9/28: The First Part Last

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

The_First_Part_Last_(Angela_Johnson_novel)_cover_artAngela Johnson has written a lot of picture books, but I am not as familiar with those – my main knowledge of her work comes from two titles that are popular in middle school, Heaven and The First Part Last. Girls in middle school loooooove The First Part Last – it’s about a teenage father named Bobby who is raising his daughter alone because of a tragedy surrounding her birth. The cover alone does most of the work for me – doesn’t he look so swoony holding that baby? The book does a good job showing the stresses of teenage pregnancy and not glamorizing it (despite the swoony cover). Students love Bobby, and this book won both the Printz and the Coretta Scott King when it was published. A real and thoughtful story.

You should also read:
Heaven (another Coretta Scott King winner – the cover always looks young to me but the main character is 14)

8/28: Martin’s Big Words

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

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Pretty much every Black History Month list of books is going to include Martin’s Big Words By Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Bryan Collier, but it really is just that good. The words and pictures come together to create a beautiful picture of Dr. King and the power of using your voice. If you have never read it, you really should.

When we read it to Atticus on Dr. King’s birthday this year, we had a good and difficult conversation at the part where Rosa Parks is arrested. Sometimes the rules are wrong. Therefore, I suggest you pair this one with:

I Have a Dream illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Bryan Collier (which I am particularly fond of because it makes it clear that Rosa Parks was not just a lady with tired feet who didn’t want to move but a woman with agency who made a choice because she was tired of injustice.)

7/28: Hazelwood High

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

The ALA awards this year hit all the right notes with me (except for the Printz winner, which I read back in the fall and recommended for, and I quote, “NO ONE”), and I will be mentioning them a few more times over the rest of the month. I was particularly excited about this year’s Edwards award winner. The Edwards award is given to a young adult author who has made a lasting contribution to the field, and it’s given for specific titles. This year, Sharon Draper won for six of her titles, all of which are very popular at my school. The three I am going to mention today are the Hazelwood High Trilogy: Tears of a Tiger, Forged by Fire, and Darkness Before Dawn. They tell the stories of three different teenagers at Hazelwood High, one who is dealing with the aftermath of a drunk driving incident, one who has an abusive home life, and one who is struggling with relationships after a suicide.

Sharon Draper wrote these books because she teaches English and wanted to write the kind of books her students (and mine) want to read. If there was one author I was tempted to post about more than one day this month, it would have been her.

Here are a few of her other titles:
Romiette and Julio
The Battle of Jericho
Copper Sun
Double Dutch
Out of my Mind

6/28: Bud, Not Buddy

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

imageI find Bud, Not Buddy To be a little bit young for middle school, but it was one of Mike’s favorite’s to teach when he worked with fifth graders. Bud (not Buddy) is ten years old, and often my students don’t like to read about characters younger than themselves.

In this story, Bud is looking for the man he believes to be his father. His mother has died and he escaped a difficult foster home situation. Like a lot of children’s books, it talks about a lot of hard things, but it does so with a particular deftness and humor. Maybe this is not a book that needs talking up – it won the Coretta Scott King award and the Newbery, after all. Mike is such a fan, and I know he can’t wait to read it with Atticus in a year or two, but it’s not a book I would be immediately attracted to (the cover, for example, does nothing for me), and if you are anything like me, you might need a little nudge to pick it up, too.

Obviously you should also read:
The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963

5/28: Tyrell

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

imageI’m going to be honest, I haven’t read this one yet. As a librarian, I often read the books that might be a little bit tougher sell because I need to talk them up a bit. This one doesn’t need my help – as soon as it comes in, it goes right back out, and when I have asked why my students like it so much, the answer is that, “It’s real.” Tyrell lives in a shelter with his mother and younger brother and his father is in jail. He is determined not to end up like his dad, but also desperately wants money to get his family out of the shelter. The book is based on Coe Booth’s experiences working with families and teenagers in crisis, which is surely what my students are responding to so strongly.

