Shelf Love Reading Challenge

Happy November! In the spirit of giving thanks, I’d like to propose another challenge: this month, be thankful for what you own. When it comes to reading, simply select from the books already on your shelves and refrain from procuring new ones.

If you’re anything like me, or any of my book-loving friends, you have a whole stack of books you’ve bought, but just haven’t gotten around to yet. For just this month, let’s avoid excuses to expand our collections and turn to our oft-forgotten previous purchases instead.

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Just some of the many, many books I have yet to read.

The Challenge Defined

Refrain from acquiring any new books that are not already in your possession.

This means no purchasing books, renting books from the library, downloading free books online, taking free books (e.g., from a Little Free Library), or anything else someone sneaky may have thought of that I’ve omitted here.

Benefits

Why should you do it with me?

  1. Everyone likes to check items off a list. Think of how productive you’ll feel crossing off the books you’ve had on your to-read list all these years.
  2. Think of your wallet! If my recent romance novel binge has taught me anything, it’s that $2.99 can really add up quickly. You might as well get your hard-earned money’s worth from the books you already own.
  3. It’s so easy to download a new book with just the simple click of a button. This challenge will be a great way to break that nasty habit.
  4. Because why not? It’s just one month.

Whaddya say? Can you commit to 30 days of reading from your current collection?

I vow to keep you posted by updating the blog with my current reads. Please comment with your own progress!

Mama Bear’s Fall 2016 Reading List

Now that we are almost a month into the new season, I’m back to deliver my fall reading list. Since I was perhaps a little overzealous with my summer list, I’ve kept this one a tad shorter. The goal is to inspire you to pick up some of these books, not overwhelm you with too many options. Happy reading!

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Fall Recommendations

Remember, I strongly encourage you to step outside your comfort zone and read something in a new genre. It’s healthy to try new things!

Biography

The Chris Farley Show

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The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts by Tom Farley, Jr.
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If you, like me, are a longtime fan of Chris Farley and all of his larger-than-life characters, then you should read this book. It chronicles Farley’s life through the eyes of his closest friends and family.

Everyone who was around in the 1990s and tuned in to popular culture knows some detail around his premature death, but this book reminds us how he was so much more than his boisterous comedic abilities and drug addiction. By all accounts, he was a kind, sincere, loyal, and tortured soul. Some stories are heartwarming and charming, others are heartbreaking, but all in all, this book does a phenomenal job of differentiating, remembering, and celebrating the man, the myth, and the legend of Chris Farley.

Fiction

Geek Love

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Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
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Geek Love is not for the faint of heart. Though it’s essentially a story of the powerful ties that can both bind and break family, its central characters are not at all as ordinary as that description makes them sound. No, they’re “circus freaks,” and proud of it; in order to secure their future as successful carnival owners, the Binewskis decide to breed their own freak family by having the mother consume chemicals, drugs, and radioactive materials during pregnancy. (Note: this was very difficult to read during pregnancy.) The survivors of such experiments include the story’s central characters: Arty, a boy with flippers instead of hands or feet, Elly and Iphy, conjoined twins, Oly, a hunchbacked albino dwarf, and Chick, a boy who looks normal but has telekinetic powers.

As bizarre as this already sounds, the story continues to darken as the children age and struggle to adjust to their familial roles. Then, of course, there’s Arty’s pro-self-mutilation cult and subsequent battle for dominance and Oly’s tailed stripper daughter to really round out the story. Stick with me.

If you can handle a little dose of horror, you’ll find that this book is beautifully and hauntingly told. While the characters are extraordinary and their actions often grotesque, each one is unmistakably human and relatable in the most unexpected of ways. This book will make you think about everything from your relationships to other people’s motives to what is right and what is wrong. It’s a pretty deep read, but one you won’t regret.

Serena

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Serena by Ron Rash
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The tale of a Depression-era timber baron, George, and his arguably more powerful wife, Serena, is one that takes readers on a bit of a wild ride. The time period alone is one that makes me shiver in its bleakness, but Rash goes above and beyond to richly pit his characters against both the unforgiving landscape and each other.

The story is interesting in itself, but the real reason I recommend this book is because Serena is one of the most interesting characters I’ve read about in a long time. She’s self-assured, confident, strong, and, well, basically just a boss. That’s not to say she’s good–she does try to kill her husband’s illegitimate son, after all–but it’s just so hard to come by such a strong female character, especially one from this time period. The thrills, passion, and heartbreak threaded throughout this novel will move you and make you feel a little like you’re staring at a car crash from which you can’t seem to turn away.

Humor

Me Talk Pretty One Day 

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Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
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I am often asked for book recommendations and this is usually the first one I suggest. Sedaris has a slew of hilarious memoirs, but this one has stuck with me the most and I think it’s because of the way he recounts trying to learn and adjust to French culture. Rather than talking about his distinct voice and trying to convey his particular brand of humor, I’m just going to quote my favorite passage.

