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!


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….


Gardens: On Book Covers and in Stories…

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It’s 35 degrees today, so it’s understandably hard to believe that warmer days are just around the corner, but at least flowers are blooming on book covers. Looking at a display earlier this week, it was reassuring to see that even though it’s grey and chilly outside, there is color in the bookstore:

One of the novels I most enjoyed reading during graduate school was Philippa Pearce’s 1958 fantasy, Tom’s Midnight Garden. It was a book that I missed as a child, and I was happy to see it on a class syllabus. It’s a magical story of Tom, a boy whose younger brother gets measles, and so in order to escape the contagious illness, Tom’s parents send him to his aunt and uncle’s country house. Tom expects life to be quite dull, of course, but when he hears the grandfather clock chime 13 times, he knows there’s a possibility of adventure. Creeping downstairs so he’s not detected by his aunt and uncle, Tom discovers a garden where he meets a girl named Hatty. The garden – and Hatty – do not exist in “Tom’s time” though. He is in the Victorian era, and during his trips to the garden, Hatty grows up. There are elements of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic, The Secret Garden, in Pearce’s novel. Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, has called Tom’s Midnight Garden “a perfect book.”

With that as a background, I was looking forward to French artist, Edith’s, new graphic novel adaptation of Pearce’s book.  I read it earlier today and it did not disappoint. In fact, it made me think that I may be able to entice some students to read the graphic novel version and then perhaps encourage them to read the original.  It also makes me want to re-read it.

Last weekend, I arrived early at Lucky Finn to meet a friend for coffee, and was greeted by this scene:

I didn’t know the people, and so of course, I introduced myself and asked permission to take their picture. We had a wonderful time talking about The Wild Robot, and realizing that we had several friends in common.  It was a moment that made me think of this short piece in Naomi Shihab Nye’s book, Honeybee: 

One of the many joys of my work is finding notes from students on my desk. This past week’s note was one of my favorites:

The best part of her note is the word “desparate.” What reader hasn’t experienced that panic when you realize you don’t have a book to read? During our spring break, this student’s mother sent me two pictures of her daughter enjoying vacation – reading on the beach and during dinner.

When we were in Italy last month, I was looking at a glazed terra-cotta sculpture by della Robbia. It was an out-of-the-way room in a museum. There were only three of us in this particular gallery when I happened to turn around and catch life imitating art:

Happy Reading – and Napping!


Reading (and Looking) to Beat the Cold Weather Blues….

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It’s been really cold. On the way to the grocery this morning, the car thermometer could not decide if it wanted to read 0 or 1 below. The numbers seemed to shiver as they toggled between the two readings. Alarming either way.  The only “sunny” side to the last five or six days of record-breaking cold has been the opportunity to drink hot chocolate and read.

My reading has focused on art which has allowed me to immerse myself in good words and beautiful pictures: a short biography of John Singer Sargent. Letters between Henry James and Isabella Stewart Gardner. Essays from the catalogue that accompanies the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Michelangelo exhibition, and two illustrated books:

Coco Chanel: The Illustrated World of a Fashion Icon by Megan Hess

The book about Chanel was a gift, and probably not something I would ordinarily be drawn to, but this illustrated story of the influential designer’s life is fascinating.  She was twelve-years-old when her mother died and her father left her in an orphanage. When her “sartorial abilities” were recognized, Chanel became a milliner which ultimately led to ballet flats, tweed jackets, and, of course, Chanel No.5.  It was actually the best kind of reading: engaging, informative, and a book that left me wanting to know more.

Bolivar by Sean Rubin

Bolivar is a mashup: a book for kids that adults will love, a graphic novel, a picture book, an oversize illustrated novel.  I’m not sure where it would be shelved in a bookstore or library, but none of that matters. This is an amazing book and my first personal starred review of 2018. Bolivar is a dinosaur who lives in present day New York City. He’s quiet and keeps to himself – he even reads The New Yorker! But Sybil, the girl who lives in the apartment next door, knows her neighbor is a dinosaur, and she’s determined to take a picture of Bolivar to prove that to her disbelieving mother.

A number of unbelievable events lead Bolivar and the camera-carrying Sybil into a wild chase around recognizable New York City landmarks, but it’s that trip through New York that is most compelling. Every page is a tribute to New York: the produce stacked up outside of small markets, the subway, Chinatown, Central Park, and tourists. There are also fun visual jokes to catch, a wonderful picture of a paleontologist’s desk, and lots of water towers.

Bolivar is a sweet story about people who are too busy to see what’s right in front of them and a girl who is trying to get people to see the obvious. It is a memorable and wonderful book.

In today’s New York Times Book Review, there is an article called “For the Love of Malt Shop Novels” by Joanne Kaufman. In her piece, she talks about teenage books (mostly romances) as an “endless source of reassurance and hope.”  I did not know they were called “malt shop novels,” but I read them as a teenager too and got the same reassurance. As Kaufman writes, “You could be self-doubting like Jane Purdy, the protagonist of Fifteen and, nevertheless, end up wearing the ID bracelet of cute green-eyed Stan.”  Most of the books were win the 1940s and 50s – before my teenage years. But these were the books that I read voraciously as a middle school student.

Among other authors of this genre, Kaufman talks about Betty Cavanna. Cavanna’s name flooded me with memories of seventh grade when I read Stars In Her Eyes. I don’t remember much about the story except that I loved it. The books written for middle school kids today are far more realistic, and there are so many more choices of what to read. But I do remember Cavanna’s books serving the same function as many of the books I recommend to my students. They made me feel less alone.

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all of the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

James Baldwin

Stay warm out there!

The Graphic Novels Take a Break…

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I love Babymouse and the Lunch Lady, and Raina Telgemeier’s Sisters and Ghosts, and the Dog Man.  But last week we did this:


The graphic novels are behind the fancy paper tablecloth because, as we explained to the kids, that section of the library deserves a rest.  Yes, there were lots of sad faces – but only for a few minutes.  And then something miraculous happened.  The students realized there are 8,500 other books in the library! It may have been the first time that some of our 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders noticed all of the books about animals and outer space and robots.

The popularity of graphic novels for young readers is a good thing.  The kids are “reading” both text and illustration.  The sequencing encourages them to slow down, and of course, reluctant readers are often drawn to the format.  However, there are days I look at all of the other books in the school library and wonder if they feel neglected.

We helped them get over their disorientation by displaying some of the wonderful new books for emerging readers.  If you are looking to vary the diet of your young graphic novel fan, try one of these new books….


James to the Rescue (The Masterpiece Adventures) by Elisa Broach (an illustrated companion series to the middle grade novel, Masterpiece.  The stars of the series are a boy named James and his best friend, Marvin who is….a beetle!)


Sam the Man and the Chicken Plan by Frances O’Roark Dowell  (This is one of those practically perfect early chapter books. A seven-year-old boy gets into the business of caring for neighborhood chickens that results in a lovely intergenerational friendship.)


Skunked! Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet by Jacqueline Kelly  (Based on the middle grade novel, Calpurnia Tate, these illustrated books follow the adventures of young Calpurnia who lives in Texas in the early 1900s.)


Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami  (I love this book so much.  It’s charming and inspiring, but….it’s a stand-alone early chapter book. Books that are not part of a series can struggle to find their readers.  Books like Krishnaswami’s one need to be put in a young reader’s hands.  It’s also timely. The book’s Indian protagonist, Yasmin, borrows a book from her uncle’s street corner lending library every day, but when the Mayor threatens to close her uncle’s bookstand, Yasmin becomes a community organizer.)


The Infamous Ratsos by Kara LaReau (lots of action and warmhearted humor – give this one to a reluctant reader and watch them fly through the pages!)


Juana and Lucas by Juana Medina (Juana, a middle class girl growing up in Bogota, Columbia, loves to draw and is learning English in school. Each chapter of Medina’s book focuses on Juana’s adventures – with her dog, Lucas.  There are very few stories for young readers told from the point of view of a child living in South America.  This one is absolutely essential – especially now.)


The Cookie Fiasco by Dan Santat (for kids who are just entering the world of chapter books comes a new series created by Mo Willems.  The characters in The Cookie Fiasco have a problem: A hippo, a crocodile, a squirrel with pigtails, and a squirrel wearing glasses all want a cookie.  There are three cookies and four friends.  There must be a solution…)

The experiment will continue.  Tomorrow, in fact, books by Mo Willems will be taking a mental health day.  We love them so much!  I may even take a peek under the cover to get a glimpse of Elephant and Piggie, but it’s time for Strega Nona and the Wild Things and Amos McGee to shine!

If you live nearby, join us to see all of the best children’s books of 2016….


One of the most colorful surprises of Inly’s new library is the way the afternoon sun bounces off of the stained glass leaves and “dances” on the walls. Last week, the light was shining on Frederick Douglas’s quote: Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”


Beans and Ghosts

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I  read two perfect middle grade books this week.  They should be on every list: holiday ideas, next year’s summer reading, award recipients, library recommendations – you get the idea!


The two books are – Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm and Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier.

Full of Beans is so colorful and lively that it seems to bounce off the page.  The voice of the young narrator, Beans Curry, is pitch perfect, and the Key West setting make Holm’s new novel a delight from the first page:

July 1934

Look here, Mac. I’m gonna give it to you straight: grown-ups lie.

Sure, they like to say that kids make things up and that we don’t tell the truth. But they’re the lying liars.

Take President Roosevelt. He’s been saying on the radio that the economy was improving, when anyone with two eyes could see the only thing getting better was my mother’s ability to patch holes in pants. Not that she had a choice. There was no money for new threads with Poppy out of work. It was either that or let us go naked.”

From there, Beans and his friends are in charge – and the reader gladly tags along.  The chapters are episodic and follow Bean’s adventures as he tries to make money by collecting empty cans and later by working with a man whose money making schemes get Beans involved with something that he later regrets.  There’s also a New Dealer in town checking out Key West’s potential as a tourist destination, a feisty (and kind of mean) grandmother, and Bean’s friends with awesome names like Pork Chop.  There is even a cameo by Ernest Hemingway!


On the very first day of school, kids asked me when we would have Ghosts, Raina Telgemeier’s new graphic novel. By this past Tuesday, when the library had three copies, there was a waiting list.  When a student returns Ghosts (after reading it overnight), their expressions give them away – it was worth waiting for!

The narrator of Ghosts is Cat, a girl who, at the opening of the story, is moving with her family to Bahia de la Luna on the Northern Coast of California.  The family has left Southern California because Cat’s younger sister, Maya, has cystic fibrosis, and they hope the sea air will help her breathe.  Soon after arriving, the girls meet Carlos, a neighbor who introduces them to the world of “ghosts,” not as something to be feared, but as “ancient ghosts, dead for centuries.”  While Maya embraces the adventure and is enthusiastic about ghosts, Cat is frightened – both for herself and for her sister who she fears may join them.

After an outing with Cat and Carolos to visit the ghosts, Maya is hospitalized, and Cat blames herself.  As her sister recuperates, Cat meets a group of new friends who invite her to join them for the town’s elaborate Day of the Dead celebrations – forcing her to come literally face to face with the dead.  The subject matter of Ghosts is not typical for a middle grade novel, and quite frankly, I’m wondering about all of those 2nd and 3rd graders who are going to check it out.  I’m not suggesting that I would keep it from them, only that they will read a “different” book. Telgemeier’s book is big. It’s about life and death, our fears, and our love for our families.  I would recommend it to my friends as a way to grapple with loss.  Most of all, I’m amazed by the depth of Telgemeier’s talent.  Ghosts is a beautiful book in every way.

Finally – a few pictures to share….

The kids are making themselves comfortable in our new library.  One of the boys in the picture below said to me – “You are so lucky….you can sit here and read all day!”


In our new think tank, you can write on the walls and the tables.  While meeting with a group of students this past week, I saw two girls writing lists of their favorite books….



And in one of our classrooms, after reading Extra Yarn, a group of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders made wonderful yarn art.





Happy Reading!

The Best Children’s Books of 2015 – Part Three

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Today’s list – middle grade novels – was especially challenging. I had some magical and memorable reading experiences in 2015, thanks especially to Brian Selznick, author of The Marvels and Kimberly Brubaker Bradely, the author of The War That Saved My Life. There are others….here is the complete list:


The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (A painful, but moving and thoughtful story of Zu, a young girl whose best friend dies unexpectedly. Searching for answers, Zu sees a poisonous jellyfish exhibit during a school trip to the aquarium, she begins to use the scientific method to prove that it was a jellyfish that caused her friend’s death.) 


The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (This might be my very favorite book of 2015. It’s perfect – a moving story set against the backdrop of WWII London and a cast of memorable and strong characters.)


The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon (For fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Doldrums is about eleven-year-old Archer and his best friend, Oliver, who go in search of Archer’s grandparents who disappeared while exploring an iceberg in Antarctica.)


Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff (Another tough – but rewarding story – about Trent, a boy who accidentally hits a hockey puck that kills another boy. It was not his fault; the boy had an undiagnosed heart condition. But Trent is understandably consumed by guilt and anger.  Ultimately, it’s his friendship with a girl facing her own challenges that helps him move forward.)


Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm (A powerful graphic novel that takes place in 1976 – which was part of the fun for me, references to Dorothy Hamill and Tab!  Sunny Lewin reluctantly agrees to spend the summer with her grandfather, who lives in a senior community in Florida. She thinks it might be fun, especially if they visit Disney World – but it’s also an escape from home where her brother is experiencing substance abuse problems. Suggest this one to fans of Raina Telgemeier!)


Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson (Who would have thought that a graphic novel about roller derby would make me curious to see an actual roller derby event. Jamieson successfully juxtaposes the challenges of roller derby to the unexpected twists and turns of adolescence.) 


Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (Three interconnected stories with a harmonica at the center of each one. A rich novel about the power of music to change our lives.)


The Marvels by Brian Selznick (At 670 pages, Selznick’s magical new book looks like a doorstop. But  open it up – the first 400 pages are a series of wordless pictures that are incredibly beautiful and tell a story. That story about five generations of a London acting family is continued in prose and all of it – the story, the book, the pictures – feels like a magical theater experience.)

Like millions of kids around the world, Inly students are participating in an Hour of Code this week. Hour of Code is an introduction to the world of computer programming – and judging from the enthusiastic kids in the library, it’s a big success. I was especially happy to see that one of the kids thought to include Curious George, but if he’s planning to participate, I need to get him some big books to sit on!