A tale of three books

Once upon a time, and for quite a long time, I harboured secret dreams of being a writer. When I was in school, I wanted to be a journalist and even applied to the journalism program at Carleton. Over the years, though, I discovered blogging, and developed a little bit more self-awareness, and fell in love with photography. The blog allowed me to write in fits and starts when the mood moved me without committing to the long form of a book (I always saw myself as more of a short story writer anyway) but still scratch the itch that was my need to tell stories. The self-awareness revealed that not only do I have the attention span of a flea, while I love the act of writing, I am not really a writer in my soul. The photography gave me an outlet even more powerful and more intoxicating than writing to tell the stories I wanted to tell.

I hold books to be sacred things. If I were to think of a single thing that has most influenced who I am, what I believe, how I dream and what I love it do, that thing would be books. While I am content with the idea that I will probably never actually write a book, I am deeply and madly honoured to have been associated with not one, not two, but THREE books in the last month or so. You’ll have to pardon the hyperbole. I’m so excited that I’ve even regressed to typing two spaces after my periods.

The first book I want to tell you about is a book of poetry. It’s being published by a small literary press in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the poet is a young New Englander named Brian Simoneau. The publisher found my photo of Watson’s Mill on Flickr and sent me a note asking if they could use it. It’s not represented by Getty, so I negotiated a fair price – including a vanity copy for me and one for the Mill! – and we had a deal. I haven’t seen the final layout yet, but this is the photo they will be using:

Foggy Mill

Neat, eh? The publisher has promised me a mock-up of the cover soon, and the book will be available in September. I’ll share when I have them.

The second book was written by the person who posted the very first ever comment on this blog. Dean Dad, recently linked to his alter-ego Matt Reed, has been blogging just a little bit longer than me but has engaged a huge audience over the years with his blog Confessions of a Community College Dean. We became friends and kept in touch over the years, bonded by a shared appreciation of the wonders of parenting and the absurdities of working in a bureaucratic environment. Or maybe it was the wonders of bureaucracy and the absurdity of parenting?

Regardless, I just found out recently that Matt wrote a book based on his experiences called Confessions of a Community College Administrator. I was delighted for him, and when I congratulated Matt on his accomplishment, he casually mentioned that he had thanked me by name in the acknowledgements. (!) How cool is THIS?

Thanks again Dean Dad – erm, I mean Matt. It’s been fun bumping along this bloggy road with you over the last decade. 🙂

And last but not least, of course, is the book I first told you about in January. When I found out that my photo of Lucas drawing a hopscotch on the driveway was being used as a book cover, I was so excited I did a little dance around the room. It’s something I have hoped to see for as long as I’ve been licensing my photos through Getty Images. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it might be used on a book that has been touted as one of the “most anticipated books of 2014” or a Publisher’s Weekly starred review.

What I really love about the story of this book, as opposed to the story IN the book, is how I have forged a connection to the author, Brando Skyhorse. As I mentioned back in January, I found the book cover using a Google Image search, and when I found it I tagged the book on Goodreads as ‘to read’ and commented ‘this is the book with my photo on the cover’.

To my surprise and delight, I received an e-mail a few days later from the author himself. He said,

Hi Dani –

I’m Brando Skyhorse, author of Take This Man. I just discovered today via Goodreads (which led me to your blog) your stunning picture graces the finished book jacket.

This book was an incredible challenge for me to write. Often times the only thing that kept me going was trying to visualize what the final jacket (and title) would be. I could never see it, though. When my editor emailed cover samples we had close to a dozen wonderful designs to choose from yet I kept returning to your image. Something about the child – whose name I now know is Lucas – drawing on pavement with chalk felt absolutely right. Maybe you’ll see what I mean if you read the book.

In short: THANK YOU. Your picture is an incredible gift that’s made my book complete.

Isn’t that wonderful? I swear I smile every time I read it. Not only is my book on a jacket cover, but the author is a REALLY NICE GUY. We’ve corresponded through the past few months, me telling him how honoured I am to have my photo on his book and him giving me status updates along the lines of ‘”Our” book got some great news this week!’

