Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Nothing Here but Us Chickens

I finished Coop, by Michael Perry, last week, staying up way late to suck the last words out of the marrow of his book. What a wonderful way to spend those hours, reading about a man and his family, his outbuildings and their farm. I spent a lot of time reading little pieces of it out loud to anyone I could corner, and a lot of time laughing in public (funny how people move away when you laugh out loud to yourself, isn't it?). I have wanted a shed and a coop (and the chickens that go in that coop) for a long time but I live on a postage stamp sized yard. I will have to live vicariously through other people's experiences. The family at the end of our street has two of the fanciest coops I've seen, electricity and statuary included, and I love walking by and seeing the warm light shining out of their hens' windows. One of my friends at work just got chicks and I am so excited for her.

The day after finishing Coop, I found a link to Hencam. Hencam allows us to watch the hens at Terry Golson's house. Terry has written a book called Tillie Lays an Egg that features the hens that Terry cares for and that wander the fenced in area surrounding the coop. We can watch the hens and the lop-eared rabbit named Candy go up and down the ramps to the coop and the hutch, we watch them get in and out of their boxes, we watch them walk and bob and tilt their heads one way and their little chicken butts the other. We thrill to the sight of Candy squatting at the opening of her hutch. Will she come down? Will she change position? Will she chase a chicken?

I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed watching these girls over the last few days. I leave the site open on my computer and check back while I wait for something to load. It's kind of cool to watch the weather changes: The first day was a windy one, lots of shadows against the outbuildings, clouds,I think, and yesterday was rainy and the hens were in the coop most of the day. A few brave souls headed out (of course, you have to toggle back and forth between inside and outside to watch the hens go down the ramp or come inside-so exciting!) to scratch on the ground, but for the most part, the action was all indoors.

I am utterly infatuated with the idea of hens, so, in honor of all things chicken, here are a few of my favorite chicken related books:

Coop, by Michael Perry. There are lovely, funny reflections on the chickens in the family. I woke my husband up so I could read him the passage about Little Miss Shake and Bake's run across the ground. I laughed so hard I snorted and then couldn't finish reading. (This is a book for grown-ups.)

The Egg and I, by Betty MacDonald, may not be precisely a chicken book but you have to have them to get to the eggs. This is the autobiography of a woman vastly unprepared for living in the wilds of the Olympic peninsula. No electricity, running water, or close neighbors, it is a constant battle to keep home and hearth together. One of the best books ever. Betty MacDonald is also the author of the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books, some of my favorite kid's books. The Egg and I is for grown-ups, the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books are great for 5 and up.

Love, Ruby Lavender, by Deborah Wiles, has a great opening scene: Ruby and her grandmother have rolled up to a chicken farm where the chickens are being liquidated, sold to a meat packing guy, and they steal the chickens! Catching chickens, tossing them into the car, driving away trailing feathers! What moxie! Yes, it may be against the law, but who can let certain death happen to their chicken friends! (Ages 9 and up.)

Along Came a Dog, by Meindert De Jong, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, is an amazing book. I am so sorry I didn't read this book when I was a kid so I could have lived with it in my life longer. This is the story of a man and his chicken and the friendship between the chicken and a stray dog. The man loves this particular little hen and she loves to ride around with him while he works. She sits on his shoulder shifting with his movements as he makes his way around his farm. When she freezes one of her feet off in a frozen mud pond, leaving only a clawless knuckle of a leg, she can't hold on. He invents a little chicken leg plug-in to sew on his shirt so he can insert her leg nubbin, and with that and her intact leg, she is able to continue to go with him. This is a not very well-known book now, but it should be. It's a classic and it might be time to revisit this little farm and its inhabitants. (Age 9 and up. You could read it aloud to the family and the story could go as young as 7.)

Chicken Boy, by Frances O'Roark Dowell, is the story of a severely dysfunctional family. Tobin's grandmother unable to be in polite company, his father is unable to care for anyone, much less himself, his brothers are all delinquents and the only friend he has thinks that chickens could reveal the meaning of life. This is a funny and poignant look at life in the seventh grade. Anything by Ms. Dowell is good, but I think this is my favorite. (Ages 12 and up.)

