Robert McCloskey, JFK, and Picture Books


Today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I went to the Museum of Fine Arts intending to raise my spirits. There were two exhibits on my agenda, but mostly I wanted to hit the reset button.   I am overwhelmed and discouraged by recent political events and thought being surrounded by art and beauty would help.  As always, it did.


First stop: The Art of Robert McCloskey which is at the MFA in Boston until June 18.  To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the publication of Make Way for Ducklings, the museum is displaying work associated with McCloskey’s classic Boston story, along with studies for Blueberries for Sal and Time of Wonder.  There are also a number of independent paintings by the Ohio native that show the wide range of his artistic talent.




One of the highlights of the day was reading Michiko Kakutani’s front page article about President Obama’s life as a reader in today’s New York Times:

It’s a wonderful article, full of insight about how books have shaped President Obama’s world view. Over the past eight years, I’ve appreciated any glimpse into President Obama’s reading life – especially reports of his holiday and summer trips to Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C. and Bunch of Grapes on Martha’s Vineyard.  I read Dreams From My Father, Obama’s memoir, during his 2008 campaign and still recall passages about books that helped him make sense of his family and his identity.

But….there is one thing about the article that jumped out at me as, perhaps, an oversight. Here is the opening sentence:

“Not since Lincoln has there been a president as fundamentally shaped — in his life, convictions and outlook on the world — by reading and writing as Barack Obama.”


I think that sentence would be more accurate if it included John F. Kennedy, a man almost literally raised by books.  As a sick child, he spent countless hours alone reading, mostly history.  “During one of his numerous hospital stays, Jack received a visit from one of his father’s friends, Kay Halle,” I wrote in a book for young readers about JFK.  When Halle went into the future president’s room, she said: “All I could see was this peaked little face with freckles standing out on the bridge of his nose…..and I was awfully interested because the book he was reading was World Crisis by Winston Churchill.”

One of my favorite stories about JFK is one his long-time aide Ted Sorensen told me: at the end of a particularly long day on the campaign trail, Sorensen said that he thought Kennedy was looking forward to sleeping on the plane as much as he was. But, as Sorensen told the story, when he looked over once the flight was underway, he found Kennedy opening Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography!

There are numerous other stories about JFK’s love of books, and of course he won the Pulitzer Prize for Profiles in Courage.  I’m hopeful that in 2020, we will elect another president who likes to read.


Last week at school, we began one of the most enjoyable parts of the year: the 3rd grade library and tech class.  Designed to be a bridge between the lower elementary and the upper elementary programs, the kids use both Inly’s maker space and library to learn new skills.

The vehicle we use to introduce new material is the Caldecott Medal. The students look at past winners, learn picture book vocabulary, and use technology to make their case for which book they think is most deserving this year.



I began this post saying that there were two exhibits I wanted to see at the MFA.  The other was William Merritt Chase, an American painter active at the turn of the last century. It is a lovely exhibit, full of color and light.  Below are two of the paintings that I found myself lost in today, perhaps trying to soak up their sunny energy for use in the days ahead….




A New Year Begins…



It was snowing this morning, our first true snowfall during the school day.  A colleague came in and said “the library is a snow globe!”  What a perfect word to capture the view from here…


I apologize for the prolonged absence from my small corner of the book world.  During the break, I spent a week in Barcelona (my first trip to Spain!) and then it was Christmas and then there was cleaning up, catching up, and reading to do.  Now, I wonder how it can possibly be January 5.   Coincidentally, I am reading The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits that opens with this reflection about time:

“The ‘day’ no longer exists. The smallest unit of time I experience is the week. But in recent years the week, like the penny, has also become a uselessly small currency.  The month is, more typically, the smallest unit of time I experience.”

Today, notes from the past few weeks and a look ahead….

First, Barcelona.  I’ve been lucky to visit many beautiful cities, but I was completely enchanted by Barcelona.  The old city is full of narrow streets that you can wander for hours – stopping for tapas along the way.  Gaudi’s buildings seem to have been touched by magic.  And the roof top views from the city’s churches are spectacular.  It was one of those memorable trips that cast a temporary spell.  I actively resisted any thought of home or school during the week, not because I don’t love those places, but because Barcelona offered a portal to something else.  I was willingly pulled in.

The only downside is the bookshops which sell books written in Spanish!  I know it’s to be expected, and it did save me some money.  Not being able to read the books in Barcelona did not prevent us from browsing though:


There were some delightful finds that I recognized immediately: The Storm Whale in WinterThis Moose Belongs to Me, and in the third picture, it’s the Wimpy Kid!




And some not so delightful finds that I could figure out!


One of my favorite things to do in bookstores in other countries is to compare the covers of bestselling books.  Here is one that caught my eye in the Dublin Airport, but I didn’t have time to count how many “little pieces” the cover actually has.


After Christmas I was in Barnes and Noble in Hingham.  In line to buy a magazine, I eavesdropped on a conversation between a middle school-aged girl and her mother. The girl was holding a book which I unsuccessfully craned my neck to see.  She was clearly excited to get home and read.


When I heard her say to her mother “this is the first book series that made me put my phone down,” I couldn’t stop myself from asking what series has made her so enthusiastic about reading.  Her answer……The Selection by Kiera Cass.

One of the best holiday gifts to the Inly Library was this set of bookends.


I submitted a book order this week and just looking at the list of new books gave me anticipated happiness.  So many good books ahead:


Egg, Kevin Henkes’ 50th book and….


R.J. Palacio’s picture book, We’re All Wonders, among others.

But one of the first picture books to capture my heart in 2017 is a gentle book with a timely message: The Lonely Giant by Sophie Ambrose.


Admittedly, the first thought to pop into my mind when I looked at the cover was The BFG by Roald Dahl.


But rather than eat snozzcumbers, this giant lives in a cave where he pulls up trees “as though they were weeds, heaving and hurling huge logs like spears,” and engages in other generally destructive behavior.  As he pulls the trees and smashes things around, his forest home gets smaller and the birds all leave.  Who can blame them?  But when he sees a cute little yellow bird, the giant decides to put it in a cage so he can enjoy the bird’s song whenever he wants.  Unsurprisingly, the bird does not feel like singing in a cage, and ultimately, the giant realizes his mistake and lets her fly.  The bird inspires the giant to look at the result of his “heaving and hurling” and realize the damage he has done. Hmmmmmm – any messages here?  This would be a good book to read to kids to spark a discussion about our responsibilities to care for the environment. It’s also a sweet story, and we can use those any day.


To kick-off 2017, we are asking Inly’s students, teachers, and parents to add the title of their favorite book to our Post-It display.  I added the first blue square – Charlotte’s Web. No surprise there.  So far, we have Post-Its for Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg, The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, and The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak – along with so many others, including books for adults.  I’ve seen two Post-Its for To Kill a Mockingbird and am expecting to see more.  If you are an Inly parent, make sure to add your sticker to the board.  If not, email requests are accepted!








Last Words for 2016…..

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Thank you for reading along this year —

New posts will begin in January — and the list of spring releases is promising. There is lots of good reading ahead, including….

A tribute to the American flag by Sarvinder Naberhaus and Kadir Nelson


A picture book based on Wonder by R. J. Palacio


And a new novel by Kwame Alexander


Looking back at this year’s reading….my favorite book was The News of the World by Paulette Jiles, a novel about a ten-year-old girl finding her way back home in post-Civil War Texas.  


I always have new favorites for young readers, but The Wild Robot by Peter Brown is a book that can be enjoyed by kids and adults.  


It’s a thought provoking story about Roz, a robot who is washed ashore on an island filled with animals. Roz initially uses her computer brain to understand her surroundings, but soon starts to develop “feelings.”  The story asks us what it means to be human at a time of rapid technological advances.

One last image….


A drawing by one of my students, based on Animal Farm.  She sometimes sketched during class, and I knew it was something to do with the novel, but she waited to show me until the last class.  She may have a future as a book cover artist!

Wishing you safe travels and good books during the holiday season…



The Best of 2016: Part Two


fullsizerender-2One of the most active areas of Inly’s Library is the collection of “Browsing Books.”  These books do not circulate – they are for our browsers, kids who might have too many books checked-out or kids who stop by to look at books during a break in their day.

They are all wonderful holiday gifts.  Too extravagant for a spontaneous purchase and special enough to give to a whole family.

Here are the new books on Inly’s coffee table…


Illuminature: Discover Hidden Animals with Your Magic Three Color Lens by Carnovsky (Bill Grace, Buttonwood’s book manager, introduced me to this beautiful book.  The multi-colored lens gives the viewer different views: red shows daytime animals, the blue lens shows the nighttime view, and the green shows a variety of habitats.)


City Atlas: Travel the World with 30 City Maps by Georgia Cherry and Martin Haake (One of my favorites – thirty cities around the world are illustrated with well known landmarks, people and buildings.)