So my photo is on the cover, it sounds like it’s going to have a pretty impressive release later this spring, and the author is incredibly kind. What could be better? Oh yes, it’s an absolutely breath-taking book, one I promise you will never forget. I’ve gone a little rambly on this post (quelle surprise!) and I want to do the book justice with my review, so stand by and I’ll get that posted soon(ish) in a separate post.

But seriously, a photo on a book of poetry, name credit in the acknowledgements of another book, and Lucas on what sounds by all accounts to be a barn-burner of a best seller. Who needs to actually WRITE a book with all of that?!?

Do you restrict what your kids can read?

Had you told me before I had kids that I’d be reading aloud each night to my kids beyond the age of ten, I’d have laughed. I mean, sure, we’re a bookish family, and reading is sacred – but I would not have imagined that they would still not only enjoy but actively request out-loud reading at the end of every day.

From the Hobbit to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing to Harry Potter, it’s been fun revisiting some of my favourite books with them. We’ve also checked a few off my own “must read” list, including A Wrinkle in Time and most recently, Anne of Green Gables. (I seriously never could have imagined that two 21st century preteen boys could be so engaged by a 100 year old book about a spunky girl as they have. Truly one of my finer parenting moments!)

They are just getting to an age where they are starting to have more sophisticated tastes in their individual reading. They’ve both read two of the three Hunger Games books, and are racing to finish Mocking Jay before the first movie comes out this fall. With the hype about the new Divergent movie and a recommendation from a camp counsellor, Simon now wants to read that. I waffled – he is only 10, and I don’t know how mature the themes in the book are, even though it is purportedly for a young adult audience. There is a lot of ground between 10 and 17!

At first, I was going to hold him off until I could read the series myself first. At the very least, I thought I would skim the interwebs to see if I could get an idea if there was anything questionable in the books. However, I was nine when I picked up my mom’s copy of Stephen King’s Firestarter and I’ve been reading adult novels just about ever since.

304:365 Antique books

After reflecting on it a bit, I decided that they’re now pretty much okay to read whatever they want. I couldn’t think of anything I wouldn’t want them to read, although I do still want to know what they’re reading so we can talk about it. I think I’d still be careful about what movies we watched together, but there’s something about books and the engagement of your imagination that makes me willing to give them a longer leash.

I tried to think of what would make me restrict a book, and I suppose the violence would be the biggest red flag for me, although they are a little naive for any overt sexuality. Truth be told, if they are smart enough to find that stuff and learn something, more power to them! As if we weren’t all reading everything from Tiger Eyes to Tropic of Capricorn looking for the racy bits back in high school.

What do you think? Are you concerned about what your pre-teen or teen is reading? Do you monitor their reading? Are there some themes that worry you more than others? Are there any books you would forbid outright? (And how long do you think it would be before they found a way to subvert you?)

I’m thinking I may at last soon be able to do something I’ve been waiting years to do: read one of my all-time favourite books out loud to the boys. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, here we come!

(Thanks to Kerry and her family for inspiring this blog post with a random Facebook conversation!)

Alice Munro wins the Nobel Prize for literature

I have two blog posts I’ve been noodling away at in stolen moments this week, one on skating lessons and one on Instagram. So it makes perfect sense that I drop everything and write a post about Alice Munro, right?

Well, it does because I just heard the lovely news that she has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. She is first Canadian-based writer to win the world’s most prestigious literary prize. Remember when I used to blog about books? I’ve been pining for those days lately, and when one of my lifetime idols wins the Nobel freakin’ Prize, that’s defintely worth blogging about!

I’m sure it speaks to my rather scattered sensibilities and curiousities when I tell you that the three most influential authors in my life (so far) have been Alice Munro, Stephen King and Douglas Coupland. I “discovered” Alice Munro way back in my teen angst years, and gobbled up everything she had written to date. I was entranced in large part because many of her novels and stories are set not just in Canada but in the part of the country where I grew up (in London, Ontario). I recognized the sleepy villages, the rolling farms, the verdant fields, even when she didn’t call them by name.

But on a deeper level, she also wrote about the experience of being a woman in terms to which I could strongly relate. Her characters are quirky and thoughtful, leading ordinary lives that occasionally break open to reveal the extraordinariness woven into the fabric of all of us, just below the surface. It was through Alice Munro that I learned to be open to and observe and love the beauty in minutaie.

