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!

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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!

 

 

 

A Book, A Baseball Player, and Virginia Lee Burton

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First, the book: Her Right Foot – written by Dave Eggers and illustrated by Shawn Harris.

I expect that in early 2018, the cover will be adorned with a shiny gold award sticker, but buy it now while the view of the State of Liberty’s right foot is fully visible – as she steps into the sea. This is a timely book, to put it mildly.  As the 24-hour news cycle causes stress and anxiety, Eggers’ book gave me a few minutes of pure joy. It is thought provoking and full of heart.

Beginning with the story of the Statue’s origins (“After all, the Statue of Library is an immigrant, too.”), it continues to explore – with good humor and funny asides – the significance of the Statue’s right foot which is clearly taking a step forward.  Truthfully, I had never noticed, but now I want to go back to Liberty Island and look again.

Eggers’ book is full of fun facts about the iconic Statue. For example, did you know that the parts to construct the Statue of Liberty were put into 214 crates for its trip across the Atlantic Ocean?  And I learned that what is now Liberty Island was once called Bedloe’s Island.  Beyond the trivia, though, what stands out are the book’s final pages which I won’t spoil here.  I’ll just say that reading them brings clarity to the conversation about immigration.

Like the Statue of Liberty, baseball has a special place in the American story.  This morning, in honor of the Jewish holidays, NPR’s Only A Game had a story on Hank Greenberg’s 1934 decision to be on the field on Rosh Hashanah – a game the Detroit Tigers won with Greenberg’s walk-off home run. Nine days later, on Yom Kippur, Greenberg sat out, and the Tigers lost. Listening to the segment about those eventful days in Detroit, brought back memories of writing my book, Hammerin Hank Greenberg: Baseball Pioneer, which was published in 2011. Greenberg’s decision was literally front-page news in Detroit, a city which was also the base for Father Charles Coughlin’s popular radio show which included anti-semitic rhetoric.  It’s an amazing story, and one worth hearing if you don’t know it.

Here’s a link to Only A Game’s segment:

http://www.wbur.org/onlyagame/2017/09/22/hank-greenberg-rosh-hashana-tigers

Author visits are one of the highlights of working in a school library, and we were lucky to welcome the author and illustrator of a wonderful new book to Inly last week.  Sherri Rinker and John Rocco, the author and illustrator of Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton, told our 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders about the author behind the classic picture books, The Little House and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.  The Little House is one of my favorite picture books so it is a special treat to have a tribute to “the little house” in our new library.

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

 

Inspiring Children’s Books About Immigrants and Refugees…

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With immigration and the status of refugees on the nation’s front burner, kids are going to have questions. There are many good children’s books that will encourage kids to wonder about what it’s like to move to a new country.  Here are five picture books that are gateways to deeper questions:

Welcome by Barroux (I love this sweet and engaging book about three polar bears looking for a new home.  They keep meeting animals who have “reasons” the bears can’t move to a new land.  Reasons like there’s “not enough room” or, like the giraffes, pretend not to hear the polar bears at all.  What is especially appealing about this book is that it can be read to young children as a story about welcoming new children to their classroom or after school activity.  The book’s message is just what the title says!)

I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien (This is a really sweet book, and like Welcome, it’s perfect for very young children) O’Brien’s tells the story of three immigrant children at a new school.  The kids are from Guatemala, Korea, and Somalia, and they are struggling to learn a new language, fit in with new classmates, and hold on to their traditions.  Parents and teachers sometime ask me to suggest books that teach empathy. This is the book.)

The Journey by Francesca Sanna (Inspired by the author’s visit to a refugee camp in Italy, Sanna describes her book as “a collage of all those personal stories and the incredible strength of the people within them.”)

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs and Nizar Ali Badr (This is a truly unforgettable book. Badr is a stone artist, and he uses stones and pebbles to illustrate a Syrian family’s experiences as refugees.  The story is told in dual language text: English and Arabic.  A masterpiece.)

Teacup by Rebecca Young (The story of a young boy looking for a new place to live.  He travels on a boat carrying “a book, a bottle, and a blanket. In his teacup he held some earth from where he used to play.”  The oil paintings of the boy alone on the sea are incredibly powerful.)

On the topic of immigration and mixing cultures….

Every year I can count on a number of parents who will stop by the Inly Library to talk about the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The books are thrilling and beautiful – and problematic.  As a childhood (and adult) fan of the Little House books, I understand the questions parents have about how to navigate a series that includes passages like: “White people are going to settle all this country, and we get the best land because we get here first and take our pick. Now do you understand?” Understand?  Not really. But reading the books to an older child, a child able to engage in conversation, presents an opportunity to talk about stereotypes, racism, and our country’s complicated history.

In honor of the 150th anniversary of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birth, there was a good story about the series.  Here’s a link:

http://www.npr.org/2017/09/17/551604403/-little-house-on-the-prairie-author-is-150

The sweet illustration at the top of the post is by Penelope Dullaghan.  She is the artist responsible for the beautiful cover of Lucky Broken Girl:

I follow Dullaghan on Instagram which is where I saw the banner picture – and a note reading “feel free to share.”

http://www.penelopedullaghan.com

Finally…here’s a cute picture Mary took in the library this week:

Happy Reading!