Tag Archives: adult books

Now I’ll Tell You Everything; or, I Am Alice McKinley

by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

There is a generation of women who grew up with Alice McKinley. Her struggles were our struggles, her questions and embarrassments were our own. The first 28 books took us up to her high school graduation and now the final, 500-page installment delivers its title’s promise: it takes us to college with Alice, and through relationships and kids and aging parents, all the way until she’s 60 years old. I imagine Phyllis Reynolds Naylor putting down her pen (or, probably more likely, typing THE END) and thinking, “There. That ought to fend them off until they’re that age, and by that time they’ll be on their own. If they haven’t figured out how to manage without Alice by then, too bad.”

I inhaled this one, reading 400 pages last Sunday and finishing up the last hundred the next evening (it’s unfortunate when work gets in the way of your reading time, even when you work in a library!). I won’t spoil anything, but her life is relatively charmed, though her friends and family have their struggles. The things Alice goes through spoke so clearly to my own life that I feel more than ever that we are the same person, even moreso than when I was a preteen. I can tell you right now that I will be rereading this book, and probably several times.

Applewhites at Wit’s End

by Stephanie Tolan
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

This is the sequel to Surviving the Applewhites, both of which I really enjoyed. The premise of this book is that the family is bankrupt and is going to start a summer camp for creative children to pay the bills. This actually reminded me of the premise of a grownup book I read years ago called When the White House Was Ours by Porter Shreve. The dysfunctional adults and creating their own school were very similar. Main character E.D. is the voice of reason in this family of left-brained artsy types, adults and kids alike, leaving E.D. de facto in charge of details that adults should have thought of. She handles her role with much grace and maturity, yet with a measure of frustration mixed in. The premise is wacky on its own, but the creative climax and resolution of the story are entertaining and clever.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter

by Peggy Orenstein
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

But first, an anecdote: I mentioned the title to a friend and she asked what it was about. I said it was non-fiction and she looked startled. I hastened to add that it didn’t really happen… that Cinderella didn’t actually eat the author’s daughter… and we had a good laugh.

I had high hopes for this book. What I liked about it was that Orenstein’s struggles and questions were so real. She was trying so hard to figure out what the right thing was and do it, but it’s not easy. She waffles a lot and the book is incredibly inconclusive, down to the symbolism and meaning of the Disney Princesses (are they positive role models or not? I’m still unsure). Overall, though, she raises a lot of good questions and actually not answering them seems to prove her point about just how confusing it all is. Worth a read, in any case.

Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever

by Mem Fox
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

I think it’s safe to say this book changed my whole philosophy of storytime. I had asked a new librarian friend for a recommendation about kids and reading and this was what she handed me, without hesitation. This book showed me how important it is to make reading fun from a very young age. I do like order and quiet (come on, I’m in library school) but now I understand that being noisy and involved also has its place (within reason, of course).

I took these lessons to heart this week in my very first storytime at my new job and it was so much fun! The kids and I, and even some of the parents, had a ball. One of the moms even came up to me after to tell me that it was the best storytime she’d ever been to (and she’s a regular).

My one complaint is that, while Mem Fox is a respected author and apparently also teaches about literacy, she makes many claims about what is “commonly known” or that “studies have shown” without backing it up. And really, it was 200 pages with wide margins and lots of space, so there was plenty of room for sources. But in general I loved this book and I am sending it, along with some board books, to a friend who just had a baby.

After all, it’s never too early to read to your child!

Bringing Up Bebe

by Pamela Druckerman
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

I’m taking a quick break from posting the reviews from my kiddie lit class last semester to write a review of this book before I forget what I wanted to say about it 🙂 I really think everyone who works with or has kids should read this. It was reviewed in the New York Times and has long waiting lists at many libraries. Not having any kids yet, but being an avid observer of children and parents, I was intrigued. A good friend of mine spent significant time in France working with kids and is now a lawyer for children in the U.S. so I am curious to hear what she thinks.

But this is my review, so here’s what I thought: The Times review is not terribly conclusive, though it does seem to try to dispel some of Druckerman’s claims. It raised enough questions in my mind to be interested in someone presenting the other side, though Druckerman thoroughly cites her statistics and studies. And there are some things that my American mind just cannot get around, such as no snacking. One mother I know gets agitated when her sister-in-law feeds her kids five minutes before the whole extended family sits down to dinner, so sure, that makes sense. The whole philosophy of learning to be okay with being a little hungry has its place. However, since reading this, I decided to try to stop snacking to see if I could set that example for my own kids one day and I realized that it is incredibly difficult! It’s hard because I would get so hungry – like, nauseously so – and be unable to fall asleep or wake up ravenous and nauseous and unable to do anything until I ate even just a little something. It’s also hard because American culture is not set up for a no-snacking policy. Everyone snacks. There are baked goodies all over my workplace, all the time. Meeting leaders provide them. It is more or less expected, in a way that I gather is not true in French culture. It’s helpful if, as Druckerman claims, an entire country is in on it.

All of France is apparently also in on waiting in general. Druckerman learns to implement “the pause” – wherein the parent, upon hearing the baby fussing while sleeping, waits a few minutes before rushing in to attend to the baby. She states that much of the time, this fussing is just a little waking between sleep cycles and, if left alone, the baby will learn to fall back asleep and therefore learn to sleep through the night much earlier (3 months is the norm in France).

There are other benefits to French culture that I just don’t see happening, like fully funded day care and year-long maternity leave, complete with home visits from a trained medical professional. But the ideas I’ve taken most to heart involve waiting – the pause, and, later, telling your little one to occupy himself while you take care of yourself. Read it for yourself and see what you think!

The Magicians

by Lev Grossman
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I know this is an adult novel, but it just smacks of Harry Potter and Narnia so I thought I’d put it up here. High school senior Quentin is admitted to a college that focuses on magic (Hogwarts). A force of evil penetrates the campus during Quentin’s third year. After graduation, he and his friends figure out a way to travel to the land of Fillory, which was believed to be fictional and is the setting for most children’s favorite fantasy books (Narnia) – Quentin being more obsessed with them than most teenagers. In Fillory, they go on a quest to fight the evil force that had so shaped their school experience.

I thought some parts were well done, such as accounting for and dismissing common problematic issues in fantasy (whether you can take anything with you into the other world, time travel, etc) and the way Grossman patiently explains that this is real, this is what doing magic is like, unlike those other fantasy magic books where they make it look so easy. I also enjoyed the parts where Quentin and his friends turn into animals, thinking they were really insightful and realistic.

The sequel comes out this summer. I’m interested to see what happens, although Quentin isn’t that lovable a character. Sometimes he’s a real jerk, especially to his girlfriend who does become a sympathetic character. At the end of The Magicians, one of Quentin’s high school friends re-enters the picture so I’m curious to see how that goes. There is no indication of what the plot of the second book will be, other than supposedly revolving around a return trip to Fillory. A quick warning that this is what I call Harry Potter for grownups – taking place in college and beyond, there is plenty of drinking, swearing, and sex.