It was also in reading Alice Munro that I learned about magic realism, a style I have come to love over the years. Once upon a time when I wanted to be a writer (that would be for most of the first three or four decades of my life!), I imagined that if I were to write stories they would be short stories in the style of Alice Munro – spare of superflous words, but with resonating insight into the human experience. And perhaps that’s why it’s best that I have turned in recent years to telling stories more with photographs than words – because perhaps emulating the best in her genre is a goal too lofty even for the pathologically enthusiastic. And I dont’ think I could ever restrain my innate verbosity.

When I went back to school in my mid-20s, I took as many courses in Canadian literature as I could. (Turns out that’s three, if you’re just doing an undergraduate degree.) I wish I still had a copy of what I remember to be my very favourite academic paper ever, an essay I wrote called “Pearls of Existence” and it compared the way Douglas Coupland and Alice Munro reflect the transformative experience of growing up through the lens of minutaie and everyday experiences. I loved writing that paper, and I got a (very rare indeed!) A+ on it.

I absolutely love this quote that the Globe and Mail picked up and included in the article I linked above. I think it captures exactly what I love most about the work of Alice Munro. In the author’s own words:

“I want to tell a story, in the old-fashioned way — what happens to somebody — but I want that ‘what happens’ to be delivered with quite a bit of interruption, turnarounds, and strangeness. I want the reader to feel something is astonishing — not the ‘what happens’ but the way everything happens. These long short story fictions do that best, for me.”

Are you a fan of Alice Munro, too? Which stories or novels did you love – or not love?

Flashback faves: BOB books

Almost six years ago, I wrote this sponsored blog post for MotherTalk books, which eventually became Mom Central Canada. Tristan was five and a half at the time, and I still remember how he gobbled up the BOB books for beginning readers. Last week, we dusted them off for a-week-shy-of-five-years-old Lucas, and watched the same delight sparkle in his eyes as he read them to me. (The original blog post was sponsored, but I’m sharing again because you have a little one who knows most of the alphabet and the sounds they make, these books really are terrific!)


I have a confession to make. I didn’t read a single book in the boxed set I’m supposed to be reviewing today for my stop on MotherTalk’s Bob Books blog tour. In fact, I had them read to me – by Tristan, my five year old son.

(pause for gasps of delight and surprise)

Yep, it’s true. Neither one of us imagined he could read a whole sentence, let alone an entire book, and yet by the end of the first day, HE had read to ME not one, not two, not even four, but FIVE books of the twelve book boxed set. And they say boys tend to have trouble with reading!

BOB booksThe Bob Books are designed for beginning readers. Each book in the set of 12 introduces a few new letters and increasingly complex sentence structures. The letters seem to roughly follow the same introduction schedule as the Jolly Phonics program they’ve been using at Tristan’s school – first M and S and A, then D and B, then G and H, etc. Book one starts with simple constructions like “Mat sat.” By the fifth book, he was sounding out full sentences like, “Dot and Mit sit on a mat.” A little thin on plot, maybe, and they lacked character development. But it was really something to watch Tristan sound out new words and assimilate familiar ones with only a little bit of coaching from me, and the look in his eyes as he realized he was actually reading was truly a great moment in my parenting career. His attention span is a little sketchy sometimes, so I was delighted when we finished one book and then another and he continued to ask me if we could keep reading. It was his idea to continue through the box, not mine, and he was eager to continue reading books to Beloved the next night at bedtime, too.

It was also a good way for me to see where we might have to do a little more work. He was having trouble distinguishing between a lower case “n” and “h” for a bit, and confusing his “b” and “d” (I’ll give it a bit before I start to panic about dyslexia, which does run rather rampant though my family.) Like his mother, he wants to be able to rush ahead without actually reading the letters themselves, and I had to keep reminding him to slow down and read the words and not just guess based on the picture. “Trust the letters,” I told him. “The pictures can be tricky, but the letters will always tell you the truth.” I was really astonished at how quickly he assimilated entire words. By the end of the fifth book, he didn’t have to stop to sound out “the” or “and” or “is”.

