My Year in Reading

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As regular readers know, I’ve kept a list of every book I read since 1992. No comments. No thumbs up or down. Just the title and author. I looked at Volume One (1992-1998), and the first book I recorded was Song of the Lark by Willa Cather. I loved that book!  In December 1998 I read The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle. That was a good one too.  Here are four of my five notebooks. One seems to be missing – and I will turn the house upside down to find it!

My average is about 60 books per year, give or take. During the school year there are lots of Inly-related books (for classes or summer reading) and books I’m reviewing for School Library Journal. The summer break is obvious because the titles become things from my own “to read” list. This year, Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, is #58 so I’ll be able to reach #60 by the time Ryan Seacrest is in Times Square counting down to 2019.

My ten favorites among the books I read this year are:

99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

Up at the Villa by Somerset Maugham (I didn’t plan to read this and absolutely loved it. It’s a novella set in 1930s Florence about a woman caught up in a scandal. So good and a quick read)

Love to Everyone by Hilary McKay

There There by Tommy Orange

House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery by Liz Rosenberg

Calypso by David Sedaris

The Maze at Windermere by Gregory Blake Smith

Educated by Tara Westover

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Technically I have not finished reading one of the books on my list. There are about 50 pages left, but from the opening chapter, I knew Love to Everyone was special. Reminiscent of novels like Anne of Greene Gables and The War That Saved My Life, the setting of McKay’s novel is WWI-era England where Clarry Penrose lives with her widowed father and brother. Clarry is born at the beginning of the 20th century, and the novel spans the course of her life which is rich in both happiness and heartbreak. Much of the heartbreak comes during WWI which initially feels “vague and distant” to Clarry. Of course, it lands on her doorstep.

McKay’s beautiful writing is part of the pleasure of reading Love to Everyone. I love this passage about the seasons:

“The long cold winter was passing. The light grew brighter, even in the Miss Pinkses’ fume-filled classrooms. The air was wet and salt-tanged from the sea. There were birds above the chimney pots and daffodils to be spotten on Miss Vane’s chilly walks, and it was spring with summer on the horizon. Summer was shining bliss. Summer was opals and topaz and lapis and diamonds flung down from the sky. Summer was Cornwall.”

A few days ago I was in Boston waiting for a friend who texted to say she would be late. No worries. My book was in my bag and I was standing in front of a Starbucks. I started reading and soon enough, the lights beaming from all of the laptops and phones faded away, and I was back in Cornwall with Clarry.

And now the books to read in 2019 begin to stack up. Last night we were at the Coop in Harvard Square and, although my “to read” list is completely unrealistic, I could not leave the store empty handed.  I remember seeing something about David Litt’s memoir of working as a speechwriter for President Obama, but a combination of two things made me buy it:

1 – I finished Becoming a few days ago and was forced to re-enter the real world. The contrast proved too great, and I wanted to jump back down the rabbit hole and return to less chaotic days.

2 – The recommendation that a staff member at the Coop wrote about the book. Those staff notes are really persuasive!

Of course, now I want to listen to David Litt on The Moth.

But first….I need to return to Clarry’s story.  Happy Reading….

 

 

 

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Best Children’s Books of 2018

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It was a pleasure to spend Sunday afternoon talking about the best children’s books of the year with Nancy Perry, the children’s librarian at the Norwell Public Library, during our annual program at the James Library. The rain made it a perfect day to be in a cozy room looking at books. Below is an abbreviated list of the books we talked about:

Picture Books

Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall (hands down the most beautiful picture book of the year!)

Stories of the Night by Kitty Crowther

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers and Genevieve Godbout (this would be a good gift to pair with movie tickets to see Mary Poppins Returns!)

The Elephant by Jenni Desmond

Night Job by Karen Hesse (my favorite picture book of the year – a warm and beautiful story about a father and son)

Kitten and the Night Watchman by John Sullivan

Middle Grade

Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon

Love to Everyone by Hilary McKay

Inkling by Kenneth Oppel

My Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder by Nie Jun (four sweet graphic adventures about a little girl and her grandfather)

Gift Books

Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid

Lovely Beasts by Kate Gardner

Everything & Everywhere by Marc Martin

A History of Pictures by David Hockney and Martin Gayford

Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year edited by Fiona Waters

One book on our list came to life when Sophie Blackall, the author and illustrator of Hello Lighthouse, visited  Inly this past Friday!

And the best picture of the week…..a student waiting for her book to be signed!

Happy Reading!

Holiday Book Edition….

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I love holiday books. There’s a big box of them under our guest room bed that I look forward to getting out during Thanksgiving weekend. When my son was young, we would read a different one each night before he went to bed, but even now (when he’s 23), I find myself adding one or two new ones every year. The cozy scenes, rich colors, and dancing nutcrackers can really brighten a dark and cold day.

Two new ones stand out this year:

All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

It’s too bad this book may be tucked away after the holidays because it’s a beautiful story for any time of the year. Based on the 1950s series All-of-a-Kind Family novels by Sydney Taylor about five sisters and their parents in New York City’s Lower East Side at the turn of the century, this new picture book about preparing for Hanukkah takes place in 1912. The story centers on the youngest of the sisters, Gertie, who is too young to help prepare the potato pancakes, but her father finds the perfect way for Gertie to celebrate the holiday.

Santa Bruce by Ryan Higgins

From the appearance of Higgins’ first picture book about a bear and a group of goslings who think he’s their mother, these books have been a hit – with kids and adults. The contrast between the grumpy (kind of) bear and the cute yellow ducks makes these books laugh-out-loud funny and incredibly sweet. Since 2015, there’s been Hotel Bruce, Bruce’s Big Move and now……Santa Bruce! As someone who is not a big fan of winter, I can relate to Bruce who “used to stay in bed all winter long and skip right through the whole business.” But the geese and the mice have other ideas – they want to celebrate Christmas!

Here are some of my other favorites…

The Nostalgic Favorite

The Sweet Smell of Christmas by Patricia Scarry

Originally published in 1970 – and still in print – The Sweet Smell of Christmas was my younger sister’s favorite book. It’s a “Scratch & Sniff” story with the smells (using that term loosely) of hot chocolate, apple pie, and a few others. When we were little girls, the three of us loved this book, and I was under the mistaken impression that the hot chocolate smell was really good. It’s not, but the orange is nice. Just opening this book brings me back to my childhood.

My Favorite Story

Henry Bear’s Christmas by David McPhail

This is a cozy Christmas book with a good story that celebrates friendship and the holidays. Henry Bear loves everything about Christmas, especially the tree. But when he gets his heart set on a tree that’s being raffled, his “chances” of getting it aren’t great. The fact that he loses the tree because he’s distracted by doughnuts and hot chocolate makes this book relatable and incredibly sweet!  For reasons I don’t understand, Henry Bear’s Christmas is out of print, but check your local library or get a used copy on Amazon.

The Classic

Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry

Every collection of Christmas books should include a copy of this one. Published in 1963, this is a cheerful story – perfect for the holidays. The hero, Mr. Willowby, buys a Christmas tree that, as he learns when he gets it home, doesn’t quite fit. He asks his butler, Baxter (it’s dated) to take a little off the top. The new “little” tree is given to the upstairs maid, but guess what!  You get the idea. Not necessarily original, but there’s a charm to this book that keeps in steady rotation.

A New York City Love Story

Red and Lulu by Matt Tavares

Red and Lulu live happily in an evergreen tree, until….the tree is cut down and transported to New York City with Lulu in it!  The tree is on its way to Rockefeller Center where, after a challenging search, the birds are reunited. This is a good gift for children who have seen the famous tree.

The Best Christmas Book of…..2017!

The Little Reindeer by Nicola Killen

This gentle and magical story deserves a place in every collection. It reminds me a The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. A perfect gift for kids who leave snacks for Santa’s reindeer!

A Stretch to Call it a Christmas Story….

Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Christian Robinson

Technically, not a holiday book, but it would certainly not look out of place under the tree!  A toddler bedtime book about the joy of waiting for snow.

