A Donkey, Book Projects, and Snow Art…



Last night I read a book called Mikis and the Donkey by Bibi Dumon Tak. The author is Dutch, but the setting for this story is the Greek island of Corfu. It’s a quiet story about Mikis, a boy who lives with his family in a close-knit community. Mikis is thrilled when his grandfather gets a new donkey, but not so happy to discover that his grandfather considers Tsaki (the donkey) a “tractor on wheels.” Mikis loves the donkey from the moment he meets (and names) her, and like Fern in Charlotte’s Web, he spends every moment he’s not in school with his new friend. It soon becomes apparent that Mikis’s grandfather is working Tsaki a little too hard, and it’s up to Mikis to teach his grandfather how to care for a donkey. Philip Hopman’s black and white pencil drawings are lovely – they truly capture the warmth of this gentle story.

The challenge the book faces is finding its way to the perfect reader. Although at first glance, it looks like a story early chapter book readers may enjoy, it’s actually a bit more mature. There is a baby donkey born during the story – and you need to know how baby donkeys are made to follow that part of the story.  And the text is denser than what most young readers require. Mikis and the Donkey is a good story to read aloud to a child between the ages of 8 and 11 – maybe before bed when it’s sweetness would help a child and parent settle in for a night and spark dreams of sunny days in Corfu.

Our 1st-3rd grade students have been busy with book projects so I took a walk around to see what’s inspiring their creativity.  In order of appearance, the pictures are from: Jungle Book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Mercy Watson and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie


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And, finally, it wouldn’t be a February post without a snow picture.  While I’m looking out the window waiting for the plow truck, our neighbors have been making something beautiful….


Planning Ahead for Women’s History Month….



There are two reasons I began selecting books to display during Women’s History Month – with ten days remaining in February:

1 – I’m looking forward to turning the calendar to March – February has been rough and there’s more snow in the forecast!

2 – Because we’ve had so many snow days, Black History Month and President’s Day have not received enough attention in the Library. Starting a school week on a Wednesday (which we’ve done several times) causes your internal calendar to be a little off. Only yesterday did it occur to me that I totally missed President’s Day. Next year I owe Washington and Lincoln big displays!

Today I pulled a dozen of my favorite picture book biographies of women to display in March – this one will not get away from me!  If you’re planning ahead, here are 13 books (a Baker’s Dozen) you may want to check out:


Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire Nivola  (an inspiring book for the budding scientist about the first female chief scientist U.S. Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)


Eleanor: Quiet No More by Doreen Rapport (All of Doreen Rappaport’s picture book biographies are excellent. This one traces Eleanor’s life from her lonely childhood to her accomplishments as First Lady and humanitarian.)


Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone   (a bright and lively introduction to America’s first female physician)


Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty by Linda Glaser  (Emma Lazarus was raised in an upper class home in New York City in the mid 1800s, but as she learned more about the struggles of immigrants, she became committed to helping them.)


Uncommon Traveler: Mary Kingsley in Africa by Don Brown (Published fifteen years ago, Brown’s book has always been one of my favorites. Mary Kingsley grew up in England and never traveled until she was thirty. But after years of reading about the world, she decided to go to Africa. An amazing story.)


Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx by Jonah Winter (The life of the first Latina Supreme Court justice – from economic hardship in the Bronx to Princeton University and a legal career. A lesson in the values of hard work and determination. The text is in both English and Spanish.)


Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell (A multi-award winning book about the life of African American dancer. To escape the racism in her own country, Baker spent much of her career in Paris where she walked through the streets with a pet leopard!)


Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull (A book I read many times to my son when he was young – and we were inspired by Wilma Rudolph’s story every time. Rudolph had both polio and scarlet fever as a child and was told she would never walk again – but she won three gold medals at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.)



Firebird by Misty Copeland (The dancer from the American Ballet Theater, tells the story of her journey from a childhood in poverty to dancing in the title role in Stravinsky’s The Firebird. Christopher Myers’ colorful collages enhance this inspiring story.)


The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life With the Chimps by Jeanette Winter (the perfect book for animal lovers – Jane Goodall’s life studying chimpanzees)


When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan (another long-time favorite and one I still enjoy sharing with students. The Marion of the title refers to Marian Anderson, the black opera singer who, in 1939, was denied a chance to perform at the Constitution Hall because of her race. After Eleanor Roosevelt stepped in, Anderson performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.)


America’s Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle by David Adler (Gertrude Ederle’s name does not spring immediately to mind when thinking of famous women, but her story is amazing. In 1926, she became the first woman to swim the English Channel. Born in 1906, Ederle’s father taught her to swim after she nearly drowned. Next stop: the 1924 Olympics and the English Channel!)


Moses: When Harriet Tubman Let Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford (Many teachers consider this one of their go-to books to spark discussions about determination and courage. Harriet Tubman’s story is well known, but this beautiful and moving picture book is one of the most perfect blends of text and illustration that exists between the covers of a book.)

Happy Almost-March!



Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh

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More snow today.  I can’t bring myself to look out the window so instead I read an awesome new picture book – Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker.  As soon as we get back to school, this is the book I’m reading to classes – we’ve had enough snow stories! If you work with young children, Walker’s delightful book is an essential purchase.

At the center of this story is the relationship between a WWI solider, Harry Colebourn, and an orphaned bear cub. In the strange but true category, the two meet when the baby bear is being sold at a train station by a man who “shot her mother.”  The hunter is in luck because Harry Colebourn is a veterinarian and he pays $20.00 to take the cub away. Named Winnie (because Harry’s company is from Winnepeg), the friendly and gentle cub becomes the crew’s mascot and pet. But when the company has to travel to France, Harry knows Winnie would be safer somewhere else.  He finds a new home for her at the London Zoo where….a man named A.A. Milne sometimes brings his son, Christopher Robin. You know the rest!

There’s now a statue at the London Zoo honoring the soldier who took care of Winnie and, through his generous gift, made it possible for Winnie to become a beloved character for generations of children.


In other news…..


Last week a 4th grade student told me about a really sweet idea she had for Valentine’s Day. In her class, the students each chose a name of someone for whom they would make a homemade Valentine. This student happened to choose a girl her age who also likes to read so at the center of the card, her “gift” was three book recommendations. Here’s what she recommended:

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

In a 1st through 3rd grade classrooms, the students made their own books. After reading “all about” books by the master of explanation, Gail Gibbons, the students made their own fact books about a topic of their choice.

Of course, there were books about horses….

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And….it always leads back to snow. This student’s book reminds me that some people are enjoying all of this:

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David Carr

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I usually write about books, but one of my favorite writers only wrote one book, and I’ve never read it.

David Carr was one of the best writers for the best newspaper – he was the media columnist for The New York Times. Each Monday his regular column, The Media Equation, appeared on the front page of the Times business section, and his blunt take on the world of television and social media was the first thing I read to start my week. Carr died suddenly last night – at the age of 58.  Just yesterday, I said to my husband that a David Carr column about Jon Stewart and Brian Williams would help me to make sense of this tumultuous week in the news. We received Thursday’s paper late (snow issues), but when I opened it last night – there it was! I read his column around 7:00 and woke up this morning to the news that he had died.

I know it’s crazy to feel such a loss for someone I never met, but I do. I loved Carr’s unique and honest voice. Like many people, I trusted him to explain things to me about this fast-changing media environment. He brought perspective to complex issues, and although his style was blunt and even a little gruff, I could always feel his optimism about the industry he covered.

Here’s a link to yesterday’s article – his last for The New York Times:


Monday mornings will be hard for awhile.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

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One silver lining to so much snow is that I was able to read Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s new middle grade novel, The War That Saved My Life, in one day. I know it’s too early to make predictions for next year’s award season, but Bradley’s novel seems destined for some kind of shiny sticker!

This is the kind of book that I would have loved to read on a snowy day when I was eleven. Not that it isn’t enjoyable to read as an adult, but I could almost feel my younger self by my side. It was the perfect book to read snuggled under a blanket with my Charlie Brown mug full of hot chocolate.

Set in England against the backdrop of WWII, The War That Saved My Life is the story of Ada, a young girl who has grown up in London. Ada had the bad luck to be born with a club foot, and to make matters worse, her mother is embarrassed by her daughter’s deformity and all but ignores Ada. The one thing that makes Ada’s life worthwhile is caring for her younger brother, Jamie.  As London prepares for war, Ada and Jamie escape with a group of evacuees to a country village.

The children go to live with Susan, a woman who is still in mourning over the loss of her friend, Becky. Although Susan tells the kids that she is “not a nice person at all,” she is, of course, a very nice person and she transforms Ada’s life –  and to top it off, she has a pony!  With Susan’s love and care, Ada becomes more confident about exploring the world and learns to trust the good people around her.

This is a rich and moving novel – one I plan to share with as many kids as possible – and one I’ll keep an ear out for during the next year’s award season!

More Snow….



I keep thinking of Laura Ingalls Wilder, in particular The Long Winter. I have a renewed appreciation for her experiences – walking through blizzards, no electrically generated heat, and being housebound for months. Laura’s stories remind me to appreciate my warm and well-lit house even though more snow is falling today and we’re beginning to feel a little trapped. This morning the WBUR meteorologist said that Boston has received over 60 inches of snow over the past three weeks – with more expected on Thursday and Sunday and…..

In the spirit of focusing on the bright side, here are some of the little things that make me happy:

My hot chocolate cup….it makes me smile every time I look at Charlie’s cute face.

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Bushes that look like giant white gumdrops….

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The History Channel’s Sons of Liberty, a three-episode mini-series which I have time to watch….


The horse who lives down the street walking into his (her?) barn…

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And time to read. I’m caught up on Ukraine and Brian Williams and the Grammy Awards…

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This morning I read Jane Austen Cover to Cover. It was great fun to compare the covers, and choose my favorite and the funniest.

Here’s my favorite. It makes me want to re-read Pride and Prejudice.

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This is my vote for the funniest. The woman on the left has the strangest expression. This cover doesn’t, in my opinion, capture the tone of the book at all….

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And, finally, this poem by Mary Oliver which I’ve been reading over and over – appreciating its quiet beauty more with every reading….

Such Silence

As deep as I ever went into the forest

I came upon an old stone bench, very, very old,

and around it a clearing, and beyond that

trees taller and older than I had ever seen.

Such silence!

It really wasn’t so far from a town, but it seemed

all the clocks in the world had stopped counting.

So it was hard to suppose the usual rules applied.

Sometimes there’s only a hint, a possibility.

What’s magical, sometimes has deeper roots

than reason.

I hope everyone knows that.

I sat on the bench, waiting for something.

An angel, perhaps.

Or dancers with the legs of goats.

No, I didn’t see either. But only, I think, because

I didn’t stay long enough.

Two New Books to Treasure….


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Even for hearty New Englanders, the snow is getting old – and more is on the way.  I don’t count myself among those people who greet the snow with smiles and dreams of ski weekends, but even friends in that camp are starting to feel a little overwhelmed and trapped.

Here’s a glimpse of our snowy world….

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This is the Starbucks parking lot.  It looks bleak, but inside it’s cozy and warm….


After a while, you begin to feel like a tunneling animal. If a drone was flying over school, they would see people following narrow paths with white walls around them. It must look like a maze!


Of course the kids love it!

Fortunately, a package arrived this week with two perfect picture books –


Stormy Night by Salina Yoon

We first met Bear and his loyal friend, Floppy, in Found – and Yoon’s new story for young children is equally warm and reassuring. The opening scene finds Bear and Floppy snuggling in Bear’s bed while a storm is raging outside. “The wind was whirring, the trees were crackling, and the rain was pounding against the windows.” Bear tries to comfort himself by telling Floppy that he will keep him safe. But of course, when the thunder rumbles and Bear and Floppy are under the bed, Bear’s mother comes in and says she “needs” Bear to help her through the storm. It isn’t too long before Papa Bear is at the door and the four (counting Floppy) comfort one another!


As An Oak Tree Grows by G. Brian Karas

Have you ever seen those picture books that show how one location (often a city or street) changes over time?  DK publishes many of them and kids enjoy comparing the scene from one page to the next.  This device also makes me think of two wonderful books – The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton and, for older kids, The House by J. Patrick Lewis. This new book by the talented author and illustrator G. Brian Karas, follows the 200 year history of an oak tree.  The tree changes – but so does the landscape and the life around the tree. In the opening spread, an acorn is planted by a young Native American boy. On the following pages, the forest becomes farmland and then a town. This is a book about the cycle of life – with a tree at its center. I strongly recommend this book to parents and teachers. Countless possibilities for discussions about how people’s lives change over time.

As An Oak Tree Grows would be an excellent book to pair with Jeannie Baker’s wordless picture book, Window. Baker focuses on the changing scenes outside of a boy’s window to document changes in our environment.

A final picture – I saw this in a bookstore last weekend and, of course, share its sentiment: