Books I’ve Been Reading…..


Regular readers may have noticed that it’s been a few weeks since my last post. I didn’t stop reading or forget about my blog, but rather a health issue required my full attention – temporarily. All is resolved now (with a happy ending) so, at long last, I can tell you what I’ve been reading….

Reading while distracted by a bigger issue is interesting. I found myself wanting books that provide escape, but nothing that was too dense. I enjoy reading big demanding novels, but those books require your full mental attention, and I just didn’t have that to give. My first choice fit the bill perfectly: A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan.


Egan’s novel about a woman being pulled in lots of directions – as a wife, daughter, and working mother – is observant and funny.  The main character, Alice, is a book lover. At the opening of Egan’s novel, Alice is a book reviewer for a woman’s magazine who seems to have struck that perfect balance between part-time work that she loves and her family responsibilities. But when her husband doesn’t make partner at his law firm, Alice accepts a position at Scroll, a start-up that plans to change the way people read and buy books. It doesn’t go so well, and things get even worse when Alice’s father becomes very ill.

My favorite thing about A Window Opens are the many references to books – they seem to appear on nearly every page!  Here’s a sample sentence: “….the cozy upstairs room was already abuzz with intelligent-looking people who looked like they’ve been born in a John Cheever story, educated in a Donna Tartt novel, and now live the full Jonathan Safran Foer life….”  I loved watching for all of the book references, many of them related to children’s books. It added a whole layer of pleasure to reading Egan’s novel.


Next I read Mindy Kaling’s new book, Why Not Me?  A friend gave it to me suggesting that it would be a fun escape. She was right. I really liked it. One of Kaling’s essays is about her ambition to become a member of a sorority at Dartmouth College, and then finding that it wasn’t what she wanted at all. “I thought I would like an environment of all women, where I was deemed ‘the funny one’, Kaling writes. “But it took me twelve weeks to realize that I don’t really like organizations where people are ‘deemed’ things.”

Kaling has some fun anecdotes about The Office and The Mindy Project. Here’s another passage that made me laugh: “For the eight years that I had been there, NBC had been like a dysfunctional African country where the president changed every eleven months or so. Actually, NBC made most African countries look pretty stable by comparison.” Kaling’s book made me wish we could have lunch together.


I’m now reading Brian Selznick’s new book, The Marvels. I’m only about half-way through it and already know it will be one of the books I regularly recommend to students and parents looking for gift recommendations. It’s hard to explain how breathtaking it is – both physically and emotionally.

The first part of this very large book (it’s actually heavy!) is about Billy Marvel, a boy who is the only survivor of a shipwreck in 1766.  Billy’s story is told completely in pictures. The prose part (which I’m just starting) begins in 1990, so although I know the two stories intersect, I’m not there yet.  For nearly 400 pages of illustrations, I’ve been literally “marveling” at the depth of each picture.


One other thing…..

Inly has broken ground on a new library which is scheduled to be open for the 2016-2017 school year. The new library is going to include a maker space and areas for students to work with 3D printers, among other cool things, but of course, the ultimate “maker space” is the library – in the books where kids first explore possibility and start to give shape to their dreams. All of us are looking forward to welcoming kids to a new space for making, dreaming, and reading.

In the meantime, there are lots of big trucks and muddy holes.  Over the next few months, I will share pictures of the new library rising out of the dirt. Right now, we have to imagine all of the kids in that space who will check out their first Magic Tree House book or meet the Wild Things, but as the building takes shape, the possibilities will become more clear.



The construction crew is also discovering things. This picture is of a Hay Tedder, a machine used in haymaking during the late 19th century.  The round thing on top is a tire.  Together, the objects form a kind of figure, don’t they?


And, finally, proof that Inly protects its cows against possible construction-related head injury!



A Trip to the National Book Festival…

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After years of wanting to go, I finally traveled to Washington, D.C. for the National Book Festival.  It was wonderful. As we approached the Washington Convention Center and I saw this poster on the side of the building, I started getting that fluttery feeling in my stomach that I always get in new bookstores or book-related events.  It’s a combination of excitement and anxiety. The excitement is easy to explain, but the anxiety is trickier. I get nervous that I won’t be able to see everything and hear every speaker!


Going inside and looking at the schedule didn’t alleviate my concerns:



After an internal pep talk about appreciating the moment and enjoying what my husband and I had time to do, we selected one of the author talks – probably the least likely program you would expect.  We decided to listen to Bridget Lancaster from America’s Test Kitchen. It’s a TV show that we really like to watch, and the prospect of seeing Bridget in person was too great to pass up!


