What I’ve Been Reading….

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Hot days. Cool coffee shops. I’ve finally had a good reading stretch and don’t want to be reminded that August begins this week!

Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Cinderella Liberator by Rebecca Solnit – a retelling of Cinderella by the author of Men Explain Things to Me. This one stresses kindness and the true meaning of beauty. As I read, I thought about how much I would have loved this version of Cinderella when I was a young girl and how much I’m looking forward to eading it with students during the school year ahead. It’s exciting to read Cinderella as a young woman with power over her own life and decisions.

Turbulence by David Szalay – I heard Dwight Garner, a book critic for the New York Times, talking about this short novel on the NYT Book Review podcast and it intrigued me enough to buy it that day and read it immediately.  Sometimes it’s good to trust your instincts – and this was one of those times. Szalay’s book plays with the idea of “six degrees of separation” in a really interesting way. Plane flights are what connects these stories together, but most of the “turbulence” is on the ground.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds – Sometimes I read interviews with “book people” in which the person is asked to name a book they should have read by now, but haven’t.  Until last week, this would have been my answer. Reynolds’ books received lots of starred reviews. It won awards. I’ve read many of the author’s other titles. I reviewed one of them for School Library Journal – and yet, Long Way Down was still in my “to read” stack. As Kirkus described it in their starred review, the book is truly “astonishing.”  The story centers on Will, a 15-year-old boy who sees his brother killed on the streets. Will decides to seek revenge, but he has to go down the elevator of his apartment building first.

The New Yorker – It’s kind of strange to include this on my list of reading, but I had set aside weeks of articles and finally got through them – until a new issue arrives this week. Particularly notable was Jane Mayer’s article, “The Case of Al Franken” in which the writer thoughtfully explores the accusations against Senator Franken that led to his resignation from the U.S. Senate. It appears in the July 29 issue.

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei – A graphic memoir about Takei’s family’s incarceration during the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII.  I have never seen one episode of Star Trek, the show that made Takei famous, but I knew about his work as an activist. Takei’s memoir feels urgent. The story he tells of his own experience is moving, but the parallels he draws with the present are powerful reminders that every person deserves to be treated with respect and fairness.

What I finished:

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips – This will be the highlight of my reading this year. A demanding and immersive novel that led me to stop between chapters to “youtube” videos about the  Kamchatka peninsula where the book takes place. Phillips’ book is, on one hand, a suspenseful story about two sisters who go missing. But to read it as a mystery is to miss what it is really about: people living in a remote and complex place, community, the lives of women, ethnicity.

And what I’m now reading:

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead – I’m not far enough in to talk about this novel, but it moved to the top of my list based on Frank Rich’s glowing front page review in the New York Times Book Review.

Summer is also about bookstores!  And I was recently able to visit one of my favorites: The Bookloft in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

And a new one…

The Book Barn in Niantic, Connecticut is a used book store that is more like a theme park for books. It’s set up like a little village and each location is stacked floor to ceiling with used books. Given the amount of stock they manage, the store is remarkably well organized. After we spent an hour (and a few dollars) there, the staff member caring for the goats gave us directions to an ice cream shop!

The Book Barn also wins the prize for the best book shop sign ever!

Happy Reading…


Highlights from our Middle School List….

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve been featuring some of the titles on Inly’s summer reading list, beginning with picture books for young readers. This week – our middle school students. Books for “tweens” have changed a lot over the past ten years. The books still focus primarily on identity and self-discovery because that’s what kids between the ages of 12 and 14 are figuring out. The difference is that contemporary novels grapple with issues on the front burner far more directly than they did when I was in middle school (or junior high as we called it in Ohio). Today’s young adult books tackle, among other issues: gender identity, social media, climate change, refugees, race, social justice issues, and sexual orientation. Young people have a lot to navigate, but there are lots of good books to pave the way.

