#FridayReads: Kristin in Austenland

It’s Friday once again!  And that means it’s time for another installment of #FridayReads, where our Associate Editor, Kristin, will take us to Austenland!

Happy first day of spring! You’ve heard of eating with the seasons—I like to apply the same concept to reading. It was an idea introduced to me when I was a college student working in my spare time at my local bookstore by one of its managers. I was having a difficult time getting into Middlemarch, which I was reading for pleasure that summer, and she explained that focusing on the great works in July is a self-defeating task. She recommended saving the epic tomes for winter and picking something more appropriate for the beach in the meantime. (Some hundreds of pages are a burden in a beach bag.) I’ve been reading with the seasons ever since.

For spring, I like to pick a transition book, something that is both literary and beachy. I cheated a little earlier this week when the city was experiencing unusually warm weather and started Austenland by Shannon Hale, author of the Newbery-honored Princess Academy. An homage to the enduring work of Jane Austen—or rather, if the main character of the novel, Jane Hayes, is being honest, an homage to the swoony movies her work inspires—it’s a romance set in an Austen-themed resort. It met both my requirements for a spring read.


Like the start of so many rom-coms, Jane is a thirty-something single woman in love with Colin Firth and ready to swear off men…when a distant relative dies and bequeaths her a trip to the aforementioned resort. Anyone who’s ever considered a vacation to Lyme Park or Chatsworth House or even Highclere Castle can relate here! Is it a dream come true…or a confession of obsession? Jane decides to go, determined to find her happy ending there or give up her romantic hopes for good. Throw in some dashing actors pretending (…or not pretending?) to woo the resort’s guests, and hilarity ensues as Jane maneuvers the maze of her fantasies and reality.

As I’ve gotten into the book, I’ve realized it’s not the Jane Austen references that make the book literary, but the strength of Shannon Hale’s writing. The story reads like a beach read, but it’s sophisticated stuff. Hale exposes and finds the humor in the truths universally acknowledged by Jane Austen fans. The book pokes fun at romantics but sympathizes with them too. It is the Northanger Abbey of romances. Jane is a heroine more like Bridget Jones than the composed Elizabeth Bennet. She’s wholly believable and relatable and utterly charming, and that’s what makes this a terrific spring read. I can’t help but cheer—er, tally-ho—her on in her misadventures.

Will Jane find her Mr. Darcy? …Will I ever finish Middlemarch?

#FridayReads: Kristin in Austenland

Explore a world of dinosaurs this #FridayReads!

Happy Friday, everyone.  TGIF!  Am I right? For today’s #FridayReads, Ellen Kokontis shares some of her favorite books from childhood.

It’s my birthday tomorrow, and that’s gotten me thinking about some of the best presents I ever got as a kid. My mom told me recently that for every holiday, birthday, etc., growing up, she and my dad would always get me a book. Now, I’ll be honest, I don’t actually remember what I got for Christmas in 1990 or for my fourth birthday. But it doesn’t really matter when Blueberries for Sal (Robert McCloskey), George and Martha (James Marshall), Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (Virginia Lee Burton), or Millions of Cats (Wanda Gag) came into my life. All that matters is how they influenced me when I was still just a tiny person.


The best book I ever got came for Christmas in 1994. InscriptionDinotopia gave me a world where dinosaurs and people coexist. I spent hours poring over these pages as a child. The story engrossing—Arthur Denison and his son, Will, find themselves shipwrecked on the island and have to start their lives over in this new, strange place.


But what really grabbed me is the format. It follows very much in the footsteps of Rien Poortvliet’s Gnomes. Every aspect of island life is explained in detail with cutaways and labels. So while you read the story, you’re also exploring an entire world.

dinotopiaspread2dinotopiaspread3I attribute a lot of the way I am to this series of books. I love to look at small details, and I have a special zeal for complex and intricate illustrations. I love going to museums because they give me the same thrill of discovery and exploration that I got when I read these books. I also carry a fairly embarrassing obsession with dinosaurs to this day, and I get a little sad whenever I see a kid who isn’t also completely obsessed with them.


