Three Books and Two Paintings….

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It was a strange reading week. Not bad, just unexpected. I had the week off from school so my expectations (and my “to read” pile) were high!  As it turns out, I read one young adult novel, two excellent picture books, and lots of magazine articles that were beginning to collect dust.

Here are the highlights – and two paintings….

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Growing Up Pedro by Matt Tavares

I work in a school library in Greater Boston so of course, this new picture book was on my list.  Tavares’s new book is as much about the love between Pedro and his older brother, Ramon, as it is about baseball. The book opens in 1981 in the Dominican Republic where Pedro “sits in the shade and watches the older boys play.”  It’s Ramon, a pitcher, who is the baseball star of the Martinez family, and when he moves to Los Angeles to play for the Dodgers, Pedro is motivated to practice harder and join his big brother. Of course, he does – and he gets to play alongside Ramon for a few seasons. But Pedro, becomes the bigger star – a member of the Hall of Fame, an eight-time All Star, and three-time winner of the Cy Young Award. This is a warm book about the love between two brothers with big dreams. My bet is that this one will be checked out within an hour of putting it on display!

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The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc

This is a book with very few words – and it is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. It’s about everything – the passage of time, the seasons and growth, and above all, the rewards of friendship. There is a page with nine words that made me feel genuinely heartbroken. As the title says, the story is about a lion and a bird. It’s a fall day and Lion is working in his garden when he sees a bird with a hurt wing. “Let’s bandage you up,” says Lion “That will help.”  During the bird’s convalescence, his flock leaves, but the Lion invites him to stay for the winter. After one of the coziest picture book winters I’ve ever seen on the page, the birds return and that’s when the sad scene takes place. There is a happy ending so no worries about a sad child (or adult). But here’s the best part of Dubuc’s book – as spare as it is, it’s one to return to again and again. I definitely will.

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Mosquitoland by David Arnold

This is the young adult novel I read this week – and although I didn’t read as many books as I planned, I picked the right one. Wow – this one will stick with me.  Mosquitoland is a road trip novel. The traveler is sixteen-year-old Mary Iris Malone who goes by Mim. She is traveling from her father’s house in Mississippi (Mosquitoland) to her mother in Cleveland.  Mim is convinced that her father and stepmother are keeping something important from her so she hits the road. Of course, there are bumps along the way and some shady characters. There is also humor, a bit of romance – and life lessons. To be clear, there are some serious issues addressed here: sexual assault, intellectual disabilities, depression and violence. Overall, Arnold’s novel is bighearted and generous and Mim’s journey is one of self discovery, but I recommend it to mature teens.

And the art….

I took these pictures at the Cape Ann Museum. They are both by Charles Hopkinson, a Boston painter who lived between 1869 and 1962.

This one looks like the cover of a Henry James novel….

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And this one could be the cover of a Louisa May Alcott book…

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A Library Fit for a Princess….

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With the release of Disney’s new Cinderella movie, I am anticipating lots of young library patrons looking for princess books. The books are easy to identify since most of the covers are pink, but the daily request for “princess stories” can be trickier than you might expect.

First, I want to protect everyone’s (boys and girls) right to be a princess if they want to – most of us have days where a pink sparkly book is just what the doctor ordered, and I have checked out lots of pink books to little boys. Then there is the Disney dilemma.  I try to keep the school library a relatively commercial-free zone. Star Wars, Frozen, and Disney princess books seem to be available everywhere, including the grocery store, so the school library is one place where kids are not viewed as consumers.  There are a few exceptions to this rule – the LEGO Ideas Book comes to mind, but so far no books about Elsa or Anna.  The other piece of this is a commitment to growing slowly. I am bothered by “beauty treatments” for young girls and the damaging representations of femininity that young girls are exposed to.

Admittedly, when kids ask us for princess books, you can sense their disappointment that we don’t have the Disney books. But they are quickly won over when they see our collection of books about non-Disney royalty.

So if you have a little princess at home and want an alternative to the Disney marketing juggernaut, here are ten of my favorite princess books. Each of them have wonderful characters and positive messages about being yourself.

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The Duchess of Whimsy by Randall de Seve and Peter de Seve (A celebration of individuality by husband and wife team. Peter de Seve is a New Yorker artist and his distinctive style adds to the “whimsy” of this book about a Duchess and an Earl who find that opposites do attract!)

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Not All Princesses Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen (not really a story, but a fun rhyming book which explains that princesses can be muddy, use power tools, and wear overalls.)

