#Fridayreads: Alex takes us to English class

Happy Friday everyone! Our intern, Alex Messina-Sehultheis, takes us through her English program at DePaul:

As a student in DePaul’s English program, one must become accustomed to receiving page-long reading lists included in class syllabi. It’s standard practice to read one novel every week, and it’s inevitable some of these books will test your interest and ultimately your patience. I know this to be true as a graduate student in the department where the next “Great American Novel” is frequently included on our reading lists. It’s because of those patience testing novels, among other reasons, that I am often so glad to be interning at Albert Whitman & Co where one can easily disappear into the lives of imaginative characters (whom, incidentally, thankfully have no interest in the “Great American Novel”).

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Although these lists are sometimes filled with novels that are often made up of personal agenda and unending streams of consciousness, there comes along a book which makes one appreciate the gift of a beautiful prose. Marilynne Robinson is the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Gilead, which is the first novel in a series of three which follows the lives of several individuals in the fictional town of Gilead, Iowa. Gilead is an “intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America’s heart.” The narrative is told by the ailing reverend in the town as he recounts familial stories as a recording to his young son before he passes away.

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We were asked to read both Gilead and Lila, which is the third novel in the collection. The novel is told through the reverend’s young wife (Lila’s) perspective. Both novels are an example of a seemingly effortless prose. Line after line proves the beauty of simplistic and meaningful writing. Robinson’s ability to describe the “human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life” is unlike many novels I have been required to read for class discussions. Her novels force the reader to slow down in order to fully absorb the luminous prose. I often describe her writing in the corniest way by telling people that when I read her work, it often feels like home. Her writing is familiar in a way that is still engaging and unexplored. I would recommend this book to anyone and would love to have a discussion with them about what I believe to be the next “Great American Novel.”

What would your choice be for the next Great American Novel?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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Thanks, Ellen!  And HAPPY BIRTHDAY! 

#Fridayreads: Middle-grade audio books

Editorial Director Kelly Barrales-Saylor shares her thought on a couple audio books for this week’s edition of #FridayReads!

A couple weeks ago Wendy wrote in her #FridayReads that she recently discovered audiobooks. There must be something in the water at AW&Co, because I recently made the same discovery. I have a fairly long commute to and from work, so I have plenty of time to listen to books on tape (when I’m not singing along to my iPod or listening to Howard Stern). So I borrowed a couple audiobooks from my local library and here are the results: sometimes audiobooks are awesome and sometimes they are not.

I’ll admit, I’m a little behind on my middle grade reading list… Er, maybe I’m a lot behind since I’m still working my way through the 2013 and 2014 Newbery lists. I picked up Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo (read by Tara Sands) and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (read by Adam Grupper). Both of these books, as beautiful and imaginative literature, are awesome. But one worked perfectly as an audiobook and the other, not so much. Can you guess which is which?

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For those of you as behind on middle grade books as me, Flora and Ulysses is the story of a young girl (Flora) with divorced parents who witnesses her neighbor accidentally vacuum up a squirrel (Ulysses) in her backyard. She runs to rescue the squirrel and realizes the squirrel can communicate with her—and might be some sort of super hero! This book is also full of really awesome illustrations by K. G. Campbell. You know what you can’t see when you’re listening to an audiobook? The really awesome illustrations by K. G. Campbell. Womp womp. They did an ok job of conveying through the audio what was happening in the comic book sequences, but the whole time I was listening to the book, I felt something was missing. I might need to reread this book as a book because I think my inner-10-year-old would’ve loved this story (and wished to discover a poetry-writing super hero squirrel). I can tell you one good thing: I do look at the squirrels in my neighborhood with a little more compassion now.

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Ok, let me move on to The One and Only Ivan. This audiobook was amazing. It was a little slow to start because I struggled with the sad premise: A gorilla has been in captivity almost his entire life as the main attraction of a circus inside of a shopping mall. He lives in a glass enclosure and his friends include a stray dog and an elephant. It’s quite melancholy. But there was something so intriguing about the story. And each word Katherine Applegate chose was somehow so perfect I couldn’t stop listening. I’d stay in the car a few extra moments after I pulled into the driveway just so I could finish up a scene. There were quite a few times I had to finish crying in the parking lot before I walked up to our office building. Somewhere along the way, I found such joy and pain and love in this story. Adam Grupper’s reading and the voice he gave Ivan was so perfect. Just thinking about it now is making me tear up. As a book lover, I’m going to buy this one in hardcover just so I can have it in my collection.

I’m off to the library this weekend to pick a new audiobook. Any suggestions?

Friday reads: It’s WILD out there

Social Media Coordinator Danielle Perlin writes about one of her new favorite books, Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. 

