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,
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.