Thank you to the Kid Lit Exchange for the review copy of this book! All opinions are my own!
How do you explain to someone else why a thing matters to you if it doesn’t matter to them? How can you put into words how a book slips inside of you and becomes a part of you so much that your life feels empty without it?
I have very strong feelings about banned books. As in, I don’t understand why anyone would want to ban books. Are there certain books that kids should wait to read until they’re a certain age? Of course! But should those books be banned from libraries just because they may contain some less than pleasant content? Um, NO. Ban This Book by Alan Gratz (author of Refugee) takes on the subject of banned books from a fourth-grader’s perspective, and shows just how much of a difference one student can make. This is a middle grade book, but I would recommend it to anyone who has a vested interest in keeping books on shelves and wants to be inspired by a fictional fourth grader.
Amy Anne Ollinger loves to read. Her favorite book is the classic From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and she checks it out from the library as often as she can. When she discovers that the book has been removed from her school library because a parent petitioned to have it banned (for teaching children to lie, steal, and run away from home . . .), Amy knows she can’t just sit back and let more books be taken away. With the help of some good friends, and one unexpected accomplice, she devises a plan to get all the books that are being banned into the hands of students, no matter what it might cost her in the end.
This book is absolutely fantastic! It really illustrates why it’s important for us and our kids to fight against books being banned. Amy is in fourth grade, and while she isn’t old enough to make adult decisions, she is old enough to decide what books to read. (The story does include a part where the parents make it clear that there are some books parents need to decide when to let their kids read, which is completely different from banning them. The Hunger Games is used as an example.) I think it is easy for adults to forget how much kids can accomplish on their own, and how smart they really are. This book very realistically shows what a group of kids can do when a challenge is thrown at them and they want to do the right thing, even if a few parents think it’s wrong.
Ban This Book is inspiring, important, and entertaining. I would honestly recommend it to anyone who’s interested in what banning books in schools actually looks like. If you’re an adult reading it, it won’t take you more than a couple of sittings to finish it, and I think it’s worth it. If you have kids from about 10 and up, and definitely highly recommend this too. It’ll also open up a lot of discussions about why specific books have been banned over the years, and why it’s important for them to stay on the shelves. Be right back, adding all of Alan Gratz’s books to my to be read list!!
I think this book would be entertaining for middle schoolers and advanced elementary school readers. The only reason I suggest age 10 and up is that there is a book about sex mentioned, and if you haven’t discussed that with your kiddo yet, you might want to hold off if you’re not ready for those questions! The book mentioned is It’s Perfectly Normal Nothing detailed is discussed, but some of what the book about is discussed. Of course, this might also be a gentle way to see if your kids do have any questions about this subject!
There’s something about swimsuits that make you think you’ve got to earn the right to wear them. And that’s wrong. Really, the criteria is simple. Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it.
I read a lot of Young Adult literature. I love it, and some of it is more well-written than adult books. I have never read one that is so body positive, with a character that not only has an amazing attitude but isn’t afraid to stand up for herself, as Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. Murphy is now going to be an auto-buy author for me, and I ordered all of her books after reading this. Dumplin’ is what I want all YA books to be: funny, insightful, honest, and entertaining.
Willowdean Dickson (nicknamed Dumplin’ by her mother) is the daughter of a former beauty queen and pageant winner. She is also fat, outspoken, and proud. She’s happy with her body and her life (for the most part), and she goes through life with her best friend, Ellen. When a new boy named Bo starts working at the same place Willowdean works, she is immediately attracted to him. Surprising to her? He likes her back. For the first time, Will doesn’t feel so confident, and wonders why he would like her. To gain back her confidence and prove to herself (and everyone else . . . and her mom) that she is worthy of everything good in her life, she decides to enter the Miss Clover City beauty pageant. Everyone is shocked that someone who is not a typical pageant contestant would even enter, but Will inspires a movement that changes the view of everyone in the town. And, more importantly, reasserts her faith in herself.
The plot in Dumplin’ is so good, but it’s the characters who I really love. Willowdean is so real. Her characters doesn’t feel forced at all. Everything she says and every action she takes feels like exactly the right thing for her character. All I really want to do is find the adult version of her and be friends with her. I love that she doesn’t shrink into the background and basically says, “screw you” to all the jerks in the novel by doing the least expected think of all: entering the pageant. She does it unapologetically and not as a joke or with the goal of making a huge deal about it: she does it for herself.
And we can just talk about body positivity for a minute or ten? In my experience, there are very few novels that portray actual overweight characters in a positive way. They are usually quiet or mean, and are always side characters. Here we have an overweight main character who is proud of herself, happy with herself, and doesn’t spend the majority of the novel lamenting her size. Yes, she’s real, and while she is comfortable and confident in her body, she’s also ashamed at times. Everyone can relate to that feeling, no matter what size they are. But she doesn’t let it get in the way and doesn’t spend a lot of time focusing on it. This is all about confidence, and how much we can actually accomplish in our lives if we stop getting in our damn ways with negative thoughts. I am here. For. It.