The Way Things Work Now by David Macaulay (Macaulay has updated his classic book, The Way Things Work, to include all of the technological advances of the past 28 years.  The book for the most curious people on your list!)


Harry Potter: The Artifact Vault by Jody Revenson (For the Harry Potter fan, a book showing all of the tricks used to bring Harry’s world to life on the big screen. A completely immersive experience.)


Under Water, Under Earth by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinska (One of my favorite books a few years ago was Maps, a creative atlas. Their new book is full of multi-layered cross-sections of what’s under the sea and under the earth.)

One more book for the word lover on your list….


Other Wordly: Words Both Strange and Lovely From Around the World by Yee-Lum Mak.  I found this in a bookstore and it has not left my desk since.  There are words from 18 languages in the book, and my favorite is a Japanese noun:


Tsundoku means “buying books and not reading them; letting books pile up unread on shelves or floors or nightstands.”  But I had to purchase the book to have this illustration by Kelsey Garrity-Riley to look at:


The picture at the top of this post is by one of my favorite Instagrammers, Bodil Jane, a Dutch illustrator.  She generously gave me permission to use it as my banner photo today.

Happy Book Shopping!



The Best of 2016…..

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It seems like children’s books are more beautiful every year, or maybe this year I’m especially open to colorful and thoughtful portals to other places.  Perhaps I’m trying to escape the realities of the divisive language of 2016 and finding refuge in books. Recently I’ve found myself returning to books of paintings.  Not contemporary art, but paintings from the Dutch Golden Age that are rich and detailed and awe-inspiring to remind me how lucky we are to be surrounded by so much beauty.

Here are my favorite picture books of 2016….


Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol  (A folk-tale like picture book about a woman trying to knit, but can’t find a quiet space. A perfect read-aloud!)


Motor Miles by John Burningham (A dog driving a car in a whimsical and joyful book.  Burningham is wonderful.  His books never rely on flashy elements or literary acrobatics, but what he does is far more skillful – his pictures and words integrate to tell a good story that kids love.)


The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas (This is a quiet book, but it finds a place in your heart. A foggy and “watery” book about a lonely man who finds a message in a bottle – and new friends.)


Penguin Problems by Jory John (This is the book I’m reading in the picture at the top of the post – and my first grade friend loved it. Life as a penguin in more challenging than we realized!)


The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers (A truly magical book about the power of community)


The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield (The book to give a young child who is afraid of the dark. The astronaut, Chris Hadfield, tells a story about his own fears that changed the day he saw the Apollo 11 moon landing on television.)


This is Not a Picture Book! by Sergio Ruzzier (I read this to a group of 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders last week and they loved it.  In fact, a student visited the Library this week and asked me to read it again.  A book about the joy of reading.)


Best in Snow by April Pulley Sayre (A photo tribute to snow that is among the most beautiful winter books I’ve ever seen.  An inspiring book for nature lovers.)


Before Morning by Joyce Sidman (Beth Krommes’ scratchboard illustrations are the stars here. They complement Sidman’s small gem of a poem about a child dreaming of a snow day.  I’m not sure if it should be shelved with picture books or art books – maybe both!)


Henry and Leo by Pamela Zagarenski (A new book for your “Velveteen Rabbit shelf” of stories about toy animals becoming real. Leo, a stuffed lion, is Henry’s best friend, but during a walk in the woods, they are separated. Only Henry believes Leo is real and will come back…..)

Last week, I visited Rob Hakala and Lisa Azizian at WATD-FM.  Thanks to their generous invitation, I have shared book recommendations with WATD listeners several times over the past year…..


Finally, here are the two paintings by the 17th century Dutch artist, Gerrit Dou, I’ve found myself looking at over the past few weeks. Since November 8 to be exact.

A Girl Chopping Onions


The Grocer’s Shop


Happy Book Shopping!


The Graphic Novels Take a Break…

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I love Babymouse and the Lunch Lady, and Raina Telgemeier’s Sisters and Ghosts, and the Dog Man.  But last week we did this:


The graphic novels are behind the fancy paper tablecloth because, as we explained to the kids, that section of the library deserves a rest.  Yes, there were lots of sad faces – but only for a few minutes.  And then something miraculous happened.  The students realized there are 8,500 other books in the library! It may have been the first time that some of our 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders noticed all of the books about animals and outer space and robots.

