A Conference and a Bookstore

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Over the past few months, I’ve been helping to organize one of my favorite programs – the John F. Kennedy Library’s annual conference for teachers and school librarians. It’s been a pleasure to be a part of the planning, mostly because it combines two important parts of my life: I spent 15 years working for the Kennedy Library Foundation before leaving the Library to pursue my graduate degree in children’s literature.

Now in its 19th year, the conference has generally focused on biography and history. This year’s conference, We the People: Stories of Strength and Struggle in Challenging Times, is designed to explore how children’s literature, both fiction and non-fiction, can shed light on the experience of people who are seen as “other” and who face challenges as they seek opportunity, freedom, and equality. The conference will take place at the John F. Kennedy Library on Thursday, May 9.

The morning includes a panel discussion with the participating authors: Joseph Bruchac, Lesa Cline-Ransome, and Pam Munoz Ryan.  The panel is followed by keynote remarks by Erica Armstrong Dunbar, the author of Never Caught: The Washingtons Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge, a finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction.  Dunbar’s book was recently published in a young readers edition:

The registration deadline is April 24.  Here’s a link for more information:

https://www.jfklibrary.org/learn/education/teachers/professional-development/we-the-people-stories-of-strength-and-struggle-in-challenging-times

Yesterday we visited a bookstore that had been on our list for awhile. During a short trip to New Haven, we went to the Atticus Bookstore Cafe.  The bookstore is right next to the Yale Center for British Art which was the primary reason we went to New Haven. It was a perfect afternoon: a yummy lunch, art, and books.  The bookstore is small, but excellent.  I especially loved the book displays:

This one was my favorite:

The Book Fair opens tomorrow…..It should be a fun week!

 

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A Short Trip to New York….

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We were only in New York for two days, but that was plenty of time to visit two new (to us) bookstores, hear an author speak, and go to an exhibit about Corduroy!

Our first stop was the Museum of the City of New York where the exhibit, A City for Corduroy, is there until June 23.  The famous stuffed bear – who is missing a button on his green overalls – was “born” in 1968 when Don Freeman published his most well-known book, Corduroy.  Freeman also published numerous other picture books for children (including my favorite, Norman the Doorman) and was equally well-regarded for his illustrations of Broadway in the 1930s.

I learned that the original Corduroy story did not include Lisa’s mother’s saying to her daughter: “not today dear….I’ve spent too much already.” In the first draft, it was only the missing button that prevented Corduroy from going home with Lisa that day. “I’m sure we can find a perfect bear for you,” she tells Lisa:

Another priority for this trip was to branch out from our regular go-to NYC bookstores, McNally Jackson and the Strand, and visit two stores on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Kitchen Arts and Letters, on Lexington Avenue, is a legendary cookbook store.

Even though I’m not capable of cooking much more than Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese, I am lucky to be married to a wonderful cook – and he loved this store. In fact, he seemed kind of overwhelmed by the selection. According to their website, Kitchen Arts and Letters has over 12,000 cookbooks in stock. The website also says that Laurie Colwin was one of the store’s early customers. That was enough for me. Laurie Colwin is one of my all-time favorite writers so I was happy to be in a place she loved.

Another store on our list was one I’d seen on Instagram, but never visited. The Corner Bookstore opened in 1978 (five years before Kitchen Arts and Letters) and it is a true reader’s paradise. This bookstore is smartly curated; every book in the store is the best of what’s available in travel, art, fiction, nonfiction, and biography. It was wonderful to browse in The Corner Bookstore because all of the work (weeding through junk) has been done. I bought a short biography of the artist Bellini and a recently published literary biography of Capri, Pagan Light: Dreams of Freedom and Beauty in Capri.

An added bonus: The Corner Bookstore’s cash register. It caught my eye because of the name on the front:

Made in 1906 by the National Cash Register Company in Dayton, it suits the store perfectly and still works.