Before I knew Wild was going to be a movie, I downloaded the book on my nook last July immediately after I read the summary. I was intrigued, as it was about a girl (approximately my age), who goes on a wild adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to find herself after she went through some traumatic times. Little did I know that this book would become so meaningful to me.

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After I found out Wild was made into a movie, I decided it was the right time to read the book; after all, I always enjoy reading books that are made into films (i.e., Divergent, Gone Girl [which I absolutely loved!], The Lovely Bones, etc.).

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Immediately, I was absorbed in Strayed’s story. When she was 22 years old, her 45-year-old mother died from cancer. Strayed grew up with her brother, Lee, and sister, Karen in rural Minnesota; their mom left their abusive father when Strayed was 6 years old. Eventually, Strayed’s mom, Bobbi, married Eddie, who taught Strayed how to build a fire, canoe, and live with nature. But after Bobbi died, Cheryl’s family fell apart; Cheryl’s young marriage did as well. She found herself completely and utterly alone, from what I gathered when reading the book.

On the PCT, she talks about the people she meets, how much money she has (at one point, she was basically down to $0), books that she reads on the trail, her thoughts as she walked, and her gigantic backpack that she calls Monster. She had an admirable amount of courage to complete the PCT, despite the setbacks she went through; the PCT cleared her head of the mistakes she made in her life, and the PCT taught her how to live life again.

Wild is the story of a woman who went into the wilderness carrying a pack that was literally too heavy for her to carry,” said Strayed in a YouTube video. “And I realized, that’s really what Wild is about. It’s about bearing the unbearable. And that’s true in all these different ways.”

When she sits on a white bench eating an ice cream cone, where she finished her journey, she began crying. I was definitely teary-eyed upon finishing the epic tale as well. While reading the book, Strayed takes you, the reader, along with her on an incredibly personal path of self-love. I finished the book, both in awe of her and happy for her, knowing that she worked so hard to complete her 1700 kilometer hike on the PCT, which took her 94 days. At the end, you find out what a couple of her trail friends named her; I won’t spoil it for you, but know that it’ll make you smile.

Not only do I admire Cheryl Strayed’s amazing tale in Wild, but I also admire her writing. The way she weaves in the past and the present fits perfectly; I didn’t feel that the writing was choppy at all. I have yet to see the movie, but I do plan on seeing it in the near future. If you’re looking for a book about a personal, brave, and daring young lady trying to find her way in the world, I highly recommend this book.  “

#Fridayreads: Anne’s House of Dreams

It’s #FridayReads with metadata master and sales team all-star Caity Anast, who talks about her current reads:

Before Christmas, I decided to listen to Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery in the car. It is my all-time favorite book. Not only have I read the series, seen the TV mini-series with Megan Follows and Colleen Dewhurst, but I have also been to the Anne of Green Gables festival on Prince Edward Island. I love Anne and have always thought we would be wonderful friends. It has been more than 20 years since I have read the books, but I so enjoyed listening to the first story on audio that I decided to reread the whole series. Lucky for me, I have it on my bookshelf. I am nearing the end of Book 5, Anne’s House of Dreams. Even though I know what is going to happen, I still enjoy watching it all unfold. Every night, I look forward to getting into bed and traveling back to Avonlea or wherever Anne seems to be.

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Every year for Christmas, my husband and I try to get a nice book for each of our children—a book that they will keep for a long time. I knew what to get my 9-year-old daughter immediately. She loved Wonder by R.J. Palacio (as did I, finishing it up near midnight on New Year’s Eve 2013), so when I saw 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts, I knew it would be perfect. As you can guess, there is a precept for every day. Some are from famous people and some are from readers who wrote to the author. My daughter has decided to read a precept a day, and together we read it at night before bed. One of our favorites is: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.—Anne Frank.” (I love that they did not put a jacket on the book, but embossed it instead. Those jackets just end up getting in the way!)

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I was having a more difficult time coming up with something for my son. He likes sports books, but I try to introduce him to other genres. When I was working at my daughter’s school’s book fair, I found the perfect book for him, Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin.

Last year, he read Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson for school and loved it. This past summer, we went to Springfield, Illinois, where we toured the Lincoln library, his home, and also stopped by the cemetery where Lincoln is buried. This story is a thriller based on the real events that happened in 1876 when President Lincoln’s body was stolen and held for ransom. My son has enjoyed it so much that he has read it four times. As soon as I finish the Anne of Green Gables series, I promised him I would read it, too.