Here are five of my favorites on Inly’s middle school list:

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

“…Alicia D. Williams’s stunning debut novel…explores racism within the black community, creating a fully realized family with a history of complex relationships to one another, and to their own skin colors. The suburban school where Genesis finds herself navigating a diverse cast of friends and foes is no less vivid…But the standout voice in this tender and empowering novel—reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, but appropriate for a much younger audience—belongs to Genesis herself, as she discovers a truth that we adults would do well to remember: Growing up isn’t just about taking responsibility for the happiness and well-being of others. It’s also about learning what you can and should fix, and what you cannot. As Genesis discovers, there is no true reinvention without self-acceptance.” (New York Times Book Review)

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth

“Gansworth, himself an enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation, explores the boys’ organic relationship with generosity and tenderness and unflinching clarity, sidestepping stereotypes to offer two genuine characters navigating the unlikely intersection of two fully realized worlds…. And although Gansworth manages the weighty themes of racism and poverty with nuance and finesse, at its heart, this is a rare and freehearted portrait of true friendship.” (Booklist, starred review)

Beast Rider by Tony Johnston

Beast Rider is a short book, coming in at 176 quick pages, a good choice for readers toward the younger end of the Y.A. spectrum…Given that the plight of Latinos fleeing to the North is such a big and important subject, it’s impressive how much information Johnston and Fontanot de Rhoads are able to share, so economically: the violence migrants face during their journey to the States, the help from strangers they receive along the way, the danger that can be found at the border, and the challenges that new immigrants face when they’re in the United States. This novel is as sharp as it is brief.” (New York Times Book Review)

Operatic by Kyo Maclear

“Taking on friendships, crushes, cliques, and music culture, Maclear offers an honest, deeply respectful look at what is at the core of belonging and isolation for teenagers. Charlie Noguchi narrates her middle-school existence through the lens of her music teacher’s assignment to “choose a song for this moment in your life and write about it.” She pines for Emile, a quiet aspiring entomologist, and wonders about the mysterious prolonged absence of Luka, a femme boy who sings like an angel and once disturbed kids and adults at school with his unapologetic fabulousness…When Charlie, Emile, Luka, and friends find the courage to express themselves together, their music creates a rainbow. With poetic words and pictures, Maclear and Eggenschwiler create a synesthetic experience that captures all the high and low notes of youth.” (Publishers Weekly)

White Rose by Kip Wilson

“Sophie Scholl was a young German student who wanted to see the end of Hitler and the Nazi regime. She gave her life for that cause. As children, Sophie and her brother Hans were enthusiastic members of Hitler Youth organizations. But as the Nazis’ chokehold increased and the roundups and arrests of dissenters and Jews escalated, they became determined to resist. After conscription into the National Labor Service, Hans, Sophie, and trusted university friends formed the secret White Rose resistance group. Hans began to compose treasonable leaflets, promoting an uprising against Hitler. Sophie helped get the leaflets out to influential people as well as to other university students. Their work attracted the attention of Nazi sympathizers, who informed the Gestapo of suspicious activities—and they were ultimately caught by a university custodian. Intensive interrogation and imprisonment, followed by a sham trial led by a fanatical judge, led to the sentence of death by guillotine. Organized in repeated sections that move forward and backward in time, readers hear Sophie’s thoughts in brief, pointed, free-verse poems in direct, compelling language…..Real events made deeply personal in an intense, bone-chilling reading experience.” (starred review, Kirkus)

School is out for the summer so I’m going to step away from the blog for a few weeks. I have lots of reading to do! And so, apparently, does this baby —

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!

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon



A few months ago I read a young adult book about love. A common enough subject – but Nicola Yoon’s debut novel, Everything, Everything is different. It’s not only about love between two young people experiencing its joys and challenges for the first time, but other kinds of love as well.

Maddy is a 17-year-old – half Japanese and half African-American – girl who has never gone to school or the mall or to a friend’s birthday party. She has a rare disease that requires her to live indoors in a climate-controlled apartment. I was thinking about similarities to The Fault in Our Stars as I started reading, but Yoon’s novel is something different.

