Summer Days….

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I’m not in a regular blogging routine during these mid-summer days, but here are some things that have caught my eye over the past few weeks…

Barack Obama’s summer reading list. I read the list and felt overwhelmed by how much I miss having a president who reads. Obama’s list has been making the rounds, but in case you missed it:

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
“A true classic of world literature, this novel paints a picture of traditional society wrestling with the arrival of foreign influence, from Christian missionaries to British colonialism. A masterpiece that has inspired generations of writers in Nigeria, across Africa, and around the world.”

A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
“A chronicle of the events leading up to Kenya’s independence and a compelling story of how the transformative events of history weigh on individual lives and relationships.”

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
“Mandela’s life was one of the epic stories of the 20th century. This definitive memoir traces the arc of his life from a small village to his years as a revolutionary to his long imprisonment and ultimately his ascension to unifying president, leader, and global icon. Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand history—and then go out and change it.”

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“From one of the world’s great contemporary writers comes the story of two Nigerians making their way in the U.S. and the U.K., raising universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity and a home.”

The Return by Hisham Matar
“A beautifully written memoir that skillfully balances a graceful guide through Libya’s recent history with the author’s dogged quest to find his father who disappeared in Gaddafi’s prisons.”

The World as It Is by Ben Rhodes
“It’s true, Ben does not have African blood running through his veins. But few others so closely see the world through my eyes like he can. Ben’s one of the few who’ve been with me since that first presidential campaign. His memoir is one of the smartest reflections I’ve seen as to how we approached foreign policy and one of the most compelling stories I’ve seen about what it’s actually like to serve the American people for eight years in the White House.”

I’ve been finding book-related scenes during my walks…

Walking in Scituate, I came to the spot Where the Sidewalk Ends….

And I saw a tree that made me think of Boo Radley leaving gifts for Jem and Scout:

I follow lots of illustrators and museums on Instagram. It’s fun knowing that when I have a few minutes waiting in a line or for a friend at Starbucks, there is a world of art and illustration one click away. One of my favorites is a London-based artist, Steve Scott. With his permission, here’s my favorite of his illustrations:

I’ve also been reading, but my “official reading schedule” was scrapped by late June. Something grabs my attention, and off I go…

The last two books I’ve read are a good example of my scattered summer mind.

Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston is the recently published book based on Hurston’s conversations with Cudjo Lewis, who was brought to America on the last slave ship. Hurston conducted her interviews in Alabama in 1931. “Of all the millions transported from Africa to the Americas, only one man is left,” Hurston writes. The only man on earth who has in his heart the memory of his African home; the horrors of a slave raid; the barracoon; the Lenten tones of slavery; and who has 67 years of freedom in a foreign land behind him.” Lewis was enslaved for five years before being freed.

It’s a hard book to read for obvious reasons. The book is primarily written as Lewis’s monologue, with a few clarifications by Hurston. He spends much of his time talking about his life in Africa before he was captured in 1859 – and then there are the details of the passage, his years as an enslaved man, and finally learning of his freedom from a Union soldier. Honestly, I found it painful to read, but “listening” to a first hand account of the horrors of slavery made the experience more real than any novel I’ve read. There were small things I had not considered. For example, in most novels, the Civil War ends and there is some kind of resolution of how the enslaved people find out and what they do next. For Cudjo Lewis, however, the War was something he had heard rumors about, but he knew very little of the specifics. When a Union soldier tells him he’s free, Lewis says: “We glad we free, but den, you understand me, we cain stay wid de folks who own us no mo. Derefo’ where we goin’ live, we doan know.”  That’s real. What do I do right now?

On a far lighter note and perhaps a deliberate “about face,” I read Beck Dorey-Stein’s memoir, From the Corner of the Oval. Dorey-Stein spent five years working as a stenographer in the Obama White House. The stenographers, I learned, are responsible for recording every public word the president says. That means they travel on Air Force One, transcribe press conferences, and stand in the “corner of the Oval.” Dorey-Stein’s book is not about policy or even politics. It’s the anecdotal account of a young woman working in the White House and the impact her demanding job has on her personal life. Among Dorey-Stein’s many entertaining stories, there are also fun glimpses of life in the West Wing.

I’ve got a few books in mind for my next one, but then again…..

Happy Reading!







Scenes From London…Part Two


After ten days in London, I had so many book-related items to share that I divided them into two posts. Last week, I wrote about the bookstores we visited. This week – everything else, including the little guy in the picture above. We saw him in a lovely garden on a sunny and warm day, but given how tightly he’s holding his jacket, he may have been cold!

One of my favorite things to do in any foreign bookshop is to look at the covers of familiar books. Sometimes, I like a different cover so much that I’m tempted to buy a book I already own. That’s what happened with Jane Eyre!  Here are a few especially wonderful ones from this trip:

We also bumped into one of England’s most beloved children’s book characters – the Gruffalo!  The famous monster is literally hiding in the deep woods of Westonbirt, the National Arboretum.  On our way to the Arborteum, which is 90 miles outside of London, I heard someone say that there is a wooden sculpture of the Gruffalo so, naturally, finding him became my top priority. Surprisingly, there are no signs leading you to the Gruffalo. We wandered around, expecting the Gruffalo to pop out along the way, but we finally took the necessary step of asking someone in the Arboretum’s gift shop. The Gruffalo, along with a few other characters from the classic picture book, are indeed in the dark woods. All of the sudden, you are face to face with this:

As a side note, the Arboretum is not too far away from the most picturesque Starbucks I’ve ever seen!

Another of Britain’s beloved characters is easier to find.  Each time we walked into Paddington Railway Station, we saw this:

My favorite Paddington, however, is this one:

This Paddington lives in the window of the British Railway’s Lost Property Office. It made me so happy to see the obvious commitment of the Lost Property Office staff to caring for their plush friend. They have even provided him with marmalade!

These last few pictures aren’t book-related, but they are too interesting not to share.

The first one is a wig shop that we passed while taking a fascinating tour of the British Inns of Court. Our tour guide explained that Ede & Ravenscroft is one of the oldest tailors in London, and that they make and sell legal wigs and gowns. It was hard to get a good picture because of the glare, but I definitely felt like I was watching a BBC drama!

I loved these two pieces in Southwark Cathedral. The two images face one another so you walk “through them.”

And this was fun to see:

At night, after a long day of sightseeing and Paddington-spotting, I read. Maybe it was the time change or the days that made my head spin with so many new things to think about, but I read alot during the trip. It was not my standard reading diet which was part of the joy of reading – new things to think about and learn.

Montaigne by Stefan Zweig (I was drawn to this short biography by the combination of author and subject. It is impossible to read this book without thinking about today’s political climate. Zweig writes about Montaigne’s commitment to tolerance and the dangers of factions. Zweig integrates his own story, especially his fears caused by the heightened rhetoric around WWII, and of course, I heard echoes of today’s fear-based rhetoric).

Where We Lived by Henry Allen (a series of short essays about the meaning of home by Henry Allen, the former culture critic – and Pulitzer Prize winner – for The Washington Post)

Murder in Amsterdam: Liberal Europe, Islam, and the Limits of Tolerance by Ian Buruma (Walking around London, you can’t help but notice the incredible diversity of the city, and with so much news about immigration policy in both the U.S. and Europe, I sought out something to read that would help me understand one of the most complicated issues of this era. Using the 2004 murder of Dutch filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, Buruma interviews many people involved with the issue and analyzes what happens when cultural values come into conflict.)

Up at the Villa by Somerset Maugham (This is the first book I’ve read by Maugham, and it won’t be my last. This 1941 novella includes a scene that makes me think Julian Fellowes must have read this before writing Downton Abbey!)

House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery by Liz Rosenberg  (I started this biography before our trip and finished it when we returned. I began reading this book because I knew so little about the author of Anne of Green Gables. The extent of my knowledge was L.M. Montgomery lived on Prince Edward Island. Her life was actually quite troubled. Rosenberg is honest about Montgomery’s complex personal life, but captures her joys equally well.)

Finally, a doorway that we saw during a tour. It is beautiful.

Happy Travels and Happy Reading….


Book Shopping in London….

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London is a paradise for readers and lovers of bookstores. Walking through central London, we seemed to walk by (and into) a bookstore every few blocks. I know London is a much larger city than Boston, but books seem to have a more central place in London’s culture. For example, there are ads promoting books in Tube stations, this summer’s Great Western Railway’s advertising campaign is based on The Famous Five, a classic children’s book series by Enid Blyton, and the bookstores are focused on books. By comparison, my local Barnes and Noble feels more like a pop culture toy store than a bookstore.

We spent most of our time in four bookstores: Daunt Books, Foyles, Hatchards, and Waterstones.

My favorite sign was in Foyles:

Foyles has the widest range of titles of any of the stores we visited. This is the store directory which made me feel a little rattled:

Not knowing if I’d ever again be in a store with a dentistry section, I decided to start there. After looking at a few books about dental diseases, I quickly moved on!

Hatchards has a wonderful window featuring children’s favorites, including The Famous Five (look at the bottom shelf):

In Hatchards, this section title struck me as more necessary than ever.

Daunt is a beautiful store, the kind of store you want to spend the night in to have all to yourself. The picture below is a wonderful invitation to explore the world:


Of course, there were other stores.

We sought this one out, a store I had read about in the New York Times, and then a friend who lives in London recommended it as well. Word on the Water sells used books and, while we didn’t buy anything, it is a very unique setting.

Sitting outside on a bench outside the boat, I caught this sweet scene:

Octavia’s Bookshop is in a village in the Cotswolds. It was closed, but a sign near the door reads: 2013 Best Children’s Independent Bookshop in The Bookseller Industry Awards. I was tempted to “test” their alarm system, but my husband convinced me that we did not want to start an international incident.

After all of our bookstore visits, we came home with a heavier suitcase. Between the two of us, we gave 20 books a new home in Scituate. Here’s my stack, an eclectic mix of new and old. And yes, there is a short biography of King George VI. Being in London does that to a person – I was getting curious about the Queen’s father!

I already have a copy of Jane Eyre, but could not resist this beautiful cover:

Of course, I also read a lot during our trip – long plane rides and evenings while my husband watched the World Cup. I’ll write about those – and other book related adventures from our trip – in my next post!




Summer Reading Photo Edition

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Summer Reading season has officially begun, and my “to be read” pile is ready.

I’ve already finished my first novel of the summer reading sprint – There There by Tommy Orange.

Orange’s highly praised novel follows the lives of twelve “Urban Indians” living in Oakland, California. All of the characters are on their way to a powwow, and their lives intersect and ultimately collide at the event. It is a powerful and memorable novel. I’ve read many glowing reviews of Orange’s novel, but these lines from the Kirkus starred review capture it best:

“What Orange is saying is that, like all people, Native Americans don’t share a single identity; theirs is a multifaceted landscape, made more so by the sins, the weight, of history. That some of these sins belong to the characters alone should go without saying, a point Orange makes explicit in the novel’s stunning, brutal denouement. “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them,” James Baldwin wrote in a line Orange borrows as an epigraph to one of the book’s sections; this is the inescapable fate of every individual here. In this vivid and moving book, Orange articulates the challenges and complexities not only of Native Americans, but also of America itself.”

Next up – perhaps because it has the most beautiful cover (by Julie Morstad) of every book on my list!

Today I am sharing photos – of an Instagram post, a letter, and a student…

Although I’ve never been on Facebook, I’ve become a fan of Instagram. What has been most surprising is how much I’ve come to rely on it in my professional life. Because publishers and authors use Instagram to promote new books, author events, and cover reveals, Instagram has become a way to follow what’s happening. Among the bookstores and other book-centered accounts, I also follow illustrators and artists. One of my favorites is a London-based illustrator, Steve Scott.  With his permission, I’m sharing my favorite of his posts:

At the end of the school year, I receive many sweet notes from students, all of which I treasure. This is one I received this year:

It’s awesome that she thinks the books are mine, and I’m letting her look at them, but I may need to clarify that the books are actually hers, and I am the lucky caretaker. It’s also nice that we are dressed alike in her picture!

Finally, a picture that sums up the joy of summer time reading.  I’m taking a couple of weeks off, but I’ll be on a book adventure so I’ll have lots to share with you in early July!  Until then, happy reading…

Summer Reading Time!

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Summer Break has begun! Inly’s last day was on Friday, and the kids are making plans for camps, sports, going to the beach, and summer reading.  They have their official summer reading lists which include fiction and nonfiction, newly published novels, childhood classics, biographies, graphic novels, and books about sports, science, and animals. Sometimes the kids will ask why they need a reading list if they are planning to read anyway: a fair question. I tell them that the list might introduce them to books they don’t already know about. Of course, large bookstores will promote bestsellers, but many excellent children’s books are not given prominent placement. We give our students a long list in the hope that everyone will find something they will enjoy reading over the summer. The list should not be burdensome, but rather a gateway to new stories, authors, and ideas.

Although the list is too long for a blog post, I have selected new favorites from each category to share here. Along the way are pictures of Inly students which were taken during our annual “Drop Everything and Read” hour last week.

Picture Books

My Pet Wants a Pet by Elise Broach (A fun read-aloud a boy who gets a new puppy – and then his puppy wants his own pet.)

Floaty by John Himmelman (Grouchy Mr. Raisin finds a basket on his front doorstep – and finds a dog that can’t stay on the ground!)

The Little Red Fort by Brenda Maier (a fun tribute to creative young problem solvers)

Sun by Sam Usher (the third title in Usher’s Seasons with Grandad series)

New Readers

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez

Here’s a student review of Stella Diaz:

Stella Diaz is a funny and lighthearted chapter book, that you will read again and again. It is a heartwarming and lovable book, that is a great summer read!”

Polly Diamond and the Magic Book by Alice Kuipers

Big Foot and Little Foot by Ellen Potter

Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant

Middle Grade Novels

The Miscalculations of Lighting Girl by Stacy McAnulty

Breakout by Kate Messner

Stanley Will Probably Be Fine by Sally Pla

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Happy Summer!



Two New Books and Ten Toddler Picks


I have two new books to recommend this week….

Blue Rider is a picture book by Geraldo Valerio. This is a wordless story, told in double page spreads beginning with an opening cityscape of blue and tan buildings. On the following page, a girl is looking out from one of those buildings, but she blends so seamlessly into the picture that you may not see her at first. When she steps outside, though, she becomes “bluer.” The people on the sidewalk, many of whom are looking down at their phones or wearing headphones, remain muted, but as you move further into the story, the blues begin to pop. The girl finds a blue book on the sidewalk, and like Max’s bedroom window in Where the Wild Things Are, the book is a portal to an unfamiliar and dazzling world. The pages of her new book literally explode into color – into pictures that start as what are clearly horses and buildings. But as you turn the pages, the images are deconstructed – they seem to fly apart. The more I look at it, the more magical it becomes. It’s definitely a book that belongs in every art teacher’s classroom.

