Required Books, Toddler Books, and My Books


It’s summer reading list season! As always, I began by selecting the required books for each level. This is Inly’s “one book” program – a book to create a starting point when the kids return to school September. This year’s titles are:

Children’s House

The Kitten and the Night Watchman by John Sullivan (This gentle story of a watchman who finds a kitten on a construction site is a 2018 picture book standout. As the man continues his rounds, he keeps his eyes open for his new little friend, and of course, they are reunited. What struck me the first time I read Sullivan’s book is how rarely a picture book puts a man in the role of protector and caregiver – not to mention that man must be the only security guard who is at the center of a picture book. This book celebrates work, family, and caring.)

Lower Elementary

Our grade 1-3 teachers are trying something new. I shared some ideas with them, and faced with so many good books, they selected three – and are asking their students to select one (or all three!) to read over the summer. The books are:

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal (a 2019 Newbery Honor book)

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena and illustrated by Christian Robinson (the 2016 winner of the Newbery Medal and a Caldecott Honor book)

Night Job by Karen Hesse and illustrated by G. Brian Karas (the recipient of three starred reviews, this book is the story of a bond between a father and his son. The New York Times review read, in part: “Karas’s dusky paneled art gives a feel of enchantment and adventure as the boy sweeps floors, shoots hoops, reads and falls asleep while Dad finishes working. He’s added an extraordinary dignity and tenderness to this picture of working-parent reality and a loving, physically close father-son bond.”)

Upper Elementary

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (A classic – and Newbery winner – that we’ve selected as summer reading before, but the kids and the teachers love it. Applegate’s novel about the friendship between Ivan, a captive gorilla, and Ruby, a baby elephant, is a powerful story about friendship and courage.)

Middle School

New Kid by Jerry Craft (A new graphic novel about a black boy navigating life in two different worlds: an upscale private school where he is one of the few kids of color and his Washington Heights neighborhood)

And the Toddlers…

Our toddler program does not have one book, but rather they receive a list of new books for very young children. I wanted to look beyond the toddler classics like We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, as wonderful as they are, and suggest books that were published in the past couple of years.

B is for Baby by Atinuke

And Toddlers!  This story is more than a book about the Letter B.  Look at the illustrations closely to see what happens after the Baby falls into a Basket of Bananas.

And Then Comes Summer by Tom Brenner

A celebration of summer’s unique joys: lemonade, fireworks, parades!

Eric Carle’s Book of Many Things by Eric Carle

It’s all in here – food, feelings, things in the ocean and on the farm – with Carle’s signature tissue paper and watercolor art work.

Rhymoceros by Janik Coat

A funny book about a blue rhinoceros and rhyming words.

Snakes on a Train by Kathryn Dennis

This train’s passengers – and crew – are snakes.  Bright colors and wonderful word play.

Oink by David Elliot

A pig thinks he is going to have a quiet bath time, but a horse, a sheep, and a donkey have other ideas.

These Colors are Bananas by Jason Fulford

An innovative and interactive approach to colors that will expand your child’s view of the world around them.

Puppy Truck by Brian Pinkney

A little boy wants a puppy, but gets a truck.  That’s okay with Carter – he puts a leash on his truck and they head to the park!

One Is a Pinata by Roseanne Greenfield Thong

Count in English and Spanish while looking at colorful seasonal festivals.

How to Give Your Cat a Bath: In Five Easy Steps by Nicola Winstanley

An “off-screen” narrator gives a little girl five steps to bathe her cat, Mr. Flea.  To put it mildly, Mr. Flea has other ideas!

My Reading…

I finished three books this week:

The Omnivores Dilemma: Young Readers Edition by Michael Pollan (the book we are currently reading in middle school)

It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime (Adapted for Young Readers) by Trevor Noah (We are considering adding the young readers edition of Noah’s best selling memoir to the middle school curriculum so it moved to the top of my stack. I had been interested in reading Noah’s book for awhile so it was a happy assignment that did not disappoint. Noah’s story of growing up in South Africa with a black mother and white father is incredible.)