I was really impressed by the first set of Bob books, and was pleased to see that there are four additional sets we can work through. (You can read more about them on the official Bob Books website.) Might be a good way for me to invest the $20 Amazon.com gift certificate I’ll be getting for this MotherTalk sponsored review!

Our favourite kid books of 2012

Before I became a parent myself, I’d have been surprised to know that I’d still be reading aloud to the kids as they enter the double-digit years. The big boys will turn 9 and 11 this winter, and they still insist on nightly reading time. Beloved and I take turns reading to two big or one little boy, and Tristan will often turn on his bedside lamp and read to himself for another half hour or more after that. (Simon, much like his mother, is usually snoring by then.)

I wasn’t quite as diligent in tracking the books we read together on Goodreads.com as I was in tracking my own reading material, but I thought I’d share a quick list of the best books we read in 2012. It’s been fun indoctrinating them with some of my favourites and taking the chance to read some books I managed to miss in my own youth, voracious reader that I was.

The year was definitely dominated by fantasy. Here’s what I read out loud to Tristan and Simon in 2012, in more-or-less chronological order:

The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien (*must* get to the movie!)
A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
A Wind in the Door – Madeleine L’Engle (I liked Wrinkle better, but it was great to finally read these!)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – JK Rowling (we’ve been working our way through the HP series for a couple of years now. Not sure if I’m ready to move on to Order of the Phoenix just yet. The books at the end of the series are so long it takes us months to read!)
Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang – Mordechai Richler (the boys knew the cartoon but I thought they should get the original straight from the source. Also, I heart Mordechai Richler.)
When Santa Fell to Earth – Cornelia Funke (Beloved recommended this one and we really enjoyed it! Add it to your Goodreads wanted list for next Christmas.)
Jacob Two-Two Meets the Dinosaur – Mordechai Richler (still reading this – very different from Hooded Fang, with a lot more satire that goes over the boys’ heads, but I’ve been trying to point it out to them and discuss why he uses satire and how.)

When I look at the list it seems kind of short but I suppose it’s only half a year of reading since Beloved and I take turns. One of these days I’ll ask Beloved if he remembers what he read to them, because it was a completely separate list. I know they went through a lot of Rick Riordan.

I love that the boys clamour to go to the library for fresh books on a regular basis. On their own, they read a pretty good spectrum of material. Simon loves those Guiness Book of Records books (don’t all eight year old boys?) and chapter books like the Wimpy Kid and Bad Kitty series. Tristan still reads Pokemon and is much more in to graphic novels and comic books now, but surprised me by asking to read the Hunger Games trilogy. He’s on the second book of that series, but only picks it up now and then. I love that he’s also working his way through Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes collections!

124:365 Reading

Here’s my number-one kid book recommendation for you from 2012, but it’s for a much younger audience. It was Beloved who stumbled across a Mr Putter and Tabby book at the library, and we have been reading them to Lucas through the year. It is, without doubt, the sweetest kid book series we have come across, and I could (and did!) read each of them out loud night after night without having them lose their charm. Here’s a full list of all the titles in Cynthia Rylant’s Mr Putter and Tabby books from Amazon.

What were the best kid books consumed at your house last year? We need to populate our 2013 wish list!

I was delighted to see that Julie and Kamerine played along by blogging their bookly habits of 2012, so let me know if you blog your kid book faves and I’ll post a link here, too!

Books I read in 2012

Way back in 2005 or so, there was a fun widget for the blog called Library Thing. It helped you keep track of and share your books. I loved it and used it for a couple of years, but lost track of it over time. For the last couple of years, I’ve been using excellent and less cumbersome alternative: Goodreads. Are you on it? If you are, feel free to ping me at DaniGirlOttawa.

In the last year, I was reasonably diligent about updating what I was reading, mostly because I’ve begun to get a little fuzzy in the memory department and I forget which books I’ve read and which ones I’ve been meaning to read. I’ve also started using it to keep track of the books I read with the big boys, and soon I think I’ll let them each create their own accounts to keep track of what they’ve read.

304:365 Antique books

So here, for no particular reason except to share and because I’ve been meaning to get back to blogging about books a little bit more, are the books I’ve read in 2012 in chronological order, the star-rating I’ve given them on GoodReads and some random editorial comments.

