Books from all corners of the world!

With less than a week left of 2015, I’ve started thinking about this past year and the future year to come. The past few days at the library have been really slow, but has allowed the few of us who have worked there over the holidays to talk a lot and sort of get to know each other a little bit better. One of my co-workers is resolving to read more books next year. This seems to be a fairly common resolution, with people coming up with challenges and goals around how many books they want to read, certain topics they want to delve more into in the coming year, etc. A regular patron of ours came in yesterday to pick up an inter-library loan that arrived for her this week and, for the first time, I heard that she’s actually working toward a reading goal herself. I thought she was just very interested in books and topics that we don’t seem to have in our library system, but no! She’s doing a very interesting and cool project. She is trying to read one book from every country. She’s not just wanting to read a book about every country; her project is to read a native author’s writings about their native country. There are some good links to websites that can help with this sort of project. Yesterday she picked up Malta. I hadn’t known this was something she was doing, so I really need to ask her more about it the next time I see her. I find this goal really fascinating! What a good idea, I thought! The most difficult part seems to be finding these books translated into English.

I don’t know how this particular patron came about deciding to do this. When googling around about it, I found an article from The Atlantic about a woman in London who did this project: International Literature Challenge

Here’s another really decent list: Reading the World

I remember a Goodreads challenge from several years ago that included reading books translated from another language. It is really not as easy to find translated materials as you might expect. Now that I know what this particular patron is doing, I’m remembering all of the ILLs that she’s had recently. Public libraries are somewhat limited to what they can offer someone in this type of project, but the beauty of inter-library loan is that you don’t just have one library at your disposal, you have hundreds!

Anyway, as you leave 2015 behind and are thinking about the next year, is there any sort of reading goal that you’ve set for yourself? I haven’t yet set one for me. I was looking over the Reading the World list though, and there are some interesting looking titles on there. I don’t want to hop on a bandwagon, but it would be nice to broaden the scope of what I’m reading. I’m not a reading snob by any means. I applaud anybody reading anything. However, I felt a pang of inadequacy for a brief moment when a co-worker told me he’s reading his way through Proust. I’m reading my way through “A Duke but No Gentleman”, the first in a new series of romance paperbacks.

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Mock Caldecott 2016

It’s less than a month until the Caldecott 2016 Award will be announced. The committee doesn’t do a shortlist for the Caldecott or Newbery that I’ve ever been able to find. It’s all sort of hushed up, which leaves us children’s librarians to our own devices. Throughout the year, I’ve been processing the new books with an eye toward the illustrations and a wonder at which of these artists will be given the coveted Caldecott Award for best illustration in an American Picture Book come January. Well, I don’t know. Unfortunately, being immersed in the world of picture books and storytimes and preschoolers doesn’t make me inherently knowledgeable about what the committee is looking for when picking their winners for the children’s book awards.

But, if I were to choose a set of nominees, here would be mine. I can highly recommend all of these books if you’re still looking for a beautiful picture book to give away this Christmas:

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The Last Stop on Market Street
written by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson.
I liked this book so much last summer that I wrote a blog post dedicated to it. I still love it. My preschoolers loved the illustrations. Plus, I feel like the story is set in the reality that my community confronts every day, and that’s good for my kids to see. It’s good that there is a story that reflects the beauty of their community, even when that community includes things like homelessness and graffiti and is not the typical storybook setting.

 
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Boats for Papa written & illustrated by Jessixa Bagley.
This is it for me. This might be my top choice for Caldecott. The problem for the committee might be the topic that it deals with, but the illustrations are beautiful and I really really love this book. This is the exact type of book that I look for when recommending titles to parents who are searching for books dealing with major issues and how to explain things to children when the parents themselves are struggling to find the words. This book deals with loss and grieving in the most beautifully loving way. No judging the ways in which someone grieves, no time limits for grieving, nothing. Love and understanding and patience are what shine in this beautiful and gentle story. The illustrations are so well done and very detailed. You see the details in the boats and the emotions on the faces of Mama and little Buckley. It’s just…great. If this book isn’t even a nominee for Caldecott 2016, I will be sad.

