A Virtual Summer Book Party!

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Earlier this month I was invited to join a blog tour with a group of talented authors…

The baton has been passed among many writers, but a few leaps back was Eileen Beha, the author of Tango: The Tale of an Island Dog. An animal story set on Prince Edward Island, this one has been popular with Inly’s dog-loving students. Her new book, The Secrets of Eastcliff-by-the-Sea, has the greatest cover:

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A book about a sock monkey named Throckmorton S. Monkey seals the deal. It will be added to our school library.

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The next person in the chain was Loretta Ellsworth, the author of In Search of Mockingbird, the story of a young girl who goes in search of Harper Lee, her mother’s favorite author. I have recommended this book to middle school students after we read To Kill a Mockingbird.  With all of the attention on Marja Mills’ book, The Mockingbird Next Door, about her real-life experience as Harper Lee’s neighbor, Loretta’s book might be fun to read right now.

 Here’s a link to Loretta’s website:

http://www.lorettaellsworth.com

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After Eileen and Loretta wrote, Mary Losure added her entry. I was especially excited to see Mary’s name because I read The Fairy Ring last year and put it on this summer’s school reading list. Mary’s book is the true story of two English girls who started a “fairy hoax” which fooled lots of people, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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Next, the baton was passed to Gwenyth Swain, the author of Hopes and Tears: Ellis Island Voices. Inly has two copies of her extraordinary book about the immigrant experience. When our 4th, 5th and 6th grade groups begin their study of immigration, Swain’s is the first book I give to the teachers.

The link to Gwenyth’s blog:

http://story-slinger.blogspot.com

 

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On to the questions….

What am I currently working on?

 My story is a bit different from the talented writers in this blog hop. I enjoyed writing the two biographies – I learned so much, worked with dedicated editors and was happy to send the stories of two inspiring figures out into the world. That being said, while working on both projects, I missed reading. I remember reading books about Hank Greenberg and enjoying them – but was also aware of my nightstand table filled with books I really wanted to read. I love to read and share my favorite books with others. I especially enjoy reviewing middle grade fiction for School Library Journal, writing my blog posts, and recommending books to kids and adults which, luckily, I have many opportunities to do.  It was a special pleasure when Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg won a 2012 Sydney Taylor Honor Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries. Greenberg deserves more recognition for what he achieved both on and off the field, and the award ensured that more kids would hear his story. But when that book was published – and I had a renewed sense of appreciation for the work that goes into good nonfiction for kids – I returned to reading and recommending.

 Why do I write what I write?

 Both of my books came from a personal connection with the subjects. My first biography for young readers, John F. Kennedy: His Life and Legacy, was a direct result of my 15-year career at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston. Because of my work there, I was already immersed in Kennedy’s life and the goal of my book was to share his inspiring story with young people. Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg: Baseball Pioneer, my second book, was a very different experience. While I knew a lot about President Kennedy and my goal was to share his story with young people, I knew very little (initially) about Hank Greenberg. But my son played a lot of baseball when he was young and, along with that, he read books about baseball. I began to notice the name Hank Greenberg in several of his books about famous players and soon discovered that Greenberg, a first baseman for the Detroit Tigers, had an amazing story which was not as well known as it should be. He was the first Jewish baseball star – in fact, he almost broke Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1938. After a visit to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown to learn more, I had my new subject.

How does my writing process work?

 I like to spread out: colored note cards, lots of paper, post-it notes, books, and copies of old newspaper articles. My process reflects my hyper-organized approach to most of my work.

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One of the best things about participating in this blog hop is the chance to introduce my readers to Larry Dane Brimner, the author of Birmingham Sunday and Black & White: The Confrontation Between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor.  In her review of Birmingham Sunday (for Booklist) Hazel Rochman wrote: “This moving photo-essay covers much more than just an account of the Birmingham, Alabama, Baptist Church bombing that killed four young girls in 1963. The detailed text, illustrated with black-and-white photos on every spacious double-page spread, sets the shocking assassination of the children within a general overview of both the racist segregation of the times and the struggle against it….” When Inly’s middle school students study the Civil Rights Movement, Larry’s books are in the classroom.

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 Larry’s new book, Strike!: The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights, will be published in October. I just got a copy and am looking forward to reading it, but until then, here’s an excerpt from the School Library Journal review:

 “Brimner’s comprehensive history of the United Farm Workers (UFW) begins not with Cesar Chavez but with the action of a group of Filipino farm workers who walked off the California fields in 1965. He combines the little-known story of the Filipino workers, a significant segment of migrant farm workers, with that of Chavez and the Hispanic workers, whose actions have received far more attention…He is objective about Chavez, providing both praise and criticism of his role as union and civil rights leader. One of the book’s strongest points is a discussion of how Hispanic organizers Chavez and Deloris Huerta and their Filipino counterpart Larry Itliong worked to overcome grower-exploited cultural differences between the two groups and persuade them to trust and work together. The text is supplemented with well-chosen primary source quotes, large period photos and political cartoons, and sidebars….Brimner’s inclusion of information about the Filipino workers who began the movement, quotes and balanced discussion of Chavez’s strengths and weaknesses provides a fresh perspective on the movement, making this book a first-purchase choice for middle-level researchers.