I also read Front Desk by Kelly Yang this week. The middle grade novel is collecting starred reviews so it moved to the top of my list – a good move. Yang’s book, based on her own childhood experience, is wonderful and timely. Mia Tang is a ten-year-old who immigrated from China with her parents, the managers of the Calavista Motel in California. Since Mia’s parents are busy with cleaning rooms and fixing broken machinery, Mia has sort of taken over the front desk responsibilities – greeting guests and talking to the hotel’s long-term regulars who quickly become friends. From there and from her desk at school, she witnesses racism, cruelty, and straight-out lies, that hurt her and her financially struggling parents. Mia is a hard-working, honest, and determined young girl who begins to discover the power of her voice – and her pen. I strongly recommend Yang’s novel to kids between the ages of 9 and 12.

As I was working on this summer’s school reading list, it occurred to me that I’ve never included a dedicated list for of new books for our toddler community. That needed to change – and this year’s school-wide list begins with a list of books perfect for sharing with a toddler.


Good Day For a Hat by T. Nat Fuller

This is the “official” Inly toddler book of summer. Get your sun hat and enjoy the story of a bear who can’t figure out which hat to wear!


Grains of Sand by Sibylle Delacroix

After a day at the beach, a little girl and her brother imagine what would happen if they planted sand.

Ducks Away! by Mem Fox

A counting book featuring adorable ducks who keep falling into the river. Of course, they are all reunited with their mother.

The Tiptoeing Tiger by Philippa Leathers

Little Tiger desperately wants to scare someone, so he tiptoes through the forest….

Baby Bear’s Book of Tiny Tales by David McPhail

Four short – and very sweet – stories about a little bear who finds things, including a book, a flower, a baby bird, and a friend.

Pignic by Matt Phelan

Bring this story about a family of pigs having a picnic to your own picnic!

New Shoes by Chris Raschka

After a hole is found in a young child’s sneaker, it’s time for a shoe shopping adventure.

Hello Hello by Brendan Wenzel

A colorful celebration of animals, shapes, and colors

Bus! Stop! by James Yang

After a young boy misses his bus, he watches all kind of vehicles go by, including a covered wagon and a boat.

Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake

A little boy literally gets stuck in his shirt, but he wants to figure it out by himself. A laugh out loud story!

Happy Reading!

The Top Ten Inly Library Books of 2017-2018…..

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All of the signs of the end of the school year are there: field trips, progress reports, plans for field day, and in my corner of the school: collecting library books and lots of shelving!  It’s fun to look at the stats and see who checked out the most books, who has the dubious distinction of returning the most overdue book (checked out in October!), and of course, which books circulated the most.

Here are the most popular Inly books of the past school year – listed in order from “youngest to oldest.”

The Elephant and Piggie series
by Mo Willems

Press Start: the Super Rabbit Boy series
by Thomas Flintham

The Dog Man series
by Dav Pilkey

Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt
by Ben Claton

by Raina Telgemeier

Real Friends
by Shannon Hale

by Svetlana Chmakova

All’s Faire in Middle School
by Victoria Jamieson

by Doug TenNapel

Black Panther: The Young Prince
by Ronald L. Smith

In other news….

I read Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed last week and can understand all of the buzz – and starred reviews- for this middle grade novel. It’s the story of Amal, a young Pakistani girl who lives in a small village with her parents and four younger sisters. Amal loves school and hopes to become a teacher someday, but her responsibilities at home prevent her from attending school regularly. One day, tired from working so hard, she mistakenly insults the son of the wealthiest man in town and is forced into indentured service. When Amal arrives at the Khan estate and sees their opulent lifestyle, it is eye-opening. Living with the Khans gives Amal a perspective on gender and class differences – and access to their personal library.

There are so many ways teachers could use Saeed’s novel in class discussion. Pair it with learning about Malala Yousafzai or with Andrea Davis Pinkney’s novel, The Red Pencil. Both novels capture the power of education to empower young women.

And finally….

We have a new friend in our backyard. She is made of marble and, before moving to Scituate, she stood reading her marble book on someone’s lawn in Pennsylvania. She was there for a long time – since the early 1900s. I love her already. Just looking at her makes me wonder about everything she’s seen. I also think she looks like a statue Mary Lennox would find behind the locked garden door in The Secret Garden….