This year, when my mom asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I said I didn’t really know. And that’s not because there aren’t little things that I want or need, but because I don’t think there’s anything out there that can change me as much or mean as much to me as these books. So thanks, mom and dad, for giving me everything that made me who I am. (Even if that includes obnoxiously correcting people’s pronunciation of quetzalcoatlus.)



Thanks, Ellen!  And HAPPY BIRTHDAY! 

Explore a world of dinosaurs this #FridayReads!

#FridayReads: The Most of Nora Ephron with AW Intern Alex Messina

Today’s #FridayReads comes to us from our fantastic intern Alex Messina.  She’s a grad student at DePaul University, majoring in Writing and Publishing (a perfect fit for our intern program!).  Take it away Alex: 

When I was about 12 years old, I wrote every movie I owned on individual index cards and placed them alphabetically in a black card holder I had stolen from my Dad’s office because that’s how Sally Albright kept her movie collection organized. Despite the fact that I was twenty years younger than she was, I identified with her in a way that I hadn’t with other characters before. And thus began my infatuation and recognition of myself in any character Nora Ephron has ever written.

Months ago, when I discovered a very large collection of her work was going to be published, it was a no brainer to add it to my birthday list and I was thrilled when someone gifted The Most of Nora Ephron to me. I’ve been reading it ever since. It is a glorious 576 page celebration of the life and work of a beaming and talented light. It includes the When Harry Met Sally screenplay, a play, a novel, published articles and blog posts (ranging in topic from social to political to cultural to food), and a collection of essays which are always my personal favorite. Despite already owning several individual copies of the works published in this collection, I am so happy to own this collective version as well. It sits on my nightstand, where it will probably stay forever, as I pick it up from time to time to read a piece about Dorothy Parker or a rising soufflé.

It’s very difficult for me to put into words what it is I love about Nora Ephron’s writing without sounding hopelessly fan girl-y (although, who are we kidding? I’m a total fan girl) and naïve. In the simplest terms, she is accessible and witty, strikingly observant, and the woman who created Harry Burns which is achievement enough. If you’re ever craving a story that will surprise you in its relatability and humor, or if you’ve ever enjoyed watching Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks cluelessly in love in either Seattle or NYC, I’d recommend just about anything she’s ever written. She was a talent that was taken from us too soon and the world will lack from the loss of her words.The Most Of Nora Ephron

“Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.” –Nora Ephron

#FridayReads: The Most of Nora Ephron with AW Intern Alex Messina

Cookbooks with Kiki! It’s another edition of #FridayReads with AW Staffers!

Today’s #FridayReads post comes from Kiki Schotanus, upstanding member of the Albert Whitman purchasing department!  Take it away Kiki:

Forced against my will to write a bit about books, I have chosen to write about the kinds of books I read the most – cookbooks! I love cookbooks. I love everything from the $10 church cookbooks and treasured classics like Joy of Cooking to cutting edge cookbooks like Chef Homaro Cantu’s The Miracle Berry Diet Cookbook. I have recently created a ‘Cookbook Nook’ in the back of our house where I pared down to 50 of my favorite cookbooks (shared with a bit of our Costco overflow). I go back there for peace & quiet. A feeling of comfort overcomes me when I’m amongst some of my favorite possessions in the world, cookbooks.

The Nook! (It shares the space with a little Costco overflow…)

Cookbook reading is not limited to The Cookbook Nook, though. I also read cookbooks in bed at night just to read a few more recipes before sleep.

Tonight at our house we will be celebrating our annual ‘Friendsgiving.’ We’ll be enjoying good friends and good food & wine. Of course the evening wouldn’t be complete without Catch Phrase! As for the food, all dishes are composed of seafood so as to not compete with any turkey that will be served the following Thursday. This year we’ll start the evening with Old Fashioneds and an appetizer of Clams in Broth. The first course will be Potato Fennel Soup with Smoked Salmon. The entrée will be Scallops with Apple Pan Sauce served with homemade egg pasta fettuccine and a side of Swiss Chard and Sorrel Gratin. We’re ending the evening with Chocolate Cream Pie and Nespressos.

Here are a few of my favorite cookbooks and favorite recipes:

jpeg-2Ina Garten’s first cookbook The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, check out the Parmesan Chicken – a family favorite.

The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook from 1985, see Salmon Mousse.

The Pie and Pastry Bible from Rose Levy Beranbaum has the all time best peach pie recipe.



Amy’s Bread has my go to French bread recipe.

Pioneer Woman Cooks is as an entertaining read as it is a great resource for recipes.

Homesick Texan is where a get my TexMex on!

The cookbook I plan to make more use of in the coming months is Ottelenghi’s Plenty, long live eggplant!

When I’m not reading cookbooks, I’m tasked with completing my book club selection. Most recently we chose to read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Early in the book we learn that Theo, the protagonist, loses his mother when he is 13 years old. It is a riveting novel bringing the reader from Park Avenue to the underworld of illegal black market art selling. Tartt takes her time to develop the characters, an aspect I appreciated. Others found that she could have written this book in half the amount of pages.


I was looking forward to a lively discussion of this book and its many intriguing themes, but was surprised to find out that I was the only one to completely read all 771 pages. Sadly, good discussions were not to be had. Threatened with disbandment, the book clubbers have agreed to read all book selections going forward.

Cookbooks with Kiki! It’s another edition of #FridayReads with AW Staffers!

It’s #FridayReads with Editorial Director Kelly Barrales-Saylor!

Thanks for popping in for another installment of #FridayReads with Albert Whitman staffers.  Chime in on our Twitter (@AlbertWhitman) and tell us what you’re reading this Friday.  We’d love to know!

Today’s guest post is from our Editorial Director Kelly Barrales-Saylor:

Reading and editing children’s books as a career is definitely the coolest job I could have ever dreamed of. And having a toddler at home, I read more picture books than I ever thought possible. This is precisely why when I’m not reading The Little Blue Truck I gravitate toward adult nonfiction. My guilty pleasures are celebrity memoirs and big, glossy cookbooks.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I thought I’d write about one of the memoir-ish books I’m reading right now that is full of nuggets of wisdom: What I Know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey. Say what you will about Oprah and her empire, but growing up in Chicagoland, her show was a staple in my house. And in Chicago her show ran at 9am and 11pm so even before DVRs existed, I never missed an episode—probably saw at least a few minutes of every one from the first season until its finale.


Side story: Oprah and her various shows are a large part of my personal history. Just one example is when my dad was in the Oprah studio audience back in the late 1980s and a very young Jonathon Brandmeier was a guest as part of Oprah’s conversation with “outrageous disc jockeys.” Johnny B (as he was known) pointed to my very tall and burly biker dad sitting in the audience and said, “I’m sorry, sir, but the mass murderer show was last week.” The show was live! They showed my dad on TV! My dad laughed (he was a fan of Johnny’s) and waved him off. After the show, according to my dad, Johnny approached my dad to apologize and then asked my dad to act like his bodyguard so he didn’t get mugged on his way to the car. My dad obliged and had some nice conversations with Johnny on the way. I still have that episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show on tape. After my dad passed away, having this little video with my dad waving and saying “Hi, Johnny!” has been quite comforting.

(OMG. Remember 80's Oprah?)
(OMG. Remember 80’s Oprah?)


Ok, back to this #FridayReads post (sorry, I’m quite wordy when telling stories).

What I Know for Sure is a collection of essays that originally appeared in Oprah’s magazine. They’re organized by themes such as joy, gratitude, resilience, possibility, awe, etc. Remember that book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum? Well, this is sort of the Oprah version. The essays are small enough to digest a few at a time or all at once.

I admit that on the weekends you can probably find me wearing my Oprah Winfrey Show T-shirt while drinking out of my Oprah Winfrey Show mug (both of which my husband scored in a swag bag from producers of the show—like I said, I’ve got a few Oprah stories). But I swear this little collection of essays is worth reading for non-Oprah fans too.

