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!

 

 

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Tommy Orange Visits Inly

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Tommy Orange, the author of the novel There There spoke at Inly last Thursday evening.

There There, longlisted for the National Book Award and a finalist for the Carnegie Medal is the debut novel by Orange, a member of the Cheyenne tribe. The novel took him six years to write, but it has made the author a new literary star. “Yes, Tommy Orange’s New Novel Is Really That Good” reads the title of the New York Times review of There There. Another New York Times article about Orange’s describes There There as a “new kind of American epic.”  Maureen Corrigan, reviewing the novel for Fresh Air, said:

There There is distinguished not only by Orange’s crackling style, but by its unusual subject. This is a novel about urban Indians, about native peoples who know, as he says, “the sound of the freeway better than [they] do rivers … the smell of gas and freshly wet concrete and burned rubber better than [they] do the smell of cedar or sage…”

The Inly program was a conversation between Tommy and Nina McLaughlin, a columnist for the Boston Globe whose first book, Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter was published in 2015. Nina wrote the Globe’s review of There There which is linked here:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2018/06/14/what-indian/2GsJ8G2XHSo6YRYUZq72IL/story.html

The conversation was rich and meaningful, mostly because Tommy and Nina were natural and genuine. It truly felt like a conversation.

Nina began by asking Tommy about the explosive end to his novel. “I knew the end before I knew the beginning,” he told her. “I knew the characters’ lives would converge at a powwow.”

Talking about his polyphonic novel, Tommy described his writing process as “auditioning voices to see who felt convincing.” Over the six years it took him to write There There, Tommy estimates that he “tried 40 or 50 characters.”

Especially lovely was the way Tommy talked about novels, which he said “can do anything.” He was moved by A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole and the work of Sylvia Plath. He described their work as having “sadness with levity.” Their writing, he said, “transcended their own sadness.”  Discussing his love of polyphonic novels, he mentioned, among others, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.

Nina also asked Tommy to talk about the many mirrors and reflections in There There. “Growing up,” he responded, “Native people don’t see themselves very often. We aren’t in sports or movies or television.  The mirror lets you see how you’re native.”

I’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed many happy days at Inly, but this was one of the best. Tommy Orange radiates kindness and thoughtfulness from the second you meet him.  If you haven’t read There There yet, add it to your “to read” pile.

Happy Reading….

 

 

Judy Blume and Shannon Hale

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I’m reading a book to review for School Library Journal this weekend so I don’t have a book to share this week, but there is movie news…

It’s been 48 years since the publication of Judy Blume’s classic novel, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, was published, and it’s finally being made into a movie. As it did for many young girls, Blume’s coming of age novel answered so many questions I was afraid to ask out loud when I was twelve. Today there are more and better resources for young people to learn about changes in their bodies and their emotions, but Blume’s book stood alone in the 1970s, and it was there when I needed it most. Girls have the same concerns today, but now the issues are discussed openly on television and social media so it will be interesting to see how Blume’s book connects with girls today. I have high hopes.

Last year, a good friend of mine visited Key West where Judy Blume now owns a bookstore called Books and Books. While there, she met the author and sent me a souvenir of her visit:

As I wrote about Are You There God?, I was aware that this was – and is – a book primarily read by girls. Most books are not gender specific. I tell kids at school all of the time that there is no such thing as a “girl book” or a “boy book.”  A good story always prevails. There are books, though, that might directly address a question a girl or boy has about their changing bodies and it’s important to have a place to look for that information – especially when there is no one to ask.

Shannon Hale, the author of Real Friends and the Princess in Black series, recently published an important essay on this topic for the Washington Post called “What Are We Teaching Boys When We Discourage Them from Reading Books About Girls?”

Here’s a link:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/parents-and-teachers-please-stop-discouraging-boys-from-reading-books-about-girls/2018/10/09/f3eaaca6-c820-11e8-b1ed-1d2d65b86d0c_story.html?utm_term=.44edd6a6e635

More next week –

Tommy Orange visiting Inly on Thursday!

Book Fair, Book Buying, and Jarrett Krosoczka…

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On Friday, at 3:55 p.m., I rang up the final sale of Inly’s fall book fair, began to clean up, and then I noticed a stowaway…..

Hiding among the racks, I didn’t even know this student was in the library until it was quiet, and then it struck me that this was the perfect book fair scene: oblivious of the time, she was truly “somewhere else.”  There were lots of happy moments during the book fair. Some kids were overwhelmed by the choices….

Other kids enjoyed negotiating, like the two girls I heard planning to buy different books and share them. The best part of the book fair is seeing how excited the kids are about new books. We are lucky to be in a school with a rich reading culture that leads to enthusiastic conversations and lots of recommendations.  Another fair is scheduled for April!

On the topic of buying new books, I feel a bit squeamish. Sometimes I feel a bit ashamed about bringing too many new books into the house when there is a wonderful public library about two miles from my house. That feeling passes rather quickly though. I like owning the book I’m reading. I can loan them to friends or shelve them with books on the same topic, but truthfully, it’s the convenience I value. Library due dates (except for the Inly library where I have some flexibility) make me feel pressured. I bring a book home from the library, feel the clock ticking, and then a new topic might capture my interest. I like my books in the house, where I can see them, and know that the voices in the book are right here competing for attention or resting comfortably.

But earlier this week, scrolling through Instagram, I stumbled about this excerpt from an essay that appeared in today’s New York Times Book Review:

I recognized the writer as someone who Anne of Green Gables would refer to as a “kindred spirit!” The Japanese word – tsundoku – is lovely. I just read on the BBC News site that the word was first used in text in 1879, and that “the word does not carry any stigma in Japan.”  I’m happy to add tsundoko to my word bank.

The full essay by Kevin Mims, which I’m going to display over my “to be read” stack, is here:

In the spirit of embracing my book buying, here’s a picture of my most recent book purchases:

Yesterday I read Hey, Kiddo, Jarrett Krosoczka’s powerful new graphic novel about his childhood in Worcester. It is heartbreaking, honest, and absolutely unforgettable. Krosoczka’s best known for the Lunch Lady books, his series of graphic novels for young readers, but this memoir is for older readers. He was the child of a mother who suffered from addiction and a father he knows nothing about. Raised by his grandparents, Jarrett showed signs of artistic talent from an early age which gives him a chance to shine among his peers and to navigate his complex feelings about his family. Hey, Kiddo is one of the best books I’ve read for young adults. The pictures and text are equally compelling, and Jarrett’s story will help readers understand the impact of addiction on families, especially children.


Fall is here – lots of new books to read and buy!  Happy Reading….

The Show Must Go On!

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We enjoyed a special night of theater at Inly last week. Oliver, an Inly student in the third grade, wrote and directed a musical version of The Show Must Go On! by Kate Klise. The night had an especially Broadway feel because the author was there for the one-night-only performance. It is quite possibly the only time Klise will see one of her delightful stories in musical form!

The Show Must Go On! is the first installment of Klise’s Three-Ring Rascals series about the over-the-top adventures of Sir Sidney’s Circus. The books are perfect (and addicting!) for new readers. Each novel is fast paced, funny, and includes lots of spot illustrations by Kate’s sister, Sarah Klise.

When Oliver, our theater-loving student met Sir Sidney’s band of circus performers, it was a perfect match of book and reader. Oliver connected with a talented Inly staff member who is involved with community theater and a group of enthusiastic kids who were excited to make Oliver’s dream come to life. After intense rehearsals this summer, the show did go on and it was wonderful!

In my last post, I wrote about the bookstores we visited during a recent visit to New York. I left one out, mostly because it just didn’t seem to “fit” with the Strand and McNally Jackson. Walking down the street on Saturday afternoon, we passed an Amazon bookstore and decided to go in. Amazon’s brick and mortar store is a “data driven showroom” rather than a bookstore for readers. It’s interesting, I guess, if you want to know which books received positive reviews on Amazon or to look at one of the several Echo product tables. It made me feel a bit squeamish actually, like I was a data point being followed to see which covers attracted my interest.

The store might work in a desperate situation – like you forgot your book before getting on a train – but don’t expect to discover anything beyond the bestseller list.

It’s Labor Day Weekend – the official end of summer. I’m still reading 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret, but will finish in time for a “new” year to begin on Tuesday!

 

 

‘Twas the Night Before School…

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It’s the night before school starts – not for the kids, but for the teachers. Tomorow we will be catching up with colleagues, attending meetings, shelving books that found their way back over the summer, and making plans for the months ahead. I’m looking forward to being back and especially to seeing the kids.

But the last days of summer are always bittersweet, trying to get things in order before returning to a more structured schedule and squeezing in a few more summer adventures. Over the past ten days, we spent time in both Boston and in New York. Of course, that included bookstore visits.

While walking around the North End with my husband and son, we stumbled on a bookshop which was new to all of us. I AM Books is a little gem. As you would expect, it sells books about Italy, books by Italian authors, books written in Italian, and even wooden Pinocchios, the kind you find in Italian souvenir shops. According to the store’s website, it is the country’s first Italian American bookshop.

In New York, we visited Emma Straub’s Brooklyn bookstore, Books are Magic. It had a festive feel on a sunny Saturday and, as I stood in the long line to purchase a couple of things, I looked at what people were bringing to the check out desk. These are the books I saw in line before they made their way into Brooklyn: Matilda by Roald Dahl, Less by Andrew Sean Greer, Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke, Maeve in America by Maeve Higgins, The Vacationers by Emma Straub, and The Reservoir Tapes by Jon McGregor.  The last book on the list is what I bought after reading glowing reviews!

We also went to our two NYC favorites: the Strand and McNally Jackson. This was my favorite sign in the Strand:

And this window display from McNally Jackson is kind of awesome.

Next to Subway Books, it reads: “A selection of books chosen for their brevity, propulsion, and portability. These books will probably fit in your pocket, will almost certainly hold your attention, and they have a regular enough paragraph breaks that you won’t panic about losing your place when your stop is coming up.”

At our son’s suggestion, we also went to Ben’s Cookies near the Strand. He knew we would need energy for book shopping. As we ate our delicious cookies, I took a closer look at the logo and realized it was drawn by Quentin Blake. Ben’s has its roots in the UK which explains their Blake connection.

I’ve been squeezing in a few more “summer reads” before I begin reading with my middle school students. Last week I read Upstate by James Wood, a novel about a father navigating his relationship with his two adult daughters.

The novel takes place in Saratoga Springs, New York (the Upstate of the title) where Vanessa, one of the daughters lives. Like her sister, Vanessa continues to deal with the impact of her parent’s divorce, followed by their mother’s early death. What I appreciated about the novel is its understanding of how complicated it is to be a parent to your adult child.

Between now and Labor Day, I’m hoping to finish reading Craig Brown’s un-put-downable biography of Princess Margaret, Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret. This is not your typical biography, but something completely different -a new form of the genre. I bought it after reading several compelling reviews and hearing Pamela Paul (on the New York Times Book Review podcast) say it’s the book everyone on the Book Review staff wants to read.

But no more reading for me tonight. It’s a school night.

A final note: the picture at the top of the post is one of our students reading during his vacation in Maine.  It captures the joy of summer perfectly!

August Notes….

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It’s almost time to return to school – the sun is setting earlier in the evening, and CVS has fall products on display in an aisle I try to avoid when going into the store. But August, the “Sunday” of the summer, has its own joys, a slowing down as we approach Labor Day when we seem to take a collective breath.