I saw Coe Booth at YALLfest and she was wonderful, and if this book is ever checked in for more than two seconds, maybe I will snag it for myself to read one weekend. Even without having read it, I knew I should highlight it this month. My one disclaimer is that all the reviews make it clear that Tyrell contains mature themes, so be aware before you start.

Coe Booth’s other books are also popular:
Bronxwood
Kendra

4/28: Ron’s Big Mission

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

imageI bought Ron’s Big Mission for Atticus when I was pregnant with him. I knew that it was about Ron McNair, the Challenger astronaut (who has Greensboro ties – he went to A&T), but not much else past that. It turns out that it is based on a true story about how Ron fought against segregation so that he could get a library card. Atticus knows it as the book where Ron jumps up on the library desk until the librarian will let him check out the books that he wants.

It’s a simple but powerful story, and a reminder that children see injustice. It gives us a great opportunity to talk about bravery and what we should do when we believe the rules are wrong. The pictures are charming and expressive and I love reading it to Atticus. I first read it to him just a few weeks after he was born, and we always read it on January 28th. This year we introduced him to the fact that we were reading it because it was the day that Ron had died, and it gave us another way to talk about Ron McNair’s bravery.

Also recommended:
I know illustrator Don Tate from the book She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story, which we do not own but which I also enjoyed. He has a lot of other highly-regarded books I haven’t read yet, so I am learning a lot through this series, too.

3/28: Monster

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

imageIf I were to have to make a list of the top ten YA books of all time, I would try to get out of it because it’s too hard. There are three or four that I know would make the list, though, and Monster by Walter Dean Myers is one of them. Walter Dean Myers, who died over the summer, wrote a lot of great books for kids and teenagers, but I think Monster was his masterpiece. (I haven’t read everything, though, because he wrote a ton, so if you want to argue about this I am open to hearing you out.)

I first read Monster when I was working for a professor who taught a YA class and I had to check the students’ summaries so I read a lot of the books to make sure that the summaries were valid. Monster is about Steve, a boy who is in juvenile detention and on trial for a robbery/murder. The book alternates between Steve’s journal and the trial, written in screenplay format because Steve loves filmmaking. The format is interesting, the topic catches students’ attention, and the question of guilt is not resolved neatly. Walter Dean Myers was one of the all-time greats, and this is my favorite of his books. You should read it.

My students also love:
Autobiography of My Dead Brother
Handbook for Boys
What They Found: Love on 145th Street

I also recommend this piece by Walter Dean Myers that inspired the We Need Diverse Books campaign.

2/28: Brown Girl Dreaming

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

Today is a big day for book nerds, the day that the ALA awards (such as the Newbery, the Caldecott, the Printz, and more) are announced. I think this year they might cancel all the awards and just give everything to Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Sorry to everyone else who wrote things this year.

image As I was writing this post I realized that somehow or another I left Brown Girl Dreaming off my list of books read last year, so I never actually talked about it. If you are unaware, it’s a memoir of her childhood told in verse. I loved it for a lot of things, including as a coming-of-age story, a fish-out-of-water story, and for her mastery of language. Jacqueline Woodson has given us a great gift, and I hope she wins all the awards today!

Other Jacqueline Woodson books my students love:
Locomotion and Peace, Locomotion
If You Come Softly
After Tupac and D Foster

1/28: Sit-In

Every day in February, I am celebrating Black History Month by posting children’s and YA books that you should know about. I am not going to claim that this is an exhaustive list of the best and the greatest, just that they are books that have resonated with my family and my students. Some of them feature historical figures, while some are contemporary fiction. For more great books check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.

Today, February 1st, is a big day in Greensboro. It marks the anniversary of the Greensboro sit-ins from 1960. Inspired by Dr. King and his words about nonviolence, four NCA&T students staged a sit-in at the lunch counter of Woolworth’s. The sit-ins sparked others throughout the state and region and lasted for months until the lunch counter was fully integrated.

image My favorite book about the sit-ins is Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney. I love the illustrations and I think it does a good job of showing where our sit-ins fit into the larger struggle for civil rights. I also like the way that it uses their order (a doughnut and coffee with cream on the side) to talk about an overall “recipe for integration.”

