Reading on a Snowy Saturday….

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It’s Saturday and snowing. We haven’t had a particularly snowy winter, but now that it’s March, winter seems to be reminding us not to get too excited about spring just yet.  I spent the morning finishing a new “upper middle grade novel” called Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams.

Upper middle grade is an evolving subcategory of children’s books. There are not defined rules for what makes a middle grade novel an upper middle grade novel, but it’s an important distinction. The protagonists of middle grade novels are usually between 9 and 11 years old. Upper middle grade novels feature characters who are 12 or 13.  Upper middle grade also addresses topics that are typical of young adult novels: sexuality, war, identity, and more complicated family issues.

Genesis Begins Again fits squarely in the upper middle grade category. At the center of the novel is Genesis, a thirteen-year-old African American girl who is embarrassed by her dark skin.  She desperately wants to look like her light-skinned mother. Instead, she looks like her father, who is unreliable and often drunk. Genesis also struggles at school, desperate to make friends while carrying the pain of her family’s precarious economic situation and her increasingly painful (for her and the reader) efforts to lighten her skin. Her grandmother does not help. She carries a deep and misguided belief that “”marrying up” means to marry someone with lighter skin.

Genesis has loving people in her corner though: her supportive mother, new friends, and a chorus teacher who recognizes Genesis’ gifts and encourages her to use her voice. It’s a moving and powerful book, one that I’ll encourage some of our students to read over the summer.

Before that, I read a book opposite in every way from Genesis Begins AgainJeeves and the King of Clubs by Ben Schott.  Here’s how I decided to read a new novel based on the classic stories by P.G. Wodehouse:

While I was on medical leave, I read alot. I wrote about most of those books in my last blog post. When I finished Belonging, the graphic memoir by a woman uncovering her family’s WWII story, I felt exhausted. All of the books were wonderful and interesting in their own way, but between the books and the real life daily news, I was ready for something brighter. I looked back at my list and realized that my reading had addressed: the Holocaust (Belonging), race and identity (Inventing Victoria), Brexit (Middle England), a woman who feels alienated from society (Convenience Store Woman), WWII (Someday We Will Fly) and an intelligent but complex story about the lives of two young women in Dublin (Conversations With Friends).  I started thinking a palate cleanser was in order – too many strong flavors!  And just in time, I read a wonderful review of Ben Schott’s “homage” to Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster and his valet, Jeeves, Jeeves and the King of Clubs.

It was perfect. The pages were almost fizzy, and something on every page (usually incredibly clever wordplay) made me laugh out loud. The plot is entertaining: taxi chases, a dinner that goes wrong, lots of bubbly at various clubs, and, of course, Jeeves reliably being two steps ahead of everyone.

Time to start a new book, but here are two pictures from this past week in the library….

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Best Children’s Books of 2018

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It was a pleasure to spend Sunday afternoon talking about the best children’s books of the year with Nancy Perry, the children’s librarian at the Norwell Public Library, during our annual program at the James Library. The rain made it a perfect day to be in a cozy room looking at books. Below is an abbreviated list of the books we talked about:

Picture Books

Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall (hands down the most beautiful picture book of the year!)

Stories of the Night by Kitty Crowther

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers and Genevieve Godbout (this would be a good gift to pair with movie tickets to see Mary Poppins Returns!)

The Elephant by Jenni Desmond

Night Job by Karen Hesse (my favorite picture book of the year – a warm and beautiful story about a father and son)

Kitten and the Night Watchman by John Sullivan

Middle Grade

Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon

Love to Everyone by Hilary McKay

Inkling by Kenneth Oppel

My Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder by Nie Jun (four sweet graphic adventures about a little girl and her grandfather)

Gift Books

Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid

Lovely Beasts by Kate Gardner

Everything & Everywhere by Marc Martin

A History of Pictures by David Hockney and Martin Gayford

Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year edited by Fiona Waters

One book on our list came to life when Sophie Blackall, the author and illustrator of Hello Lighthouse, visited  Inly this past Friday!

And the best picture of the week…..a student waiting for her book to be signed!

Happy Reading!

New Books, a City of Dreams, and Beliefs….

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I’m not proud of this, but sometimes I select new school library books to read the same way I did when I was in 6th grade at the Xenia, Ohio public library – a realistic fiction novel about a girl facing some kind of challenge in her family life. Those are the books I’m drawn to. I order a wide variety of books for our students, but I don’t always read the “adventure story” or the “dragon fantasy.” But when Susan Hood’s new novel, Lifeboat 12, came in, I decided it was time to read something different to recommend to students.

It was a good choice. Lifeboat 12 is the exciting – and true – story of a British boat carrying young evacuees during WWII, that is torpedoed by a German ship. Told from the point of view of thirteen-year-old boy named Ken, who leaves war-torn England for Canada, Hood’s novel in verse captures the excitement of the beginning of their passage on the City of Benares and the terror of the eight days Ken and some of his fellow passengers spent on a lifeboat with a limited supply of food and water. The fact that Ken’s adventure is based on his experiences will make this exciting novel more appealing to reluctant readers and fans of historical fiction.

Next, I read the new novel, Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya. Marcus is a big boy – literally. He towers over his classmates and walks younger students home from school to protect them from bullies (for a small fee!). Marcus lives with his mom and younger brother, and although he was born in Puerto Rico, Marcus has not been there since he was two-years-old. After Marcus gets into some trouble at school, his mom decides to take him and his brother, who has Down syndrome, to Puerto Rico where, Marcus hopes, he will be able to reconnect with his father. This novel has a big heart. I loved Marcus from the first page.

Cartaya’s novel also made me want to try a sandwich called a Jibarito: “a fried plantain sandwich with garlic mayonnaise, tomato, onions…” In fact, there are many references to Puerto Rican culture in this story about a boy trying to make sense of his family’s history.

 

A City of Dreams

When my husband and I were in New York a few weeks ago, one of our priorities was to see the Bodys Isek Kingelez exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. Kingelez was a Congolese sculptor who imagined and built colorful and whimsical cities. When looking at his sculptures, you can’t help but imagine what it would be like to live in Kingelez’s utopian fantasy land.

This I Believe

Inly’s middle school students are writing their annual This I Believe essays. Based on Edward R. Murrow’s 1950s radio show and the 2005 NPR revival, the goal is to encourage kids to think about what they believe and to respect the beliefs of others. The students are writing their own personal narratives around a statement of belief. To get the process started, we asked them to start brainstorming beliefs about simple things: pizza or burgers, Maine or the Cape. Here are pictures of the kids beginning the process:

 

 

Lastly, I was in Newport last week and visited Chateau Sur Mer, the first of the Newport mansions to be built in 1852. During our tour, these tiles around the fireplace caught my eye:

It turns out they have a children’s book connection. The tiles were designed by Walter Crane, the English artist best known for his illustrations in children’s nursery books.

The Library is getting busier every day. These boys look like they are trying to prevent the “Wild Thing” from participating in their conversation about Chris Van Dusen’s picture books:

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

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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.

TEN FOR TODDLERS

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

Smile
by Raina Telgemeier

Real Friends
by Shannon Hale

Brave
by Svetlana Chmakova

All’s Faire in Middle School
by Victoria Jamieson

Ghostopolis
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….

 

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl and The Button War

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Middle grade novels are wonderful, but I’ve had a steady diet of them for the past six weeks, and I’m looking forward to a summer filled with all of the “adult books” that have been piling up on my nightstand (and on the floor around it). I’m preparing to talk to kids about their summer reading selections and selecting novels for Buttonwood’s summer book club so my head is filled with eleven and twelve-year-olds having adventures, learning about their families, exploring new places, discovering social justice issues, and navigating friendships. Although many of them are excellent, there’s one that stands out: The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty. 

“Lightning Girl” is twelve-year-old Lucy Callahan who was struck by lightning when she was eight. The resulting brain damage results in acquired savant syndrome which, as I learned, can happen when someone has brain trauma and suddenly has new abilities. In Lucy’s case, she becomes a math genius. It’s kind of incredible actually. She recites pi to the 314th decimal and can solve any equation on the spot. Of course, she can pass middle school and begin taking college classes, but her grandmother, with whom Lucy lives, makes a condition before Lucy leapfrogs over middle school. She wants her granddaughter to: try middle school for one year, make a new friend, and try a new activity. Of course, Lucy figures out that not everything is as neatly resolved as a math problem, but more powerful than the “lesson” of the book is Lucy’s voice, distinctive and genuine. I liked her – and the supporting cast of characters – right away, and I didn’t want to leave Lucy when the book was over.

Completely different, but equally powerful, is The Button War by Avi. I reviewed this one for School Library Journal, and here’s an excerpt of my review:

“Avi’s intense and cautionary novel is a psychological thriller set in a hardscrabble Polish village during World War I. Patryk, the 12-year-old narrator, is one of a group of boys who meet nightly at the village water pump to share news and plan adventures, most of which are harmless dares. But on the night the Germans drop a bomb on the local schoolhouse, their lives are changed forever. A troubled boy named Jurek, whose parents died years earlier and who lives with his older sister, challenges his friends to steal the shiniest and most intricately designed military button. The winner, according to Jurek, will be the king. The king of what is unimportant to Jurek, a boy anxious to have control over something in his life….Avi has written a compelling and tautly constructed book that is a portal to grappling with the complexity of the human instinct to compete.”

A third grade student brought this to the Library this week. She wrote a message in binary code, and fortunately she included the letters on the side. The message which you can read in whichever language you choose, reads: I am reading a really good book.

Two more pictures to share….

First, one of Inly’s Children’s House teachers sent this to me after recess one day last week:

Sometimes I read a picture book to the middle school students at the beginning of class. It’s a quiet way for everyone to settle. Last week one of the 8th grade students asked if she could read:

The book she’s reading is Florette by Anna Walker – a story about blooming where you are planted.

Happy Reading – and Planting!