 

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Sidewalk Flowers “written” by Jon Arno Lawson; illustrated by Sydney Smith
This is a wordless book, so the entire story is told by the illustrations alone and Smith does a fantastic job. It’s really a beautifully written piece of art. The father and daughter are out for a stroll and the father is pre-occupied while the little girl collects wildflowers she finds along the route and she gives them to people as they go. The illustrator uses black and white at first, and as the story progresses and the girl gives away more and more flowers, the pages become beautifully colorful. She lights up the world with her generosity. It’s gonna give you a big case of the happies. I haven’t really heard much buzz about this book, so I don’t know if it’s even on people’s radar, but I’m putting it out there as one of the best wordless books I’ve seen this year.

 

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Waiting written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
So, Henkes is sort of a King among children’s lit authors. He’s won this award before. He is revered in some circles. But, there’s a reason and this book is a great example of the genius of Henkes. He just gets it. It’s simple. It’s about waiting for something to happen. Seriously, that’s all it’s about. The book is about five friends who sit on a windowsill and wait. Each are waiting for something different and amazing to happen. The illustrations are gentle and pastel-y and beautiful. It’s just…adorable. That’s what it is. Adorable. I would be surprised if it’s not a big contender for the Caldecott, not just for the name recognition, but it is freaking adorable.

 

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Water is Water : A book about the Water Cycle written by Miranda Paul; illustrations by Jason Chin
Okay. This title is not good. I will give you that. It totally doesn’t scream ‘PICK ME UP AND READ ME. I’M AWESOME.’ Beautifully written and illustrated non-fiction picture books are somewhat rare, which is why, when one comes along, we all need to shout it out to the heavens. I’m shouting out because this book is excellent. It is written in a bit of a language pattern, showing the different states of being for water through liquid phase, gas phase, solid phases, which is great for kids. It hits water, fog, mist, rain, ice, snow, etc. The illustrations are out of this world, too. This should be a major contender for the Caldecott if the title doesn’t hurt it’s chances.

 

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The Whisper written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
This is probably the big buzzy leader going into the final few weeks of the year. Zagarenski is an amazing artist, no doubt. The book is beautifully written and deals with librarians favorite topics: books and the power of imagination. I see what the fuss is about. It is for these reasons that I think it’s got a really strong chance at being named the top picture book of 2015. I think it’s a great book, but I wouldn’t read this to my preschoolers. This is the sort of book that I think adults love more than kids do. This is the book that you buy as an adult because you love books and you love to read and this book makes you feel all the feels about the power of reading. It’s good. But, as for best picture book of the year, I personally hope it goes to a book that kids would love to read as well. The story here is just a bit abstract, although the illustrations are beautifully detailed. Zagarenski has been a Caldecott honoree twice, so perhaps the third time is the charm this year?

 

Other possiblities:

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Yard SaleĀ written by Eve Bunting; illustrations by Lauren Castillo
Another favorite book of mine because it deals with a difficult topic for kids and parents alike. The family is facing foreclosure and having to sell all their belongings and move into a small apartment. The yard sale is the final effort at making some money to begin anew in the little apartment. Bunting and Castillo handle this difficult topic so gently and beautifully. The struggle of the parents and the little girl to let go and accept what’s happening is so clear in the illustrations but the story with Eve Bunting at the helm (another giant of children’s lit) is so well done. It’s a really great book. Highly recommended. I don’t know if it will make it onto the committee’s nomination list or not, but it’s a fantastic book no matter what.

 

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A Fine Dessert : Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat written by Emily Jenkins; illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Another non-fiction picture book that knocks it out of the park! Hurraaaay! This one is about a simple recipe, but illustrates the progress of the culinary industry over the course of four hundred years. The illustrations are detailed and beautiful. The story is repetitive, but distinctly shows the differences in each century and each family’s living arrangements. I really liked this book. It has been on a few lists of the year’s best picture books, so it has a recognition base already. It might be a good sleeper choice for the Caldecott!

 

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The Day the Crayons Came Home written by Drew Daywalt; illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
This is the follow-up to the wonderful book “The Day the Crayons Quit”, which is a big hit with my preschoolers. This time, there are crayons who want to be rescued rather than quit their job as coloring tools. I like this book, but I am pulling for a picture book that’s original (not that this idea is old or anything, but these two did so well on the first book, I sort of wish they’d have just left it alone rather than trying to cash in again…but that’s sort of a petty reason to leave them excluded from a list like this.) It’s already won some awards based on popularity by readers. Whether or not that pulls the awards committee into giving the Caldecott to Jeffers, I don’t know. As I said, a great book, sure to please the kids and adults alike, but I’m hoping for the winner to be something more original this year.

