A New Series – and Readers to be Thankful for ….

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If I made a wish list of the elements that combine to make a perfect series of early chapter books for new readers, here’s what I would include:

- books written by a respected children’s book author

- a series that would appeal to both boys and girls

- a diverse cast of likable characters

- preferably the series would center around animals

- easy to read chapter books for newly independent readers with lots of dialogue and illustrations to break up the text

After reading the first entry in Cynthia Lord’s Shelter Pet Squad, I knew it was time to start a new waiting list in the school library. This is a series that will make school librarians and parents of new chapter book readers very happy.

Jelly Bean, the guinea pig at the center of Lord’s first Pet Squad book, needs a new home. Luckily for him, there is a group of kids who volunteer at the local pet shelter who want to help – especially Suzannah, a second grade girl who loves animals, but lives in an apartment that does not allow pets. She wants a pet so much that she carries her stuffed-animal mouse in her pocket and leaves her stuffed dog in the window so he can “watch” her come home from school.  Her mom comes up with a solution: a program at the local animal shelter where kids can help feed the animals and make toys and treats for them. After joining the Pet Squad, Suzannah makes lots of new friends – both human and animals.

Another feature that makes this book so perfect is that the engaging story is followed by information about guinea pigs and animal shelters, giving readers a chance to learn more.  A series to be “thankful” for!

I’m also thankful for scenes like the ones below that I get to experience every day….

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Happy Thanksgiving!


B.J. Novak, A Prize, and an Event…

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Until yesterday, I had only read B.J. Novak’s new children’s book, The Book With No Pictures, to myself – which is not the way this book should be experienced. I knew Novak’s smart and clever book would be fun to read with a group of kids, but I was not at all prepared for their reaction. I read it to two groups of 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade students during their Library visits in what will go down as one of the most fun story times ever – much of it happily at my expense as I read lines like “I am a monkey who taught myself to read!’  There were literally a few children in each group that laughed so hard that calling the school nurse crossed my mind!  It was fun to watch the kids listening to the book – as they began to understand what was going on. Their look of pure delight reminded me, again, of the power of words to transport us quite literally into another state.  After we read it as a group, a few of the kids wanted to look again….


I am so happy that Jacqueline Woodson’s eloquent and moving memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.


Woodson’s story of growing up as African American in Ohio, South Carolina and Brooklyn is a book I’ve left on my bedside table since I finished reading it months ago. You can pick it up, open to any page, and find something beautiful. Like this…

And somehow, one day, it’s just there

speckled black and white, the paper

inside smelling like something I could fall right into,

live there – inside those clean white pages.

I don’t know how my first composition notebook

ended up in my hands, long before I could really write

someone must have known that this

was all I needed.

Below is the flyer for the December 2 program at the James in Norwell. If you’re local, come by and take a look at some of the best children’s books of 2014….


One more thing….when you have time, watch Ursula LeGuin deliver her passionate defense of books and words in a world governed by capitalism. Her remarks were part of last night’s National Book Award ceremony.

Here’s the link:




Three Books, Two Movies, and One List…



I’ve been reading stacks of books and end-of-year lists in preparation for my December 2 program at the James in Norwell. I’ll share the whole list soon, but if you’re like the little guy in the picture, you may be looking for some good books to read over the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend!  If so, check these out….


- Before After by Anne-Margot Ramstein and Matthias Aregui – I love this wordless picture book. It’s meant for kids between the ages of 4 and maybe 8, but it would be especially fun to look at with a group of children. Each two page spread features a “before” and an “after.”  Like this:


Most of the connections between the before and after are obvious, but there are a few that kids may have to think about for a minute. Some are funny (a slingshot on one page and a broken window on the other) and some are just beautiful (a nest of eggs followed by a mother bird feeding her young hungry baby birds).


- 100 Things That Make Me Happy by Amy Schwartz – This is another book that lends itself to a fun family activity.  A book of 100 things that will be familiar to young children – grocery carts, yellow ducks, jellybeans and 97 more!  In rhyming prose, this list of books lends itself to the obvious question: what would you add?  Sweet and engaging, Schwartz’s book is guaranteed to brighten a child’s day.


- The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara – After everyone has eaten their second piece of pie, it might be time for the kids to put on their pajamas and hear a bedtime story. Kohara’s story about a library open only at night and patronized by animals, is a cozy way to end the day.

In movie news….I just read that Netflix has acquired the rights to A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler) for a possible series. While you’re waiting for that, here are two movies based on children’s books to watch out for in 2015…

- Insurgent, the second installment of the Divergent series, starring Kate Winslet and Shailene Woodley, opens on March 20

- The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling starring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray opens on October 9 – eleven months from now!