It was a really good presentation. I love the idea of going “behind the scenes” (even if it’s a promotional view) and it was especially nice to hear a totally different kind of author talk. As much as I enjoy hearing children’s book authors talking about their work, I’ve been lucky to hear from many of them. But I seldom have the opportunity to hear about the perfect pan roasted chicken!

If you’re a fan of America’s Test Kitchen, here are some interesting facts:

  • The Test Kitchen team shoots 26 episodes during a three-week period
  • Those cooks who look so busy behind the on-air hosts, can’t use blenders because of the noise. Sometimes, they are making Rice Krispie treats!
  • They have 25 ovens in their kitchen – and 40 test cooks!
  • When new cooks are auditioned, they are asked to make sugar cookies so their attention to detail can be evaluated

Bridget reminded the audience that we “time stamp” our lives with food. Kind of a cool way to put it – and so true.

Between programs, we visited the Library of Congress exhibits and the on-site bookstore. So much to see!  One of the best tables displayed one children’s book to represent each of the 50 states. Of course, I looked for Ohio and was so happy to see “our” selection:




Jacqueline Woodson did not live in Ohio for very long, but she was born in Columbus so she is a Buckeye!


Next, I went to hear the reigning Caldecott winner, Dan Santat, author and illustrator of The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. Santat was as warm and humorous as you would expect the illustrator of Beekle and The Three Ninja Pigs to be. Beekle is Santat’s most well-known character, but he has illustrated over 60 books – 13 of those in the past year!


Santat talked about how he started drawing when he was seven-years-old, and judging from some of his childhood drawings, he was a natural:


He also shared some of the creative ways that Beekle fans have paid tribute to the imaginary friend who is waiting to be “imagined by a real child.” Beekle, by the way, is Santat’s young son’s word for bicycle!



Not surprisingly, Beekle is going to be the star of his own movie!

The best part of the National Book Festival was seeing so many people who are enthusiastic about books and reading!  It’s hard to believe that no one reads books anymore while standing in a line like this one:


Finally – a little creativity from Inly….

One of our teachers made this for her classroom.  She highlighted the word “read” in the dictionary and made this inspiring display:


Happy New School Year!

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm

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Earlier today, I read Sunny Side Up, the new graphic novel by the brother and sister team behind the very popular Babymouse series.  This one, a semi-autographical story based on their childhood, is for a reader a bit older – I would recommend it to kids ages 10 and over. As I read, I kept thinking of how much those Raina Telgemeier fans are going to love this book!  It’s the natural next book for the readers of Smile and Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl.

Sunny Side Up takes place in 1976, when ten-year-old Sunny spends the summer with her grandfather in Florida while her parents devote time to Dale, Sunny’s older brother’s who is making increasingly risky decisions.  Naturally, when Sunny hears Florida, she thinks Disney World , but her grandfather lives in a retirement community and his idea of a day out is a trip to the grocery store. Luckily for Sunny, there’s Buzz, the groundskeeper’s son, who introduces her to the world of superheroes and comic books. Interspersed with Sunny’s and Buzz’s adventures are flashbacks to the situation that led to Sunny’s summer in Florida. While these are sobering moments, Sunny Side Up is an upbeat (even “sunny”) story of a young girl who cares about her family – and ultimately gets to visit Disney World!

I’m about the same age at Jennifer Holm so the references to products and events from 1976 made this an especially fun read. Sunny’s bedroom includes a copy of Tiger Beat magazine and pictures of Dorothy Hamill!


I read another book today – but it was much shorter, in fact only 32 pages with minimal text. But I loved it.  Job Wanted by Teresa Bateman is one of those picture books that is made for reading aloud to a group of kids – which means I’ll be reading it again very soon.

The story opens with an “old farm dog” with an empty stomach looking for a job. “Do you need a dog?” he asks the first farmer he sees. The farmer doesn’t give the dog the response he wants: “Dogs just eat and don’t give anything back. They’re not like cows, or horses or chickens that pay for their keep.”

Of course, the dog (who is expressive and lovable) finds creative ways to prove his value and there is a satisfying ending.  The illustrator, Chris Sheban, clearly had some fun with Bateman’s story. The farmer wears glasses, but his eyes can’t be seen through them. Is he pointing out that the farmer can’t see the great dog standing right in front of him? By the last page, it’s clear the farmer gets it!

One more thing….


A librarian from Ohio (who works with my sister) sent me this awesome diagram – which conveys an entirely recognizable situation. I’ve traveled to places carrying more books than I could possibly read – with the knowledge that I will purchase books during the trip. Of course, I’ve tried e-readers, but something is lost with the words on the screen. It feels like I’m reading one long e-mail. Like many readers, I carry my heavy tote bag from one place to another and keep my eyes open for the next bookstore!

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

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Ali Benjamin’s debut novel, The Thing About Jellyfish, won’t be in bookstores until September 22, but the buzz has been building for months. The Thing About Jellyfish received starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Booklist. The IndieNext Kids list will feature it as one of their top ten picks for fall – and it’s on every list of notable fall releases I’ve seen.

This weekend, thanks to my friends at Buttonwood Books and Toys, I was able to borrow an advance reading copy. Benjamin’s novel is over 300 pages long, and I read it in two sittings. After reading the last page, I sat on the deck quietly, hesitant to break the book’s spell – and overwhelmed by its wisdom, beauty, and heart.

Suzy Swanson is a twelve-year-old girl who is struggling to understand why, at the end of 6th grade, everyone around her seems to be changing – especially her closest friend, Franny Jackson. Hurting from Franny’s decision to join a popular group of girls, Suzy immerses herself more deeply in her commitment to science and facts. But during the summer before they start 7th grade, Franny unexpectedly drowns and Suzy retreats into a world of silence.

On a school trip to an aquarium, Suzy becomes convinced that Franny died from the sting of a jellyfish and she sets out to learn everything she can about them.  “I could tell you a lot about jellyfish – more than you’ve probably ever thought to wonder,” Suzy reports. She is determined to solve the mystery of Franny’s death and relieve her crippling guilt about something she did that damaged their friendship.

Inspired by her understanding and caring science teacher, Suzy approaches her study of jellyfish – and Franny’s death – using the scientific method. She states her purpose, explains her procedure, does thorough research, and presents her findings.  Suzy has the support of her divorced parents, her brother and his boyfriend, and a new friend at school, but until she navigates the rocky path through her grief, she is unable to let them help her. Ultimately, Suzy understands the hard truth that “sometimes things just happen.”

This is a book that can be recommended to adults, as well as to thoughtful young readers, ages 11 and over.


Recently, I read an article on The Atlantic’s website by Egyptian author, Alaa Al Aswany, called “How Literature Inspires Empathy,” and I copied this passage:

“I define fiction this way: It’s life on the page, similar to our daily life, but more significant, deeper, and more beautiful. What is significant in our daily lives should be visible in the novel, and deeper because we live many moments which are superficial—not deep, not profound. The novel should be more significant, more profound, and more beautiful, than real life.”

There are lots of middle grade novels that inspire empathy, but here are five recommendations:


The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate


El Deafo by Cece Bell


Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper


Wonder by R.J. Palacio


The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney


Summer Photo Edition….



A key element of a happy summer is visiting a new or favorite independent bookstore – with an unlimited amount of time.  Luckily, our summer included a visit to one of the best stores in the country – Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont.  A few years ago, after many fellow readers recommended Northshire to us, we went to the store and knew immediately that it was a special place. You could feel it as soon as you walked in the door. As we drove into Manchester last week, I was fearful that that it would not be the place I remembered – that it wouldn’t hold up to my idealized memories. But it does – and our three visits over two days were some of the best hours of the summer.

My husband and I have different approaches. He covered about a third of the store during each visit – going slowly, section by section, and never looking ahead. I’m the opposite. Within five minutes of walking through the front door, I had been to every corner of the first floor and checked out the children’s section on the second floor. I need to see the layout and make a plan.  For example, after seeing the huge selection of children’s and young adult books, I knew that would require a dedicated visit.

Here are some pictures from the first floor which includes lots of regional books and gifts – even some Bernie Sanders swag!




What made my visit to the children’s section so memorable was talking with Aubrey, one of the children’s department’s booksellers. We discussed Rebecca Stead’s new novel, Goodbye Stranger, Mosquitoland by David Arnold, The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benajamin (which I’m reading now), and George by Alex Gino. It was fun to exchange quick reviews, recommendations, and favorites with someone so knowledgeable and enthusiastic.




Another highlight of our summer was the Roz Chast exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. I’ve always loved her funny and wise New Yorker cartoons about stress and anxiety, and last year’s graphic memoir about the death of her parents, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, is one of the most honest and beautiful books I’ve ever read.  So when I heard there was a major exhibit of Chast’s work in Stockbridge, I was committed to seeing it.

