A Few Things Worth Sharing….

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Here are a few things that have caught my attention over the past couple of weeks:

While in Amherst to see the University of Dayton Flyers Men’s basketball team (currently ranked #4) play UMass, we stopped at Amherst Books, a small, but smartly curated shop. I had not been there for about a year so this little machine was new to me:

I immediately began going through the bottom of my bag, and luckily found two quarters, enough to buy a “wicked short” poem which was quite lovely. It’s hard to count on people having coins with them, but if I lived in Amherst, I would collect quarters and drop by the store every day to read a few words.

I spent four days in New York City last week with our 8th grade Montessori Model United Nations team. It was more of a revelation than I expected it to be. I’ve been at Inly for 20 years and talked to many students who have participated in MMUN – including my son. This was my first time as a chaperone, though, and it allowed me to see our students from a different perspective. What I saw were students who instinctually join the conversation. They easily assume leadership positions, speak up in meetings, and comfortably work with others. Of course, I knew all of this before, but to watch them enter a conference with hundreds of Montessori students and responsibly devote themselves to their work and each other was a gift.

It also made me see my son’s journey differently. He is now interviewing for PhD programs, and part of the process is attending receptions with the other finalists for these competitive positions. A friend who went through this process a few years ago told him that the professors observe his interactions with the other finalists, and that his “collaboration skills” are an important piece of his application. My son reports feeling completely comfortable in these situations and at ease with speaking up in high pressure settings. After watching our students at Inly, I could see the foundation of these skills.

One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to the United Nations during which the students were able to see both the Security Council Chamber and the General Assembly. I found an exhibit about the impact of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan especially moving. This statue of Saint Agnes was found in the ruins of a Roman Catholic cathedral which was located near the epicenter of the 1945 explosion.

After a busy but rewarding trip, I returned to school grateful for the opportunity to see the results of Inly’s emphasis on educating thoughtful global citizens.

Two more things:

First, a friend shared this picture she saw on an Instagram site called historycoolkids.  Called The Walking Library, it was taken in London in the 1930s. Kind of a cool idea, but you would need a lot of Advil to carry so many books on your back! (photo credit: VSV Soibelman Syndicate News Agency)

Finally, I’m currently reading Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin and loving it. In fact, I’m going back to it right now!

Here’s a link to the glowing New York Times review:

Happy Reading!

Jerry Craft Brings New Kid Joy to Inly….

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Less than one week after Jerry Craft’s graphic novel, New Kid, won both the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award, he visited Inly for two days of conversation, stories about Jordan Banks (his book’s main character), and lots of autographs and selfies!

Jerry’s Friday schedule included a presentation for our 4th-8th grade students, followed by a deeper discussion with the middle schoolers about some of the issues raised in his realistic graphic novel.

New Kid invites readers into the middle school world of Jordan Banks, an African American boy who goes to a prestigious private school a long bus ride away from his house in Washington Heights. The book addresses class, racism, microaggressions, and the social pressure that middle school kids feel to fit in.

The kids loved learning about the connections between Jerry’s real life and his book. “New Kid was loosely based on my four years at the Fieldston School in New York where I went between ninth through twelfth grade, and partly on my two sons experience at a private school in New Canaan, Connecticut,” he told them. As a kid, he preferred Marvel Comics more than the books he was assigned in school. But most of all, he liked to draw. After graduating from high school, Jerry pursued his love of drawing at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

The kids were especially interested in Jerry’s honesty about the kinds of books available to him as a young reader. He was bothered, he told them, that most books about African American characters seemed to focus exclusively on enslaved people and the Civil Rights Movement. He wanted to read family stories that reflected his reality – books about African American kids that “played sports and ate ice cream.” Eventually, Jerry began self publishing the kinds of books he wished had been available to him, and his work began to attract attention.

It took 13 months, he told the kids, to draw New Kid. When it was time to design the cover, he considered many different colors before designing one that shows Jordan standing in the middle of a half black and half white cover, a reflection of Jordan’s life.

The kids were especially happy to hear Jerry say that New Kid is the first book in a planned trilogy about Jordan and his friends. The second one called Class Act is scheduled to be published in October and will be told from Drew’s perspective.

