Story Time for Preschoolers….

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Some of the best new books in our library are for our preschool patrons. These are stories that will delight the child in your lap or the young children at story hour:


Countablock by Christopher Franceschelli and Peskimo. This is the perfect book to share with either a child learning about numbers or your favorite graphic designer. A solid “blocky” book with thick pages, Countablock counts from 1 to 10 and then moves up in increments of 10. The book does more than count…there’s a cause and effect game happening at the same time. For example, 20 caterpillars become 20 butterflies. Cucumbers turn into pickles. I think kids will actually enjoy the cause and effect element of this book more than the numbers themselves.


Diggers Go by Steve Light. This brightly-colored book is one of a series of four books about things that go. The author also created: Planes Go, Trucks Go, and Trains Go – all of which convey their “sounds” by Light’s use of varying type size. To be honest, I’m not a big truck fan. The only truck I really care about is the one that makes deliveries to Starbucks, but Light’s series captured my attention with its ingenious design. Each volume has thick pages and an oversized horizontal trim size – fitting the dynamic subjects.


Giant Vehicles by Rod Green and Stephen Biesty.  The transportation theme continues in this book illustrated by the master of the cross section, Stephen Biesty. I wish this book had been around when my son was young. I could have showered, loaded the dishwasher, and started the laundry while he was busy poring over all of the details. One of the highlighted vehicles is the Airbus A380 which, I was interested to learn, is larger than 2 blue whales!


Jack by Tomie dePaola. Jack has the potential to become a “read it again” book. Jack, who wants to see the world and live in a city, is on a quest of sorts – to see the king and see if he can offer some assistance. On his way he collects a group of animal friends(like Silly Sally by Audrey Wood) who join him and ultimately help Jack to renovate a house in the city. Familiar characters (look for Red Riding Hood) make cameo appearances!


Penguin and Pumpkin by Salina Yoon. Just in time for fall, a story about pumpkins! This is such a sweet little story. I know that sounds cliche but it’s the only way to describe this winning book. Penguin and his friend, Bootsy, want to go on an adventure to see what autumn looks like, but like little brothers everywhere, Penguin’s brother, Pumpkin, wants to join the fun. He’s not too happy when Penguin tells him he is not welcome!

School starts tomorrow – and I will have a delivery of new books for our Children’s House teachers…



End-of-Summer Reading….

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The teachers are back in school, but since the kids don’t start until after Labor Day, I’m trying to squeeze in as much “summer reading” as I can.  One of the best books I’ve read in the past few weeks is Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff.  After Graff’s most recent middle grade novel earned starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, I moved it to the top of the stack. A good move. Absolutely Almost centers on Albie, a fifth grade boy who lives in New York City, struggles in school. He means well and he really tries, but things don’t come easy. At the opening of the book, Albie has left private school and is the new boy at the local public school. At his new school, he wants so much to “be cool”  that he makes some believable and heartbreaking mistakes – including hurting the feelings of a girl who could be a true friend. The best part of Albie’s new life is his awesome new tutor, Calista, a college-age art student who Albie’s mother hires to hang out with her son and help him with his homework. Albie and Calista form a solid and genuine friendship that helps them both through some “sad days.” I love this thoughtful and funny book. School is starting just in time for me to share it with our 4th and 5th graders.

I’ve also ordering books – the most fun part of life in a school library. This is a World Culture year at Inly so I’ve been looking at books that encourage kids to be empathetic and responsible citizens who want to make the world a better place. With the papers full of news about violence, inequality, climate change and war, the importance of school libraries as a source of inspiration and a window on the world seems especially vital. To that end, here are three of the books I’ve purchased this month:


International Night: A Father and Daughter Cook Their Way Around the World by Mark Kurlansky with his daughter, Talia.  I heard an interview with father and daughter about their Friday night dinners – that were based on the spin of the globe.  The result of their culinary adventure is this cookbook that includes 52 recipes from appetizers to desserts. Looking through the book, I thought I could probably manage the cantaloupe juice from Provence; the only ingredients are a cantaloupe, water and honey. But even as someone who is less than skilled in the kitchen, I enjoyed the “armchair traveler” experience of looking through this book and reading the short essays that accompany the recipes. The book will definitely inspire adventurous eating and possibly some travel plans.