Check Larry’s blog  in the next few days where he will answer the same questions about his work.

http://larrydanebrimner.blogspot.com

A note about the picture at the top of the post….

This is Jeff Koons’ piece – Split Rocker – which is half toy pony and half toy dinosaur!  At over 37-feet-high and covered with flowers, it’s the festive centerpiece of Rockefeller Square this summer.

 

 

 

A Book-Themed Trip to New York….

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Three days in New York City and such a perfect weekend – spending time with my family, cool weather, and so many book-related activities!  As soon as I settled into my seat on the train, I entered the land of books…

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First, I finished reading The Vacationers by Emma Straub. According to yesterday’s New York Times Book Review, Straub’s novel has been on the hardcover fiction best seller list for four weeks. The story of a New York City family vacationing in Mallorca is a smart summer read. Sunny setting, but clever writing about all kinds of vacations – especially those from the truth. Almost everyone in this novel is taking a break from doing what’s expected of them. I was so invested in this story that the miles flew by and we were walking through Penn Station in what felt like minutes.

Our first destination was the New York Historical Society where one of this summer’s special exhibits is Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans. This is what we saw as we approached the museum:

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The exhibit celebrates the 75th anniversary of Madeline’s publication and it is so beautiful!  But… no pictures allowed so I don’t have any to share. There are drawings from all six of the Madeline picture books and the panels Bemelmans painted for the playroom in Aristotle Onassis’ yacht, The Christina.  One of Bemelmans’ most beautiful paintings was a cover he did of horses and riders in Central Park for the October 9, 1954 issue of The New Yorker. The original is in the exhibit, and it took my breath away. Here’s a pic of the magazine cover, but if you want to see the real one, plan a trip to New York before October 19 when the exhibit closes.

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I re-read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn a few years ago, and it was a totally different book than the one I read as a teenager. I loved it just as much, but while the first time I read it, it was the story of a girl growing up in Brooklyn, this time I was fascinated by the adults in Francie’s life. It was a far richer and more complicated story than I remembered.

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The next day, while my husband and son were taking a Big Onion walking tour, I went to the New York Public Library to see the exhibit – The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter. I had taken a quick walk through the special exhibit a few months ago, but this time I was able to look at everything more closely. The “tower” of books that have been banned or challenged is disturbing and moving. I was especially disappointed to see a quote about the dangers of Judy Blume’s novel, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. That was my handbook to growing up!  The silly comment betrays the “commenter’s” total failure to see how this classic continues to help millions of young girls navigate the early stages of adolescence. What totally bummed me out is that the small-minded person who wrote this is from Xenia, Ohio where I grew up.

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On a happier note, after seeing the exhibit, I went to the NYPL Children’s Room where this awesome piece by Todd Parr is on the wall:

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Leaving the Library, I looked down and saw this yellow brick road of sorts…

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Another thing on my New York Wish List was a visit to the Pierpont Morgan Library to see Gatsby to Garp: Modern Masterpieces from the Carter Burden Collection. Carter Burden, as I learned, was a New York City council member who had an important collection of American literature – first editions of major works, letters and galleys. Again, no pictures allowed in exhibit, but there was a guide (for in-gallery use only) and I was allowed to step into the hallway and take pictures from that. The third picture is from a copy of The Great Gatsby that Fitzgerald signed for a friend. The inscription is pretty funny….

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The print is small – hard to read. I had to be quick with my picture taking!  Fitzgerald wrote:

If it weren’t for libraries how would 100,000 women like my mother ever get to sleep?

There was no answer – only the squeaky rustle of paper as 100,000 women turned another page.

We did other fun things in New York – went to the Village Vanguard, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, and ate good food – but as we got back on the train yesterday to return home, I had visions of books dancing in my head!

 

New Books and Watermelon….

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An article on The Millions (an online book magazine) website caught my attention: “Most Anticipated – The Great Second Half 2014 Book Preview.”  So many good books coming soon, but I still have a big stack of summer reading!  No matter. As soon as I looked at this list, I began making plans for my holiday shopping. With no reviews read, the two books that most interest me are:

- Ian McEwan’s 13th novel, The Children Act, which addresses whether it’s right for parents to refuse medical treatment for their children based on religious beliefs.

