olivia, but as someone who minored in French, I just had to go with Madeline.

Madeline books



National Book Festival, Day Two

I enjoyed spending today at the Book Festival even more than yesterday.  For one thing, it was much less crowded and the weather was nicer.  Sunday was less crowded last year as well.  I stopped off at the book sales tent first and was able to get a head start on my Christmas shopping.  Although they had restocked, I was a little disappointed to see that they still had a much smaller selection than what I remember from past years.  Still, I am excited about the gifts I was able to get!

Charlaine Harris at the National Book Festival

As I was walking out of the book sales tent, I passed the Fiction and Mystery tent and noticed that Charlaine Harris was talking.  I decided to go in and listen, since I’ve heard so much about her Sookie Stackhouse series.  Her avid fans had a lot of questions about the end of the Sookie Stackhouse series and the first book of her new series, which will be released in 2014.

The next author was the highlight of the festival for me: Patricia Polacco.  I have been a Patricia Polacco fan since at least the first grade.  As a college student, I enjoyed re-reading some of her books that were inspired by East European folklore as I studied Russian.  It is a real privilege to get to see an author in person when you’ve admired them for most of your life, so this was the talk I looked forward to the most for this year’s book festival.  Despite my high expectations, the talk did not disappoint.  Patricia Polacco is an absolutely wonderful speaker.  Her latest book is about an art teacher that she had growing up and hearing her talk about it moved many of her adult audience members (including quite a few teachers) to tears.  I am hoping that the Library of Congress will post their video of her talk, because I would love to share it with the teachers in my life!

Naturally, I wanted to go to Mrs. Polacco’s book signing as well.  I already have a signed copy of one of her books, Thunder Cake, which was given to me by a friend about twenty years ago.  Today, I asked her to sign a book that Becca and I will give as a Christmas present.  I love getting to introduce new readers to authors that we loved growing up!

Patricia Polacco signing her book, Christmas Tapestry

After the book signing, I stopped into the Contemporary Life tent for part of Eric Weiner’s talk.  Then I went back to the Fiction and Mystery tent to see Eloisa James.

I’ll be honest: it was a toss-up between going to see Eloisa James and Junot Diaz, but I was getting tired at that point, and I thought Ms. James would be more entertaining to listen to.  (I haven’t read either author, although I was familiar with both names.)  I’m very happy with my choice though, because it made it possible for me to witness a historic event for the Book Festival-it turns out that Eloisa James is the first romance author to ever be invited there!

Now, I am happy to get to see such a first in person, and I commend whoever invited Eloisa James to be the first romance author-it was an excellent choice.  However, I am shocked that this is the twelfth annual book festival and they are only just now getting around to inviting a romance author!  I know some people look down on romance novels-some people look down on genre fiction in general, but there is plenty of it at the National Book Festival.  I couldn’t believe that for the past several years the organizers had devoted an entire tent to Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Graphic novels, without inviting one romance author!  I can’t imagine why they would want to ignore a genre with so many readers.

Eloisa James, the first romance novelist to be at the National Book Festival

That said, Eloisa James was a very good speaker.  She writes historical romance and also happens to be a Shakespeare professor.  Her latest novels are retellings of fairy tales.  I don’t read much romance, but when I do, it is usually historical romance, and I love retellings of fairy tales, so I may have to try out one of her books soon!  I figure any author that is also a Shakespeare expert is probably worth a try.

Overall, it was another great Book Festival!  I still can’t believe I finally got to meet Patricia Polacco in person!  Stay tuned for one last post tomorrow-I want to show you the books I bought!

11 Children’s Books for Future Strong Women

I Like Me by Nancy Carlson – A great story about self acceptance.  When the pig in the story fails at something, she tries again.  She loves everything about herself – down to her “round tummy” and “tiny feet”.  Body confidence needs to be taught early, and this is a great tool to do it with.  Our grandmother read this to us growing up, and it’s a lovely story.

Olivia by Ian Falconer – Another pig story, Olivia is your classic precocious toddler.  But she owns it.  What more could you want out of a smart little girl?

Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor – One of our favorites to buy for little girls, Fancy Nancy teaches high level vocabulary, explaining them as “fancy” words to replace the reader’s current vocabulary.  Best of all, Fancy Nancy shows little girls you can be smart AND pretty… and confidently wear feather boas in public.  A must-read.

Hilda Must Be Dancing by Karma Wilson – A story about a hippo who loves to dance, despite the complaints of her neighbors in the wild.  A fabulous (and wonderfully illustrated) story that tells girls (or boys!) to dance to the beat of their own drum, proudly and fearlessly.  It’s not always about doing what you’re great at, it’s about doing what you love.  Amen to that!

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans – (Warning: this book may make your future strong woman want to go to France!)  A classic about a spunky little girl from France.  Madeline is a natural leader who stands out from the crowd at her school.  We recently gave this book to our niece.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch – A princess story with a twist.  When Princess Elizabeth’s betrothed is kidnapped by a dragon, she outsmarts the dragon and saves him.  When he is less than pleased by her bedraggled appearance and un-princess-like behavior, she kicks him to the curb!  And lives happily ever after.

The Ramona books by Beverly Cleary – Ramona is such a great character for young kids to relate to (not just girls).  She is always having ideas, and her enthusiasm often gets her into trouble, usually with very funny results.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine – Another story that allows the princess to be her own hero.  This is a twist on the classic Cinderella story.  Ella is smart, resourceful, and relatable.  This funny and sweet chapter book is perfect for preteens.  If you’ve seen the movie, completely disregard it when considering this book (it is garbage).

The Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene Nancy Drew is a smart, resourceful, and talented high school student who frequently outsmarts adult criminals and solves crimes that have baffled the police.  Throughout the series, Nancy seems to be good at everything she does: swimming, starring in plays, music lessons, etc.  Whatever her hobby, a young woman will probably be able to find a book in the series that features it.

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle – This classic is a must-read for your future strong woman.  Not only is Meg Murray smart, brave, and good, but she is brilliant at math.  Her mother is also a brilliant scientist.  This wonderful adventure story could be recommended for so many reasons, but the portrayal of women and girls being successful in the field of math and sciences makes these characters stand out as especially good role models.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling – Hermione may not be the main character, but she’s one of the top three, and a great example for female readers.  She’s scary smart, average looking, brave, honorable, and saves the day on a regular basis.  And all the lesser female characters are strong and independent as well.  Additionally, this is an intelligent and imaginative series… something every strong woman should love!

Becca’s very well loved Harry Potter books.  We waited at midnight events for most of these, and finished them within a matter of days.  Sadly, our dog is also quite partial to Harry, as you can see on Books 1 and 5.