If you love YA, or if you’re not sure you love YA, or if you have a middle grade to high schooler in your house, please get Dumplin’ (and the sequel, Puddin’, which should be arriving at my house soon) and read it. Have your kids read it. It’s entertaining and fun, but it’s also an important commentary on how girls are “supposed” to see themselves in public, and how they should see themselves. How we all should see each other: as human beings capable of accomplishing anything we want to do. Size is not important here, just heart.
I hold Huckleberry Finn real tight against my chest and start across the yard. Now we can leave this place behind anytime we want. All we gotta do is join up with Huckleberry Finn. There’s room on his raft for all five of us, I’ll bet. Maybe we’ll find the Arcadia out there somewhere.
I sat for a good 20 minutes trying to figure out what to say to convince you all to read Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, and there just aren’t enough words for it. If you haven’t read it yet, please, please read it! This is historical fiction based on the true story of Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society that operated in the early half of the twentieth century. It is shocking, heartbreaking, important, and, at its heart, hopeful. This was our Bucket List Book Club selection for May, and I am so, so glad that I read it.
The story is told in alternating chapters. It begins in Memphis in 1939 with Rill Foss and her 4 brothers and sisters. They live on a boat in the Mississippi River with their parents, but when their mom must be rushed to the hospital during a difficult birth, the 5 remaining children are taken to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in order to be placed (sold) with other (wealthy) families who are looking to adopt. In present day Aiken, South Carolina, Avery Stafford is busy building her career as a lawyer, taking care of her ailing politician father, and figuring out if she really wants to be with her fiancé. When a chance encounter with an elderly woman in a nursing home, she begins to look into her family’s past and discovers some secrets she’s not sure if she’s ready to find out. The two stories weave themselves together and illustrate the truth behind the Children’s Home: families were torn apart, siblings were separated, and it was by pure luck if they were able to find each other again later in life.
There is a mystery in the novel, namely the journey the Foss kids went through, how they were separated, and where they all ended up. While this particular story is made up, it is heavily rooted in truth. Children were taken from their families (always poor families who were unable to fight and get their kids back) and sold to wealthy families who wanted to adopt. My heart broke for the children in this novel (who represent real people). They had no one to advocate for them, and were expected to trust the adults in the orphanage and do what they said, even though all of the adults involved continued to let them down. The amount of strength they showed, particularly Rill, was incredible. Avery’s storyline in the present was just as compelling, in a different way. She was so busy with everything going on in her life, and finally slowed down to investigate her family’s past. She managed to make time for that, showing that we all have time for things we think are important. (And how telling it is what we choose to make time for.)
Before We Were Yours is an amazing book. So well written, so well researched, and so important. Before this book, I was unaware of this part of American history, and I can’t believe I didn’t know the story. This storyline is sad and heartbreaking, but also interesting from a historical standpoint, and the ending is uplifting. The alternating chapters do a nice job of breaking up the sadness of the past story, and it will make you want to read more about Georgia Tann. (She was really unbelievable.) Let me know if you’ve read this book and what you thought!!
Love is an enchantress—devious and wild. It sneaks up behind you, soft and gentle and quiet, just before it slits your throat.
Today happens to be the last day of Summer Solstice, which plays a huge role in this book!
I want to stand on a rooftop somewhere (but like, a nice rooftop with a garden, not a dirty one filled with A/C units) and yell my undying love for The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw. It’s not quite magical realism, and it’s not quite fantasy, but it’s a fantastic combination of the two, and I will be the first in line for Ernshaw’s next book.
Two hundred years ago, the three Swan sisters were sentenced to death by drowning for being witches. Ever since, the town of Sparrow has been cursed. Every summer during the Summer Solstice, Swan season begins. The sisters return from the sea, take over the bodies of three girls in the town, and lure boys to their deaths in the water. Penny Talbot has ignored Swan season and the boys who die every year. But when Bo Carter shows up, Penny tries to protect him from the danger he’s unaware surrounds the town. Penny must choose whether to save Bo or herself, and whether she can trust Bo with the deepest of secrets.
This book is immediately addicting. The storyline is mysterious, fast-paced, and very well written. I won’t compare anyone to the queen of magical realism, Alice Hoffman, but there are some very strong Practical Magic vibes here. (In a wonderful way, not in a copycat way at all.) The entire book is unique, and quite different from other witchy novels that I’ve read before in that it balances a fine line between mystery, magic, romance, and paranormal activity. I don’t know how Ernshaw did it, but she’s written a pretty perfect book.
If you want a great, witchy mystery, definitely add The Wicked Deep to your summer reading list. I was absolutely transported to the town of Sparrow, and it’s a fun, immersive book to disappear into on a summer afternoon. (And today is the last day of Swan season, so it might be the perfect day to start reading this book!)