Chicken Dance, by Jacques Couvillon, is a lovely book about a quiet boy whose parents are awful. They live on a chicken farm and his mother hates it. Our hero has spent most of his life in the shadow of his missing sister and has been made to feel as though he will never be as smart, as beautiful or as worthy of life as she. Things begin to change when he wins a local chicken judging contest and begins to be recognized for his skill. This is a book that will take you by surprise. (Ages 10 and up.)

Who You Callin' Chicken?, by Thea Feldman, photos by Stephen Green-Armytage, is a book full of pictures and information about chickens, fancy chickens, plain chickens, chickens, chickens, chickens! It is a very cool reference book packed with beautiful shots of extraordinary fowl. (Ages 5 and up.)

My favorite chicken picture books, by far, though, are the Minerva Louise books by Janet Morgan Stoeke. Miverva Louise is an adventurous fat white hen who ventures away from the barn and has marvelous encounters with the world. She interprets the world she meets through the translation of farm: a flower pot is a fancy hat, a clutch of pencils is a nest of yellow straw, the school is a barn. She is fearless and I love her. (Ages 4 and up. Younger kids may not have the knowledge yet to get the jokes.)

Queenie, One of the Family, by Bob Graham, is a fun story about a family who rescues a chicken from a lake. Queenie comes home with them and proceeds to take over while the family tries to figure out where she came from. I love Bob Graham's illustrations. The dad has a ponytail and the pregnant mom has a tattoo. He is able, with very few lines, to convey emotion and his pictures are simple but there is a lot to look at. There aren't very many words on the page but you don't need many if they are all the right words. (Age 4 and up.)

Rooster's Gift, by Pam Conrad, is beautifully illustrated by Eric Beddoes. Rooster is a vain thing, sure that the sun only rises because he sings it up. One day, he sleeps in and he is stunned that the sun rose without him! He loses all confidence in himself until Smallest Hen shows him why he is special. Just a beautiful, sweet book. (Age 5 and up.)

Busy Chickens
, by John Schindel, is a board book filled with great photos of chickens illustrating different actions. Told in rhyme, "chickens sleeping, chickens leaping", it is a fun look at chickens doing the same things humans do. It is one of a number of board books with different animals being busy. I am especially fond of the "kittens puddling" photo in the Busy Kitties book. (Ages 2 and up.)

Check out Terry Gilson's Hencam and her new book, Tillie Lays an Egg. You can access her website and the girls by going to http://www.hencam.com. It's kind of like having an aquarium.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Walking with a Coffeehouse Angel

I went for a walk around Seward Park again last Saturday. It was a beautiful day, sunny at times (well, it was when I left the house), cloudy (Linda, the clouds were scudding) and then windy and cold. A perfect time to walk at Seward Park because of the varied views that are affected by the different kinds of weather that roll in across this vast expanse of water. And it was the first Saturday of spring and could only be celebrated by being out in it. The daffodils were up and there were wide swaths of daisies blooming along the trail. A good time to try a new book.

I love reading while I walk (and, no, I have never walked into a tree or fallen off a curb.) and I love trying out a book I might not otherwise read during this finite time. If I can't stay interested for that period, well, neither will the people I might want to sell it to or talk to about it. I get lucky most of the time and the books I choose for these walks are well worth it. This walk included Coffeehouse Angel, by local author Suzanne Selfors.

Coffehouse Angel is, like My Life in Pink and Green that I mentioned in the BookNotes email newsletter, the story of a small family business going up against a larger, more monied business, with a twist.

Katrina, our heroine in Coffeehouse Angel, helps out in her grandmother's coffee shop, a local hangout for the old fishermen in town. It used to be the hangout for everyone until Java Heaven opened up next door, they actually share a wall, and took away the younger and hipper customers by offering organic coffee and fancy chocolate straws. Katrina serves sardine sandwiches and coffee with an egg in it. (My mother-in-law makes this coffee for us when the family all gets together. It takes longer than machine coffee but is so good, it is worth the wait. And there is something very elemental in watching and hearing the coffee perk into the little glass bubble on the lid. I have to write the recipe down on a card so I can make it now that Dee can't do it on her own. Family recipes get lost easily: write them down while you still can.)

