Monthly Archives: December 2015

Annabelle’s 2015 Book Roundup


Well, folks, another year has come and gone, and here we are at the end of 2015. What a year it’s been!

I looked over last year’s post to see what numbers I shared with you, and I’ll be doing most of it again, sharing the number of books I read this year, and particularly the number of children’s chapter books, YA books, and eBooks.

Last year I shared books I didn’t particularly enjoy, but I don’t see any point to that this year. Why focus on those when I’d rather talk up the books I did like?

In 2014, I read 142 books. This year, I read….


That number disappoints me. My goal had been to read 200. By way of explanation, not excuse, one of the reasons I may have read fewer books is the months I was posted at Neighborhood Library. Because my commute was 20 minutes of walking every day, rather than 30-40 minutes on two buses, my reading time was vastly reduced. That could certainly have been a factor.

Last year, I read 26 young adult books, and this year, I’ve read 16. Last year, I read 7 children’s chapter books, and this year, that number shot up to 28 (!), partially because of my zipping through the Little House on the Prairie series. Finally, last year, I read 18 eBooks, and this year, 22 (more, perhaps, because I went out of the country and read books that way?)

So, as in past years, I now present some of my favorite books from this year, with my number one choice first:

Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves. I still can’t stop thinking about it, and I finished reading it in mid-August. I find books about the apocalypse – whether by weather, aliens, or other causes – fascinating, and this one delivered in every way, not only with humankind’s preparation (mentally and physically) for the end of the world, but what came next, and after that, and waaaaay after that. Don’t let the size of the tome deter you, or its subject matter, if you’re not into this kind of thing. At its heart, it’s about humanity and survival, and what drives us all.

The rest of the books I enjoyed, in no particular order, and with the caveat that they may not even have been written this year:

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, by Katherine Rundell. (Juvenile fiction) I laughed, I cried, I wanted to pick up Will and give her a great big hug and a Jaffa Cake. (Honorable mention to Rundell’s other terrific chapter book, Rooftoppers. I almost listed them together.)

Noggin, by John Corey Whaley. (YA) A book about cryogenics and friendship. Your world may stop until your frozen head is put onto a new body, but the rest of the world has kept moving.

Smile, by Raina Telgemeier. (Juvenile graphic novel) If you never had orthodontic work of any kind, you won’t enjoy this nearly as much as if you did go through it. Funny and warmhearted and just one of Telgemeier’s runaway hits. We can’t keep it on the shelf.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimageby Haruki Murakami. (Fiction) Murakami is going to win the Pulitzer someday – 1Q84 is his magnum opus, I think – because of the delicacy and precision of his work. I read Murakami and it’s as if I’m in a bubble of beauty. 

The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters. (Fiction) When I wrote about The Paying Guests in the blog the first time, I think I used the terms “Hitchcockian” and “du Maurier-like” to describe the story of a mother/daughter boarding house in England between the wars. Those are my highest compliments.

Your Face in Mine, by Jess Row. (Fiction) 2015 has been a difficult year for race relations. Well, take out “2015” and insert “2014,” “2013,” or any other year, and those years have been, too. This novel about racial assignment surgery and its psychological and social effects has particular meaning for me this year. It’ll make you think.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. (Fiction) What to say about this book that hasn’t been said? It landed on everyone’s top ten lists of 2014. Another book about the apocalypse, written with grace and beauty.

Newport, by Jill Morrow. (Fiction) It’s an unusual privilege to watch an author labor to birth a book from the sidelines. I’m including Newport on my list not just because of its sumptuous descriptions of between-the-wars (there it is again!) Rhode Island, but because I know how hard Jill worked. Brava!

George, by Alex Gino. (Juvenile fiction) There are so few books available to children that don’t pander to them on the “tough” topics, such as… being transgender, for instance! George is a buoyant, straightforward treat of a book, sorely needed, about George’s quest to let out long-buried Melissa.

Challenger Deep, by Neal Shusterman. (YA) Coincidentally, I finished this book almost immediately before Shusterman won the National Book Award’s YA version. It’s so inventive and clever, but hard-hitting, and brings much-needed light to the issue of adolescent mental illness. Don’t miss this one.


I wish every library system did this. I can’t imagine how much I’d “saved” this year with my 131 books.

From Coworker J:

Happy belated Hanukkah! Some books to help you celebrate (next year).

Here’s a place to spend all that money you got from Santa (or the gelt).

From Friend D:

Seriously subversive.

Non-traditional women! Yes!

Used bookstores are one of my favorite places to go; to wander, to get lost, to go on dates, to treasure hunt. Now it seems as if people are just discovering them (what took ’em so long?).

From Mama Bear:

She’s going to read The Westing Game now because of NPH!

Bet you didn’t know the story behind “Pooh, pooh.”

