A Celebration of Reading….

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It may be too early to think about holiday gifts, but if there’s a passionate young reader in your life, consider a set of three new picture books, all of which celebrate the joy of discovering the world through books.  Teachers – each of these books is an excellent jumping-off point for a conversation about the power of words, an especially important discussion in this environment of divisive rhetoric.


A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

A young girl shows a new friend around her imaginative world made of stories.  “I can show you the way,” she tells him, before they travel “over a mountain of make-believe”…..and lose themselves “in forests of fairy tales.”  Their path is made up of words. Every element – the tree branches, the mountain, the monster – all of it words.  It is beautiful and inspiring.


One of my top five favorite picture books of all time is Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers.  I can barely read that one without crying – it is a perfect gem.  A Child of Books is more lyrical, but equally moving. Meeting Oliver Jeffers is on my “If I had three wishes list!”


I Am A Story by Dan Yaccarino

I always forget how much I love Dan Yaccarino’s work and then he releases a new book, and I enthusiastically discover him again!  Years ago, during a school book fair, I fell in love with Unlovable, Yaccarino’s picture book about an “unlovable” little pug.  And then I went through a thing with Every Friday, a picture book about a father and his son’s weekly walk to their favorite diner.  I need to pull that one back out!  Next, there was The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau which went right on to Inly’s summer reading list.


I Am a Story goes into the Dan Yaccarino Hall of Fame.   It’s the story of a story: “I am a story,” the book begins.  “I was told around a campfire…then painted on cave walls.”  The story continues its journey through the various ways it has been printed and acted out and ultimately, of course, how it can be read on a screen.  Most of all, Yaccarino’s book reminds us that stories are what connect us.  Without stories, who are we?


How This Book Was Made by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex

On a lighter note!  How This Book Was Made tells the story of how this book was made – the one you are reading.  It’s full of jokes, some of which kids won’t understand, but that doesn’t detract from the fun.  I read it with a group of students, and they enjoyed the “inside joke” vibe. From the opening page in which the author addresses the reader by saying:  “At first this book wasn’t a book. It was an idea,” the book takes the reader on a journey through drafts, illustrations, and printing, and waiting – until at last there is the book you are reading.  Good fodder for a conversation about how long it takes a book to go from idea to tangible object!

Happy Reading….


Gertie’s Leap, the Book Fair, and More Superheroes….




Now that I’ve read Gertie’s Leap to Greatness, the debut middle grade novel by Kate Beasley, I have the perfect “next book” for kids who love Ramona – Gertie is an equally spirited and spunky character.  Actually Gertie comes from a distinguished line of bold and magnetic young protagonists – Roald Dahl’s Matilda, Judy Blume’s Fudge, and Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale.  Gertie is new to the table, but readers will welcome her enthusiastically!

A fifth grader who lives with her dad and her aunt in Alabama, Gertie is on a mission. Her goal is to convince her estranged mother, who lives nearby, that she is the best fifth grader in the world.  Gertie truly believes that if her mother knew how wonderful she is, she would not remarry and move away.


To that end, she sets out to be the best student in her class.  But there’s a fly in the ointment whose name is Mary Sue Spivey.  Mary Sue reminds me of Nellie Oelson from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s novels – the spoiled girl who is used to things going her way.

Gertie is a character with sparkle, and I truly felt heartsick for Gertie when she’s regularly upstaged by Mary Sue.  But….there is, for me, a nagging issue with the book. It seems strange that Gertie’s mother lives so close to her daughter – but has no contact with her. I know that reflects reality for some children, but there is no mention of visitation or even any communication between them.

Maybe there will be a sequel that will shine more light on the family.  I would like to spend more time with Gertie!

Last week was Inly’s Book Fair, this one brought to us by Scholastic.  As I have said to our Scholastic rep, there are some wonderful books in the fair, but there are also too many commercial tie-ins for our community so we have what I refer to as a “modified Scholastic Book Fair.”  There are SO many Lego and Star Wars books and products that we could have devoted the entire space to those two franchises, but we began by determining how much space to give George Lucas and then “hiding” the rest behind the shelves.  A fun time was had by all – especially the boy who bought the last chocolate calculator!





You may recall from last week’s post that Inly welcomed Marc Tyler Nobleman, the author of books about the creators of Superman and Batman.  Inly’s art teacher worked with our 4th, 5th and 6th grade students to create their own Superheroes:


This one is named for Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl…..


And this one might be my favorite….Disability Doggy can “locate people in need of help,” “be in multiple places at once,” and has “superhearing!”


Happy Reading!

Three Quiet Books and Two Author Visits….

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I love picture books that stimulate a child’s imagination, books that make kids sit on the edge of their seats waiting to see what will happen next, and there’s nothing like reading a book that makes kids laugh – but sometimes the best book is a quiet book, a story to guide the transition from day to night or to enjoy over hot chocolate on a cold day.

Three new books are perfect for quiet moments:


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

A message in a bottle is the perfect vehicle for a child’s imagination.  I remember hoping to find one, but since I lived in land-locked Ohio, it was a remote possibility.  The “uncorker” of the story’s title has an important job: he finds and delivers messages that wash up on shore.  Important, but lonely work.  Naturally, he hopes one of the notes will be addressed to him.  One day, he finds an invitation to a party – but there’s no name on it.  He commits himself to finding the lucky invitee – asking people in the town to help him solve the mystery.  At this point, you can kind of guess what’s going to happen – but that does nothing to spoil the story.  Of course, he goes to the party – and the foggy and “watery” illustrations extend the mood of this quietly perfect book.