I was in the perfect place to take a breath before returning to the hectic pace of a new school year. For many years, my oldest friend (we met in middle school) has spent much of her summer at the Chautauqua Institution in the southwest part of New York State. And after many generous invitations to join her and her family for a week, we finally went. We waited too long. Chautauqua, as she told me for many years, is a truly special place. Because it’s somewhat hard to describe the mix of beauty, education, the arts, and religion that seem to be pillars of Chautauqua’s nine-week season, I’m quoting from their website:

“The Chautauqua Institution is a not-for-profit, 750-acre educational center beside Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York State, where approximately 7,500 persons are in residence on any day during a nine-week season, and a total of over 100,000 attend scheduled public events. Over 8,000 students enroll annually in the Chautauqua Summer Schools which offer courses in art, music, dance, theater, writing skills and a wide variety of special interests.

The Institution, originally the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly, was founded in 1874 as an educational experiment in out-of-school, vacation learning. It was successful and broadened almost immediately beyond courses for Sunday school teachers to include academic subjects, music, art and physical education.”

That’s the official description, but most striking to me after a few days on the lovely grounds, was the complete lack of commercialism. Chautauqua feels like a neighborhood of people committed to learning, exploring, and enjoying time with family and friends without the disruptions of billboards, chain stores, television (which must be there, but I never saw one turned on), or other signs of the “real” world.

The participants are up early, going to programs, warmly talking with people sitting near them, and enjoying musical evenings in the 4,000 seat amphitheater. Chautauqua’s commitment to exploration and curiosity is evident from the library’s central location on the plaza.

Among the programs we heard over the course of the week, the highlights were a concert by Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, a lecture by Mr. Ma about the importance of culture in understanding other people, and a presentation by Barbara Stephenson, an American diplomat and head of the American Foreign Service Association. Stephenson spoke diplomatically (of course) about the challenges of international work and the role of music as a form of “soft power.” “When we make music together, we sometimes create a space of goodwill that allows us to take a risk, to set doubts, suspicions and even old enemies aside, to join hands as a world and walk together toward peace,” she said.

One day, I saw Ambassador Stephenson walking towards her hotel carrying a book so, naturally, I positioned myself to see what she was reading. This is it:

Not coincidentally I’m sure, Dennis Ross was also a speaker at Chautauqua last week. As a funny side note to this, I took the picture above (the one of her speaking) from the Chautauqua Daily. That’s our group sitting in the front row, right in front of the Ambassador.

My own Chautauqua reading was Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday. It had been on my list since reading the novel’s glowing reviews earlier this year. It is an intense and smart novel. Two seemingly unrelated stories, one about a young editor who has an affair with a older and very successful author and a darker story about an Iraqi-American man who is detained in Heathrow on his way to Kurdistan, overlap in ways that aren’t obvious at first, but ultimately reward a careful reading.

The only downside of the trip was the drive – it’s about nine hours from our house to Chautauqua which inspired us to plan book store visits on both ends of the trip. Our first overnight stop was in Ithaca, New York, home of Cornell University and Ithaca College. We enjoyed a wonderful meal at the Moosewood Restaurant and enjoyed browsing around Autumn Leaves, a good used bookstore with a lovely name in the central shopping area. I particularly like the cover of this book I saw in the store:

After our week in Chautauqua (which has its own small bookstore), we drove to Saratoga, New York, to place big bets at the racetrack ($2.00 per race except the one we risked – and lost – $5.00)!  We were choosing horses based on their names, rather than their past performances. Our losses were to be expected.

Our other priority was to visit Northshire Bookstore, the new location of a store we love in Manchester, Vermont. The Saratoga store is as perfect as the one in Vermont. They created the same perfect environment where every book seems like one you might want to read.

 

 

The next day we drove a bit out of our way to visit the Bookloft in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The Bookloft is in a small shopping center and, at first glance, doesn’t appear to be the well-loved gem that it is. But it’s equal to Northshire in its well curated inventory, staff recommendations, and perfect setting for browsing.

I leave you with a monkey that we saw during our travels. I actually forget where now, but when I saw him reading, I thought – this monkey should be in my blog!  Happy reading and enjoy the end of your summer….