Photos Framed by Ruth Thomson. For our middle school library, I purchased this collection of some of the world’s most culturally significant photographs. Each of the 27 photos includes a note about the photographer and questions to initiate conversation and thought.  For example, the well known picture of the “Afghan Girl” by Steve McCurry asks the viewer to consider how “the girl’s direct stare makes you feel.”


Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus. A compelling picture book based on the author’s childhood memory of a lesson the older man taught him about the nature of anger: “Anger can strike, like lightning, and split a living tree in two,” Gandhi tells 12-year-old Arun. The beautiful mixed-media illustrations give the book texture and vibrancy that extend the story’s message.

A few other notes….


Taking “a page” from Keith Richards book, Bruce Springsteen has turned one of his songs into a picture book. Based on his 2009 song, Outlaw Pete, the book version (illustrated by Frank Caruso) will be published on November 4.

Earlier this summer, driving to meet a friend at a beautiful ocean view restaurant, I was listening to a report from Ferguson, Missouri which was followed by a story about Syrian refugees. The contrast between my pleasant outing and the news made me feel uncomfortable. Yesterday I saw this illustration by Christoph Niemann. That’s it, I thought with an achingly sad feeling….

Here’s the link:







The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell

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Fifty years ago, in June of 1964,  three young and idealistic civil rights workers were murdered by the KKK. The three young men were in Mississippi to register African Americans to vote as part of a statewide campaign. The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell is a riveting and essential account of the events leading to the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner – and should be in the collection of every middle and high school.


I  pay special attention to good books about the Civil Rights Movement because our middle school students focus on that pivotal time during their history studies. Mitchell’s book caught my attention after reading several glowing reviews, but admittedly, when I read more about Mitchell, it was his biography that sparked my interest. Don Mitchell – from Kettering, Ohio – began his career in the office of Senator John Glenn. One of the books most often displayed at the Inly Library is Liftoff: A Photobiography of John Glenn by Don Mitchell. I consider it my responsibility – and a pleasure – to be sure Inly students learn about the first American to orbit the earth, U.S. Senator, and one of Ohio’s most famous  sons. During college, I spent a summer interning in Senator Glenn’s Washington office which ultimately led to my first job after graduating. I contacted Don Mitchell to learn more about his new book, and he graciously agreed to answer a few questions about The Freedom Summer Murders:

SS: What drew you to this particular set of events?

DM: I have been aware of the Chaney, Goodman, Schwerner murders from an early age. At my high school in Kettering, I took a course in black history and learned about this case in more depth. When I went on to attend Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, I frequently studied at the university’s Western Campus, which used to be the Western College for Women. It’s a beautiful, tranquil place. I often thought of the Freedom Summer volunteers who trained there in 1964. I was drawn to this story of young people taking such a huge risk to help others and fight for social justice. When I was casting about for a new book idea several years ago, I realized the fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer was approaching and I decided it would be a good time to explore this important story.

SS: You clearly spent a lot of time talking with people and reading firsthand accounts of the events of June 1964. Did anything you learn surprise you? Any challenges or “roads” you didn’t expect to travel?

DM: One of my primary objectives was to interview people who knew James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. In most published accounts of this story, there is very little about their lives and backgrounds. I wanted to tell their individual stories more fully, and explore what made these three young men such caring individuals, and how they became involved in civil rights. These interviews were the most interesting part of my research. I was struck, but not surprised, by how deeply they felt the loss of their loved ones, and how vivid that sense of loss was almost 50 years after their murders.

SS: What books do you admire?

DM: I’ve always been interested in biographies. It’s a great way to learn about the lives of interesting people, as well as understand the times in which they lived. I also love anything written by E.B. White; not just his books for young people (e.g., Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little), but his letters and essays. In addition to being a great literary stylist, his writing is witty and insightful.

SS: Is there a next book being planned?

DM: I have a young adult nonfiction book proposal that is currently under consideration at several publishing houses. Hopefully, there will be interest before long — I’m anxious to begin a new project.


As regular readers know, I consider Charlotte’s Web to be one of the greatest novels ever written – so it was a thrill to read about Don’s admiration for E.B. White.


Bookstore Hopping Through Midcoast Maine….


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With a list of bookstores in hand, my husband and I took a road trip through Maine’s midcoast this past week. So many blueberries! So many yummy lobster rolls! And so many book-related adventures…

We spent a few days in Camden where we found Sherman’s Books on Main Street. The best part of this store was looking up and finding a sock monkey gliding across the store…

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It was while browsing in Sherman’s that we heard the sad news about Robin Williams. The man working that evening saw it on his computer and let us know….the feeling of sadness and shock was palpable. All of the customers hoped it was a mistake until everyone’s phones began buzzing with the news.  On a happier note, we bought a book about the best lobster rolls in New England for a friend of ours who will drive many miles for a good lobster roll.

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One of the highlights of a trip to Camden is spending time in their beautiful public library. I want to apply for a job there, but only for the summer months. As a person with a serious snow-phobia, I don’t think Maine is the right direction for me to move. This summer the Library is hosting an exhibit, Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War, as part of their Maine and the Civil War programs.

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Another day, we took our first trip to Monhegan Island, a small island about ten miles away from the mainland. It was a beautiful day and we hiked all around the island (which doesn’t take very long), and here’s what we found:

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It was interesting to be in a place with no paved roads or commercial activity. There are a few small stores, one hotel, and we saw two trucks on the island, but that’s about it. It truly felt like we had stepped back in time. Of course, the tourists taking picture with their phones kept the 21st century firmly in place, but it was fun (kind of) to imagine living in a place with no Starbucks!

The highlight of our bookstore visits was in Belfast, Maine where we discovered Left Bank Books. It is the perfect bookstore: cozy, warm, in a beautiful place, well edited, and a knowledgeable staff – well worth the visit if you have reason to be in Belfast or any town within an hours drive. We poked around for awhile and, of course, left with a bag full of books. Admittedly, I spent most of my time in the children’s section eavesdropping (for research purposes) on conversations between parents and kids. Among my favorite conversations were two boys – who looked about 10 – talking about The Giver movie and a sweet exchange between a dad and his daughter about finding a new chapter book to read together.

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I was especially happy to re-visit Hello Hello Books in Rockland. I love this store because it’s clearly owned by a person who loves books. My favorite display is a stack of Lacy’s favorite books – a few of her selections are in the pic below. I share her love for Three Junes by Julia Glass…Hello Hello is connected to a coffee shop. You can order a yummy drink and take it right into the store – the perfect combination!

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No visit to Maine would be complete without a visit to Freeport and the L.L. Bean Flagship store. I counted this stop as a bookstore visit because they sell a wide variety of outdoor guides at the store, but I bought boots – not books!

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Back at home, but lots of happy memories and new books!

Books From North of the Border….

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Unknown-4 As a graduate student at the Simmons Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, one of my most interesting classes was Canadian Literature.  You may be picturing a young orphan girl with red braids – I certainly did. My “word association” leap went straight to….Anne of Green Gables. But that was before I read books by Tim Wynne Jones, Kit Pearson, Brian Doyle, and Sarah Ellis – among many others. In fact, it was that class that introduced me to the Canadian classic, The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier, a book I now read annually with middle school students.


My favorite discovery was a picture book published in 1971 – Mary of Mile 18, the story of a young girl who finds a wolf pup that she is not allowed to keep – unless she can find a way to show her father that the dog is worth feeding. The book takes place in a remote part of the Canadian wilderness in a house with no electricity. I can still remember learning that the author, Ann Blades, was only 20-years-old when she wrote the book as a story for the Canadian children she was teaching.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with a stack of new Canadian picture books published by Tradewind Books:


Anna Carries Water by Olive Senior – Set in Jamaica, this book is a long way from Mary of Mile 18, but both stories are about girls who are experiencing rites of passage. In Anna’s case, she wants to carry water on her head just like her older siblings. When her family goes to collect water, her brothers and sisters carry buckets on their heads without spilling a drop, but Anna carries her empty coffee can in her hands. Ultimately, with the help of some cows, Anna learns to carry the water, but what I really like about this story is its message about water. At Inly, our younger students learn about the fundamental needs that all people share. Anna Carries Water is a book teachers could use to introduce a lesson about the importance of water to everyone’s daily life.


Dolphin SOS by Roy Miki and Slavia Miki – Based on a true story of three dolphins trapped on the coast of Newfoundland in 2009, Dolphin SOS is told from the point of view of a young girl who is awakened by the “piercing eerie” sounds of crying dolphins.  Along with her two brothers and several others in their small town, they guide the dolphins back to open water. This is definitely a book I will read to the students this year. It has everything they like most in a story: animals, kids as heroes, and a happy ending. The illustrations by Vancouver-based artist Julie Flett are crisp and elegant – I want to cut them out and hang them on the Library walls (but I won’t)!


Time for Flowers, Time for Snow by Glen Huser – a retelling of the myth of Persephone, but what makes this one special is that the book includes a CD of the story performed as an opera. The illustrations by Philippe Beha evoke thoughts of Marc Chagall.  Look at this picture from inside:


Huser’s book would be an excellent gift for kids who enjoy reading Greek myths. Sometimes a student who is reading the Rick Riordan series will ask me to recommend other stories based on myths. I always give them the D’Aulaires’ book, but Time for Flowers, Time for Snow would be a good one to give them as well.


No-Matter-What Friend by Kari-Lynn Winters – a sweet elegiac story about a boy and a dog growing older together. Winters’ book is less plot-driven and more an evocation of the special relationship many of us have had with our animal friends.

I am looking forward to sharing all of these books with our students. They reminded me to pay closer attention to the excellent books being published north of the border.

(Books were provided by Tradewind Books)






Books and Benches….


I find myself turning the pages more quickly these days. My hands know what the calendar confirms: it’s almost time to go back to school. Although there are lots of wonderful things about a new school year, I do miss having time to read the books on my own list rather than the next homework assignment! Here’s what I’ve been reading over the past couple of weeks:


The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai.  I really enjoyed this symphony of a book. I refer to it as a symphony because it’s a novel in four parts, but rather than moving forward, the reader begins in the year 2000 and goes back to 1900. It’s the story of a house, Laurelfield, that belongs to a family with “old money” and like any old house worth learning about, the house is haunted. The ghost in charge of haunting Laurelfield is Violet Devohr who in true gothic fashion, killed herself in the attic.  You know about Violet right away – before beginning the novel’s first (and longest) section which belongs to two married couples who share the coach house. Dee, a professor at a local college, and Doug, her husband who is supposedly working on a book about a poet named Edwin Parfitt, but who is actually contributing installments to a formulaic middle grade series are already facing challenges in their marriage when another couple moves in to share the house. Not surprisingly, that doesn’t help. The most interesting thing about Laurelfield is that between the 1930s and 1950s, the house served as an artists’ colony, and among its well-known guests at that time was Edwin Parfitt. So much family history to unravel!  My only challenge with Makkai’s well-constructed and complex story is that I’m not good at reading books that change their focus midway. I admire Makkai’s architecture, but when I had to leave all of the characters I got to know in the novel’s first 160 pages, I was grumpy about leaving them. Now I want to read Makkai’s first book, The Borrower, which I remember hearing good things about when it was published in 2011.