Finally, from the Fall 2014 issue of Milton Academy’s magazine, a list from Nick Clark of “Twenty Books You Should Read to a Child You Love.” Clark is a 1965 graduate of Milton Academy and the Chief Curator of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

Millions of Cats by Wanda Gág

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt

Curious George by H.  A. and Margret Rey

Swimmy by Leo Lionni

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

Charlotte’s Web by E.  B. White

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

Eloise by Kay Thompson

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel

Snow White by Nancy Ekholm Burkert

George and Martha by James Marshall

Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg

For the complete article about Nick Clark, here’s the link:


48 Hours in New York – and 3 Reasons Why I Love Barbara McClintock’s Pictures…



This past weekend I spent two whole days with my sisters in New York City. Perfect company. Perfect weather. And we saw Matilda, the Broadway musical based on Roald Dahl’s novel!  Since both of my sisters live in Ohio, we don’t get to spend enough time together, but we were grateful for the weekend and had two wonderful days cramming in as many fun things as possible.

One of our stops was at the New York Public Library because neither of my sisters had seen the original Winnie-the-Pooh plush toys that were given to Christopher Robin Milne in the 1920s.  I’ve been lucky to visit the well-loved characters many times so this time I focused exclusively on Piglet. He is truly very small. And there is something calming about his sweet little face.

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Later, walking down the street, we passed a store called Aesop which sells hair and skin care products. I didn’t really care about that, but the store’s ceiling is awesome! Aesop is a partner to The Paris Review, copies of which they sell along with face lotion. I don’t get the connection, but the ceiling is worth checking out…

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As we walked by the Plaza, we made a quick stop inside to see the famous portrait of Eloise by Hilary Knight.  I just read on the Plaza’s website that the original 1957 painting disappeared in 1960 and Knight painted a new one.

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I don’t collect the complete collections of many authors or illustrators, but the illustrator Barbara McClintock is an exception, maybe the only one. I just set up a little display on my kitchen table:

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This picture is missing her most recent book, My Grandfather’s Coat by Jim Aylesworth, but  my copy is at school. I love and admire the work of many illustrators, but McClintock is at the top of my list. Here are three reasons why:

- Her watercolored ink drawings are so detailed that a child can spend hours pouring over all of the little things. If her books were available when I was a child, I would have lost hours in her exquisitely meticulous world.

- Her work is reminiscent of Randolph Caldecott, the British artist for whom the Caldecott Medal is named. Like him, her pictures convey movement and motion and action.

- I want to climb into her pictures. They capture a feeling of an idealized world that doesn’t exist – and probably never did – but it’s as close to a true paradise that I know and sometimes we all need a few minutes in that place.


McClintock’s book (with Beverly Donofrio), Where’s Mommy? was named one of the New York TimesBest Ten Illustrated Books of 2014.  I have that one, but it didn’t make it into my kitchen display!

image-5 If you’re local, please come to the James Library in Norwell on Tuesday, December 2 at 7:00 where I will be talking about all of my favorite children’s books of 2014 – just in time for holiday shopping!

A Book to Treasure and Books to Read…



The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee could be the most beautiful and touching book of 2014. It’s a 32-page wordless book that, fittingly, left me absolutely speechless. The opening scene is of a solitary farmer – all dressed in black – out working in his brown field. It’s a pretty monochromatic world this farmer lives in. No wonder he seems like a gruff guy. Soon, a train goes speeding by filled with all kinds of colorful characters who clearly belong in a circus. A bump on the track results in a young clown being tossed from the train and landing in the farmer’s field.  The farmer kindly takes the clown back to his house where he tries to cheer the little guy up. This beautiful sequence reminds me of my favorite scene in the movie, Babe, where Farmer Hoggett dances a jig and sings to Babe. As I turned the pages and watched the friendship between the farmer and the clown grow, I was literally dreading the return of the circus train. I knew the clown’s parents would return for him, but still….I was worried about the farmer whose life (you will see) gets understandably brighter with the arrival of the young clown. Luckily, Frazee provides a twist.

The Farmer and the Clown is genuinely moving and not at all cheesy.  Without using one word, it captures the power of companionship and kindness.

As much as I enjoy the books I read for my classes and School Library Journal reviews, at home I have to shield my eyes from the stack of books that I want to read. I’m truly not wishing for a bad cold or anything, but if I was forced to be at home all day and could read whatever I wanted – here are the books that would be piled up next to a bottle of Robitussin….

Unknown-1The Other Language by Francesca Marciano   (on Publishers Weekly’s list of the Best Books of 2014)


Nora Webster by Colm Toibin (this is the book at the very top of my list. I still recommend Toibin’s novel, Brooklyn, to everyone who asks me for a book recommendation.  Nick Hornby wrote screenplay of the movie – coming out in 2015)


Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot  (lots of glowing reviews for this YA novel, including one from Horn Book)


Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya (Another book that I look at longingly across the room….a novel about a family of Ukranian immigrants living in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn)

Unknown-5The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming (The heartbreaking and compelling story of the Romanov family in a book collecting starred reviews)


The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison (Essay collections are one of my weaknesses)


Redeployment by Phil Klay (A collection of stories about soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. A National Book Award Finalist)

I am slowly making my way through Anthony Doerr’s novel, All the Light We Cannot See. A friend reminded me that I have been “about half-way” for weeks!  That’s okay. I love it so much that I’m happy to spend more time with these characters.

