A Conference and a Bookstore

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Over the past few months, I’ve been helping to organize one of my favorite programs – the John F. Kennedy Library’s annual conference for teachers and school librarians. It’s been a pleasure to be a part of the planning, mostly because it combines two important parts of my life: I spent 15 years working for the Kennedy Library Foundation before leaving the Library to pursue my graduate degree in children’s literature.

Now in its 19th year, the conference has generally focused on biography and history. This year’s conference, We the People: Stories of Strength and Struggle in Challenging Times, is designed to explore how children’s literature, both fiction and non-fiction, can shed light on the experience of people who are seen as “other” and who face challenges as they seek opportunity, freedom, and equality. The conference will take place at the John F. Kennedy Library on Thursday, May 9.

The morning includes a panel discussion with the participating authors: Joseph Bruchac, Lesa Cline-Ransome, and Pam Munoz Ryan.  The panel is followed by keynote remarks by Erica Armstrong Dunbar, the author of Never Caught: The Washingtons Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge, a finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction.  Dunbar’s book was recently published in a young readers edition:

The registration deadline is April 24.  Here’s a link for more information:

https://www.jfklibrary.org/learn/education/teachers/professional-development/we-the-people-stories-of-strength-and-struggle-in-challenging-times

Yesterday we visited a bookstore that had been on our list for awhile. During a short trip to New Haven, we went to the Atticus Bookstore Cafe.  The bookstore is right next to the Yale Center for British Art which was the primary reason we went to New Haven. It was a perfect afternoon: a yummy lunch, art, and books.  The bookstore is small, but excellent.  I especially loved the book displays:

This one was my favorite:

The Book Fair opens tomorrow…..It should be a fun week!

 

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Picture Book Fun….

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Inly’s third graders have begun taking their first “spring steps” toward Upper Elementary (4th-6th grade), and part of their journey includes an extra weekly library class where we have time to go beyond a story and checking out books. This year we are focusing on the Caldecott Award and picture book illustrations.

During the first week, we looked at Molly Bang’s classic Picture This: How Pictures Work. Published in 1991, Bang’s book shows how shape and color impact the way a story is told and how those components impact our emotions. This past Friday, the kids were faced with a big stack of Caldecott Medal and Honor Books – dating back to Madeline, which received a silver Honor Book sticker in 1940.  Post-it notes on the covers stated the year a book won, but they were all mixed up. The kids put them in order from oldest to newest around the circle in the library. After that, they chose their seat and began looking!

Next week we will look at the many books that were predicted to be contenders for the 2019 Medal. The award has already been announced, but we will start with a big pile of books and see if they agree with the committee’s decision. Ultimately, the kids will choose which illustration style they like the best and then we will move on to the creative phase.  More to come on that….

In other picture book news, you have to check out Greg Pizzoli’s new book, Book Hog. In fact, book lovers may want to add a copy to their personal library. Pizzoli’s sweet and brightly colored story is a celebration of books. The main character, a pig, loves books. His problem is: “He didn’t know how to read. He had never learned.” There are lots of charming touches here – a kind librarian, the way the book spines change as the Book Hog learns to read, and my favorite: Wilbur’s is the name of the local bookstore (check out the upstairs window)!

Finally, Mary took this picture of the light shining on the walls of the library this week (while we were setting up for a meeting). It’s the perfect picture to represent what a library does…

 

Two New Montessori Books….

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If you are a Montessori parent or teacher – or a parent who wants to learn more about integrating Montessori principles into your home – there are two new books to add to your collection.

The Montessori Toddler: A Parent’s Guide to Raising a Curious and Responsible Human Being by Simone Davies will be out on March 19. I don’t have the “real” book yet, but thanks to Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature, I’m able to see the wide range of topics Davies covers: an Introduction to Maria Montessori, Setting Up the Home, Nurturing Cooperation and Responsibility, What We Need to Know About Toddlers, Montessori Principles, and Montessori Activities – among other topics.  In true Montessori fashion, the book is simply and beautifully designed.

The book’s author, Simone Davies, has been a Montessori educator for 15 years and is associated with the Jacaranda Tree Montessori playgroup in Amsterdam. She also has a wonderful blog (that I just spent way too much time on!) called The Montessori Notebook. (https://www.themontessorinotebook.com/blog/)

If I had one wish as a librarian at a Montessori school, it was for a simple biography of Maria Montessori. It is one of the most requested items in the library, and outside of a page about the Italian educator and physician in Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, there is no contemporary children’s books about the woman whose name is on the front of over 4,000 schools in the United States. But now….

One of the most recent installments in the The Little People, Big Dreams series of picture books is about Maria Montessori. I think of the Little People, Big Dreams series as a younger version of the popular “Who Was” series. The Who Was books are divided into chapters and can go into a bit more detail than the Little People books, but both series provide introductions to well known people:

Because of limited space in the library, I have resisted the urge to purchase all of the Little People series, but the Maria Montessori volume will be on display right after spring break, and I’m sure it will be read aloud in many of our classrooms.

Happy Reading!

 

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….

Winter Reading….

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There is one bonus to being on medical leave during the winter – lots of time to read!  While I’ll be happy to return to school soon, it has been nice to look at the thermometer, remember I don’t have to go outside, and reach for my book.  Here’s what I’ve been reading for the past six weeks….

Middle England by Jonathan Coe

At over 400 pages, this novel took the longest to read. I first read about it on a few English newspaper websites, but this endorsement from the author John Boyne tipped me over into the “buy” column: “Millions of words have been and will be written on Brexit but few will get to the heart of why it is happening as incisively as Middle England.”  Maybe I was tired of reading about the dysfunction in my own country so I decided to dive into another flavor of anxiety.  What I really like about Middle England is its broad sweep. The novel begins eight years before the Brexit vote and follows a cast of characters representing multiple points of view. By the time Coe reaches the actual “stay or leave” vote, I had a deeper understanding of England – and America’s – identity crisis.

Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home by Nora Krug

This acclaimed memoir by a German woman learning about her family’s history during WWII is an immersive experience. A blend of a graphic novel, a scrapbook, and a memoir, Krug’s book is demanding and thoughtful. It is not a traditional reading experience – rather I found myself engaging with each page visually and emotionally. I felt like I was traveling alongside the author as she uncovers her family’s story and asks hard questions. Krug understands that history exists in the grey space – she does not conclude with a list of who was right and who was wrong. History and family are more complex than that. You reach the end of her memoir shocked again at the atrocities of Nazi-era Germany and thinking about your own cultural heritage and the meaning of “home.”

Someday We Will Fly by Rachel Dewoskin

I read this young adult novel in advance of adding it to Inly’s middle school summer reading list. At the center of the story is Lillia, a fifteen-year-old Polish girl who, with her father and baby sister, escape to Shanghai during WWII. Lillia’s parents were circus performers in Poland, but during a chaotic raid, her mother disappears, leaving the rest of her family to hope for her return. As Lillia makes a new life in Shanghai, she struggles with missing her mother and trying to find ways to make money to help her family survive. The most interesting part of the book was learning about the Jewish community that lived in Shanghai during WWII. China was occupied by Japanese forces at the time, but the Japanese allowed the Jewish refugees to stay because, as Lillia’s dad explains to her, “Apparently the Japanese believe Jews are powerful…..as long as they believe we control Western governments, we should be fine. Who knew there’d be such a silver lining to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories?” A good pick for mature teenagers who enjoy historical fiction.

Inventing Victoria by Tonya Bolden

Continuing the young adult historical fiction segment of the list, I read Tonya Bolden’s new novel about Essie, a young African American woman living in post-Civil War Savannah. At the opening of the novel, Essie lives with her mother in a brothel. Her mother calls the men who visit “uncles,” but Essie knows there is no future with her mother, and with the support of a friend, finds a housekeeping position in a respectable boardinghouse. One of the guests, an African American woman named Dorcas Vashon, gives Essie an opportunity – to be her companion. “I seek out young women of promise,” Dorcas tells Essie. Essie takes the opportunity, renames herself Victoria, and begins a new life among the African American elite in Baltimore. This book addresses race, status, and identity – and it’s perfect for readers ages 14 and over. I really liked this one.

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

Since reading about the meteoric rise of Sally Rooney, the twenty-seven year old literary superstar, I’ve wanted to read both of her novels: Conversations With Friends and Normal People. Rooney’s press has been glowing. A New Yorker profile is captioned: “The Irish writer has been hailed as the first great millennial novelist for her stories of love and late capitalism.” Normal People was longlisted for the Booker Prize and was the 2018 Waterstones Book of the Year. So, with that as background music, I enthusiastically jumped into Conversations With Friends.  The writing is brilliant – I was so dazzled by some of the sentences that I would stop, reverse direction, and re-read a passage. But overall, I felt like I did when I would occasionally watch Girls, the Lena Dunham HBO series: that this is a generation I don’t recognize. The novel is compelling, kind of dark, and for me, a look inside a world that is far from my experience. That’s not a complaint. I’m grateful for Rooney’s honest look at the concerns of modern twenty-somethings. I’ll recommend Conversations with Friends to people in their 20s and 30s – and those who want to better understand what it feels like to be young today.

While I’ve been out of school, Mary has sent me lots of pictures from the Library. Here are two that I love and make me excited to go back to school:

A few more days at home – time to fit in one more book from my “to read” pile….

A Year-End Mix….

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One of the most common questions we hear in the Inly Library is about recommending books to young readers who can read beyond their age level. It can be challenging to identify good books for an eight-year-old who has the reading skills – but not the emotional maturity – of a twelve-year-old. This article from last Sunday’s NYT Book Review has some good suggestions:

Another topic that parents regularly ask about is rereading. Some kids love reading the same book over and over again – it can be confusing to their parents, but makes perfect sense to the new reader. Children alternate through periods of reading things that are very familiar and comfortable before being ready to move into new kinds of books and more challenging material. That back-and-forth is completely age appropriate and important to their growth as readers.

The book I’m currently reading, Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan, includes this paragraph:

“But for children, rereading is absolutely necessary. The act of reading is itself still new. A lot of energy is still going into (not so) simple decoding of words and the assimilation of meaning. Only then do you get to enjoy the plot – to begin to get lost in the story. And only after you are familiar with the plot are you free to enjoy, mull over; break down and digest all the rest. The beauty of a book is that it remains the same for as long as you need it. It’s like being able to ask a teacher or parent to repeat again and again some piece of information or point of fact you haven’t understood with the absolute security of knowing that he/she will do so infinitely. You can’t wear out a book’s patience.”

Finally….one of the best parts of working in a school library is finding notes like this one – a reminder of how important this work is and how lucky we are to be part of the journey…

This blog will return in February 2019. Until then, I wish you a Happy New Year and lots of good books!

 

My Year in Reading

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As regular readers know, I’ve kept a list of every book I read since 1992. No comments. No thumbs up or down. Just the title and author. I looked at Volume One (1992-1998), and the first book I recorded was Song of the Lark by Willa Cather. I loved that book!  In December 1998 I read The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle. That was a good one too.  Here are four of my five notebooks. One seems to be missing – and I will turn the house upside down to find it!

My average is about 60 books per year, give or take. During the school year there are lots of Inly-related books (for classes or summer reading) and books I’m reviewing for School Library Journal. The summer break is obvious because the titles become things from my own “to read” list. This year, Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, is #58 so I’ll be able to reach #60 by the time Ryan Seacrest is in Times Square counting down to 2019.

My ten favorites among the books I read this year are:

99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

Up at the Villa by Somerset Maugham (I didn’t plan to read this and absolutely loved it. It’s a novella set in 1930s Florence about a woman caught up in a scandal. So good and a quick read)

Love to Everyone by Hilary McKay

There There by Tommy Orange

House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery by Liz Rosenberg

Calypso by David Sedaris

The Maze at Windermere by Gregory Blake Smith

Educated by Tara Westover

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Technically I have not finished reading one of the books on my list. There are about 50 pages left, but from the opening chapter, I knew Love to Everyone was special. Reminiscent of novels like Anne of Greene Gables and The War That Saved My Life, the setting of McKay’s novel is WWI-era England where Clarry Penrose lives with her widowed father and brother. Clarry is born at the beginning of the 20th century, and the novel spans the course of her life which is rich in both happiness and heartbreak. Much of the heartbreak comes during WWI which initially feels “vague and distant” to Clarry. Of course, it lands on her doorstep.

McKay’s beautiful writing is part of the pleasure of reading Love to Everyone. I love this passage about the seasons:

“The long cold winter was passing. The light grew brighter, even in the Miss Pinkses’ fume-filled classrooms. The air was wet and salt-tanged from the sea. There were birds above the chimney pots and daffodils to be spotten on Miss Vane’s chilly walks, and it was spring with summer on the horizon. Summer was shining bliss. Summer was opals and topaz and lapis and diamonds flung down from the sky. Summer was Cornwall.”

A few days ago I was in Boston waiting for a friend who texted to say she would be late. No worries. My book was in my bag and I was standing in front of a Starbucks. I started reading and soon enough, the lights beaming from all of the laptops and phones faded away, and I was back in Cornwall with Clarry.

And now the books to read in 2019 begin to stack up. Last night we were at the Coop in Harvard Square and, although my “to read” list is completely unrealistic, I could not leave the store empty handed.  I remember seeing something about David Litt’s memoir of working as a speechwriter for President Obama, but a combination of two things made me buy it:

1 – I finished Becoming a few days ago and was forced to re-enter the real world. The contrast proved too great, and I wanted to jump back down the rabbit hole and return to less chaotic days.

2 – The recommendation that a staff member at the Coop wrote about the book. Those staff notes are really persuasive!

Of course, now I want to listen to David Litt on The Moth.

But first….I need to return to Clarry’s story.  Happy Reading….