Book Shopping in New York – and at the Book Fair

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I was in New York this past weekend and saw the best sign ever at the Strand Book Store:

That was it. I had official permission to buy more books. We went to two favorite NYC stores, the Strand and McNally Jackson, and to be fair – I bought two from each store. Two titles were on my list and two were impulse purchases. The four books I bought are:

Five Days Gone: The Mystery of My Mother’s Disappearance as a Child by Laura Cumming (Cumming is the art critic for the Observer in London and the author of several other books. This book came to my attention after reading Nick Hornby’s glowing words about it in his Believer magazine column. This is an incredible, and incredibly unusual, book about family, secrets,” Hornby writes…the ruinous sexual shame and hypocrisy of the first half of the English twentieth century. It’s one of the best memoirs I have ever read… There is so much about it that moves; there is so much about it that educates. It is, and will remain a favorite, to be re-read one day, to be recommended to anyone who will listen.”  With a review like that, Five Days Gone moves higher up in the “to read” pile.)

Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church by Megan Phelps-Roper (The starred Publishers Weekly review reads, in part, “Phelps-Roper’s intelligence and compassion shine throughout with electric prose … She admirably explicates the worldview of the Westboro Baptist Church while humanizing its members, and recounts a classic coming-of-age story without resorting to cliché or condescending to her former self.”  I also heard part of a Fresh Air interview with Phelps-Roper and wanted to learn more about her journey.)

Stranger by Jorge Ramos (One of my impulse buys, I thought it would be worthwhile to hear what Ramos, a Mexican American journalist, has observed since the 2016 election. I read Stranger on the train back to Boston and was grateful to Ramos for sharing his story and the real data about the contributions immigrants make to our country. It was especially interesting to read about the day Donald Trump had Ramos removed from a press conference in Iowa in 2015.)

The Pursuit of Art: Travels, Encounters, and Revelations by Martin Gayford (I was excited to find this book at McNally Jackson. I had read Rendez-Vous with Art by the same author a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. This one is about the author’s journey to see art – and meet artists.)

One of the many joys of spending time in the Strand are the awesome signs:

I also enjoyed Jacqueline Woodson’s recommendations:

McNally Jackson has a display of books representing each state. Of course, I looked at the books representing Ohio and was not surprised to see a Toni Morrison title. The other “Ohio book” is They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraquib, a book of essays about music and culture.

McNally Jackson also has a wall featuring their bestselling titles since they opened in 2004:

We also walked by a bookstore that was new to us – 192 Books on Tenth Avenue at 21st Street.  A small store, but a nicely curated selection. The joy of this one was in the discovery. I rarely find bookstores that I didn’t know about so it was an especially nice moment.

It was a “fair-like” book weekend in NYC and I returned to school for book fair week!

The best sellers are – not surprisingly – graphic novels and activity books with burning questions like “would you rather eat rotting vegetables or a big cup of dry dirt?”

Last night we had an evening shopping event. It’s the best book fair hour. Lot of families together looking at – and talking about – books.

And happy customers…

A note about the picture at the top of the post. One of our Lower Elementary teachers takes little pumpkins and turns them into seasonal magic!


Notes from the End of Summer


It’s two days before I go back to school which makes me simultaneously happy and also a bit melancholy about the end of summer. It’s that feeling that you’re about to enter a very busy – but wonderful – tunnel and, although there are a few breaks in there, it will take awhile to emerge!

Here’s a list of things I’ve enjoyed over the past few weeks – and a note about the blog:

– An article from this past Sunday’s New York Times about libraries as tourist attractions is really good. I always try to visit libraries when we are traveling. They are portals to the community and many of the them are just beautiful places to visit:

– Speaking of visiting libraries, we were in Maine a couple of weeks ago, and I was in a “picture book-perfect” library in Southwest Harbor, near Acadia. The picture at the top of this post is the stained glass panel over the central desk.

We also visited a few bookstores in Maine, including Bella Books in Belfast. They win the “cozy vibe” award:

It’s always fun to see a sign like this in front of a bookstore:

– I just finished reading The Spaces Between Us by Stacia Tolman.

It’s a young adult novel that caught my eye during a visit to New Hampshire where the author lives. The front cover blurb, from Kirkus’ starred review, calls it a “girl-centered Catcher in the Rye for the 21st century,” a perfect description of this story of two high school seniors trying to figure out what’s next.  This is a thoughtful book about two young women who feel trapped in their small town, but it is truly a “young adult” novel – the concerns are those of young people dealing with class, freedom, and big questions about their lives and relationships. I would recommend The Spaces Between Us for readers ages 15 and over.

– I also read The Revolution of the Moon by the Italian writer, Andrea Camilleri. This was a total impulse buy and read – not on my list of summer (or any other season). The author was familiar to me because of his popular mystery series about Inspector Montalbano, and Camilleri, was more “top of mind” because of his death last month. But truthfully, it was the cover that inspired my purchase:

I kind of enjoyed the abrupt decision to read a book I knew nothing about. The back cover told me that the novel is based on a true story about a Dona Eleonora who ruled Sicily for 27 days in 1677 before she was recalled to Spain. I loved it. drama in the Holy Royal Council, a plan to stage a coup, and some unpleasant reminders of how men thought of women during the 1600s (echoes of which exist today).

And one final note –

WordPress reports that this is my 1000th post.  Crazy, but I trust the WordPress math skills. So off we go: a new school year, new books, new students, and new bookstores to visit as we head toward 2000 posts!

Happy Reading!

MacDowell Medal Day….


Thanks to the good planning of a friend, I was able to attend a wonderful ceremony celebrating this year’s recipient of the MacDowell Medal, an annual award given to an artist who has “made an outstanding contribution to our culture.” Among the past winners are Leonard Bernstein, I.M. Pei, Toni Morrison, and Merce Cunningham. This year’s recipient is Charles Gaines, a conceptual artist who had not heard of before this past Sunday, but I was happy to learn about this interesting and influential person.

The award is a program of the MacDowell Colony, an artists’ colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. I’ve read books in which characters spend time in places like MacDowell or Yadoo in Saratoga. The colony provides a quiet cottage where creative people can have time and a beautiful space to work without the distractions of everyday life. I remember a novel (but not the title!) where the character is working in one of these studios and lunch magically appears on their porch. On Sunday, as soon as I could, I asked one of the artists if that actually happens – and it does!

One of the highlights of the day was meeting Sigrid Nunez, one of this year’s MacDowell’s Fellows and the author of the 2018 National Book Award-winning novel, The Friend.  My friends and I walked into her studio first, and I was kind of starstruck when I saw Nunez standing in a little room talking with her visitors.

The studios look like fairy tale illustrations that have come to life:

And if you are visiting the cottage of a visual artist, you might see something like this:

Each studio has a porch that looks like a setting from another time. It felt like if I sat down in this chair for a little while, it may be possible to forget (for a few minutes) all of the horrible news from the past few weeks….

There is no internet access inside the studios. But the beautiful library is open 24 hours a day, and so if the inspiration hits you at 2:00 in the morning, you can go online while looking out the glass windows into the woods:

Dinner is served each evening in the main house, so the Fellows can walk up wooded paths to the main house for dinner…

One of the fun things to do on MacDowell Medal Day is to read the “tombstone” in each studio. This is a wooden plaque on which every artist who has stayed in that cottage writes their name and the year they were at MacDowell.  Many of the names are obscure, but there was at least one name on each tombstone that I recognized. On this one, there are two names I recognized!

One of the most striking things about MacDowell is the range of ages and disciplines of the residents. Over the course of a few hours, we met writers and poets, architects and visual artists. There must be interesting conversations at dinner…

After leaving Peterborough, we drove through a few other nearby towns, including Harrisville where there is one of the sweetest public libraries I’ve ever seen:

It was a wonderful and inspiring day – and it made me wish MacDowell offered a Fellowship for someone who would like to sit on the porch and read all summer!





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…

Mid-Summer Update….

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I just returned from a week in Lake Placid, New York – the site of both the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics and now the official training center for the Winter Games. I’ve never been on either ice skates or skis, but reading is also a good winter activity so I sought out bookstores, libraries, and museums. Lake Placid is beautiful. Nestled in the Adirondacks, the town is surrounded by Mirror Lake, a lake that looks just like its name.

I was there with my husband, son, and Ohio family which made it especially wonderful. We visited High Falls Gorge, the Adirondack Experience museum, and the Olympic sites. One afternoon they rented a boat for a two hour adventure, and I enjoyed sitting at the end of the pier and read Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips. The novel is as good as promised in its many stellar reviews.

Main Street in Lake Placid has a good bookstore with many regional titles:

And a picture-perfect library a few blocks down the street:

Driving out of town, we traveled through Keene and Keene Valley, each with their own public library:

And traveling by Instagram, this poster for the National Book Festival (designed by Marian Bantjes) caught my eye:

Later this week I’ll have my first meeting of the Buttonwood Middle Grade Summer Book Group. I can’t wait to talk about The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin with the kids.

Until then, it’s back to the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia where Disappearing Earth takes place. I knew nothing about this part of far eastern Russia before reading Phillips’ novel, but the landscape’s very remoteness adds to the richness of this powerful story.

Happy Reading…





Reading on the Road….


We were on the road for a couple of weeks and since there were lots of moving parts, I packed paperbacks rather than any of the new hardcovers waiting on my nightstand. I tossed three books into my bag thinking I was being way too optimistic about reading time, but as it turned out, I had to purchase a fourth book during our travels. Here’s what I read:

Life of David Hockney by Catherine Cusset

Cusset, a French novelist, wrote this book as both fiction and biography; the facts about the artist David Hockney are all known, but Cusset imagines what Hockney was thinking at various turning points in his life – whether about his art or his romantic relationships. I admire Hockney’s sunny paintings of California and his beautiful landscapes of his native Yorkshire so I was interested in the topic and the blending of storytelling formats. Ultimately, Hockney’s steady optimism about any new adventure was inspiring, and I was happy to understand the roots of the artist’s work more deeply. That being said, the style of the book created too much distance for me. It felt more “article” than novel.

The Plague and I by Betty MacDonald

I pivoted from Hockney’s paintings of swimming pools to a tuberculosis hospital outside of Seattle. In 1937, Betty MacDonald, best known for her Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series of children’s books, spent nearly a year in a tb sanatorium. “Getting tuberculosis in the middle of your life,” she writes, “is like starting downtown to do a lot of urgent errands and being hit by a bus. When you regain consciousness you remember nothing about the urgent errands. You can’t even remember where you were going.”  An odd choice of books to read, perhaps, but Pamela Paul, the editor of the New York Times Book Review, talked enthusiastically about MacDonalds’ shocking and funny memoir, on the Book Review podcast.  After listening to Paul read an excerpt from The Plague and I, I ordered a copy.

This book was an excellent traveling companion: reliably entertaining and a dramatic reminder of how lucky many of us are to receive the medical care we have today. MacDonald writes about the other patients and the sanatorium staff with wit and sharp observations. On nearly every page, I was either laughing at one of MacDonald’s stories or squirming at the realities of medical care in the mid-1930s.

The Ten Loves of Nishino by Hiromi Kawakami

Kawakami’s new novel appears on several “books to read this summer” lists so into my bag it went. I’m intrigued by contemporary Japanese novels. I’d like to explain that in a really thoughtful way, but I don’t have the right words. Basically, the tone is just dramatically different from American novels (at least the ones I read). The characters feel alienated from their societies, sometimes their families, and definitely the institutions in their lives. The novels feel a bit sad which is not a ringing endorsement, I know, but it’s interesting. The Ten Loves of Nishino was no exception. It’s told in ten voices, all women who loved the same unknowable man. He’s mysterious, but the women seem to know what they want. Maybe the word I’m looking for is anonymity.  I’ve also read Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. The protagonist in that novel has no identity outside of the convenience store where she works. These books feel opposite of American identity-driven stories and make me think about the way we construct our lives.

What I enjoyed most about The Ten Loves of Nishino is its scaffolding. It’s like a beautiful Faberge egg that keeps opening to new and unexpected angles.

After finishing Kawakami’s novel, I had a mini-crisis. We were in a part of France with very few English books available. Luckily, we found a store with a limited selection, but I could feel myself breathing again! I purchased a historical novel called Wake by Anna Hope. This passage from the New York Times review led me to the purchase desk:

“Hope’s unblinking prose is reminiscent of Vera Brittain’s classic memoir Testament of Youth in its depiction of the social and emotional fallout, particularly on women, of the Great War. . . . Hope reaches beyond the higher echelons of society to women of different social classes, all linked by their reluctance to bid goodbye to the world the conflict has shattered.”

400 pages – and I finished it as our plane landed back in Boston. A powerful and moving story, but really quite sad. Hope doesn’t shy away from the heartbreak of war, not only for the people fighting it, but for all those left behind.

One last thing. We saw this ad on CNN International during our trip. It is so good — I promise it will make your day:

Happy Reading!


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:

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!