You may have already seen this list of how famous authors would order their drinks from Starbucks, but in case you didn’t….check this link out:


It’s fun to think about Starbucks orders that famous authors might give. Hemingway might just say: “Coffee. Strong.”

Addison Stone and a Report from the Halloween Parade….



Last night I finished reading The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin – the perfect Halloween weekend novel: a tragic ghost story about a girl who, after she dies, continues to exert power over everyone in her sphere. A fictional “biography” of a teenager from small town Rhode Island who becomes a star of the Manhattan art world, Griffin’s novel addresses fame, mental illness, and the high stakes art world in this multi-voiced novel. As the book begins, Addison Stone has already died in mysterious circumstances. What follows is a series of interviews, media coverage, artwork, and e-mails that give contradictory reports of Addison’s life. Ultimately, Addison remains somewhat unknowable, but the people who suffer or benefit from their relationship with her come sharply into focus. I would recommend this book to readers 14 and over.

The Inly Halloween parade was festive as always – and there were a few book-themed costumes among the characters from Frozen, aliens, and witches:

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Finally, a funny story from one of our parents: Her six-year-old daughter was trying to describe a book she wanted to buy at our recent book fair. She couldn’t recall the title, but she remembered the cover:


Here’s the book she wanted – not bad, right?


A List for Middle School Readers and the “Right” Book….


Last week a visitor to our middle school asked what, in my opinion, are the books every middle school student should read. A tough question. Middle school is such a short time, and there are lots of good books for those in-between years. But there are certain stories that reflect this particular time in a kid’s life – and provide thoughtful and supportive passage to young adult reading.

Knowing that hundreds of memorable books (fiction and nonfiction) for middle school readers are painfully not included, here is a “desert island” list of ten:


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (The moving and funny story of Junior, a Native American boy who leaves his reservation to attend a public school. One of the most powerful coming-of-age novels ever written.)


Feed by M.T. Anderson (A satire about our media-dominated lives for the mature middle school reader. Given the dominant place of devices in teenager’s lives, this story about kids with chips in their brain sparks questions about consumer culture.)


The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (Published in 1967, the classic story about the socioeconomic barriers between two groups of teenagers – the Greasers and the Socs)


The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child by Francisco Jimenez (Autobiographical short stories about the life of a Mexican family working in the fields of California)


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (so many reasons – cultural literacy, humanizing complex and challenging topics, an introduction to discussions about race and gender and class, a good story…)


The Giver by Lois Lowry (The classic Newbery-winning novel that inspired Katniss and many others.)


Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (I included this because over many years of working with middle school students, this is a novel that kids continue to read and talk about. At a time in their lives when they are struggling with the idea of “groups,” this is a story about the power and challenges of nonconformity.)


Countdown by Deborah Wiles (a “documentary novel” that takes place during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. It’s got everything – a coming-of-age story, pop culture, the beginning of political awareness, changing relationships with family and friends….)


Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (A memoir in verse. Woodson tells the story of growing up as an African American in South Carolina and Brooklyn in the 1960s and 1970s. A combination of poetry and inspiration, this is a book for your nightstand table.)


The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney (I selected this book for two reasons: first, because it honestly conveys the impact of war on young lives today. As much as I believe kids can learn from the atrocities of past wars, The Red Pencil is set in an overcrowded Sudanese refugee camp – and contains a hopeful message for kids who live in conflict. Secondly, it’s about the power of education. Amira, the protagonist, dreams of going to school and knows that learning and books and her red pencil are literal tickets to opportunities and possibilities.)

ResizeImageHandler.ashxThere are lists everywhere we look – on Buzzfeed and blogs and on our phones and in our pockets. If we were making a list of famous list makers, we would certainly include Peter Mark Roget, the creator of Roget’s Thesaurus.  If you know a child who loves words and lists, you need to introduce them to Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet’s new picture book biography – The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus. I loved their earlier collaborations, especially A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, but this is literally one of the most beautiful picture books I’ve ever seen. A mix of words and images that tell the story of a boy who was passionate about words and lists, The Right Word will appeal to children (and adults) who love to play with language and write lists. After reading this book, you will be forever grateful for the thesaurus – which, to be honest, I have taken for granted for far too long!  One of the most interesting facts I learned/discovered/ascertained is that Thesaurus is “a word that means ‘treasure house’ in Greek.”

Two final pictures….

First, I saw this in The Believer and loved it so much that I cut it out and laminated it! This is my life story in graphic form….

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And, a Halloween note….my sister sent me a copy of A Halloween Scare in Ohio for our library. As you can see, I am working with our students to be sure they can name each of the 251 cities in the Buckeye State….

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