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:

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My Favorite Books About….Friendship

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One of the best parts of a new school year is meeting new students. As I talk with them, I’m doing all of my “remembering names tricks” so the next time they visit the library, I can greet them. New students are wonderful. They change the social dynamic and bring fresh energy and experiences into their classrooms. The teachers are wonderful about integrating new kids into their rooms, but I’m sure the primary “work of the child” (to use a Montessori term) is to make friends. That work, learning how to interact with other kids, must take up most of their energy during these first few weeks.

Kids don’t want manuals about how to be a friend. They deserve stories about kids with real emotions, not didactic books about “what to say.”  The ten books listed below show the power of friendship:

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead (Amos is a reliable zookeeper who makes time to play chess with an elephant. When he gets a cold, his devoted friends visit Amos and care for him. This is one of the most perfect evocations of friendship in any book for children. A must-have in every child’s school or home library.)

Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers (Everything Oliver Jeffers does is wonderful, but this one is my favorite. A penguin gets lost in quite dramatic fashion. Supposed to be on the South Pole, he ends up on a boy’s suburban doorstep. The boy finds a way – through storms and waves – to bring his new friend home.)

Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel (Nearly 50 years since they appeared, Frog and Toad remain essential to any collection of stories about friends. My favorite story is “Ice Cream” which appears on page 30 of Frog and Toad All Year.)

Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems (Hands down, the most popular books in Inly’s Library, kids between the ages of 4 and 12 are happy to read them – multiple times!)

Poppleton by Cynthia Rylant (This series of easy-to-read chapter books is not as well known as other books on this list, but the Poppleton stories have a special kind of magic. Poppleton is a pig whose best friends are Hudson, a mouse, and Cherry Sue, a llama. Throughout all eight books, Rylant is making a case that loyal friends are the secret to a good life!)

My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald (For a little older reader, My Two Blankets is a picture book about a girl named Cartwheel who is forced to leave her home and move to a safer place. To remind her of home, Cartwheel wraps herself in an imaginary “blanket” of memories. After meeting a new girl in a park, she creates a new “blanket” weaving together her old and new lives.)

Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo (A series of short chapter books, Bink & Gollie are like child versions of Elephant and Piggie. They are opposites in appearance and temperament, but loyal to one another and always ready for a new adventure. Kids love these books because of Bink & Gollie’s funny and energetic dialogue, but also because the cartoon-style drawings make them almost like graphic novels.)

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (I’m including three middle grade novels at the end of this list because they are central to a list of books about friendship. The story of a captive gorilla, Ivan, and the sacrifice he makes for Ruby, a baby elephant, is guaranteed to both break – and fill – your heart.)

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (Sometimes a parent will ask me to recommend a book that will encourage empathy in their child. White’s book is a master class on empathy, friendship, and of course, writing. “Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.”)

Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, especially Chapter 5, “Dulce Domum” There are so many excellent books about being a good friend that to include a book written in 1908 may seem an odd choice, but Chapter 5 of Grahame’s classic novel is one of the most beautiful passage about what it means to be a friend ever written. “Dulce Domum” takes place in December, and it opens with Rat and Mole walking through a village where people are celebrating Christmas. Mole starts to realize that he’s near the home he has left to be near the river with Rat, and he feels homesick: “He stopped dead in his tracks, his nose searching hither and thither. Home! That was what they meant, those daft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all in one way!”  Rat, realizing his friend’s sadness, changes course and they return to Mole’s little house where a cozy scene awaits. It’s the perfect chapter to read on a winter evening.)

Links of interest:

It’s Sunday morning, and I just finished reading today’s New York Times. There are three things I thought worth sharing:

An excellent essay about the importance of public libraries:

A request for good children’s books focused on American history at a time of, in the words of someone looking for a baby gift: “I’d love to give the new baby a few children’s books that illuminate our pre-Trump democracy: how it came into being, who the founding fathers were….”

And for parents of very young children, a good round-up of new books for new people in the world:

Happy Reading!

‘Twas the Night Before School…

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It’s the night before school starts – not for the kids, but for the teachers. Tomorow we will be catching up with colleagues, attending meetings, shelving books that found their way back over the summer, and making plans for the months ahead. I’m looking forward to being back and especially to seeing the kids.

But the last days of summer are always bittersweet, trying to get things in order before returning to a more structured schedule and squeezing in a few more summer adventures. Over the past ten days, we spent time in both Boston and in New York. Of course, that included bookstore visits.

While walking around the North End with my husband and son, we stumbled on a bookshop which was new to all of us. I AM Books is a little gem. As you would expect, it sells books about Italy, books by Italian authors, books written in Italian, and even wooden Pinocchios, the kind you find in Italian souvenir shops. According to the store’s website, it is the country’s first Italian American bookshop.

In New York, we visited Emma Straub’s Brooklyn bookstore, Books are Magic. It had a festive feel on a sunny Saturday and, as I stood in the long line to purchase a couple of things, I looked at what people were bringing to the check out desk. These are the books I saw in line before they made their way into Brooklyn: Matilda by Roald Dahl, Less by Andrew Sean Greer, Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke, Maeve in America by Maeve Higgins, The Vacationers by Emma Straub, and The Reservoir Tapes by Jon McGregor.  The last book on the list is what I bought after reading glowing reviews!

We also went to our two NYC favorites: the Strand and McNally Jackson. This was my favorite sign in the Strand:

And this window display from McNally Jackson is kind of awesome.

Next to Subway Books, it reads: “A selection of books chosen for their brevity, propulsion, and portability. These books will probably fit in your pocket, will almost certainly hold your attention, and they have a regular enough paragraph breaks that you won’t panic about losing your place when your stop is coming up.”

At our son’s suggestion, we also went to Ben’s Cookies near the Strand. He knew we would need energy for book shopping. As we ate our delicious cookies, I took a closer look at the logo and realized it was drawn by Quentin Blake. Ben’s has its roots in the UK which explains their Blake connection.

I’ve been squeezing in a few more “summer reads” before I begin reading with my middle school students. Last week I read Upstate by James Wood, a novel about a father navigating his relationship with his two adult daughters.

The novel takes place in Saratoga Springs, New York (the Upstate of the title) where Vanessa, one of the daughters lives. Like her sister, Vanessa continues to deal with the impact of her parent’s divorce, followed by their mother’s early death. What I appreciated about the novel is its understanding of how complicated it is to be a parent to your adult child.

Between now and Labor Day, I’m hoping to finish reading Craig Brown’s un-put-downable biography of Princess Margaret, Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret. This is not your typical biography, but something completely different -a new form of the genre. I bought it after reading several compelling reviews and hearing Pamela Paul (on the New York Times Book Review podcast) say it’s the book everyone on the Book Review staff wants to read.

But no more reading for me tonight. It’s a school night.

A final note: the picture at the top of the post is one of our students reading during his vacation in Maine.  It captures the joy of summer perfectly!

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 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….