 

 

Okay, those are my picks. I hope I have at least a few honorees and maybe the medal winner on here. The choice is announced on Monday, January 11th at 8 am during the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards in Boston. Happy reading!

Reflections of a (former) pilgrim

I’ve been home from the Camino for over a month now and I have some final thoughts to share. In case people are interested in doing something like this on their own, I have just a few pieces of advice to pass along. Everyone’s camino is different, and for me, when my experience was great, it was really great, but when it wasn’t good, it really wasn’t good. My camino was a struggle (although, everyone’s is in someway, I believe. We all have our own struggles and part of being a pilgrim and putting yourself willfully through something as challenging as walking across a country is going to be a struggle, no matter how prepared or experienced you think you are.)

But if I were to go again (which I am still not inclined to do yet), I would keep these ten things in mind:

  1. The best item I had was a pair of wool gloves. They had half-fingers that could be turned into mittens. They were perfect protection from the rain, cold, and blisters from the rubber hiking pole handle. It was a late addition to my pack from my Dad, who picked them up on a whim for me at a global market fest in Albuquerque.
  2. Take a sleeping bag. I was so cold many nights because I only had a sleep sack (like a liner). The extra weight could be an issue, but I think it’s really worth it. I thought that places would be heated and I was wrong. A couple of albergues provided some woolen blankets, which I had no qualms about using (although other pilgrims refused to use them because they didn’t believe they were ever washed). But, I only really had one or two nights (not in a hotel) where there was a radiator that actually worked in the dormitory room. Mostly, I was cold a lot.
  3. Go at your own pace. There is nothing wrong with walking slowly or walking quickly. If you find that your pace is too different to allow you to walk with others, just stop and have breaks; eat lunch with other pilgrims; chat; go to mass; hang out in the albergues. While walking with people is nice — the most social part of the camino is the albergues and your pace (no matter what it might be) will allow you to take part in the albergue experience.
  4. Take a break from the albergues sometimes. We all need space.
  5. Listen to your body. (This seems to really go well with tip #3). Stop and rest when you need to. Don’t let others determine where you need to walk to each day. Nobody knows your limits but you. Listen to your body if you want to walk into Santiago de Compostela. If you want to arrive in Santiago by train, bus, or taxi, feel free to ignore your body’s warnings. It will force you to stop if you refuse to listen.
  6. Do stay connected to family and friends back home, but don’t let that connection control your pilgrimage. Having a line of communication available is good — but not to the point of distraction. Family need to know you’re okay. The camino is hard and can bring up all sorts of emotions and it’s good for you to have the option of a text to a parent or sibling or child when you could really use the support. And vice versa. You’re wandering alone through a foreign country and it’s bound to make people who love you anxious for your safety. Give them a break and allow them to check in with you now and again.
  7. The synthetic exercise clothing reeks of sweat after just 1-2 days of walking. It’s awful. Cotton and wool clothing are best. Don’t buy that high priced sweat-wicking stuff. It might be great for quick runs in the suburbs when you can go home and wash it immediately after you’re done, but it’s not good for weeks out on a trail with few laundry options. All pilgrims smell, but when other pilgrims are commenting on how much your clothes stink, believe me, you reek. I met two pilgrims from Australia who stocked up on these types of clothes and only brought them, thinking it was the best way to go and they were so frustrated at how much they smelled and how difficult it was to get their clothes clean. Avoid their mistake.
  8. Don’t expect this to change your life. Don’t put so many expectations on this single experience. Really. It’s a walk. It may impact you enormously and it may not. It is what it is. Just try to enjoy it as much as you can. The peace of walking through nature is nice in itself, whether you end your pilgrimage with some monumental decisions made or not. Enjoy the walk.
  9. There will be moments/hours/days that will make you think this was a terrible mistake. You will think this was the worst idea you’ve ever had and ask how could you do this to yourself but remember: you chose this. Try to remember, when you are miserable and full of doubt, what made you want to do this Camino. Focus on that and it will help to get you through. When the whole thing is over, you will be amazed at what you’ve accomplished. It’s a big deal to walk far enough to get a Compostela. Each pilgrim earns that, whether they walked fast or slowly, from France or from Sarria. Each step is an achievement in itself and the self-doubt you feel during your Way is yet another shared experience with other pilgrims.
  10. People at home will not –on the whole– care to hear much about your Camino. This experience is personal to you and surreal to others. It is difficult to explain and not of interest to most of the folks who ask you politely how it went. It’s best to come up with a quick one sentence answer, usually a positive thing, and just stick with that.

I think those ten things cover most of the advice I feel qualified to give if anybody who actually wants to do this asks me about it, or reads this blog. Most people are impressed with the idea of walking so far, but don’t really care to delve too deeply into the particulars. And I’m okay with that. I don’t really want to re-live the Camino just yet. I’m still happy with being home, although I have begun to notice the peace of mind that I had in Spain during the walk is fading away back here in the busy everyday world of mine. I initially felt very settled back here in in Albuquerque. Moreso than I was before I went. I was restless before I left for Spain and I was happy to be home afterward. Happy to be back in my little apartment and back at work doing storytimes and helping kids find books. I felt like I was where I should be. I still feel that a bit, but I can tell it’s fading already. I’m not ready to go on a vacation again, but the peace of mind I had has been sort of chipped away at in the month I’ve been home. I think partly it is to do with the general hectic nature of the holidays. But, I hope to find that sense of calm again. At least I know now that a good long walk outside, away from the streets and honking horns of the city will do me good. I don’t feel like I personally did much soul-searching on the Camino. I don’t really think I had much in the way of huge dilemmas to focus on, no life-altering decisions to be made, no major upheavals to think about… but I did find an inner sense of peace and I did return with a less restless soul than I went out there with. So, I’m grateful for that.

I guess my final thought on this whole thing would be about the feeling that people need to make life-long connections on the Way. I met a lot of pilgrims who were almost obsessed with getting the contact information of every pilgrim they met. They wanted to connect on socialĀ  media, they wanted to text by phone, they wanted e-mail addresses. They wanted to stay in touch after the pilgrimage was completed. I was strongly adverse to this mindset.

I don’t think it’s necessary to stay connected to people you meet along the Camino. I think the interactions you have with other pilgrims is genuine and sincere and can be very deep and you will remember them for a long time, but you don’t need to carry the specific connections away from that pilgrim world into the everyday world of your separate lives. I still feel very strongly that, for me at least, it was important that I not know too much about these people’s lives back home. I deliberately didn’t learn last names or whether people were married or had children or anything. This doesn’t mean we only had superficial conversations. On the contrary, it was almost like you could speak more freely and sincerely due to the fact that these were people you would never see again. Every conversation was a chance to spill out your feelings to someone who was going to listen and respond in a way that they might not listen or respond to someone who they knew they’d be dealing with again for months and years to come. The camino allows for very deep conversations and arguments and real interactions with people for a very short time. Just a conversation over tea or over dinner or over a snack while sitting on the edge of a public fountain. That is what makes the camino special, to me. The fact that you have these face-to-face conversations with strangers that might only last a brief time, but which will stick with you for a long time to come. But you don’t know their names. This is why I think people say that there are angels on the Camino. I think there truly are, but I also came to believe that every pilgrim and every person you meet on the camino is angelic. They have a lasting impact, but are only with you for a moment. It’s really something. I don’t think I would treasure it as much as I do if I came home and saw on social media that these people I had wonderful conversations with over dinner are complaining about the refugees, or going through a bitter divorce, or are whining about their work life, etc. For me, I don’t want to know that stuff. I honestly don’t think I’d like some of the people I met along the Camino very much if I knew them very well. But, because I didn’t want to know too much about their personal lives, I feel like I can remember them with some sort of fondness. At least as part of a moment during a special experience in my life. So, I didn’t come home from this whole experience with life-long friends who I will send Christmas cards to and share inside jokes with about a pilgrim’s life on the Way of St. James, but some people do. Some people choose to “collect” other pilgrims as they go and make a strong effort to stay connected, as if the experience doesn’t mean as much unless they can have people to talk to who were part of it once it’s over. And I can understand that, too. Especially when you come home and realize that most people don’t want to hear much about what you’ve done. But, I think it’s just another personal decision that each pilgrim has to make on their own.