The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

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As I compile Inly’s summer reading list and get ready to talk with kids about their selections, I’ve been immersed in middle grade fiction. Much of it I’ve loved, especially Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk and All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor. But during dinner with a librarian friend last week, I told her about a few books that I expected to love more than I did.  Then she asked if I had read Peter Brown’s first middle grade novel, The Wild Robot. It was in my bag – the next book on my “to read” list.  Read it, she urged. I did. And, as always, she was right.


Since then, I’ve purchased a signed copy at a local bookstore and plan to encourage as many kids and adults as I know to add it to their summer reading list. To me, it reads as a parable about technology and nature. But Brown’s novel also presents thoughts about adaptation and family and community.

Roz is the only robot to survive after a cargo ship sinks. She floats to shore and, powered by solar energy and programmed to serve others, Roz finds herself on an island populated only by animals.  After watching how the animals survive in their environment, Roz learns their language and how to contribute to her new community. She also adopts an abandoned gosling which leads to some of the books most moving passages.


I was already a fan of Brown’s picture books, especially Mr. Tiger Goes Wild.  His new book about a robot who “goes wild” will stay with me – literally and figuratively.


The picture above was taken in the library last week. It was not set-up.


The book they are looking at: Mudball by Matt Tavares.  It’s baseball season!


More Magic from Kate DiCamillo….

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Last week had elements of magic. It was book fair week, the new school library is more beautiful every day, and at night I was reading Raymie Nightingale, Kate DiCamillo’s new novel.

As always, there were memorable moments at the book fair. One of my favorites was a group of middle school students putting books aside to look at later. Here are some of their “hold” piles:


A seventh grade girl asked for my help in narrowing her selection. We made categories: books on the summer reading list; depressing novels that middle school students like; People magazine in book form (the teen version of airplane reading); dystopian fiction; and well reviewed books that I’m encouraged to read and would probably enjoy.


My advice was to select books from different categories – we all need a varied reading diet.  It was somewhat arduous, but she got there and is ready for summer reading season….


Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo will enter a group of memorable characters: Opal, Despereaux, Mercy Watson, Bink and Gollie, Flora – and now Raymie. At the opening of DiCamillo’s new middle grade novel, Raymie’s father has left town with a dental hygienist. Raymie’s plan to get him back is to win the Miss Central Florida Tire pageant. She thinks that if her dad sees her picture in the newspaper, he will return home.  Of course, things don’t go according to plan, but as always in DiCamillo’s fiction, the wisdom and optimism shine through.

Central to Raymie’s plan to win the pageant is taking baton twirling lessons. It’s there that she meets two quirky girls: Louisiana Elefante and Beverly Tapinski. Like Raymie, Louisiana and Beverly have lost something and although the three girls are very different, they form a valuable friendship that allows them to navigate their individual tragedies.


Raymie Nightingale is reminiscent of Because of Winn-Dixie. In both books, a young girl dealing with loss learns that love and hope have power to overcome life’s inevitable sadnesses.

The magic continues outside of my window at school as we watch the new Library going up – there are windows!  During these warm days, I can step outside and imagine sharing a new space with Opal and Raymie, Wilbur and Charlotte, Harry and Hermione and thousands of other characters….




A Poem and a Party…


I have two new picture books to tell you about – both of which belong on every school library shelf and maybe even a young child’s own bookshelf because they will be read repeatedly.


First, a beautiful introduction to poetry combined with a delightful animal story.  Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer is the story of a young boy who, while walking through the park, sees a sign advertising an upcoming poetry event. But, Daniel has a question: “What is poetry?”  He spends the week asking his animal friends for their definitions. “To me,” the spider says, “poetry is when morning dew glistens.”  After hearing lyrical answers from the animals he encounters, Daniel learns that poetry is all around us – and by the following Sunday, he’s ready for the poetry reading at the park.

This is the perfect book to inspire young readers and writers to look closely at the world around them.

Where’s the Party? by Ruth Chan has a storyline you’ve heard before. A cat named Georgie wants to have a party for his friends, but everyone seems to be mysteriously busy. As it turns out though….his friends have been planning a surprise.  But wait. Look at this cat:


It’s the pictures of Georgie and his friends that make this book irresistible. Where’s the Party? is a predictable story, but cleverly told with memorable illustrations – no easy task, and this is Chan’s first picture book!  It’s witty and bright. For example, the excuses Georgie’s friends make for not coming to his party made me laugh out loud. My favorite from a dog named Feta: “I have to make my pickles.”

A guaranteed crowd pleaser, Where’s the Party? deserves a place on every read-aloud shelf.

A picture from school. These kids are looking at a picture book during library class, but I love that they invited Piggie to join their group:



Not As Sweet As I Thought…

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Last weekend I heard a fascinating presentation by Tara Sullivan, the author of the new young adult novel, The Bitter Side of Sweet.  Full disclosure: I haven’t read Tara’s book yet, but based on her eye-opening talk, it’s next on my list.  The Bitter Side of Sweet is the not-so-sweet story of how chocolate goes from the cacao pod to the grocery store’s candy aisle.  The novel, which has received five starred reviews, is the story of Amadou and Seydou, two brothers who work on a cacao plantation in the Ivory Coast. Like the children who inspired Tara’s story, Amadou and Seydou are basically slaves – working in unbearable conditions with the constant threat of being beaten when they don’t deliver enough cacao pods.

