A Visit From Monica Tesler….

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This past Friday, Inly welcomed Monica Tesler, the author of Bounders – the first part of a middle grade science fiction adventure series.  Admittedly, I am not very knowledgeable about sci fi books, but Monica recommended so many books to our students (and to me) that I may dip my toe in!  Bounders – which will be followed by The Tundra Trials in mid-December – is the story of a group of kids invited to become cadets and learn how to do cool things like “quantum bound,” which is moving between places without using a space ship.  And like the kids in Harry Potter who have to save the world from Voldemort’s evil plans, these kids are charged with saving the earth!

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What struck me the most about Monica’s presentation was her enthusiasm for her characters and her subject.  She has a cool Star Wars bag, loves to talk about Jasper (her novel’s twelve-year-old main character), and is enthusiastic about the possibility of space elevators that she learned about on a web site called Futurism. I especially loved hearing Monica describe Bounders as “a friendship story, a book about how these kids from different backgrounds come together.”

The origin of Bounders, she told us, was her son’s love for Rick Riordan’s novels.  When her son asked her to recommend other adventure series, she decided to begin writing her own.  Her son, she added, gave her ideas for the “world building.”

I was not surprised to learn that Monica’s favorite book from childhood is A Wrinkle in Time.  “It introduced me to a character named Meg Murry,” she said. “And Meg is someone I identified with.”  Coincidentally, I am reading A Wrinkle in Time with a group of students right now, and although I gave up trying to figure out tesseracts a long time ago, L’Engle’s belief in the power of language and love to conquer evil shines through on every page.

There were also new book covers to see. The cover below is the paperback edition of Bounders. As you can see, the series is now called Bounders, but Part 1 will be titled Earth Force Rising:

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And The Tundra Trials:

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For the young science fiction fans in your life, here are the middle grade novels Monica recommends:

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Voyagers (a series)  Book 1, Project Alpha, is by D.J. MacHale

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Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by Patrick Samphire

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Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner

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The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price by Jennifer Maschari

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The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes by Wade Albert White

Last week also included the new library’s first lunch guests….

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And kids getting a good view of the stained glass leaves….

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And one little girl totally immersed in her book…

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Happy Reading!

Beans and Ghosts

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I  read two perfect middle grade books this week.  They should be on every list: holiday ideas, next year’s summer reading, award recipients, library recommendations – you get the idea!

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The two books are – Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm and Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier.

Full of Beans is so colorful and lively that it seems to bounce off the page.  The voice of the young narrator, Beans Curry, is pitch perfect, and the Key West setting make Holm’s new novel a delight from the first page:

July 1934

Look here, Mac. I’m gonna give it to you straight: grown-ups lie.

Sure, they like to say that kids make things up and that we don’t tell the truth. But they’re the lying liars.

Take President Roosevelt. He’s been saying on the radio that the economy was improving, when anyone with two eyes could see the only thing getting better was my mother’s ability to patch holes in pants. Not that she had a choice. There was no money for new threads with Poppy out of work. It was either that or let us go naked.”

From there, Beans and his friends are in charge – and the reader gladly tags along.  The chapters are episodic and follow Bean’s adventures as he tries to make money by collecting empty cans and later by working with a man whose money making schemes get Beans involved with something that he later regrets.  There’s also a New Dealer in town checking out Key West’s potential as a tourist destination, a feisty (and kind of mean) grandmother, and Bean’s friends with awesome names like Pork Chop.  There is even a cameo by Ernest Hemingway!

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On the very first day of school, kids asked me when we would have Ghosts, Raina Telgemeier’s new graphic novel. By this past Tuesday, when the library had three copies, there was a waiting list.  When a student returns Ghosts (after reading it overnight), their expressions give them away – it was worth waiting for!

The narrator of Ghosts is Cat, a girl who, at the opening of the story, is moving with her family to Bahia de la Luna on the Northern Coast of California.  The family has left Southern California because Cat’s younger sister, Maya, has cystic fibrosis, and they hope the sea air will help her breathe.  Soon after arriving, the girls meet Carlos, a neighbor who introduces them to the world of “ghosts,” not as something to be feared, but as “ancient ghosts, dead for centuries.”  While Maya embraces the adventure and is enthusiastic about ghosts, Cat is frightened – both for herself and for her sister who she fears may join them.

After an outing with Cat and Carolos to visit the ghosts, Maya is hospitalized, and Cat blames herself.  As her sister recuperates, Cat meets a group of new friends who invite her to join them for the town’s elaborate Day of the Dead celebrations – forcing her to come literally face to face with the dead.  The subject matter of Ghosts is not typical for a middle grade novel, and quite frankly, I’m wondering about all of those 2nd and 3rd graders who are going to check it out.  I’m not suggesting that I would keep it from them, only that they will read a “different” book. Telgemeier’s book is big. It’s about life and death, our fears, and our love for our families.  I would recommend it to my friends as a way to grapple with loss.  Most of all, I’m amazed by the depth of Telgemeier’s talent.  Ghosts is a beautiful book in every way.

Finally – a few pictures to share….

The kids are making themselves comfortable in our new library.  One of the boys in the picture below said to me – “You are so lucky….you can sit here and read all day!”

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In our new think tank, you can write on the walls and the tables.  While meeting with a group of students this past week, I saw two girls writing lists of their favorite books….

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And in one of our classrooms, after reading Extra Yarn, a group of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders made wonderful yarn art.

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Happy Reading!

More Pictures: Authors, a Store, and House…

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Inly’s new school library welcomed its first visitors from the children’s book world last week.  Peter Reynolds, the author of The Dot among many other books, and his twin brother, Paul, signed copies of their joint production – Going Places.  They generously allowed Inly to use one of Peter’s illustrations to celebrate our new building and the icing on the cake was their appearance at our ribbon cutting.

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My colleague, Mary, and I were standing nearby as they signed books and we marveled at how genuinely kind both Reynolds brothers were to to every person there. Mary and I originally planned to write each child’s name on a Post-it note for Peter (who was signing first), but we quickly abandoned that plan after listening to him asking children how to spell their names and using it as a way to spark a conversation.

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The magic continued on Friday during my “field trip for one” to Plainville to visit An Unlikely Story, the book store owned by Jeff Kinney, author of The Wimpy Kid series.  I’d heard glowing reports from kids and adults, but Plainville is not “down the street” and the months went by.  With the encouragement of a new teacher at Inly whose mother works at An Unlikely Story, I finally made the trip, and it was well worth it!

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As soon as I walked inside, I knew it was one of those special bookstores.  I go to book shops all over the world looking for the perfect combination: a cozy and well designed store, expert buyers, and a good cafe to sit and look at your new books. An Unlikely Story does all three – and I am now seeking new routes to Plainville!

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I had lovely conversations with two staff members: Sarah Nixon, who joyfully shared her enthusiasm for children’s books, and Leo Landry, the author of one of the best picture books to read to a toddler, Eat Your Peas, Ivy Louise!

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Leo has a new book being released next week – What’s Up Chuck – and I’ve already ordered a copy for Inly’s Library.

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Yesterday I visited another wonderful library, but not the kind that lends books. The library is inside  Beauport, the Gloucester summer home of Henry Sleeper, one of America’s first interior designers. The house is almost impossible to describe. Our tour guide, Mary, told us that Sleeper wanted each room is illicit a “wow” response – and he accomplished his goal. The rooms are themed, they move between light and dark, and the collections are spectacular.

Like the new Inly Library, Sleeper’s library is round, but the similarities end there. A fun note: the little red curtains on the left side of the picture below are made of wood. Mary told us that Sleeper found the curtains at an antique shop and designed the room around them!

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A fun book-themed few days – and now I have Jennifer Holm’s new novel, Full of Beans, to enjoy for the rest of the day…Happy Reading!

A Photo Tour of the New Library…..

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Many of you have followed the building of Inly’s addition and new library over the course of the past year.  Tomorrow – after a year of watching the workers withstand the coldest and hottest days, joining students and colleagues at the topping off ceremony, and marveling at the steel beams being hoisted to create a tree in the middle of the library – the building will open.  Although I’ve watched it take shape nearly every day, it still seems miraculous.  The books are shelved. The new return box is ready for the books that kids inevitably find over the summer.  The new books are on display.  It is time to raise the curtain.

The tree grew lovely stained glass leaves…..

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Good words are on the wall…

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And the magical door is open….

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All of the glass – the leaves and the amazing door – were made by the talented people at Coastal Art Glass. To learn more, here’s a link:

http://coastalartglass.net/home/1222485

Happy New School Year!

Back to School Reading….

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It seems that the traditional start of a new school year after Labor Day is gone for good. Although lots of kids will return on Tuesday, September 6, there are others who have been in the classroom for weeks or who attend year-round school.  I understand the reasons, but it makes me sad. It seems like we should all be buying new shoes and pencils in mid-August!

Here are five new picture books to pave the way to school….

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School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex with illustrations by Christian Robinson

Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before!  Of course, it’s not only the first day for the kids – but also for the school which has been getting ready all summer long.

In this delightful picture book, it’s the first day of a newly constructed school – Frederick Douglas Elementary. In the opening pages, “a man named Janitor came to mop the school, and buff his floors, and wash his windows.”  But it’s only a few pages before the school bus pulls up and the school is full of children. The school is busy all day long, and the school enjoys some funny moments, including one when a boy “laughed so hard that  milk came out of his nose.”  In the last few pages, the school along with his friend, Janitor, share a quiet moment watching the sun go down. This is guaranteed to be a story time hit – and a book I’m looking forward to sharing with students in our new building!

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Sophie’s Squash Go to School by Pat Zietlow Miller

Sophie isn’t too excited about going to school. In fact, she has kind of a bad attitude. “The chairs were uncomfortable. The milk tasted funny. And no one appreciated her two best friends, Bonnie and Baxter.”  Here’s the thing you need to know about Bonnie and Baxter: They are squash.

Sophie grew them herself, and she considers them her best friends.  But Steven Green, a persistent little guy, tries to be friends with Sophie. Most of us might back away from a girl so attached to her squash, but not Steven.  He tries everything to win Sophie’s friendship. And he does!  When I read this one, I’m going to bring two squashes to school and draw little faces on them.  If you have a copy of A Friend for Dragon by Dav Pilkey, you are all set for the perfect fruit-based story hour!

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Frank and Lucky Get Schooled by Lynn Rae Perkins

A boy feeling down on his luck finds Lucky – a lost black lab. Both of them, Perkins writes “had a lot to learn.”  Both go to school: Frank “went to his school thousands of times,” but Lucky learns by observation of the world around him. The fun starts after Frank’s real school day is over and the learning continues. Lucky and Frank learn about science, history, math, and their favorite subject – geography. This is a book that reminds young readers how much they learn outside of the classroom!

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The Class by Boni Ashburn

Here is the perfect read aloud for anxious kindergarten students. Following a group of twenty children as they get ready for the first day of school, Ashburn’s diverse group of kids cover a range of emotions: “Four are eager, up since dawn. Three just sit and yawn and yawn. Some are grumpy. Some keep sleeping. They don’t hear the clock beep-beep-ing!”  Everyone will recognize themselves in one of these kids.  It would be fun to read this book to a group of kids and then ask them how they start their day!

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My Favorite Pets by Jeanne Birdsall with illustrations by Harry Bliss

It’s clear from the first picture that Gus is nervous about turning in his report. He even turns it in – with a gift for his teacher, Ms. Smolinski!  Gus’s report about life with his family and seventeen sheep appears on the following pages.  In it, he describes the havoc sheep can cause, especially when they “think the rug is grass and try to eat it,” and the challenge of trying to teach a sheep to climb a tree.  At the end of Gus’s report, the reader can see what Ms. Smolinski thinks of her student’s paper – no spoiler here!

Speaking of the first day of school, the new library is almost ready.  There are just a few more boxes….

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And if a child wants to read a book that’s just out of reach, we have a conveniently placed library ladder ready to go…..

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Finally, as if there aren’t enough reminders that the summer is almost over, this is the scene I confronted in the grocery store yesterday:

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Happy Back to School!

 

 

 

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

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Working in a school makes you hyper-aware of the passage of time. My husband’s colleagues are adults and they stay adults – so he isn’t faced with daily reminders that time truly flies. It’s different in a school. Kids change more quickly. I know a student as a sixth grader, and then may see them driving a car in what feels like minutes.

Kids proudly announce their birth dates. “I was born in 2009,” a child will say as I stand in amazement that they learned to walk during the Obama presidency. As we approach the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attack, it occurs to me that none of our current students were alive on that tragic day. They don’t arrive on earth (yet) with an implanted chip that explains the significance of cataclysmic events in our nation’s history: July 4, December 7, November 22 – and September 11.

Over the past five years, a number of books for young readers have been published – books that attempt to explain the unexplainable, but Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes is the book to give a child who wants to understand how our country changed so dramatically in one day. Pitch perfect for a middle grade audience, Towers Falling is the story of Deja, a fifth grader who lives with her family in a group home in Brooklyn. As the story opens, she is starting at a new school and fearful of kids learning where she lives. School gets much better though after Deja meets Ben, a boy whose father served in Iraq, and Sabeen, a Muslim girl, and the three become a close-knit trio.

As their warm and thoughtful teacher, Miss Garcia, introduces a project based on events of September 11, 2001, Deja (standing in for many young readers) has lots of questions. She doesn’t know what happened that day, but she quickly learns that her father becomes angry when she asks questions about it. She also doesn’t understand why Ms. Garcia keeps telling them that this is their history, that it affects all of their lives.

As Deja, with the help of Ben and Sabeen, learns more about what happened, she is able to uncover some of her own family’s past and begins to see how those events color life in America today.

Towers Falling is a good book for a teacher or parent to help facilitate a discussion about September 11.  Read aloud in a classroom, it would provide an opportunity for students to ask questions about those events – as well as identity, patriotism, and and socioeconomic issues.

As part of a summer book club at Buttonwood Books and Toys, I read Towers Falling with a group of students between the ages of 10 and 12, all of whom approached it from different starting points. For one girl with no prior knowledge, it was a gentle introduction to a complex story. For the others who had heard about “planes flying into buildings,” the book was a vehicle to deepen their understanding.  


The move is underway!  At night I count boxes (rather than sheep), and by day the books march like little soldiers to their new place in line…..

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Here’s a child who could not wait to try out the new reading area. As soon as we’re unpacked, I plan to join her!

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And there are signs of progress……

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My partner, Mary, and I frequently stop to look out the window where you never know what you’ll see.  Last week we watched a cow being readied for flight….

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and taking off….

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I hope he’s as happy in his new location as we are in ours!  Back to the boxes…

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

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Unknown-1As my friends and family know, being an Ohioan is important to me.  Although I’ve lived in Massachusetts for nearly 30 years, I grew up in Dayton and it will always be home.  It is a reflex for me to “stick up for Ohio.”  I know how much the state has changed, and looking back can be hard. But I never miss an opportunity to bring up the Wright Brothers and John Glenn and Neil Armstrong – all people, as my husband likes to remind me, who went to extraordinary measures to leave Ohio!

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Our house outside of Boston is a place for me to display Ohio swag. Our front door knocker is a buckeye. Our bulletin board is shaped like the state of Ohio. And, thanks to my sisters, I have a wide variety of Ohio t-shirts!

That being said, going home makes me sad.  I love seeing my family and eating the best chocolates in the world from Esther Price, but every time I drive through Dayton, I feel despair.  My dad, a Dayton native who worked as an electrician for thirty-five years, points out the closed factories and tells me about members of our extended family who struggle to find work.  There are bright lights, including the University of Dayton and the Dayton Art Institute, but there are too many boarded-up businesses in the small towns outside of Dayton.

I’ve read countless articles about the challenges of the white working class and the disappearance of well-paying factory jobs, but understanding it doesn’t make it easier.  I miss the vibrant mid-sized city where I grew up.

The first time I heard about J.D. Vance’s new book, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, was on NPR. I immediately drove to the nearest bookstore, bought it, and then called my dad to suggest that we read it together.  It was not an easy read for us.  Vance’s story of growing up in Middletown, Ohio, although it differs in the specifics, is not so far from our own.  I recognize the people he describes. Hillbilly Elegy helped me make sense of what I’m seeing and is the best explanation I’ve read so far of why Trump’s message resonates with large groups of voters.

Today’s New York Times includes a review of Hillbilly Elegy that includes this passage:

“And he (Vance) frames his critique generously, stipulating that it isn’t laziness that’s destroying hillbilly culture but what the psychologist Martin Seligman calls “learned helplessness” — the fatalistic belief, born of too much adversity, that nothing can be done to change your lot.  What he’s really writing about is despair.”

Here’s a link to the review:

Reading Vance’s moving book brought up lots of emotions: sadness, frustration, understanding. But above all, it made me hopeful. I am hopeful that stories like this one will contribute to the national dialogue about jobs and the changing economy that could result in policies that will revitalize small towns.

I know how lucky I am to live in the Boston area. It’s a dynamic city that has given me opportunities I could only dream about as a child growing up in Dayton – and I’m grateful. But the Boston area has lots of fans. I will continue to watch for signs of growth and opportunity 850 miles away in my hometown.