Hannah Lavey can do Southern demure if she needs to: let’s credit that to growing up in an antebellum home in Demopolis, Alabama. But demure isn’t her natural habitat! This girlfriend has sexy flair. She’ll mix it up in a political discussion given half a chance. Or laugh so loudly you can hear her the next county over (claims friend Karlen Garrard, who calls it “the best laugh in Nashville”). She can talk to all kinds of people with equal ease – and she loves it when a conversation runs deep. “She is a funny, zesty person, but there’s a whole lot underneath,” says Karlen.
“I was born in Demopolis, Alabama,” Hannah tells me, “on the mighty Tombigbee River. I am the eldest of four siblings reared in an antebellum home that my parents bought for $500, moved five blocks the day the man walked on the moon, and then restored beautifully with a view of the river from our back porch. My paternal grandparents lived a few blocks from our home, and a devoted spinster great aunt visited us every afternoon bringing scraps for our dogs, tons of hugs and the desire to hear everything about our day. I loved nothing more as a child than sitting in the living rooms of my extended family listening to the adults talk – about their day, the lives of friends, the mysteries and intrigues of a small town.
My grandmother, Grey, was a huge reader. One of my favorite memories is a drive to Americus, Georgia, with my grandparents when my sister and I were in elementary school. My grandmother read Little House in the Big Woods aloud to the two of us. At the age of 97, she still has one of the most beautiful voices.”
Hannah’s been reading non-stop ever since. One of her favorite guilty pleasures these days is “curling up under my covers alone on a Sunday afternoon reading one of my daughter’s Young Adult novels, the New Yorker or a Richard Rohr book on prayer.” Hannah also loves to write reflections, narrative poems, and stories in quiet moments.
The rest of the week is often too busy for such things. There are two daughters, two dogs, and the darling husband to take care of, plus her part-time work at Vanderbilt as an admissions analyst. She’s two years into the gig at Vanderbilt and loves the work, the people she’s met, and feeling part of something bigger in the world. For the last 16 years, she has also designed and created stationery and invitations through her company, by hand by hannah. “I’m an ‘old school’ designer,” she says. “Nothing more than a black pen and grid paper and creative inspiration. And home trunk shows. I love using the more analytical side of my brain in admissions and then doodling an invitation or painting a graduation collage with my creative side.”
Hannah believes in a God of tender mercies and abundant grace, in the practice of reading aloud to our children (even our teenagers) and in the power of sharing our stories on paper, in song or in conversation. Today, she kindly shares her recommendations in Young Adult and children’s literature for summer reading.
You might call me the Book Aunt/Book Godmother. I am the one who gives a book for birthdays, Christmas or any minor occasion that warrants a gift. I am the giddy parent who thinks she has won the lottery when her daughters’ school librarian calls and asks her to drive the esteemed children’s book author Katharine Paterson to the airport. I am the expectant neighbor waiting for my friend Lyn’s phone call to suggest summer reads for her girls and then perusing our personal library for titles as shrewdly as a seasoned librarian. I love books. Most especially, I love children’s literature.
Growing up in a small Alabama town, I was surrounded by people who liked to read. My mama and daddy, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and beloved godparents loved books. They also loved talk about books. Later, as a single adult, I fell in love with a guy who had a room like a monk’s cell: a single bed with flannel sheets and a flimsy blanket but a huge bookshelf full of fantastic literature. I knew John was a keeper.
Among my favorite childhood memories are the lazy summer afternoons spent in the Demopolis Public Library escaping the stifling heat and humidity. There was nothing better than browsing the shelves for the next Boxcar Children, an Elizabeth Enright title or the latest Newberry Award Winner while the library’s AC blasted cold air. And, then, back at home I would stretch out across my bed to escape into foreign worlds, enjoy fantastic adventures and meet savory characters. Trips to our beach house in Gulf Shores or a two-week sojourn with my maternal grandparents in Sylacauga would always include visits to their local libraries where I was delighted to find new titles or a favorite series. I still carry a Gulf Shores library card in my wallet for return trips to our beach home.
Over the past 10 years, my childhood friend, Cora and I have spent spring breaks together with her daughters, Kate and Sarah Coleman, and my two girls, Frances and Mary Sparks. Our favorite tradition has been reading a book aloud every afternoon. Among our most cherished reads have been Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert O’Brien, The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, Wonder by Raquel J. Palacio, and One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. Even Kate, a senior in high school during our last spring break together, curled up on the couch while Cora and I took turns reading the chapters aloud to a rapt crowd of sunburned girls.