As Tara explained, the global demand for chocolate is relentless. The enormous profits are shared between retailers, manufacturers, marketing – very little of the profit goes to the farmer with the result that farmers cut costs by paying their workers less.  These “child slaves” as Tara described them, work for food, but many of them have never tasted chocolate. They work on plantations for 12 hours a day and don’t go to school.

Of course, many in the audience wanted to know how to buy chocolate that does not rely on the labor of young children.  Tara explained that buying fair trade products is a good place to start, but quickly added that “fair trade” is an unregulated term. There isn’t a group that verifies fair trade logos. The Hershey Company, she told us, has committed to fair trade by 2020, but one has to wonder what that means.


Tara’s process for writing the book was equally fascinating. Because of safety concerns, she could not travel to the Ivory Coast, but she did take a research trip to Haiti where she watched the process that begins with a pod roughly the size of a football.  Under that rind, she explained, are “squishy seeds,” that are dried and roasted before being ground. After all of that, the sugar and milk are mixed in leading to this….


As a side note….I found this interesting: Tara told us about a company called Tony’s Chocoloney, a Dutch company that is “100% slave-free chocolate.” Coincidentally, we have this chocolate bar in our house:


We brought it back from Amsterdam (to give to our son), but admittedly, we didn’t know Tony’s story when we bought it.

Finally – there has been notable progress on the building of Inly’s new school library.   I took these pictures last week:





New Frontiers and a New Novel

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This past Wednesday was one of my favorite days of the school year – the John F. Kennedy Library’s annual conference for educators. This year’s theme: New Frontiers in Biography and History: Real Life Stories to Inspire Young Readers and Writers. A long title, but the day – as always – felt very short. The highlight of the conference was the panel of authors of history-based books for young readers: Tonya Bolden, Candace Fleming, Emily Arnold McCully, and Andrea Davis Pinkney.

With apologies about the quality of my photo (taken from my seat), here’s the group:


At the beginning of the panel discussion, each author talked about events that sparked their interest in history. Pinkney referred to herself as an “accidental author.”  She began her career as a newspaper writing which, as she said, was excellent training in “getting the story.”  She talked about the editorial meetings where she was expected to be prepared with lists of ideas for stories. Later, when Pinkney met someone from Simon & Schuster, who asked if she had any ideas for books – she was ready! One of her first suggestions was for a book about Alvin Ailey….


Candace Fleming grew up in Illinois, literally surrounded by history. She could ride her bike to a log cabin built by Lincoln’s father in Charleston, Illinois. Abraham Lincoln lived in Springfield by the time the cabin was built, but the future President visited this home to spend time with his father and stepmother, Sarah. Fleming said she wanted to study history from the time she was a child.


When writing her joint biography of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, Fleming asked herself “how did they influence one another?”  It was Mary, she said, who was truly the abolitionist, and her passionate feelings about the issue helped to shape the President’s own views.


The four authors share a passion for telling stories to young readers. “We want to inspire curiosity and wonder,” said Tanya Bolden, the author of Searching for Sarah Rector and Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl. 

Pinkney echoed Bolden’s motivation. “I’m inviting the reader on a journey,” she said. “After a while, you’ll forget you’re reading!”


I went on a different kind of journey this week, but it truly made me forget I was reading!  This is a middle grade novel for boys and girls, avid and reluctant readers, and kids who need examples of resilience and optimism in the face of adversity. All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, the new book by Leslie Connor, is warm and hopeful – and the main character, Perry, is a kid you want to know. His good heart carries every page of this wonderful book, and I was sad to leave his company.

Perry is eleven-years-old and lives with his mother at the Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility in Surprise, Nebraska. Through the kindness of the warden, Perry has been able to live with his mother, attend the local public school, and make rewarding friendships with the residents of the facility for nonviolent offenders.  But when Tom VanLeer, a new district attorney and the stepfather of Perry’s best friend, discovers Perry’s special situation, he makes it his personal mission to “rescue” Perry.  The worst part for Perry is that while his mother’s case is being resolved, he has to live with the VanLeer family.

As a teacher, I think Connor’s novel is a good vehicle for discussions about mistakes, taking responsibilities for our actions, justice, and the power we all have to change our lives.  Add this one to your summer reading list!




Book Shopping in Amsterdam….



This week went by in a blur. Every day I thought “today I will post the pictures from our trip to Amsterdam,” and then….it would be time to put on my pajamas, get my book, and call it a day!  But it’s Saturday….time to take a breath and share some book-fun from the Netherlands!

Our first stop: Dublin. Just the airport, but there was a promising sign. Colm Toibin, the author of Brooklyn, one of my top five favorite books, walked right by us.  I briefly thought of treating the situation like a rock star confronted by a crazy fan – where I would go up to him and say something ridiculous that I would immediately regret.  Instead, I was a grown up and just stared at the writer who imagined Eilis and Tony.