The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito and illustrated by Julia Kuo

A walk through the noisy streets of Tokyo and a meditation on the value of silence, Goldsaito’s book is an homage to the kind of quiet that has disappeared over the past twenty years.  But Yoshio, a young boy who lives in Tokyo, meets a street musician who tells him that “the most beautiful sound…is the sound of ma, of silence.”  Given the busy city streets and the sounds of “chopsticks and slurping and chewing and swallowing,” it is no easy task to find a quiet place.  Of course, he does – and the journey is magical.


Samson in the Snow by Philip C. Stead 

The setting of this story is a snowy place, but its warmth shines through.  Samson is a woolly mammoth who treasures his patch of sunshine-bright dandelions.  When a small red bird asks Samson if he could take some of the dandelions to a friend who is “having a bad day, and his favorite color is yellow.”  Samson doesn’t just agree – he gives the bird three of his “best flowers.”  Although Samson is happy to share, but wishes he had a friend. As the yellow fields turn to snow, Samson wonders about the little bird and decides to find her.  Along the way, he meets a mouse who is looking for a lost friend….guess who that is!  Ultimately, the three friends reconnect and wait out the storm together.  This is a book for every library’s friendship shelf – and a perfect companion to the 2011 Caldecott Award-winning A Sick Day for Amos McGee, written by Philip Stead and illustrated by his wife, Erin Stead – the illustrator of The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles.

Visiting Authors…..


It brightens any school day when an author visits so this was a banner week – we welcomed two visitors from the children’s book world. On Tuesday, author and illustrator Brian Lies talked with Inly’s young students about Gator Dad, his new picture book – which follows his popular Bats series. The best part of Brian’s visit was watching the kids watch him.


Unsurprisingly, he draws confidently and fluidly so a blank piece of paper quickly transformed into…..a bat “Juggling French Flies!”


On Wednesday we turned our attention from Bats and Gators to Super Heroes!  Marc Tyler Nobleman, author of, among other books, Bill The Boy Wonder: The Secret C0-Creator of Batman and Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman.  


Marc told the stories of both the Caped Crusader and Clark Kent to two groups of 4th through 8th graders, and even the kids who told me they “don’t like superheroes” were completely engaged.  For the superhero fans, I’m pretty sure it was the highlight of their school year – not a good peak to hit in early October!


Marc was clearly born to tell these stories. He began his presentation by sharing his childhood Halloween pictures in which he made his goals clear since he was often dressed in a superhero costume!

This is my favorite picture of the week….


The day after Marc’s visit, I heard voices coming from downstairs in the maker space.  I looked down on a scene of two girls – one of whom was reading Marc’s book about Batman aloud to her friend – the power of an author visit!


A Conference, Covers, and a Cow…

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One of my favorite events of the year is the Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium.  This year’s conference, Out of the Box, included panel discussions and talks by authors about what’s happening in the world of children’s books. As always, it was an inspiring day – one that made me wish I could hide in a library for a week and read!


M.T. Anderson, author of Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dimitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad, was the keynote speaker and the story he told about what happened in Leningrad in the mid-1940s and how Shostakovich wrote his symphony as bombs were falling was a powerful reminder of the role the arts play in our lives.  The room was silent as Anderson told his story.  I bet everyone in the room was picturing the dramatic and tragic events he described so forcefully.

One thing Anderson said really stood out. I wrote it down so I could think about it on the train ride home: “How do we expect books to change the lives of readers,” he asked, “if they haven’t changed ours first?”  It’s true.  I’m not sure how anyone could work in a school library or a bookstore whose life has not been changed by reading.  Kids know when you’re telling them to read because “it’s good for them.”  And they recognize sincerity when an adult they trust says: “read this.”

I still remember the first “real” readers in my life.  As a teenager, I visited my aunt, and her house was filled with books – something that I had never seen before.  I felt a deep connection with her immediately – one that has deepened over the years.  I remember a professor who asked what magazines or journals I read besides Newsweek.  To be honest, it had never occurred to me that there were other sources of news and opinion outside of the Dayton newspapers and general interest weeklies. His question inspired my subscriptions to The New Yorker and The Atlantic.  I remember my early visits to bookstores in Washington, D.C. when I would literally leave with a bag of books and a stomach ache at the thought of how much I wanted to know.  Anderson’s question brought all of that back.

Another speaker was Steve Sheinkin, author of several respected nonfiction books for young readers. Sheinkin’s presentation focused on his most recent award-winning book, Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War.


Like Anderson, Sheinkin told a fascinating story – one that led me right to the conference book shop to buy his book.  It was especially interesting to hear Sheinkin’s comments about the parallels between Ellsberg’s story – and that of Edward Snowden. It was not surprising to hear that Ellsberg is “pro-leaks” and supports Snowden’s decision to leak classified information.


Sheinkin’s new book, Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian Football Team, will be published in January.


There was also a presentation by the author and illustrator of Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph. Roxanne Orgill and Francis Vallejo told the story of “that moment” in 1958 when Art Kane gathered a large group of jazz musicians in one place for a group photograph.


The day was full of wonderful moments – and lots of signed books.  I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference!

In other news….

One of Inly’s cows is wearing a pencil costume!



And finally – three blue books recently published in England.  They are so beautiful that I’m tempted to order the books and put them on display in my house!




Happy Reading!

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!


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:


And The Tundra Trials:


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


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


Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by Patrick Samphire


Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner


The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price by Jennifer Maschari


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

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


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



And one little girl totally immersed in her book…


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!


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!


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!”


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….



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





Happy Reading!

More Pictures: Authors, a Store, and House…



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.


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.


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!



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!





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!


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


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!


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!