11/22/63 by Stephen King 5* (awesome book)
Smokin’ Seventeen by Janet Evanovich 4*
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins 3*
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins 4*
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins 3*
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen 5* (One of the best books I read this year)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by James Patterson 2*
A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing by Lawrence Krauss 4*
Understanding Flash Photography: How to Shoot Great Photographs Using Electronic Flash by Bryan Peterson 3*
Butterfly Winter by WP Kinsella 2* (I love WP Kinsella – I was so disappointed by this book.)
The Passionate Photographer: Ten Steps Toward Becoming Great by Steven Simon (returned to library before I finished)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon 3* (weird book, still not sure I liked it)
Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson 4*
Photographically Speaking: A Deeper Look at Creating Stronger Images by David duChemin 5* (if you want to read about the non-technical parts – the heart! – of making great photographs, read anything by David duChemin. My fave photography author by far.)
The Stand by Stephen King 5*+ (it took me almost all summer to re-read this classic. Loved it 10x more than I did when I first read it 20+ yrs ago. Brilliant book.)
Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain: Stories by Lucia Perillo 4*
The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler 4* (couldn’t put it down)
Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill 3* (I wanted to love this book, but I couldn’t warm up to the protagonist)
John Hedgecoe’s Complete Guide To Black & White Photography 3*
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce 4* (endearing and completely different from what I expected)
1982 by Jian Ghomeshi 4* (fun stories that wonderfully capture growing up in suburban Canada in the 1980s, although wanders dangerously close to being twee in places. If you made mix tapes when you were a pre-teen you will find something to like about this)
The Dearly Departed by Elinor Lipman 3*
Canadian Pie by Will Ferguson 4* (I loved parts of this book madly. Just as wonderful as Beauty Tips from Moosejaw, except for the odd inclusion of a failed CBC radio play. Shoots Will Ferguson to my top-ten fave authors list.)

And finally, started in 2012 but not yet finished, I’m so excited to have another Dark Tower book to read! Just started The Wind in the Keyhole by Stephen King, a Christmas gift. Only a few pages in, but it makes me want to re-read the whole Dark Tower saga.

Did you read any of these? What did you think? What were the best and worst books you read this year? Please help me fill my library wish-list!

100 best kids’ books

I honestly don’t know how I missed it. I mean, I’ve always *meant* to read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time, but I just never got around to it. So when I read a reference to it in the Ottawa Citizen earlier this week, it was top-of-mind when I was at the library yesterday and I picked it up. I asked the boys if they would mind pausing our current book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (which I think I’ve now read at least half a dozen times), to give this one a try. Simon especially was reluctant — he really loves the Harry Potter books. But he acquiesced and last night we read the first chapter of A Wrinkle In Time.

It was really hard to stop after just one chapter. I’m torn between sneaking it upstairs and devouring it myself or discovering it page-by-page with the boys. I felt the funniest echo through time, reading the perspective of oddball Meg who doesn’t quite understand why she doesn’t fit in with her mates. How have I never read this book before? Tristan and Simon agreed — they rated the book a “three plus” out of four after the first chapter, and agreed that Harry could wait until we figured out what a tesseract is and what happens next.

So it was a serendipitous sort of discovery to find in the Citizen (via Scholastic Books) a list of the top 100 children’s books of all time, with A Wrinkle In Time sitting prominently in the number 3 spot. Really, HOW have I missed it? And for the love of all things holy, what else have I missed?

Here they are, in case you’ve been missing out, too:

100. Animalia, Graeme Base

99. Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, Paul Fleischman

98. First Words, Roger Priddy

97. The Adventures of Captain Underpants, Dav Pilkey

96. Gossie, Olivier Dunrea

95. A Single Shard, Linda Sue Park

94. I Took the Moon for a Walk, Carolyn Curtis

93. We the Kids: The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, David Catrow

92. What Shall We Do With the Boo Hoo Baby?, Cressida Cowell

91. Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon, Catherine Thimmesh

90. Puss in Boots, Fred Marcellio

89. An Egg Is Quiet, Dianna Hutts Aston

88. Grumpy Bird, Jeremy Tankard

87. Rules, Cynthia Lord

86. Interrupting Chicken, David Ezra Stein

85. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Judy Blume

84. No No Yes Yes, Leslie Patricelli

83. Yoko, Rosemary Wells

82. Ivy + Bean, Annie Barrows

81. Lincoln: A Photobiography, Russell Freedman

80. What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?, Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

79. Llama Llama Red Pajama, Anna Dewdney

78. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, Robert C. O’Brien

77. Hi! Fly Guy, Tedd Arnold

76. Peek-a Who?, Nina Laden

75. Holes, Louis Sachar

74. Owl Moon, Jane Yolen

73. Tea With Milk, Allen Say

72. Are You My Mother?, P. D. Eastman

71. Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson

70. Blackout, John Rocco

69. The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks, Joanna Cole

68. Counting Kisses: A Kiss and Read Book, Karen Katz

67. Esperanza Rising, Pam Muñoz Ryan

66. The Maze of Bones, Rick Riordan

65. Birds, Kevin Henkes

64. My Truck is Stuck!, Kevin Lewis

63. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick

62. Diary of a Worm, Dorren Cronin

61. The Lion & the Mouse, Jerry Pinkney

60. Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes, Annie Kubler

59. Dear Juno, Soyung Pak

58. Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez, Kathleen Krull

57. The Bad Beginning, Lemony Snicket

56. Living Sunlight, Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm

55. Smile!, Roberta Grobel Intrater

54. Through My Eyes, Ruby Bridges

53. The House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne

52. The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan

51. Sylvia Long’s Mother Goose, Sylvia Long

50. Sarah, Plain and Tall, Patricia MacLachlan

49. Martin’s Big Words, Doreen Rappaport

48. Hatchet, Gary Paulsen

47. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, Bill Martin, Jr.

46. Not a Box, Antoinette Portis

45. The Composition, Antonio Skármeta

44. Good Night, Gorilla, Peggy Rathmann

43. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis

42. What Do People Do All Day?, Richard Scarry

41. Matilda, Roald Dahl

40. Moo, Baa, La La La!, Sandra Boynton

39. Zen Shorts, John J. Muth

38. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney

37. The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear, Don and Audrey Wood 36. The Secret Garden, Francis Hodgson Burnett

35. Freight Train, Donald Crews

34. Swimmy, Leo Lionni

33. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

32. The Runaway Bunny, Margaret Wise Brown

31. The Mitten, Jan Brett

30. My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother, Patricia Polacco

29. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Judy Blume

28. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Mo Willems

27. Black on White, Tana Hoban

26. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Grace Lin

25. The Giver, Lois Lowry

24. The Little Engine That Could, Watty Piper

23. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster

22. Corduroy, Don Freeman

21. Bud, Not Buddy, Christopher Paul Curtis

20. Where the Sidewalk Ends, Shel Silverstein

19. Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, Mo Willems

18. When Marian Sang, Pam Muñoz Ryan

17. Pat the Bunny, Dorothy Kunhardt

16. Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt

15. The Dot, Peter H. Reynolds

14. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame

13. Madeline, Ludwig Bemelmans

12. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle

11. Anne of Green Gables, L. M. Montgomery

10. Frog and Toad Are Friends, Arnold Lobel

9. The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein

8. The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank

7. Green Eggs and Ham, Dr. Seuss

6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J. K. Rowling (Also known as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)

5. Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak

4. The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats

3. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle

2. Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown

1. Charlotte’s Web, E. B. White

The most surprising and delightful part of this list was mentioning it to Tristan and Simon, and telling them that A Wrinkle In Time was number three on the list. They were intrigued, and it warmed my bibliophile heart to see them pouring over the list, finding their favourites and discussing the ranking.

Top 100 books

Did your favourites make the cut? I was surprised to see that If You Give A Mouse A Cookie didn’t make the list, and not a single Robert Munsch? What do you think of the list?

Five great books to read aloud to boys

One of the great pleasures of my day is reading out loud to the boys at bedtime. Beloved and I take turns; one night I’ll read to Lucas and he’ll read to Tristan and Simon, and then we’ll switch. Lately, Tristan and Simon and I have taken to sharing some of the reading – they’ll read a page or two each, and then I’ll read the rest. It’s been a great way to (a) keep them engaged in the story, (b) share the love of reading and (c) monitor their reading progress.

438:1000 Book club

We’ve been all over the map with our book choices, from JK Rowling to Dave Barry to Judy Blume, and we’re always looking for new suggestions, so I thought I’d share some of our recent favourites. By the way, I called this post “five great books to read aloud to boys” intentionally — while I’m sure that many girls (myself included!) would enjoy these books, I think it’s a little harder to engage boys in reading and these ones have done that well.

1. Peter and the Starcatchers – Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

This is a wonderful book to read out loud – the language just flows, the dialogue is engaging, and the story is a real page-turner. When I was reading it to the boys this summer, they’d ask me to start reading a little earlier than usual so we could read more, and we’d sit on the porch in the receding light to enjoy it. It’s a quirky, imaginative twist on the Peter Pan story, written by humourist and columnist Dave Barry. There are three more books in this series, and I look forward to working our way through all of them.

2. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing – Judy Blume

I read this when I was Tristan’s age, back when I devoured everything Judy Blume had written. Although some of the references are a little dated, the boys loved the interaction between 9 year old Peter, his pesky younger brother Fudge and their baby sister. There are now five books in this series, and we worked our way through all of them this summer. Simon especially seemed to love the antics of Fudge – more than one allusion from Fudge to Lucas was drawn! This one is impressively engaging for a 40 year old novel.

3. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

I tried to read Lord of the Rings several times in my life. I’d pick it up, put it down. Pick it up, put it down. I loved the mythology (I taught myself Tolkien’s rune alphabet when I was in highschool and used to write notes to friends using it) and loved the movies, but the books — ugh. I just couldn’t get through those pages and pages of Hobbit geneology. But The Hobbit itself? Love it. It’s the perfect quest novel – a diminutive hero, mythical and mysterious creatures, battles, treasure. What more could a young boy want? We’re about 1/3 of the way in right now, and although Simon was a little reluctant at first, I had them both sitting on the edge of the bed last night trying to figure out the riddles that Gollum and Bilbo were trading. (Tristan dropped my jaw by figuring out a few of them as I was reading, and then made up his own rhyming riddle on the spot!) Did you know Peter Jackson is filming a version of the Hobbit? It’s due to be released next year.

4. Percy Jackson books – Rick Riordan

I can’t personally testify to these books, as its Beloved who has been working through them with the boys since last Christmas. All three of them love the series, based largely in the world of Greek mythology. In fact, Beloved and I have occasionally bartered for more reading time when he was reading Percy Jackson and I was reading Peter and the Starcatchers — we each wanted to know what was going to happen next in our respective stories.

5. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

We read the first book in the series earlier this year, and the boys loved it. I know the books get darker as the series progresses, but I find the first few books to be perfect for where they are right now. Given that it takes a month or so for us to read the average novel (I had to renew Peter and the Starcatchers three times from the library and still incurred a few days of late charges to wade through all 480 pages, and that was an easy read!) I figure by the time we work our way up to Deathly Hallows the boys will be in their teens anyway! I’m trying to read them each book before we watch the movies, but they’ve already seen The Chamber of Secrets — I’ve got some catching up to do!

Clearly, we have a fondness for science fiction and fantasy in our reading material! So, Christmas book-giving season is nearly upon us — what books are on your kids’ wish-lists this year? (Stand by for five more book recommendations for the preschooler in your life!)

Canada Reads 2011

Back in the day, I used to blog a lot about books. Way way back in the day, I used to consider myself somewhat of a fan, if not an authority, on Canadian Literature. So when I heard that CBC Radio was compiling a list of the Top 40 Essential Canadian Novels of the Decade, I knew it would make great blog fodder.

And then I actually looked at the list, unveiled today, and realized that I have read exactly three of them. And for an embarrassing number of them, I had heard of neither the book nor the author. Eek. Clearly I am not spending enough time with Shelagh Rogers.

But, I was so excited to have a blog post that required (a) brain use and (b) no discussion of moving, unpacking or septic systems, that I’m going to charge ahead with this one anyway. In fact, I’m going to make a meme out of it! Remember memes? They’re about as relevant as my knowledge of Canadian literature, apparently, as I can’t remember the last one I’ve seen. Let’s call this a celebration of the Canadian Blogosphere circa 2005, whaddya say?