As Tolstoy said, “All great literature is one of two stories: a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” So I knew that Maddy’s unquestioning acceptance of her situation was going to be challenged when a “stranger”  (in the form of a new family moving next door) “comes to town.” Among the family members is Olly, the first boy Maddy has ever known.

I wondered how Yoon was going to connect Rapunzel with her neighbor, but seeing each other through a window solves that problem. And it’s not long before Olly holds up a sign with his email address for Maddy to see.  She writes first: “Hello. I guess we should start with introductions? My name is Madeleine Whittier, but you can tell that from my e-mail address. What’s yours?”  And that’s it – a conversation and a challenge begin.

Yoon fills her novel with e-mails and IM messages and Maddy’s health charts and schedules and lots of other stuff which provide energy and immediacy to the story. I found myself turning the pages faster and faster to see how this impossible situation was going to resolve itself. But there are some twists and turns along the way.

Everything, Everything will be published on September 1. I recommend it to readers ages 13 and over because spoiler alert: they find a way to get together!

Yoon’s novel was just given a starred review from Kirkus and it is the September selection of the Parnassus (Ann Patchett’s independent bookstore in Nashville) Young Adult Book Club.


Three Books and Two Paintings….


It was a strange reading week. Not bad, just unexpected. I had the week off from school so my expectations (and my “to read” pile) were high!  As it turns out, I read one young adult novel, two excellent picture books, and lots of magazine articles that were beginning to collect dust.

Here are the highlights – and two paintings….


Growing Up Pedro by Matt Tavares

I work in a school library in Greater Boston so of course, this new picture book was on my list.  Tavares’s new book is as much about the love between Pedro and his older brother, Ramon, as it is about baseball. The book opens in 1981 in the Dominican Republic where Pedro “sits in the shade and watches the older boys play.”  It’s Ramon, a pitcher, who is the baseball star of the Martinez family, and when he moves to Los Angeles to play for the Dodgers, Pedro is motivated to practice harder and join his big brother. Of course, he does – and he gets to play alongside Ramon for a few seasons. But Pedro, becomes the bigger star – a member of the Hall of Fame, an eight-time All Star, and three-time winner of the Cy Young Award. This is a warm book about the love between two brothers with big dreams. My bet is that this one will be checked out within an hour of putting it on display!


The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc

This is a book with very few words – and it is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. It’s about everything – the passage of time, the seasons and growth, and above all, the rewards of friendship. There is a page with nine words that made me feel genuinely heartbroken. As the title says, the story is about a lion and a bird. It’s a fall day and Lion is working in his garden when he sees a bird with a hurt wing. “Let’s bandage you up,” says Lion “That will help.”  During the bird’s convalescence, his flock leaves, but the Lion invites him to stay for the winter. After one of the coziest picture book winters I’ve ever seen on the page, the birds return and that’s when the sad scene takes place. There is a happy ending so no worries about a sad child (or adult). But here’s the best part of Dubuc’s book – as spare as it is, it’s one to return to again and again. I definitely will.


Mosquitoland by David Arnold

This is the young adult novel I read this week – and although I didn’t read as many books as I planned, I picked the right one. Wow – this one will stick with me.  Mosquitoland is a road trip novel. The traveler is sixteen-year-old Mary Iris Malone who goes by Mim. She is traveling from her father’s house in Mississippi (Mosquitoland) to her mother in Cleveland.  Mim is convinced that her father and stepmother are keeping something important from her so she hits the road. Of course, there are bumps along the way and some shady characters. There is also humor, a bit of romance – and life lessons. To be clear, there are some serious issues addressed here: sexual assault, intellectual disabilities, depression and violence. Overall, Arnold’s novel is bighearted and generous and Mim’s journey is one of self discovery, but I recommend it to mature teens.

And the art….

I took these pictures at the Cape Ann Museum. They are both by Charles Hopkinson, a Boston painter who lived between 1869 and 1962.

This one looks like the cover of a Henry James novel….


And this one could be the cover of a Louisa May Alcott book…




Addison Stone and a Report from the Halloween Parade….



