May Miscellany

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Last Sunday, we went to hear John Lithgow speak at the Kennedy Library. I had forgotten how many roles he’s played in movies and on TV: Terms of Endearment, Shrek, Third Rock From the Sun, and most recently, Winston Churchill in The Crown. As you might expect, Lithgow is an engaging raconteur. I especially enjoyed hearing his childhood memories of Yellow Springs, a small village near Dayton. “It was idyllic,” he said, “a midwest idyll.” He recalled trips to the Glen Helen Nature Preserve and Clifton Gorge, places my dad still visits. One of the most interesting things he told the audience is that, as a child, Coretta Scott was his babysitter – before she was Coretta Scott King. Yellow Springs is the home of Antioch College where Scott was a student. Lithgow said that he only learned of his famous babysitter as an adult when he met Mrs. King at a function.

Lithgow also talked about writing children’s books, telling the large crowd that he enjoyed making up stories for his younger sister when they were growing up. Later, when he had his own children, he wrote music for his son which led to a performance of children’s music and stories at Carnegie Hall. Lithgow was honest about capitalizing on his “Third Rock fame” to indulge his many interests, but what came through most clearly was his love of the written word in all its forms.

Yesterday, my husband and I were in Westport, Massachusetts where we found The Partners Village Store, a combination bookstore, gift shop, and cafe. While the bookstore is small, it is carefully curated.

I found a book of essays that is right in my “interest sweet spot.”  Where We Lived is by Henry Allen, who, I learned from the book, was “Intense. Mercurial. Bearded. A Marine veteran of Vietnam.” He was an art critic for The Washington Post for nearly 30 years and won a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2000. This book includes short essays about the many places the Allen family has lived, beginning in 1557 in Wales through his family’s 1977 move to Takoma Park in Maryland. I am interested in exploring how place informs our identity, and I happily added Allen’s book to the toppling stack by my bedside.

You may have heard about the upcoming PBS series, The Great American Read. I’ve heard it advertised on NPR, but only checked out the website today. It’s an eight-part series that “explores and celebrates the power of reading, told through the prism of America’s best-loved novels (as chosen in a national survey).”  I’m all for a program that celebrates books and reading, but the list of 100 novels raises questions for me. There are obvious choices like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Charlotte’s Web, but the list also includes Fifty Shades of Grey and The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks.  I can’t wrap my head around Tom Sawyer being compared to Fifty Shades of Grey. It seems wrong for Wilbur and Charlotte to compete with The Shack by William Young.  I plan to tune in and assume right will prevail in the end!

Here’s a link to the whole list:

http://www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read/books/#/

Last week, I read Bob, the new middle grade novel by two of the most respected and talented authors of children’s books – Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass.

It’s the story of a girl named Livy who, five years before the story opens, left a little creature named Bob at her grandmother’s house in Australia. Now ten-years-old, Livy returns to visit her grandmother and finds Bob in a closet where he has been looking forward to seeing her again. Livy has nearly forgotten the details of her first trip to Australia, but she quickly reconnects with the lovable Bob and agrees to help him figure out who he is and where he’s from. Told in alternating chapters from Bob’s and Livy’s points of view, it’s a sweet story of friendship and magic.

The best new picture book I read last week is Doll-E 1.0 by Shanda McCloskey. If you know a fan of Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, this would be a good book to check out of the library. Charlotte is a tech-saavy kid. She helps her parents with their devices, and her bedroom looks like she’s planning to be the next Mark Zuckerberg. But Charlotte’s mom and dad begin to be concerned that their daughter is “too techy” so they buy her a doll. The doll seems like any other low-tech doll, but Charlotte makes a few changes that make her – and her parents – happy.

Finally, some of Inly’s younger students have discovered the Dog Man books…..

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

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New Books – and Literary Flowers

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There are so many beautiful and sophisticated picture books being published – blends of fiction and nonfiction, illustrated books, and books that defy easy categorization. These hybrid books can be challenging for libraries because it’s not always clear how to shelve them, but when I get stuck, I put them on permanent display, concerned that if they disappear onto the shelf, they won’t be seen again. It seems like there’s a trend toward making thoughtful and well-designed books that exist in the space between children’s books and adult books that could be displayed on a coffee table.

We received two new picture books this week, and both could justifiably be put into the art section: Look at the Weather by Britta Teckentrup and Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall.  Either would be a perfect gift for your child, your mother, or your best friend.