“On my fifth trip to France I limited myself to the words and phrases that people actually use. From the dog owners I learned “Lie down,” “Shut up,” and “Who shit on this carpet?” The couple across the road taught me to ask questions correctly, and the grocer taught me to count. Things began to come together, and I went from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly. “Is thems the thoughts of cows?” I’d ask the butcher, pointing to the calves’ brains displayed in the front window. “I want me some lamb chop with handles on ’em.”

You’re doing yourself an injustice if you don’t pick this up. In fact, I’m doing myself an injustice by not rereading it right now.

Romance

Knitting in the City Series

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Neanderthal Seeks Human by Penny Reid (book one in series)
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At the center of this series is a group of women who are part of a knitting circle and each book features one of their love stories. (For what it’s worth, the second book was my favorite because it’s got the whole friends-turned-lovers trope, which I unabashedly love.)

Unlike many contemporary romance novels, the women in these books are multi-dimensional and smart and the men are respectful and gentlemanly. They are a reminder that good romance heroes don’t need to be borderline abusive to be sexy and that sweet and smoldering can and do co-exist.

The Virgin Romance Novelist

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The Virgin Romance Novelist by Meghan Quinn
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Here’s another friends-to-lovers book that made me laugh out loud and smile until my cheeks hurt. Rosie is an extremely awkward yet incredibly lovable aspiring romance novelist. And, as you guessed it, she’s a virgin. When she realizes she can’t possibly write sex scenes without some experience, she throws herself into the dating world. This, of course, forces her resident playboy best friend and roommate, Henry, to realize his attraction and make his move. Yes, the arc might be a little cliché, but I cringed, I laughed, I swooned, and I loved every minute of it. (Note: I wasn’t as big of a fan of the sequel, unfortunately.)

Thriller

Sharp Objects

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Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
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Lovers of Gone Girl need to read Gillian Flynn’s debut novel if they haven’t already. Sharp Objects is a psychological thriller about Camille Preaker, a journalist who is sent back to her small hometown to cover the investigation of the murder and disappearance of two young girls.

Once there, she is thrown back into the complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with her estranged mother and younger half-sister. Flynn brilliantly weaves together Camille’s tormented past as it relates to the crimes about which she is there to report, all the while leaving you unsure who can be trusted. At its core, this quick-paced novel is about secrets, family, jealousy, and mental health. You’ll read it late into the night, sweating nervously under your sheets until you finish. And it’ll be worth it.

Your Thoughts

Have you read any of these? If so, what were your thoughts?

What are your favorite books to read in the fall? Let’s start a conversation!

Baby Bear’s Favorite Children’s Books Part II

We just completed Rahm’s Little Readers, the Chicago Public Library’s summer reading program that challenges kids to read at least 500 minutes between June and September. In addition to reading, participants must complete two activities from each of the following categories: talking, singing, writing, and playing. Technically speaking, Baby Bear doesn’t write yet–or talk or sing much, for that matter–but luckily for him, his Mama Bear had some crayons and a strong grip to force his hand.

Nonetheless, when you read for at least 500 minutes, you end up repeating a lot of the same books. It’s necessary, then, to find books you, the reader, genuinely enjoy as much as your babe.

The following books are among our favorite right now, be it for their illustrations, text, and/or interactivity. Take a look and maybe you’ll find your next favorite, too! (See part one for more ideas.)

Another Short List

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

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Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle
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It’s only fitting that the first book on this list is a nod to one of the very things this blog’s name references. Eric Carle is undeniably one of the most beloved children’s book authors and illustrators of all time (he’s 87 now!). Fun fact of the day: Brown Bear was a collaboration. It was this book that actually kicked off his career in 1967, followed by the arguably more famous The Very Hungry Caterpillar in 1969.

Baby Bear and I started reading Brown Bear mostly because liked it so much, but before long, I noticed that he’d reach for it on his own. He seems captivated by Carle’s signature bright and blocky illustrations (much to my chagrin, he wiggles in excitement every time we land on the damned purple cat) and eagerly turns the pages to see which animal is next. What’s especially fun is when he points along on the last spread as we recap all of the animals.

Curious George Pat-A-Cake!

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Curious George Pat-A-Cake! by H.A. Rey
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Who wouldn’t love Curious George in finger puppet form? Baby Bear sure does, and has been grabbing George’s little monkey hands for as long as he’s known how to move his own.

With five brightly colored pages of pat-a-cake rhymes, from the classic “baker’s man” verse to an appropriately themed “yellow hat man” one, babies can’t help but to smile and clap along. This is a great diversion book, too, having stopped at least a few crying fits in this household.

My First Slide-Out Book of Colors

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My First Slide-Out Book of Colors written by Early Start Editors and illustrated by Abdi Moshiri
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No, the text in this one isn’t exactly Newbery material, but it’s straight-forward and easy for even the youngest listeners to understand. Each page shows a color followed by two objects of that color. A third object is shown in black and white until the reader pulls out its corresponding tab and its color is revealed. For example, “This is the color yellow. The chick is yellow. The taxi is yellow. What color is the banana?” When you pull out the tab, you learn that the banana is yellow! Good job; you’re getting the hang of it!

Just recently, Baby Bear has become a little obsessed with pulling out and pushing in each tab. Every time we read it, he is engrossed to the point where he actually wants to flip it back and start over. At this pace, this kid is going to know his colors early!

What I also like about the book is that it contains ideas for the reader to encourage more interaction so the book won’t grow stale. The orange page suggests pointing to and discussing each image in addition to talking about the color (e.g., “What do you do with a carrot?”). It’s always helpful to have new ideas like this.

Where Is the Green Sheep? / ¿Dónde está  la oveja verde? 

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Where Is the Green Sheep? / ¿Dónde está la oveja verde? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek, translated by Carlos E. Calvo
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We have quite a few bilingual books, but this one is my favorite. Depending on how long I need to or can occupy Baby Bear, I typically read it all the way through in one language, then start over in the other. The illustrations are simple yet whimsical. The sheep in the story aren’t just any old boring sheep, either. There’s a sheep in the bath, a Singin’ in the Rain sheep, a surfing sheep, and even an astronaut sheep! “Here is the wind sheep. And here is the wave sheep. Here is the scared sheep, and here is the brave sheep. But where is the green sheep?” or “Esta oveja juega con el viento. Y esta oveja juega con las olas. Esta oveja está asustada y esta oveja es valiente. ¿Pero, dónde está la oveja verde?”

My only complaint about the book is that the English version rhymes but the Spanish one does not. While I appreciate a straight translation, I would prefer the content to be changed slightly enough to make both versions equally fun to read aloud. Either way, this one is in our diaper bag at all times.

Peekaboo Kisses

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Peekaboo Kisses by Barney Saltzberg
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As you can tell, Baby Bear is really starting to enjoy interacting with his books. This one is a particular favorite because it has the baby trifecta: flaps to lift, textures to touch, and a mirror at the end.

Each page begins with, “Peekaboo! I see…” along with a picture of an animal hiding behind its hands. The reader must lift the flap to reveal what animal is hiding and what kind of kisses it offers. For example, “Peekaboo! I see…furry puppy kisses.” As a bonus, said furry puppy has a nice, soft patch of purple fur for baby to feel.

Babies pick up on rituals, and, as such, Baby Bear has started to preemptively cover his eyes/forehead before each new page. It’s adorable.

Quick as a Cricket

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Quick as a Cricket written by Audrey Wood and illustrated by Don Wood
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Baby Bear received this book for his first birthday, and it’s quickly become one of my personal favorites to read to him. Self-described as a “joyful celebration of self-awareness,” Quick as a Cricket uses contradictory animal similes and beautiful illustrations to capture the many dimensions and colorful imaginations of children. My favorite stanza (and corresponding imagery) is, “I’m as brave as a tiger, I’m as shy as a shrimp, I’m as tame as a poodle, I’m as wild as a chimp.” Plus, Baby Bear’s version came with a cool personalized touch: his aunt wrote the Spanish translation on each page. Thanks, Aunt B!

Little Blue Truck

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Little Blue Truck written by Alice Schertle and illustrated by Jill McElmurry
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I mean it when I say that Little Blue Truck is a great read for children and adults alike. It’s short enough for Baby Bear to stay engaged but long enough to develop a thoughtful arc about the old golden rule and contains language that’s extremely fun to read aloud.

“Little Blue Truck came down the road. ‘Beep!’ said Blue to a big green toad. Toad said, ‘Croak!’ and winked an eye when Little Blue Truck went rolling by.” You’ve no choice but to enhance your animal noise skills if you read this enough.

I also enjoy this book for its illustrations, which evoke in me a Norman Rockwell-esque nostalgia for the countryside I didn’t know I had.

LMNO Peas

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LMNO Peas by Keith Baker
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I’m passionate about this book because it is exceptionally playful and creative, an alphabet book like no other. Perhaps the most talented and diverse group of peas in existence scatter across these pages to teach kids the ABCs.

“We are peas–alphabet peas! We work and play in the ABCs. We’re acrobats, artists, and astronauts in space. We’re builders, bathers, and bikers in a race.”

Not only are these fun rhymes to say aloud, but the illustrations are surprisingly detailed and clever, too. Who would have thought two peas roasting marshmallows could be so cute? In what is an outwardly simplistic book, I find something new and equally entertaining each time we read it. This book earns a Baby Brown Bear Golden Star.

More Books, Please!

At some point in the near future, I may need to admit to a slight children’s book hoarding problem, but I’m not there yet! What are your favorite children’s books?