It’s the perfect little book to help me reflect and find peace and (especially right now) remember the true meaning of Thanksgiving…before or after I run in and out of five different grocery stores in search of the one ingredient I forgot to buy that everyone is sold out of while my son insists I sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” over and over. And if you happen to have a meltdown while arm wrestling someone for the last can of pumpkin, just remember what Oprah knows for sure: “no matter where you are, you are a single choice away from a new beginning.”

It’s #FridayReads with Editorial Director Kelly Barrales-Saylor!

#FridayReads with Ellen Kokontis, Albert Whitman’s Art Services Supervisor

Happy Friday!  Today’s installment of #FridayReads comes to us from Albert Whitman’s Art Services Supervisor, Ellen Kokontis.  Take it away, Ellen!

I think that there is a misconception out there that if you were an English major, if you love books, and if you are a girl, that it follows that you are not only part of the cheering squad of 19th century British women authors, but that you internalize their romances and seek them out in your own life. You moon over Heathcliff-ish moody brooders. You are fascinated with the Rochester-esque Byronic hero. You develop a Darcy complex. And while I have known women who fit this description, I am not one of them. Heathcliff is a bully, Rochester is a creep, and Darcy is just plain annoying.


So when my friend suggested I read a book called The Eyre Affair, I thought, ugh, I’m not in the mood for pale English people suffering on the Heath. But I put some faith in my friend and checked it out from the library. I haven’t been the same since.


The English world of The Eyre Affair is not the dreary 1800s, but an alternate dimension in the 1980s, in which time travel, cloning, and dangerous cheese smuggling all exist. This world is the home of Thursday Next, Swindon’s crack investigator of SpecOps department 27, the literary detectives tasked with rooting out forgeries and tracking down stolen manuscripts. The Eyre Affair introduces the reader to this world’s many idiosyncrasies, like the Neanderthal rights movement and pet dodos, as well as Thursday’s family, which includes her father, a rogue time-travel agent who constantly pops in and out of Thursday’s life and also has never existed.

Now, I know you are thinking that this sounds absolutely nuts. And it is. But these details work themselves perfectly into the backdrop of the narrative to amuse but never distract.

The real delight of this book is when its characters start hopping into other well-known works of fiction. Acheron Hades, an evil English-professor-turned-master-criminal starts kidnapping characters and threatens to change the endings of beloved novels if his demands are not met. It is a tall order for Thursday to track this villain down, but she soon learns, with the help of Edward Rochester, that she has the ability to read herself into books.

See, within this crazy alternate dimension is another layer of realitythat of the book world, where characters act out their book’s plot in infinite repetition, and they are forced to follow what the author has written, whether they like it or not. But like actors in the wings, they break character when the narrative no longer centers on them. (For example, in later books you find Ms. Havisham drag racing, Marianne Dashwood chain smoking, and Heathcliff—albeit reluctantly—participating in group therapy) So I have come to have my own special affection for Rochesterbut Fforde’s Rochester, not Charlotte Bronte’s. This protagonist is active, kind, helpful, and appreciative of Thursday’s work, and so markedly different from his original form.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot—or rather I can’t really without going into extensive detail about Thursday’s world. All I can say is that if you like British silliness and have a fondness for language, then you should read this book. And if you like it as much as I did, then you’re in luck, because there are six sequels, with the series’ conclusion to come. The sequels delve deeper into the book world and introduce more hilarious Fforde versions of literary figures.


Don’t be shy if you haven’t read every Classic—even a cursory knowledge of British literature is enough to understand what’s going on. The true joy of these books is Fforde’s boundless imagination and wit. I’ve made my way through the fourth book, and I can’t wait to keep going.



I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from The Well of Lost Plots, the third book in the series, which takes place almost exclusively in the book world.

…A knock on the door revealed an untidy man wearing a hat named Wyatt.

“Sorry,” he said sheepishly, apologizing for the misrelating grammatical construction almost immediately, “Wyatt is my name, not the hat’s.”

