Book Shopping in New York – and at the Book Fair

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I was in New York this past weekend and saw the best sign ever at the Strand Book Store:

That was it. I had official permission to buy more books. We went to two favorite NYC stores, the Strand and McNally Jackson, and to be fair – I bought two from each store. Two titles were on my list and two were impulse purchases. The four books I bought are:

Five Days Gone: The Mystery of My Mother’s Disappearance as a Child by Laura Cumming (Cumming is the art critic for the Observer in London and the author of several other books. This book came to my attention after reading Nick Hornby’s glowing words about it in his Believer magazine column. This is an incredible, and incredibly unusual, book about family, secrets,” Hornby writes…the ruinous sexual shame and hypocrisy of the first half of the English twentieth century. It’s one of the best memoirs I have ever read… There is so much about it that moves; there is so much about it that educates. It is, and will remain a favorite, to be re-read one day, to be recommended to anyone who will listen.”  With a review like that, Five Days Gone moves higher up in the “to read” pile.)

Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church by Megan Phelps-Roper (The starred Publishers Weekly review reads, in part, “Phelps-Roper’s intelligence and compassion shine throughout with electric prose … She admirably explicates the worldview of the Westboro Baptist Church while humanizing its members, and recounts a classic coming-of-age story without resorting to cliché or condescending to her former self.”  I also heard part of a Fresh Air interview with Phelps-Roper and wanted to learn more about her journey.)

Stranger by Jorge Ramos (One of my impulse buys, I thought it would be worthwhile to hear what Ramos, a Mexican American journalist, has observed since the 2016 election. I read Stranger on the train back to Boston and was grateful to Ramos for sharing his story and the real data about the contributions immigrants make to our country. It was especially interesting to read about the day Donald Trump had Ramos removed from a press conference in Iowa in 2015.)

The Pursuit of Art: Travels, Encounters, and Revelations by Martin Gayford (I was excited to find this book at McNally Jackson. I had read Rendez-Vous with Art by the same author a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. This one is about the author’s journey to see art – and meet artists.)

One of the many joys of spending time in the Strand are the awesome signs:

I also enjoyed Jacqueline Woodson’s recommendations:

McNally Jackson has a display of books representing each state. Of course, I looked at the books representing Ohio and was not surprised to see a Toni Morrison title. The other “Ohio book” is They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraquib, a book of essays about music and culture.

McNally Jackson also has a wall featuring their bestselling titles since they opened in 2004:

We also walked by a bookstore that was new to us – 192 Books on Tenth Avenue at 21st Street.  A small store, but a nicely curated selection. The joy of this one was in the discovery. I rarely find bookstores that I didn’t know about so it was an especially nice moment.

It was a “fair-like” book weekend in NYC and I returned to school for book fair week!

The best sellers are – not surprisingly – graphic novels and activity books with burning questions like “would you rather eat rotting vegetables or a big cup of dry dirt?”

Last night we had an evening shopping event. It’s the best book fair hour. Lot of families together looking at – and talking about – books.

And happy customers…

A note about the picture at the top of the post. One of our Lower Elementary teachers takes little pumpkins and turns them into seasonal magic!


New Books, a Bookstore, and Book Projects….

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The more discouraging the news gets, the more I find myself seeking books that are an antidote to the headlines. I’m drawn to books with bright colors that promote cooperation and compassion. I want to read about people from other parts of the world, who speak different languages, and whose struggles remind me of what’s truly important. Children’s book authors are doing their part to inform and inspire a new generation. There are new books about caring for the environment, protecting animals, and respecting each other.  Here are five new children’s books that I’m drawn to now:

Home is a Window by Stephanie Ledyard (This is a story about transitions. In this case, it’s about a family leaving one home and starting another – learning that they are “packing” the most important thing – each other.)

The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad (The author is the fencer – the first Muslim American woman in hijab to compete for the United States in the Olympics. In an author’s note at the back of the book she writes: “I wanted to tell this story so that children who look like me could see themselves in a picture book – a story of family, love, and faith.”)

What Is a Refugee? by Elise Gravel (This is a short and accessible introduction to a complex topic. I like it because it answers real questions kids have: What is a refugee? Why do they leave their country?”)

The President Sang Amazing Grace by Zoe Mulford (This is a good book to use as a conversation starter after tragic events. As I wrote that sentence, I felt another wave of: how did we get here? But kids have questions and they need to hear uplifting stories of rising above hate.)

Child of the Dream: A Memoir of 1963 by Sharon Robinson (Robinson’s memoir of growing up as Jackie Robinson’s daughter, is for older readers – I would recommend it to 5th-8th grade students. Robinson talked about her book on NPR.)  Here’s a link:

In my own reading (and buying), I am trying to reach as far as I can to get away from what’s familiar. I recently bought two books precisely because I know very little about the world in which they take place: 10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak, a Turkish novelist, and The Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories – for when I need a quick escape from the national headlines.

I was inspired to buy these books because I was in a bookstore in Norwich, Vermont – one that I had not been to before.  It’s one of those bookstores that makes me tempted to begin looking at real estate, even though I don’t like snow and Vermont gets lots of it!

We were there on a beautiful Saturday morning, and the store was busy with customers looking at books, talking about them, and reading with their children. I’m aware of how much the environment impacts my book shopping. In a store like the Norwich Bookstore, you are in a community of readers and it’s nearly impossible (at least for me) to leave empty handed.

At school, our middle school students just finished reading The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Part of their work was to make a mask representing their “outside” and “inside.”  It’s one of my favorite projects. The task is for the outside of the mask to represent “the way people see you,” while the inside of the masks asks a more challenging question: “how do you see yourself?’ Many of them cover the outside of their masks with signs of their interests, hobbies, and personalities. But they also have more abstract representations of their feelings.

I love them all, but this one with words from books on it, may be on display in the library someday!

Happy Reading!

New Books and Lots of Readers…

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The school year is in full swing!  Books are coming in and going out…..

Kids are reading with teachers – and robots….

and with the sun shining on them….


and outdoors….

Our Lower Elementary students used Hey, Wall by Susan Verde to inspire a project to brighten the corridor. They began with Inly in the center of their “wall on paper” and brainstormed words to describe their classroom and school communities.

One of our eagle eyed students discovered a problem in our Crayon box. I read The Crayon Man, a story about the origins of Crayola, to a group of kids:

When I invited them to take a few crayons from the extra large Crayola box, this student discovered an almond crayon – and we are a nut-free school!

We also decided that whoever suggested a “macaroni and cheese” colored crayon was clearly a genius!

Outside of school, I had the opportunity to visit the Museum of Fine Arts exhibition, Kay Nielsen’s Enchanted Vision, which is on display until January 20.  Nielsen’s illustrations of classic fairy tales are instantly recognizable.  They look like exaggerated dreams – like sets for a high fantasy novel. When I read that Nielsen (1886-1957) was the son of a theater director and an actress, it made perfect sense.  The Danish artist is best known for his illustrations in East of the Sun, West of the Moon which was published in 1914.

Here are my two favorite illustrations from the MFA exhibit.

This one is from The Jupiter Tree:

And, of course, this is from Hansel and Gretel:

I love how the trees frame the house – and the figures at the bottom are so small compared to what’s in front of them, literally and figuratively!

My reading has included lots of genres. I’m reading The Outsiders with our middle school students. Last week I finished reading Sempre Susan, a short memoir by Sigrid Nunez about her friendship with Susan Sontag, and the novel, Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. I’m also reading a new middle grade novel by Jenn Bishop. So much to read, so little time….

Happy Reading!



My Favorite New Picture Books…

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As sorry as I am to see summer end, the transition is made infinitely smoother by the arrival of so many new books. Fall is, in my view, when the best books – and movies – are released.  So while I wait to see Downton Abbey and The Goldfinch on the big screen, here are some of the picture books that stand out – and that may have shiny gold or silver Caldecott stickers on them in mid-January!

Saturday by Oge Mora

This book comes out on October 22, but I was able to see a copy at the Simmons Summer Institute where the illustrator was one of the speakers. Mora collage art is something special.  Her work is vibrant and colorful in a way that makes it stand out on a bookstore or library shelf. Saturday is Mora second picture book, and it more than fulfills the promise of the Caldecott Honor that welcomed Thank You, Omu to the picture book shelves.

Small In the City by Sydney Smith

I first heard about this book on Sydney Smith’s Instagram. He is one of my favorite illustrators, and I started watching for this one months ago. This is a quiet book about a boy who is “small in the city.” He is bundled up and small – compared to the skyscrapers and crosswalks and taxis. You can feel the snow and the “rawness” of the day as you move through this book to its beautiful – and warm – conclusion.

Daniel’s Good Day by Micha Archer

When Daniel Finds a Poem was published a couple of years ago, I fell in love with the young protagonist and his search to understand what poetry is.  Now the same cute little guy is trying to understand what it means when people tell him to “have a good day.”  What he learns, while walking around his diverse and colorful neighborhood, is that the answer depends on who you ask. Of course, the girl with the kite wants a “steady wind,” and the painter hopes for clear skies. On my favorite page, the man at the newsstand tells Daniel that a good day means “busy sidewalks and friendly faces.”  This is a happy book, a book that would contribute to a “good day!”

Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris and Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

This one came out over the summer, but it’s new to the school year so I consider it a fall book! It’s the cover that pulls you toward this one. There are no names on the cover – only a startled looking Bear at the bottom of an oversized title. I know LeUyen Pham’s illustrations primarily from the Princess in Black series, but this is a whole different thing. Bear Came Along begins with a river and a curious bear which can only lead to….an adventure!  First, Bear meets a frog and then turtles and then a beaver, and as the log attracts more animals, they eventually come to a waterfall – and that’s a page you have to see for yourself!

River by Elisha Cooper

This is another book that isn’t on library shelves yet, but I was able to preview it earlier this summer.  Cooper is another illustrator on my list of automatic purchases for our school library. His many books include: the Caldecott Honor book, Big Cat, Little Cat, Magic Thinks Big, and Beach. River is something different. My first thought was that it will be the perfect gift for a thoughtful and outdoor loving child. I also thought of colleagues who are happiest in our outdoor classroom. At the book’s center is a woman traveling along the Hudson River on a canoe. She faces challenges in the form of weather and animals, but at the end arrives home safely and ready to share her story.

I don’t think any of these books will be in one of the Little Libraries sprouting up in neighborhoods across the country very soon, but you never know what treasure you’ll find in them.  One of Inly’s Upper Elementary teachers made a Little Library this summer, and she reports lots of foot traffic!


We’re Back!

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Day 3.  So far, so good. Official library visits begin next week so it’s been relatively quiet in here, but I did check out a copy of Invisible Emmie to a girl named Emmy!  Mary and I have also been getting new books ready to be displayed, deciding what we want to read for the first class visits, helping teachers find materials, and meeting lots of new students. As I was writing this post, there were two second graders looking at a book about dogs and deciding which kind they want. Their decision: a Beagle or a Bernese Mountain Dog!

Here are some of our plans for the year ahead….

Lower Elementary will be focusing on the United States this year so we will read a book associated with a different state each week.  It might be about that state (One Morning in Maine). Or a book written by an author from that state (The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! by Mo Willems from Massachusetts.) There’s lots of flexibility here. We’ll also take a look at the map and learn some fun facts.

For example, Ohio is the only state with a  pennant-shaped flag!

Upper Elementary students will meet an “American of the Week” during each Library class. There will be a mix of familiar names (Abraham Lincoln) and new people for them to learn about. The first important American: Ruth Wakefield, the inventor of the chocolate chip cookie. Of course, to fully appreciate her contribution, there will be cookies.

The following week: Edwin Binney. Do you know what important thing he invented?

The Middle School students have their own small library which is managed on the honor system. If you see a good book on the shelf – take it. When you’re finished, either return it or pass it on to a friend. To introduce some of the good books available, the kids will take a book walk….

They can look at the book covers, leave a recommendation, leave a note that they want to read it, or ask a question. When the sheets are filled out, I’ll post some of their responses.

Last night I read Pumpkinheads, the graphic novel by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks.

It’s the perfect transition-to-fall book. The end of summer made me feel a bit melancholy – mostly because it put us one step closer to winter. Pumpkinheads helped me get on board though. I’m ready for pumpkins and apples and leaves!  It’s beautifully drawn and the teenage romance at the center is genuinely sweet. Definitely one to share with our middle school students.

I also read My Sister the Serial Killer by Nigerian writer, Oyinkan Braithwaite. I remember reading about the novel – mostly because of its memorable title – when it was published in late 2018. But when it was longlisted for this year’s Booker Prize, I decided to read it. Braithwaite’s next book will be at the top of my list. When I first heard the title, I thought maybe it was meant metaphorically, but no. Korede’s younger sister, Ayaloo, is actually a serial killer. At the opening of this dark (but funny) story, Korede is helping Ayaloo to clean up after she has killed the man she is dating. That’s where the metaphor comes in. Korede literally helps Korede clean up after her murders, but she has figuratively been “cleaning up” after her sister since they were children.  If you’re looking for a fast – but super smart – book to read, check it out.

On a completely unrelated to anything note, Mary and I often enjoy looking at the book – under the book jacket. They are often beautiful, occasionally add something fun to the story, or are just well designed.

Today Mary removed the cover of Brendan Wenzel’s new picture book, A Stone Sat Still and this is what we saw:

It shimmers! This picture does not capture it well at all, but it may encourage you to take a look under the cover of Wenzel’s quiet book about perspective.

Happy Reading – and Happy New School Year!




Notes from the End of Summer


It’s two days before I go back to school which makes me simultaneously happy and also a bit melancholy about the end of summer. It’s that feeling that you’re about to enter a very busy – but wonderful – tunnel and, although there are a few breaks in there, it will take awhile to emerge!

Here’s a list of things I’ve enjoyed over the past few weeks – and a note about the blog:

– An article from this past Sunday’s New York Times about libraries as tourist attractions is really good. I always try to visit libraries when we are traveling. They are portals to the community and many of the them are just beautiful places to visit:

– Speaking of visiting libraries, we were in Maine a couple of weeks ago, and I was in a “picture book-perfect” library in Southwest Harbor, near Acadia. The picture at the top of this post is the stained glass panel over the central desk.

We also visited a few bookstores in Maine, including Bella Books in Belfast. They win the “cozy vibe” award:

It’s always fun to see a sign like this in front of a bookstore:

– I just finished reading The Spaces Between Us by Stacia Tolman.

It’s a young adult novel that caught my eye during a visit to New Hampshire where the author lives. The front cover blurb, from Kirkus’ starred review, calls it a “girl-centered Catcher in the Rye for the 21st century,” a perfect description of this story of two high school seniors trying to figure out what’s next.  This is a thoughtful book about two young women who feel trapped in their small town, but it is truly a “young adult” novel – the concerns are those of young people dealing with class, freedom, and big questions about their lives and relationships. I would recommend The Spaces Between Us for readers ages 15 and over.

– I also read The Revolution of the Moon by the Italian writer, Andrea Camilleri. This was a total impulse buy and read – not on my list of summer (or any other season). The author was familiar to me because of his popular mystery series about Inspector Montalbano, and Camilleri, was more “top of mind” because of his death last month. But truthfully, it was the cover that inspired my purchase:

I kind of enjoyed the abrupt decision to read a book I knew nothing about. The back cover told me that the novel is based on a true story about a Dona Eleonora who ruled Sicily for 27 days in 1677 before she was recalled to Spain. I loved it. drama in the Holy Royal Council, a plan to stage a coup, and some unpleasant reminders of how men thought of women during the 1600s (echoes of which exist today).

And one final note –

WordPress reports that this is my 1000th post.  Crazy, but I trust the WordPress math skills. So off we go: a new school year, new books, new students, and new bookstores to visit as we head toward 2000 posts!

Happy Reading!

MacDowell Medal Day….


Thanks to the good planning of a friend, I was able to attend a wonderful ceremony celebrating this year’s recipient of the MacDowell Medal, an annual award given to an artist who has “made an outstanding contribution to our culture.” Among the past winners are Leonard Bernstein, I.M. Pei, Toni Morrison, and Merce Cunningham. This year’s recipient is Charles Gaines, a conceptual artist who had not heard of before this past Sunday, but I was happy to learn about this interesting and influential person.

The award is a program of the MacDowell Colony, an artists’ colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. I’ve read books in which characters spend time in places like MacDowell or Yadoo in Saratoga. The colony provides a quiet cottage where creative people can have time and a beautiful space to work without the distractions of everyday life. I remember a novel (but not the title!) where the character is working in one of these studios and lunch magically appears on their porch. On Sunday, as soon as I could, I asked one of the artists if that actually happens – and it does!

One of the highlights of the day was meeting Sigrid Nunez, one of this year’s MacDowell’s Fellows and the author of the 2018 National Book Award-winning novel, The Friend.  My friends and I walked into her studio first, and I was kind of starstruck when I saw Nunez standing in a little room talking with her visitors.

The studios look like fairy tale illustrations that have come to life:

And if you are visiting the cottage of a visual artist, you might see something like this:

Each studio has a porch that looks like a setting from another time. It felt like if I sat down in this chair for a little while, it may be possible to forget (for a few minutes) all of the horrible news from the past few weeks….

There is no internet access inside the studios. But the beautiful library is open 24 hours a day, and so if the inspiration hits you at 2:00 in the morning, you can go online while looking out the glass windows into the woods:

Dinner is served each evening in the main house, so the Fellows can walk up wooded paths to the main house for dinner…

One of the fun things to do on MacDowell Medal Day is to read the “tombstone” in each studio. This is a wooden plaque on which every artist who has stayed in that cottage writes their name and the year they were at MacDowell.  Many of the names are obscure, but there was at least one name on each tombstone that I recognized. On this one, there are two names I recognized!

One of the most striking things about MacDowell is the range of ages and disciplines of the residents. Over the course of a few hours, we met writers and poets, architects and visual artists. There must be interesting conversations at dinner…

After leaving Peterborough, we drove through a few other nearby towns, including Harrisville where there is one of the sweetest public libraries I’ve ever seen:

It was a wonderful and inspiring day – and it made me wish MacDowell offered a Fellowship for someone who would like to sit on the porch and read all summer!