Notes From My Deck….

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I’m taking advantage of this bright and sunny Sunday by spending every possible minute on our deck.  I’ve gathered the food and books I’ll need and have set up camp – Frederick-style!  Just as Frederick collects colors for the grey months ahead, I’m holding on to the warm sun and the full green trees to call up a few months from now – when our deck is shut tight against the cold.  I’m also mindful of how this brilliant day is at odds with what is happening in Florida right now, and I’m keeping a “weather ear” on NPR for updates.  Like so much of the news today, it feels a bit overwhelming.

A few scattered book notes to share today….

Last week I finished reading No One Is Coming To Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts, and although I read many good books this summer, this is the one that stands out.  Watts’ book has received glowing reviews, and it’s the inaugural selection of Book Club Central, an American Library Association program. No One Is Coming To Save Us is loosely based on The Great Gatsby, but takes place in an African American community in present day North Carolina where the furniture factories have been boarded up leaving many people feeling anxious and depressed. The story’s central characters, Sylvia, her daughter Ava, and JJ (the Gatsby character) are all searching for something and wondering how they arrived at this point in their lives.  Ava is in a bad marriage and desperately wants a baby. JJ builds a mountain top house and dreams of Ava returning to him. And Sylvia, the novel’s most memorable character, is mourning her dead son and trying to understand that the life she made for herself is not the one she expected.  The writing is beautiful, poignant and moving:

“The sting of not having or not having enough bores a pain black hole that sucks all the other of life’s injuries into one sharp stinging gap that you don’t need a scientist to remind you may be bottomless…..That beautiful house is just a street away, but as out of reach as the moon. But that house-pain is just one lack, and everybody knows one pain is far better than a hundred. That is the mercy. That is the relief – the ache of one singular pain.”

I recently reviewed Patina by Jason Reynolds for School Library Journal. Here is an excerpt from my starred review:

“Twelve-year-old Patina Jones not only loves to run, she needs to run—and win. She’s a gifted athlete, and since the death of her father and her mother’s life-altering health problems, Patty’s track club has become the focal point of her life. Running helps her to navigate the changes she and her younger sister, Maddy, are experiencing. They have left their urban neighborhood to live in a different part of the city with their uncle Tony (who is black like Patty and Maddy) and their aunt Emily (who is white) and attend a new school, Chester Academy. In this follow-up to Ghost, the award-winning author continues to display his mastery of voice…….Patty’s story is an invitation to grapple with the need to belong, socioeconomic status, and the dangers of jumping to conclusions. This “second leg” of Reynolds’s series is as satisfying as its predecessor and a winning story on its own.”

As you may have read, the farm where E.B. White lived and wrote Charlotte’s Web is for sale. At $3.7 million, it’s a bit out of my price range, but I’m hopeful the new owners will turn it into a place where the public can visit to channel Charlotte, Wilbur, and Fern. Friday’s New York Times featured an article by someone who visited the house:

While I was in Boston yesterday, I visited Goosefish Press, a stationary store I’d been curious about.

For a paper lover like me, it was a magical store. Here’s the awesome treat I bought….

Another week begins….Happy Reading!

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Summer Reading: Part Four

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My final summer reading list is for middle school readers, the kids “in between” middle grade and young adult books. The eight books listed below include characters and dialogue unique to the experience of kids ages 12 to 14.

The Green Bicycle by Haifaa Al-Mansour  (A repeat from last year’s list, but one students always enjoy.  A timely and inspiring novel – based on an excellent movie called Wadjda.  The story of a young girl who wants a bicycle.  Simple enough, right? But she lives in Saudi Arabia where it’s considered improper for a girl to ride a bike.  It would be fun to read the book and then have a movie night!)

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng (I included this book on my last post. It’s on my list of books for middle grade readers, and I would recommend it to adults as well. This is a story about family and friends. A common theme in an uncommonly memorable book.)

Posted by John David Anderson (The perfect book for social media enthusiasts.  After cell phones are banned at school, kids begin leaving messages on Post-it notes which, because they are displayed for all to see, are often more hurtful.)

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall (Pearsall’s novel was published in 2015, and it’s become one of the books I hand to middle school students who are struggling to find a good book – one they will want to keep reading.  Pearsall’s novel hasn’t failed me yet!  Set in 1963, The Seventh Most Important Thing is the story of Arthur, a 13-year-old boy, who learns seven important lessons while helping a local “junk man” with his artistic masterpiece.)

York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby  (The first installment of a new series, set in an alternative New York City)

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge (500 pages of high fantasy and imaginative word play.  Link to the Guardian’s glowing review:

https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2016/jul/07/a-face-like-glass-frances-hardinge-review

Refugee by Alan Gratz (This book will be published on July 25, but I recommended it to several of our students as an August read. Three young refugees from three different times and places: Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo. It’s on my August list!)

Literally by Lucy Keating (Maybe an unexpected choice for this list.  Literally is a smart beach book that plays with the conventions of the young adult romance.)

To prepare Inly’s summer reading list, I read lots of novels and early chapter books.  After the list was distributed, what I most craved was ….a picture book!  I looked for something new and beautiful, a book that stands out on the shelf, and here it is:

The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd-Stanton is magical from the end pages to the final scene. Erin, the little girl at the center of the story, lives in an idyllic seaside town with her “mum” and her dog, Archie. Erin desperately wants to “go out to sea,” but she can’t because of a scary black rock.  Everyone in town warns her to stay away from the rock which, naturally, makes Erin even more curious.  Ultimately, she finds a way to learn the truth, and it turns out to be quite lovely. School ended a few days ago, and I’m already planning to make The Secret of Black Rock our first read aloud in September!

During the last couple weeks of school, there are lots of events involving singing and speeches and ceremonies.  But the nicest hour, in my opinion, is the quiet that comes over the campus during Drop Everything and Read.  While everyone was reading, I walked around the silent campus and found readers on couches, under counters, and many other creative spaces…

Happy Reading!

Happy Summer!

Summer Reading: Part One

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On this rainy and chilly day, it’s a bit challenging to put myself in the summer reading state of mind, but the calendar says it is Memorial Day Weekend so it’s time for a list of books to look out for this summer…

First, check out this student’s fabulous dress –

An on-line search revealed the source of Leo Lionni-themed clothing – Uniqlo, but it doesn’t look like they are available anymore.

Today’s list is for young children, between the ages of 3 and 7.  These are the books to reach for when you’re looking for a fun read-aloud or new books to freshen up your picture book collection.  Inly’s summer reading list includes both classics like Where the Wild Things Are and Blueberries for Sal along with recently published books.  Below are the new books  – listed (approximately) from books for the youngest listeners to those a bit older…

Rescue Squad No. 9 by Mike Austin (a high-energy and colorful book for young fans of things that go!)

Places To Be by Mac Barnett (a warm and cozy book)

Round by Joyce Sidman (a magical celebration of round things)

Egg by Kevin Henkes (another Henkes masterpiece)

A Good Day for a Hat by T. Nat Fuller  (a crowd-pleaser – really funny!)

Motor Miles by John Burningham (Burningham is a picture book master who is sometimes overlooked)

Rain by Sam Usher (a story about a boy and his grandfather that turns a rainy day into magic)

The Way Home in the Night by Akiko Miyakoshi (the perfect way to end the day)

Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima (basically, this is a really cute book – nothing wrong with that!)

Escargot by Dashka Slater (best read in a French accent!)

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall (an inspiring story of courage)

Mother Bruce and Hotel Bruce by Ryan (truly hilarious and witty books)

A Cat Named Swan by Hollie Hobbie (an abandoned kitten finds a home.  A familiar story, beautifully done.)

Priscilla Gorilla by Barbara Bottner (girl obsessed with gorillas. A must-read)

And in election news:

Inly’s lower elementary levels voted on their favorite series of the year.  The finalists, based on circulation, were: Hilo by Judd Winnick, The Adventures of Sophie Mouse by Poppy Green, The Treehouse Books by Andy Griffith, and The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer.

The winner was…..

Ten Happy Things….

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The days are grey and cold.  I am sad that someone who is remarkably incurious lives in a house where there is beauty and history in every room.  The list of things that frighten me is overwhelming. I am looking for sparks of light.  There are many of them – friends and family, books and art, my students and colleagues, and groups of committed and patriotic citizens who are finding ways forward.

Here are ten things that may shine light on the week ahead…

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  1.  A book tower!  During library class last week, a first grade student created her own work of public art:

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2. The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduck by Timothy Basil Ering.  A lovely and gentle picture book that celebrates friendship and hope. Ering’s art is beautiful – his two-page spread of fog looks exactly like what you see while driving through a foggy evening.  When we first meet Alfred Fiddleduck, he is in an egg waiting to hatch. The egg is being carefully ferried by Captain Alfred who is carrying it in his fiddle case – a gift for his wife who is waiting for his return in their little house by the sea.  But a violent storm sends the fiddle case into the sea, and “far offshore, deep in the fog, alone and drifting, the egg cracked.”  There is a happy ending, of course, but the journey is beautiful.

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3.  A poem by a 2nd grade student and printed here with her permission:

Winter by Ana

Winter means snow,

winter means fun,

winter means ice, and rarely sun.

Winter means snowmen, chilly toes,

winter gives you a red nose.

Dull grey skies predict more snow,

while you’re inside with the fire aglow.

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4.  Elephant and Piggie!  These two are always guaranteed to make you smile.  This week’s New Yorker includes an article about their creator, Mo Willems.  Here’s a link:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/06/mo-willems-funny-failures

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5. Kid book reviews.  As all school librarians know, it’s challenging to convince kids to take a risk on a new series.  Most of them prefer to check-out books their friends are reading. But if you can find one student to trust your guarantee that they will like the book, a new series may catch fire.  That’s what happened with the Billy Sure: Kid Entrepreneur, a series by Luke Sharpe.  For weeks, I unsuccessfully tried to get a group of boys who enjoy light, fast-paced chapter books to try them.  And then – success!  Oliver, a student who was perhaps tired of the same recommendation, checked out Billy Sure #1.  After we displayed his review, we can’t keep the books on the shelf!  Oliver’s review reads: “This is a really funny book. I like how Billy is an inventor. I like how he tries to build stuff and he goes on TV!  This is a really good book if you like inventing things.”

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6. The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli.  I finished it this morning and closed the book thinking about the kids I will recommend it to tomorrow.  Like many of Spinelli’s novels, this one takes place in Pennsylvania – this time in the late 1950s when kids are watching American Bandstand.  The Warden’s Daughter is Cammie O’Reilly, a 7th grader whose mother died when she was a baby.  She so desperately wants a mother that she tries to turn her “Cammie-keeper,” as she refers to the woman who cares for her, into a mother figure.  Meanwhile, Cammie’s best friend appears on American Bandstand – representing the change Cammie and her friends are experiencing on the cusp of becoming teenagers. This is a thoughtful and moving novel for mature 5th-7th grade readers.

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7. An origami boat made by an 8th grade student who read Around the World in 80 Days.

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8. There is a box of books under the library check-out desk.  It’s where we keep new books for Inly’s older elementary students – 4th, 5th, and 6th graders.  It started simply enough: a place to hold new books I plan to share with them or books put aside for specific students. Last week, three girls stopped by, and asked if there was anything special in the blue box.  I pulled it out for them, they sat down, and began pulling books out.  Spontaneously, one of them said – “this is the best plastic box I’ve ever seen!”

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9. The Mothers by Britt Bennett.  I’ve been listening to Bennett’s debut novel since reading a glowing review in The New York Times this past November.  It’s a story about secrets, about friendship, about leaving and returning, and the hold our past has on us.  The book mostly takes place in Southern California, but there were times, listening in my car on cold days in January,  I was tempted to roll the window down.

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10.  The Snowy Day on Postage Stamps!  2017 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Peter’s creator, Ezra Jack Keats.  I’ve been asking about the stamps at every trip to my local post office.  I will buy some to use and some to keep!

Happy Reading – and keep your eyes open for flashes of light!

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

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Unknown-1As my friends and family know, being an Ohioan is important to me.  Although I’ve lived in Massachusetts for nearly 30 years, I grew up in Dayton and it will always be home.  It is a reflex for me to “stick up for Ohio.”  I know how much the state has changed, and looking back can be hard. But I never miss an opportunity to bring up the Wright Brothers and John Glenn and Neil Armstrong – all people, as my husband likes to remind me, who went to extraordinary measures to leave Ohio!

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Our house outside of Boston is a place for me to display Ohio swag. Our front door knocker is a buckeye. Our bulletin board is shaped like the state of Ohio. And, thanks to my sisters, I have a wide variety of Ohio t-shirts!

That being said, going home makes me sad.  I love seeing my family and eating the best chocolates in the world from Esther Price, but every time I drive through Dayton, I feel despair.  My dad, a Dayton native who worked as an electrician for thirty-five years, points out the closed factories and tells me about members of our extended family who struggle to find work.  There are bright lights, including the University of Dayton and the Dayton Art Institute, but there are too many boarded-up businesses in the small towns outside of Dayton.

I’ve read countless articles about the challenges of the white working class and the disappearance of well-paying factory jobs, but understanding it doesn’t make it easier.  I miss the vibrant mid-sized city where I grew up.

The first time I heard about J.D. Vance’s new book, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, was on NPR. I immediately drove to the nearest bookstore, bought it, and then called my dad to suggest that we read it together.  It was not an easy read for us.  Vance’s story of growing up in Middletown, Ohio, although it differs in the specifics, is not so far from our own.  I recognize the people he describes. Hillbilly Elegy helped me make sense of what I’m seeing and is the best explanation I’ve read so far of why Trump’s message resonates with large groups of voters.

Today’s New York Times includes a review of Hillbilly Elegy that includes this passage:

“And he (Vance) frames his critique generously, stipulating that it isn’t laziness that’s destroying hillbilly culture but what the psychologist Martin Seligman calls “learned helplessness” — the fatalistic belief, born of too much adversity, that nothing can be done to change your lot.  What he’s really writing about is despair.”

Here’s a link to the review:

Reading Vance’s moving book brought up lots of emotions: sadness, frustration, understanding. But above all, it made me hopeful. I am hopeful that stories like this one will contribute to the national dialogue about jobs and the changing economy that could result in policies that will revitalize small towns.

I know how lucky I am to live in the Boston area. It’s a dynamic city that has given me opportunities I could only dream about as a child growing up in Dayton – and I’m grateful. But the Boston area has lots of fans. I will continue to watch for signs of growth and opportunity 850 miles away in my hometown.

 

Scattered Summer Notes….

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It’s summer, and all attempts at a regular routine have been forgotten.  My reading is scattered – in a good way. In an interview with the New York Times Book Review, Geoff Dwyer said that his favorite short story is “The Gardener” by Rudyard Kipling.  Two hours later, I was on the deck reading Kipling’s story about a mother searching for her son’s grave after WWI.

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On Monday, although the plan was to begin reading Emma Straub’s new novel, Modern Lovers, I read Terry Tempest Williams’ essay about Acadia National Park.  The essay is part of her new collection, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks.  Later this summer, we are visiting Acadia for the first time so I was an easy target for her beautiful new book. “Acadia is another breathing space,” Williams writes. “Perhaps that is what parks are – breathing spaces for a society that increasingly holds its breath.”  A memorable sentence that elegantly captures the anxiety many of us feel as we try to comprehend Orlando, Brexit, and Trump…

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Yesterday I continued my scattershot reading, but my distraction may be helpful to those of you with children who have a summer reading list.  I read the short middle grade novel, Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little by Peggy Gifford.  It was published in 2008, and I remember reading it then, but for some reason, I took Inly’s copy before it was packed in a moving box and read it again. This is literally the perfect novel for every kid who has a tendency to procrastinate.

Nine-year-old Moxy is supposed to read Stuart Little during the summer before fourth grade, but it’s the day before school starts and she hasn’t even started it.  She’s busy “cleaning” her room and making plans for a peach orchard.  Basically anything besides reading Stuart Little!  The chapters are short and funny and Moxy is great – add this one to your summer library list!

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles….

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My transportation-based reading plans trended the same way.  During a flight to and from Ohio, I read Stephanie Danler’s bestseller Sweetbitter.  It was not the book I had tucked in my travel bag. I started Sweetbitter in the Boston airport bookstore – drawn to it by the hype around Danler’s debut novel.  After reading five pages standing in the store (carrying other books in my tote bag), I walked to the cash register and didn’t stop reading until the plane landed and I was back in the land of Buckeyes!

Referred to in many reviews as a cross between Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City, Sweetbitter is a riveting and smart book. It’s the story of Tess, a young woman who arrives in New York and almost immediately starts working in an upscale restaurant.  It’s a coming-of-age novel with memorable scenes of life behind the kitchen door, lots of cocaine snorted behind bathroom doors, and a young woman who is pulled along by all of it.

I will never eat at a “fancy restaurant” again without thinking of Sweetbitter – not sure if that’s good or bad.  As much as I appreciated how Danler brings the reader hurtling along with Tess, I felt vaguely depressed while reading it. I kept wanting to go to the restaurant and get her out!  She was making bad decisions on every page.  I understand that I’m bringing my judgement to her situation – and that Tess is young and learning and we all make bad decisions.  That being said, it made me uneasy to witness her journey.