One morning, early and still dark, Katrina is taking the garbage out when she finds a man lying on the ground outside the back door. Worried, she calls her best friend, Vincent, to come by and check it out. While she is waiting for Vincent, she takes a couple of pastries and a cup of coffee, a little bag of chocolate covered coffee beans, and leaves them on the step for the obviously homeless, probably cold, man. When Vincent get there, the man is gone, and so are the pastries; all that's left is the empty styrofoam cup that rolls up the windy street and stops at Katrina's feet.

A little later in the day, during the Monday morning assembly, the homeless man appears to give Katrina her reward for her good deed. He is dressed in a kilt, is extraordinarily good looking, carries a messenger's bag and must deliver his message and his reward before he can move on. The reward? Katrina's deepest desire. Who is this man? Why is he really here? What is Katrina's deepest desire? Who gets to go to the dance? Why does the stranger smell so good?

A great selection for reading around the lake! I got done with my walk and then sat in my (much warmer) Jeep and read for another hour-couldn't leave the park until it was done! A couple of rain squalls, seagull flocks and their attendant mess and feathers later and I was done! What a great book! Romance, mystery, good and evil, grand friendships, little guys up against the big guys-it's all in there and I am so glad I chose this particular book on this particular day.

You can pick this title up in August, 2009 (sorry! One of the best percs of working in the book business is getting to read books that won't be out for a while!). You can call your LOCALLY OWNED, INDEPENDENT BOOKSELLER (make yours Third Place Books, 206-366-3333; www.thirdplacebooks.com to order online) to reserve your copy of this romantic comedy now. We will let you know when it arrives as soon as it is unboxed. Ages 12 and up. (Walker Books, $16.99.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Look at all the Ducks!

There are ducks at work. Many ducks! They are paired up and living along the banks of Lyons Creek which runs along the southern edge of Lake Forest Park Town Center, where I work.

I went for a walk on my break the other day and found myself standing in this little piece of nature surrounded by a parking lot and Bothell Way NE, a very busy four lane street, watching real, live, Make Way for Ducklings ducks paddling in the stream, quacking and waddling and doing very ducky stuff.

The hens (is that the correct term?) are the exact color of the winter affected weeds and blackberry canes and appear on the scene like the Indians in Bev Doolittle's art. And the drakes, ah, they are so handsome and glossy, all color and sheen, little curly tail feathers flipping up over their backs, protective of the ladies.

I forget how little nature it takes to make me feel that things will be okay. This little creek, over the past almost year I have been at Third Place Books, has overflowed its banks and flooded the street (the first time I saw that was last May-and it has happened many times since) and has gone down to almost a trickle in the late summer. There is something grounding about watching the world go on around you, ducklings hatching, creeks overflowing, raccoons fishing, just going on on its own. This particular world doesn't revolve around me.

Michael Perry, the author of Truck, has a couple of sentences in not-yet-published Coop, that expresses beautifully the idea that we are a part of everything, not the reason for it, but a part of it: The frozen air is bell-jar still. The sky is deep black, the stars pressing down brilliantly all around, and I am reminded that we are not beneath the constellations, but among them. MMM. Now, that's good writin'.

Books read this week: Big Splash, by Jack D. Ferraiolo. Amulet Press, ages 10 and up. A noir-ish (think Guy Noir for the younger set), pulp-styled mystery, nominated for the teen Poe Awards. Fun, not necessarily my favorite of the teen nominations, but good. Our hero, Matt Stevens, is on the case: Who soaked Nikki "Fingers" Finnegan's pants with water, immediately launching her into the "outs", the lowest caste of their middle school? There are some pretty funny scenes and some classic writing a la Dashiell Hammett.

11 Birthdays, by Wendy Mass. Scholastic, 10 and up. Wendy Mass is one of my very favorite authors and I think you should add her to your repertoire. She has written across across all age groups and has a little something for everyone. 11 Birthdays is about two kids, born on the same day, and a curse that spans the generations. When they are born, an old woman who is also present at the hospital, mentions that they should spend every birthday together. The parents nod and say mm hmm and that seems to be the end of it. The kids do spend their birthdays together and are seldom apart until their 10th birthdays, when something cruel is said and overhead, thus ending the friendship. Until the next year, when on their 11th birthdays, they are doomed to relive the day until they can get it right. Funny, sweet, with a great feel for middle school, 11 Birthdays is really good.

Please read a Wendy Mass book. My favorites are Every Soul a Star, A Mango-Shaped Space, Leap Day (another birthday book!), and Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life. These are published by Little Brown and Company and all are great for 11 and up. Let me know what you think of them!

Friday, March 6, 2009

February 20 BookNotes

The first yellow crocus has popped up, the daphne didn’t die during the snow days and is pink, pink,pink. The rose is starting to send out new foliage, and the robins are up when I am. My nose is running like crazy, my upper lip is raw, and my eyes itch. I know we have weeks yet to go, but my spring-o-meter starts to register the changes in the yard and air just as I have to carry a roll of toilet paper with me everywhere I go. Can’t breathe? Can’t wear mascara because your eyes itch all the time? Pockets bulge with emergency tissue? Must be spring!


Just a few Calendar Notes, first: You are going to want to write these dates on your calendar, now, IN INK: Tamora Pierce is going to be here in May, either the 9th or 10th (you can always circle the correct date later). Bloodhound, the second book in her Beka Cooper series, will be in stores the last week of April. Call us and we will let you know when it arrives.

Michael Perry, the author of Truck: A Love Story, one of my favorite grownup books of last year, will be here with his new book, Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting. The book comes out the first week of May so he will be at the store around then. I will keep you informed or you can check www.thirdplacebooks.com in a month or so and the date will magically appear. I heard him speak at one of the book shows a year or so ago and he was fabulous. Most of the booksellers I know remember this presentation most clearly and with great fondness. I don’t think it was the massive amounts of breakfast speech coffee, but… He is an EMT in a very small town (remember Population: 485? His book, too.) and has lots of great stories. You really should plan on being here. He is funny and oh, so cute, and will be well worth an hour or two of listening pleasure.

There was just a quiet little lift in my heart, and then a quick look around to see if anyone heard me involuntarily squeal, when I heard that the 7th book in the OUTLANDER (!) books will be out SOON! Finally!!! Yes, this deserves all those exclamation points! Diana Gabaldon’s next book will be a Jamie and Claire fest called An Echo in the Bone and I am thrilled. I just checked her website and she says there isn’t a specific date for the release of the book yet, no matter what that huge ethernet book dealer says, but it is coming (sometime in September, maybe) and you can put a copy on order through Third Place for your very own, right now, and we will call you when it comes!

Okay, insert deep breath here.

There are a couple of new entries on my blog (www.notesfromthebedsidetable.blogspot.com) and I hope you will find time to check them out. One of them is a review for a new grownup book that I heard about at a bookseller’s educational program in Salt Lake City earlier this month. The book is Shimmer, by new author Eric Barnes. Absolutely riveting, it is a thrilling read about a man, his high tech communications corporation, and the people who run it. Truly, I could NOT put it down. Eric will be visiting Third Place Books in July, 2009.

I mentioned wanting to read the Teen and Children’s Edgar Award Nominees in my last newsletter, and I just now, moments ago, finished reading Getting the Girl: A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance, and Cookery, by Susan Juby. And, yes, it was fabulous.