A Mix of Holidays and History

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon

Published in 2015, this book has become one of my favorites. It’s about miracles and a boy named Oskar whose parents have sent him to America to escape the rise of the Nazis. He arrives in New York City on the seventh day of Hanukkah which also happens to be Christmas Eve.

And a few others–

So many choices. The Polar Express, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Twas’ the Night Before Christmas come to mind as essential Christmas books. We own several versions of Clement Clarke Moore’s famous 1823 poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, which we know as Twas’ the Night Before Christmas, but the one my son always requested is the Little Golden Book Version illustrated by Corinne Malvern.

A holiday gift note…

I’m about half-way through Becoming, Michelle Obama’s memoir. It’s an incredible story, thoughtful and inspiring. It would be the perfect gift for your friend, sister, mother, grandmother – any woman in your life. I was in the Jabberwocky Bookshop in Newburyport last night and noticed it was not available. I asked the woman working at the sales desk about it, and she told me they were sold out. I am not surprised. I thought I knew Michelle Obama’s story, but it was just the biographical details. This is a book about hard work, genuinely wanting to make a difference in people’s lives, and love for family, friends, and country.

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

 

Notes from the Inly Library….

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Every so often, when the kids least expect it, I “close” the graphic novel section.

I love graphic novels as much as they do, but after a few months of watching our Lower Elementary students making a bee-line for the graphic novel section every time they walk in, I thought the rest of the library may be feeling ignored.   That’s the joy of being a teacher-librarian, rather than working in a public library where this action would not be an option. The “teacher” part of my work means I have a responsibility to introduce kids to all kinds of books and to create an environment that encourages curiosity and browsing.

After the anticipated moans and groans, the kids begin exploring areas they haven’t visited in a while: the Who Was series, stand-alone early chapter books, and even picture books. The graphic novels will be available for check-out next week, but truthfully, I think the kids kind of enjoyed the chance to venture beyond Dog Man.

Some of the students had fun trying to persuade me to change my mind. It didn’t work.

Our Lower Elementary students have been talking about race and skin color. There are a number of excellent age appropriate books to spark meaningful conversations with young children. Here are four of my favorites:

Skin Again by bell hooks

The Colors of Us by Karen Katz

Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin

The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler

If you’re looking for good information about how to talk with kids about race, check out this resource from the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association.

https://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2018/05/talking-with-young-children-0-5-about-race/

As part of their work, the children in one classroom used a lens to look closely at their hands and then “made” their hand using multicultural construction paper. Here are three especially wonderful results:

After reading another glowing review of Inkling, Kenneth Oppel’s new middle grade novel, I read it last week.

It’s wonderful, and will definitely be added to my Best of 2018 list. From the novel’s opening pages, it felt like something fresh and new. Inkling is the story of…..an inkblot. Not your typical protagonist, I know, but this inkblot has personality. The human at the center of the novel is Ethan, whose father is a famous graphic novel artist. Naturally, Ethan’s friends think Ethan must be just like his dad so they make him the artist for a joint school project.  But then he meets Inkling who can draw, among other talents. One of the many cool things about this book is that the pages themselves have ink blotches on them, giving the reader an immersive experience. This is the perfect book for a graphic novel fan or a budding artist.

My list of middle grade and middle school novels to read is long, but I’m now reading Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming. I’ve been looking forward to it for months, and I’m finding it to be a relief from the daily onslaught of unsettling news. It’s a good choice for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

Happy Reading and Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

A Children’s Book Miscellany….

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If you know a child who loves the outdoors or a teacher who enthusiastically shares an appreciation for nature with her students, a new book of poetry may be the perfect gift. At $40.00, Sing a Song of Seasons is not an impulse buy, but it is an investment in beauty, both natural and written. With a poem for every day of the year, this is a book that should “live” in a central place. I’m tempted to make it a New Year’s Resolution and start each day with reading the poem of the day – rather than the headlines. It would also be a good way for teachers to begin the day with their students.

Sing a Song of Seasons, edited by Fiona Waters, includes all kinds of poems – funny and celebratory and reflective. Taken together, this book may will instill an appreciation of natural world at a time when we need to work together to protect it.

Here’s the poem for yesterday, November 11:

The Fog by F.R. McCreary

Slowly the fog,
Hunched-shouldered with a grey face,
Arms wide, advances,
Fingertips touching the way
Past the dark houses
And dark gardens of roses.
Up the short street from the harbour,
Slowly the fog,
Seeking, seeking;
Arms wide, shoulders hunched,
Searching, searching,
Out through the streets to the fields,
Slowly the fog-
A blind man hunting the moon.

Another book that celebrates the outdoors….

I ordered a copy of The Forest after seeing it on the 2018 New York Times list of the Best Illustrated Children’s Books. This book surprised me from the minute I opened the package. At 72 pages, it is not a traditional picture book. The illustrations by Violeta Lopiz and Valerio Vidali are vivid and spectacular, but I’m not sure who the audience is – maybe art students. The book is a journey through life in the form of the forest, but it’s the paper engineering that is most striking. The embossed pages and gatefolds make The Forest a fascinating piece of book making, but not an easy book to describe.

A book to look forward to….

Matthew Cordell, the author and illustrator of the Caldecott winning picture book, Wolf in the Snow, has a new project. Cordell is going to write and illustrate the authorized picture book biography of Fred Rogers. The book’s title will be….Hello, Neighbor!  A little bit of a wait – the book will be published in 2020.

Barnes and Noble News…

There’s been lots of speculation about the future of Barnes and Noble, the largest bookstore chain in the U.S. I’ve read about struggling stores, the revolving door of CEO’s, and their efforts to diversify by becoming a “lifestyle” store rather than a traditional bookstore. You can see the result of their move into toys and games by walking into any Barnes and Noble and trying to find books among the Funko Pop figures that, at least in the Hingham store, claim a lot of space. Yesterday I read that the British retail chain, W.H Smith, expressed interest in buying Barnes and Noble, but the deal fell through. Like many readers, I hope Barnes and Noble stays in business. It’s good for publishers and good for readers. I love Buttonwood, my local independent bookstore, but sometimes I enjoy getting a pile of magazines, ordering a mocha, and sitting in the cafe at Barnes and Noble. Print sales are rising and independent bookstores are succeeding. Barnes and Noble should be able to make it.

The picture at the top….

is a teacher at Inly reading a book to her students. It was one of those perfect moments that I had to capture…Happy Reading!

 

 

Picture Books and Little Books

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List season has begun!  The New York Times named its Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2018 last week, Publishers Weekly has released their picks for 2018, and I see lots of “best of” lists when scrolling through my email.

The NYT list is especially interesting. The books are chosen, in their words, “purely on the basis of artistic merit.” I can always count on finding one or two new books that completely escaped my notice and several that I expected to be on the list. The book I am happiest to see included is Florette written and illustrated by Anna Walker. It was published in February and we read it to several classes, but tomorrow morning, it is going back on display. Florette is a beautiful book.  Here’s a link to the whole list:

I’ve been looking at lots of picture books to prepare for my annual Best Books of the Year program at the James Library in Norwell. It’s scheduled for Sunday, December 2 at 3:00. Here are a few recent favorites:

Mapping Sam by Joyce Hesselberth

Mapping Sam is a book that teachers are going to want to have in their classrooms – and the perfect gift for kids who love to figure things out. Sam is an orange cat who, after she “puts her family to bed,” goes outside to explore. As Sam travels, Hesselberth includes all kinds of maps to describe where Sam is going: anatomical maps (of Sam, of course), diagrams, the solar system, blueprints, charts, and more. Given that maps are not a part of our daily existence in the way they once were, this book is essential. It shows how maps work and encourages kids to see patterns in their daily lives. And Sam is an awesome guide!

