Tag Archives: books

Elementary School “Book Swap”

This month I hosted a “book swap” for my child’s elementary school. It’s an idea that’s been rolling around in my mind for quite a while–I initially thought it would be great to have a book exchange party in which my kids and their friends could swap books they liked. But one thing led to another . . .

The book swap was much easier than I expected, and a lot more fun! Here’s a quick recap of what I did and how I went.

First, I approached the principal and the PTA with the idea. They suggested that I do the book swap in conjunction with a PTA “family partnership night.” Those happen regularly and involve games and free pizza. So I signed on to host the family partnership night and got some help. Then I sent out communication to the school well ahead of time, including both online and paper announcements. I was hoping for lots of people and lots of books!

Then I found some books to prime the pump. It turns out that there are usually tons of books for lower grades, but not so many for higher grades. I went to a thrift store and found some appealing upper-grade books for about a dollar each. It would alternatively have been a good idea to solicit donations from middle-schoolers. I also reached out through my local “Buy Nothing” Facebook group and left a box in the office so people could donate books early. Finally, the kids and I worked on clearing our own shelves.

The day of the event, I showed up early to order the pizza and to put out signs on the cafeteria tables, so that the people who brought in books could organize them roughly by grade level (pre-K through 1st, 2nd & 3rd, and 4th & above). I didn’t have to do the organizing myself because the kids were all over it.

We had a gorgeous spread of books by the time we were done! It was heavy on the picture books and light on the books for fourth graders and above, but there were at least some.

Kids were allowed to take 2 books each to start off with. Once everybody had taken two books, it was more of a free-for-all. When we were done, about half the books had been taken and half remained.

And that was it! Really fun and easily manageable.

I asked other people on the Soup for Teachers Facebook page if they’d done anything similar, and people have. Here were some of the responses I got:

  • One school hands out “book bucks.” Kids who bring books get one “book buck” for each book they bring in. But every student gets a “book buck,” whether they brought books or not.
  • Another school takes donations and then uses volunteers to sort them. Each student then gets the same number of books.
  • Another school does the swap during school hours, classroom by classroom. They get books from a variety of places, from the thrift store to the spring library sale to Goodwill. Then students visit, one classroom at a time, and each student takes one book.

Has anybody else done a book swap for a school? How did it work? Would you do it again?


image from modernreader.org

Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow

A couple months ago, Wired magazine came out with a truly dreadful article on the history of science fiction — one that suggested diversity is new to SF. I wrote my own response to that, and in the comments another blogger suggested the author Leigh Brackett, who wrote in the 1950s but is now largely forgotten. (Thank you!)

I checked the library and found her novel The Long Tomorrow. It was part of an anthology of the best works of the 1950s, and I accidentally started reading it halfway in. And that didn’t spoil it one little bit. On the contrary — it heightened the suspense, because I knew where the characters were headed, but I didn’t know how, and I didn’t know what would happen when they got there.

It’s an amazing postapocalyptic novel set in a rural New Mennonite town. In the novel’s history, nuclear war took out all the cities, which in turn demolished our technology. Mennonites survived, because they only used technology they could make themselves. And New Mennonites, and others, copied their culture because it made practical sense. This is a well-thought-out scenario, and the New Mennonite communities and surrounding countryside are richly drawn. Brackett really takes her time to let you get to know the people.

The people in this world are terrified that nuclear war might return, and this fear has extended to technology and cities. They’ve built a cultural narrative that says the cities were destroyed because God didn’t like them, and they punish anyone who might remotely appear to be bringing them back with stonings and fire.

And then, of course, the main character and his friend, Len and Esau, find ancient technology and go looking for a fabled city. They are two teenage boys brought up in a strict Biblical tradition who now question their community, but for slightly different reasons.

The story of Len and Esau is a coming-of-age tale, a story about growing up, a story about discovering and understanding the world they live in, and an exploration of a complicated moral problem.

I’ve read a lot of post-apocalyptic novels, but this one stands out because of its depth and breadth, the strong characterization, and the way it makes you think. It’s one of those books that will stick with me for years.

Off to see what else she’s written . . .

P.S. Here’s a link to a more in-depth but more spoilery review by author Nicola Griffith. She points out the limitations in a novel that’s a product of the age, but all in all likes it even more than me.

The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett

The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett

The House With a Clock in Its Walls

This book by John Bellairs scared the dickens out of me when I was a child, so I’ve been hunting for a while now. Only I had forgotten the author’s name and got the title mixed up with  Bell, Book, and Candle, maybe because it has  books and lights and noisy things in it, or maybe because the same author wrote The Bell, The Book, and the Spellbinder. But it was one of the books from childhood that I remember deeply.

Then one day I went to a new library branch and the book jumped out at me. The House With a Clock in its Walls. And I’ve just finished it. Sometimes when you reread a book you loved as a child, by the time you reach adulthood you’ve grown so much that the book is now dull. But this one did not disappoint.

This is a deeply scary book. Not just because of the clock hidden somewhere in the walls of a creepy old house, not just because it’s a doomsday clock set to end the world, and not just because the illustrations were done by Edward Gorey. It’s scary mainly because the main character, a boy named Lewis, made a serious ethical mistake, and he nurses his fear and guilt through much of the book.

I bet every child can identify.

Bellairs is quite gentle on Lewis, and on the reader as well. He’s careful to mention that Lewis’ uncle would understand, and he’s also considerate enough to mention that Lewis will make it to adulthood. Bellairs is also kind to all the characters in the book. (Well, the living ones, at any rate.) Even the bully.

And the prose is lovely – expressive, surprising, and smooth. Here’s a short excerpt:

Lewis got up, wiped his hands on his trousers, and tugged at the enormous cardboard suitcase that hung out over the edge of the metal rack. Lewis’ father had brought the suitcase in London at the end of World War II. It was covered with ripped and faded Cunard Line stickers. Lewis pulled hard, and the suitcase lurched down onto his head. He staggered back across the aisle with the suitcase held perilously in the air; then he sat down suddenly, and the suitcase landed in his lap with a whump.

“Oh, come on! Don’t kill yourself before I have a chance to meet you!”

There in the aisle stood a man with a bushy red beard that was streaked in several places with white.”

All in all, it’s a hard read but a good one. I’m glad to have read it. (Twice.)

The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs

The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs

The pleasures of reading, viewing, and listening

I’ve been AWOL from this blog for a little while, but I have been busy elsewhere! Check out my post on the Aqueduct Press blog, “Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2014”. I talk about The Theory of Everything, Maplecroft, Doctor Who (of course), Daniel Orozco’s “Orientation,” and more!

Last night’s reading by Charlie Jane Anders


Every year, the Clarion West writing workshop hosts six readings, one per week for the duration of the workshop. I attend as many as I can manage. My mom is in town, so I asked her to come along. In the car, she asked the entirely reasonable question, “Who’s reading?”

The week was especially busy so I hadn’t actually checked. I only knew that I’ve liked every single Clarion West reading I’ve gone to. So I shrugged and said, “I don’t know!”

I hit the bathroom on my way in, and was really surprised to see a woman in a TARDIS dress. Clearly, this was someone who was at least as much of a Doctor Who fan as me. I gasped or made some kind of squee noise — I don’t remember which — and she looked really taken aback, and I realized I had just been terribly gauche, so I said, “I love your TARDIS!!!”

And she said, “Oh, thanks. Are you coming to the reading?” Which of course I was. I had a sneaking suspicion she was the person reading . . . which of course she was.

She was pretty amazing. Her story was hilarious, a post-apocalyptic comedy with a theater critic as the “genie in the bottle” ready to grant three wishes. But her delivery was fantastic as well. And she radiated curiosity and energy. I think I know what the term “reader crush” means now.

Per the flow chart on her website (http://charliejane.com/) I see that she does podcasts, which means that I really and truly need to figure out how to make podcasts work on my Ipod. (Been listening to them on my Kindle, which is just . . . ridiculous.)

I’ll also have to keep my eye out for the publication of her story. She read the first half, leaving the fate of the postapocalyptic world in the hands of a failed screenwriter. Talk about cliffhangers!

– Kristin

Signal-boost on Inclusive Book Reviewing

Strange Horizons magazine ran not one but three articles on inclusive reviewing of books. I tried to read and digest them all, but it feels rather like a boa constrictor eating a mouse whole. (We once fostered a boa constrictor who did that.)

I have some thinky thoughts about these articles but nothing fleshed out enough to make into a proper blog post. In the meantime, all these things are worth reading. Plus, Shakespeare in the Bush.

Anyhow, I’ll keep at it.

On reading three books at once

I’m in the middle of three books. This is kind of a problem, actually, because when I read books like that I have trouble finishing them, which would be a shame, because they are all wonderful.

Orientation by Daniel Orozco

Everybody who has ever had a job in an office needs to read the title story. Here’s a link! I just finished the second story, which is sad. I’m not prepared for sad right now, which is why I picked up . . .

Creating a Life by Corbin Lewars

Wit, comedy, and heartwrenching honesty. I first read Corbin Lewars’ work when she was putting out the Reality Mom zine. I found it on the newsstand at my local bookstore and fell in love because it exactly described what I was going through with my own kids, who were the same age. What it’s like: your brain takes a bit of a vacation, and you have to sell your angel wings to the pawn shop. In Reality Mom, she shamelessly details all her mistakes, and nobody else has ever told the story of early motherhood with quite the same honesty and humor! Well, Creating a Life is the story of how she came to be a mom in the first place. Just started it, and am much enjoying.

 But then I went to a reading and heard Eileen Gunn read about Love Sasquatches in . . .

Questionable Practices by Eileen Gunn

From the blurb:

Good intentions aren’t everything. Sometimes things don’t quite go the way you planned. And sometimes you don’t plan. . . .

The Love Sasquatch was a hoot, and the ending (which she didn’t get to in the reading) was even better.

I just finished the story about Christmas and the elves, and I’m going — wait, what? It’s the kind of story you keep on thinking about and thinking about.

Oh yes, and the Spock and Kirk one, oh my . . .