#FridayReads with Ellen Kokontis, Albert Whitman’s Art Services Supervisor

#FridayReads with AW Staffers Continues with Jordan Kost, Creative Manager

It’s #FridayReads with Albert Whitman Staffers!  Today, our Creative Manager, Jordan Kost, tells us all about her current spooky reads:  

When the leaves begin to change and a chill starts to creep into the air, I want my apple cider warm, my sweaters cozy, and my stories extra scary. So, you can imagine how pleased I was went I went over to the to read stack on my bookshelf at the beginning of October and found not one, but two novels from one of my favorite supernatural and spooky authors, Neil Gaiman.

The first novel I picked up was The Graveyard Book. The story centers around a boy named Bod who lives in a graveyard. Bod, who is very much alive, is being raised by the graveyard’s residents who are very, very dead.


Ghosts, ghouls, werewolves, witches, and vampires all play their own part in a story that is magical, surprising, delightful, and creepy.

But not only is this a wonderful story—The Graveyard Book is also illustrated by the fantastic Dave McKean. Gaiman and McKean have teamed up many times before (Coraline, The Wolves in the Walls, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish…the list goes on) and once again, the duo does not disappoint. I had to pause several times while reading The Graveyard Book to dive into Mr. McKean’s wild, scratchy ink illustrations. The endless hidden details contained within each illustration were as complex and beautiful as the story itself. This novel is perfect for both young readers and adults on a dark and stormy night.


The second novel, The Ocean At the End of the Lane, surprised me. I brought it with me on a recent flight to San Francisco and once I dove in, I could not put it down. I was completely smitten. So very smitten that when my flight arrived, I had to be gently nudged by the flight attendants that it was time to get off the plane because I was completely lost in the story. Once in the airport, I had to sit down in one of the lounges so that I could finish the chapter I was reading before gathering myself and heading into the city.


The Ocean at the End of the Lane is filled to the brim with everything you want in a Halloween read: magic, humor, good versus evil, suspense, mythology, and of course, kittens! Yes, kittens! The scenes that are scary are downright terrifying, and the magical world in this novel is so new and original, it practically knocked me over.

“Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences. I was a child, which meant that I knew a dozen different ways of getting out of our property and into the lane, ways that would not involve walking down our drive.” ―Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I don’t want to give away a single spoiler. All that I will say is once all of the trick-or-treating is done for the evening, this is the book you should reach for before curling up under a blanket with a sleeping cat on your lap. And, if for some reason you do not happen to have a cat around, I suggest you head out and gather one up the “normal way” just like the Hempstocks do. Want to find out what this normal way is? Then hurry up and read The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

#FridayReads with AW Staffers Continues with Jordan Kost, Creative Manager

Another #FridayReads with AW&Co Staffers!

It’s #FridayReads with Albert Whitman Staffers!  Today, metadata master and sales team all-star Caity Anast talks about her current reads:

I laughed when I read Annette’s post, because I too went through a period of very little “fun-for-me” reading when my children were babies (What to Expect the First Year doesn’t count as fun).

I nodded my head as I read Wendy’s post, because although I am not keeping track of books I’ve read on Goodreads, I do have my own personal list that I have kept since high school. It started with a pamphlet my freshman year English teacher passed out called “Excellence in English: The Honors English Program, York Community High School” that listed the core and supplemental readings by grade level. (A shout out to those great English teachers at York.) I highlighted the titles as I read them, and my goal was to read all the titles in the pamphlet.

high school pamphlet
(The ACTUAL pamphlet…I still have it…)

But I reassessed that goal after picking up Moby Dick for fun. I just couldn’t get through it. I mean how many times do you have to describe the whale? I get it, it’s big. I suppose if I read it for English class and had someone to discuss it with, I would have found it more interesting. But instead, I put it down and never finished it. That was the first time I had ever done that. I always felt it was my duty to finish a book. After that, I decided I didn’t have to read every book on that list, but I could refer to it from time to time.

The latest book I am reading is a recommendation from my dad, Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia. I’m not very far along into the book, but the setting is the Bellweather Hotel where a murder-suicide happened fifteen years ago in room 712. Now the hotel is host to Statewide, a high school music festival. So far I’ve been introduced to Alice and Rabbit Hatmaker, twins who are participating in the festival, and their chaperone and teacher, Natalie, who happens to be a former student of Viola Fabian, Statewide’s chairperson and mother of Jill, the best flautist in the state. It’s received three starred reviews, so it’s bound to be good. Booklist says, “Encore, encore.”