I love to start February by reading this book to Atticus. Check it out if you haven’t!

Bonus materials:
Freedom on the Menu by Carole Boston Wetherford (also about the Greensboro sit-ins)
Wikipedia on the Greensboro Sit-Ins
Greensboro lunch counter at the Smithsonian

what I have been reading (end of January edition).

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins, featuring stories by Rainbow Rowell, Gayle Forman, Matt de la Pena, and others (I purchased a copy)

At YALLfest, I saw a panel discussion on this book of holiday short stories and it sounded so fun. There are Christmas and New Year’s stories as well as a couple of Hanukkah stories. I didn’t get around to reading it during Christmas, but I decided to read it in January rather than waiting. It’s really great. Of course I liked some of the stories more than others, but there weren’t any I didn’t like. They all had something to recommend them. This is a nice addition to a YA collection or a fun gift for a fan of these authors. My only complaint is that I wish there were more African-American authors and characters in the collection. There was diversity in many other ways, so I missed that particular aspect. Other than that, a thoroughly enjoyable read.

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Young Money by Kevin Roose (via the public library)

Roose’s book The Unlikely Disciple was one of my favorites from last year, so I decided to give his newer book a try (it came out in 2014). It follows eight new hires to Wall Street and tries to explain what they do and what their lives are like. They are all working in the post-crash, post-bail out Wall Street, so their experiences were somewhat less decadent than they would have been a decade earlier. The new hires all had a certain amount of ambivalence about their work which makes sense, because these are the people who agreed to talk to him. He attended/snuck into other events in order to get the perspective of someone who had completely bought in to the idea of Wall Street. I came away from this book feeling more than ever that the world of Wall Street is nothing I would ever want to be involved with. Roose did a good job explaining enough of their work that I understood what they were doing without giving so much detail that I felt that the story bogged down. A great read about a topic I didn’t even think I would be interested in. As before, Roose is an incredibly warm and likeable guide through this world.

Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile (via NetGalley)

Charley’s father left her a sugar cane farm in Lousiana. Needing a new start for herself and her daughter, she moved there from California to live with her grandmother, Miss Honey, and try working the farm. I found Charley’s voice and her struggles to learn about sugar cane to be enjoyable reads and I wanted to follow along. My only problem was that 25%-30% of the book is narrated by Charley’s half-brother Ralph Angel and he is a difficult fellow to like or to sympathize with. A drug addict and a thief, I felt like I could see where his story was going and I just wanted to skip to the parts with Charley. Even the attempts to humanize him did not do a lot for me. Overall, I enjoyed this book quite a bit despite Ralph Angel and would recommend it as a good summer read or a book club choice. Just get through those Ralph Angel parts as quickly as you can.

The Divine Magician by Peter Rollins (via NetGalley)

This book uses the idea of magic tricks/illusions to question what it is that we are putting our faith in – is it God or is it religion? I like Rollins but I did find the first part of this to be dense. I loved the discussion of new ways to view the story of the Prodigal Son (as a failure to upend the system since everything returns to the status quo) and I think that part of the book will stick with me the most.

Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants by Ruwen Ogien (via NetGalley)

It doesn’t sound like it from the title, but this is a book about ethics. I have not done a lot of reading on ethics, but this seemed like a good introduction and overview. It presented some situations I had heard before, but also went into more depth as it encouraged thoughtful living. Recommended as an accessible introduction to the topic.

Some of these books were provided by the publisher. As always, my opinions are my own.

a poem for sunday.

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As ideas about words and images have been debated over the past weeks, I have wondered what it is that I find to be disrespectful in the extreme. What is out of bounds or an affront to God? What will I teach Atticus about these things? As I was thinking about it, I clicked on the transcript of Jeff Chu’s keynote at the GCN conference and found this poem.

“Compassion” by Miller Williams

Have compassion for everyone you meet
even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit,
bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign
of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on
down there where the spirit meets the bone.