 

#FridayReads with Wendy McClure

It’s #FridayReads with Albert Whitman Staffers!  Today Senior Editor Wendy McClure talks about her current reads:

Remember back in October when I told you I wasn’t sure I was going to hit my Goodreads Challenge Goal for 2014?  It turns out—whew!—I did. Those lazy days around Christmas and New Years really helped, and so did audiobooks. I’m pretty new to the audiobook thing. I’d never listened to them on a regular basis before this past fall. In fact, I resisted them: my editor brain is so used to thinking in terms of print that I thought that was the only way I could truly experience a book. But when I was facing a long solo car trip in November I decided to listen to Amy Poehler’s audio book; after that experience, I figured out how to download audiobooks from the public library onto my phone so I could listen to them while driving home from work. (Or folding laundry, or working in the kitchen, or working out at the gym.) I hit my reading goal, and I discovered that audiobooks are good for my editor brain as well: I find I pick up things about story pacing, shifts in tone, and narrative and character voice.

So audiobooks are now A Thing with me, and my favorite audio genre right now is middle-grade fiction. At the moment I’m halfway through The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. I’ve wanted to read this book ever since I read a New York Times review a few years back, and then it won the 2011 Odyssey Award, which is the ALA award for kids’ audiobooks. So I had a feeling it would be good.

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You guys. It is hilarious. Part of it is the writing and the premise, which is: aliens attack and take over Earth; the protagonist, a girl named Gratuity Tucci (her nickname is TIP) and her cat, Pig, embark on a road trip to Florida (she can drive; she has cans nailed to her church shoes so she can reach the pedals) where all the humans have been relocated. Along the way she encounters an outcast alien whose Earth name is “J.Lo,” and they become unlikely friends. And he takes apart her car and combines it with a slushie machine to make a hovercraft. Add to that a deeply funny performance from the reader, Bahni Turpin, and the result is an incredibly entertaining audio experience that I highly recommend.

I had no idea when I first got the audiobook, but apparently The True Meaning of Smekday has been adapted by Dreamworks as an animated feature and is coming out under the title Home in March!  Looks fun, except the alien is no longer named J. Lo. Okay, so the movie features J. Lo as one of the voiceover actors, so I suppose a compromise had to be made. But for me, Alien J. Lo has become the true J.Lo. You’ll have to check out The True Meaning of Smekday to understand.

#Fridayreads: Story time tales

Marketing Manager Annette Hobbs Magier discusses some of her and her daughter’s favorite story time tales in this week’s edition of #Fridayreads.

I’m not going to pretend I’m not still reading kids books only. I am. But now the little lady is on a “vintage classics” kick and it’s awesome. Sure, I’m the one that collected all these kitschy, vintage titles over my years in publishing, but they’re mixed in with all the bright, flashy new stuff, so I’m giving all the credit for this reading kick to her.

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For the last month, every night before bed she wants to read The Happy Lion by Louise Fatio and illustrated by Roger Duvoisin. It was first published in 1954 and the sweet story still holds up. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s the story of a lion that is quite content with his life in a little French zoo in the middle of a quaint town. Each day, the townspeople come to say, “Bonjour, Happy Lion” and leave the lion “meat and other tidbits.” One day, though, the zookeeper leaves the door open and the Happy Lion decides to go out and say hello to his friends. As he roams the town looking for his regular visitors, the townspeople scream and scramble to get away. The lion can’t understand why they’re all acting bonkers and just before the fire department captures the lion, Francois, the keeper’s son, appears and offers to walk his friend, the lion, back to the zoo.

My little gal LOVES it when the ladies scream in fear and faint, when the marching band plays “ratatatum, ratatatum, boom, boom, boom,” and when the fire engines roar into view with their sirens screaming “wwwhooooooooooo, whooooooo.” And she especially loves changing the title a few times before we begin reading, The happy…Tiger! No. The Happy…Turtle! Nooo. The Happy…Porcupine! Noo…The Happy LION!

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Whatever “long” book we read first, we always finish our bedtime reading with The Carrot Seed by Ruth Kraus and illustrated by Crockett Johnson. It’s so short and sweet, that sometimes we read it twice. And my pint-sized lady is convinced (!) that the little boy in the Carrot Seed is also Harold from Harold’s Purple Crayon.

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Speaking of Harold, he’s also a staple in our reading. It’s strange, I was just thinking as I was reading through Harold for the one thousandth time the other night, “I’m not getting tired of these books yet.” I love reading them aloud to the nugget and watching her eyes widen as Harold eats through 9 different kinds of pies at a picnic, or as the ground rumbles and a giant carrot pops out of the earth right in front of the patient little boy’s eyes. It seems a trip to the library is in order to find more Happy Lion adventures and Ruth Kraus classics! Happy reading!