Green Almonds: Letters from Pakistan by Annaele and Delphine Hermans (Published in France in 2011, this graphic memoir/collaboration is a true story about two sisters: Annaele is in Palestine working for an aid organization while her sister, Delphine, remains at home in Belgium. Annaele’s experience traveling between Palestine and Israel helped me to understand what life is like for people living in occupied territories. It takes a complex situation and makes it real – and even more tragic.)

Currently reading:

The Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin

And that picture at the top of the post…..sisters at their first Red Sox game. One of them brought two books along. Good idea – baseball games move slowly!


New York, Kipling, and Midnight at the Electric…

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We were in New York last weekend, but although it was a short visit, there was still time to go to the Strand. We arrived at 10:55 a.m. on Sunday for the bookstore’s 11:00 a.m. opening, and there were people lining up outside.  It was a wonderful moment – to see a line at a bookstore. I should have taken a picture, but instead we hurried into line. One of the best things about the Strand is the display signs. This was one of our favorites:

I purchased a copy of Midnight at the Electric, a young adult novel by Jodi Lynn Anderson, to read on the train ride home.  The starred Kirkus review sparked my interest, but I didn’t expect the novel to be so powerful.

This is a really good book and definitely one to add to your list for anyone ages 12 and over.  It opens in the year 2065 and a sixteen-year-old named Adri is preparing to move to Mars. To train for the launch and life on Mars, Adri goes to Kansas to stay with her 107-year-old cousin, Lily. At Lily’s house, Adri finds letters that lead her to the story of Catherine, who lived during the Dust Bowl and then to Lenore, who lived in England during WWI. It sounds confusing, but all of the stories are connected in a way that left me tearful at the end of the book. This is my favorite kind of reading experience – a book that was not on my “list,” but ended up being one of my favorites of this year.

Speaking of the Strand, this week’s The New Yorker cover is awesome – an illustration by Jenny Kroik of a woman shopping at New York’s go-to independent bookstore. This one will find a place on our walls.

While we were in New York, we saw an exhibit at the Bard Graduate Center. John Lockwood Kipling: Arts & Crafts in the Punjab and London focuses on Kipling’s work as an illustrator and designer in British India. He was also the father of Rudyard Kipling, the author of The Jungle Book and Kim.  I read about the exhibit when it was at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, but it would have been a challenging day trip.

Kipling spent ten years teaching at the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art in Bombay (now Mumbai) and eighteen years as the curator of the  Lahore Museum in Pakistan. His influence on both cities was remarkable. As part of the exhibit, there are videos about the buildings he helped to design, but his illustrations are the stars.

This one is interesting. It’s a menu for Rudyard Kipling’s twenty-fifth birthday celebration. Designed and drawn by John Lockwood Kipling, the illustration shows Rudyard as a baby being carried and below that, Lockwood and his wife looking into Rudyard’s crib. The adult Rudyard is the man smoking a pipe.  It’s hard to read the menu, but it includes turbot and oyster sauce and plum pudding.

This is an 1884 illustration of Rudyard’s sister, Trix, that reads: “An unlessoned girl, unschooled, unpracticed, happy in this — she is not yet so old, but she may learn.” Not sure what to make of that, but a beautiful picture.

I’ve also been working with Nancy Perry, my friend and colleague at the Norwell Public Library, to prepare for our annual presentation of our favorite children’s books of the year.  This year’s program will be on Thursday, November 30 at the James Library in Norwell at 7:00 p.m. It is a free and fun evening of conversation about books. An added bonus is that Buttonwood Books and Toys will be there to sell books. Please join us if you can.

At school, I’m reading Countdown by Deborah Wiles with our middle school students as part of our focus on life in post-WWII life in America. Inly’s 6th graders are learning how to be responsible and smart news consumers. Yes, we are talking about how to spot fake news!  We are looking at how to navigate the wild world of the internet and who to trust – no easy task in this divisive climate, but the kids are having fun.

I’ve been somewhat obsessed with book covers recently.  Given all of the “noise” in our ears and eyes, a book cover that causes you to stop and look is powerful.  Books may be old technology, but seeing someone’s art as a billboard for a story, is one of the greatest pleasures of book shopping.

Here are a few that caught my attention this week:

A friend saw this copy of Brave New World at her parent’s house –

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of RBG vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter has a wonderful dust jacket, but….

This is what’s under the jacket –

And the end pages are worth the price of the book –

All of the sudden, it’s really cold and windy and there is no denying that winter is almost here. My response was to buy these:

Happy Reading!

Reading Into Spring….

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My reading has been unsettled lately – kind of like the weather. Like spring’s wide swings from warm to cold and lots of wind, I’ve  been jumping around a bit, and in one case, getting mixed up between books.  Here’s what’s on my nightstand:


1.  A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I’m reading this one with a group of 7th and 8th graders, and it’s been the highlight of my spring reading experience. It’s like I’ve dropped into a really interesting book club discussion where I’m a lot older than the other members, but they’ve been okay with that. Among other things, we’ve talked about the possibility of time travel, which was totally lost on me (and on them!), religion, and the nature of good and evil. We considered music and art and mathematics as forms of language, and wondered if George Lucas and Jimi Hendrix had languages of their own. Over fifty years after its publication, L’Engle’s novel still succeeds in asking readers big questions about the power of art and love and all kinds of complicated stuff that kids love to grapple with.


2. At the same time, I was reading a short book, published by McSweeneys, that is the transcript of a conversation between Judy Blume and Lena Dunham. I was an obsessive fan of Blume’s coming-of-age novels when I was young and even wrote a dramatic fan letter to her (yes, she wrote back – a real letter!) And although I’ve never seen Dunham’s popular TV show, Girls, I’ve read many interviews and think she’s kind of fascinating. As you would expect, their conversation is about reading, writing, friendship, and their very different experiences of being young women. The book is small (Peter Rabbit size) which contributes to the feeling you are holding this little secret conversation in your hands. An excerpt was published in the January issue of The Believer.


3. This one comes with an admission – I’m still reading (or more accurately, listening to) The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It’s been months and I’m only half-way there. If I would give up on the CD, the book would be finished by now, but I don’t care anymore. If I listen to the final CD in September, that’s fine. The Goldfinch is more than a book now – it’s a performance experience and this magical journey I’m taking in my car, even if I’m driving to the grocery store. I’m completely captivated by the way David Pittu gives voice to the many characters. Sometimes I back the CD up just to hear him say something again. For a few weeks, I kept thinking “the book would be so much faster,” but then it occurred to me that the only reason I would switch over is to have it “done” so I’m staying the course. The highlight is when Pittu speaks as Hobie. It makes me feel like I’m in an old New York City antique shop – time travel perhaps?


4. This is where it gets confusing….at the same time I was reading about Theo Decker’s problems with his “stolen” painting, I also read Under the Egg, a new middle grade novel by Laura Marx Fitzgerald. The main character in Under the Egg is Theo (short for Theodora) who finds a Renaissance painting in her home. A bad idea. Every time Theodora said something about her painting, I wondered if it was still behind her bed in Las Vegas! I had a mixed response to Fitzerald’s book, but thinking maybe I should read it again when my head is not so full of the other Theo.

5. And, finally, I was reading a truly secret book – a novel I’m reviewing for School Library Journal. Luckily for me, the main character’s name is not Theo.

Time to get in my car and return to Theo Decker’s life and David Pittu’s vivid reading….I must need something from the grocery!


To Light the World….



“The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will

light our country and all who serve it –

and the glow from that fire can truly light the world”

  John F. Kennedy/January 20, 1961

This past Thursday I was at the John F. Kennedy Library for a yearly gathering of teachers and librarians who come together to talk about how children’s books can help our students make sense of the world and encourage them to embrace the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship. It  is one of my favorite days of the year, and this year was no exception. The theme was “To Light the World: Stories of Hope and Courage for Challenging Times.”  As the conference organizers said at the start of the day, our meeting was being held one year after the Boston Marathon bombing, and the discussion topics grew out of questions asked by children about the bombing. Every person in the room was devoted to shining light on books that inspire kids to have courage and ask good questions.

One of the best parts about attending a professional conference is the opportunity to talk with colleagues and, hopefully, to come away both inspired and full of new ideas. It’s a bonus if you get to hear from favorite authors and illustrators, and the Kennedy Library conference always includes influential and engaging speakers.

The first session was a discussion with three amazing authors and a very good moderator, Mary Ann Capiello from Lesley University.  The panel included:


Susan Campbell Bartoletti

The author of the Newbery Honor Book Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow, the Sibert Award winner Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850.


Walter Dean Myers

Author of over 50 children’s and young adult novels, including five Coretta Scott King Awards and the Printz Award for his popular novel, Monster.


Doreen Rappaport

One of my favorite authors in the whole world – and more importantly, the author of so many award winning books that shine brightly – including, Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust, and a series of picture book biographies of well-known leaders, including John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Eleanor Roosevelt.

The first topic Capiello asked the authors to think about is their source of inspiration. “My initial inspiration, Rappaport said, “is that I came of age during the civil rights movement. People were fighting for equality that I took for granted. And then the Civil Rights Movement led to the Women’s Movement which raised my consciousness again…..I write about power and struggle in a way kids can relate to.”  In response to the same question, Bartoletti told the audience that her books “start with a feeling that comes from a fact.”  Bartoletti impressed me as a person with an insatiable curiosity to learn what motivates people and to remind kids that they have a voice. Young people are “political beings,” she told the audience.

Walter Dean Myers spoke movingly about his long time interest in juvenile prisons. “As the juvenile prisons began to fill up, their stories seemed more distant. We forgot these were human people, as much victims as culprits.”

Later in the discussion, Rappaport talked about the challenging of writing history for young readers. “How do you simplify without dumbing down a person’s life?” she asked. Her answer is to focus on the “essence” of the person about whom she is writing. What is the point of this story? What can be left out?  Myers said he “begins with a question.”  The book is the answer.

Another bonus….Bartoletti told us a little about her current project, a book about Mary Mallon, aka Typhoid Mary.  It will be on my library wish list as soon as possible!


In the afternoon, I attended a discussion with Doreen Rappaport and learned about how she works with the incredible illustrators of her biographies, Kadir Nelson (Lincoln), C.F. Payne (Theodore Roosevelt) Bryan Collier (MLK, Jr.) Gary Kelley (Eleanor Roosevelt) and Matt Tavares (Helen Keller).  She held up some of the incredibly beautiful pictures in her books and pointed things out that, to be honest, I had not noticed before. For example, in a picture of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt being rowed on a river during their courtship, the swans near the boat support the reader’s knowledge that the young couple is wealthy and socially prominent. Rappaport also said that the cover of her book about Helen Keller is in profile because Keller apparently did not like to be photographed head on.

Rappaport’s enthusiasm for her subjects felt fresh, as if all of her books had been published only the day before. Her commitment to sharing stories of courage and risk permeates every thing she says.  “I choose people who have made a major contribution to America or the world. I know they are not perfect.”  Her next subject: Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

I left the Library with a bag full of books and my head full of stories.  A good day.





The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano

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Admittedly, when I heard that “Maria” from Sesame Street had written a young adult novel, this is the image that came to mind:

Of course, after thinking about it, I remembered that “Maria” is a role and that the character’s real name is Sonia Manzano. My mistake is just a measure of how real the Sesame Street family is to me – even at this age!  Manzano’s novel, The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, is wonderful. I finished reading it a few hours ago and after adding it to Inly’s Middle School summer reading list, I began thinking about which students will enjoy it the most. 

The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano is about a young girl’s political coming of age in a Puerto Rican Harlem neighborhood.  Rosa Maria Evelyn del Carmen Serrano is 14-years-old in the summer of 1969, the year she is claiming her independence. First, she asks to be called Evelyn so that she can distinguish herself from the many other Marias. Secondly, she decides not to work in her mother and stepfather’s bodega, and instead takes a job in another local shop. But that’s just the beginning. First, her grandmother arrives, complicating the relationship between Evelyn and her mother. And then a group of Puerto Rican Nationalists and social activists (the Young Lords) begin advocating for political and social reform.  As Evelyn becomes more interested in the Young Lords, her grandmother teaches her the truth about her family’s role in the Puerto Rican Nationalist movement.

Recommend Manzano’s novel to middle school-age readers who are interested in 20th century history and the role of activism in shaping public opinion. Pair this book with Frances Temple’s novel, A Taste of Salt: A Story of Modern Haiti – another excellent novel about social justice movements and the evolution of political consciousness.

Reading About the Great War

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Inly’s middle school students are studying World War I. They are reading “In Flanders Fields,” studying the map of Europe in 1914, and trying to wrap their heads around the unfathomable number of the dead and wounded. In literature class, the students are reading The Lord of the Nutcracker Men by Iain Lawrence and War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. There is even a small group of 8th grade students reading the classic novel, All Quiet on the Western Front

One of their assignments is to find a way to represent the 29 million dead and wounded – to attempt to understand what that number really means and begin to understand the unprecedented toll WWI had on the world. The kids always come up with creative and compelling ways to show the number – like this example using Cheerios:



I also provide them with a list of other books related to the Great War and the early 1900s.  While there are literally hundreds of choices for them when they study WWII later in the year, there are far fewer selections for the WWI-era.  This is the list of books I recommend: 

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance by Jennifer Armstrong

With Courage and Cloth: Winning the Fight for a Woman’s Right to Vote by Ann Bausum (The story of the events between 1906 and 1920, which led to women getting the right to vote)

The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane by Russell Freedman (Of course, the students have the opportunity to learn about Dayton, Ohio’s most famous inventors – Wilbur and Orville Wright)

The War to End All Wars by Russell Freedman

Time of Angels by Karen Hesse (a novel about the influenza epidemic of 1918)

Pictures, 1918 by Jeannette Ingold (A 15-year-old girl growing up in Texas during WWI)

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson (The story of 16-year-old Hattie who leaves Iowa and moves to Montana in 1918)

A Time for Courage: The Suffragette Diary of Kathleen Bowen by Kathryn Lasky (the fictional diary of a 13-year-old girl growing up in Washington, D.C.)

Charlie Wilcox by Sharon McKay (A good book for young readers about a boy who encounters the horrors of war)

Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo (a thoughtful novel about a young English soldier)

Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting by Jim Murphy (the true story of the 1914 Christmas truce)

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (Part adventure novel. Part steampunk. Part historical fiction. This book takes place on a biological airship that looks like a flying whale!)

On Feburary 12, the sequel to Hattie Big SkyHattie Ever After – is being released, and I can’t wait to read it. In the sequel, Hattie moves to San Francisco to follow her dream of becoming a reporter. I’ll “report” back as soon as I read it. 



Predicting the Newbery and Caldecott Awards

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One of my favorite moments of the year is in mid-January when the winners of the Newbery and Caldecott Awards are announced at the Midwinter Meeting of the American Library Association. This coming January promises to be a little more eventful because there is also a Presidential Inauguration to look forward to. Such fun to begin 2013!

I’ve been thinking about the results of all three elections – the Newbery, the Caldecott and the Presidential – but I will only share my hopes for the book awards. After reading many beautiful and wonderful and memorable books this year, these are the two that, in my opinion, should receive gold (or silver) medals.

The Newbery Award: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

I can’t think about this book in public because – truly – if I do, I will start to cry. Just writing about it makes me kind of “feel it” in the pit of my stomach. A bittersweet story of Ivan, a gorilla who lives at the Big Top Mall, and his friendship with Ruby, a baby elephant, is one of those books that reminds you of the power of kindness. An extraordinary book about friendship and courage and art and animals.

The Caldecott Award: Baby Bear Sees Blue by Ashley Wolff

I saw this book in a store before ordering a copy for Inly’s Library. I had already read reviews and planned to purchase it, but then I saw it in a display and knew right away that Wolff’s book was one of the special ones. A cozy concept book that introduces young children to colors. Yes, that’s been done before, but not like this. It’s the bear. He’s not just cute – but mesmerizing. Wolff uses both block prints and watercolors and every page is suitable for framing.

We’ll see what happens in January. And in the case of the Presidential election – we’ll know next week!