Notes From My Deck….

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I’m taking advantage of this bright and sunny Sunday by spending every possible minute on our deck.  I’ve gathered the food and books I’ll need and have set up camp – Frederick-style!  Just as Frederick collects colors for the grey months ahead, I’m holding on to the warm sun and the full green trees to call up a few months from now – when our deck is shut tight against the cold.  I’m also mindful of how this brilliant day is at odds with what is happening in Florida right now, and I’m keeping a “weather ear” on NPR for updates.  Like so much of the news today, it feels a bit overwhelming.

A few scattered book notes to share today….

Last week I finished reading No One Is Coming To Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts, and although I read many good books this summer, this is the one that stands out.  Watts’ book has received glowing reviews, and it’s the inaugural selection of Book Club Central, an American Library Association program. No One Is Coming To Save Us is loosely based on The Great Gatsby, but takes place in an African American community in present day North Carolina where the furniture factories have been boarded up leaving many people feeling anxious and depressed. The story’s central characters, Sylvia, her daughter Ava, and JJ (the Gatsby character) are all searching for something and wondering how they arrived at this point in their lives.  Ava is in a bad marriage and desperately wants a baby. JJ builds a mountain top house and dreams of Ava returning to him. And Sylvia, the novel’s most memorable character, is mourning her dead son and trying to understand that the life she made for herself is not the one she expected.  The writing is beautiful, poignant and moving:

“The sting of not having or not having enough bores a pain black hole that sucks all the other of life’s injuries into one sharp stinging gap that you don’t need a scientist to remind you may be bottomless…..That beautiful house is just a street away, but as out of reach as the moon. But that house-pain is just one lack, and everybody knows one pain is far better than a hundred. That is the mercy. That is the relief – the ache of one singular pain.”

I recently reviewed Patina by Jason Reynolds for School Library Journal. Here is an excerpt from my starred review:

“Twelve-year-old Patina Jones not only loves to run, she needs to run—and win. She’s a gifted athlete, and since the death of her father and her mother’s life-altering health problems, Patty’s track club has become the focal point of her life. Running helps her to navigate the changes she and her younger sister, Maddy, are experiencing. They have left their urban neighborhood to live in a different part of the city with their uncle Tony (who is black like Patty and Maddy) and their aunt Emily (who is white) and attend a new school, Chester Academy. In this follow-up to Ghost, the award-winning author continues to display his mastery of voice…….Patty’s story is an invitation to grapple with the need to belong, socioeconomic status, and the dangers of jumping to conclusions. This “second leg” of Reynolds’s series is as satisfying as its predecessor and a winning story on its own.”

As you may have read, the farm where E.B. White lived and wrote Charlotte’s Web is for sale. At $3.7 million, it’s a bit out of my price range, but I’m hopeful the new owners will turn it into a place where the public can visit to channel Charlotte, Wilbur, and Fern. Friday’s New York Times featured an article by someone who visited the house:

While I was in Boston yesterday, I visited Goosefish Press, a stationary store I’d been curious about.

For a paper lover like me, it was a magical store. Here’s the awesome treat I bought….

Another week begins….Happy Reading!


Late Summer Thoughts….

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It is still technically summer, but as soon as the calendar turns to August, I can hear the faint sound of the new school year approaching and there are bright orange visual clues in the grocery store where I can already stock up on Halloween candy!  But before I take a couple of weeks away from my blogging life, here are a few things that have caught my attention….

The Great American Read, an eight-part PBS series about the “place of reading in American culture,” will begin next May.  The first episode will be a two-hour program featuring a list of America’s 100 best-loved books – and the last week will include the top ten titles.  I think it’s a safe bet that To Kill a Mockingbird will be #1.  The Great Gatsby?  Huckleberry Finn?  Charlotte’s Web? The guessing begins…

Earlier this week, I walked through the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston and learned that Catie, star of the Catie Copley picture books, died in May. But Gracie, her successor as the hotel lobby ambassador, is just as welcoming and lovable.

During a recent trip to Philadelphia, we visited the Benjamin Franklin Museum where this interesting box was on display:

The “Lion’s Mouth Box” was used by members of the Library Company of Philadelphia to leave suggestions.  If there was a book you wanted in the library collection, you left the title in the “Lion’s Mouth.”  Note that it was only “gentlemen” who could make suggestions.

In a display about Franklin’s childhood, I found this quote from his Autobiography:

“From a Child I was fond of Reading, and all the little Money that came into my Hands was ever laid out in Books.”  I could relate completely. His quote reminded me of when I first began making money from babysitting and would spend it as soon as I could get to a bookstore.

I also read a book this week – The Losers Club by Andrew Clements.  Clements is one of the most popular authors for middle grade readers, and I wanted to be ready to talk with kids about it when school starts next month. As always, Clements captures the reality of school life perfectly, and this book has the added bonus of being about books and reading!  It’s about a sixth-grade boy named Alec who loves to read so much that he often misses what his teachers are saying because he’s reading something else. When he finds out that he has to join an after school club, he decides to start his own and call it the Losers Club so other kids will stay away.  A quiet club means more time to read. But of course, things don’t go exactly as planned.

The Losers Club should go on display with Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein and Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman.  Rather than a “loser’s club,” there could be a club for kids who want to read books about books!

On a completely different note, this was also the summer I went to my first book-themed bathroom…

When I was in Amherst for the Emily Dickinson program, one of our classes was in a building on the Amherst College campus. During a “bio break,” we discovered the Harry Potter-themed bathroom – immediately obvious to one of my classmates when she recognized the Mirror of Erised…

We all took pictures before returning to class!

And last but certainly not least…

Our niece’s daughter with a book that is clearly worthy of taking down the slide!

I hope the end of your summer includes a slide – and a book!


Mid-Summer Reflection….

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Summertime and the living is…..kind of busy actually, but in a good way.  Ordering books for school, meeting with my book group kids at Buttonwood Books and Toys, and reading – along with helping my son get ready to move to his first post-college apartment. No complaints.

Next week I will be in Amherst to participate in a program, Emily Dickinson: Person, Poetry, and Place – a conference sponsored by the National Endowment for Humanities.  Along with other middle and high school English teachers, I will spend the week immersed in Emily Dickinson’s world, and according to the description, gain “a deeper understanding of the forces that shaped Dickinson’s development as a poet and a greater appreciation for the quiet yet powerful presence she exerted at home, within her community, and, now, throughout the world. A diverse range of experiences will illuminate Dickinson’s life and poetry and inspire you to share that poetry as well as Dickinson’s story with your students back home.”

Although I’ve never included Dickinson’s poetry into our middle school literature classes, her themes: death, faith, science, and love, connect with almost every book we read. One connection I’m especially interested in exploring is how to integrate our reading of Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming, with Dickinson’s poetry.  Although the two women write about dramatically different personal experiences that were separated by 150 years, they both challenge readers to think about their identities and beliefs.

Other book related news….

The New Yorker has a wonderful piece celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of E.L. Konigsburg’s classic novel, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  Here’s a link:

I recently reviewed Kat Yeh’s new middle grade novel, The Way to Bea, for School Library Journal – and loved it. The factor that moved her book into “starred review” territory is the way Yeh’s secondary characters come to life.  Bea, the protagonist, is wonderful, but her supporting cast do not feel like stock characters, rather each is distinct and memorable. Here’s an excerpt from my review.:

“Seventh grader Beatrix Lee puts a lot of faith in haiku. Since her family and friendships are changing dramatically, Bea abandons her love of free verse poetry and takes solace in the haiku’s dependable five-seven-five rhyme scheme. After an embarrassing incident at a pool party causes a painful rift with her longtime best friend, Bea writes most of her poetry in invisible ink, a reflection of the loneliness she feels at school and at home, where her parents are happily preparing for a new baby. Bea’s love of words starts to reemerge with the encouragement of a supportive librarian who introduces her to the kids at Broadside, the school newspaper. During lunch time, Bea takes refuge in the Broadside office, where she meets Briggs, the paper’s editor, who makes her feel like a valued member of a team, and Will, who is obsessed with labyrinths…..As Bea works her way through the maze of new friendships and a new role in her family, she begins to see herself and her friends more clearly.”

Once again, I’ve gone “off list” from my summer reading plan.  I’m currently reading a short memoir, The Hue and Cry At Our House: A Year Remembered by Benjamin Taylor.  I read about it on a book website and started reading it later that day.  The jumping off point is Taylor’s memory of being eleven-years-old and meeting his hero, President John F. Kennedy. He shook the President’s hand in Fort Worth, Texas on the morning of November 22, 1963.  Of course, only a few hours later, Taylor’s teacher announces that the President had been shot in Dallas.

Taylor grew up in a financially privileged Jewish family at a time when the world was going through seismic changes, and the book is an elegantly written story of one boy’s coming of age.

Finally….rocks.  During a morning walk earlier this week, I passed by a house with this on their front steps:

I’ll be back after spending the week with Emily…maybe I will leave a rock in her garden!


New Books!

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New books – two of the most beautiful words in the English language!

This one is amazing.  A Newbery contender perhaps?

All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson will be released in early September, and I anticipate a waiting list by the end of the first day of school. Fans of Jamieson’s first middle grade graphic novel, Roller Girl, are going to love All’s Faire in Middle School.  At the center of the story is eleven-year-old Impy who is beginning 6th grade in a “real” school after being home schooled.  As Impy describes it herself, her life with her parents and younger brother is pretty “normal.”  There is one thing though that makes Impy’s family stand out: her family is part of the Florida Renaissance Faire.  In fact, her parents are both cast members during the weekend festivities, and Impy is looking forward to training to be a squire. She fits in perfectly at the Faire, but middle school is a different story.  The rules are different and not as clear.

During weekend performances on the Faire’s main street, Impy is comfortable asking visitors if they are “looking for victuals” and using phrases like “loggerheaded rump-fed giglet,” but trying to figure out what shoes she should wear to school is more challenging.  Of course, mistakes are made and there are consequences, but Impy and her family are memorable characters.

And there’s this…..

I read The Quest for Z by Greg Pizzoli and immediately started thinking of various ways to use this book in classes – and making a mental note about kids who will enjoy this fascinating story. It’s a picture book based on the life of Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who spent years searching for a mythical civilization in the Amazon rain forest.  Born in 1867, Fawcett was born into an adventurous family, and from the beginning he was committed to learning to surviving in the jungle. He took numerous trips deep into South America where, Pizzoli writes, Fawcett “heard stories from locals that gave him clues to the possible location of the lost city of Z, and he became obsessed.”  Ultimately, Fawcett disappeared during one of his explorations, but his story caught the imagination of people then and now.  Pizzoli writes: “It’s estimated that as many as one hundred people have disappeared or died in the hunt for Percy Fawcett and the blank spot on the globe that he called Z.”

In fact, this book reminded me of a bestselling book from a few years ago, The Lost City of Z: A Deadly Tale of Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann.

Speaking of new books…

I went book shopping today with a 5th grade Inly student. Our mission: her summer reading plan.  It was a successful trip:

Based on her interests and Inly’s summer reading list, here are the books she is going to read this summer:

Happy Reading!

Summer Reading: Part Four

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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

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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!