In What’s Annabelle Reading, in the spirit of the holiday, I finished up a Janian mystery that was a lot of fun and more than a little goofy. But a good time and well-written in the spirit of Barron’s other Jane Austen mysteries.

The last book I finished in 2015 was Ernest Cline’s sophomore effort. If the name means anything to you AND BY GOD IT SHOULD, he’s the dude who wrote Ready Player One, which if you haven’t read, GO GET IT RIGHT NOW. YOU WILL LOVE IT. I’m sad to say that Armada wasn’t as good as RPO (is the second book ever as good as the first?), but still a fun read.

Happy New Year, everyone! Bring on 2016!




Programs, Programs Everywhere


Last Saturday, I went to the museum we partner with for their weekly portrait project. This week’s subject was John Cornell, whom I knew very little about, so I read Mr. Cornell’s Dream Boxes to the visiting kids; the book is short and sweet and ADORABLE. Then we all made our own dream boxes about things that were important to us. (This can be a great snow day activity, parents!)

Behold mine, my chickadees:


The Ravens, obviously (with a stamp of Edgar Allan Poe underneath for my hometown of Baltimore), a mug o’ tea, my cat Lincoln, food (do you like the spaghetti and its little blob of sauce? I am very proud of that), puzzles, British stamps for when I lived in England, etc. The white thing you see is a shell, because I love the beach.

On the sides I folded paper for “books,” and wrote the titles of books I loved growing up, and now, that have had lasting impacts on me.

One side:


And the other:


(The Richard Scarry one is Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever, obviously.)

On to Sunday. For the second Sunday of the month, we have a “Book Share” program, and I had a solidly good idea for it. I had set out a sign and two books, which should tell you all you need to know about what I was planning:


Because, let’s face it, we DO judge books by their covers, and I wanted to talk with kids and tell them that it’s okay to do that. Book covers often tell us a lot about what’s inside – and sometimes they completely mislead us (which we’ll get to in the photo below).

I’d pulled two different copies of Little Red Riding Hood – one adapted and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, and another adapted and photographed by William Wegman. The two versions clearly approached the tale differently: the Pinkney one more seriously and closer to the Grimms’ original version, and the Wegman a bit more whimsically. Yet they are the “same story,” for all intents and purposes.

And then there are books that get redone with different covers every few years. Behold three different covers (!!) of Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret: 


I’ve ranked them in order from least to most offensive (in my personal opinion – you have every right to yours, but it will be wrong). The far right – texting? No thank you. The middle one could be a catalog photo, for fartsakes, and shows, who, a teenager? The left one is the best; that girl looks like she could actually be a twelve-year-old. So I was really excited to discuss why a book might have three different covers, and if a particular cover might change the way a reader felt about picking up a book…

…That is, if anyone had showed up.


I have a few random photos for you all, too.

Don’t you love it when you find one of your favorite books in another language? I was weeding the Spanish books, and I absolutely had to take a flip through Once Upon a Potty, which in Spanish is called Mi Bacinica y Yo (My Potty and Me.) This was always my favorite page:


Friend S. sent me this picture of a (newly refurbished, I think?) children’s section in her library – I love it! Look at all that color!


Links for y’all:

This gets the top spot because it cannot be said enough: “Owning books in the home is one of the best things you can do for your children academically.

A very classy victory lap for the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Sad and hilarious, because: true.

What a simple and useful idea! (About 40% of the questions I get are readers’ advisory, easily.)

I can’t wait for a series, because this book scared the crap out of me.

From Coworker J:

Ave atque vale, Peter Dickinson.

From Friend D:

The first trailer for Spielberg’s adaptation of The BFG!!

The first trailer for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them!!

Well, good luck to them.

I can’t even come up with a witty rejoinder for this.

No surprise there

Oy, is this funny!

FASCINATING. Asceticism might be up my alley.

Gabriel Oak, please! #farfromthemaddingcrowd

A must-read for lovers of not only Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but of books and the creative process.

From Friend G:

We have been good little chickadees, indeed!

Don’t you love that this came from Cosmopolitan?

This list of 100 top children’s books is epically solid, and the people who put it together know of what they speak.

From Friend R:

This is only a fraction of the weird. Believe me, the weird is definitely out there.

From Friend S:

Books that enhance children’s spatial skills development (yes, these exist!)

From Mama Bear:

Everything, because they are timeless. Have we not answered this question yet?

Your kidding me. Its unacceptable. Their doing it all wrong.

Hurrah to my home state! A great initiative!

Could work, could flop.

Trigger warning: This book promotes disobedience and features gender discrimination and segregation. (It’s The Cat in the Hat.)

Learn about some new poems.

From Sister A:

Looking for some great YA reads? Look no further. All excellent choices here.

I love these.

Not a deep guy, but Commonwealth folks love their Enid Blyton.

Some unexpected influences on some usual suspects.

