A Mini Student Showcase…

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This week, a chance to hear what our students are reading – in their voices:

One student, a 5th grade girl, has read nearly every book on our shelves. It’s awesome to watch her scanning the titles to see which ones she may have missed. So when she came to the desk last week, put a book down in front of me, and proclaimed it “the best book I’ve ever read,” she had my full attention. This is the book:

And here is her glowing review: “I loved this book so much. It was one of the best books I have ever read. I would totally recommend it for anyone, and if you read it, I hope you love it as much as me.” The Sea in Winter is about a young girl named Maisie who is both a dancer and a Native American. After an injury forces her to stop dancing, she has to find a way forward with the help of her supportive blended family.

Another voracious reader, a 6th grader, recently wrote reviews of several of her favorites.

THE WESTING GAME by Ellen RaskinThe Westing Game is a suspenseful mystery that is super hard to put down. A group of random people come together for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will, but soon find themselves in the middle of a plot-twisting mystery with blizzards, burglaries, and murderers. Any fan of Nancy Drew or just a general mystery lover will appreciate this book.

ENOLA HOLMES AND THE CASE OF THE MISSING MARQUESS by Nancy SpringerEnola Holmes and the Case of the Missing Marquess is the first of a six book series of mysteries set in the mid-1800’s London era. Enola Holmes is the sister of Sherlock Holmes, and sets off to solve a mystery herself when her mother goes missing. Enola is a character very easy to connect to, and it is easy to lose yourself in the investigations and clues of this story. Any fan of Nancy Drew or the Sherlock Holmes collection will enjoy this beautifully written mystery. There is also a Netflix movie called “Enola,” based on this novel.

THE WISHMAKERS by Tyler Whitesides The Wishmakers is a funny and fun to read adventure/fantasy story. A boy named Ace opens a peanut butter jar one day, and a genie comes out! Ace is given a quest and finds out that he has only a week to save the world. It is the first in a two-book series, the second being, The Wishbreaker. I would recommend this book to fans of the Percy Jackson series, or possibly The Candymakers books by Wendy Mass.

We’re fortunate to work with many enthusiastic young readers, and right now we have a dedicated group of Upper Elementary boys who are almost daily visitors. Here are some of the series they are racing through:

The Bodyguard series by Chris Bradford

The Last Kids on Earth series by Max Brallier

Percy Jackson – and all of the series by Rick Riordan

Books by Allan Gratz

The Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz

The Storm Runner series by J.C. Cervantes

and not surprisingly…..the Harry Potter series

The middle school students, to support their study of WWII, recently read Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli. Milkweed is the heartbreaking story of a young boy living in Warsaw during the Holocaust. As their culminating project, the students each created one page interpretations of the novel. Here are three of them:

I’ll leave you with a cloud – but not a dark one. This is the cover under the dust jacket of a new book about the water cycle called When Cloud Became a Cloud by Rob Hodgson.

I hope there are more sunny days ahead than cloudy ones – Happy Reading!

Slow Reading….

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Like many people during this Covid winter, I am easily distracted. The endless stream of information about the vaccines, the variants, and the impeachment trial (Take 2) make it challenging to focus on one thing for very long. I keep anticipating a text telling me it’s time for a vaccine! Of course, I’m reading good books, but in the back of my mind, I knew it was time to read something that would require deeper concentration. A book that would force me to look words up and most of all, slow down! I can read contemporary novels pretty quickly, but I wanted something else. Last year, I listened to David Blight’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Frederick Douglass, but that was listening which could be done during walks on the beach.

There were obviously many candidates for long novels that require careful reading, and I was not far along in my planning when I saw this in the New York Times:

Years ago, I read both The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence, but I had never read The Custom of the Country, which as a side note, Sofia Coppola is adapting for a limited series on Apple TV. I took the book off the shelf that day, knowing I would never be finished by the date of the NYT event, but far enough along to listen in. That was two weeks ago, and I’m still reading. Almost there, but not quite. Of course, I would have been done sooner if I was not working – and if I “skimmed” a bit. But for some reason, perhaps to prove I can still concentrate, I’m reading it like there’s going to be an exam. I look up words. I begin paragraphs again if I missed something. I’m an expert on Undine Spragg’s reckless behavior.

I thought I might begin resenting the book sitting on my side table – day after day. But it’s actually the opposite. The story is more timely than I expected, and my immersion in the social life of early 20th century New York City has become an escape from social distancing. Another bonus is that I haven’t faced my “to read” pile in a few weeks which is its own kind of stress reliever. I will leave Wharton’s world in a few days, but I plan to start another long novel soon.

My day time life in the library continues. Here are some pics from the past week.

There are steps right outside the Library door, and Mary and I get to see scenes like this every day:

The Lower Elementary students learned about peaceful demonstrations, reading among other things, this timely new book by Tessa Allen:

and then shared their signs during a reverse parade:

The third grade book club read Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins – and then made bookmarks featuring the characters: Lumphy, Stingray, and Plastic.

Long weekend ahead – Happy Reading!

A Winter Scrapbook

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These winter days have a Groundhog Day feeling to them – every day, at school and at home, feels the same. Covid has definitely made me more appreciative of all the touchstones in a school year. I miss gathering in the barn, seeing parents in the meeting room, and the plays and ceremonies. All things to look forward to, but in the meantime, there are some magical days here in our insulated Covid clubhouse. Here are some pictures from this pre-vaccine winter:

Some of the middle school students made a table top snowman! A cute – but cold – little friend.

And, inside the middle school, this seasonal picture caught my eye. The words say: “Where’s your mask?”

Our Lower Elementary students always create wonderful book projects, but I put this one on display in the library for a little while. A delightful picture book, Carson Crosses Canada is the story of a woman, her dog Carson, and Carson’s Squeaky Chicken taking a road trip across Canada. This student – along with some help from her mother – captured the joy of summer days perfectly. I’m also feeling a bit nostalgic for long car rides and picnics right now so seeing this across the room brightens my day.

Sometimes, in an effort to encourage kids to look beyond the graphic novel shelves, I display books around the circle – forcing them to “step over” something new to get to what is familiar. In this case, we put out all (approximately 100) of the Who Was/Is books and, just as I hoped, lots of them were checked out. According to the “Who Was” website, there are now over 250 books in the “Who Was?, What Was?, Where Is?, and What Is the Story Of?” series. It’s the trademark “big head” cover illustrations that interest them, but then someone will catch their attention. Of course, the books are introductory – an overview at best. What I like about them, though, is that the increase the student’s cultural literacy, and in the best case, inspire a reader to learn more.

Our other current display is dedicated to Black History Month:

We have many books that celebrate the history and achievements of African Americans, but February is an opportunity for these books to be displayed together so that students see the wide range of contributions Black Americans have made to the United States. If I could recommend one of the books to a student, it would be: What Do You Do With a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan by Chris Barton and Ekua Holmes. Jordan’s story of growing up in Houston, becoming a lawyer, and learning to use her “big, bold, booming, crisp, clear, confident voice” as a member of Congress is inspiring and timely.

There have also been some cozy reading moments in the Library:

As many of you know, Mary and I enjoy looking under the picture book jackets to see the design surprises that are often there. This one is excellent. A book called Blanket that looks so textured that I actually touched it expecting it to feel like a blanket.

And finally, a touch of summer to brighten these gray days. We recently visited the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem – socially distanced and masked, of course. My husband and I both stared at this small painting, Portsmouth Doorway 1910 by Abbott Fuller Graves, for a while trying to absorb its brilliant sunshine.

Happy Reading!

Hope

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I’m feeling hopeful today. The powerful images of President Biden, Vice President Harris, and the twenty-two-year-old poet, Amanda Gorman, made me breathe a sigh of relief – and listening to the speakers was a reminder of the power of words to unite and heal. The lines that stood out to me from “The Hill We Climb” were these:

And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.

Somehow, we do it.

Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed

A nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.

“Simply unfinished.” That’s a good perspective to hold on to during these rocky days.

Coincidentally, this book was delivered during the Inauguration:

Naomi Shihab Nye is one of my favorite poets. A few years ago I was at a conference where she was speaking, and we happened to sit at the same table for lunch. She may have been anxious to get away after a few minutes of me being a total fangirl, but of course, she was gracious and we had a lovely conversation about her work and her beloved San Antonio. Everything Comes Next is a timely collection of new and classic poems. Nye’s poetry focuses on connection and peace between people. She writes about her Palestinian heritage, childhood, food, and kindness. I love many of her poems, but this is one of my favorites:

Burlington, Vermont

In the lovely free public library
only library I ever met
that loans out garden tools
as well as books
rakes & long-handled clippers
from large buckets by the counter
I sat in a peaceful room
with citizens I will never know
reading about far-away war
war I am paying for
war I don’t want & never wanted
& put my head down
on the smooth wooden table
wishing to weep loudly or quietly
it did not matter
in the purifying presence of
women & men
shovels & hoes
devoted to growing

The books on display in the library this week reflect the momentous events taking place.

We also have this interesting new book:

I would have loved this as a kid – and can’t wait to share it with kids who love details about life “behind the scenes.” It’s full of fun facts, like this one:

“The White House jobs change over time. At one point there was a live-in fireman whose job was to stoke the White House furnace.”

The book’s author, Kate Anderson Brower, also reports that there are “132 rooms, 147 windows, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases, and 3 elevators!” That gives President and Mrs. Biden lots of explore over the next four years.

Happy Reading!

The 2021 Books Begin to Arrive…

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These short and cold winter days can feel like a slog. Covid seems to have settled in for the winter. The foundations of our democracy have been threatened. There’s an erosion of trust in facts. And, at least until vaccines are more widely distributed, there are no trips to plan. Still, there are still bright spots, including the arrival of the first books of 2021. I plan to spend this winter counting the days until vaccines are available, reading a stack of new books, and looking forward to warmer brighter days.

Here are a few new children’s books that are especially wonderful:

Sometimes People March by Tessa Allen (Good timing, right? This is a perfect introduction to the many reasons people gather together to speak with one voice and a good way to start conversation with younger children about current events. “It isn’t always easy,” the text reads. “Feet get tired, hearts and hopes get tired. Sometimes problems seem too big or complex. But we do not march alone.”)

I Want to Ride the Tap Tap by Danielle Joseph (This brightly colored story about Claude, a Haitian boy’s, adventure riding a tap tap, the distinctive trucks that his father takes to work. Every day, Claude and his mother walk his father to the tap tap where Claude meets the other passengers. Then, on Sunday, he gets to ride the tap tap himself when he family visits the beach. On the beach, he meets the artists and musicians he met during the week. It’s a jubilant story – you can almost feel the tropical breeze which is a welcome escape right now.)

Ten Little Dumplings by Larissa Fan (As much as I like the five books on this list, Ten Little Dumplings is my favorite – I know it will be included on my favorite books of 2021. It’s early for that judgement, but I feel confident. The story of a Taiwanese family with ten sons, “great luck indeed” the boys do everything together: get ready for school, eat rice, and play by the pond. Ultimately, they grow into “ten fine men.” But then, another voice enters the story, a sister who, admittedly, I did not see hiding among the illustrations of the ten little dumplings. But she’s there, and I went right back to the beginning of the story and read it entirely differently. Clever and smart, this is one to add to your library.)

Jabari Tries by Gaia Cornwall (One of our favorite picture books is Jabari Jumps, the story of a boy who is understandably nervous about jumping off a diving board. Now, Jabari is back and this time he’s determined to make a flying machine. Initially, Jabari’s plans don’t go the way he hopes, and he feels frustrated. Luckily, he has a dad who encourages Jabari to keep trying – and a sister with fairy wings who wants to help.)

A Long Road on a Short Day by Gary Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney (A cozy read aloud for a short winter day, this early chapter book centers on Samuel and his father’s journey to find a “brown-eyed cow” so that the family can have milk for the baby – and for tea. Samuel and his dad venture out into a cold and grey day to find milk, but getting the milk involves a series of trades with their neighbors. First, the dad trades his “shiny Barlow knife” for two tin lanterns – and the uptrading continues from there, resulting in, of course, a cow. It’s a gentle story, at a time when we are facing so much harshness.)

Happy Reading.

New Year, New Books to Read

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We are back in school and have welcomed our Lower Elementary students back to the library with a display of new books and the first books in many popular series. The downside (to the kids) is that, for this week, the graphic novel section is closed. We love graphic novels here. We love them so much that the other books in the library start to collect dust. Every so often, as a way to encourage the kids to read something new, the graphic novels are given a little break.

After the expected objection to a whole week without graphic novels, things begin to turn around. The kids begin exploring the displays of new books and just like we planned, they find books they are excited about. It’s fun to see them at the checkout desk holding a book that may start them on a new series.

There are so many good series for new readers. Here are some of our favorites:

The Miniature World of Marvin and James by Elise Broach

Lola Levine Is Not Mean! by Monica Brown

Zoey and Sassafras: Dragons and Marshmallows by Asia Citro

Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo

Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott

Meet Yasmin by Saadia Faruqi

The Unicorn Rescue Society by Adam Gidwitz

Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes

Bears of the Ice by Kathryn Lasky

Juana and Lucas by Juana Medina

Ranger in Time: Rescue on the Oregon Trail by Kate Messner

Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan

Big Foot and Little Foot by Ellen Potter

Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee

Charlie and Mouse by Laurel Snyder

Dragonmasters by Tracey West

There are so many more, but this is a sampling of our “New Year, New Series” campaign. I hope we are checking out lots of #2s next week! If you have an emerging reader in your classroom or house, consider one of these books to expand their reading world.

Happy New Year!

Five Things Worth Sharing….

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In this last post of this “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad” year of 2020 (to use Judith Viorst’s picture book title), here are a few bright spots:

  1. A colleague and her son made this Covid Snowman last week:

2. During the last few days of school, our students and families enjoyed a colorful and happy walk through a Winter Wonderland. It was the bright spot in a week without our traditional holiday festivities:

3. To support their study of WWI, our middle school students read Michael Morpurgo’s novel War Horse. The novel, on which the Steven Spielberg movie is based, tells the story of Joey, a British horse, who is bought by the British Army and goes through a series of owners around Europe against the backdrop of WWI. As their final projects, the students designed their own tributes to Joey:

4. Since reading Jonathan Coe’s 2018 novel Middle England, I had been anticipating his new book: Mr. Wilder and Me. It’s not yet published in the U.S., but being impatient about books I’m looking forward to, I pushed the “buy” button on Amazon U.K. It was worth it. This novel is less sweeping than Middle England’s focus on Brexit-era Britain, but it’s equally thoughtful. An account of one of the film director Billy Wilder’s last films (Fedora) through the eyes of a young assistant on the crew, it’s a compassionate look at aging, the impacts of WWII on Europeans, and the changing film industry.

5. Finally, a sweet note I found on my desk on the last day of school before break:

I don’t typically make it to midnight on New Year’s Eve, but this year may be an exception. Mary told me about an Irish custom of leaving the back door of their houses open to let the old year out – and opening the front door to let the new year in. That sounds just about right for this year.

The calendar is marked for January 20 – when hopefully the White House back door will open and a burst of fresh air will blow in. Until then, I wish you a vaccine, good books, and good health.

My Favorite Books of 2020

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During many hard periods of my life, books have been both respite and a welcome distraction. When I dealt with a serious illness a few years ago, I wanted nothing to do with books about people experiencing hardship, especially of the physical variety. Instead, I wanted to escape into 18th century England or go on an armchair adventure far far away. This year was similar. We needed stories to get us through. Reading seemed to have a new purpose, perhaps to provide a break from the heartbreaking Covid stories or the frightening stories of a president fueling distrust in science and the election process.

Like everything this year, my reading was a bit scattered and directionless. I would read something meaty and thoughtful and then seek something more straightforward and comforting. At other times I would dive into the belly of the beast – I read The Plague this year. But, looking back, these are the ten books (of about 60) that stand out:

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (The first words that come to mind are feral and raw. This is a tough – and beautiful – novel about a group of motherless children in rural Mississippi. Taking place over twelve days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, Salvage the Bones is tragic and yet, the hope and love shine through.)

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (An Orwellian story about a Japanese island where things vanish – one at a time – and you have no memory of them. There is an authoritarian police squad that makes sure no one remembers things that are gone. The obvious echoes with what’s happening in countries around the world today are especially terrifying. As I finished reading it, I felt a renewed appreciation for memories and a heightened fear of how things can change so slowly that we may not even notice it.)

A Girl Returned by Donatella Di Pietrantonio (If you’ve read or watched My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, add this slim volume to your list. It’s one of Ferrante’s favorite novels which makes total sense after reading it. It’s both a coming of age novel and an examination of what it means to belong. As much as I appreciate all of the books on this list, this is the novel that, when I closed it, it took me a minute to reconnect back to my life.)

Strangers and Cousins by Leah Hager Cohen (a family story which, of course, sounds like every other book in the library and bookstore, but there are many flavors of family stories. This one is rich and sprawling and wise. In its citation as one of the Washington Post’s Ten Best Books of the Year in 2019, the reviewer described Strangers and Cousins as “one of the most hopeful and insightful novels I’ve read in years.”)

World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. (A late entry, I read this book – thanks to Mary’s recommendation – over Thanksgiving break, and it’s hard to describe. It is part memoir and part nature writing: Mary Oliver in essay form. After reading about pain and heartbreak and dishonesty this year, this book was a welcome and inspiring reminder to look up and see how much beauty there is in the world. I read World of Wonders with YouTube nearby so I could look up all the wondrous creatures Nezhukumatathil describes. I had never known about cassowaries, large flightless birds, before reading this. They are worth checking out!)

Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin (I was so happy to see Saint X on the NYT list of Notable Books of 2020. It went under the radar a little bit, and perhaps more readers will discover it now. A novel about race, class, obsession, and privilege, Saint X centers on the relationship between two sisters, one of whom dies during a family vacation on a fictional Caribbean island. The novel explores the impact of her sister’s death on her family, but the knotty issues around the relationship between tourists and locals are what especially interested me.)

Old Lovegood Girls by Gail Godwin (A novel about a life-long friendship between two girls who meet at a junior college in 1958. It follows the friendship between Feron and Merry through life changes, and changes in the world, in prose that is smart and heartfelt. Margaret Atwood liked it too. She called Godwin’s novel “wry, beady­eyed, acute.”)

What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez (One of NPR’s Best Books of 2020, this is Nunez’s follow up to her National Book Award-winning, The Friend. This slim but powerful novel is a chorus of voices, all speaking to our need for connection. It’s a quiet novel and the situation at the center is intimate – a friend asking someone to be with her as she considers ending her life. It sounds depressing, but it’s not. It is more like listening in to conversations that maybe you weren’t meant to hear.)

Two more – quick mentions:

When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson was my favorite book for young readers this year. A graphic novel about growing up in a refugee camp, this book is memorable and essential reading for kids and adults.

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by Frederick Douglass. I’m a bit dishonest to add this (note how I snuck it in at the bottom). I’ve been listening to this 900 page Pulitzer Prize-winning biography all year – whenever I am driving for over 15 minutes and I’ve caught up with the New York Times Book Review podcast. It’s a 38-hour audiobook, and I have 10 hours remaining. It is not a slog – I just don’t have much time in the car. There are so many brilliantly crafted sentences that sometimes I reverse – just to hear them again. Engaging and insightful, it’s like listening to a fascinating professor. My next audiobook is going to be the Obama biography. The long ones hold me for a year – or more.

There are still a few weeks remaining of this unsettling year so I’ll add a few more to my 2020 list. I truly don’t know how I would have survived without reading this year.

One last note. If you are still looking for gift ideas for your children, I am going to talk about my favorite children’s books of the year on WATD on Wednesday morning at 8:10.

Happy Reading!

The New York Times 10 Best Books of 2020

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One bonus of being off this week is that I was able to achieve a goal I’ve had for a few years – seeing the New York Times online presentation of the 10 Best Books of 2020. This morning, with steady rain as the perfect backdrop, I was able to watch the announcement in real time. Better than a front seat ticket to the Academy Awards!

And like the Academy Awards, it opened with a celebrity, but rather than talking about movies, Mindy Kaling spoke about how much reading has helped her during the pandemic.

Pamela Paul, the editor of the New York Times Book Review introduced each selection, followed by one of the editors talking about the book. I took notes, but couldn’t write fast enough to ascribe each quote to the editor who said it. Here they are:

A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet (“an indictment of a generation that failed to address climate change,” “our most ancient stories have a profound contemporary resonance,” and “how does one generation grapple with the failure of another?”)

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar (“one of the novel’s greatest strengths is its dialogue between characters and places,” “what impresses me the most is the breadth of his range,” and “social commentary on a range of issues”)

Deacon King Kong by James McBride (“one of the funniest and liveliest books I’ve read in this stark year,” “imagine The Wire with a little more church,” and “biting social commentary”)

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (“eerily timely novel,” “O’Farrell imagines a family piecing itself together after a tragedy,” and “a communnity reeling from loss but ticking away”)

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (“the word that comes to mind is rich – complex and dynamic,” “feels like someone giving away candy so they eat their vegetables – a fantastic plot, but a rich conversation”)

I did not take notes on the five nonfiction titles – except for one of them.

A Promised Land by Barack Obama (the comment that jumped out at me was “Obama’s level of introspection.” Can you imagine anyone saying that about our current president!?)