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

This is a new picture book adaptation of the 1934 novel by P.L. Travers, and it is perfectly timed to read before the release of a new movie, Mary Poppins Returns (with Lin Manuel Miranda) in December. This new picture book, with bright and happy illustrations by Genevieve Godbout, is an introduction to the classic (while necessarily leaving some things out), but I’m thinking about a holiday gift: this book, a copy of the original Julie Andrews movie, and tickets to the new movie.  As Mary Poppins might say, it would be “practically perfect.”

Night Job by Karen Hesse

I love everything about this book: the relationship at the story’s center, the writing, and Brian Karas’s muted illustrations that complement the text. Told from the point of view of a young boy whose father is a school custodian, Night Job follows father and son through their Friday night routine. As his father sweeps and polishes, his son shoots baskets in the gym and reads aloud to his father in the school library. They also take a break to enjoy egg salad sandwiches before the boy falls asleep while his father finishes his work. For teachers, this book provides a spark to conversations about the work people do and “hidden” jobs that happen at night. It’s also a lovely portrayal of love and affection between father and son.


I usually skip right past the business section of The New York Times. I move directly from the front section to the Arts. But something caught my eye this past Tuesday: an article about the introduction of mini books.

The first time I saw the little horizontal books was at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. I was intrigued by the novelty, but did not buy one because it was felt awkward to flip the pages up rather than over – and because I don’t speak or read Dutch. But now….they are being issued here. I began reading the NYT story which explains that Julie Strauss-Gabel, the president of Dutton Books, also saw them at an airport in the Netherlands. According to the article, she “started a mission to figure out how we could do that here.”  Dutton is releasing four novels by John Green this month.

If you want to learn more, here’s the link to the article:

I just ordered one. It will be fun to show my middle school students. Perhaps, less stuck on the traditional book format, they will be open to a new way of reading. I’m curious to hear their reaction. The $10.00 was worth it to start a conversation about how they read.

Don’t forget to vote!

Tommy Orange Visits Inly

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Tommy Orange, the author of the novel There There spoke at Inly last Thursday evening.

There There, longlisted for the National Book Award and a finalist for the Carnegie Medal is the debut novel by Orange, a member of the Cheyenne tribe. The novel took him six years to write, but it has made the author a new literary star. “Yes, Tommy Orange’s New Novel Is Really That Good” reads the title of the New York Times review of There There. Another New York Times article about Orange’s describes There There as a “new kind of American epic.”  Maureen Corrigan, reviewing the novel for Fresh Air, said:

There There is distinguished not only by Orange’s crackling style, but by its unusual subject. This is a novel about urban Indians, about native peoples who know, as he says, “the sound of the freeway better than [they] do rivers … the smell of gas and freshly wet concrete and burned rubber better than [they] do the smell of cedar or sage…”

The Inly program was a conversation between Tommy and Nina McLaughlin, a columnist for the Boston Globe whose first book, Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter was published in 2015. Nina wrote the Globe’s review of There There which is linked here:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2018/06/14/what-indian/2GsJ8G2XHSo6YRYUZq72IL/story.html

The conversation was rich and meaningful, mostly because Tommy and Nina were natural and genuine. It truly felt like a conversation.

Nina began by asking Tommy about the explosive end to his novel. “I knew the end before I knew the beginning,” he told her. “I knew the characters’ lives would converge at a powwow.”

Talking about his polyphonic novel, Tommy described his writing process as “auditioning voices to see who felt convincing.” Over the six years it took him to write There There, Tommy estimates that he “tried 40 or 50 characters.”

Especially lovely was the way Tommy talked about novels, which he said “can do anything.” He was moved by A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole and the work of Sylvia Plath. He described their work as having “sadness with levity.” Their writing, he said, “transcended their own sadness.”  Discussing his love of polyphonic novels, he mentioned, among others, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.

Nina also asked Tommy to talk about the many mirrors and reflections in There There. “Growing up,” he responded, “Native people don’t see themselves very often. We aren’t in sports or movies or television.  The mirror lets you see how you’re native.”

I’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed many happy days at Inly, but this was one of the best. Tommy Orange radiates kindness and thoughtfulness from the second you meet him.  If you haven’t read There There yet, add it to your “to read” pile.

Happy Reading….