Last night I finished reading The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin – the perfect Halloween weekend novel: a tragic ghost story about a girl who, after she dies, continues to exert power over everyone in her sphere. A fictional “biography” of a teenager from small town Rhode Island who becomes a star of the Manhattan art world, Griffin’s novel addresses fame, mental illness, and the high stakes art world in this multi-voiced novel. As the book begins, Addison Stone has already died in mysterious circumstances. What follows is a series of interviews, media coverage, artwork, and e-mails that give contradictory reports of Addison’s life. Ultimately, Addison remains somewhat unknowable, but the people who suffer or benefit from their relationship with her come sharply into focus. I would recommend this book to readers 14 and over.

The Inly Halloween parade was festive as always – and there were a few book-themed costumes among the characters from Frozen, aliens, and witches:

photo 4

photo 1-1

Finally, a funny story from one of our parents: Her six-year-old daughter was trying to describe a book she wanted to buy at our recent book fair. She couldn’t recall the title, but she remembered the cover:


Here’s the book she wanted – not bad, right?


The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell

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Fifty years ago, in June of 1964,  three young and idealistic civil rights workers were murdered by the KKK. The three young men were in Mississippi to register African Americans to vote as part of a statewide campaign. The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell is a riveting and essential account of the events leading to the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner – and should be in the collection of every middle and high school.


I  pay special attention to good books about the Civil Rights Movement because our middle school students focus on that pivotal time during their history studies. Mitchell’s book caught my attention after reading several glowing reviews, but admittedly, when I read more about Mitchell, it was his biography that sparked my interest. Don Mitchell – from Kettering, Ohio – began his career in the office of Senator John Glenn. One of the books most often displayed at the Inly Library is Liftoff: A Photobiography of John Glenn by Don Mitchell. I consider it my responsibility – and a pleasure – to be sure Inly students learn about the first American to orbit the earth, U.S. Senator, and one of Ohio’s most famous  sons. During college, I spent a summer interning in Senator Glenn’s Washington office which ultimately led to my first job after graduating. I contacted Don Mitchell to learn more about his new book, and he graciously agreed to answer a few questions about The Freedom Summer Murders:

SS: What drew you to this particular set of events?

DM: I have been aware of the Chaney, Goodman, Schwerner murders from an early age. At my high school in Kettering, I took a course in black history and learned about this case in more depth. When I went on to attend Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, I frequently studied at the university’s Western Campus, which used to be the Western College for Women. It’s a beautiful, tranquil place. I often thought of the Freedom Summer volunteers who trained there in 1964. I was drawn to this story of young people taking such a huge risk to help others and fight for social justice. When I was casting about for a new book idea several years ago, I realized the fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer was approaching and I decided it would be a good time to explore this important story.

SS: You clearly spent a lot of time talking with people and reading firsthand accounts of the events of June 1964. Did anything you learn surprise you? Any challenges or “roads” you didn’t expect to travel?

DM: One of my primary objectives was to interview people who knew James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. In most published accounts of this story, there is very little about their lives and backgrounds. I wanted to tell their individual stories more fully, and explore what made these three young men such caring individuals, and how they became involved in civil rights. These interviews were the most interesting part of my research. I was struck, but not surprised, by how deeply they felt the loss of their loved ones, and how vivid that sense of loss was almost 50 years after their murders.

SS: What books do you admire?

DM: I’ve always been interested in biographies. It’s a great way to learn about the lives of interesting people, as well as understand the times in which they lived. I also love anything written by E.B. White; not just his books for young people (e.g., Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little), but his letters and essays. In addition to being a great literary stylist, his writing is witty and insightful.

SS: Is there a next book being planned?

DM: I have a young adult nonfiction book proposal that is currently under consideration at several publishing houses. Hopefully, there will be interest before long — I’m anxious to begin a new project.


As regular readers know, I consider Charlotte’s Web to be one of the greatest novels ever written – so it was a thrill to read about Don’s admiration for E.B. White.