My Favorite Picture Books of 2017

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This week: my favorite picture books of 2017. I am increasingly drawn toward the 32-page format. There, the world is often more beautiful and more clear about “right and wrong” than what we see around us. Kindness and generosity usually win out over self-interest. These are the books that rose to the top of my list this year:

Life on Mars by Jon Agee (Agee’s books are always a bit unusual, and this clever story is no exception.)

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna (The most beautiful book of the year – and an ode to the joy of a device-free day)

Windows by Julie Denos (perfect for one-on-one sharing)

A Good Day for a Hat by T. Nat Fuller (a funny pre-school book about finding just the right hat)

Bruce’s Big Move – and others by Ryan Higgins (all of Higgins’s books are guaranteed story time hits)

After the Fall by Dan Santat (what happened after Humpty Dumpty “had a great fall?”)

Robinson by Peter Sis (a magical and colorful book about the power of imagination)

And this little trio of books by Kazue Takahashi, the most recent of which was published in 2017 –

Kuma Kuma Chan: The Little Bear

Kuma Kuma Chan’s Home

Kuma Kuma Chan’s Travels

Takahashi’s books are peaceful and simple – and I find myself looking at them more often than many of the other books in my house. I bought the first one in a bookstore in Vermont, and since then, there have been two more installments in the little bear’s adventures.

One other observation: 2017 was a good year for foliage-covered book jackets. They all tend to blur together on the bookstore shelves…

Finally — the picture at the top is a picture of my colleague, Mary, talking with one of our students about Maps. This book:

Happy Reading!

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Book Covers – and a Walk Through Boston History….

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According to many newspaper and industry publications, e-book sales are in decline and many readers are returning to print. At the same time, publishers are responding by producing beautiful books that are impossible to replicate on the screen.  I see it every time I open a new box of books in the school library. It’s not only the covers, but the endpapers, type face, and the inside illustrations.

Look at the covers of these six books:

The last one, A Stitch in Time by Daphne Kalmar, won’t be out until June, but a colleague who knows how much I enjoy cover art, shared it with me.

Sometimes there is a bonus piece of art under the dust jacket. I just did a quick treasure hunt around my desk, peeking behind dust jackets – and here’s what I found:

Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson

The translation, by the way, which I just texted a Spanish-speaking friend about is: We only have ____ days left to eradicate illiteracy. A powerful question to ask on a book cover.

Miguel’s Brave Knight by Margarita Engle and Raul Colon

It promises to be a fun holiday book shopping season!

One of Inly’s Children’s House teachers experienced a different book cover-related challenge. As wonderful as the jackets are, Lauren’s pre-school age students did not appreciate the “extra paper” on their classroom books. As the children took them off, Lauren collected them.  And then….during a paper weaving activity, they became lunchtime placemats. Do you see what books they are?

Yesterday was a spectacular fall day in Boston, and my husband and I took a walking tour of Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.  Called Isabella Stewart Gardner and Her Circle of Influence, the 90-minute walk included stories of Gardner’s friends, a fascinating group of artists, scholars, and philanthropists.  Our tour guide focused on many of the young men whom, in her words, Gardner “collected.”  One of the most interesting was Henry Davis Sleeper, a collector and interior designer best known for his Gloucester home, Beauport. If you live anywhere within driving distance of Gloucester, I highly recommend adding a visit to your “places to visit” list.  The house is extraordinary. My favorite room is the round library:

Many of the memorials at Mt. Auburn are moving and beautiful, but there are two we found especially heartbreaking:

There were also hawks flying and trees that had reached the peak of their fall glory. A perfect fall day to reflect on the inevitably of change and to feel grateful to live in such a beautiful place.

 

 

 

 

Things I’m Thinking About….

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Like everyone I know, my head is spinning: hurricanes, Las Vegas, and Santa Rosa – along with all of the news from Washington.  Friends recommend taking a news break, and I know they’re right.  But I’ve been addicted to news and reading analysis of current events since college; it is the water I swim in.  Every day I dive in again with the heightened awareness that I am also responsible for putting words and ideas into the minds of our students.

With that in mind, I participated in a day-long conference at Moses Brown in Providence yesterday. The subject of the conference was how to help students discern truth in an age of polarization and “fake news.”  Moses Brown is a Quaker school, dedicated, in their words, to: “….advocating and standing up for a society that is fair and just.”  Their philosophy was the starting point for a day of thought and honest discussion.  Every teacher, when asked what brought them to the conference, expressed a commitment to helping kids discern truth, but as one participant said, “there is no longer an agreed upon truth.”  We each have our own, and we can select our own echo chambers to confirm our beliefs. We began to ask if, as a society, we can agree on ethics and morals. We looked at websites and tried to check our biases. We asked challenging questions for which there are no easy answers. I drove home with more questions than answers, but I appreciated sharing the day with teachers who challenged me with new questions to consider.

I’m also thinking about a new picture book called Shelter by Celine Claire.  I read it yesterday and again this morning. Shelter is a sweet and beautiful story about kindness and generosity. The story opens when a big storm is approaching, and all of the forest animals are safely in their homes when “two figures emerge from the fog” and ask for help. The animals don’t want to help the strangers, but there is a turn of events that makes things more interesting. Shelter is an absolutely essential book for parents and teachers who want to start a conversation about empathy and about what truly matters. I remember years ago hearing that some of Leo Lionni’s picture books have been used in philosophy classes. Shelter could be added to the syllabus.

I’m also thinking about yesterday’s StoryCorps segment on NPR’s Morning Edition. Every Friday, I look forward to hearing this short uplifting piece among the many other stories that aren’t as uplifting. This past Friday’s was a good reminder of the power of libraries. Here’s a link:

http://www.npr.org/2017/10/13/557328529/how-living-in-a-library-gave-one-man-the-thirst-of-learning

I’ve also spent a few days looking at the cover of this middle grade novel:

I absolutely judged The Secret of Nightingale Wood by its cover – and the wonderful reviews I read quickly during Inly’s recent book fair.  The art was done by Helen Crawford-White, a British illustrator and graphic designer.

“Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color.”
― Maggie Nelson, Bluets

It’s the blue of the book cover I’m drawn to, a color that is taking more space in my thoughts these days. I’m drawn to it everywhere, sometimes catching my breath at its beauty. The blue of Mary’s robes in Italian paintings, the blue of the sky, and in the blues I see in photographs or book covers.

Here are some of my favorite blues:

In Morocco, there is a city called Chefchaouen that is known for its blue walls.  I had never heard of it until I saw this photograph on Instagram:

Little Girl in Blue by Modigliani

The Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal

The roof of an outside room at Naumkeag, a historic house in Stockbridge

The blue of this Azurite stone I saw in a display at Amherst College

The blue in Botticelli’s Madonna of the Book

The blue in this detail of a watercolor by John Singer Sargent

It’s a treasure hunt with no end, and I am continuously surprised by its very existence. I am a collector of blue.

 

 

Inspiring Children’s Books About Immigrants and Refugees…

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With immigration and the status of refugees on the nation’s front burner, kids are going to have questions. There are many good children’s books that will encourage kids to wonder about what it’s like to move to a new country.  Here are five picture books that are gateways to deeper questions:

Welcome by Barroux (I love this sweet and engaging book about three polar bears looking for a new home.  They keep meeting animals who have “reasons” the bears can’t move to a new land.  Reasons like there’s “not enough room” or, like the giraffes, pretend not to hear the polar bears at all.  What is especially appealing about this book is that it can be read to young children as a story about welcoming new children to their classroom or after school activity.  The book’s message is just what the title says!)

I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien (This is a really sweet book, and like Welcome, it’s perfect for very young children) O’Brien’s tells the story of three immigrant children at a new school.  The kids are from Guatemala, Korea, and Somalia, and they are struggling to learn a new language, fit in with new classmates, and hold on to their traditions.  Parents and teachers sometime ask me to suggest books that teach empathy. This is the book.)

The Journey by Francesca Sanna (Inspired by the author’s visit to a refugee camp in Italy, Sanna describes her book as “a collage of all those personal stories and the incredible strength of the people within them.”)

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs and Nizar Ali Badr (This is a truly unforgettable book. Badr is a stone artist, and he uses stones and pebbles to illustrate a Syrian family’s experiences as refugees.  The story is told in dual language text: English and Arabic.  A masterpiece.)

Teacup by Rebecca Young (The story of a young boy looking for a new place to live.  He travels on a boat carrying “a book, a bottle, and a blanket. In his teacup he held some earth from where he used to play.”  The oil paintings of the boy alone on the sea are incredibly powerful.)

On the topic of immigration and mixing cultures….

Every year I can count on a number of parents who will stop by the Inly Library to talk about the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The books are thrilling and beautiful – and problematic.  As a childhood (and adult) fan of the Little House books, I understand the questions parents have about how to navigate a series that includes passages like: “White people are going to settle all this country, and we get the best land because we get here first and take our pick. Now do you understand?” Understand?  Not really. But reading the books to an older child, a child able to engage in conversation, presents an opportunity to talk about stereotypes, racism, and our country’s complicated history.

In honor of the 150th anniversary of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birth, there was a good story about the series.  Here’s a link:

http://www.npr.org/2017/09/17/551604403/-little-house-on-the-prairie-author-is-150

The sweet illustration at the top of the post is by Penelope Dullaghan.  She is the artist responsible for the beautiful cover of Lucky Broken Girl:

I follow Dullaghan on Instagram which is where I saw the banner picture – and a note reading “feel free to share.”

http://www.penelopedullaghan.com

Finally…here’s a cute picture Mary took in the library this week:

Happy Reading!

 

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!

Book-Themed Days in Maine…

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I spent a few days in Maine last week, and as wonderful as it was, I felt agitated. We spent the days outside enjoying beautiful ocean views, lobster rolls, and picturesque harbor towns, and then in the evening, we returned to our cottage, turned on the news, and were stunned by the images on TV.  Like many people, I felt off balance.  Were the words “very fine people, on both sides”  really being spoken by the person who is supposed to unite and heal our country?

When school opens, Inly’s students will be welcomed to the library with a display of new books that are beautiful and inspiring. Libraries are the perfect places to start conversations, share knowledge, and engage with an increasingly diverse world.  These are hard days, but I am grateful for the opportunity to put good words in children’s minds and hearts.

My days in Maine were full of inspiration. We spent an afternoon in Damariscotta, Barbara Cooney’s home until her death in 2000.

The author of Miss Rumphius lived in this house, just down the street from the main commercial area:

A quote from Miss Rumphius greets you at the entrance to the children’s garden at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. It reads: You must do something to make the world more beautiful.

The gardens are amazing – worth a trip to Boothbay.  And so many book connections!

Among other delightful features, the children’s garden has a story barn which includes books about Maine and the outdoors.

We also stopped at one of our favorite bookstores, Left Bank Books in Belfast.

One of the best parts of being in Maine was the nearness of Charlotte’s Web.  The book shows up almost everywhere – especially if you’re looking for it:

Happy Reading!

 

Late Summer Thoughts….

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It is still technically summer, but as soon as the calendar turns to August, I can hear the faint sound of the new school year approaching and there are bright orange visual clues in the grocery store where I can already stock up on Halloween candy!  But before I take a couple of weeks away from my blogging life, here are a few things that have caught my attention….

The Great American Read, an eight-part PBS series about the “place of reading in American culture,” will begin next May.  The first episode will be a two-hour program featuring a list of America’s 100 best-loved books – and the last week will include the top ten titles.  I think it’s a safe bet that To Kill a Mockingbird will be #1.  The Great Gatsby?  Huckleberry Finn?  Charlotte’s Web? The guessing begins…

Earlier this week, I walked through the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston and learned that Catie, star of the Catie Copley picture books, died in May. But Gracie, her successor as the hotel lobby ambassador, is just as welcoming and lovable.

During a recent trip to Philadelphia, we visited the Benjamin Franklin Museum where this interesting box was on display:

The “Lion’s Mouth Box” was used by members of the Library Company of Philadelphia to leave suggestions.  If there was a book you wanted in the library collection, you left the title in the “Lion’s Mouth.”  Note that it was only “gentlemen” who could make suggestions.

In a display about Franklin’s childhood, I found this quote from his Autobiography:

“From a Child I was fond of Reading, and all the little Money that came into my Hands was ever laid out in Books.”  I could relate completely. His quote reminded me of when I first began making money from babysitting and would spend it as soon as I could get to a bookstore.

I also read a book this week – The Losers Club by Andrew Clements.  Clements is one of the most popular authors for middle grade readers, and I wanted to be ready to talk with kids about it when school starts next month. As always, Clements captures the reality of school life perfectly, and this book has the added bonus of being about books and reading!  It’s about a sixth-grade boy named Alec who loves to read so much that he often misses what his teachers are saying because he’s reading something else. When he finds out that he has to join an after school club, he decides to start his own and call it the Losers Club so other kids will stay away.  A quiet club means more time to read. But of course, things don’t go exactly as planned.

The Losers Club should go on display with Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein and Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman.  Rather than a “loser’s club,” there could be a club for kids who want to read books about books!

On a completely different note, this was also the summer I went to my first book-themed bathroom…

When I was in Amherst for the Emily Dickinson program, one of our classes was in a building on the Amherst College campus. During a “bio break,” we discovered the Harry Potter-themed bathroom – immediately obvious to one of my classmates when she recognized the Mirror of Erised…

We all took pictures before returning to class!

And last but certainly not least…

Our niece’s daughter with a book that is clearly worthy of taking down the slide!

I hope the end of your summer includes a slide – and a book!