I really like Susan’s books, she wrote the Alice, I Think series, and she does a grand job of writing about what it is like to be a teenager. In Getting the Girl, Sherman Mack (who unfortunately thinks of himself as Mack Daddy) gets involved in trying to find out who is D-listing the girls in his school. Girls, whose photos show up on the school bathroom mirrors with a small d written on them, are immediately and forever shunned by the rest of the school, which has some pretty awful results. Sherman, a nice boy with a good healthy respect for all girls, especially his friend Vanessa, is appalled by this and decides it must be stopped. He grabs his surveillance kit and sets off to find out who is behind it all and why.

Sherman is the boy all girls would want as a friend: he loves girls, is chivalrous (although he may not use that word), and would like everything and everyone to be fair. He has a posse of devoted friends and family: his best friend and hypochondriac Rick, 40 year-old Fred who feeds him real food, a very young mother who is a burlesque dancer, and Vanessa who convinces him that he can do anything.

Sherman is funny (although he doesn’t try to be) and sweet and in that place of life where everything is slightly off. He doesn’t drive so he has to use his mom’s pink bike to surveil his marks and when he finally achieves his goal, he somehow ends up in a closet wearing clear high heels and someone else's mom’s blue blouse and photos end up all over the school internet. The upside (and there is one) is that two of the “trophy wives” (popular girls at school with popular boyfriends) are also in the photo, kissing him, thus changing his status to both horndog and pervert. As a freshman in high school, though, any attention can be dangerous and someone may be out to stop him from exposing the dark underbelly of Harewood Tech.

I really like Sherman and his problems with being a normal 9th grade boy and I think you will too. Ages 12 and older. (HarperTeen, $16.99.)

Fetch, by Laura Whitcomb, the author of A Certain Slant of Light has written a wonderful second book.

Calder is a Fetch, an escort for the newly dead. He has been a Fetch for hundreds of years and he has never once been tempted to step out of his role of helping the dead make peace with their pasts and move on, until he falls in love with a mortal woman.

This is a ghostly romance that will satisfy all those Twilight readers’ yearning for something unearthly and romantic. Calder, who has fallen in love with a Russian noblewoman, Alexandra, does the unthinkable by interfering with the natural order of things and a hole is ripped in Heaven allowing unhappy spirits into the earthly realms. In a borrowed body, he and the noblewoman’s children, Alex and Ana, must put the worlds right.

I thoroughly enjoyed this. I like how Ms. Whitcomb didn’t feel she needed to fill us in on all the details of the Russian Revolution so we are armed only with the information that the Fetch has, and that she places us in the moment by outfitting the story with the news of the times. It is romantic and exciting and I can’t wait for her next book. Ages 13 and up. (Houghton Mifflin, $17.00.)

If you haven’t read A Certain Slant of Light yet, put it on your list to read. It’s the story of a ghost who has attached herself to an English teacher. She is lonely and unable to leave the teacher until she sees someone in his classroom who sees her back! Romantic, well-written, you will enjoy it muchly. Laura Whitcomb lives near Portland and we should support our local authors!

The Softwire: Wormhole Pirates on Orbis 3, by P J Haarsma

I really enjoy these books about Johnny Turnbull and his friends.

Johnny is one of a large group of kids who were born in a starship on its way to the Rings of Orbis when the men and women of Earth, who were escaping to a new life, all died. The central computer, Mother, took the embryos frozen in banks and grew a new set of people, all of whom were born on the same day. Johnny, our hero, is one of these children. He is also a Softwire, able to talk directly to Mother and other computers without having to “jack in”.

When the group finally arrives at Orbis 1, they are informed that they are required to work off the trip across the galaxy as their parents had bartered their futures for a ship and a place to land it. They are now slaves to the Citizens of Orbis.

In this, the third installment in the series, Johnny and his friends have moved to Orbis 3. In this rotation, they will have to go to school, a school filled with spiteful, bullying Citizens, most of whom cause the humans great grief. As JT tries to figure out what his role in this world and his future will be, things become more even more difficult and strange: People he knows die, he is challenged to duels, his sister seems to be able to read minds, even while wearing the muzzle, and the Wormhole Pirates are real and dangerous. And, if the dangers of just being on Orbis 3 weren't enough, Vairocina, his mind-link to the computer world, has made herself a body – a holographic body, but a pretty one – and there may be a little competition between Max, Vairocina, and Riis, their Citizen guide to the school, for Johnny's affections.

There isn't enough “real” science fiction out there in the kid's book world and I am glad P J Haarsma has written this series. They are good, exciting, appeal to both girls and boys, and have enough humor to keep our spirits up. Ages 10 and up, and great for reluctant teen readers. (Candlewick, $16.99) Available March, 2009.

I am in the middle of a few different books right now: Benny and Shrimp, by Katarlina Mazetti, a love story about two really different people. I know, it seems that the only love stories that work are those between really different people (like Shannon Hale’s new book, The Actor and the Housewife), but so far this is very sweet and earthy. I am in the middle of Bernard Cornwell’s Agincourt. Bernard wrote the Sharpe’s Rifles books and if you are any kind of a history buff, you should move his books to the top of that large pile next to the bed. Next to my side of the bed is also Angels and Demons (must read before the movie comes out), I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti (going to meet her, Giulia Melucci, at dinner in a few days), and Agent to the Stars, by John Scalzi, one of my favorite science fiction authors. Hmm. Those are all grown-up books….I think there are two kid’s books in my bag. Anyway…What are you all reading? Send me a quick email and let me know. I will put the list in my next newsletter and share your titles. I am always looking for something new and everyone else is, too!

Allrighty, then. It is a beautiful day here and I think I am going to go outside and play.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Just finished writing the weekly BookNotes, folded a couple of loads of laundry and decided that having lunch would be a good thing. But meals also involve some sort of reading material. I like finding things to dip into while I eat, a book I've had in the stacks for awhile, something that looks good but maybe not something I wanted to spend a lot of time on. A part-time book. So I picked up How to Be Bad, by E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski , and Lauren Myracle.

It's been on the shelf for at least a year and I love the authors, I don't know why I was so resistant to picking it up. Maybe it looked too much like short stories and I have a hard time with those; they just aren't long enough and I often don't know if I get them.

Anyway, lunch is a good time to start a book: there is usually a specific time limit, when you're done you can put it down and walk away from it, knowing you gave it a try, or put a bookmark in it and put it somewhere obvious when you have your next little break. Since today is my day off, I can, if the book is good, read until my butt hurts and that’s how How to Be Bad came into my life. Can’t wait to finish it-

Oh, right: How to Be Bad is a book told by 3 authors, each taking a different character. So far, it is really good, funny, and the dialogue is realistic. Three girls, two have been best friends for years, one is new to town and has no friends, who go on a road trip to Miami. As each girl takes her turn in the story, you get to peek into how and why she made the decision to be a part of this trip. I’ll let you know what I think when I get to the end!

Many hours later: I couldn’t stop thinking about the book so I took a few hours out of this most gorgeous day (the day after we had inches of snow) and went to Seward Park. Seward Park is a wild space, a thumb of land that sticks out into Lake Washington from the south end of Seattle, with a 2.5 mile walking and biking path that circles it. I took pictures of the walk so you’d get to see some of it but my phone photos are awful. Mount Rainier is at the south end of the lake, muscular and clouded, and a spider's web of floating bridge is at the north end. I saw (and heard) a couple of float planes, a French family (the older daughter counting off in French to give the younger one a head start) and an absolutely immense raccoon lolloping across the park and up a tree across the way. There were dogs and a hockey player on skates, complete with hockey stick and ball, and someone at the top of the hill playing a trumpet in the woods. What a pretty day. Cold in the air but the sun was warm.

It took two turns around the park and a few extra minutes in the car to finish How to Be Bad and it was GOOD! As I said earlier, it's a road trip story, 3 young women trying to make and keep a friendship, all three trying to find their ways through hard times. All told with a huge dose of humor and pathos. I am so glad I finally read it! Well worth the time and the walk. Well, the walk would have been good anyway, it was just better with a good book to accompany it.

How to Be Bad, by E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, and Lauren Myracle. Ages 14 older. HarperCollins. Available now in hardcover for 16.99, in April for 8.99.