In my own life, the ways that I am sharp-clawed and desperate come most often from feeling misunderstood, unappreciated, and unseen. When someone takes the time to see and hear my story or to offer a kind word, I feel human again.

That’s what we hope to convey to Atticus, the importance of seeing the humanity of the people in front of him, that everyone carries, along with their worries and fears and hopes and dreams, the image of God. I need some practice at this myself.

what I have been reading (catching up and starting new edition).

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(Happy “noon” year from Atticus. We went to the public library for their countdown at noon and he really wanted to borrow this hat. Alas, it was not for checking out, only for photoboothing.)

I didn’t write up some of the books I read at the end of last year. I’m going to give you quick one-sentence reviews of them, ready?

Mountains Beyond Mountainsby Tracy Kidder – Dr. Paul Farmer has helped a lot of people but I thought the book was kind of boring.

Countdown by Deborah Wiles – Great book with a terrible cover.

Revolution by Deborah Wiles – Even better than Countdown.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese – Frustrating but worth it.

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen – What Sarah Dessen does is harder than it looks, and this book is solid.

Mortal Error by Bonar Menninger – A secret service agent accidentally shot JFK. It’s a good theory.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler – Better than Mindy Kaling’s book, not as good as Tina Fey’s book.

Ok, on to the real reviews for this year.

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash (borrowed from a friend)

I’m not sure what to say except to just tell you straight up – this one is about snake handling and deception in a church in the mountains of North Carolina, and it will probably make you mad. It’s a page turner but it is also beautifully written. Recommended for: a good fiction read.

The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward (via NetGalley)

This story follows a 14-year-old girl named Carla who is trying to get to the US from Honduras and a woman named Alice who lives in Austin with her husband and runs a barbecue shop. I had some frustrations with some of the actions in the Alice story – she is unable to have children and gets involved with mentoring a local high school student kind of abruptly but I felt that that story resolved really well. However, the real gem here is Carla’s story. When we are talking about immigration, these are the stories we need to keep in mind, that the choices people make are sometimes their only choices in the face of poverty, starvation, and addiction. The two characters come together in a fairly predictable way, but it is still a pleasure to see how they got there. Recommended for: another great fiction read.

Waiting for Gonzo by Dave Cousins (via NetGalley)

This book is narrated by Oz as he tells the story to his sister’s unborn baby, whom he is calling Gonzo. Oz and his family have recently moved and Oz found himself on the wrong side of a local “psycho” as well as complications in his family. Oz is funny as he gets into and out of situations as varied as: being chased by a dog and falling out of a tree, intercepting a robbery at the local pub, and accidentally getting drunk at his mom’s art show. There are parts of the book that are charming although I have to admit I found the book overall to be less than the sum of its rather interesting characters. I saw a review that called this a more mature Diary of a Wimpy Kid and I think that’s right.

The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen (via NetGalley)

So, this book is about a lot of things, including: a virus that infects books and causes the words inside to change, a missing children’s author, a possible murder/missing diary situation, and a secretive literature society that suddenly accepted a new member. It’s also deeply weird. I liked it, although I found some of the ways that the male characters related to the female characters to be troubling/unsettling, especially one scene in particular that seemed completely out of place. The ending was extremely satisfying when it came to wrapping up certain storylines, but I still had some questions after it was over. I wished that I had someone to talk to about it. I recommend it for: you! Please, read this so I have a discussion partner.

I received some of these books from NetGalley but my opinions are my own.

books read 2014.

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January
1. The Story of God, the Story of Us: Getting Lost and Found in the Bible by Sean Gladding (nf)
2. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (f)
3. The Priority List: A Teacher’s Final Quest to Discover Life’s Greatest Lessons by David Menasche (nf)
4. Parentology: Everything You Wanted to Know About the Science of Raising Children but Were Too Exhausted to Ask by Dalton Conley (nf)
5. Now You See Me: How I Forgave the Unforgivable by Kathy Sanders (nf)
6. The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose (nf)
7. Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America by Melissa Harris-Perry (nf)
8. Cinematic States: Stories We Tell, the American Dreamlife, and How to Understand Everything by Gareth Higgins (nf)
9. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (f)
10. Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman (nf)
11. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (f)
12. Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick (f)
13. Boy21 by Matthew Quick (f)
14. The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick (f)
15. The Vinedresser’s Notebook: Spiritual Lessons in Pruning, Waiting, Harvesting, and Abundance by Judith Sutera (nf)

February
16. Incognito: Lost and Found at Harvard Divinity School by Andrea Raynor (nf)
17. Found: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer by Micha Boyett (nf)
18. Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine by Tim Hanley (nf)
19. Notes to Boys by Pamela Ribon (nf)
20. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick (f)
21. My Accidental Jihad by Krista Bremer (nf)

March
22. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (f)
23. Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove by Ahmir Questlove Thompson (nf)
24. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith (f)
25. New Life, No Instructions by Gail Caldwell (nf)
26. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe (nf)
27. Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin by Nicole Hardy (nf)
28. The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen (nf)
29. Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink (nf)
30. City of God by Sara Miles (nf, reread)

April
31. Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity by David L. Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy (nf)
32. A Trust Betrayed: The Untold Story of Camp Lejeune and the Poisoning of Generations of Marines and Their Families by Mike Magner (nf)
33. Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in search of Faith with a Future by Elizabeth Esther (nf)
34. The Beer Drinker’s Guide to God by William B. Miller (nf)
35. It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by danah boyd (nf)
36: Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor (nf)
37. Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois (f)
38. The Circle of Seasons by Kimberlee Conway Ireton (nf)

May
39. Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando (f)
40. The Book of Not So Common Prayer by Linda McCullough Moore (nf)
41. Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier (f)
42. Mommy Man by Jerry Mahoney (nf)
43. Speaking of Sin by Barbara Brown Taylor (nf)
44. Strangers at My Door by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (nf)
45. Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste by Carl Wilson (nf)
46. No One Needs to Know by Amanda Grace (f)
47. Why Do Buses Come in Threes: The Hidden Mathematics of Everyday Life by Robert Eastaway (nf)
48. Of Scars and Stardust by Andrea Hannah (f)
49. Words and Their Meanings by Kate Bassett (f)
50. The Little Boy in the Tree by Roland Russoli (nf)

June
51. The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson (f)
52. Life After Death Row by Saundra D. Westervelt (nf)
53. Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Liffe by Traci Smith (nf)
54. El Deafo by Cece Bell (f)
55. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (f)
56. The War for Late Night by Bill Carter (nf)
57. Speaking Christian by Marcus J. Borg (nf)
58. Drama by Raina Telgemeier (f)
59. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Madina (f)
60. Mortal Blessings: A Sacramental Farewell by Angela Alaimo O’Donnell (nf)
61. The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman (f)
62. How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig (nf)
63. The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone (nf)
64. God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines (nf)
65. God and the Gay Christian: A Response to Matthew Vines by Albert Mohler (et al) (nf)
66. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (f)

July
67. The Feasts: A Celebration of Saints and their Holidays by DOnald Wuerl (nf)
68. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (f)
69. Spiritual Misfit by Michelle DeRusha (nf)
70. A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness by Marlena Graves (nf)
71. The Misfits by James Howe (f)
72. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (nf)
73. How to be a Christian Without Going to Church by Kelly Bean (nf)
74. Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince (nf)
75. The Sculptor by Scott McCloud (f)
76. Landline by Rainbow Rowell (f)
77. A Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd (nf)
78. The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp (f)

August
79. If I Stay by Gayle Forman (f)
80. In Darkness by Nick Lake (f)
81. Where She Went by Gayle Forman (f)
82. The Book of Mormon Girl by Joanna Brooks (nf)
83. When Spiritual But Not Religious is not Enough by Lillian Daniel (nf)
84. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (nf)
85. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (f)
86. Undistorted God by Ray Waddle (nf)
87. Live From New York by Tom Shales (nf)
88. Dancing on the Head of a Pen by Robert Benson (nf)
89. Telling God’s Story by Peter Enns (nf)
90. Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky (f)
91. Disquiet Time by Jennifer Grant (nf)
92. Nest by Esther Ehrlich (f)

September
93. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (nf)
94. Blankets by Craig Thompson (nf)
95. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (f)
96. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown (nf)
97. Rare Bird by Anna Whiston-Donaldson (nf)

October
98. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (f)
99. Wildlife by Fiona Wood (f)
100. Blues for Zoey by Robert Paul Weston (f)
101. Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon G. Flake (f)
102. Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto by Steve Almond (nf)
103. Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay (nf)
104. 50 Women Every Christian Should Know by Michelle DeRusha (nf)
105. Too Heavy a Yoke by Chanequa Walker-Barnes (nf)
106. Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity by Dianna Anderson (nf)

November
107. Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart by Kathy Escobar (nf)

December
108. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder (nf)
109. Countdown by Deborah Wiles (f)
110. Revolution by Deborah Wiles (f)
111. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (f)
112. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen (f)
113. Mortal Error: The Shot that Killed JFK by Bonar Menninger (nf)
114. Yes Please by Amy Poehler (nf)

ETA: I read Brown Girl Dreaming somewhere in there but must have forgotten to add it to GoodReads! So, make that 115.

A good reading year in many ways. I expanded my use of NetGalley and read a lot of pre-releases on my ipad. However, I think that kept me from reading as much good fiction. I read a lot of YA fiction but if you have suggestions for adult contemporary fiction I could probably use them. Things got a little bit slow at the end of the year. Work was wearing me down and I honestly didn’t want to come home and read. That’s not a typical attitude for me, so please keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I deal with that stress.

Favorites of the year (in no particular order):
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose (Want to read his newest one – need to put it on hold at the library.)
Sister Citizen by Melissa Harris-Perry
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink
Strangers at My Door by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste by Carl Wilson
It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by danah boyd
Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois
ETA: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Number One Favorite of the Year:
The Book of Mormon Girl by Joanna Brooks

Least Favorite of the Year:
Now You See Me: How I Forgave the Unforgivable by Kathy Sanders

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To Read Next Year:
I got a bunch of books for Christmas that are on deck:
-Homicide by David Simon
-The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
-Small Victories by Anne Lamott
-Beloved by Toni Morrison
-11/22/63 by Stephen King

Some others on my list are: The Autobiography of Malcolm X, The New Jim Crow, and a book by my favorite English Professor called Play Music.

Currently Reading: A Land More Kind than Home by Wiley Cash

What about you? How was this year in reading? What did you read this year that I need to know about? Please give me your recommendations.

on waiting.

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The news this week made me feel a certain amount of hopelessness. Will things in our country ever be less divided?Will we ever understand each other more? Is it crazy to wish that we might be able to find both peace and justice living comfortably together?

After wallowing in despair for a day or two, I thought about how appropriate it is that these are the feelings I have as we enter into Advent. I have often talked about waiting expectantly at Advent with some kind of rosy glow, because waiting for a baby is a wonderful thing. This year, though, I feel more acutely the ways that we are waiting in the darkness of what is, longing for what should be. How long, O Lord?

Where are the places in this world where you see, with holy imagination, the greatest gap between the kingdom of heaven and what is in front of you right now? What burns in your heart? Is it war, hungry children, lack of education or healthcare? Naming these places of injustice, where we feel the need of the Incarnation, is a prophetic act that feels right for this season. Even better is to step into that gap and name the ways that you can be the hands and feet of Jesus to help right those wrongs. Rather than being useless, you are embodying the active waiting that is the Advent season.

I am thankful to be able to sit here in the darkness for a bit, to wait and pray and act in ways that point so clearly to the world as it can be, the world that Jesus spoke of with his words and lived with his friends. I hope you will join me.

Please also read these words from Christena Cleveland, who spoke so truly what I was feeling this week except her words are much much better.

Earlier this year, I reviewed The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year by Kimberlee Conway Ireton. I bought the book myself from the author but there was some kind of post office mishap that meant she had to send the book twice before I got it. Lo, these many months later, the missing copy has arrived, and Kimberlee said that I could offer it to one of you as a gift. If you are interested in winning a copy, please comment below. Advent, the beginning of the church calendar year, is a great time to start learning the rhythms of the church year. I recommend this short and helpful book to you. Please comment by December 5th and I will pick the winner on December 6th.

ETA: Congratulations to Kalyn, the winner of the book. :)

on candletime.

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I didn’t really say much this year about candletime, the made up season where we light candles every night to fight the darkness of November. But we are still celebrating this year, despite the challenges of a kid who wants to blow out the candles and a cat (Mike read a bunch of stuff online about cats who set the house on fire so he was extra worried this year).

Next week we will start Advent and we will put up our tree. There is nothing like the warm glow of Christmas lights to fill the heart. But for now we sit in November and we light candles. For now, it is enough.

we ache in secret, memorizing.

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“November for Beginners” by Rita Dove

Snow would be the easy
way out—that softening
sky like a sigh of relief
at finally being allowed
to yield. No dice.
We stack twigs for burning
in glistening patches
but the rain won’t give.

So we wait, breeding
mood, making music
of decline. We sit down
in the smell of the past
and rise in a light
that is already leaving.
We ache in secret,
memorizing

a gloomy line
or two of German.
When spring comes
we promise to act
the fool. Pour,
rain! Sail, wind,
with your cargo of zithers!

yallfest 2014.

I went to YALLfest a few weeks ago with some library friends. If you didn’t click that link I will tell you that YALLfest is a young adult literature festival in Charleston, SC. I had never been before but a friend was organizing a trip and it seemed like too much fun to pass up.

I got to see so many authors I love (seriously, look at this list) and was inspired by their stories and their passion. I love young adult literature and it was fun to be around so many people who feel the same way, to watch the tweens and teens as well as the adults who were having just as much fun as I was.

Two things were particularly lovely to me that day. The first was a tribute to Walter Dean Myers by Varian Johnson, Ellen Hopkins, Nikki Grimes, Coe Booth, and Kwame Anderson. It was a huge honor to hear them talk about him and about their work. Nikki Grimes read a poem from one of the characters in Bronx Masquerade (but not actually from the book) and watching Kwame Alexander listen to it–he was amazed and excited–was a pure pleasure.

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The other big thing that happens at YALLfest is the smackdown, and I don’t know what happened in other years, but this year there were readings from childhood writings, games, some silliness regarding picture book authors trying to break into YA, and of course Libba Bray’s band Tiger Beat.

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My favorite moment of the event was something from the smackdown they called the “First Line Medley” where several authors read the first lines of favorite books. There was just something beautiful to me about the way a line would catch on in the room and the crowd would respond to it – the big ones, of course, like The Catcher in the Rye and The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Harry Potter and The Fault in Our Stars. But there were others I didn’t know (or couldn’t guess) and those were just as wonderful to hear, if only because it reminded me of what a good first line can be. If the ones I already know and love are like a worn welcome mat, the ones I was less familiar with felt like an open door inviting me to explore.

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(Ann Brashares is on the left! ANN BRASHARES. AND SHE WORE JEANS.)

It was a great gift to be in the company of so many readers. I came home with long lists of books and a renewed sense of the place of YA literature in our culture. I hope to go back next year, and you should come, too.

the prodigal daughter returns.

The first Sunday I went back to church, I felt tender and bruised, like I was not sure what I was doing. I felt tears about to spill over more than once. I still have a lot of questions about my place there, but I was ready to try.

I have never in my life dreamed of missing church on a regular basis, and then I did that, and then it turned into a whole lot of church I was missing. It was an empty space in my life, but it was nice to sit with that ache for a few months, to let myself feel the absence of the people and the rhythms of Sundays.

Atticus was so excited that we would all be going to church together, and asked about it several times. You are coming too, Mama? As we pulled into the church parking lot, he cheerfully called from the back seat, We’re home!

I’m not one to believe very much in signs but even I was like, Ok, I get it. We’re home.

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two books I finished.

I don’t have a whole reading roundup but I have finished two books and then I abandoned The Goldfinch after wasting a bunch of time on it so I thought I would go ahead and write these two up to get myself back in the reading groove.

Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity by Dianna E. Anderson (via NetGalley)

As someone who lived through the 90s True Love Waits purity culture, I agree with a lot of Anderson has to say in this book. There is a definite need to reframe the discussion around what it means to pursue purity in relationships – it is so much more than kissing dating goodbye or just saying no. I liked how Anderson challenged those ideas head on and offered tangible examples of how purity culture harmed many of us by sending damaging messages. However, I thought the book had a few key weaknesses that diminished my enjoyment of it overall. It’s positioned as an alternative to many others that are aimed at teenagers, and there were parts that did speak to teenagers, but other parts of it were speaking more to those of us in our 20s and 30s who experienced purity culture, and there were a few parts that I thought were speaking to those of us who work with teenagers. Because of that, it did not feel as cohesive as I would have liked. I also thought that her conclusions, which mirror many of my own conclusions, were not explained as well as they could have been. I wished she had done a little more work on the front end to bring the reader along with her, mostly because I feared that she hadn’t done quite enough to convince a skeptical reader (although maybe that wasn’t her target audience? That ties in with my earlier confusion about who the book might be for). Finally, I have to say that I had to raise an eyebrow at all of her stories about couples who waited and then had terrible sex. I understand the point she was making, but I felt like that was just as bad as the stories I heard growing up about girls who had sex and then got pregnant and died. Despite her constant refrain that waiting is an okay choice, too, I didn’t walk away feeling as if she really believed that. The book was strongest as it talked about rejecting shame, a strong message for all of us. In the end, I would recommend this to youth leaders who are interested in finding other ways to talk to their students about sex and who are thinking about what pitfalls to avoid.

Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe Is Coming Apart by Kathy Escobar (via Blogging for Books)

In contrast to the previous book, I think this one knows exactly who its audience is: people who are experiencing a crisis of faith and who need help figuring out the next step. Mike and I could have used a book like this a few years ago as we navigated many of the steps that Escobar talks about – breaking away from old ideas and trying to forge a new identity. I found the first part of the book a little bit dry as she talked about the stages of faith but the second half that focused on rebuilding was soothing and encouraging. Our faith should live and grow with us, and when it feels as if it is lost, it would be nice to have a guidebook like what Escobar has written here. Mike and I worked out many of these stages on our own or with the help of our community, but for those who aren’t so lucky, I recommend this book.

I received copies of these books from the publishers but my opinions are my own.

a poem for sunday.

This poem was read just before we took communion this morning, and this evening I told Atticus that this was my favorite part of the day. I love being able to take communion with him. He gets shy and serious, a little bit determined. This morning he was concerned: every time the pastor mentioned wine, Atticus whispered juice. He wanted us to know that he cannot drink wine and we had to reassure him that there is grape juice as well. (This is not a big theological statement on our part. Our church offers both and he tried the wine once and didn’t like it so we are sticking with juice for now.) He also asked about the people who didn’t come to the front. That made this poem so perfect, as it gave words to the things we want him to know about the Lord’s table and the welcome that we can find there. It is the place where I feel most welcome at church these days, the grace of bread and wine (or juice). I am always happy when we can share that as a family.

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“And the Table Will Be Wide” by Jan Richardson

And the table
will be wide.
And the welcome
will be wide.
And the arms
will open wide
to gather us in.
And our hearts
will open wide
to receive.

And we will come
as children who trust
there is enough.
And we will come
unhindered and free.
And our aching
will be met
with bread.
And our sorrow
will be met
with wine.

And we will open our hands
to the feast
without shame.
And we will turn
toward each other
without fear.
And we will give up
our appetite
for despair.
And we will taste
and know
of delight.

And we will become bread
for a hungering world.
And we will become drink
for those who thirst.
And the blessed
will become the blessing.
And everywhere
will be the feast.

Source for the poem.