Three Must-Have New Books….

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If you are a school librarian or parent wondering which of the new books to borrow or buy, here are three that stand out from a recent delivery of spring titles.

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Pax and Blue by Lori Richmond (ages 3-6)

The story has been told before, but Richmond does it simply and sweetly.  Pax, a young boy who lives in the city, is friends with a pigeon he names Blue. Every morning, Pax brings a “bit of toast and shares it with Blue.”  But one morning, as Pax’s mom races to work, Blue follows them onto a packed subway car where, of course, a little pigeon can get lost and cause panic on the train!  There is a happy ending of course, but there is something about the cartoon-like drawings and muted colors that makes this a special book. This would be fun to read with Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers, another heartwarming story about friends who are temporarily separated.

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Not Quite Narshal by Jessie Sima (ages 4-7)

A new story about being true to yourself, but there can’t be too many of those!  Kelp seems to hatch from a clam – and knows “early on that he was different from the other narwhals.”  Kelp plays joyfully with his accepting narwhal friends, but when he sees an adult unicorn standing on a cliff, he knows the truth.  Kelp is happy to meet other unicorns, but he loves his ocean friends too.  Luckily, he discovers that he can live in both worlds.  Excellent storytime possibilities: either pair it with other stories of belonging: The Ugly Ducking or Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio.  Or plan a unicorn gathering and include A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young and Uni the Unicorn by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

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Wolfie & Fly by Cary Fagan (ages 6-9)

With the growing focus on maker spaces and maker culture in schools, this is the perfect early chapter to support tinkering.  Renata is a young girl who prefers reading about undersea life to being with other children – until she meets her neighbor Fly, a boy who enjoys making up songs and playing them on his plastic guitar.  When Renata starts building a submarine from a large cardboard box, a friendship is born.  I hope to see lots more projects from these two imaginative kids!

News From the Book World…..

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Dick Bruna, the Dutch creator of Miffy, the white rabbit, died at the age of 89.  Over twenty years ago, during my first trip to Holland, I fell in love with the simplicity and sweetness of Miffy and came home with books, dish towels, and a refrigerator magnet – pictured above.

Link to the New York Times obituary:

Philip Pullman, at the author of His Dark Materials, announced that he will release the first book in a new trilogy on October 19.  The Book of Dust, Pullman said, “is the struggle between a despotic and totalitarian organization, which wants to stifle speculation and inquiry, and those who believe thought and speech should be free.”  A timely read, and the best part — Lyra Belacqua, the heroine of His Dark Materials, returns in this new trilogy!

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Happy Reading!

Perhaps a Book a Day?

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“We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”  (John F. Kennedy)

Perhaps a way to see a way through some of the troubling discourse is to counteract negative words with those that appeal to our better nature.  When I worked at the John F. Kennedy Library, one of the things I grew to admire most about President Kennedy was the way he consistently encouraged people to be their best selves rather than giving in to their fears.  That is sorely missing now.

Like many people, I am trying to identify constructive ways to participate in the debate, but there are times when I find myself reeling from the divisive and hateful language.  Earlier today, reading School Library Journal, I found this poster:

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It will be displayed in the school library next week.  But it reminds me that I need to balance the angry rhetoric with words that are elevating.  I’m going to take 5 minutes every day to read a picture book that puts good words in my head.

Here are ideas for the first ten days, all of them books that emphasize kindness, empathy and the importance of understanding each other:

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How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham

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Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

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Zen Shorts by Jon Muth

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Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey

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Teacup by Rebecca Young

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The Arrival by Shaun Tan

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Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis

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A Sick Day for Amos McGee

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Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

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The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas

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Today, a snow day, is the perfect time to read one of my favorite poems by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

One last note: the photo at the top was taken by Will Maxwell, an 8th grade student and talented photographer.

Happy Reading…

 

Ten Happy Things….

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The days are grey and cold.  I am sad that someone who is remarkably incurious lives in a house where there is beauty and history in every room.  The list of things that frighten me is overwhelming. I am looking for sparks of light.  There are many of them – friends and family, books and art, my students and colleagues, and groups of committed and patriotic citizens who are finding ways forward.