- The Dog by Joseph O’Neill. My interest in O’Neill’s novel is based completely on how much I admired his 2008 book, Netherland. The Dog is about a man who takes a job working as a “family officer” for a family in Dubai.

Here’s the list:

http://www.themillions.com/2014/07/most-anticipated-the-great-second-half-2014-book-preview.html

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Don’t forget to celebrate National Watermelon Month by eating lots of watermelon and reading The Watermelon Seed, Greg Pizzoli’s awesome book about an alligator who swallows a watermelon seed!

Currently Reading: The Vacationers by Emma Straub (review to come!)

The Shop at Trinity Church

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Earlier this week, I went to meet an old friend for lunch in Boston. Thankfully, I arrived in the Back Bay early – and had time enough to discover the Shop at Trinity Church. Trinity is one of the most beautiful places in Boston.  It was designed by the architect, H.H. Richardson, and according to Trinity’s brochure, it is the only building in Boston to be honored as “one of the 10 most significant buildings in the country by a national poll of architects. In 1885, architects voted Trinity the most important building in America.” I’ve visited Trinity before, but I had not been to the shop, and the sign in front of the church brought back memories of warm and cozy shops in London churches where I always find good books, cards and gifts.

Trinity’s shop is excellent. Beautiful, well-curated, and reflective of the open and welcoming spirit of the Episcopal Church. Here are a few pictures I took – with permission of course!

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This morning I finished reading Joanna Rakoff’s memoir, My Salinger Year.

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The book takes place over the course of one year in the mid-1990s when Rakoff was working for a prominent New York literary agency. There have been so many glowing reviews of Rakoff’s book so I’ll just link one of my favorites. But I will add that I love Rakoff’s references to working on a Selectric typewriter! It brought back so many memories and even made me miss my Selectric-days. There is a moment, early in Rakoff’s book, when she is walking to her apartment during a snowstorm and she notices how quiet the world was:

“There would be other blizzards in New York, but none that generated such silence, none in which I could stand on a street corner and feel myself to be the only person in the universe, none, certainly that stopped the city entire. By the time the next blizzard of such proportions arrived, the world had changed. Silence was no longer possible.”

That passage made me miss that kind of quiet. As much as I love what my phone and laptop allow me to do, I remember that hushed feeling. Sometimes at work in the mid-1990s, the only noise I could hear was the sound of my Selectric.

Here’s The Guardian’s review of Rakoff’s book – and check out the photo of the British cover. I like it better than the American cover.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/06/my-salinger-year-joanna-rakoff-review-memoir

 

Vango: Between Sky and Earth by Timothee de Fombelle

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The July issue of School Library Journal includes my first starred review!  The book is Vango: Between Sky and Earth by Timothee de Fombelle, a French writer.

de Fombelle’s thrilling and demanding book for young adults will be published in October. Until then, here’s my review:

“A thrilling historical adventure set in the mid-1930s, this novel opens with a dramatic scene in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris where 19-year-old Vango is about to become a priest. Just before he is ordained, his is falsely accused of murder. After scaling the Cathedreal, the teen’s exploits unfold across rooftops, on land and sea, and even by the Graf Zeppelin airship. Vango’s journey takes him from the Sicilian Islands, where he was raised by a nanny under mysterious circumstances, to Germany where Nazi power is on the rise. He remains just one step ahead of a determined – and somewhat comedic – police superintendent and several other characters whose obsession with catching Vango leads to more questions than answers. Among the historical figures who make appearances are Hugo Eckener, commander of the Graf Zeppelin, Stalin and the composer Sergei Prokofiev. Just as memorable are minor characters such as Giuseppina Trossi, a woman who lives on the isolated island where Vango was born and supplies important information about his past; a beautiful Scottish heiress, a priest who lives in an ‘invisible monastery,’ and a girl called ‘The Cat’ who, like Vango, is comfortable spending the nights on Paris rooftops. With numerous characters and a winding and often complicated story, this breathtaking tale is guaranteed to keep teens on the edge of their seats, and will appeal to confident readers who enjoy intricately plotted tales.”

In other news….

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- I was sorry to hear of the death of award-winning author Walter Dean Myers last week. He had a huge impact on countless readers and educators. Only this spring I heard him speak at a conference at the Kennedy Library where the respect teachers have for his work was obvious. As he walked into the conference room with a group of other speakers, I heard people say: “there he is,”  a tribute to the power of his work. In March of this year, Myers and his son, author and illustrator Christopher Myers, wrote op-ed pieces for The New York Times, asking “Where are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” about the importance of multicultural books for children. Click here to read The New York Times obituary:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/04/arts/walter-dean-myers-childrens-author-dies-at-76.html

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- The July issue of Oprah magazine which features “The Best Books of Summer” would be good to bring along to your next book club meeting. Lots of ideas – and a good essay by Zadie Smith called “Confessions of a Pathological Reader.” I wrote this line down: “Books are my version of experiences. I’m made of them.”

