Monday, March 25, 2013

Childhood Revisited: Emily P. reviews THE LITTLE HOUSE books

By the time I was six, I was already searching for chapter books to quench the burning desire I had to read books that would last longer than thirty minutes. And although I was already an advanced reader, I wasn’t quite ready to give up illustrations. So, my mom presented me with The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, launching me into a faithful obsession that would consume the next four years of my childhood. The Little House books were just amazing to my younger self, the story of a girl my age growing up in such a different time, but still facing the same struggles as I did, like getting along with a sister. By my seventh birthday, I had read the entire series, and a little part of me had grown up with Laura (which could possibly explain why I never did understand my parents’ use of the “you’re only seven” excuse). These were the books that taught me about family, and because of them, I was able to appreciate my family even more. Laura was always more than a drawing of a little girl or a “Half-pint” to me. She was another friend.

Most of the books I read in the latter parts of my childhood years were linked to The Little House books. I discovered that there were also books about Laura’s mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and daughter, and the hunt began for every copy. Sadly, we couldn’t find all of them in our bookstores, but I devoured those that we had found, almost as soon as I got them, always ready for another, much to my parents’ wallet’s dismay.

So, these were the books I chose to reread because they had taught me more than any other book ever has. The thing it, though, when I first read these books, I was Laura’s age at the very beginning of the series, and I connected with her more when she was six and seven. Now, at sixteen, I can relate to the latter of the series, and that pressure to do well in school, and that fluttering beginning of romance. These books are timeless, with lessons and meanings relatable at any age. Even now, after hundreds of rereads, Almanzo’s proposal still coaxed a little gasp and a grin from me.

That’s the beauty of all books, I think. That they can last you a lifetime, and still make you feel like you did when you were six years old, wondering how on earth anyone could live in a little house in a Big Woods.
Emily is a high school student who often contributes reviews to this blog. You can see why.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Childhood Revisited: Kate Slivensky Reviews A WRINKLE IN TIME

I first read A WRINKLE IN TIME in fourth grade, as a class assignment. It was right around the time I was in love with Bruce Coville's ALIENS ATE MY HOMEWORK. It was also right when I was on the verge of beginning my Star Wars obsession (I devoured every Star Wars novel ever written during my tweenage years). In other words, though I was already an avid reader at that age, I was just beginning to learn the wonders of "science fiction fantasy".

So, along with my fellow "Gifted and Talented" classmates, I cracked open this odd-sounding book with nerdy enthusiasm...and my nine year-old mind was blown.

Going on two decades later, I picked this book back up to reread it for this blog series and had my mind blown again. Everything came flooding back, and it was glorious. I kid you not, sitting in my apartment with only my cat as a witness, a giant grin took over my face as soon as I got to the mysterious line at the end of the first chapter:

"...there is such a thing as a tesseract."

I remembered that line. That line was burnt into my brain, because as a kid--a kid with an extensive vocabulary and science-y interests much like the main character, Meg--I'd never heard the word "tesseract" before. And it was at that line that I was officially hooked. All because Madeleine L'Engle did something amazing: she didn't tell me what a tesseract was right away.

Instead, I was left trying to imagine what this strange word might be and why it is important to Meg's mother, and what it has to do Meg's father, and how this odd old lady knew it would mean something to this family.

Before I started my reread, I jotted down everything that stuck with me from my childhood about this book: tesseracts, the explanation of how time wrinkles, the weird world where everything is the same and rigid and structured, and Charles Wallace fighting the times tables. Most of all, though, was this one sentence I wrote down and underlined several times: "IT MADE ME THINK SO HARD MY BRAIN HURT...BUT IN A GOOD WAY".

As a kid who was nerdier than most, getting to read a story in which I couldn't guess where it was going--a story with fantastical elements that were explained in a logical way and concepts that philosophy majors could debate in graduate level courses--was like candy for my mind. Too often, adults fail to give kids enough credit. Kids can think. Kids can think pretty big, serious, and complicated thoughts.

Instead of dumbing ideas down for her readers, Madeleine L'Engle introduced ideas. She counted on her young readers to take these concepts and think them through for themselves. She knew kids were smart, and so she wrote a smart book for them. I cannot applaud her enough for this.