He ended his presentation by talking about “the phone call” that came at 6:42 last Monday telling him he had won the Newbery. While other graphic novels have received Newbery Honors, New Kid is the first graphic novel to win the gold medal.

After his full day at Inly, Jerry’s next stop was Buttonwood Books and Toys where he was met by a packed house of enthusiastic fans of New Kid. It was a fun gathering that reminded me of lucky we are to have Buttonwood as our neighbor.

The next day, Jerry was the keynote speaker for the Association of Independent Schools of New England Students of Color Conference which was held at Inly this year. The conference theme, “Beyond Boxes,” focused on questions about the result of putting ourselves “inside a box,” and asked the 300 participating students to reflect on how we mark the walls of our boxes. An inspiring talk by Jerry followed by lots of requests for autographs and selfies!

 

It was a memorable two days, especially for the many students inspired by Jerry – and Jordan!

Awards!

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The American Library Association announced the awards for the best books for children this past Monday. Although they are the 2020 awards, they go to books published in 2019. There are lots of awards given, but the three major ones are the Newbery, the Caldecott, and the Coretta Scott King.

The most exciting part was the announcement of Jerry Craft as the winner of the John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature. So happy for Jerry and for Inly – because he will be here next week!  The author of New Kid will meet with our students next Friday and deliver the keynote address to the AISNE Middle School Students of Color Conference on Saturday. Of course, I will share pics of his visit in my next post.

Four Newbery Honor Books also were named:

The Undefeated written by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Kadir Nelson (An illustrated poem that connects the stories of Black Americans – their challenges, history, and victories. Nelson’s oil paintings are stunning. Lots of classroom opportunities to spark conversation about the contributions of Black Americans, an introduction to the Civil Rights Movement, the qualities of a hero….)

Scary Stories for Young Foxes written by Christian McKay Heidicker and illustrated by Junyi Wu (I didn’t know about this one – interconnected stories that Kirkus describes as “scary stories that border on downright disturbing.” I’m going to pass, but happy to learn about it for middle school students who are looking for a good thriller.)

Other Words for Home written by Jasmine Warga (Warga’s middle grade novel in verse is a powerful and timely story about Jude, a Syrian girl who moves to Cincinnati with her mother. I was hopeful the book would win a sticker so that Jude’s story would find more readers.)

Genesis Begins Again written by Alicia D. Williams (I read this book- and passed it directly to one of our middle school students who loved it as much as I did. The story of Genesis, a thirteen-year-old girl who keeps a list of the things she does not like about herself, including her skin color which she thinks is too dark. Her skin, which is more like her alcoholic father’s than her light-skinned mother’s, leads Genesis to try changing it before a supportive chorus teacher helps her to see how accomplished and beautiful she really is.)

The Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children was awarded to The Undefeated which was illustrated by Kadir Nelson and written by Kwame Alexander.

Three Caldecott Honor Books also were named:

Bear Came Along illustrated by LeUyen Pham and written by Richard T. Morris (I’m so happy this book will get a shiny silver sticker!  It is a joy to look at – color and humor and animals with personality – a perfect picture book)

Double Bass Blues illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez and written by Andrea J. Loney

Going Down Home with Daddy illustrated by Daniel Minter and written by Kelly Starling Lyons

The Coretta Scott King Award recognizing an African-American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults was New Kid – a banner day for Jerry Craft!

Three King Author Honor Books were selected:

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them written by Junauda Petrus

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky written by Kwame Mbalia

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks written by Jason Reynolds

Happy Reading!

An Art Exhibit, Graphic Novels, and Maple Syrup….

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The top thing on my “to do” list for the long Martin Luther King Day weekend was to see the Migration exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art which closes next week. “When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Migration Through Contemporary Art” includes artistic responses to the growing numbers of immigrants and refugees around the world in a variety of medium. I was especially motivated to see the exhibit because I wanted to see this:

Titled The American Library and created by Yinka Shonibare, it is a collection of 6,000 wrapped books, most of which are embossed with names of immigrants or their descendants – and names of people impacted by the Great Migration. Together, they make a powerful statement about the contributions of immigrants and minorities on our culture. Each book is wrapped in Dutch fabric, but because of Colonial Trade became fabric that symbolizes African identity. The helpful docent in the exhibit explained that it’s a metaphor for the entire exhibit – the fabric, like our history, is multicultural.