As we walked toward our next stop, we were held up by this scene:

They were filming a new HBO series called The Undoing. Based on the novel You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, the series stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant.  We had a feeling this filming was different than others we’ve walked by in NYC. The extras were standing on the corner, and even they had beautiful clothing and professional make-up. There were two catering stations and lots of people who appeared to be very busy.

Later that evening, we heard E.O. Wilson speak at the 92nd Street Y. The New York Times science writer Claudia Dreifus led a conversation with Wilson about his new book, Genesis: The Deep Origin of Societies.

The conversation focused on Wilson’s work in understanding tribalism, a word we hear a lot today. Wilson said the fundamental force of evolution was the physical growth of our brains. That growth, which allows us to behave and think as we do today, occurred through formation of groups, conflicts, empathy, and most importantly – alliances. Of course, the two-time Pulitzer prize winner, also discussed ants, a subject about which he is the world’s expert.

I am not the best person to write a reliable report on a scientist’s talk, but I enjoyed every minute of listening to Wilson. He was introduced as a “worthy son of Charles Darwin,” and everyone in the room was keenly aware that we were in the presence of greatness.

Back to school on Monday!  I have 30 pages left to read of The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea. It was a perfect vacation book – the story of a big and complicated Mexican-American family celebrating the last birthday of their patriarch.

Happy Reading….

 

 

 

Winter Reading….

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There is one bonus to being on medical leave during the winter – lots of time to read!  While I’ll be happy to return to school soon, it has been nice to look at the thermometer, remember I don’t have to go outside, and reach for my book.  Here’s what I’ve been reading for the past six weeks….

Middle England by Jonathan Coe

At over 400 pages, this novel took the longest to read. I first read about it on a few English newspaper websites, but this endorsement from the author John Boyne tipped me over into the “buy” column: “Millions of words have been and will be written on Brexit but few will get to the heart of why it is happening as incisively as Middle England.”  Maybe I was tired of reading about the dysfunction in my own country so I decided to dive into another flavor of anxiety.  What I really like about Middle England is its broad sweep. The novel begins eight years before the Brexit vote and follows a cast of characters representing multiple points of view. By the time Coe reaches the actual “stay or leave” vote, I had a deeper understanding of England – and America’s – identity crisis.

Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home by Nora Krug

This acclaimed memoir by a German woman learning about her family’s history during WWII is an immersive experience. A blend of a graphic novel, a scrapbook, and a memoir, Krug’s book is demanding and thoughtful. It is not a traditional reading experience – rather I found myself engaging with each page visually and emotionally. I felt like I was traveling alongside the author as she uncovers her family’s story and asks hard questions. Krug understands that history exists in the grey space – she does not conclude with a list of who was right and who was wrong. History and family are more complex than that. You reach the end of her memoir shocked again at the atrocities of Nazi-era Germany and thinking about your own cultural heritage and the meaning of “home.”

Someday We Will Fly by Rachel Dewoskin

I read this young adult novel in advance of adding it to Inly’s middle school summer reading list. At the center of the story is Lillia, a fifteen-year-old Polish girl who, with her father and baby sister, escape to Shanghai during WWII. Lillia’s parents were circus performers in Poland, but during a chaotic raid, her mother disappears, leaving the rest of her family to hope for her return. As Lillia makes a new life in Shanghai, she struggles with missing her mother and trying to find ways to make money to help her family survive. The most interesting part of the book was learning about the Jewish community that lived in Shanghai during WWII. China was occupied by Japanese forces at the time, but the Japanese allowed the Jewish refugees to stay because, as Lillia’s dad explains to her, “Apparently the Japanese believe Jews are powerful…..as long as they believe we control Western governments, we should be fine. Who knew there’d be such a silver lining to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories?” A good pick for mature teenagers who enjoy historical fiction.