At the same time I am listening to an audio book in the car. I find this is a great time to catch up on what my kids are reading. It’s also a great way to find out the proper pronunciation of a character’s name. I am in the middle of because of mr. terupt (tear upt, not tur upt as I thought) by Rob Buyea. It’s a great story about a fifth grade class and their new teacher. Each chapter is told from the point of view of one of seven children in the class. You’ve got your brain, outcast, loner, mean girl, prankster, fat girl, and the new girl. I honestly can’t wait to get in my car each day to see what’s going to happen next.


Another #FridayReads with AW&Co Staffers!

#FridayReads with Albert Whitman Staff

It’s #FridayReads with Albert Whitman Staffers!  Today our Marketing Manager, Annette Hobbs Magier, is filling us in on what she’s currently reading:

As I thought about what I was going to post this week for #FridayReads, I found myself getting a little depressed.  I used to read A LOT.  Like, all the time and everything—NYTimes best sellers, classics for the second or third time, YA novels, middle grade (my fave!), graphic novels, you name it.  I even used to be in a few book clubs at once!  Then, about 2 years ago, I had a baby and, well, reading for pleasure kind of went down the toilet.  There was a period of time where the thought of reading was so exhausting, that I even stopped picking up ARCs at trade shows.

But then, my baby turned a corner.  She started paying attention to the actual words in her little board books and before I knew it, she was finishing the stanzas in Jamberry and The Little Blue Truck as I read each page.


Now, on the cusp of her 2nd birthday, she’s finally able to sit through an entire picture book without trying to chew the corners or tear the pages into oblivion (thank goodness because somehow my signed copies of Kevin Henke’s Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse and A Good Day have made it into her regular rotation!) AND she’s actually paying attention to the story.

a_good_day  lilly_purple_purse_sm

So, what are we reading in the Hobbs Magier household these days?  Every single night for the last three weeks we’ve read Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.  She requests it every single night.  Her favorite part is when Max shouts, “Be still!” at the Wild Things and tames them with the trick of staring into their yellow eyes.  I love the way she shouts, “Be still!” when we get to that page (and sometimes she shouts “Be still!” while she’s eating her dinner or playing with her toys, which is always a little hilarious and strange).


Our other selections usually rotate between Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, The Hello, Goodbye Window, and The Ghosts Go Haunting.  And you know what? It’s not depressing at all—it’s awesome! I feel like I’m starting my reading journey all over again with fresh eyes. I can’t wait to break into the Roald Dahl collection with her!

jpeg-1 51Z19v2ZgKL._AA160_


#FridayReads with Albert Whitman Staff

#FridayReads with Albert Whitman Staff

It’s the perfect storm! #Fridayreads and #BannedBooksWeek. You know all of us at Albert Whitman love books. Publishing them and reading them. Going forward, every #FridayReads we’re going to have one of our staffers talk about a book they’re currently reading. Today, we start off with our Director of Sales and Marketing Mike Spradlin:

I kind of chuckle to myself that ALA reports ever increasing challenges of comics and graphic novels in the last few years. Growing up, if it wasn’t for comics, I know I wouldn’t be the reader I am today. I read all of them I could get my hands on, and still do to this day. Right now I’m enjoying the Fables graphic novels by Bill Willingham, James Jean and Alex Maleev.


The story takes place in a contemporary world, where all of the characters from classic fables and fairy tales have been driven from their world, and forced to live among mankind. Many of them like Snow White and her ex-husband Prince Charming can pass as human, but many such, as the three little pigs, must keep to the shadows. All the ‘fables’ want is to unite and remove a mysterious, malevolent evil from their homelands that drove them into our world in the first place. But much like human beings, factions develop, trust issues abound and they find that even with a common enemy uniting is harder than first thought. It’s a great story, with terrific art and I highly recommend it.

Happy Friday and Happy Reading!

#FridayReads with Albert Whitman Staff