The popularity of graphic novels for young readers is a good thing.  The kids are “reading” both text and illustration.  The sequencing encourages them to slow down, and of course, reluctant readers are often drawn to the format.  However, there are days I look at all of the other books in the school library and wonder if they feel neglected.

We helped them get over their disorientation by displaying some of the wonderful new books for emerging readers.  If you are looking to vary the diet of your young graphic novel fan, try one of these new books….


James to the Rescue (The Masterpiece Adventures) by Elisa Broach (an illustrated companion series to the middle grade novel, Masterpiece.  The stars of the series are a boy named James and his best friend, Marvin who is….a beetle!)


Sam the Man and the Chicken Plan by Frances O’Roark Dowell  (This is one of those practically perfect early chapter books. A seven-year-old boy gets into the business of caring for neighborhood chickens that results in a lovely intergenerational friendship.)


Skunked! Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet by Jacqueline Kelly  (Based on the middle grade novel, Calpurnia Tate, these illustrated books follow the adventures of young Calpurnia who lives in Texas in the early 1900s.)


Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami  (I love this book so much.  It’s charming and inspiring, but….it’s a stand-alone early chapter book. Books that are not part of a series can struggle to find their readers.  Books like Krishnaswami’s one need to be put in a young reader’s hands.  It’s also timely. The book’s Indian protagonist, Yasmin, borrows a book from her uncle’s street corner lending library every day, but when the Mayor threatens to close her uncle’s bookstand, Yasmin becomes a community organizer.)


The Infamous Ratsos by Kara LaReau (lots of action and warmhearted humor – give this one to a reluctant reader and watch them fly through the pages!)


Juana and Lucas by Juana Medina (Juana, a middle class girl growing up in Bogota, Columbia, loves to draw and is learning English in school. Each chapter of Medina’s book focuses on Juana’s adventures – with her dog, Lucas.  There are very few stories for young readers told from the point of view of a child living in South America.  This one is absolutely essential – especially now.)


The Cookie Fiasco by Dan Santat (for kids who are just entering the world of chapter books comes a new series created by Mo Willems.  The characters in The Cookie Fiasco have a problem: A hippo, a crocodile, a squirrel with pigtails, and a squirrel wearing glasses all want a cookie.  There are three cookies and four friends.  There must be a solution…)

The experiment will continue.  Tomorrow, in fact, books by Mo Willems will be taking a mental health day.  We love them so much!  I may even take a peek under the cover to get a glimpse of Elephant and Piggie, but it’s time for Strega Nona and the Wild Things and Amos McGee to shine!

If you live nearby, join us to see all of the best children’s books of 2016….


One of the most colorful surprises of Inly’s new library is the way the afternoon sun bounces off of the stained glass leaves and “dances” on the walls. Last week, the light was shining on Frederick Douglas’s quote: Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”


A Weekend to Recharge and Reflect…

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It’s been a weekend of trying to hit the reset button. Fortunately, the weather cooperated. Sunny and warm, I walked with a friend, treated myself to some brightly colored flowers, and contributed to the National Resources Defense Council ( After spending three days feeling heartbroken about President Trump’s plan to unravel President Obama’s progress on mitigating the effects of climate change, I did the only thing I could think of – begin learning about organizations that help protect our planet.

Because I’ve had trouble reading anything but news, today’s post includes lots of pictures…

A few days ago, I went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to see “Beyond Words: Italian Renaissance Books.”  The exhibit is on view until January 16, and is a must-see for book lovers.  The focus of the small show are the Italian humanists and their glowing illuminated manuscripts.



I was recently in Barnes and Noble thinking that it has almost completely transformed into a coloring book and toy store.  Of course, books are available, but there seem to be fewer every time I go in.  Thanks to a friend, though, who shared something she found at her father’s house, we have evidence that Barnes and Noble used to exclusively sell books – a catalog from 1963…..


You may not be able to see the prices very well, but in the picture above, The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone is 95 cents!

It’s nice to see there are books “for the ladies” about curtains and patchwork patterns….


And apparently, you could travel around Europe for $5.00 a day….


Moments from last week in the library….


The first two pictures below are groups of kids looking at wordless picture books by Jeannie Baker, an artist and illustrator dedicated to preserving the environment.  First, I read The Little House, the classic picture book by Virginia Lee Burton, to a group of 4th and 5th grade students. Next, they looked at Baker’s books, Window and Home, and I asked them to make connections between books that were written nearly 70 years apart.



This picture shows why we order two copies of some books….


Finally, a picture of a book cover – just to close the post with something beautiful…