Ahem, anyway, here’s the list. If you want to play along, copy and paste it into your own blog. The ones in bold I’ve read. The ones in bold and underlined, I’d recommend. The ones with an asterisk are on my “I swear, I will read it before 2012” list.


A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews *

Bottle Rocket Hearts by Zoe Whittall

Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright

Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant

Conceit by Mary Novik

Crow Lake by Mary Lawson

Drive-by Saviours by Chris Benjamin

Elle by Douglas Glover

Essex County by Jeff Lemire

Far to Go by Alison Pick

February by Lisa Moore

Galore by Michael Crummey

Heave by Christy Ann Conlin

Inside by Kenneth J. Harvey

Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill *

Moody Food by Ray Robertson

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson *

Room by Emma Donoghue

Shelf Monkey by Corey Redekop

Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb

The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis *

The Birth House by Ami McKay

The Bishop’s Man by Linden MacIntyre

The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan

The Fallen by Stephen Finucan

The Girls Who Saw Everything by Sean Dixon *

The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe

The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart

The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden *

Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden

Twenty-Six by Leo McKay Jr.

Unless by Carol Shields *

Hmmm, not a single Douglas Coupland or Alice Munro? I suppose Will Ferguson is not exactly a novelist, but I am in the delicious depths of Beyond Belfast, and loving it as much as I loved Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw and Hitching Rides with Buddha. Looks like my tenuous claim to a passing knowledge of Canadian literature is as dated as my taste in music.

What do you think? Have you read any of these? Would you recommend them for CBC’s shortlist of the ten best Canadian novels of the decade? And do you think maybe it’s time for me to wade out of the wilderness and try something from this decade on my next trip to the library?

If you decide to play along and post the list on your blog, be sure to leave a comment so I can come over and admire your taste in Canadian literature!

Photography book review: PhotoJojo!

Dear Santa, Of all the photography books I’ve read this year (and hoo-boy, I’ve read a LOT of them, maybe even ALL of them) the one that I’m asking for this Christmas is the PhotoJojo book. Yes, I know, I already read it once from the library. But it was so fun, so funny, so full of great ideas, that I simply must have my own copy to turn to and flip through and be inspired by at random points through the year.

I’ve been a fan of the PhotoJojo Web site and newsletter for quite a while now. In fact, together with CBC’s Spark podcast, they were the main inspirations for Project 365. I’d seen that they were coming out with a book, but since I’d been subscribing to their newsletter for more than a year, and had spent many fun hours plumbing the depths of their archives, I didn’t think I needed to pick up what they called “the convenient dead trees edition” of their Web site. Then one day to my delight I found it on the express shelf of the library and took it home.

I got about half-way through when I realized that not only was this one of the most delightful photography books I’d ever read, but that I needed a copy of my own.

So what is PhotoJojo? It’s a whimsical, fun and occasionally brilliant set of, in their own humble words, “insanely great photo projects and DIY ideas.” Some of the material has been recycled from their newsletters, but the vast majority of the content was new to me.

There are two parts to the book. The first section talks about things to do with the photos you’ve already taken but are languishing, unloved and unappreciated, in your hard drive or in a shoe box somewhere. The second section is called “have more fun with your camera” and provides ideas and inspiration for all the fantastic photos you are about to take.

You can see why I love it, right? The ideas run the gamut from the silly (how to build a harness for your dog to create “the amazing doggie cam” or how to make a hidden jacket camera) to the sublime (a disposable camera chain letter, and the most inspired take on the hoary old photo calendar idea I’ve ever come across.) It has fun projects like making snow globes and photo cupcakes, and practical projects like how to turn a water bottle into a monopod. And it’s threaded through with the geeky sort of humour that makes me snicker out loud as I read.

Photographic meets crafty, with a bent sense of humour and a penchant for whimsy: seriously, what’s not to love? Oh sure, you can do what I did and check out a copy from the public library, but if you’re a photo junkie like me, trust me, you’ll want your own copy too!

But wait, wait, I can’t be done the book review, I haven’t told you about the “everyone who comes to visit you photo wall” or the “photo lampshade” or “how to turn your SLR into a pinhole camera” or “how to build a fish-eye lens out of a door peep” or…