I took some pictures, but it’s on display until October 26 – so if you’re traveling in the Berkshires…




Link to information about the exhibit:

Random things:

One thing I noticed during our short trip to Vermont is that it seems to be a place where people go after most of us think they are gone. The Kipling sign is in front of a parking space. And Elvis apparently lives in a post office:



And, finally, the other day I looked at two books I had put aside to read next. Look at the colors!  Different publishers – but clearly the colors to use on middle grade book covers right now….



Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon



A few months ago I read a young adult book about love. A common enough subject – but Nicola Yoon’s debut novel, Everything, Everything is different. It’s not only about love between two young people experiencing its joys and challenges for the first time, but other kinds of love as well.

Maddy is a 17-year-old – half Japanese and half African-American – girl who has never gone to school or the mall or to a friend’s birthday party. She has a rare disease that requires her to live indoors in a climate-controlled apartment. I was thinking about similarities to The Fault in Our Stars as I started reading, but Yoon’s novel is something different.

As Tolstoy said, “All great literature is one of two stories: a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” So I knew that Maddy’s unquestioning acceptance of her situation was going to be challenged when a “stranger”  (in the form of a new family moving next door) “comes to town.” Among the family members is Olly, the first boy Maddy has ever known.

I wondered how Yoon was going to connect Rapunzel with her neighbor, but seeing each other through a window solves that problem. And it’s not long before Olly holds up a sign with his email address for Maddy to see.  She writes first: “Hello. I guess we should start with introductions? My name is Madeleine Whittier, but you can tell that from my e-mail address. What’s yours?”  And that’s it – a conversation and a challenge begin.

Yoon fills her novel with e-mails and IM messages and Maddy’s health charts and schedules and lots of other stuff which provide energy and immediacy to the story. I found myself turning the pages faster and faster to see how this impossible situation was going to resolve itself. But there are some twists and turns along the way.

Everything, Everything will be published on September 1. I recommend it to readers ages 13 and over because spoiler alert: they find a way to get together!

Yoon’s novel was just given a starred review from Kirkus and it is the September selection of the Parnassus (Ann Patchett’s independent bookstore in Nashville) Young Adult Book Club.


Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

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Roller Girl, a graphic novel by Victoria Jamieson, has been on my list all summer and finally – over the weekend – I read it in two gulps, both of which flew by as fast as a roller derby (which I now know something about!)…..

The reviews by both professional sources and friends in the business were so glowing that Roller Girl is on Inly’s summer reading list, and I plan to find the kids who read it as soon as school starts. This is a book to recommend to every young person going through all of the hard stuff that comes along with adolescence – new interests, navigating changing friendships, and tensions in family relationships.

As Roller Girl begins, twelve-year-old Astrid has a happy life. She’s close to her mother and shares everything with her long-time best friend, Nicole. But after Astrid’s mother takes both girls to a roller derby event, Astrid’s life changes. She wants to sign up for roller derby camp the next day and assumes Nicole will want to join her.  But Nicole is becoming more interested in ballet – and her friends from ballet class. Although the idea of doing something without Nicole is hard for her, Astrid signs up anyway.  The classes are hard, and Astrid is bumped and bruised and ends many practices feeling discouraged. At home she misses Nicole, but feels new connections with the girls at roller derby camp.  As Astrid becomes more determined to overcome her fears of roller derby, she also navigates the complicated world of friendship.

I have never seen a roller derby or met a young person who participates in it, but one of the most appealing things about Roller Girl is the chance to learn about a sport that, at least in this part of the country, is not very well known.  I also loved Jamieson’s emphasis on the transition of a young person from the relatively simple emotions of childhood to the far more complex feelings of adolescence. In that way, I was reminded of the movie, Inside Out.

On a completely different note, I saw a list of notable fall releases and these are the books that caught my eye….


The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende (a WWII era novel)


M Train by Patti Smith (looking forward to October 6 – publication date for Smith’s new book. This one is about places that are meaningful to the singer and writer)


The Witches: Salem 1692 by Stacy Schiff (The author of Cleopatra writing about the Salem Witch Trials, and it’s awesome that the book is being released during Halloween week!)

Looking way ahead, but worth marking your spring 2016 calendar….

Some Writer! – a picture book biography of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet, the illustrator of, among other books, The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, a 2015 Caldecott Honor Book.