A WRINKLE IN TIME is one of my favorite childhood reads, because it encouraged me to think. As an adult, I've clearly take that lesson to heart. I'm a science educator. I write science-based adventures for middle grade readers. In all that I do, I try to get kids to think. Rereading A WRINKLE IN TIME has been enlightening, because it's put perspective on what I do and why I do it. Every now and again, a book comes along that really does change your life, and after rereading A WRINKLE IN TIME, I'm more convinced than ever that this was one of those books for me.

If you've never had a chance to read it, do yourself a favor and snag a copy somewhere. Better yet, get a copy, read it with a kid, and then have conversations with them about it. This clever, thought-provoking novel is guaranteed to worm its way into your brain and never completely let go. And don't be surprised if little Charles Wallace worms his way into your heart and stays there forever, too.

Katie Slivensky is a science educator and aspiring middle grade novelist. She has a Master's degree in paleontology and has spent countless hours digging up fossils in the badlands and measuring bones in dark museum basements. She now works for the Museum of Science in Boston, where she teaches outreach programming to kids across New England, and also runs their rooftop Observatory. Her blog,, aims to help every-day people get to know science a little better.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Childhood Revisited: Jennifer Iacopelli Reviews THE SECRET GARDEN

When Sarah tweeted about the idea of rereading our favorite childhood classics I instantly knew I wanted to be a part of it and which book I wanted to read. There were many books that influenced me as a child and many books that I came back to over and over again. From the Little House series to Anne of Green Gables, I loved reading about strong girls, girls whose worlds I wanted to crawl into and experience first hand, girls I wanted to be friends with and emulate as I grew up. But like I said, when Sarah mentioned this blog series, I knew which book I wanted to reread, because this book was the first book that made me feel that way. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was the book that made me a reader.

Mary Lennox is a brat. That’s what I remember thinking when I was seven years old and reading The Secret Garden for the first time. My aunt, the one that always bought me books (we all had a relative like that right?) bought me a copy for my 7thbirthday. She said maybe it would be a little too much for me, but I pretty much took her words as a challenge and was determined to read it on my own. So I did and for the very first time, I found myself with a real quandary while reading a book. Mary Lennox was most certainly a nasty, bratty little girl who’d I’d probably hate if I met her in real life, but I also remember thinking that maybe she had a good reason. Her parents were dead, everyone forgot about her and then she was sent to live in a strange house in an even stranger place. This wasn’t black and white, a hero or a villain. This was the first shade of gray I’d ever encountered and it fascinated me. Of course I didn’t really understand that at the time. I was simply drawn into the magical world of Yorkshire, the mysterious boy who thought he would die and the boy with red hair and beautiful blue eyes who could talk to the animals. I think I might have loved it despite Mary.

As an adult, the world of The Secret Garden was no less magical. I still fell in love with Dickon and his animals. The mystery of Colin and his “crooked” back was no less intriguing, but my opinion of Mary was a total reversal. As a little girl I thought that she was a brat, but with good reason. Now, it was all I could do not to weep for the little girl who had no understanding of how desperate she was for her mother’s love, for anyone to take notice of her, for just an ounce of happiness. It was such a joy to watch the magic of the garden, but truly the magic of having people love and care for her, transform Mary into a strong girl, one capable of amazing things, like helping a sick boy become healthy and reuniting a family.

Now, years later, I finally understand what kindled my interest in reading about girls like Laura Ingalls and Anne Shirley and later, Elizabeth Bennett and it all came back to a little brat I was sure I wouldn’t be able to stand and the magic she experienced in a secret garden.
Jennifer Iacopelli was born in New York and has no plans to leave...ever. Growing up, she read everything she could get her hands on, but her favorite authors were Laura Ingalls Wilder, L.M. Montgomery and Frances Hodgson Burnett all of whom wrote about kick-ass girls before it was cool for girls to be kick-ass. She got a Bachelor's degree in Adolescence Education and English Literature quickly followed up by a Master's in Library Science, which lets her frolic all day with her books and computers, leaving plenty of time in the evenings to write and yell at the Yankees, Giants and her favorite tennis players through the TV.
Jennifer is the author of Game Set Match, which will be out May 1st, 2013. Add it to your Goodreads!
Also, follow her on Twitter and check out her gorgeous website.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

RECLAIMED is available for pre-order!

So I had a nice little surprise on Thursday afternoon - Reclaimed went up on Amazon for pre-order. My awesome CP Kate tweeted me a link, and I had a little mini heart-attack when my book showed up. I had no idea it was going up this early! Thanks to everyone who has already pre-ordered it. The whole thing is a little surreal.

If you're interested, you can pre-order Reclaimed HERE.