Inventing Victoria by Tonya Bolden

Continuing the young adult historical fiction segment of the list, I read Tonya Bolden’s new novel about Essie, a young African American woman living in post-Civil War Savannah. At the opening of the novel, Essie lives with her mother in a brothel. Her mother calls the men who visit “uncles,” but Essie knows there is no future with her mother, and with the support of a friend, finds a housekeeping position in a respectable boardinghouse. One of the guests, an African American woman named Dorcas Vashon, gives Essie an opportunity – to be her companion. “I seek out young women of promise,” Dorcas tells Essie. Essie takes the opportunity, renames herself Victoria, and begins a new life among the African American elite in Baltimore. This book addresses race, status, and identity – and it’s perfect for readers ages 14 and over. I really liked this one.

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

Since reading about the meteoric rise of Sally Rooney, the twenty-seven year old literary superstar, I’ve wanted to read both of her novels: Conversations With Friends and Normal People. Rooney’s press has been glowing. A New Yorker profile is captioned: “The Irish writer has been hailed as the first great millennial novelist for her stories of love and late capitalism.” Normal People was longlisted for the Booker Prize and was the 2018 Waterstones Book of the Year. So, with that as background music, I enthusiastically jumped into Conversations With Friends.  The writing is brilliant – I was so dazzled by some of the sentences that I would stop, reverse direction, and re-read a passage. But overall, I felt like I did when I would occasionally watch Girls, the Lena Dunham HBO series: that this is a generation I don’t recognize. The novel is compelling, kind of dark, and for me, a look inside a world that is far from my experience. That’s not a complaint. I’m grateful for Rooney’s honest look at the concerns of modern twenty-somethings. I’ll recommend Conversations with Friends to people in their 20s and 30s – and those who want to better understand what it feels like to be young today.

While I’ve been out of school, Mary has sent me lots of pictures from the Library. Here are two that I love and make me excited to go back to school:

A few more days at home – time to fit in one more book from my “to read” pile….

A Year-End Mix….

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One of the most common questions we hear in the Inly Library is about recommending books to young readers who can read beyond their age level. It can be challenging to identify good books for an eight-year-old who has the reading skills – but not the emotional maturity – of a twelve-year-old. This article from last Sunday’s NYT Book Review has some good suggestions:

Another topic that parents regularly ask about is rereading. Some kids love reading the same book over and over again – it can be confusing to their parents, but makes perfect sense to the new reader. Children alternate through periods of reading things that are very familiar and comfortable before being ready to move into new kinds of books and more challenging material. That back-and-forth is completely age appropriate and important to their growth as readers.

The book I’m currently reading, Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan, includes this paragraph:

“But for children, rereading is absolutely necessary. The act of reading is itself still new. A lot of energy is still going into (not so) simple decoding of words and the assimilation of meaning. Only then do you get to enjoy the plot – to begin to get lost in the story. And only after you are familiar with the plot are you free to enjoy, mull over; break down and digest all the rest. The beauty of a book is that it remains the same for as long as you need it. It’s like being able to ask a teacher or parent to repeat again and again some piece of information or point of fact you haven’t understood with the absolute security of knowing that he/she will do so infinitely. You can’t wear out a book’s patience.”

Finally….one of the best parts of working in a school library is finding notes like this one – a reminder of how important this work is and how lucky we are to be part of the journey…

This blog will return in February 2019. Until then, I wish you a Happy New Year and lots of good books!

 

My Year in Reading

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As regular readers know, I’ve kept a list of every book I read since 1992. No comments. No thumbs up or down. Just the title and author. I looked at Volume One (1992-1998), and the first book I recorded was Song of the Lark by Willa Cather. I loved that book!  In December 1998 I read The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle. That was a good one too.  Here are four of my five notebooks. One seems to be missing – and I will turn the house upside down to find it!

My average is about 60 books per year, give or take. During the school year there are lots of Inly-related books (for classes or summer reading) and books I’m reviewing for School Library Journal. The summer break is obvious because the titles become things from my own “to read” list. This year, Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, is #58 so I’ll be able to reach #60 by the time Ryan Seacrest is in Times Square counting down to 2019.

My ten favorites among the books I read this year are:

99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

Up at the Villa by Somerset Maugham (I didn’t plan to read this and absolutely loved it. It’s a novella set in 1930s Florence about a woman caught up in a scandal. So good and a quick read)

Love to Everyone by Hilary McKay

There There by Tommy Orange

House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery by Liz Rosenberg

Calypso by David Sedaris

The Maze at Windermere by Gregory Blake Smith

Educated by Tara Westover

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Technically I have not finished reading one of the books on my list. There are about 50 pages left, but from the opening chapter, I knew Love to Everyone was special. Reminiscent of novels like Anne of Greene Gables and The War That Saved My Life, the setting of McKay’s novel is WWI-era England where Clarry Penrose lives with her widowed father and brother. Clarry is born at the beginning of the 20th century, and the novel spans the course of her life which is rich in both happiness and heartbreak. Much of the heartbreak comes during WWI which initially feels “vague and distant” to Clarry. Of course, it lands on her doorstep.

McKay’s beautiful writing is part of the pleasure of reading Love to Everyone. I love this passage about the seasons:

“The long cold winter was passing. The light grew brighter, even in the Miss Pinkses’ fume-filled classrooms. The air was wet and salt-tanged from the sea. There were birds above the chimney pots and daffodils to be spotten on Miss Vane’s chilly walks, and it was spring with summer on the horizon. Summer was shining bliss. Summer was opals and topaz and lapis and diamonds flung down from the sky. Summer was Cornwall.”

A few days ago I was in Boston waiting for a friend who texted to say she would be late. No worries. My book was in my bag and I was standing in front of a Starbucks. I started reading and soon enough, the lights beaming from all of the laptops and phones faded away, and I was back in Cornwall with Clarry.

And now the books to read in 2019 begin to stack up. Last night we were at the Coop in Harvard Square and, although my “to read” list is completely unrealistic, I could not leave the store empty handed.  I remember seeing something about David Litt’s memoir of working as a speechwriter for President Obama, but a combination of two things made me buy it:

1 – I finished Becoming a few days ago and was forced to re-enter the real world. The contrast proved too great, and I wanted to jump back down the rabbit hole and return to less chaotic days.

2 – The recommendation that a staff member at the Coop wrote about the book. Those staff notes are really persuasive!

Of course, now I want to listen to David Litt on The Moth.

But first….I need to return to Clarry’s story.  Happy Reading….

 

 

 

Notes from the Inly Library….

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Every so often, when the kids least expect it, I “close” the graphic novel section.

I love graphic novels as much as they do, but after a few months of watching our Lower Elementary students making a bee-line for the graphic novel section every time they walk in, I thought the rest of the library may be feeling ignored.   That’s the joy of being a teacher-librarian, rather than working in a public library where this action would not be an option. The “teacher” part of my work means I have a responsibility to introduce kids to all kinds of books and to create an environment that encourages curiosity and browsing.

After the anticipated moans and groans, the kids begin exploring areas they haven’t visited in a while: the Who Was series, stand-alone early chapter books, and even picture books. The graphic novels will be available for check-out next week, but truthfully, I think the kids kind of enjoyed the chance to venture beyond Dog Man.

Some of the students had fun trying to persuade me to change my mind. It didn’t work.

Our Lower Elementary students have been talking about race and skin color. There are a number of excellent age appropriate books to spark meaningful conversations with young children. Here are four of my favorites:

Skin Again by bell hooks

The Colors of Us by Karen Katz

Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin

The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler

If you’re looking for good information about how to talk with kids about race, check out this resource from the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association.

https://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2018/05/talking-with-young-children-0-5-about-race/

As part of their work, the children in one classroom used a lens to look closely at their hands and then “made” their hand using multicultural construction paper. Here are three especially wonderful results:

After reading another glowing review of Inkling, Kenneth Oppel’s new middle grade novel, I read it last week.

It’s wonderful, and will definitely be added to my Best of 2018 list. From the novel’s opening pages, it felt like something fresh and new. Inkling is the story of…..an inkblot. Not your typical protagonist, I know, but this inkblot has personality. The human at the center of the novel is Ethan, whose father is a famous graphic novel artist. Naturally, Ethan’s friends think Ethan must be just like his dad so they make him the artist for a joint school project.  But then he meets Inkling who can draw, among other talents. One of the many cool things about this book is that the pages themselves have ink blotches on them, giving the reader an immersive experience. This is the perfect book for a graphic novel fan or a budding artist.

My list of middle grade and middle school novels to read is long, but I’m now reading Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming. I’ve been looking forward to it for months, and I’m finding it to be a relief from the daily onslaught of unsettling news. It’s a good choice for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

Happy Reading and Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

A Children’s Book Miscellany….

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If you know a child who loves the outdoors or a teacher who enthusiastically shares an appreciation for nature with her students, a new book of poetry may be the perfect gift. At $40.00, Sing a Song of Seasons is not an impulse buy, but it is an investment in beauty, both natural and written. With a poem for every day of the year, this is a book that should “live” in a central place. I’m tempted to make it a New Year’s Resolution and start each day with reading the poem of the day – rather than the headlines. It would also be a good way for teachers to begin the day with their students.

Sing a Song of Seasons, edited by Fiona Waters, includes all kinds of poems – funny and celebratory and reflective. Taken together, this book may will instill an appreciation of natural world at a time when we need to work together to protect it.

Here’s the poem for yesterday, November 11:

The Fog by F.R. McCreary

Slowly the fog,
Hunched-shouldered with a grey face,
Arms wide, advances,
Fingertips touching the way
Past the dark houses
And dark gardens of roses.
Up the short street from the harbour,
Slowly the fog,
Seeking, seeking;
Arms wide, shoulders hunched,
Searching, searching,
Out through the streets to the fields,
Slowly the fog-
A blind man hunting the moon.

Another book that celebrates the outdoors….

I ordered a copy of The Forest after seeing it on the 2018 New York Times list of the Best Illustrated Children’s Books. This book surprised me from the minute I opened the package. At 72 pages, it is not a traditional picture book. The illustrations by Violeta Lopiz and Valerio Vidali are vivid and spectacular, but I’m not sure who the audience is – maybe art students. The book is a journey through life in the form of the forest, but it’s the paper engineering that is most striking. The embossed pages and gatefolds make The Forest a fascinating piece of book making, but not an easy book to describe.

A book to look forward to….

Matthew Cordell, the author and illustrator of the Caldecott winning picture book, Wolf in the Snow, has a new project. Cordell is going to write and illustrate the authorized picture book biography of Fred Rogers. The book’s title will be….Hello, Neighbor!  A little bit of a wait – the book will be published in 2020.

Barnes and Noble News…

There’s been lots of speculation about the future of Barnes and Noble, the largest bookstore chain in the U.S. I’ve read about struggling stores, the revolving door of CEO’s, and their efforts to diversify by becoming a “lifestyle” store rather than a traditional bookstore. You can see the result of their move into toys and games by walking into any Barnes and Noble and trying to find books among the Funko Pop figures that, at least in the Hingham store, claim a lot of space. Yesterday I read that the British retail chain, W.H Smith, expressed interest in buying Barnes and Noble, but the deal fell through. Like many readers, I hope Barnes and Noble stays in business. It’s good for publishers and good for readers. I love Buttonwood, my local independent bookstore, but sometimes I enjoy getting a pile of magazines, ordering a mocha, and sitting in the cafe at Barnes and Noble. Print sales are rising and independent bookstores are succeeding. Barnes and Noble should be able to make it.

The picture at the top….

is a teacher at Inly reading a book to her students. It was one of those perfect moments that I had to capture…Happy Reading!