Monday, July 31, 2017

Mid-Year Challenge Check-In

I'm a bit late, but I thought I'd take a peek at my year-long challenges and put together a mid-year progress report. I cut way back on challenges this year and I'm extremely glad I did. Even with the relatively few I am doing, I still feel like I spend too much time tracking, logging, tallying etc. So I'm planning to cut back even further next year -- though my fellow challenge-junkies will know that can be easier said than done!

Overall, I'm very happy with my progress thus far. I've bumped my Goodreads Yearly Goal up numerous times because I log all of my books including picture books and my number is climbing far faster than I anticipated. While we do read plenty of picture books on repeat, we've had many more new-to-us ones this year than I expected (I only log each one once -- I'm not in the business of torturing myself that much!) If I was not including picture books, trust me, my goal would be wayyyy lower than the current 500 I have it set at (and I'm 171 books ahead of schedule -- haha!)

Goal: Konisgburg level; 75+ points
Current Progress: 48 points

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Original artwork by Charles Haigh-Wood (1856-1927)
Goal: Complete Checklist of 102 categories
Current Progress: 92/102 categories

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Goal: My Shelves and I are Going Steady, 51+ books
Current Progress: 27 books

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Goal: Maximizing Returns, 61-80%
Current Progress: 41%
These numbers do not include my garage sale finds from this weekend. I found some really great stuff for very little numbers are definitely going to skew even lower for a while until I catch up on some of these finds, hopefully before the end of the year! I agonized a bit over how to count treasuries (say, a Curious George treasury with 8 full books included in one volume). Since there aren't really any hard rules on those, I'm counting them as I like :) I also decided to count gifts and freebies alongside purchased books because I should not be acquiring (or keeping) them if I don't want to read them, same as the books I buy.

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Goal: 50 books published prior to 2017
Hogwarts Mini Challenge: 4 Scavenger Hunts
Current Progress: 67 (+ TONS of picture books)
Oh hey, I finished my main goal -- woo hoo!
I've made lots of progress on the scavenger hunts, but I haven't submitted anything yet in case I need to shuffle a few titles around.

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Goal: All of the Sherlock stories & novels
Current Progress: 2 stories + 1 novel = A TOTAL BUST!
I gave up on the schedule long ago and plan to continue reading these at my leisure instead of as a challenge.

Goal: Full Card; 49 books
Current Progress: 29 books; no BINGO yet (and definitely no full card yet!)

Friday, July 28, 2017

PSA: LaVar Burton has a podcast!

I just heard about this yesterday on an episode of What Should I Read Next? I was catching up on from when I was away on vacation. So excited! It was basically described as Reading Rainbow for grown-ups and on each episode, LaVar reads a hand-picked piece of short fiction. The latest is a story from Neil Gaiman -- I'm so in!

Go check it out!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Not-So-Random New (Used) Books

The other day, I shared a bunch of totally random books that have made their way onto my shelves. I talked about my local used bookstore and two local community garage sale fundraisers where I went treasure-hunting. The rest of the books I found at these places really don't qualify as random, but I still think they were pretty great finds. My TBR has really exploded since I started delving into KidLit over the past year or two. This was an area that was not previously well-represented on my shelves, but I think I have more than made upfor that deficit at this point!

I won't be sharing books from Amazon or Book Outlet (ahh such good deals!) or my local indie bookshop, though I do buy books from all those places. I really do try to buy a lot of my books used -- for various reasons. For one, I love giving a book a new home -- one man's trash is another man's treasure, right? I know it's a more environmentally friendly option than buying new all the time, especially considering the amount of books I own. Secondly, I like supporting my local used bookstore -- it may be a little pricier than the dearly departed used bookstore near my grandmother's house I visited since I was about 10 years old, but I absolutely want this one to stay in business! Third, when the community garage sales roll around, any money spent is going for a good cause. And lastly, looking for used books is just plain fun because I never know what I might find!

So it's that last reason that really has me wanting to share more of my recent(-ish) finds. And once again, all of these are options for my new limited options TBR approach, so I'm trying to sort out which ones I want to read sooner rather than later. Thoughts and opinions on any of these titles are more than welcome!

Community Garage Sale Finds

My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George
A Newbery Honor. And I really like this cover!

The Cricket in Times Square, by George Selden & illustrated by Garth Williams
A Newbery Honor. And I also vaguely remember Julie mentioning it, possibly as a book she liked reading aloud to her class?