For fans of: The Hazel Wood, Practical Magic[Top]
Well, Father’s Day is upon us, and as usual, I have ordered a few gifts for my dad at the last minute!! I always include at least one book for him at every gift-giving opportunity, and since we like to read a lot of the same things, it’s always fun to try and find something he doesn’t have yet. (Which can be very, very difficult!) I’m featuring a few of my favorites that I’ve given to my dad, some that I’ve loved that I think others would love, and some that I think new dads (or all dads) need! Let me know in the comments any book suggestions you have for Father’s Day!
*The Wishing Star by M. Christina Butler, illustrated by Frank Endersby (My kids loved this book for years, and it’s a wonderful book to read aloud. The cover and illustrations are beautiful, and it’s really a perfect book to gift a new dad to read to his child.)
*Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces by Michael Chabon (This is a collection of short stories written by Chabon about his own experience with being a dad. They’re funny, witty, and will also make you think a little. But not too much. Because dads are tired.)
*The Flying Tigers: The Untold Story of the American Pilots Who Waged a Secret War Against Japan by Sam Kleiner (This is a new book that I will be giving to my dad on Sunday. He loves history, so this is right in his wheelhouse!)
*Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (Read my review HERE. This is such an amazing story, and it’s being made into a movie, so you can read it with your dad and then go see the movie!)
*In Shock: My Journey from Death to Recovery and the Redemptive Power of Hope by Dr. Rana Awdish (Dr. Awdish tells the story of how she went from being a young doctor to a dying patient and how that transformed not only her views on life, but the way she wanted to practice as a physician. I got this one for my husband, since he’s in medicine, on the recommendation of another doctor friend. It sounds amazing!)
*All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg (Rick Bragg is the king of southern memoirs, and I gave this one to my dad a long time ago. It’s one of my favorite books, and Bragg will always be a favorite author.)
*The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard (This is the fictionalized telling of the real story about the women who unknowingly worked on the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. It’s such an interesting story, and perfect for history fans.)
*News of the World by Paulette Jiles (This is one my parents gave to me, so I know it has to be good! It’s about a journey through Texas after the Civil War, and it’s also only 240 pages, so if your dad needs a quick read, this is a great one.)
*A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (Read my review HERE.)
*Beartown by Fredrik Backman (Yes, two Backman books, that’s how much I love him. I just finished reading this, and I think it’s such a beautiful, important book about a small town, sports, and what people are willing to do to cover up secrets in order to keep a sports team in tact.)
*Empire Falls by Richard Russo (I absolutely love this book. It’s another book about a small town and how people live there. It’s well-written and really dives into the human spirit and how people survive.)
*Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg (One of my dad’s and my favorites! Read the book together and then watch the movie, which is actually amazing.)
*Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys by Lucinda Scala Quinn (Y’all. I know. A cookbook for Father’s Day? HEAR ME OUT. Lucinda is the queen of cooking for me-her recipes work, they are delicious, the stories she incorporates into her cookbooks-I own them all-are wonderful, and all the boys and men in my family love everything I make out of this cookbook. This is a fun one, and if your dad likes to cook, or you like to cook together, this would be a wonderful addition to a cookbook collection.)
With the exception of Dispatches from Pluto, which I already owned, I bought the rest of the books listed here for my dad and I to both read! There are so many amazing travel books out right now.
*Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta by Richard Grant (I recommended this one in my Mother’s Day Gift Guide, and I want to leave it here too. It’s so good, and I think a dad who loves reading about travel and different parts of the country would love it. Read my review HERE.)
*The Traveling Feast: On the Road and at the Table with My Heroes by Rick Bass (This is exactly what it sounds like-Bass traveled with the goal of creating meals for each of his mentors. It sounds so fun-who wouldn’t love to be able to spend one-on-one time in our later years with those who made an impact on us throughout our lives?)
*Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams (I kind of can’t believe I haven’t given this to my dad yet. At the time, the author had never so much as slept in a tent, but he decided to re-create the exact trail that the man who found Machu Picchu took with one guide.)
*Tip of the Iceberg: My 3,000-Mile Journey Around Wild Alaska, the Last Great American Frontier by Mark Adams (Yup, same author as Turn Right at Machu Picchu! This time, Adams wanted to re-create Edward H. Harriman’s 1899 railroad expedition. Through Alaska. If your dad loves to travel, has been to Alaska, or wants to go, this sounds like the perfect book to have an armchair adventure in.)
Books to Buddy Read with Dad!
My dad has very strong memories of what his favorite books were as a child, and I know some of my favorite moments as a parent have been when my kids love a book that I read as a child. So I think a really fun idea would be to give your dad a copy of his favorite childhood book, or a classic childhood adventure book, and buddy read it together! It would be so meaningful, and fun-I don’t think bookish people get tired of those favorite childhood classics!
*Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
*The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green
*Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
*White Fang by Jack London
*The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling