Reading (and Looking) to Beat the Cold Weather Blues….

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It’s been really cold. On the way to the grocery this morning, the car thermometer could not decide if it wanted to read 0 or 1 below. The numbers seemed to shiver as they toggled between the two readings. Alarming either way.  The only “sunny” side to the last five or six days of record-breaking cold has been the opportunity to drink hot chocolate and read.

My reading has focused on art which has allowed me to immerse myself in good words and beautiful pictures: a short biography of John Singer Sargent. Letters between Henry James and Isabella Stewart Gardner. Essays from the catalogue that accompanies the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Michelangelo exhibition, and two illustrated books:

Coco Chanel: The Illustrated World of a Fashion Icon by Megan Hess

The book about Chanel was a gift, and probably not something I would ordinarily be drawn to, but this illustrated story of the influential designer’s life is fascinating.  She was twelve-years-old when her mother died and her father left her in an orphanage. When her “sartorial abilities” were recognized, Chanel became a milliner which ultimately led to ballet flats, tweed jackets, and, of course, Chanel No.5.  It was actually the best kind of reading: engaging, informative, and a book that left me wanting to know more.

Bolivar by Sean Rubin

Bolivar is a mashup: a book for kids that adults will love, a graphic novel, a picture book, an oversize illustrated novel.  I’m not sure where it would be shelved in a bookstore or library, but none of that matters. This is an amazing book and my first personal starred review of 2018. Bolivar is a dinosaur who lives in present day New York City. He’s quiet and keeps to himself – he even reads The New Yorker! But Sybil, the girl who lives in the apartment next door, knows her neighbor is a dinosaur, and she’s determined to take a picture of Bolivar to prove that to her disbelieving mother.

A number of unbelievable events lead Bolivar and the camera-carrying Sybil into a wild chase around recognizable New York City landmarks, but it’s that trip through New York that is most compelling. Every page is a tribute to New York: the produce stacked up outside of small markets, the subway, Chinatown, Central Park, and tourists. There are also fun visual jokes to catch, a wonderful picture of a paleontologist’s desk, and lots of water towers.

Bolivar is a sweet story about people who are too busy to see what’s right in front of them and a girl who is trying to get people to see the obvious. It is a memorable and wonderful book.

In today’s New York Times Book Review, there is an article called “For the Love of Malt Shop Novels” by Joanne Kaufman. In her piece, she talks about teenage books (mostly romances) as an “endless source of reassurance and hope.”  I did not know they were called “malt shop novels,” but I read them as a teenager too and got the same reassurance. As Kaufman writes, “You could be self-doubting like Jane Purdy, the protagonist of Fifteen and, nevertheless, end up wearing the ID bracelet of cute green-eyed Stan.”  Most of the books were win the 1940s and 50s – before my teenage years. But these were the books that I read voraciously as a middle school student.

Among other authors of this genre, Kaufman talks about Betty Cavanna. Cavanna’s name flooded me with memories of seventh grade when I read Stars In Her Eyes. I don’t remember much about the story except that I loved it. The books written for middle school kids today are far more realistic, and there are so many more choices of what to read. But I do remember Cavanna’s books serving the same function as many of the books I recommend to my students. They made me feel less alone.

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all of the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

James Baldwin

Stay warm out there!


As 2017 Comes to a Close…

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As the year comes to a close, I am starting to see lists of books to watch out for in 2018, but it’s still too early to leave 2017 so maybe a look back….

Here are five books that defined my year:

Dog Man by Dav Pilkey

Pilkey’s crime-fighting dog is the star of the most popular series in the Inly Library. The fourth installment will be released while we are on our holiday break, but I’m sure there will be kids waiting to check it out on January 2!

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna

This is my favorite picture book of the year. I love it more with every reading. The bright pop of orange on the child’s jacket. The reminder to put down our devices and explore the world. The way some of the illustrations seem to glow.

Patina by Jason Reynolds

The best book I reviewed for School Library Journal this year. Reynolds understands the difficulties and challenges faced by young people today and writes about their lives in a way they recognize, with integrity and respect.

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

My surprise read of the year. I bought this book because I needed something for a train ride and ended up wanting to skip my stop. Three characters whose lives intersect: Adri lives in Kansas in 2065. Catherine’s family is trying to survive during the Dust Bowl in 1934. Lenore’s brother has died in WWI, and she wants to travel to America. A quiet, mysterious, and beautiful novel.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

A ghost story that is truly unforgettable. Both sad and funny, it is the story of Abraham Lincoln’s grief after the death of his young son, Willy, that includes the voices of both historical and made-up characters. Winner of the Man Booker Prize. One of the New York Times 100 Notable Books. I read it earlier in the year. I’m listening to it now.

I’m hoping the last few weeks of the year are filled with reading. My book stack is so tall it wobbles. Last night I finished Autumn by Ali Smith. I’m now reading a book for School Library Journal, and after that Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben. There are 15 days left….

Happy Reading!

Time to Make Your Book Shopping List…


It’s list season!  There’s a new “best books of 2017” list in my email every day, and although there are many books that appear on every list (Lincoln in the Bardo), there are surprises too. For example, the Washington Post’s 10 Best list includes Saints for All Occasions by  J. Courtney Sullivan, a novel published in May, but I may need to loop back to that one…

Along with Nancy Perry, my friend and colleague from the Norwell Public Library, I am making my own list of the best children’s books of 2017.  It’s fun for us to compare notes. Although we generally agree on the books to be presented at our annual James Library event, there are several that one of us is more passionate about than the other.  In the middle grade fiction category, Nancy is more enthusiastic than I am about Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm. I like it, but it did not reach Sunny Side Up heights for me.

We are in complete agreement that A Good Day for a Hat by T. Nat Fuller is one of the best picture books (for young children) of 2017.  It is a brightly colored and fun book that is a guaranteed hit for story time.

Outside of our list, which I will post after the event, we decided to include ideas for book themed gifts. It occurred to me that between libraries, Kindles, and random book purchases, some kids have already read the most popular books. Along with that, the holidays are an opportunity for parents, grandparents, and friends to indulge a child’s special interest.  And so for you early shoppers, here are books to expand a child’s horizon or support a new hobby…

Dreamers, Designers, Builders

Out of the Box: 25 Cardboard Engineering Projects for Makers, by Jemma Westing

When Jackie Saved Grand Central: The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy’s Fight for an American Icon, by Natasha Wing

Fallingwater by Marc Harshman

The World Is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter

Engineered! Engineering Design at Work by Shannon Hunt


To Infinity and Beyond…

My Journey to the Stars by Scott Kelly

Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing by Dean Robbins

Sally Ride: A Photobiography of America’s Pioneering Woman in Space by Tam O’Shaughnessy


Kind Words 

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt

Come with Me by Holly M. McGhee

Most People by Michael Leannah

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers

A Different Pond by Bao Phi

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs


Inspirational Women

The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter

Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai

The World Is Not a Rectangle by Jeanette Winter

She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton

There are other categories, but I wanted to save room for these pictures –

There was no posing involved in this picture!  Just a wonderful moment for a teacher and student in the library this week:

And a new mural at the very popular Four Square Court, designed and painted by our middle school students with the help of Marshfield artist Sally Dean:

Happy Book Shopping!



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!


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:

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….


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…


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


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.


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.


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:


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.”


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.


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


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!”


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.


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!