The Sign of the Beaver, by Elizabeth George Speare
A Newbery Honor that sounds familiar from grade school, but I'm not quite sure if I actually ever read it.

The Midnight Fox, by Betsy Byars
This one was specifically recommended by Gretchen Rubin on that WSIRN Kidlit episode I raved about the other day!

Used Bookstore Finds

I went a little further back than I originally intended, but here are a bunch of my favorite finds from the past year (or so).

Newbery Medal Winners
Bridge to Teribithia, by Katherine Paterson
The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare
The View from Saturday, by E.L. Konigsburg

Newbery Honor Books
Hattie Big Sky, by Kirby Larson
Abel's Island, by William Steig
Surviving the Applewhites, by Stephanie S. Tolan
Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen
The Family Under the Bridge, by Natalie Savage Carlson

More Newbery Honor Books
Annie and the Old One, by Miska Miles
Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz

Classic/Modern Classic KidLit authors (& part of a series)
Half Magic, by Edward Eager
Pinky Pye, by Eleanor Estes

More Classics
The Family Collection, by Enid Blyton
An Episode of Sparrows, by Rumer Godden
Miracle on 34th Street, by Valentine Davies (& illustrated by Tomie DePaola!)

Newer fiction
100 Cupboards, by N.D. Wilson
M is for Magic, by Neil Gaiman


Picture Books!

These have pretty much all been read at least once, so they are not factoring into my TBR deliberations, but I thought I would share anyway!

Rhymes for Annie Rose, by Shirley Hughes
Jill over on Orange Marmalade has recommended this author/illustrator many times and I'm glad to have found one by her I really love!

Jamberry, by Bruce Degen
I knew very little of this popular picture book going in, but now I've read it, I really love it.

We have a few other Prelutsky collections on our shelves and this one turned out to be really excellent too!

Chicka, Chicka, 1, 2, 3, by Bill Martin, Jr.
Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom is a favorite around here, so this was a no-brainer. (Though the original is better.)

The Storm Book, by Charlotte Zolotow
I've read a few other Zolotow books and know the name from the award named in her honor. This one turned out to be a beautifully illustrated book for summer.

The Little House, by Virgina Lee Burton
We had read this Caldecott book previously from the library and enjoyed it.

We had a copy of this when I was a kid! I still don't know how to draw, but it just seems like a great reference to have.

The Snowman, by Raymond Briggs
A classic! Anyone else remember the silent cartoon movie? 

A Kiss for Little Bear, by Else Holmelund Minarik & illustrated by Maurice Sendak
It's Sendak! And the Little Bear TV cartoons are cute, so I thought we should explore some of the originals.

Baby Bug back issues
What a find! I had just subscribed to this magazine for little man and had been looking at the (expensive) individual back issues online and decided I was not going to be spending that kind of money on them. And then one of the community garage sales had 15 back issues for a buck a piece -- or maybe it was 50 cents? -- either way, I snapped them up because they cost a mere fraction of the price on the Cricket website. And thankfully, my little guy really like them. I'll have to do a full review of this magazine one of these days.

Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?, by Bill Martin, Jr. & illustrated by Eric Carle
It's Eric Carle! Though I definitely like Brown Bear, Brown Bear better.

Christmas Mice, by Richard Scarry
A Richard Scarry Christmas book for 50 cents!

Give Me Grace, by Cynthia Rylant
I've really liked everything I read by Rylant so far and had been meaning to try this one from the library anyway when I spotted a copy. It's a rhyming book of children's prayers for each day of the week that I'm very glad we have on our shelves.

Slide and Find: Trucks, by Roger Priddy
I don't care for reading this type of book aloud, but little man LOVES exploring it on his own.

The Little Drummer Boy, by Ezra Jack Keats
It may be a Christmas book, but this is a year-round favorite for my little guy and really beautifully illustrated.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Random New Books

Over the past few months, I've added a few completely random books to my shelves. These are books that were never on my radar prior to taking them home. Quite a few of them, I'm not even sure if I want to read. I know that sounds really strange, but bear with me, I shall explain! Given this odd state of affairs, I thought I would share these random finds to see if anyone has any thoughts or opinions on them.

Used bookstore freebies!

In the fantastic kids section of our local used bookstore.
He sat like this for 20+ minutes while Mommy browsed :):)
And yes, we bought that book!

For every $20 you spend at my local used bookstore, you get to pick a free book from a specific shelf near the register. I'm not one to pass up a free book, but it's not often I spot something there I was already interested in reading. I'm often browsing this hodgepodge shelf with one eye (and hand) on my climbing toddler and making sure he pets the bookshop dog gently. Or at least that's what happened the last time we went! (And thank goodness the owner likes kids!)

Blue Willow, by Doris Gates 
I had never heard of this author or title before and this old, tattered copy definitely didn't catch my eye at first glance. But then I spotted "A Newbery Honor Book" on the cover and knew it was going to be one of my picks!

Trouble River, by Betsy Byars
Betsy Byars is a Newbery author and I heard Gretchen Rubin recommend her books on a Kidlit For Adults episode of the What Should I Read Next? podcast (FANTASTIC episode that was part of a 5-day mini-series dedicated to KidLit; episodes #49-53, FYI.)

I knew nothing about this book, but it's by Lois Lowry, so it was my freebie pick a few months ago. And it turns out it is part of a series Anne Bogel and Sarah Mackenzie talked about on their WSIRN KidLit episode that kicked off that 5-day mini-series.

They Sent Me The Wrong Book!

The Dunderhead War, by Betty Baker
This one is super random because it landed in my mailbox as the result of an ISBN mix-up when I ordered a different used kids book. The seller refunded my money and told me to keep it, but I really have no idea if I want to read it or not! I haven't even found a good description of it because the summary on Goodreads is for that other book I thought I was buying. So odd!

Community Garage Sale Finds

During the spring, I went to two different community garage sales run by local schools as fundraisers. I really wanted to pick up some clothes and things for little man (which I did), but you don't think I passed by the books without looking do you? Since they were run by schools, most of the items donated for sale were from families and sure enough there were some gems to be found. I figure this is because lots of kids (and parents) clear out books they've outgrown or books they read for class and don't want to keep. So there were lots of Newberys and classic authors which are right up my alley these days! They were all selling for $0.50 - $2 each at most, so I brought home quite a few.

Catwings, by Ursula K. LeGuin
I read The Wizard of Earthsea for a Sci-Fi and Fantasy Lit course in college, but I had no idea LeGuin also wrote a chapter book series. I was intrigued!

The Reluctant Dragon, by Kenneth Grahame & illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard
I know Grahame wrote The Wind in the Willows and Shepard illustrated the Winnie the Pooh books, but I had never heard of this collaboration before. Again, intrigued!

This is really pretty Hallmark gift book that caught my eye. I was amazed to open it and realize it was printed in 1967!

Jack and Jill, by Louisa May Alcott
Obviously, I know of Alcott, but I had never even heard of this title previously. The actual book cover (shown in the photo) is so much prettier than the dust jacket, which I thought was unusual for an older book (but correct me if I'm wrong!)

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The rest of the books I found at the used bookstore and community garage sales recently were not so random and I will share those in another post soon. Since I want to read more from my own shelves (as always!) as I move forward with my limited choices TBR approach, I thought it would be fun to share some of the books I have to pick from. And the results of these little treasure hunts always seem more interesting to me than plunking a book in my Amazon cart (not that I don't do that too!)

Have you come across any random bookish finds lately? Please share in the comments!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The appeal of limited choices... and the irony of my overflowing bookshelves

Last week I was away on my family's annual summer beach vacation to Ocean City, NJ. It's not as well-known as Ocean City, MD, but it holds a special place in my heart. I was there for my first birthday (not that I remember it!) and in my (almost) 32 years, I think I've only completely missed the trip one summer. To be honest, there's nothing fancy or even terribly unique about it, it's *just* a family-friendly beach town far enough from home to be a getaway, but not so far that the drive is miserable. And while it may not particularly stand out compared to any number of other beach towns along the coast, I absolutely love it. For me, it really doesn't get much better than sitting by the ocean with my feet in the sand and a book in my lap (and hiding under the umbrella, thank you very much). 

The beach photos aren't current, but it pretty much looks the same :)

My husband knew Ocean City is pretty much my favorite place on the planet which is why he chose to propose there (10 years ago!) And while I love lots of beach "activities" as my brother likes to call them, this year was all about the relaxation. Little man had lots of people to play with and look out for him, so mama got a much needed break (even if we were up at the crack o' dawn every morning.)