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I was also in New York for a few days, and the train ride was perfect for catching up on my stack of unread New Yorker magazines.  So many good articles – and cartoons – that stack up during the school year!

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Of course, we found time to visit McNally Jackson, our favorite bookstore in New York (traveling by an uber-mobile to complete the transport trio).

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The store’s window display pays tribute to people who tackle a “big” book over the summer.  My thoughts went immediately to a friend who just finished reading The Brothers Karamazov – an impressive feat.

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Next up: Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager.  It’s the first middle grade novel I’m reading with a group of kids at Buttonwood Books and Toys this summer. Eager’s novel takes place in New Mexico, a state I know and love.  I plan to bring a few souvenirs along so we can channel a southwestern mood. Chips and salsa will help!

Finally, I saw a picture of this new novel today:

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It looks like this one, doesn’t it?

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I’ll end this reading round-up with two pictures from the end of the school year.  As I looked at these pics today, I recalled a conversation I overheard a few days ago at Barnes and Noble. A boy, who was about 10 or 11, was consulting his summer reading list.  His mother reminded him to choose carefully because he had to write a summary of each chapter!  Ugh. And we wonder why kids don’t want to read.  Of course, work like that is often necessary (but not always) during the school year, but in the summer?  Why not give kids a list of books they might enjoy reading and encourage them to read. That’s it. No summaries. No assignments. Just read.

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A Trip to Ohio….

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I returned home last night from four wonderful days in the Buckeye State, two in Columbus and two in Dayton, my hometown.  I enjoyed being with my family, eating at Marion’s Pizza, buying Flyer Gear at the University of Dayton Bookstore, but our visit to Carillon Park, a museum spread over 65 acres that tells the story of Dayton’s history with special attention paid to its many inventors, was especially eye-opening.

Although everyone who grows up in Dayton knows the story of the Wright Brothers, I did not realize until Monday that I grew up in the early 1900s version of Silicon Valley! It was this barn that made me think about the connection:

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It’s a replica of the barn that stood behind Edward Deeds’ home in Dayton.  Deeds is hardly a household name, but he was the president of the National Cash Register Company and an engineer whose work led to advancing automotive technology. He also worked with the Wright Brothers and was involved in aircraft production during WWI.

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The sign in front of the barn reads: “In the original barn, from 1908 to 1912, a group of young engineers and inventors headed by Deeds and Charles Kettering developed the modern electric automobile ignition, starter, and lighting systems. Nicknamed ‘the barn gang,’ the group became the nucleus of the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company.”

Sixty-seven years later, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak worked in a garage rather than a barn, but there are obvious parallels.

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Of course, we also saw the Wright Flyer that Orville flew in 1905.  After reading David McCullough’s book about the famous brothers, I appreciated seeing the plane more.

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We also visited The Book Loft in German Village, a neighborhood in Columbus. The independent bookstore is known for its 32 rooms of books and, although I didn’t get to all of them, I found Room 32!

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And then, of course, there’s the plane ride – two hours each way of uninterrupted reading time.  I know devices have airplane modes, but I’m pretending they don’t!

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Although there are many new books I plan to read this summer, my first summer book was not even on my list – A Long and Happy Life by Reynolds Price.  Price, who died in 2011, was a well known and respected southern writer and Biblical scholar who, among other things, co-wrote the song, Copperline, with James Taylor. A Long and Happy Life, his first novel, was published in 1962.

Price’s novel about Rosacoke Mustian, a young woman in rural North Carolina, was the first “literary novel” I read as a young woman – and at the beginning of each summer, I state my intention to read it again.  Finally…I delivered on my self-assigned summer reading!  As a teenage reader, my book choices were unsophisticated.  My reading diet included lots of Harlequin romances because my grandmother had stacks of them.  Although I read books I was assigned in school, I didn’t really seek out “good books” until an embarrassingly late age.

Something or someone led me to the troubled romance of Rosacoke Mustian and Wesley Beavers.  Reading it now, I see so many things that would have gone right past me as a twenty-year-old.  The language is evocative and poetic – and I was a late-blooming reader.

Reading Price’s novel after thirty years of reading and teaching and studying, is a richer experience – but the first time was more meaningful. A Long and Happy Life was my gateway book. Rosacoke led me to all the other books. I literally did not look back – except for reading maybe one or two Harlequin romances with my grandmother!