In What’s Annabelle Reading, I read the newest “Robert Galbraith” book (you know who that is), and it was fine, but they just seem so formulaic by this point. I mean, the writing is incredible, obviously, and the mystery is always good, but it’s nothing outrageously wonderful. But always a solid read.

Next I read Lila Perl’s final book, which was well done and surprisingly affecting. After that, don’t laugh, but I read this for the very first time and loved it.

Next, I read the most charming memoir I’ve read in a long time; do pick it up. You will find it so sweet. (Norland nannies are legendary. Will and Kate’s nanny is a Norland nanny, obviously. Here she is in her full uniform at Princess Charlotte’s christening.)

Finally, this made zero sense to me and was a serious disappointment. Can’t win ’em all.

Toddler Storytime, Friday, December 4


I was thrilled to do a surprise! storytime on Monday – I haven’t been doing nearly as many as I’d like, which is my own fault for signing up too late – and rounded up some new books to do with the little ones. They were almost all successful.


Hop, Hop, Jump! was a good way for them to get their sillies out, and Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed needs no discussion. I personally loved Beep! Beep! Go to Sleep!but it would have been better suited for the preschool crowd, who generally love robots more and would have understood the twist ending, which was lost on this crowd.

Yesterday we had a fabulous storytime training. Have you heard of Mother Goose on the Loose, my dear chickadees? It’s a quite specific method of storytime: focused, drum-tight, and set in a routine, and I’m looking forward to trying it. We were trained by the creator of the program, and even got to participate in a sample storytime, as if we were the kids. (Note: you can be trained all you want, but you won’t really “get” it until you see the storytime in person.)

I haven’t mentioned my Sisterly Thanksgiving Field Trip yet. While at home visiting our parents, Sister A and I took a trip to Hagerstown to see an art exhibit near and dear to our hearts.

Who didn’t grow up with Golden Books?


It brought back so many memories for us (and we’re in our 20s and 30s) – most of the exhibited artwork was from books published in the 1950s, so it would have made much more an impression on Mama Bear and Daddio, I’m sure. My favorite piece was done by Richard Scarry, about whom more later.

It was only a small exhibit, but they did have some fun interactive action for the kiddos.


(Or non-kiddos like myself, as the case may be.)

Later, we hit up our favorite used bookstore – it was Small Business Saturday, so we were happy to give them our patronage on that day, of all days, and I snagged a copy of my first favorite book ever, Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever (I literally went through copy after copy as a toddler, and may have actually torn one or two copies to shreds.) I already own a copy, but the one I purchased that Saturday was from the mid-1960s and cost me all of $4.

Now, you may remember a recent brouhaha about how the Best Word Book Ever has changed over the years, so when we got back home, Sister A and I put the two copies cover to cover to see the differences. We paged through them, and boy, have they changed. There is no more Wild West page with depictions of “Indians” and “Squaws” (YIKES).

Here’s a side-by-side cover comparison.


How many differences can you spot on the cover alone between the original and the revised edition? The policeman is now a female police officer; Papa Rabbit is now helping with breakfast; women can be farmers too… etc. etc. Oh, the times they are a-changin’.


In the top spot, from friend L. For Harry Potter fans: the Weasley twins’ fates were right in front of us all along…

This is frankly unsettling.

From Friend D:

Because Turkish Delight is a mystery to Americans, as you’ll see in this article.

The same Dutch architecture firm has been tasked with redoing the main branches of the New York and Washington, D.C. public libraries.


The story is more than the headline.

Well, learn something horrifying every day.

From Friend G:

Excellent choices; I approve, NYT.

From Mama Bear:

Nice to see that President Obama was also at a bookstore for Small Business Saturday. (Where did he get the cash from? Does he go to ATMs? How does that work for the President? Does he just hop out of a limo and stop at the nearest Chase? These are the questions that keep me up at night.)

All the more reason  to go to the Hunterian Museum if you’re in London. It’s fantastic, and like a less outrageous Mutter Museum.

Goucher shoutout holla! #Emma

A love letter to Reading is Fundamental.

Poor grammar makes me, like, go bananas.

Need a new podcast, booklovers? Look no further.

From Sister A:

I hope our Teen Space looks this good after our remodeling!

More Daphne du Maurier from The Toast for your viewing pleasure.

A follow-up to Mama Bear’s link on Emma.

In What’s Annabelle Reading, I read a Judy Blume I’d never read before – one that I’d skipped somehow in my original pre-teen foray through. Don’t judge me!

Then I read a YA book that I loved. It has so much heart, and a protagonist that you will love. I highly recommend it.

And then! There are a bunch of authors “updating” Jane Austen novels, and I managed to get hold of an advanced readers’ copy of Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld’s retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Honestly? I liked it. *ducks from tomatoes*

Most recently, I finished a book I didn’t like very much, but had to wait on the holds list for (isn’t that always the way?). It was… meh. I know Sister A read it, but forgot to ask her how she liked it.