The View from the Roof…

1 Comment

I had a few thoughts about this week’s post, but then a student sent me this picture from his travels in Germany:

In response to my comment about his beautiful picture, the student wrote: “Feel free to use in your blog.  Rooftops are a great theme with lots of meaning!”  Clearly, he needs a break from my class where we search for meaning in everything.  But he has a point. Rooftops are a good place to take a look around.

Here are seven books that encourage us to get up a little higher, look down, and realize (in the words of Hamilton) “how lucky we are to be alive right now.”

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell  (Rundell’s middle grade novel is a few years old, but the rooftop scenes are still vivid in my mind.  The story centers on a young girl named Sophie – who everyone thinks is an orphan who survived in a cello case during a shipwreck that claimed the life of Sophie’s mother. Convinced her mother may have lived, Sophie goes to Paris to find her. It’s in Paris that she meets Matteo and his friends who live high above the city.  This is a magical novel – best read at night, perhaps overlooking the twinkling lights of a city!)

Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather (A fun and quirky book – that “flew” under the radar!  A pigeon’s-eye view of famous structures around the world. An excellent introduction to architecture.)

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein (the story of Philippe Petit’s 1974 walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center. Obviously, the book has a special poignancy because of what happened to the Towers in 2001, but that adds to the power of the book; it becomes a tribute not only to Petit’s incredible feat, but also to the lives lost that day.)

Albert by Donna Jo Napoli (This picture book is not technically a rooftop story. Albert lives in a tall apartment building, but the action takes place outside of Albert’s window. Published in 2005, Albert is about a man who is a bit of a recluse.  He stays in his apartment and only puts his hand outside to check the weather.  It’s never a good day to go out.  But when a cardinal decides to build a nest in Albert’s outstretched hand, Albert is forced to watch the life happening on the streets below.  This is kind of a quirky story, but it’s one I find myself returning to again and again – it’s a perfect book to introduce symbolism to young readers.)

Home by Jeannie Baker (I have used Jeannie Baker’s books, Home and Window, every year since I started teaching – with elementary age students and middle school students.  Like the viewpoint in Albert, we have window views rather than rooftops, but the shift in perspective is equally affecting. Baker’s wordless picture books are powerful warnings about the impact we have on our environment.  Teachers – to spark a discussion (with older students) about overdevelopment and our changing communities, pair Home with The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton.

ABC: Alphabet From the Sky by Benedikt Gross (As it turns out, if you look down, the alphabet is hiding in plain site!)

The Top of the World: Climbing Mount Everest by Steve Jenkins (Everything Steve Jenkins done is amazing, but this is my favorite of his cut-paper collage works. The closest many of us will get to views from the top of Mount Everest!)

I didn’t get a rooftop view of Scituate’s new library, but the view from the inside is lovely.  The library was closed for nearly two years for major renovations.  It was worth the wait….

Happy Reading!



Summer Reading: Part Four

Leave a comment

My final summer reading list is for middle school readers, the kids “in between” middle grade and young adult books. The eight books listed below include characters and dialogue unique to the experience of kids ages 12 to 14.

The Green Bicycle by Haifaa Al-Mansour  (A repeat from last year’s list, but one students always enjoy.  A timely and inspiring novel – based on an excellent movie called Wadjda.  The story of a young girl who wants a bicycle.  Simple enough, right? But she lives in Saudi Arabia where it’s considered improper for a girl to ride a bike.  It would be fun to read the book and then have a movie night!)

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng (I included this book on my last post. It’s on my list of books for middle grade readers, and I would recommend it to adults as well. This is a story about family and friends. A common theme in an uncommonly memorable book.)

Posted by John David Anderson (The perfect book for social media enthusiasts.  After cell phones are banned at school, kids begin leaving messages on Post-it notes which, because they are displayed for all to see, are often more hurtful.)

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall (Pearsall’s novel was published in 2015, and it’s become one of the books I hand to middle school students who are struggling to find a good book – one they will want to keep reading.  Pearsall’s novel hasn’t failed me yet!  Set in 1963, The Seventh Most Important Thing is the story of Arthur, a 13-year-old boy, who learns seven important lessons while helping a local “junk man” with his artistic masterpiece.)

York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby  (The first installment of a new series, set in an alternative New York City)

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge (500 pages of high fantasy and imaginative word play.  Link to the Guardian’s glowing review:

Refugee by Alan Gratz (This book will be published on July 25, but I recommended it to several of our students as an August read. Three young refugees from three different times and places: Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo. It’s on my August list!)

Literally by Lucy Keating (Maybe an unexpected choice for this list.  Literally is a smart beach book that plays with the conventions of the young adult romance.)

To prepare Inly’s summer reading list, I read lots of novels and early chapter books.  After the list was distributed, what I most craved was ….a picture book!  I looked for something new and beautiful, a book that stands out on the shelf, and here it is:

The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd-Stanton is magical from the end pages to the final scene. Erin, the little girl at the center of the story, lives in an idyllic seaside town with her “mum” and her dog, Archie. Erin desperately wants to “go out to sea,” but she can’t because of a scary black rock.  Everyone in town warns her to stay away from the rock which, naturally, makes Erin even more curious.  Ultimately, she finds a way to learn the truth, and it turns out to be quite lovely. School ended a few days ago, and I’m already planning to make The Secret of Black Rock our first read aloud in September!

During the last couple weeks of school, there are lots of events involving singing and speeches and ceremonies.  But the nicest hour, in my opinion, is the quiet that comes over the campus during Drop Everything and Read.  While everyone was reading, I walked around the silent campus and found readers on couches, under counters, and many other creative spaces…

Happy Reading!

Happy Summer!

Summer Reading: Part Three

Leave a comment

Today’s list: middle grade novels.  There are so many good ones – way too many to list here.  So like the first two lists (Summer Reading: Parts One and Two), I will stick to the new books.  Holes, Charlotte’s Web, and Bud, Not Buddy are on the list (along with many other classic children’s novels) along with these twenty recently published stories…..

For Kids Between the Ages of 8 and 12.  Great for the whole family as an evening read-aloud or on a road trip…

A Boy Called Bat by Elana Arnold (A story about a boy and his skunk, but Bat, the main character of this first installment in a new series is on the autism spectrum. It’s refreshing to read about a character who deals with something underrepresented in children’s books with a plot that is the star of the show!)

Sweet Home Alaska by Carole Estby Dagg (You can’t help but think about Laura Ingalls Wilder when you read this book. The setting is 1930s Alaska, but the challenges of life on the frontier and the themes of family and resilience are similar.)

Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres (a debut novel about a 7th grade girl whose family owns a food truck)

Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton (Henry likes to draw on his bedroom door. Everything is great until the dragon he draws comes to life!)

Lotteries Plus One by Emma Donoghue (Two couples with seven kids between them. All is going well until Grumps moves in. He’s doesn’t approve of what he sees: two same sex couples, a diverse group of kids, homeschooling. A fun family adventure.)

The Castle in the Mist by Amy Ephron (an old-fashioned fantasy that takes place in a castle in the English countryside)

Jack and the Geniuses by Bill Nye (Bill Nye the Science Guy has a new series! Gadgets and technology and genius kids working in a lab)

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar (A story based on the author’s story of growing up in New York as a young immigrant in the 1960s.  Good story in the Washington Post about the author. Link:

Panda-monium by Stuart Gibbs (Gibbs is my go-to author for reluctant readers.  They may check the first one out reluctantly, but they quickly return for the next book.)

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan (A lovely and timely book about a Muslim girl growing up and navigating all of the things that come along with being 13: family, friends, faith, tradition.  What I loved about this book is that it deals with universal themes of growing up, and yet is true to Amina’s experience as a young Muslim girl living in the 21st century.)

Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan (If you know a child who loves being on stage, this is the absolute best summer read for them. A celebration of theater!)

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia (I read this over the weekend and loved it.  Clayton Byrd loves his grandfather, a blues musician who has taught his young grandson to play the harmonica. When his grandfather dies, Clayton goes off on his own to search for the members of his grandfather’s blues band. This is the book I would recommend to a child who loves music.)

And for older readers, ages 10 and over…

Funny Girl. Funniest. Stories. Ever, edited by Betsy Bird (short stories by 25 female writers)

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng (one of the most moving books – for any age – that I’ve read this year.)

Armstrong and Charlie by Steven Frank (Two boys living in Los Angeles in the 1970s)

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy King (A friendship tale with an environmental message – and a touch of magical realism!)

Rooting for Rafael Rosales by Kurtis Scaletta

Horizon by Scott Westerfeld

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk (by the author of Wolf Hollow– this one is part of my summer book club at Buttonwood Books and Toys in Cohasset.)

Bronze and the Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan

One other note…..

I read over the weekend that there’s going to be a movie based on Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s New York Times Modern Love column about her husband.  Her essay, “You May Want to Marry My Husband, is being developed by Universal.

Summer Reading: Part Two


Today’s summer reading list is for emerging readers, kids who begin asking for chapter books . New readers are enthusiastic, and their book list is a long one, including classics like Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel and the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker.  Those books are well known, but there are many recently published books for the new reader in your life.  Here are ten books to “check out” this summer:

Wolfie and Fly by Cary Fagan (celebrating the joys and possibilities of a cardboard box – and making new friends)

The Adventures of Sophie Mouse by Poppy Green (this quickly became one of the most popular series in our school library. Many of the  first and second graders traded them, talked about them, and asked to “be first” when there was a new one!)

DATA series by Ada Hopper (I’m thinking of a second grade boy who raced through these as fast as he could.  We would leave the “next book” on our desk in the morning so he could come in to return the one he read the night before – and start reading)

Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami (a stand-alone early chapter book and one of my favorite books of the year – a great book to teach that small actions can make a big difference)

The Infamous Ratsos by Kara LaReau (two rats want to show their dad how tough they are, but things don’t go according to plan.  Sequel will be out in September)

The Claude books by Alex T. Smith (I didn’t do enough to push Claude this year, but will fix that in September.  A beret-wearing dog’s adventures with his friend Sir Bobblysock who is, actually, a sock.)

Charlie and Mouse by Laurel Snyder (the episodic adventures of two brothers)

Hilo series by Judd Winnick (a really popular series in our library – a story of bravery and robots!)

And two books from our nonfiction list:

Margaret and the Moon by Dean Robbins (the life of a young girl who grew up to be a NASA software engineer for Project Apollo)

Coral Reefs by Jason Chin (All of Chin’s nature books are inspiring and beautiful. This one is an introduction to coral reefs.)

One more book that didn’t make it onto Inly’s list….

The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry by Danna Smith is one of those books that a child will probably not find on their own, but will be grateful if you lead them to it. The story of a medieval girl who learns about falconry from her father, the book follows them training a hawk for a hunt and includes sidebars with interesting facts. For example, the hawks wear bells on their legs so the falconer can hear them after they’ve caught their prey.  Bagram Ibatoulline’s illustrations are stunning and realistic, but luckily they spare the viewer any “too realistic” views.   I would recommend it to readers between the ages of 7 and 12.

Happy Reading!

Summer Reading: Part One

Leave a comment

On this rainy and chilly day, it’s a bit challenging to put myself in the summer reading state of mind, but the calendar says it is Memorial Day Weekend so it’s time for a list of books to look out for this summer…

First, check out this student’s fabulous dress –

An on-line search revealed the source of Leo Lionni-themed clothing – Uniqlo, but it doesn’t look like they are available anymore.