Also, on Saturday I received a huge box of Reclaimed bookmarks from SHP. Aren't they gorgeous? They have the tagline on the back, which I love. One small town. Two big secrets. Three lives that will never be the same.

Seriously, y'all, I am so looking forward to October and being able to finally share this book with you.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Childhood Revisited: Lindsay Currie Reviews WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS

As a child, I read a lot. As a teen, I read even more. Now, as an adult, I realize how much all of that reading shaped me as a writer. I would spring out of bed like it was Christmas on RIF (reading is fundamental) day and come home with a beautiful, crisp new book. The funny thing was, it was always the same book I brought home. My other copies of it became worn, and the covers tattered between my sticky, little fingers. I always seemed to need a new copy. I'd stash the old ones on my bookshelf and put the new one on my desk so I could enjoy the shininess of its cover.

That book was Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls. The story of a boy and his beloved hunting dogs, living with his family in the heart of the Ozark mountains. It captured not only my attention, but my heart and I read it over and over again. If you look this book up, you'll find it's categorized as a children's novel as the main character is ten, but by many standards it's best read by fourth grade and up due to some salty language. There's also some significant violence, but absolutely none that I would consider gratuitous or irrelevant to the storyline.

Whether or not I knew it at the time, this book influenced me. It made me feel everything right along with the main character, Billy. It made me want hunting dogs even though I had no idea what on earth I'd do with them. I was completely sucked into the story and no matter how many times I read it, I was always in tears by the ending.

It. Was. Beautiful.

There are several books I could cite as being influential, but Where the Red Fern Grows definitely takes the prize for the strongest. Wilson Rawls taught me how vivid language and a beautiful imagination can weave magic. Reading that book encouraged me to write. The ability to move people with words like he could became far more alluring in my fourth-grade mind than any super power out there.

Recently, I read this book again with my son. I can't begin to tell you how powerful it was to see how it effected him, how excited he was for our reading time and how touched he was at the end of the book. Have there been other books that touched him? Of course. But not many that left a mark on the heart like this one. As an adult reading the book again, I'm in awe of this author's ability to juxtapose the bleakness of Billy's poverty with the perfection of the pristine land his family hunts. Rawls was unafraid to capture the moments of darkness in childhood, and the heartache of learning some of the harsher lessons in life. At the same time, he managed to grow that thing we all thrive on - as children, teenagers, adults. HOPE. That four lettered word that keeps us reading. . . keeps us wishing on stars and blowing eyelashes off of our fingers.

So, Where the Red Fern Grows -- my favorite childhood book and one that has stood the test of time for me. I can truly say although it might be a different appreciation, I love it just as much today as I did when I was ten.
Lindsay Currie is a YA writer repped by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary. Visit her blog at
or follow her on twitter at

Saturday, March 2, 2013

To Read and Read Again

Books were my first love. My grandmother (a teacher) taught me to read before I started school, so I spent most of my childhood lost in pages. I would hurry though my schoolwork so I could sit and read. I remember getting so lost in a book that I wouldn’t hear my mother calling me for dinner. I grew up in a small town, and books were a way for me to see the world. I felt I had traveled the globe by the time I got into high school and fell in love with Russian literature.

I am a re-reader. Sometimes I admit that with shame. There are so many amazing books out there that I want to read, and I know that I will never get to all of them. That thought makes me sad. When I read the Twilight series, I envied the Cullen’s insomnia. I couldn’t imagine all the books I would be able to read if I didn’t have to sleep.

I feel guilty sometimes when I’m re-reading a book. But I love that world and those characters so much that I want to get lost in it over and over again. Sometimes I re-read even if I didn’t love the book. I might have read the book before I was ready for it, and either it was too difficult for me to understand, or I hadn’t yet reached the point in my life where I could appreciate the struggles of the characters. I have both fallen in love with books that I didn’t really appreciate the first time I read them and have re-read books that, by the time I got to the re-read, had somehow lost their magic for me.

But more often than not, when I re-read I am transported to a familiar world, almost like home, and sometimes I’m even transported back to my childhood.

I’m going to do a series of reviews of childhood favorites. I have several guest bloggers lined up to write reviews of their favorite childhood stories. Maybe you’ll be inspired to read a book you’ve heard about but never had a chance to read. Maybe you’ll be reminded of one you loved. But I hope you’ll be motivated to do the same – re-read a book and maybe recapture a tiny piece of the magic of childhood.