On to Amsterdam….

On our first day, we went to Waterstones (which we scouted out in advance). Not a big store, but lots of British books to look at and an opportunity to play one of my favorite bookstore games – comparing covers of British and American editions of books. Here are a few that caught my eye:



The first floor of the store has this cool sign:


When we went back to Waterstones a few days later, the wall had been erased and there were a few people writing on it – starting the cycle again.  Fun idea.

One of my favorite stores did not have one book for sale:


Here is the inside – along with the store’s mission statement:



Here’s the duck that travelled to Scituate in my suitcase:


There were Miffy sightings almost everyplace we went.  Dick Bruna’s now iconic bunny figure is available in book and chocolate and plush form – but also as a statue at the Rijksmuseum…




At a restaurant in Haarlem, this lovely statue caught my eye. It’s small. The man is reading on a table top at the front of the restaurant.  Excellent concentration in a bustling place…


We spent two afternoons at the Rijksmuseum, which reopened in 2013 after a ten-year renovation.  Visiting the famous Dutch museum, home to Rembrandt’s Night Watch, among other paintings, was one of the primary reasons for our visit to the Netherlands.


A buzzing crowd gathered around Vermeer’s Milkmaid, but she radiated calm…


We also went to the Anne Frank House, where Anne and her family hid during WWII. I’ve been there before, but this time I had an unusual experience. There were lots of people in the house and nearly 1,000 people lined up outside. But I  must have caught an interruption of the flow, and when I was in Anne’s bedroom – the room where she hung pictures of her favorite movie stars – I was alone for maybe 30 seconds. I stood looking looking at the same wall Anne woke up to every morning for two years.  Of course, I tried to conjure that young girl who opened my eyes to so many things the first time I read her diary as a teenager, but most of all, I was grateful for that moment to recognize the power of Anne’s legacy – manifested by the lines of people wrapped around her hiding place.

This statue is outside of the museum:


On a lighter note, I was happy to see this sign:


Finally…check this out. I’m not sure what to think. As we walked through Schiphol Airport on our way back to Boston, we saw this display of books that are printed sideways.  You flip up to read them. I wanted to buy one as a souvenir, but the check-out line was long and we were trying to find our gate. I don’t know about this. It may be fun as a novelty, but not sure about reading this way….



Een fijne dag gewenst!

Canal-Side Reading….



While many of my colleagues and students spent their vacations near a pool or beach, my husband and I travelled to Amsterdam last week where we walked along the canals. My friends were definitely warmer. Amsterdam felt like late November rather than early spring, but the views and art museums more than compensated!

Later this week, I will post lots of book-related pictures from our trip. Today, though, I will tell you what I read during two very long flights and evenings while recovering from “museum legs,” which Urban Dictionary defines as “the aching legs one develops after a prolonged period of slow walking interspersed with standing still, especially when going round a museum or some other attraction where visitors are forced to be constantly on their feet.”


The Last Boy at St. Edith’s by Lee Gjertsen Malone

Jeremy is the last boy at St. Edith’s, a private school in Massachusetts that, after a brief attempt to become coed, has gone back to being an all-girls school. There are 475 girls – and Jeremy, whose mother works at the school where he and his sisters get free tuition. Jeremy knows his mother can’t afford the tuition at another school and St. Edith’s is much better than the local public school, but that doesn’t make it any easier for him. Jeremy’s only option is a misguided attempt to get expelled and to that end, he enlists the help of his best friend, Claudia. The two of them embark on a series of pranks that are not as harmless as Jeremy hopes. Along the way, Jeremy learns a lot about himself, his friendships, and the value of attending St. Edith’s.  Malone’s book will be on Inly’s summer reading list – and I will begin recommending it to kids tomorrow!


Night at the Fiestas by Kirstin Valdez Quade

When we were in Santa Fe last year, we visited Collected Works, a wonderful independent bookstore. There was a display of a new book of short stories by Kirstin Valdez Quade, the author of Night at the Fiestas – and a notice that Quade would be speaking in the store the next night. We missed her reading, but I made a mental note of the book and when it was named one of the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2015, I added it to my list. The ten stories all take place in New Mexico and each include razor sharp observations of the way cultures collide in a place where many people seek transformation.  The title story is the one that had the greatest effect on me.  Frances, the teenage protagonist, is taking the bus to Santa Fe for the annual fiesta. Like many young people on the brink of adulthood, Frances is seeking excitement and the promise of something beyond her life in small town Raton. Something does happen, but it’s not what she expects and the final scene made my heart ache for her.


Gorsky by Vesna Goldsworthy

Gorsky was my “beach book” for this vacation – and the perfect choice.  It’s a retelling of The Great Gatsby that takes place in 21st century London and Gatsby is now a Russian gazillionaire!  There are so many parallels with The Great Gatsby that reading Goldsworthy’s novel is like a game to see how many references you can catch.  One of my favorites is that the object of Gorsky’s desire is a woman named Natalia – but her daughter’s name is Daisy!  Such fun….

Pictures of bookstores in Amsterdam coming soon…..