A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd. This was on my “must read right now” list since the book was published in…..February!  The reviews have been glowing from both professional journals and from friends. I knew Lloyd’s book was something special from the first sentence: “They say all the magic is gone up out of this place,” said Mama.”  It’s that phrase – “gone up” – that was the sign of a good story coming.  The sentence would be a whole lot plainer if it read: They said all the magic is gone from this place.  “Gone up” gives the reader a voice to latch on to immediately.  Anyway….a good story does follow. About magic and the power of words and friendship. The names alone are worth the price of admission – the story takes place in Midnight Gulch, Tennessee and the protagonist’s name is Felicity Pickle. Felicity, her mother and her six-year-old sister drive around in a car they call the Pickled Jalapeño. Felicity, along with her new friend Jonah, saves her family and makes some memorable friends along the way. A Snicker of Magic reminded me of Savvy by Ingrid Law, and there’s even a fun reference to Holes!  Worth the wait….


Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. Speaking of waiting too long…almost embarrassing to list this one, but I did finally read the popular and beloved novel and now understand its enormous appeal. Admittedly, I didn’t expect to be knocked off my heals by a teenage romance, but I was. Eleanor & Park is more powerful than I would have expected – especially since I am much older than the main characters. Eleanor, in particular, became so real to me over the course of the book that I felt kind of sick when it was over.  A heartbreaking but beautiful story.

On a completely different note….


I was in Boston last week and this sign caught my attention and made me laugh. I tell my students regularly (more than they want to hear) that in literature, “a garden is never just a garden.” We talk about the Garden of Eden and gardens as symbols of peace and rebirth. So…I had to take a picture of this sign to show them during a class this year!

If you’re looking for a perfect bench for your garden, you might want to plan a trip to London between now and mid-September. A friend told me about this incredible summer-long exhibit on the streets of London – Books About Town. There are 50 benches celebrating London’s literary culture. Here’s a link to see all of the benches – and thanks, Debbie!

My favorite is the Mary Poppins bench!






Two Charming Picture Books – and a Special Display!



I stopped by school yesterday to look at the mail and see if any boxes had arrived. Late summer boxes are the best!  Each of them contains new books for the year ahead and as I take each one out, I’m usually thinking about the student who will want to read it first – or how much our younger students will enjoy hearing the story during library visits.

Among many treasures were two stand-outs:


Ninja! by Arree Chung is the funny story of a little boy on an important mission: to capture his sister’s milk and cookies. Chung uses panels – comic book style – to follow the adventures of the Ninja who faces obstacles around his house, including his napping father, to accomplish his task. Of course, his sister is not too happy when her brother drinks the milk from her “sacred cup!”  For a ninja-themed story time, pair this book with Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta and Ed Young – the story of another stealthy ninja on a similar mission.


The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara is going to be hard to check-out. I want to put it on display in the library and look at it every day! The story of a library open only at night, this is one of my favorites of 2014 – the perfect book to read in your pajamas. The librarian in charge of this magical place, the “little librarian,” is assisted by three owls. Together they help the library’s animal patrons find just the right book to send them into dreamland, but one night things get a bit challenging – a hole in the roof, a wolf who reads a sad story, and a very noisy “band” of squirrels.  But the little librarian solves all of the troubles, and along with her nocturnal friends, makes sure everyone has a happy ending. The Midnight Library is a cozy and happy book – the perfect little book about books.

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For readers who live on the South Shore….I hope you can visit Buttonwood Books and Toys over the next few days and check out the summer reading display by two Inly students. I was happy to see that they included Grace Lin’s  Dumpling Days – their summer reading book!

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And, finally, a word about the teddy bear at the top of this post. Last week we went to the Green Animals Topiary Garden in Portsmouth, Rhode Island – the oldest topiary garden in the United States. It’s awesome to stand in the garden and be surrounded by big green (and harmless) animals including a giraffe, a unicorn, an elephant, and my favorite – the teddy bear. For more information, here’s the link: