Friends, Ducklings, and Jabari Jumps!

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You can feel the difference at school.  On some days, the hallways feel unusually quiet because the kids are on a field trip.  I’m starting to see kids taking projects home that have been on display for months, and most tellingly, the library return box is overflowing.  One morning this week, Mary was checking books in and announced: “this one was out for 120 days!”  We are always happy to welcome them back…

The highlight of last week’s book delivery was this one:

It’s wonderful, and perfect for fans of Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson and graphic novels by Raina Telgemeier.  Real Friends is Shannon Hale’s own story of growing up. Collaborating with the illustrator of Hale’s Princess in Black series of beginning chapter books, this graphic novel is for older readers, between the ages of 9 and 80. It’s a recognizable tale for most of us – trying to fit in.  Young Shannon desperately wants close friendships, but goes about it in the wrong ways.  There are moments of brutal honesty. Hale’s graphic memoir reminded me of going to middle school and trying to “be” someone else.  Today, I would think as I walked to school, I will be just like (fill in name of popular girl here).  In retrospect, it’s easy to see what I was doing.  I didn’t know who I was so trying on someone else’s made sense. Reading Hale’s book is funny but kind of painful.

But here’s what I found interesting. When Mary read it, she said that it would be a good reading club selection.  She’s right.  It would be interesting to hear stories of other people’s journeys through those awkward ages and express some compassion for the misfires we all experienced.  Later, talking with a 5th grade student about Real Friends, I heard a different response.  She enjoyed it. I pushed for more.  “Wasn’t it sad when Jenny wouldn’t talk with Shannon?”  The student agreed.  She liked the book and recalled funny episodes, but that was it.  It made me wonder if some distance from those years enhances the appreciation of Hale’s book.  The 5th grade girl is “in it.”  It’s impossible for her to pull the lens back.  I was tempted to recommend that she read it again in ten years!

On Friday, I went on a field trip with Inly’s third grade class.  Our destination: The Robert McCloskey exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts.  The kids have been studying the Caldecott Award and writing and illustrating their own picture books for the past four months, and this was the culmination of their adventure through the land of typeface and medium and gutters and lots of other new terms.  Here are a few pictures….

One of the best new picture books this spring is Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall:

It’s the story of a young boy named Jabari who decides it’s time to jump off the diving board, but when he gets up there and looks down, it’s a different story.  He begins stalling – saying he forgot to stretch and planning a “special jump.” With his father’s encouragement, Jabari is determined to do it and he finally overcomes his fear with a big jump!

Inly’s coach and sports instructor happens to be named Jabari so he kindly agreed to be a guest reader this week.  The kids were psyched to walk in and see Jabari there ready to read!

Teachers: Pair Jabari Jumps with William Steig’s Brave Irene to spark a good conversation about determination and courage.

Two more things…..

  • If you are looking for a fun book to bring along to the lake, the cabin, the beach house, or the front porch, consider this one:

I bought a copy for our school library’s browsing area, and it’s a hit – for kids and teachers!  It’s a “seek-and-find” book, but different than I Spy or Where’s Waldo.  First, it’s just something new.  It’s also extraordinarily clever, kind of eccentric, and beautiful to look at.  It might help a rainy summer day!

  • And, finally, a book project to share.  Some of our students made new covers for classic middle grade novels.  Among the gems was this one:

It’s Saturday and I’m looking forward to attending a conference at Simmons on school libraries and maker spaces today.  Among the workshops is one on diversifying a school library collection.  It should be a  good day!

Happy Reading…

Green Pants and Yellow Sun…

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It’s late Sunday afternoon, and we just got home from celebrating our son’s college graduation.  It was a festive weekend – Elizabeth Warren was the keynote speaker, we spent time in a favorite bookstore, and my son introduced us to an amazing donut shop!

In the spirit of a busy weekend, here are five book notes…..

  • Today’s New York Times Book Review includes the Spring Children’s Book section – 8 pages of ideas, including a review of Nicole Helget’s middle grade novel, The End of the Wild, a novel I reviewed for School Library Journal.  I was especially happy to see a paragraph about a very funny new picture book called Green Pants, written and illustrated by Kenneth Kraegel.  It’s about a boy who wears the same green pants all of the time, but then he’s asked to be in a wedding and wear black pants!
  • Sometimes, as we know from the fidget spinner craze, kids are happily engaged by low-tech activities.  One day last week, I had a group of 4th, 5th, and 6th grade kids in the library and just for fun (and a bit of an experiment) I put three decks of sequencing picture cards on the floor and invited the kids to play with them.  Here’s the result:

  • I’m reading two books right now, but am only half-way through each of them. It’s easy to move between them because they are so dramatically different: Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro is a poetic and thoughtful memoir about marriage and time. It’s about how many people make a life-defining commitment when they are quite young, and over the course of time, people continue to grow and inevitably change.  Shapiro reflects on how marriage accommodates the impact of time. This is my favorite passage so far:

“When chronology is eliminated, when life is shuffled like a tarot deck, it’s hard to keep track. Was that the summer before last? Whose dining room, what candlelight?  I can locate us in time only in one way: by watching our boy growing up.”

  • I’m also reading, The War I Finally Won, the sequel to the Newbery Honor-winning book, The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.  The new book will be published in early October, but a friend who knows of my deep love of the first book loaned me an advanced reading copy of the new one, an act of generosity for which I will be forever grateful.  As soon as I opened the first page and re-joined Ada on the British home front during WWII, I experienced the sweetest kind of reading happiness.Eric Carle’s new book, What’s Your Favorite Color?” is an essential book for children’s libraries and art classes. Carle, along with some famous friends, shares favorite colors – each illustrator get a two page spread to celebrate their favorite color and the results are spectacular.  Not surprisingly, Carles’ favorite color is yellow – he draws wonderful sunshine!  I looked for blue (my favorite color) first and Bryan Collier’s picture of a child with blue balloons is lovely.

A sidenote: the picture cards I like to use are the eeBoo Create and Tell A Story Cards —

Inly’s Summer Reading List is ready to go – I’ll begin posting sections of it here next week….Happy Reading!

A Sphero Traveling Through Picture Books…

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Every spring Inly’s third graders begin to feel both excited and a bit nervous about their move to Upper Elementary for fourth grade.  To bring them together and help ease the transition, we plan a project that brings books and technology together.  The kids began in January by learning about the Caldecott Award and the elements of picture books.  Initially, we gave them a stack of books that were generating “buzz” before the American Library Association annual meeting.  Not all of those books ultimately received shiny gold or silver stickers, but they are all beautiful, and it was most important that the kids could choose a book they loved.

The books they selected were:

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Christian Robinson

The Storyteller by Evan Turk

Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell and illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas and illustrated by Erin Stead

Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol

The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield and illustrated by The Fan Brothers

Henry and Leo by Pamela Zagarenski

After that, the kids worked in teams to build a path that reflected their book – and then programmed a Sphero to travel through their maze. A Sphero is a robotic ball that is controlled via a Chromebook or other device.  It was the first time we’ve used the Sphero for a project like this, but it was a success.  We emphasized constructing and imagining first – using cardboard, paper, fluffy colorful balls, popsicle sticks – anything to create the world of their book. It was fun to watch them in our Maker Space, using it as a big craft kit to build their mazes.

Below are scenes from the process:

There were lots of other awesome library moments last week….

Because Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea by Ben Clanton was so popular, I ordered two of the next installment: Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt.  Therefore we had two very happy library patrons!

I love this project based on From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  Asked to make a new book cover for E.L. Konigsburg’s classic novel, this fifth grader used actual files:

A middle school student taking a reading break during a day in Boston:

One of the highlights of my day is finding notes on my desk from students looking for books. This one was excellent, but he may have to find a new series since the next DATA Set series by Ada Hopper comes out in November!

And finally, one of those awesome library moments:

Happy Reading!

Literally – Romance and Lambs

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Every year, usually during the spring book fair, I notice a few middle school kids who show some interest in reading romance novels.  I watch them scan the room to see if anyone is looking before picking up a romance and peeking through it – and my heart goes out to them.  Of course, they’re curious!  When I was their age, I read Harlequin romance novels at my grandmother’s house and went through an obsession with Maureen Daly’s novel, Seventeenth Summer.

I can easily recall a scene early in the book where Jack arrives at Angie’s house to see if her family wants to buy any baked goods.  She’s working in the garden.  Here’s the passage from my own copy of the book which is pictured above.