This is all basically a long-winded way of saying that I read a bunch of books last week! I had a bag packed with Newberys, novels-in-verse, a poetry collection, and a couple of really beautiful chapter books. I chose all of them from my own shelves and focused mostly on ones I'd excitedly acquired recently, but hadn't gotten around to reading yet. I did make a last minute stop at the library on our way out of town (literally) to pick up my hold for book #4 of The Naturals series, but that was the only library book I had with me. I was really looking forward to reading it after finishing book #3, so I couldn't resist diving into that one first on vacation. Despite it being a real page-turner, it did take up a big chunk of my vacation reading time. (And this means I actually FINISHED a whole series! You guys, that's kind of big for me. Anyone else feel me on this?)

But what I really want to talk about is what happened on the last few days of my vacation after I finished that library book. First, I picked up the two chapter books (My Happy Life and Princess Cora and the Crocodile knowing something light was just what I needed after a dark and twisty mystery. They were beautiful and delightful and I couldn't believe I hadn't read them sooner after buying them. Next, I picked up the poetry collection (recommended on Orange Marmalade!) and was treated to 21 gorgeously illustrated poems. I took my time with them and read many of them more than once -- and while they may not all be new favorites, I enjoyed the reading experience immensely.

Next up was Inside Out & Back Again, a Newbery Honor novel-in-verse inspired by the author's real life experience as a refugee during the Vietnam War. It was a beautiful and inspiring book full of both sadness and hope. Being able to read it straight through in a single afternoon without distractions was such a gift. Next up was a lighter middle grade anthology, Funny Girl which was a bit hit or miss for me, but do yourself a favor and read/listen to some Carmen Agra Deedy (like her Scholastic Reads podcast episode or TEDx Talk) -- she's such an amazing storyteller and her contribution was my favorite by far. Lastly, I picked up Newbery Medal winner Sarah, Plain and Tall. Admittedly, I chose it over others in my bag because it was so slim (and I didn't quite finish it while I was away), but it certainly qualified as a book I owned and had been meaning to read.

I ended my vacation thinking to myself: Reading from my own shelves is so great! They may have been short and easy, but I read almost six of my own books in three days! I can do this reading-from-my-own-shelves-thing! I'm going to keep this ball rolling when I get back home for sure!

And then I got home. And I saw the library stack(s).

Riiiiiight. That's why I always have so much trouble reading from my own shelves most of the time. Hmmm.

So I've been home almost a week now and I have read from those library stacks. I've ordered the Sarah, Plain and Tall sequels because I really want to read the rest of the series straight through. I've visited the library, but (so far) only borrowed picture books. I've visited both of my local bookstores (looking for the Sarah, Plain and Tall sequels, which they didn't have, but you don't think I left empty-handed now do you?) I have not picked up any more books from my own shelves (yet). But I have been thinking it all over and trying to figure out how to better balance my reading. And I think it all comes down to the appeal of limited choices. It was so easy to read from my own shelves on vacation because I had one bag of books to choose from. Simple as that.

Continuing with that logic, you'd think the public library with its thousands upon thousands of titles would leave me with too many choices, but once I take a stack home... I once again have limited choices. It's easy to read from my library stack partly because due dates help me prioritize, but also because I'm picking from only a handful of titles -- far fewer than when I take a peek at my own overflowing bookshelves and don't know where to start.

So where does this leave me? It's pretty embarrassing to admit I have so many books it's hard to decide what to read next. It's pretty embarrassing to admit that having so many books hasn't stopped me from getting more when I hear great recommendations on podcasts or blogs or find a great deal or go down a rabbit hole with a new-to-me author/series/topic/award. It's pretty embarrassing to admit how many books I get (mostly children's) with the intention of building a home library for our family, even though so many are far above my son's level and I can't possibly keep up with them all myself. BUT I think I do have a solution.

Book buying bans don't work.

Library bans don't work.

Making reading into a chore or a job or a thing to check off a to-do list doesn't work.

But what does work? Filling a bag with books (mostly) from my own shelves that I'm really excited about and letting those be my "short-list" when it's time to pick my next read. I can't be on vacation all the time, but just maybe I can approach my reading as if I were packed for vacation all the time. I think it's worth a shot!

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P.S. I love Jade's idea for seasonal reading lists and it strikes me as sort of a variation of what I'm trying to do here.

P.P.S. Can I go back to the beach now? Pretty please?