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Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated by Florence Parry Heide (This “uplifting” story could be my favorite princess book. Princess Hyacinth floats. No explanation – she just does. To prevent her from floating away, she is weighted down by jewels and an extra heavy crown. One day, curious about the outside world, Princess Hyacinth takes precautions and goes outside where she meets….a balloon man and a boy with a kite!)

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Olivia and the Fairy Princesses by Ian Falconer (No princess collection is complete without Olivia – who, in this installment, thinks she is having an “identity crisis” because everyone at school wants to be a princess – but her. “Why is it always a pink princess?” Olivia asks. “Why not an Indian princess 0r a princess from Thailand or an African princess or a princess from China?”)

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The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale (An early reader chapter book that I can’t keep on our shelves.  Princess Magnolia eats her scone properly when she’s with Duchess Wigtower, but when the monsters from Monster Land appear, Magnolia turns into the Princess in Black!)

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Princess Pistachio by Marie-Louise Gay (A brand new book – and first in a series – by the Canadian writer and illustrator. Gay’s story centers on a little girl named Pistachio (awesome name!) who is convinced she is a real princess. “All her life, Pistachio believed that her real parents were the king and queen of a magnificent kingdom. She had found the kingdom on her map of the world.” What child hasn’t had that thought run through their mind!)

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Princess Sparkle-Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh Schneider (Amelia is devoted to her dog until she gets Princess Sparkle-Heart and she switches allegiance to her doll. The dog does not take this lying down and it isn’t long before Princess Sparkle-Heart is “accidentally” shredded. Mom comes to the rescue with her sewing kit and although the doll doesn’t look anything like the original, Amelia’s creativity and love for Princess Sparkle-Heart shines through.)

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Princess Posey by Stephanie Greene (This series of early chapter books about Posey and her friends in the first book is spot-on about the social dynamics of 1st and 2nd graders. In Princess Posey and the First Grade Parade, Posey is nervous about going to school without her tutu.)

Of course, no princess collection is complete without Cinderella – and there are hundreds of versions from all over the world. Here are two favorites:

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Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella by Paul Fleischman (17 retellings in one book! Fleischman blends tales from around the world into a single story. I read this book to kids every year and they love comparing the version they know with the variations in different cultures.

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Cinderella – illustrated by Barbara McClintock (There are so many versions of the classic Perrault story, but this one is my favorite. McClintock’s detailed and magical drawings fit the story – just like a glass slipper!)

 

New Library Books….

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Yesterday five new books were welcomed to the Inly Library shelves – all of them perfect for kids and teachers. Here’s what we added:

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In the New World by Gerda Raidt – It’s 1869 and the Peters family has made the difficult decision to leave their home in a small German village and immigrate to America. What follows are short vignettes that convey their journey: what they bring, the challenges of their journey on the steamship Teutonia, and their travels from New Orleans to Omaha, Nebraska. “A travel agent makes his way through the crowd. He speaks German, sells them tickets for the riverboat to St. Louis, and finds them a place to stay for the night.”  Near the end, the book skips ahead a few generations and we meet the Peters family descendants planning a trip to Germany to learn about their ancestors. The detailed illustrations and text provide a lively and accessible introduction to immigration – and it’s guaranteed to spark conversations about family history.

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Peace is an Offering by Annette LeBox – Like many teachers, we talk with kids about the importance of peace – in classrooms, on the playground, in their homes, and in the world. But peace is a big concept to get your head around, and judging from the world’s situation, it’s challenging to adults as well. That’s why I like LeBox’s “poem-in-a-picture book.” It gives a child small acts to practice peace in their everyday lives. “Peace is an offering. A muffin or a peach. A birthday invitation. A trip to the beach.”  The diverse group of kids in the warm and sweet illustrations reinforce the book’s message that peaceful responses to life’s challenges are all around us.

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The New Small Person by Lauren Child – The arrival of a new sibling is a familiar story, but somehow I kept turning the pages like it was a new theme!  Child’s book about a little boy named Elmore Green who becomes a big brother is fresh and funny and, as always, Child’s whimsical and colorful illustrations capture the spirit of the story. And the “small person” (the name Child uses for the new baby) is really cute….

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Over the Hills and Far Away: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes collected by Elizabeth Hammill – An absolutely essential purchase for every teacher and parent.  I want to show you every page, but it would take too much space.

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Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary by Gail Jarrow – The four books above are perfect for our younger students, but Fatal Fever will be added to Inly’s Middle School Library. Jarrow’s book has all of the elements of an engrossing story: a devastating disease, “ghastly” symptoms, period illustrations (like the one below), and an unlikely central character – an Irish cook who worked for a family in a “spacious country house in Oyster Bay.”  Fatal Fever has already received starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly – and it’s the next book on my own “to read” list!