Here are ten things that may shine light on the week ahead…

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  1.  A book tower!  During library class last week, a first grade student created her own work of public art:

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2. The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduck by Timothy Basil Ering.  A lovely and gentle picture book that celebrates friendship and hope. Ering’s art is beautiful – his two-page spread of fog looks exactly like what you see while driving through a foggy evening.  When we first meet Alfred Fiddleduck, he is in an egg waiting to hatch. The egg is being carefully ferried by Captain Alfred who is carrying it in his fiddle case – a gift for his wife who is waiting for his return in their little house by the sea.  But a violent storm sends the fiddle case into the sea, and “far offshore, deep in the fog, alone and drifting, the egg cracked.”  There is a happy ending, of course, but the journey is beautiful.

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3.  A poem by a 2nd grade student and printed here with her permission:

Winter by Ana

Winter means snow,

winter means fun,

winter means ice, and rarely sun.

Winter means snowmen, chilly toes,

winter gives you a red nose.

Dull grey skies predict more snow,

while you’re inside with the fire aglow.

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4.  Elephant and Piggie!  These two are always guaranteed to make you smile.  This week’s New Yorker includes an article about their creator, Mo Willems.  Here’s a link:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/06/mo-willems-funny-failures

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5. Kid book reviews.  As all school librarians know, it’s challenging to convince kids to take a risk on a new series.  Most of them prefer to check-out books their friends are reading. But if you can find one student to trust your guarantee that they will like the book, a new series may catch fire.  That’s what happened with the Billy Sure: Kid Entrepreneur, a series by Luke Sharpe.  For weeks, I unsuccessfully tried to get a group of boys who enjoy light, fast-paced chapter books to try them.  And then – success!  Oliver, a student who was perhaps tired of the same recommendation, checked out Billy Sure #1.  After we displayed his review, we can’t keep the books on the shelf!  Oliver’s review reads: “This is a really funny book. I like how Billy is an inventor. I like how he tries to build stuff and he goes on TV!  This is a really good book if you like inventing things.”

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6. The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli.  I finished it this morning and closed the book thinking about the kids I will recommend it to tomorrow.  Like many of Spinelli’s novels, this one takes place in Pennsylvania – this time in the late 1950s when kids are watching American Bandstand.  The Warden’s Daughter is Cammie O’Reilly, a 7th grader whose mother died when she was a baby.  She so desperately wants a mother that she tries to turn her “Cammie-keeper,” as she refers to the woman who cares for her, into a mother figure.  Meanwhile, Cammie’s best friend appears on American Bandstand – representing the change Cammie and her friends are experiencing on the cusp of becoming teenagers. This is a thoughtful and moving novel for mature 5th-7th grade readers.

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7. An origami boat made by an 8th grade student who read Around the World in 80 Days.

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8. There is a box of books under the library check-out desk.  It’s where we keep new books for Inly’s older elementary students – 4th, 5th, and 6th graders.  It started simply enough: a place to hold new books I plan to share with them or books put aside for specific students. Last week, three girls stopped by, and asked if there was anything special in the blue box.  I pulled it out for them, they sat down, and began pulling books out.  Spontaneously, one of them said – “this is the best plastic box I’ve ever seen!”

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9. The Mothers by Britt Bennett.  I’ve been listening to Bennett’s debut novel since reading a glowing review in The New York Times this past November.  It’s a story about secrets, about friendship, about leaving and returning, and the hold our past has on us.  The book mostly takes place in Southern California, but there were times, listening in my car on cold days in January,  I was tempted to roll the window down.

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10.  The Snowy Day on Postage Stamps!  2017 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Peter’s creator, Ezra Jack Keats.  I’ve been asking about the stamps at every trip to my local post office.  I will buy some to use and some to keep!

Happy Reading – and keep your eyes open for flashes of light!

Winners and Heroes…

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In last week’s post, I listed the winners of the Newbery and Caldecott awards, the best known of the nearly 20 awards presented during the recent American Library Association meeting.

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The Newbery Medal was awarded to Kelly Barnhill for her fantasy novel, The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Because I haven’t read it (it’s on the list!), here is the School Library Journal review:

“Once a year in the Protectorate there is a Day of Sacrifice. The youngest baby is taken by the Elders and left in the forest to die, thus appeasing the witch who threatens to destroy the village if not obeyed. Unbeknownst to the people, Xan, the witch of the forest, is kind and compassionate. When she discovers the first baby left as a sacrifice, she has no idea why it has been abandoned. She rescues the infants, feeds each one starlight, and delivers the shining infants to parents in the Outside Cities who love and care for them. On one occasion, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight along with starlight, filling her with glowing magic. Xan is smitten with the beautiful baby girl, who has a crescent moon birthmark on her forehead, and chooses to raise her as her own child. Twists and turns emerge as the identity of the true evil witch becomes apparent. The swiftly paced, highly imaginative plot draws a myriad of threads together to form a web of characters, magic, and integrated lives. Spiritual overtones encompass much of the storytelling with love as the glue that holds it all together. An expertly woven and enchanting offering for readers who love classic fairy tales.”

I know several Inly students who are going to love this book – it will be gobbled up by our 5th and 6th grade students who come into the library looking for the next fantasy.  Just this week, a student asked if I had any new “magical stories.”  I will give Barnhill’s novel to her first!

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The Newbery Honor book that I’m most excited about is Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk.  I read Wolk’s debut novel this past summer and wondered then if it would ultimately have a a shiny gold sticker. The story of a young girl growing up in Pennsylvania during WWII, Wolf Hollow addresses serious issues: kindness and empathy, cruelty and racism.  It is one of those books that when you close it, your first thought is how to get it into the hands of every young reader you know.  It seems especially urgent now with it’s focus on the consequences of fearing people who are different.

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The winner of the Caldecott Medal is Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe, a picture book biography of the 1980s graffiti artist.  Steptoe’s pictures, like his subject’s, are bold and vibrant.  Steptoe uses found objects to create his collages of Basquiat’s life – from his childhood in Brooklyn to his more mature political art.

This is a perfect picture book for kids between the ages of 6 to 9 – at the age when they begin to look more critically at their art work. Steptoe’s book belongs in the collection of every elementary school art teacher so they can show it to kids who are frustrated when their drawing doesn’t turn out the way they hoped. Basquiat – and Steptoe – show that although it can be “sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird, but somehow still beautiful.”  To be honest, I don’t think it’s the kind of book most kids will find on their own.  It’s a book for teachers, parents, and art teachers to put in a child’s hands.

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The Caldecott Honor book that kids definitely find on their own is Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol. We’ve already read it to most of our classes, and the kids – and adults – love it.  It’s the story of a grandmother who wants some quiet time to knit 30 sweaters for her 30 grandchildren, but every time she finds the perfect spot, there is something (or a group of somethings) that interrupt her.  Ultimately, she goes all the way to the moon to find quiet, but of course, there are green aliens on the moon! Brosgol’s book has the look and tone of a traditional folk tale, but this is her first picture book after her graphic novel debut, Anya’s Ghost. 

Every year Inly has a school-wide learning fair during which students present a project based on the year’s curricular focus.  This year, an American history year, everyone in kindergarten through 8th grade made a hero box, and on Friday the boxes lined the hallways for halls for parents and students to enjoy.  Here are some of my favorites….

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And an especially wonderful tribute to author Jacqueline Woodson, author of Brown Girl Dreaming, among other books for young readers…

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One more thing…..I looked outside the library this week and saw this wonderful scene:

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This is one of our Upper Elementary classes enjoying a sunny afternoon and a big window to talk about the book they are reading: The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick, a 2010 Newbery Honor Book!

Happy Reading…..

 

 

Awards and Marching….

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Today was the brightest of Red Letter Days in the Library world: the announcements of the 2017 Newbery, Caldecott, and other American Library Association awards.

The winners are……..

The Newbery Award:

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The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Newbery Honor Books:

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Freedom Over Me by Ashley Bryan

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The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz

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Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

The Caldecott Award:

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Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

Caldecott Honor Books:

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Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol

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Freedom in Congo Square illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

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Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

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They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

There are books with shiny new stickers in many categories.  Here’s a link to the complete list of award winners:

http://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2017/01/american-library-association-announces-2017-youth-media-award-winners

I will write more about the winners over the next few days.

Like many Americans this past weekend, I participated in the Women’s March.  I joined nearly 100,000 people in Boston in a unified and peaceful demonstration of commitment to individual rights and freedom of speech.  Here are my three favorite signs:

A friend who was also in Boston sent this….

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A friend in Washington saw this one….

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And this one is my favorite….

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The little boy’s sign reads: Peace And Not Being Mean.

Well put.

Robert McCloskey, JFK, and Picture Books

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Today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I went to the Museum of Fine Arts intending to raise my spirits. There were two exhibits on my agenda, but mostly I wanted to hit the reset button.   I am overwhelmed and discouraged by recent political events and thought being surrounded by art and beauty would help.  As always, it did.

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First stop: The Art of Robert McCloskey which is at the MFA in Boston until June 18.  To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the publication of Make Way for Ducklings, the museum is displaying work associated with McCloskey’s classic Boston story, along with studies for Blueberries for Sal and Time of Wonder.  There are also a number of independent paintings by the Ohio native that show the wide range of his artistic talent.

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One of the highlights of the day was reading Michiko Kakutani’s front page article about President Obama’s life as a reader in today’s New York Times:

It’s a wonderful article, full of insight about how books have shaped President Obama’s world view. Over the past eight years, I’ve appreciated any glimpse into President Obama’s reading life – especially reports of his holiday and summer trips to Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C. and Bunch of Grapes on Martha’s Vineyard.  I read Dreams From My Father, Obama’s memoir, during his 2008 campaign and still recall passages about books that helped him make sense of his family and his identity.

But….there is one thing about the article that jumped out at me as, perhaps, an oversight. Here is the opening sentence:

“Not since Lincoln has there been a president as fundamentally shaped — in his life, convictions and outlook on the world — by reading and writing as Barack Obama.”

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I think that sentence would be more accurate if it included John F. Kennedy, a man almost literally raised by books.  As a sick child, he spent countless hours alone reading, mostly history.  “During one of his numerous hospital stays, Jack received a visit from one of his father’s friends, Kay Halle,” I wrote in a book for young readers about JFK.  When Halle went into the future president’s room, she said: “All I could see was this peaked little face with freckles standing out on the bridge of his nose…..and I was awfully interested because the book he was reading was World Crisis by Winston Churchill.”

One of my favorite stories about JFK is one his long-time aide Ted Sorensen told me: at the end of a particularly long day on the campaign trail, Sorensen said that he thought Kennedy was looking forward to sleeping on the plane as much as he was. But, as Sorensen told the story, when he looked over once the flight was underway, he found Kennedy opening Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography!

There are numerous other stories about JFK’s love of books, and of course he won the Pulitzer Prize for Profiles in Courage.  I’m hopeful that in 2020, we will elect another president who likes to read.

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Last week at school, we began one of the most enjoyable parts of the year: the 3rd grade library and tech class.  Designed to be a bridge between the lower elementary and the upper elementary programs, the kids use both Inly’s maker space and library to learn new skills.

The vehicle we use to introduce new material is the Caldecott Medal. The students look at past winners, learn picture book vocabulary, and use technology to make their case for which book they think is most deserving this year.

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I began this post saying that there were two exhibits I wanted to see at the MFA.  The other was William Merritt Chase, an American painter active at the turn of the last century. It is a lovely exhibit, full of color and light.  Below are two of the paintings that I found myself lost in today, perhaps trying to soak up their sunny energy for use in the days ahead….

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A New Year Begins…

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It was snowing this morning, our first true snowfall during the school day.  A colleague came in and said “the library is a snow globe!”  What a perfect word to capture the view from here…

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I apologize for the prolonged absence from my small corner of the book world.  During the break, I spent a week in Barcelona (my first trip to Spain!) and then it was Christmas and then there was cleaning up, catching up, and reading to do.  Now, I wonder how it can possibly be January 5.   Coincidentally, I am reading The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits that opens with this reflection about time:

“The ‘day’ no longer exists. The smallest unit of time I experience is the week. But in recent years the week, like the penny, has also become a uselessly small currency.  The month is, more typically, the smallest unit of time I experience.”

Today, notes from the past few weeks and a look ahead….

First, Barcelona.  I’ve been lucky to visit many beautiful cities, but I was completely enchanted by Barcelona.  The old city is full of narrow streets that you can wander for hours – stopping for tapas along the way.  Gaudi’s buildings seem to have been touched by magic.  And the roof top views from the city’s churches are spectacular.  It was one of those memorable trips that cast a temporary spell.  I actively resisted any thought of home or school during the week, not because I don’t love those places, but because Barcelona offered a portal to something else.  I was willingly pulled in.

The only downside is the bookshops which sell books written in Spanish!  I know it’s to be expected, and it did save me some money.  Not being able to read the books in Barcelona did not prevent us from browsing though:

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There were some delightful finds that I recognized immediately: The Storm Whale in WinterThis Moose Belongs to Me, and in the third picture, it’s the Wimpy Kid!

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And some not so delightful finds that I could figure out!

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One of my favorite things to do in bookstores in other countries is to compare the covers of bestselling books.  Here is one that caught my eye in the Dublin Airport, but I didn’t have time to count how many “little pieces” the cover actually has.

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After Christmas I was in Barnes and Noble in Hingham.  In line to buy a magazine, I eavesdropped on a conversation between a middle school-aged girl and her mother. The girl was holding a book which I unsuccessfully craned my neck to see.  She was clearly excited to get home and read.

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When I heard her say to her mother “this is the first book series that made me put my phone down,” I couldn’t stop myself from asking what series has made her so enthusiastic about reading.  Her answer……The Selection by Kiera Cass.

One of the best holiday gifts to the Inly Library was this set of bookends.

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I submitted a book order this week and just looking at the list of new books gave me anticipated happiness.  So many good books ahead:

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Egg, Kevin Henkes’ 50th book and….

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R.J. Palacio’s picture book, We’re All Wonders, among others.

But one of the first picture books to capture my heart in 2017 is a gentle book with a timely message: The Lonely Giant by Sophie Ambrose.

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Admittedly, the first thought to pop into my mind when I looked at the cover was The BFG by Roald Dahl.

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But rather than eat snozzcumbers, this giant lives in a cave where he pulls up trees “as though they were weeds, heaving and hurling huge logs like spears,” and engages in other generally destructive behavior.  As he pulls the trees and smashes things around, his forest home gets smaller and the birds all leave.  Who can blame them?  But when he sees a cute little yellow bird, the giant decides to put it in a cage so he can enjoy the bird’s song whenever he wants.  Unsurprisingly, the bird does not feel like singing in a cage, and ultimately, the giant realizes his mistake and lets her fly.  The bird inspires the giant to look at the result of his “heaving and hurling” and realize the damage he has done. Hmmmmmm – any messages here?  This would be a good book to read to kids to spark a discussion about our responsibilities to care for the environment. It’s also a sweet story, and we can use those any day.

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To kick-off 2017, we are asking Inly’s students, teachers, and parents to add the title of their favorite book to our Post-It display.  I added the first blue square – Charlotte’s Web. No surprise there.  So far, we have Post-Its for Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg, The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, and The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak – along with so many others, including books for adults.  I’ve seen two Post-Its for To Kill a Mockingbird and am expecting to see more.  If you are an Inly parent, make sure to add your sticker to the board.  If not, email requests are accepted!