Look at the Weather is a chance to do just that: 152 pages of paintings of every kind of weather: sun, rain, ice, snow – and extreme weather like rainstorms and tornadoes. It’s a nonfiction book, but poetic and awe-inspiring. What the book does best is instill a sense of wonder and curiosity about the weather beyond our daily check on which coat to wear. It reminds us of the weather’s power to create beauty and sometimes fear and destruction. The book has a larger trim size, giving the illustrations “room” to convey the mood of specific weather events.

If you know a child or adult interested in weather, this is the gift you have been looking for.

It’s hard to look at Sophie Blackall’s new picture book, Hello Lighthouse, without the temptation to get the scissors and cut out the pages to hang on your walls. Blackall’s pictures are cozy and warm, even old fashioned. It’s the kind of book to keep by your bedside so when the news of day gets you down, you can ease into the night by looking at Blackall’s warm and cozy scenes.

The story is about the daily life of a lighthouse keeper and his family before the keeper is replaced by a mechanical light. Even though the actual idea of being that isolated from the world is daunting, Hello Lighthouse makes a life of winding the clock and polishing a lighthouse lens seem like paradise.

Yesterday was beautiful, sunny and warm with signs of spring everywhere. I celebrated the new season by going to one of my favorite events: Books in Bloom at the James Library in Norwell.  Each year a group of devoted and creative people select a book to bring to life in flowers.  Here are a few I especially enjoyed:

Happy Reading!

 

My Favorite Picture Books of 2017

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This week: my favorite picture books of 2017. I am increasingly drawn toward the 32-page format. There, the world is often more beautiful and more clear about “right and wrong” than what we see around us. Kindness and generosity usually win out over self-interest. These are the books that rose to the top of my list this year:

Life on Mars by Jon Agee (Agee’s books are always a bit unusual, and this clever story is no exception.)

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna (The most beautiful book of the year – and an ode to the joy of a device-free day)

Windows by Julie Denos (perfect for one-on-one sharing)

A Good Day for a Hat by T. Nat Fuller (a funny pre-school book about finding just the right hat)

Bruce’s Big Move – and others by Ryan Higgins (all of Higgins’s books are guaranteed story time hits)

After the Fall by Dan Santat (what happened after Humpty Dumpty “had a great fall?”)

Robinson by Peter Sis (a magical and colorful book about the power of imagination)

And this little trio of books by Kazue Takahashi, the most recent of which was published in 2017 –

Kuma Kuma Chan: The Little Bear

Kuma Kuma Chan’s Home

Kuma Kuma Chan’s Travels

Takahashi’s books are peaceful and simple – and I find myself looking at them more often than many of the other books in my house. I bought the first one in a bookstore in Vermont, and since then, there have been two more installments in the little bear’s adventures.

One other observation: 2017 was a good year for foliage-covered book jackets. They all tend to blur together on the bookstore shelves…

Finally — the picture at the top is a picture of my colleague, Mary, talking with one of our students about Maps. This book:

Happy Reading!

Things Worth Sharing….

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It’s Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. Our son returned to Boston, there’s one more piece of pumpkin pie that I’m saving for tonight, I supported small businesses on Saturday, and packed away the turkey my son made when he was three (he’s now 22) until next year…

Along with the regular Thanksgiving festivities, I read (of course) and caught up on a few articles from the “to read” stack. I also prepared for Thursday’s event at the James Library – including one more reading of Stack the Cats, which is only math book I’ve ever loved.

If you have time for more reading this weekend, here are a few links to check out:

Pat Hutchins, the author of many classic children’s picture books died at the age of 75. I read many of her picture books in graduate school, but I’m looking forward to re-reading The Wind Blew and Rosie Walks when I return to school tomorrow.

I also read an excellent article from The Atlantic about picture book author and illustrator, Barbara Cooney. It reminded me how important her books are for encouraging curiosity and courage:

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/12/childrens-books-for-uncertain-times/544104/

I also read The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange. I was drawn to it because of the beautiful cover and then more interested when I saw this:

Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month in October 2016

‘Superbly balanced between readability and poetry… this is an assured debut.’ The Guardian

‘Rich with nods to classics like Tom’s Midnight Garden… [An] outstanding debut.’ The Bookseller

‘Startlingly good.’ The Telegraph (Number 10 in The Telegraph’s Top 50 books of 2016)

This would be a wonderful holiday gift for a young reader (ages 10-12) who loves fairy tales and classic children’s novels. The book that came to mind the most was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Strange’s novel has a secret dark forest rather than a garden, but there are hidden passageways, ghosts, and even a character locked in a bedroom like Colin Craven in Burnett’s novel.  Set in England after WWI, The Secret of Nightingale Wood is about a girl named Henrietta whose family is suffering after the death of her older brother. With the help of her beloved fairy tales and a woman (a witch?) who lives in the woods, Henrietta helps to heal her family. A perfect winter read.

As I was leaving school after our Grand Friends Visiting Day on Wednesday, I walked down the stairs and saw one of our students:

Fortunately, her father was standing nearby with his phone and he caught this perfect moment.

Happy Reading!

Book Covers – and a Walk Through Boston History….

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According to many newspaper and industry publications, e-book sales are in decline and many readers are returning to print. At the same time, publishers are responding by producing beautiful books that are impossible to replicate on the screen.  I see it every time I open a new box of books in the school library. It’s not only the covers, but the endpapers, type face, and the inside illustrations.

Look at the covers of these six books:

The last one, A Stitch in Time by Daphne Kalmar, won’t be out until June, but a colleague who knows how much I enjoy cover art, shared it with me.

Sometimes there is a bonus piece of art under the dust jacket. I just did a quick treasure hunt around my desk, peeking behind dust jackets – and here’s what I found:

Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson

The translation, by the way, which I just texted a Spanish-speaking friend about is: We only have ____ days left to eradicate illiteracy. A powerful question to ask on a book cover.

Miguel’s Brave Knight by Margarita Engle and Raul Colon

It promises to be a fun holiday book shopping season!

One of Inly’s Children’s House teachers experienced a different book cover-related challenge. As wonderful as the jackets are, Lauren’s pre-school age students did not appreciate the “extra paper” on their classroom books. As the children took them off, Lauren collected them.  And then….during a paper weaving activity, they became lunchtime placemats. Do you see what books they are?

Yesterday was a spectacular fall day in Boston, and my husband and I took a walking tour of Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.  Called Isabella Stewart Gardner and Her Circle of Influence, the 90-minute walk included stories of Gardner’s friends, a fascinating group of artists, scholars, and philanthropists.  Our tour guide focused on many of the young men whom, in her words, Gardner “collected.”  One of the most interesting was Henry Davis Sleeper, a collector and interior designer best known for his Gloucester home, Beauport. If you live anywhere within driving distance of Gloucester, I highly recommend adding a visit to your “places to visit” list.  The house is extraordinary. My favorite room is the round library:

Many of the memorials at Mt. Auburn are moving and beautiful, but there are two we found especially heartbreaking:

There were also hawks flying and trees that had reached the peak of their fall glory. A perfect fall day to reflect on the inevitably of change and to feel grateful to live in such a beautiful place.

 

 

 

 

What Makes a Good Read-Aloud?

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There is no shortage of excellent picture books. Library and bookstore shelves are overflowing with 32-page worlds to entertain and inspire, but working in a school library has made me particularly focused on books that are good read-alouds. I read stacks of picture books, many of which are perfect for one-on-one sharing, but finding the perfect story to entertain a group of young children is more challenging.  A book that successfully hits the sweet spot ticks lots of boxes:

  • Pacing.  It can’t be too text heavy, and the action has to keep moving
  • The book has to be large enough for a group to see.  Peter Rabbit is awesome, but his maneuverings around Mr. McGregor are best seen up close
  • It’s relatable to lots of kids. There are kids who love football and kids who love bugs. We read books about everything, but the best read aloud books have wide appeal
  • The pictures need to both enhance and extend the action. This is key. The perfect picture book is helping the listeners by showing what’s happening in the text – while also moving the story along
  • The characters are memorable and distinctive.  Think of the pigeon!

Here are ten of the Inly Library’s go-to read aloud books:

Milo’s Hat Trick by Jon Agee

Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol

Mother Bruce by Ryan Higgins

The Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Chicken in Space by Adam Lehrhaupt

The Great Gracie Chase by Cynthia Rylant

Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev

The Pigeon Books by Mo Willems

And new to the “Top Ten” list is…..

I’m Afraid Your Teddy Is In Trouble Today by Jancee Dunn and Scott Nash

If your stuffed animals look like they have a secret, this book may be the answer. A very cute teddy bear invites his friends over for a party and the results are predictable – a mess in the kitchen, jumping on the bed, and drawing on the walls.  Read I’m Afraid Your Teddy Is In Trouble Today with No, David! by David Shannon for a hijinks-filled story time!

From a group of stuffed animals having a party to a very quiet book about windows….

The other new picture book I want to share this week is better for close looking. Windows by Julia Denos invites children to take an evening walk around a neighborhood and look through the windows. The book is written in second person, making it clear that the child reading this book is a participant in the walk: “You can take a walk, out your door into the almost-night. You might pass a cat or an early raccoon taking a bath in squares of yellow light.”

Windows is especially wonderful because not only does it glow with life on every page, but the boy in the book, in an homage to Peter from The Snowy Day, is a young black boy wearing a red hooded sweatshirt.

Denos’s book would be perfectly matched with to The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsatto and Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson – stories about walking and observing.

Finally….

Inly’s Lower Elementary students have completed their first book projects of the year, and as always, many are delightful and creative. One student, a first grade boy, based his project on Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs and illustrations by Nizar Ali Badr.

Happy Reading!

Reading Around the World – and A Reader Writing His Own Story…

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We started our trip around the world in Canada this year – mostly because I was excited to share Carson Crosses Canada by Linda Bailey with our lower elementary students.

Inly has a three-year curriculum that includes the Ancient World, America, and the World. This is a “world year,” and my goal is to read stories from authors outside of the United States and follow our progress on a map. Exceptions to our international reading will be made for major holidays – my favorite part of Halloween is The Hallo-Wiener by Dav Pilkey!

We are not traveling efficiently, but rather on a whim. Since school started, we’ve read stories set in Canada, Japan, and India. In the interest of a broader selection, the rules are somewhat flexible. Preferably, the author or illustrator will live in the country we read about, but the setting works too.  For example, Adele and Simon in China by Barbara McClintock will be included because it’s a wonderful introduction to China.

With impeccable timing, four new books arrived last week that are perfect additions to our journey:

Tea With Oliver by Mika Song

I would read this book to my classes anyway, but the fact that Song grew up in the Philippines makes it even better. Oliver is a cat who “talks to himself a lot.” More than anything, Oliver wants to have tea with a friend.  The problem is that he literally doesn’t see Philbert, a mouse who lives under the couch and would love to join Oliver for tea.  Many potential tea friends show up for a party, but they are far too busy dancing to want tea. There’s a happy ending to a story as sweet as the cookies that appear on the last page!

Robinson by Peter Sis

Sis’s beautiful new book is based on a experience he had as a child in the Czech Republic. He went to a costume party dressed as one of his heroes, Robinson Crusoe, but the other children don’t appreciate his costume. Feeling embarrassed, the young boy goes home and crawls into his bed where, in a dream sequence that reminds me  of Max sailing off “through night and day….to where the wild things are” he arrives in a world of his own imagination.

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna

One of the most beautiful books published in the last few years is A Lion in Paris which was also written and illustrated by Alemagna.  This one is equally special. Like Robinson by Peter Sis, it is a tribute to the imagination. A mom and a child arrive at a cabin on a rainy day, and the child immediately begins playing a hand-held video game. “Actually,” the text reads, “I was just pressing the same button over and over.”  When mom takes the game away and encourages her child to go outdoors, the child tucks the video game into the pocket of the bright orange rain slicker.  It’s not long, though, before the game falls into the pond.  The adventures, both literal and magical, begin after that.

Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake

Undoubtedly, there will be a week when everyone is feeling a little grumpy. Perhaps a grey day in January?  This book by the Japanese author and illustrator is laugh-out-loud funny and a sweet spot read-aloud for young children.  A little boy, determined to undress himself before his bath, gets stuck in his shirt. Naturally, he begins to wonder what life would be like if he stayed stuck in his shirt!

A Memorable Library Visit…..

Among the greatest pleasures of working in a school library are those unexpected moments when you can literally witness a child in the act of creation – not the kind of creating that happens with a 3D printer, but building with words. On Friday, while Mary and I were talking about the week ahead, a student came into the library. He explained that he was working on an identity project and wanted to make a list of the books he loves. With joy and determination, he stacked books all over the table, stories that together are a part of who he is. After watching him collecting and typing or a few minutes, Mary and I began to help. We shelved while he visited every shelf to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything.

With his permission, here are some of the books on his list:

The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

Books by Stuart Gibbs

books by Kelly Barnhill

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Books by Chris Grabenstein

Books by Brian Selznick

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

And he didn’t forget picture books…

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crocket Johnson

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion

There were many others, but he may still be adding titles…….

Happy Reading!