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A Visit to the North Shore….

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Recently, in a fit of cabin fever, my husband and I decided to travel from the South Shore to the North Shore and visit the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester. Dedicated to the art and history of Cape Ann, the museum is a gem. It includes a collection of paintings by Fitz Henry Lane that are guaranteed to calm frazzled winter nerves, art and historical objects that capture the North Shore’s rich artistic tradition, and a maritime room that tells the story of the area’s fishing industry.  But the exhibit I most wanted to see is the small room dedicated to the Folly Cove Designers, a group of 45 designers (mostly women) who were active between 1938 and 1969 and produced beautiful and distinctive designs which they cut into linoleum blocks and printed on fabric. Named for a Gloucester neighborhood, Folly Cove Designs was directed by Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios – the author and illustrator of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Little House.

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Folly Cove Designers Book 6 - clippings and photos

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As a child I was especially drawn to The Little House, and as I got older and learned about Folly Cove Designs, it all began to connect.

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The exhibit is small, but well done and captures the group’s unique aesthetic sensibility. One of my favorite pieces is the diploma that Virginia Lee Burton created for the members of the Folly Cove Designers:

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It’s a cloth-based graphic novel: you read it from left to right beginning with the woman putting on a thinking cap, getting an idea, and beginning to carve it into a block.

We also enjoyed the Museum’s special exhibit featuring a local artist, Roger Martin. Martin both paints and writes poetry and the two art forms complement each other beautifully.  Martin, one of the founders of Montseratt College of Art, has clearly been inspired by the North Shore’s rocky landscape.

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There are other treats in the Cape Ann Museum…..

This is a magnificent scene as you round a corner in the Museum – a Fresnel lens. Made in Paris for a lighthouse on Thacher Island off the coast of Rockport, the lens was installed in 1861. After the lighthouse was decommissioned, the lens was moved to the Coast Guard Academy Museum in Connecticut before returning to the North Shore.

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I also loved this. The cell phone pic doesn’t do it justice, but it’s pretty huge. And the light shining over the top is kind of cool – I only noticed it when looking at my pictures. This is Our Lady of Good Voyage so naturally she’s carrying a ship model. The statue was on top of a Gloucester church for nearly 70 years, but after weathering too many storms, she was understandably beginning to show signs of deterioration. She is now safely in the Museum.

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And we loved this – the Gorton Seafood man in Lego form!

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If you’re in Gloucester, the Cape Ann Museum is definitely worth a visit.

Art to Celebrate, Explore, and Color….

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The first thing that caught my eye about Colin Meloy’s 2012 novel, Wildwood, was the cover by Carson Ellis.

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The illustrations invite the reader into an enchanted and timeless world.  I didn’t read all three books in the series, but I regularly stand in bookstores and savor Ellis’s beautiful illustrations.  Now Ellis has published her first picture book, Home, and although it was delivered to school a week ago, it’s been in my bag every night. It’s time to return my book and purchase a copy!

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But look…..and you will understand my reluctance to part from it:

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It’s a warm book with a folk art feel about the idea of home. Even if you’re an old woman who lives in a shoe:

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I love my home, but I’m looking forward to getting out of it this spring and seeing flowers and grass. The snow can still be measured in feet around here, but warmer days are right around the corner.  And to celebrate the first of April, there’s a conference at the JFK Library about children’s books and art – I can think of no better way to welcome spring.

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Sources of Inspiration: History Through the Arts and the Lives of Artists is a full day program featuring authors Robert Burleigh, Bryan Collier, and Elizabeth Partridge.  If you’re a teacher looking for ideas about how to integrate the arts into your curriculum, you can learn more about the conference here:

http://www.jfklibrary.org/Education/Teachers/Professional-Development-Image-List/Sources-of-Inspiration.aspx

We have used Elizabeth Partridge’s biography of Woody Guthrie in our middle school. Her book is a great springboard to discussions about music and social change.

And looking much further down the road, mark your calendar (with crayons) for August 15 when the sequel to Drew Daywalt’s The Day the Crayons Quit is published – the new one looks like this:

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As I write this, there are two 3rd grade boys in the library. I showed them the picture of Daywalt’s book and they both asked to be the first to check it out!