A book on this shelf caught my attention:

Mary Rose Oakar, the first woman of Syrian and Lebanese ancestry to serve in Congress, represented the 20th District of Ohio between 1977 and 1992. I served as an intern in her Washington D.C. office when I was in college, my first congressional internship.

This installation was also compelling. The first thing a visitor sees when they enter the exhibit is a wall map made of yarn by the Indian artist, Reena Saini Kallat.

Kallat used wire to trace the routes migrants have travelled around the world, and the label on the wall explains that wire is both connective and restrictive. It seems obvious, but I found it interesting to think about how wire is what makes our devices work – and is the same material used to fence people in and keep them out.

If you live in the Boston area and can fit in a visit to the ICA between now and January 26, it’s well worth it.

During our Lower Elementary classes last week, we had another in our sporadic series of “check something different out” days. These plans usually take root after hearing one too many kids tell me they only read graphic novels. I love graphic novels and can list all of their benefits to growing readers including: a gateway to the love of reading, accessibility, the often smart and artistic melding of illustration and text, and lots of other things in the plus column. That being said, there are a growing number of students who visually recoil from any book recommendation that is not a graphic novel. Students who are waiting for the next graphic novel by one of their favorite authors have told me during their library visit: “I’ll just wait for his/her next book.” I get that and love their loyalty and enthusiasm, but sometimes walk away feeling that they also need to build their reading stamina and vary their diet! The result of this “I’ll wait” attitude can sometimes be seen when a student asks for a book to help them research a topic. When I show them the page where they can learn more, some kids will respond: “I have to read all of that?”

To encourage them to expand their view of the school library, we sometimes highlight a different collection and ask the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders to make their second choice (after their graphic novel) one of the books on display. Last week it was the “Who Was/What Was” series. And lots of them were checked out!

Finally, for those of us counting the days until there is more light in the sky, there is a beautiful new picture book about waiting and watching. Almost Time by Gary Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney is about Ethan, a boy who is waiting for sugaring season. It’s a gentle story, made more powerful by G. Brian Karas’s warm illustrations.

Happy Reading!

The First Post of 2020….

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A new decade of reading begins!  I love looking forward to a new year of reading and wondering what my list will look like in December….

Last night I finished my first book of 2020. I read Grace Will Lead Us Home: The Charleston Church Massacre and the Hard, Inspiring Journey to Forgiveness by Jennifer Berry Hawes. A chronicle of the horrific events of the 2015 tragedy at the Mother Emanuel AME Church, Hawes opens with a minute-by-minute account of the evening Dylan Roof joined a Bible study group. It is not a “shocking true crime” narrative, but a compassionate and moving exploration of the lives that were lost, the aftermath for the survivors, and the reverberations felt throughout the City of Charleston. While the events Hawes describes are complex and sometimes disturbing, I am happy to have read this book, especially given the heightened racial tensions in our country.

At school, our students are also grappling with the challenges of historic and contemporary racial inequities. I’m reading To Kill a Mockingbird with a group of 8th graders. The 7th grade students are reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and the Upper Elementary students will be reading Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes and Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman. We deliberately select books that represent diverse and underrepresented voices, and students are encouraged to read books that are both “mirrors” and “windows.” Many of the novels ask students to understand how people have organized resistance in response to oppression, for example African Americans who have waged civic and legal battles for equality. 

In keeping with the topic of civic education, I am also deep into the planning of the John F. Kennedy Library’s annual conference for educators. This year’s conference, Dignity and Justice for All: Stories of Protest, Resistance, and Change is designed to explore how children’s literature can help students understand historical and contemporary struggles for freedom and equality. Our goal is that participants will have a deeper understanding of how people from underrepresented groups have made their voices heard in social and political movements.

I am especially looking forward to hearing the conference keynote speaker, Dr. Debbie Reese, a founder of the American Indians in Children’s Literature website and one of the adapters (for young adults) of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. 

Here’s a link for more information:

https://www.jfklibrary.org/learn/education/teachers/professional-development/dignity-and-justice-for-all-stories-of-protest-resistance-and-change

I haven’t bought many new books recently, but there are lots of “spring” releases I’m looking forward to over the next few months. The three books I’m most excited to read are:

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins 

All Adults Here by Emma Straub

Weather by Jenny Offill

This one has a funny story – about the cover – which shows how obsessive I am. This past fall, when I began seeing references to Jenny Offill’s new book, it was on my list. I loved her novel, Dept. of Speculation, and Weather sounds equally smart and thoughtful. So I made a note to buy it from Buttonwood when it comes out on February 11. But then I saw a picture of Weather in a British newspaper (while catching up on Harry and Meghan news!) and saw this spectacular cover. I am confident that holding such a beautiful book will enhance the reading experience. So I’ll have to buy the others from the neighborhood bookstore. I went on Amazon.uk and ordered this:

 

Happy New Decade!  

 

The Best Books I Read in 2019

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As many readers of my blog know, I keep a list of every book I read. No notations. No thumbs up or down. Just a running list of every book I’ve read for the past 30 years. In my best years, I will read around 80 books, but my average is around 60. Right now, I’m at #63, but maybe I’ll reach 65 by 11:59 p.m. on December 31! Here are the ten highlights of 2019 (listed alphabetically by author’s last name):

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (This book deserves all of the glowing reviews it received this year. Most of the novel follows the story of Toby Fleishman who is going through a painful divorce. But it’s not so simple. His wife disappears leaving Toby with their two kids and things get complicated. I’m simplifying, but this is a smart, funny, and sad novel.)

Middle England by Jonathan Coe (This novel helped me understand Britain today more than all of the NPR reports combined. Through a collection of voices – old and young, Tories and Liberals, upper class and working class – Coe weaves together a story of a divided Britain that conveys the immediate and long-term impacts of the decision to leave the EU.)

Five Days Gone by Laura Cumming (I initially read about this book in a British newspaper. Across the pond, the book is called On Chapel Sands. When I asked for it by that title in a New York City bookstore, the knowledgeable staff person gave me Five Days Gone – the American title. Whatever the title, this is a memorable story. It centers on Cumming’s mother who, when she was three years old in 1929, mysteriously disappeared from the Lincolnshire beach where she was playing. In this mystery/memoir, Cumming explores her mother’s life and the story of what happened on the beach in an eloquent and evocative piece of cultural history.)

Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home by Nora Krug (Belonging is a memoir that uses a mix of text, photos, and graphic art that tells the story of a woman of German descent who seeks to understand what happened in Germany before she was born. Krug’s parents were born in the 1940s so she obviously has no first hand memories of the Nazi era, but she wanted to know how deeply her family was involved. The book reads like an artful diary that unfolds into a deep exploration of memory and history.)

Know My Name: A Memoir by Chanel Miller (Chanel Miller was a victim of sexual assault, and her memoir opens on the night Brock Turner assaulted her and chronicles the three years that followed, including the trial. I went to the same high school as Turner which gave me some insight into the upper class suburb where he grew up. Oakwood, a suburb, of Dayton, is referred to as living “under the dome,” and there’s obviously a danger to that mindset – that somehow Oakwood’s residents are special, different than others. Miller’s account of holding Turner accountable is both courageous and timely.)

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips (I remember getting to about page 50 and thinking: this will be the best novel I read this year. And it was. Selected as one of the New York Times 10 Best Books of 2019, Disappearing Earth is not about the threat of climate change – as the title may suggest – but about the disappearance of two young girls from a beach in Kamchatka, a volcanic peninsula in Russia.)

Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America by James Poniewozik (Admittedly, Donald Trump was probably the last person on earth I wanted to read a whole book about, but then I heard James Poniewozik, the New York Times TV critic, on NPR and changed my mind. This is a biography of two subjects: television and Donald Trump – and the frightening melding of the two of them. It is like reading about a train crash that you know in advance will happen and yet you’re powerless to prevent it. Poniewozik chronicles how Trump is a creation of television and yet millions of people don’t understand that they are watching a performance.)

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea (This is the book that I’m most likely to read again. The one with the most heart. Big Angel, the novel’s main character, is dying. But before he dies, he wants to celebrate one more birthday – in a big way. And it’s that party that the rest of the novel centers on. It’s not at all sentimental, and yet it’s the only book that left me a bit choked up on the last page. This book felt the most true to life in that it is full of characters, messy situations, tragedy and overwhelming happiness.)

Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (A powerful and disturbing story of a reform school in Florida that publicly said it was rehabilitating boys, but was actually terrorizing them. Based on the real life – and now closed – Dozier School for Boys, Nickel Boys is set at a fictionalized school and centers on Elwood Curtis, a boy who is mistakenly sent to Dozier.)

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson (Wilson’s novel is the funniest book I read this year. Believe all of the glowing reviews; this is a brilliant and sharply observed novel.)

If I have any late additions, I will include them in my next post!  Happy Reading….

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Children’s Books of 2019

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Each year I think we’ve hit a new high water mark for children’s books, but 2019 was a stellar year in the book world. Each week seemed to bring something more wonderful than the week before so it’s hard to narrow the list, but with the knowledgeable input of Gwendolyn at Buttonwood Books and Toys in Cohasset, here are our recommendations for your holiday shopping….

Board Books for kids who could possibly tear the pages of a real book: 

• Dinosnores by Susan Boynton

• The Moon is a Silver Pond by Sara Cassidy (This is a quiet and lovely book about the moon. A perfect bedtime book for children – which may double as biblio-melatonin for their parents)

• Snowball by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet (Gwendolyn showed this brightly colored and funny book to me – and now I want to buy a copy for myself!)

• Who is Sleeping? By Petr Horacek

• What’s Going on Here? By Olivier Tallec

• Goodnight Rainbow Cats by Barbara Castro Urio (This is such a creative book. Each cat goes into the house, and on the last die-cut page, there are 12 sleepy cats.)

For the child who wants every book to be 32 pages (the number of pages in the typical picture book):

• I Want a Dog by Jon Agee

• What Miss Mitchell Saw by Hayley Barrett (a picture book biography of the astronomer Maria Mitchell)

• Dandy by Ame Dyckman

• The Scarecrow by Beth Ferry & the Fan Brothers

• Bear is Awake! By Hannah Harrison (An alphabet book and a delightful story!)

• Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard

• Saturday by Oge Mora (A special story of a young girl and her mother whose regular Saturday together does not go as planned.)

• Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris

• I Am a Tiger by Karl Newson (A story about a mouse with a tiger-sized imagination)

• You Are Home by Evan Turk

 

• Small in the City by Sydney Smith (One of the year’s most beautiful books. Every illustration in this award-winning book is memorable.)

• Home in the Woods by Eliza Wheeler

For the new chapter book reader:

• Filigree’s Midnight Ride by Pam Berkman

• Penny and Her Sled by Kevin Henkes

• Frank and Bean by Jamie Michalak (another set of mismatched friends, but Frank (a frankfurter in a bun) and Bean (kidney, that is) won me over!)

• Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder

• The Dog Who Lost His Bark by Eoin Colfer

• Bernard Pepperlin by Cara Hoffman (If you know a fan of Stuart Little, this is the book for them. It has that “old fashioned gift book” quality to it. Hoffman’s book is a sweet fantasy starring the Dormouse from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and set in modern-day New York City)

For readers who are ready for longer and more complex stories:

• I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day (Evie, a 12-year-old Native American girl knows her mother was adopted by a white family, but has never heard the story of why she was separated from her birth mother. Over the course of this lovely novel, Edie discovers her family’s history.)

• Beverly Right Here by Kate DiCamillo (A companion novel to Raymie Nightingale…for lovers of the distinctive world of Raymie and Louisiana)

• The Year We Fell from Space by Amy Sarig King

• Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy

• Strange Birds by Celia Perez

• Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds

• My Jasper June by Laurel Snyder

• Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

• Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson

The awesome picture at the top of this post is a friend’s son who is proudly showing off his very well organized book shelf. It looks like he may have a future working in a library or bookstore!

Happy Holiday Shopping….