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!


Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance


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!


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….




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.


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…


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….


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.


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!


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).


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.


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:


It looks like this one, doesn’t it?


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.




A Trip to Ohio….


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:


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.


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.


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.


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!



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!


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!

Gators, Princesses, and a Painting….

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I timed my (nearly daily) trip to Buttonwood Books and Toys perfectly yesterday – just in time to see Brian Lies, the author of the popular series of picture books about bats who do all kinds of things like go to baseball games, visit the library, and go to the beach…


Brian was at Buttonwood to talk about his new book which is a departure from creatures of the night. This story is about creatures of the swamp.


Gator Dad is about a dad who “squeezes the day” with his three young alligators. They go to the park, play on a seesaw, eat pancakes, and end the day with an alligator squeeze.  A perfect Father’s Day story, Gator Dad captures the joy of a day out.


We only have one week of school left, but Brian kindly signed a book to the kids at Inly, and I will “squeeze” enough time to read one more story!


As a school librarian, I am always on the lookout for princess books. There are lots of young readers who enjoy a good princess story and who can blame them!  But I also try to keep Inly’s library a marketing-free zone which means there are no Disney princess books. When I read about The Seven Princesses by Smiljana Coh, I was hopeful – and it did not disappoint. The best part of Coh’s book is that it’s more than a sweetly illustrated book with wide eyed princesses.  It’s also a story about family. Like all siblings, these seven young girls have their moments.  Each of them has a unique interest and they generally enjoy being together.


But “one day, they had the biggest fight in the entire history of princess fighting.”  The next few pages aren’t as rosy – either literally or figuratively.  The girls separate and build individual towers – they are lonely.  Ultimately, through the magic of an old picture, they reconnect and all is well in the kingdom.  Not a unique story, of course, but that doesn’t matter. The pictures are fun and sparkly in the best princess way – and there’s always room for a reminder how much stronger and happier we are together.

One of the best parts of summer is that I get to choose things to read from my toppling, piled-too-high stack of new books. I look longingly at the pile all school year long while I’m reading To Kill a Mockingbird and The Giver and The Outsiders for the fourth or eighth time each, and then one morning I wake up and realize I can read anything I want. I don’t quite hear bells ringing, but something close!


The first “adult book” I read was The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith. I finished it two days ago, and I’m still thinking about the story, the characters, and what a perfect first summer book it was.  Moving between three different times and places, the story centers on a painting by a 17th century Dutch artist. By the 1950s, the painting belongs to a wealthy New Yorker, Martin de Groot, who at the beginning of the novel is hosting a charity event.  After everyone has gone home, he realizes his painting has been replaced by a forgery.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos could accurately be called a mystery, but the mystery is about more than the painting. It’s also about the mystery of what motivates us and the choices we make.  It’s also just a really good story. As a friend said, each section could be its own novel that you would want to read!

Next up: a book to review for School Library Journal. Back to the toppling stack soon…



Canal-Side Reading….



While many of my colleagues and students spent their vacations near a pool or beach, my husband and I travelled to Amsterdam last week where we walked along the canals. My friends were definitely warmer. Amsterdam felt like late November rather than early spring, but the views and art museums more than compensated!

Later this week, I will post lots of book-related pictures from our trip. Today, though, I will tell you what I read during two very long flights and evenings while recovering from “museum legs,” which Urban Dictionary defines as “the aching legs one develops after a prolonged period of slow walking interspersed with standing still, especially when going round a museum or some other attraction where visitors are forced to be constantly on their feet.”


The Last Boy at St. Edith’s by Lee Gjertsen Malone

Jeremy is the last boy at St. Edith’s, a private school in Massachusetts that, after a brief attempt to become coed, has gone back to being an all-girls school. There are 475 girls – and Jeremy, whose mother works at the school where he and his sisters get free tuition. Jeremy knows his mother can’t afford the tuition at another school and St. Edith’s is much better than the local public school, but that doesn’t make it any easier for him. Jeremy’s only option is a misguided attempt to get expelled and to that end, he enlists the help of his best friend, Claudia. The two of them embark on a series of pranks that are not as harmless as Jeremy hopes. Along the way, Jeremy learns a lot about himself, his friendships, and the value of attending St. Edith’s.  Malone’s book will be on Inly’s summer reading list – and I will begin recommending it to kids tomorrow!


Night at the Fiestas by Kirstin Valdez Quade

When we were in Santa Fe last year, we visited Collected Works, a wonderful independent bookstore. There was a display of a new book of short stories by Kirstin Valdez Quade, the author of Night at the Fiestas – and a notice that Quade would be speaking in the store the next night. We missed her reading, but I made a mental note of the book and when it was named one of the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2015, I added it to my list. The ten stories all take place in New Mexico and each include razor sharp observations of the way cultures collide in a place where many people seek transformation.  The title story is the one that had the greatest effect on me.  Frances, the teenage protagonist, is taking the bus to Santa Fe for the annual fiesta. Like many young people on the brink of adulthood, Frances is seeking excitement and the promise of something beyond her life in small town Raton. Something does happen, but it’s not what she expects and the final scene made my heart ache for her.


Gorsky by Vesna Goldsworthy

Gorsky was my “beach book” for this vacation – and the perfect choice.  It’s a retelling of The Great Gatsby that takes place in 21st century London and Gatsby is now a Russian gazillionaire!  There are so many parallels with The Great Gatsby that reading Goldsworthy’s novel is like a game to see how many references you can catch.  One of my favorites is that the object of Gorsky’s desire is a woman named Natalia – but her daughter’s name is Daisy!  Such fun….

Pictures of bookstores in Amsterdam coming soon…..

Bettyville by George Hodgman

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Nearly a year ago, I began hearing about a book called Bettyville by George Hodgman. I read the glowing reviews, added it to my list, and even bought the book. Yet, like emails that drop below my screen view, I never got to it.

Although there are other books I should be reading, I picked Bettyville up a few days ago and then barely put it down until reaching the last page. Hodgman’s memoir of the time he spent caring for his elderly mother made me laugh out loud and feel overwhelmed by sadness in equal measure.

George Hodgman, a writer and editor living in New York City, returns to Paris, Missouri and witnesses the decline of a woman he loves and a town that has been changed by drugs and Walmart.  “This is not a locale whose residents are waiting desperately for the latest version of the iPhone,” Hodgman writes. “This is a place where the Second Coming would be much preferred to tomorrow’s sunrise, the world of the Store, the Big Cup, the carbohydrate, and the cinnamon roll – a region of old families, now faded, living in trailer homes, divorcing and having illegitimate children. But there is also kindness, such kindness…”

Hodgman writes honestly about the frustration of caring for an aging parent – and the complicated relationship between mother and son – but most of all he is a good man devoted to caring for his mother with love and respect.  There are some very funny stories (including one about mini Snicker bars) and poignant memories of the loneliness Hodgman felt as a young gay man growing up in a small town.

On a completely different note, we were in Amherst, Massachusetts over the weekend. Because of the subzero temperatures, we were looking for things to do that did not involve being outdoors and decided to visit the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College which is a gem – a perfect small museum that we will definitely visit again.

One of my favorites was this painting of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the author of Gift From the Sea and the wife of Charles Lindbergh. The artist, Robert Brackman, painted this in 1938 – only six years after the Lindbergh’s baby was kidnapped….


We also noticed that a Good Samaritan thoughtfully put a scarf around Robert Frost’s neck. It was a cold day, even for someone who appreciated “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”