 

 

A Donkey, Book Projects, and Snow Art…

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Last night I read a book called Mikis and the Donkey by Bibi Dumon Tak. The author is Dutch, but the setting for this story is the Greek island of Corfu. It’s a quiet story about Mikis, a boy who lives with his family in a close-knit community. Mikis is thrilled when his grandfather gets a new donkey, but not so happy to discover that his grandfather considers Tsaki (the donkey) a “tractor on wheels.” Mikis loves the donkey from the moment he meets (and names) her, and like Fern in Charlotte’s Web, he spends every moment he’s not in school with his new friend. It soon becomes apparent that Mikis’s grandfather is working Tsaki a little too hard, and it’s up to Mikis to teach his grandfather how to care for a donkey. Philip Hopman’s black and white pencil drawings are lovely – they truly capture the warmth of this gentle story.

The challenge the book faces is finding its way to the perfect reader. Although at first glance, it looks like a story early chapter book readers may enjoy, it’s actually a bit more mature. There is a baby donkey born during the story – and you need to know how baby donkeys are made to follow that part of the story.  And the text is denser than what most young readers require. Mikis and the Donkey is a good story to read aloud to a child between the ages of 8 and 11 – maybe before bed when it’s sweetness would help a child and parent settle in for a night and spark dreams of sunny days in Corfu.

Our 1st-3rd grade students have been busy with book projects so I took a walk around to see what’s inspiring their creativity.  In order of appearance, the pictures are from: Jungle Book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Mercy Watson and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

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And, finally, it wouldn’t be a February post without a snow picture.  While I’m looking out the window waiting for the plow truck, our neighbors have been making something beautiful….

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Planning Ahead for Women’s History Month….

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There are two reasons I began selecting books to display during Women’s History Month – with ten days remaining in February:

1 – I’m looking forward to turning the calendar to March – February has been rough and there’s more snow in the forecast!

2 – Because we’ve had so many snow days, Black History Month and President’s Day have not received enough attention in the Library. Starting a school week on a Wednesday (which we’ve done several times) causes your internal calendar to be a little off. Only yesterday did it occur to me that I totally missed President’s Day. Next year I owe Washington and Lincoln big displays!

Today I pulled a dozen of my favorite picture book biographies of women to display in March – this one will not get away from me!  If you’re planning ahead, here are 13 books (a Baker’s Dozen) you may want to check out:

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Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire Nivola  (an inspiring book for the budding scientist about the first female chief scientist U.S. Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

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Eleanor: Quiet No More by Doreen Rapport (All of Doreen Rappaport’s picture book biographies are excellent. This one traces Eleanor’s life from her lonely childhood to her accomplishments as First Lady and humanitarian.)

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Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone   (a bright and lively introduction to America’s first female physician)

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Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty by Linda Glaser  (Emma Lazarus was raised in an upper class home in New York City in the mid 1800s, but as she learned more about the struggles of immigrants, she became committed to helping them.)

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Uncommon Traveler: Mary Kingsley in Africa by Don Brown (Published fifteen years ago, Brown’s book has always been one of my favorites. Mary Kingsley grew up in England and never traveled until she was thirty. But after years of reading about the world, she decided to go to Africa. An amazing story.)

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Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx by Jonah Winter (The life of the first Latina Supreme Court justice – from economic hardship in the Bronx to Princeton University and a legal career. A lesson in the values of hard work and determination. The text is in both English and Spanish.)

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Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell (A multi-award winning book about the life of African American dancer. To escape the racism in her own country, Baker spent much of her career in Paris where she walked through the streets with a pet leopard!)

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Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull (A book I read many times to my son when he was young – and we were inspired by Wilma Rudolph’s story every time. Rudolph had both polio and scarlet fever as a child and was told she would never walk again – but she won three gold medals at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.)

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Firebird by Misty Copeland (The dancer from the American Ballet Theater, tells the story of her journey from a childhood in poverty to dancing in the title role in Stravinsky’s The Firebird. Christopher Myers’ colorful collages enhance this inspiring story.)

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The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life With the Chimps by Jeanette Winter (the perfect book for animal lovers – Jane Goodall’s life studying chimpanzees)

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When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan (another long-time favorite and one I still enjoy sharing with students. The Marion of the title refers to Marian Anderson, the black opera singer who, in 1939, was denied a chance to perform at the Constitution Hall because of her race. After Eleanor Roosevelt stepped in, Anderson performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.)

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America’s Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle by David Adler (Gertrude Ederle’s name does not spring immediately to mind when thinking of famous women, but her story is amazing. In 1926, she became the first woman to swim the English Channel. Born in 1906, Ederle’s father taught her to swim after she nearly drowned. Next stop: the 1924 Olympics and the English Channel!)

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Moses: When Harriet Tubman Let Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford (Many teachers consider this one of their go-to books to spark discussions about determination and courage. Harriet Tubman’s story is well known, but this beautiful and moving picture book is one of the most perfect blends of text and illustration that exists between the covers of a book.)

Happy Almost-March!