A Math Thing

You know that terrible feeling that you’re aware of a wide swath of problems but you can’t do anything about them? And that’s really difficult, because the problems in question are real and immediate and affect the health and well-being of people and, let’s say, the planet?

What if you could focus on problems that were, instead, interesting? That didn’t have life-or-death solutions? And how about if you could talk about these problems with your kids?

Which is a VERY long-winded way of saying that maybe you want to check out Mage Merlin’s Unsolved Mathematical Mysteries. Especially if you happen to have a person at home who is, perhaps, online learning for some reason. It’s got pictures! Stories! Something to take you away from all this!

I had a book like this as a kid and I still think about the puzzles in it (though, no, I didn’t break through and solve any of them, but maybe you or your kid will!).

This is like the reading version of the Lost Chord (did anyone else have to play this as a kid? Did anyone else spend an embarrassing amount of time trying to find it? Just me?).

PS: If you do solve any of these, or find the lost chord, let us know! We will be delighted.

On Sad Books

For all my crowing about One Hundred Spaghetti Strings, I had never had Chestnut read it. It's funny, because when Jen was working on it, I kept thinking about how great it would be for Chestnut—food, and family drama, and love. All of these are things that she's really interested in, she's that sort of reader. Sara Plain and Tall, for instance, was incredibly important to her.

But that was back in the day. She's 15 now, and she reads newspapers and adult novels and complicated philosophers. She reads books on education policy and gets really angry, and she reads sophisticated science fiction (Stephen Baxter FTW!) and is moved. It seemed like the time for the moving, realistic middle grade novel had passed her by, just because it takes too long for books to be published, and too short for kids to grow up.

But I got my copy at a reading, and I brought it home, and I said (diffidently, I swear it), "You might like this, it's by a friend of mine, you know her, she's—."

"Fine, whatever." It did not get picked up in that moment.

But canny parent that I am, I left it there on the coffee table, knowing people forget to bring things with them, and are compulsive readers, and will likely pick up any book that is at hand. And so she did.

I saw her reading it on and off through the day, and that evening when friends came over for drinks (our friends, don't worry, not hers) she skulked upstairs without even saying much of a hello. And I thought, "Eh, she's 15, that's how it goes."

Except it turns out that she wasn't being 15 exactly. She was crying—over Steffy (the book's heroine), over how families are supposed to work in a certain way, and sometimes they don't. Just over a sad book. Like one does.

She told me all this the next day, when we were getting ready to head out of town. "It was so good, but so sad."


And then as we were packing, she said, "Do you have any other really sad books? I want to read one. Do you ever think about how sometimes reading something sad, and being sad, feels like it fixes something inside you?"

I do think about that. I think about that now.

A non-novel interlude, in which hearts are touched

We do still get the odd review copy down this way at ye olde Diamond in the Window, and generally Chestnut has at it. Despite her advanced age (14!) (!!!) she is ready to get down with picture books, middle grade, romance, anything really—she is a curious and voracious reader, and generally has strong opinions, which are about as forgiving as 14-year-olds are in general (ie: NOT AT ALL).

This book showed up in our mailbox last week:


Chestnut picked it up. As she does.

She reads fast, and after a while, she said, "I don't think this is that well written." But she kept reading.

A while more: "I don't think this book is all that great." She did not put the book down.

A while more, and I looked next to me on the couch, and there was Chestnut, looking intently at the book, with tears falling. Actual tears, not just "wet eyes" or getting choked up, or—or anything. Reading and crying.

"Are you OK?"

"Yeah." Tears continued to fall. "It's just that." Painful pause. "This book isn't that well-written." Another painful pause. "And I don't think it's great, you know?" OK. "But you know, I really know how they feel, do you know what I mean? I know exactly how they feel."

And there it is: empathy, despite our great resistance. In the midst of geometry and Mandarin finals, in between reading about Donald Trump in the newspaper and trying to get things ready for summer and being late for one thing or another, a book reached through all that, through a stalwart 14-year-old's carefully fortified defenses, and reached her heart. This is amazing to me. This matters.

This book (have you guessed yet?) is sad. It is painful. It is about three boys and their feelings and their difficulties and their loves. And their teacher. Do you have a reader who might be needing to feel something? Maybe that person should read it too.

And I Have Told You This to Make You Weep. And also Smile.

We still get books sent to us here at ye olde Diamond in the Window. Some poor overworked marketing person at a publisher still shoves new books into boxes and/or padded envelopes, and sends them around to bloggers and others in the hopes that people will remember that there are new books appearing in the world, and when you read one of them, it just might…reach you.

Readers: it has happened.


See, Chestnut reads through all of them. And then she gives me her verdict. And because I am her mother, sometimes I don't really listen when I listen, if you know what I mean? I nod and say "Yeah, right, OK," and there are many many levels of me that are not registering her words AT ALL.

So she may have had to repeat herself a few times. She did.

"Mom, seriously, Mom! This book is really good, you have to read it and then blog about it."

I did. And oh! It's so freaking lovely. 

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook is about a boy who grows up in a prison, because his mom is incarcerated. I have not read any other book in recent memory that talks about this. It is entirely, earnestly, and unutterably sweet. So many books for middle grade readers try to be cool and self-consciously silly, and this is neither of those. It's funny and caring and heartfelt, and there were moments there when I felt like it pierced me to my very core.

I want so many people to read it. I want everyone to read it.

Do I have quibbles? Of course I do! But I can't address my quibbles without talking about the secrets to be revealed, and anyway, they don't really alter my view. Which is: read this sweet book. Or get it for your kid, or your nephew, or your niece, or someone. And you will have given them at least one good thing in the world, which is worth it.

Hope you're all well. Maybe throw in your own recent happy discoveries in the comments?

For the Boys (and Girls)

I rode in a car with my nephews last week, and Readers, I have learned much. I have long known (and cherished knowing) that there are books out there that speak in a particular way to everyone, but I saw this one up close and personal, and…wow. I give you:


Can you guess what it's about? I bet you can.

My excellent nephews were listening to the audio book, and they couldn't wait to get back in the car to listen to it at any and every opportunity. I was treated to the extended play-by-play that is the book's last section: the Big Game. A lot of passages like "he bounced a pass off the backboard!" They were rapt. 

This is exactly the sort of book that needs to find its way into the hands of more kids, because they will be so happy. Kids who can follow play by play and know what it means (unlike me). Kids who are all about whether the travel team will win the big game. 

Do you have or know this sort of kid? Find this book—there are apparently tons of them, lots of team books—and give it to him. Or her. I am endlessly happy these exist, because we will all, at one time or another, come across the person who needs it, and we'll know just what to do.