Today’s list is for young children, between the ages of 3 and 7.  These are the books to reach for when you’re looking for a fun read-aloud or new books to freshen up your picture book collection.  Inly’s summer reading list includes both classics like Where the Wild Things Are and Blueberries for Sal along with recently published books.  Below are the new books  – listed (approximately) from books for the youngest listeners to those a bit older…

Rescue Squad No. 9 by Mike Austin (a high-energy and colorful book for young fans of things that go!)

Places To Be by Mac Barnett (a warm and cozy book)

Round by Joyce Sidman (a magical celebration of round things)

Egg by Kevin Henkes (another Henkes masterpiece)

A Good Day for a Hat by T. Nat Fuller  (a crowd-pleaser – really funny!)

Motor Miles by John Burningham (Burningham is a picture book master who is sometimes overlooked)

Rain by Sam Usher (a story about a boy and his grandfather that turns a rainy day into magic)

The Way Home in the Night by Akiko Miyakoshi (the perfect way to end the day)

Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima (basically, this is a really cute book – nothing wrong with that!)

Escargot by Dashka Slater (best read in a French accent!)

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall (an inspiring story of courage)

Mother Bruce and Hotel Bruce by Ryan (truly hilarious and witty books)

A Cat Named Swan by Hollie Hobbie (an abandoned kitten finds a home.  A familiar story, beautifully done.)

Priscilla Gorilla by Barbara Bottner (girl obsessed with gorillas. A must-read)

And in election news:

Inly’s lower elementary levels voted on their favorite series of the year.  The finalists, based on circulation, were: Hilo by Judd Winnick, The Adventures of Sophie Mouse by Poppy Green, The Treehouse Books by Andy Griffith, and The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer.

The winner was…..

Friends, Ducklings, and Jabari Jumps!

Leave a comment

You can feel the difference at school.  On some days, the hallways feel unusually quiet because the kids are on a field trip.  I’m starting to see kids taking projects home that have been on display for months, and most tellingly, the library return box is overflowing.  One morning this week, Mary was checking books in and announced: “this one was out for 120 days!”  We are always happy to welcome them back…

The highlight of last week’s book delivery was this one:

It’s wonderful, and perfect for fans of Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson and graphic novels by Raina Telgemeier.  Real Friends is Shannon Hale’s own story of growing up. Collaborating with the illustrator of Hale’s Princess in Black series of beginning chapter books, this graphic novel is for older readers, between the ages of 9 and 80. It’s a recognizable tale for most of us – trying to fit in.  Young Shannon desperately wants close friendships, but goes about it in the wrong ways.  There are moments of brutal honesty. Hale’s graphic memoir reminded me of going to middle school and trying to “be” someone else.  Today, I would think as I walked to school, I will be just like (fill in name of popular girl here).  In retrospect, it’s easy to see what I was doing.  I didn’t know who I was so trying on someone else’s made sense. Reading Hale’s book is funny but kind of painful.

But here’s what I found interesting. When Mary read it, she said that it would be a good reading club selection.  She’s right.  It would be interesting to hear stories of other people’s journeys through those awkward ages and express some compassion for the misfires we all experienced.  Later, talking with a 5th grade student about Real Friends, I heard a different response.  She enjoyed it. I pushed for more.  “Wasn’t it sad when Jenny wouldn’t talk with Shannon?”  The student agreed.  She liked the book and recalled funny episodes, but that was it.  It made me wonder if some distance from those years enhances the appreciation of Hale’s book.  The 5th grade girl is “in it.”  It’s impossible for her to pull the lens back.  I was tempted to recommend that she read it again in ten years!

On Friday, I went on a field trip with Inly’s third grade class.  Our destination: The Robert McCloskey exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts.  The kids have been studying the Caldecott Award and writing and illustrating their own picture books for the past four months, and this was the culmination of their adventure through the land of typeface and medium and gutters and lots of other new terms.  Here are a few pictures….