Now, it wasn’t that I was shy or anything, but it’s awkward when a boy has on a clean shirt and his hair is combed and your hands are all muddy and you’re in your bare feet.

It can be challenging, though, to recommend romance novels to middle school students in 2017.  The Young Adult section at the local bookstore has lots of choices, but much of the content is too explicit to be recommended by a teacher.  And middle school kids deserve books that represent what they are feeling: curious, sometimes awkward, and maybe excited about a new relationship but one with respectful boundaries.

Thinking about new books for the middle school summer reading list, I found Literally by Lucy Keating, a romance novel with an intriguing premise. The main character, Annabelle, has a seemingly perfect life in Los Angeles.  She lives in a great house, has lots of friends, and takes pride in her ability to keep everything under control.  But then an author, Lucy Keating, speaks to Annabelle’s creative writing class, and things get a little strange. Lucy Keating begins describing the main character of her new novel, and it’s Annabelle!  She describes Annabelle’s life perfectly and even knows that her parents are going through a stressful time.  Understandably, it creeps Annabelle out and makes her wonder if she is really in charge or if someone else is “writing the plot.”  The real author, Lucy Keating, clearly had fun playing with the structure of fiction and having a little fun with how YA novels work.  There’s also a love triangle, and one of the boys was written just for Annabelle!

Yesterday, in honor of Independent Bookstore Day, I went to an author panel of middle grade writers, sponsored by my favorite bookstore, Buttonwood Books and Toys in Cohasset.  A good line-up: Victoria Coe, author of Fenway and Hattie; Bridget Hodder, author of The Rat Prince; Lee Gjertsen Malone, author of The Last Boy at St. Edith’s; Erin Petti, author of The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee; Laura Shovan, the author of The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary; and Monica Tesler, author of the Bounders series.  

Monica’s first two sic-fi space adventures, Earth Force Rising and The Tundra Trials are in bookstores and libraries now, and there are three more to go in her series.  Yesterday she brought the beautiful cover of her third book, The Forgotten Shrine, which will be published in early December.

I read The Last Boy at St. Edith’s last summer with a group of kids at Buttonwood so I was especially happy to meet Lee Malone, the book’s author. The story of the last boy to attend an all-girls school is warm-hearted and funny. Lee told us that the book was inspired when she looked at a mailing from her husband’s boarding school which had successfully transitioned to a co-ed school years earlier.  She wondered what would happen if, in her words, “It didn’t work.”

I left the event with lots of new books to order for the school library and a few new ones on my “to be read” list.

And in pictures…

One of my students spends lots of time at a local farm and took these awesome pictures of new lambs.  There’s always a black sheep, isn’t there?

And there’s this….

Happy Reading!



See You In the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

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Last week I read Jack Cheng’s debut novel for young readers,  See You In the Cosmos, and even after starting a new book over the weekend, Cheng’s novel is sticking to me.  I keep thinking about Alex….

Alex, is eleven-years-old, and more than anything, he wants to launch his Golden iPod into space.  Alex’s inspiration (and the name of his dog) is Carl Sagan who, in “real life,” launched a Golden Record into space in 1977.  The novel is made up of a series of messages Alex records on his iPod to tell the aliens (or other “beings” out there) what his life is like.  But the genius of the novel is that Alex doesn’t really understand very much about his own life.  The story opens in Colorado where Alex lives with his mentally troubled mother, but the action soon shifts to a rocket festival in New Mexico, a search for Alex’s father in Las Vegas and finally to Los Angeles where Alex, along with friends he has met along the way, go to find Alex’s older brother.  The beauty of the novel is that, as the story progresses, Alex’s life comes into sharper focus – he discovers a half-sister and two supportive new friends.  He also learns about his mother’s mental health issues and his father’s complicated past.

This is a poignant novel for mature upper elementary and middle school readers.  It’s also a book I would recommend to a young person who is starting to ask “big questions.”  It’s equally funny and serious about how we discover our passions and that sometimes growing up means meeting people where they are.

Last week was Inly’s spring book fair, and as always, there was lots of excitement about animal books and graphic novels and  the Guinness Book of World Records!

There were matching outfits…..

Serious list makers….

parent readers…

And a board so people could share the book currently on their nightstand….

Happy Reading!

News From the Book World….

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It’s Monday, April 17 – a day to remember the first battles of the American Revolution or run the Boston Marathon or catch up on errands and work on the summer reading list. As much as I would love to be able to run the Boston Marathon, I chose the reading list!

The highlight of the day was seeing this:

While looking at a review on Amazon, this sequel to The War That Saved My Life popped up as a recommendation, and I jumped out of my chair to do a happy dance.  It won’t be out until early October, but I am so excited and am wondering if anyone else is interested in a midnight publication party. The Newbery-Honor winning The War That Saved My Life is one of my all-time favorite middle grade novels.  And this cover is so beautiful.

In other news…

A popular Cat named Pete is about to get his own TV show on Amazon.  The animated series will feature the voices of Elvis Costello and Diana Krall as Pete’s parents.

If you’re summer plans include a trip to New York City, check out Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Broadway.  It opens next week so I haven’t seen reviews, but I know it includes songs from the 1971 movie.

If you’re going to be in London between October of this year and February, plan to visit the British Library for a special exhibit: Harry Potter: A History of Magic.  Here’s a link to the exhibition website:

The movie based on Nicola Yoon’s young adult romance novel, Everything, Everything opens on May 17.  I really loved this book as an adult, but I would have been obsessed with it as a teenager!

The school book fair opens tomorrow morning, and among the other treasures are this summer’s community reads.  Inly has a three-year curriculum which guides my thinking about our summer reading. Next year’s focus is on world culture so the titles below were selected to initiate a year of learning about people and places around the world. Here are the books our students will read before joining their new classes in September:

Children’s House – Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Carle

Grades 1-3 – How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman

Rising 3rd Graders – Juana and Lucas by Juana Medina

Grades 4-6 – Dumpling Days by Grace Lin

Rising 6th Graders – The Liberation of Gabriel King by K.L. Going

Grades 7-8 – The Circuit by Francisco Jimenez

Happy Reading!




Two New Books About New York City…

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I bought a book based on its cover, and as it turns out, it’s kind of magic.  I had actually read a starred Kirkus review of The Goat by Anne Fleming before ordering it for school, but truthfully, it was the cover that moved it to the purchase column.

I spent two hours reading it yesterday and then bought my own copy last night to keep on my nightstand. It seems to have cast a spell over me – one that has sent me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website to learn about the Tomb of Perneb. If you decide to do some research before reading it, here’s the website:

The book is about a girl named Kid (kind of funny given the book’s title!) who travels to New York City with her parents while her mother’s off-Broadway play is in production. They are also dog sitting for Kid’s uncle who is traveling in Europe.  As soon as she arrives, Kid hears a rumor about a goat that lives on the top of their apartment building.  The goat is what grounds the story, but it’s Kid’s neighbors who make this a special book.  There is a boy named Will whose parents died in the Twin Towers, an older man suffering the effects of a stroke, and a blind writer who skateboards down the streets of Midtown Manhattan.

This is not a book for every child.  It is complicated to follow – quiet and mature.  The novels by E.L. Konigsburg were on my mind, especially From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  In fact, I kept thinking of the book club possibilities of reading The Goat, From the Mixed-Up Files, and When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.

The other new book I brought home to read this weekend is a new picture book, When Jackie Saved Grand Central: The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy’s Fight for an American Icon by Natasha Wing.  This book was on my “watch list” before it was published. When I worked at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, I often walked by a screen playing excerpts from Mrs. Kennedy’s 1962 televised tour of the White House and understood her deep commitment to art and history.  I also knew bits and pieces about her integral role in saving Grand Central Station, which there were plans to demolish in the mid-1970s.  Wing’s book is important, the story of a successful campaign to save a national landmark.  When Jackie Saved Grand Central would be a good book for young fans of New York City and future community organizers!

Last Week in Pictures….

Two candid pictures of kids reading in the library.  I love how the boys are sitting!

As part of their studies of WWI, a group of middle school students recently read War Horse by Michael Morpurgo.  Here’s one student’s artistic interpretation of the story’s main characters.  Horses are hard to draw – she’s good!

My sister was in Asheville, North Carolina last weekend and sent this image from Malaprop’s Bookstore.  The same image could be used for school librarians with some minor tweaks!

And finally, a touch of spring….