In the Oprah crew’s opinion, The Vacationers by Emma Straub is one of the “15 Titles to Pick Up Now.”  I did buy it the other day so all set there.  There’s also a “Beach Reading Canon” which includes one of my favorite books of all time, Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. I did not read it anywhere near a beach, but it entered my personal “Land Lovers Canon.”

Happy Summer Reading!

 

 

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson

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One advantage to the oppressive heat we’ve experienced over the past few days is that I’m reading more. Mother Nature’s “blast furnace” has sent me straight to an air conditioned Starbucks with a heavy book bag. Yesterday I read a novel that’s getting lots of attention and rave reviews: The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson.  I read it straight through in one sitting which is the best way to read this fast paced and entertaining story.  At the end of the novel, Johnson credits the movie Ocean’s 11 as one of his inspirations, and that movie was very much on my mind as I read this “junior” version of a well-designed con game.

At first, I wondered if The Great Greene Heist is a sequel because there are lots of references to Jackson Greene’s (the main character) past exploits: the Blitz at the Fitz and the Mid-Day PDA. But after establishing Jackson’s credentials as a charming Robin Hood-style character, the author introduces the reason that Jackson is planning a new plot with the help of his diverse and talented group of friends. Gaby de la Cruz, the sister of Jackson’s best friend, is running for school president against Keith Sinclair, the class bully. Keith is supported by the school principal who has his own reasons for wanting Keith to win the election. Jackson, who “likes” Gaby and wants justice to be served, calls on his friends who, just like in Ocean’s 11, each have a unique talent to contribute.

Their well-designed plot is impressive and, although unrealistic, I was completely caught up in it and cheering for the inevitable happy ending. This is an awesome book for kids between the ages of 11 and 14 who enjoy humor, adventure, high tech gadgetry, a little romance and allusions to Star Trek – that pretty much includes every 13-year-old I know!

Driving down Rt. 3A in Sandwich the other day, I stopped by Titcomb’s Bookshop.  Most people who travel down the scenic Cape Cod road recognize the colonial man standing in front of the store. Here he is:

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Titcomb’s is not your typical bookshop. They sell both new and old books, along with lots of activities that are perfect for a family spending a couple of weeks on vacation – puzzles and sketchbooks and, as you can see, they even sell Star Wars workbooks.

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Titcomb’s, selected by the International Booksellers Federation as one of 50 unique bookstores in the world, has an interesting story. Here’s the link:

http://www.titcombsbookshop.com/our-history

One last thing to share….in another store in Sandwich, this display caught my attention. Kind of funny!

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Picture Books to Inspire Creativity

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Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

– Walt Disney

With so much being written about the importance of innovative and “out of the box” thinking, I thought a list of books to help nurture the creative spirit may be helpful to teachers and parents.  All of these picture books would be good springboards to discussions about persistence and the power of curiosity. They may also be helpful at the start of a collaborative project so that kids begin to recognize that there are lots of ways to contribute.

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The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt (A book about a crayon rebellion that every child loves – entertaining and inspiring!)

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Frederick by Leo Lionni (May not be the first book that comes to mind when you think about creativity, but I think it fits. Frederick shows that words and stories are as valuable as collecting nuts and berries for the winter.)

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Not a Stick and Not a Box by Antoinette Portis (Two books by Portis.  Pair them with Crocket Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon to inspire young children to use their imaginations.)

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Weslandia by Paul Fleischman (The classic book about a young boy who creates his own civilization.)

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The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert (A beautiful picture book memoir about the creative process)

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Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran (Kids create an imaginary town in the desert – using boxes, cactus and rocks.)

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The Dot by Peter Reynolds (I could have used this book when I was young and decided I couldn’t draw and should not even try!)

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Going Places by Peter and Paul Reynolds (I love this new book by the Reynolds brothers. It emphasizes the value of teamwork – proving that the group works best when everyone’s perspective is valued. The kid who follows the directions and the dreamer are successful because both of their approaches are integral to the process.)

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The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires (A new book about facing frustration – and moving through it – when things don’t go your way the first time.)

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Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty (Both awesome books about pursuing your passions and not letting setbacks discourage you. And when you read Rosie Revere, you are treated to a cameo appearance by Rosie the Riveter!)

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Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzburg (A colorful tribute to the liberating power of making mistakes)

The other day I was at Wellesley Books where I immediately went to check out the local selections for middle school summer reading. Many of the titles are the same books on Inly’s list, but always fun to see what everyone is reading by the pool:

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This is my favorite sign in the store – referring to the delays caused by the dispute between Hachette (one of America’s top five publishers) and Amazon over e-book pricing:

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