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker

Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future by James Shapiro

Uncanny Valley: A Memoir by Anna Weiner

War: How Conflict Shaped Us by Margaret MacMillan

After the presentation of the Top Ten, the editors each discussed one book that was a “personal favorite.” Here are the books they talked about:

The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld

Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine

Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl by Jonathan Slaght

Jack by Marilyn Robinson

Cleanness by Garth Greenwell

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

Hurricane Season (this one sounds super scary) by Fernanda Melchor

Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town by Barbara Demick

The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar Particularly Prosperous by Joseph Henrich 

This is the embarrassing part of the post. I own many of the Top 10 books and have not read them! Obviously, I read reviews since I bought them, but I’ve been reading other things. Now I need to get to work on this list before the 2021 books begin coming out. In my next post, I’ll list the best books I read this year.

Happy Reading!

The State of Things (in the school library)

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I’m knocking on wood as I type these words, but so far…..(knocking louder!), we have been able to stay open and check books out to lots of masked students. I’ve been pleasantly surprised actually. The kids seem to have forgotten that they are wearing masks, and most parts of the day feel somewhat normal. In fact, we are checking more books out than we were at this time last year. Because some of the other spaces are closed, for example the art room, the library has become one of the few options outside of a student’s classroom.

Here are a couple of pictures taken this week. The sign on the couch says that the seating area is closed, but I like how this student made it work:

Mary and I continue to enjoy the art under the dust jackets of new books. Although dust jackets began as merely a protective covering for books, they have become a bonus: two pieces of art, both writing and visual art, in one purchase. And it increasingly seems that illustrators are extending their art to the binding under the cover. Here are a some recent purchases that stand out:

The smallest (in size) book we’ve received this week is also the most powerful:

This Is Your Time is written as a letter from Bridges to the “young peacemakers of America.” She opens by recounting her experience as the first black student at an elementary school in New Orleans. She then transitions to short anecdotes about some of the children she has met during her travels as a Civil Rights advocate and addresses the conversation about racial equity taking place today. Her words are hopeful and inspiring during this unsettling time.

My own reading has been a bit scattered – a reflection of my exhausted 2020 brain. A few weeks ago I read the bestselling National Book Award Finalist, Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam. I loved this tense drama about a family staying at a vacation home when their lives are disrupted by the arrival of the homeowners and a widespread blackout for which no there is no clear explanation. It’s been a fun book to discuss with friends and the thriller-like pacing matched the unsettled feeling I had in the week leading up to the election.

After calming down from that book and the election, I read Kacen Callendar’s new middle grade novel, King and the Dragonflies. It had been on my “to read list” since it received multiple starred reviews. It’s the story of Kingston, a twelve-year-old boy who lives in a small town in Louisiana whose older brother, Khalid, has died. While dealing with his grief, King is also navigating his friendship with Sandy Sanders. King is tormented by remembering that Khalid had told him not to be friends with Sandy because Sandy is gay: “You don’t want anyone to think you’re gay, too, do you?” But when Sandy disappears, King has to reconcile his love for his brother and his loyalty to his friend. Callendar is brilliant at creating vivid descriptions of life in a small town. The heat feels palpable, and I could picture the dragonflies that live on the bayou.

After reading two intense (but very different) novels, I was ready for something dramatically different. Not in my typical ways – like a novel that takes place in another country or an author I haven’t read before. I wanted the opposite of everything I’ve read the past few months. So I searched my shelves for a nonfiction book, preferably something I bought but never read, and actually had kind of forgotten about. I found it: Wondrous Beauty by Carol Berkin.

A fascinating story actually. And I’ve stepped completely out of anything familiar. There is no social media, no discussion of timely issues, and nothing to keep me on the edge of my seat. It’s perfect for this week. I’m about half way through and our heroine, who is briefly married to Napoleon Bonaparte’s younger brother, is figuring out what to do after the Bonaparte family can no longer support her (Napoleon has problems of his own). But since Betsy is the mother of the emperor’s young nephew, it’s complicated. It’s a good reminder of how rigid the gender rules were in the early 19th century and an interesting look at America’s early stage grappling with issues around class and money.

I’ll return to the issues facing the 21st century next week.

Note: The picture at the top is the new mural on the outside of the middle school. During their project week, a group of 7th graders worked with a local artist to create this flock of birds on the side of the building.

Happy Reading.