One of the best new picture books this spring is Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall:

It’s the story of a young boy named Jabari who decides it’s time to jump off the diving board, but when he gets up there and looks down, it’s a different story.  He begins stalling – saying he forgot to stretch and planning a “special jump.” With his father’s encouragement, Jabari is determined to do it and he finally overcomes his fear with a big jump!

Inly’s coach and sports instructor happens to be named Jabari so he kindly agreed to be a guest reader this week.  The kids were psyched to walk in and see Jabari there ready to read!

Teachers: Pair Jabari Jumps with William Steig’s Brave Irene to spark a good conversation about determination and courage.

Two more things…..

  • If you are looking for a fun book to bring along to the lake, the cabin, the beach house, or the front porch, consider this one:

I bought a copy for our school library’s browsing area, and it’s a hit – for kids and teachers!  It’s a “seek-and-find” book, but different than I Spy or Where’s Waldo.  First, it’s just something new.  It’s also extraordinarily clever, kind of eccentric, and beautiful to look at.  It might help a rainy summer day!

  • And, finally, a book project to share.  Some of our students made new covers for classic middle grade novels.  Among the gems was this one:

It’s Saturday and I’m looking forward to attending a conference at Simmons on school libraries and maker spaces today.  Among the workshops is one on diversifying a school library collection.  It should be a  good day!

Happy Reading…

Green Pants and Yellow Sun…

Leave a comment

It’s late Sunday afternoon, and we just got home from celebrating our son’s college graduation.  It was a festive weekend – Elizabeth Warren was the keynote speaker, we spent time in a favorite bookstore, and my son introduced us to an amazing donut shop!

In the spirit of a busy weekend, here are five book notes…..

  • Today’s New York Times Book Review includes the Spring Children’s Book section – 8 pages of ideas, including a review of Nicole Helget’s middle grade novel, The End of the Wild, a novel I reviewed for School Library Journal.  I was especially happy to see a paragraph about a very funny new picture book called Green Pants, written and illustrated by Kenneth Kraegel.  It’s about a boy who wears the same green pants all of the time, but then he’s asked to be in a wedding and wear black pants!
  • Sometimes, as we know from the fidget spinner craze, kids are happily engaged by low-tech activities.  One day last week, I had a group of 4th, 5th, and 6th grade kids in the library and just for fun (and a bit of an experiment) I put three decks of sequencing picture cards on the floor and invited the kids to play with them.  Here’s the result:

  • I’m reading two books right now, but am only half-way through each of them. It’s easy to move between them because they are so dramatically different: Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro is a poetic and thoughtful memoir about marriage and time. It’s about how many people make a life-defining commitment when they are quite young, and over the course of time, people continue to grow and inevitably change.  Shapiro reflects on how marriage accommodates the impact of time. This is my favorite passage so far:

“When chronology is eliminated, when life is shuffled like a tarot deck, it’s hard to keep track. Was that the summer before last? Whose dining room, what candlelight?  I can locate us in time only in one way: by watching our boy growing up.”

  • I’m also reading, The War I Finally Won, the sequel to the Newbery Honor-winning book, The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.  The new book will be published in early October, but a friend who knows of my deep love of the first book loaned me an advanced reading copy of the new one, an act of generosity for which I will be forever grateful.  As soon as I opened the first page and re-joined Ada on the British home front during WWII, I experienced the sweetest kind of reading happiness.Eric Carle’s new book, What’s Your Favorite Color?” is an essential book for children’s libraries and art classes. Carle, along with some famous friends, shares favorite colors – each illustrator get a two page spread to celebrate their favorite color and the results are spectacular.  Not surprisingly, Carles’ favorite color is yellow – he draws wonderful sunshine!  I looked for blue (my favorite color) first and Bryan Collier’s picture of a child with blue balloons is lovely.

A sidenote: the picture cards I like to use are the eeBoo Create and Tell A Story Cards —

Inly’s Summer Reading List is ready to go – I’ll begin posting sections of it here next week….Happy Reading!