I have a rule that during the summer break my teenagers have to spend at least one hour a day media-free: no phones, no computers, no TV. So in anticipation of the next three months of reading, I took a trip to the Green Hills Library then spent a fun afternoon at Parnassus Books chatting with the very lovely and informative Grace. I discovered some new treasures and was reminded of some wonderful favorites. I already have my stack by my bedside table. Now it’s your turn. Enjoy!
Among my favorite finds in read-aloud and middle school lit are:
The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm,
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier,
West of the Moon by Margi Preus,
The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein,
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin,
and the sequels to One Crazy Summer: PS Be Eleven and Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia.
My new favorite Youth Adult selections are:
Mosquitoland by David Arnold,
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir,
Rook by local author, Sharon Cameron,
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen,
All the Boys I’ve Loved by Jenny Han,
One Came Home by Amy Timberlake,
and oldie but goodies, Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
Thanks Jennifer and Hannah! We are reading away at our house and love these additions to the summer list. We are huge fans of The Penderwicks too. Happy reading.
I know you and your girls love a summertime read! Thinking of you all! xo
Thank you Hannah for starting my day off right! One hour unplugged is our goal too and sounds easier than it is so thank you for the fabulous list of recommendations. Jennifer your intro to Hannah is spot on. I can hear her laugh now!
Hannah started my day off right too!! Thanks, Barbara Keith. xo
Hannah, with hometown names like Sylacauga and Demopolis, you should be writing your own children’s lit books! I’ve read some of your remembrances and they are beautiful. I had a moment, while reading this, of wishing I could sit with you and your girls and listen to you read a story. Sounds so peaceful and lovely.
Agreed on all counts, Judy! Given Hannah’s talents, I think it’s just a matter of time until we see her as an author/illustrator on the bookshelves!! xo
For the YA readers, may I suggest http://www.harpercollins.com/9780062026163/the-scavengers by my friend Michael Perry.
Thank you for the recommendation, Bill! The Scavengers looks great! From the HarperCollins website: “The Scavengers is a wholly original tween novel that combines an action-packed adventure, a heartfelt family story, and a triumphant journey of self-discovery in a world where one person’s junk is another person’s key to survival. Katherine Applegate, author of the Newbery Medal winner The One and Only Ivan, raves ‘Michael Perry pulls out all the stops in this colorful tale.'”
This is great Hannah! And I’m stealing the idea of read alouds with friends. Happy summer!
Thank you so much for your comment, Shannon! All best to you!
The multi-talented Hannah….I loved reading this, inspired for summer!
Yes she is!! And I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
I love everything about this!!!
I’m so delighted! Thank you so much for your kind comment!
There are so many things about this post that I love, mostly Jennifer and Hannah! As another school year ends, I’m reminded how fortunate I was to be a small part of your well read lives. Much love! xo
Amanda, we are the lucky ones. I will always feel so grateful for the wonderful year each of my daughters spent in your classroom, and I know so many others feel the same way. You were a loving, gifted teacher and are much missed. Much love to you as well! xo
Love this, Hannah! Very best from one of your Demopolis cousins!
Gosh you look so glam, so dangerous in that picture, mah steel magnolia. What I adore about this post is that my next serious friend-boy will have to live in a book sanctuary – like John Lavey, to pass muster. Curiosity is the greatest of human traits after love and honesty. Readers are curious,bright, dreamers, wanderers. After reading this, I suddenly realized in the tenderest way that I gave my son the glorious lifelong gift of adventure, simply because we drank from the cup of fantasy each childhood night at reading -time.
I love you, Hannah .
Thank you, Janetta, for joining this conversation. You can imagine – I love the way you think. xo
Thank you all for your lovely comments! I am humbled. xoxo
Love Hannah and teen books….great post :).
Thanks, Missy! You know how happy we both are to hear from you! xo
Jennifer–you know so well my dear Hannah. This brought both tears and laughter for me. The memories of spring break in Gulf Shores …..ahhhhh…..inspired by both of you!
Cora, I’m so honored by your comment. I can only imagine what happy times you have shared with Hannah over the years! Warmest wishes to you. xo
Go, Hannah! You are a blessing for all of us.
I’ve been looking to Hannah for book suggestions for my girls since we moved into Cherokee Park 14 years ago! Who needs a library or a librarian if you have Hannah around the corner? In fact, we might just have some overdue books that need to be returned….. Hannah is always spot on with her ideas, as she knows well what my girls are interested in. Thanks to Jennifer and Hannah for inspiring young readers! xo
Lyn, I know Hannah has loved being your neighbor! Thank you so much for your kind comment today. All good wishes to you and the girls as summer begins! xo
Thanks for sharing this with me. I loved it. Dashiell
Thank you for stopping in at Bacon!