It’s summer. My blog posts have become sporadic, but there’s time to read my stack of unread New Yorkers and sit on the deck with an iced mocha. The pages keep turning though: books for my middle grade book club at Buttonwood Books and Toys, books about Emily Dickinson for a class I’m taking later this month, and the most fun reading – looking at new books for Inly’s library. This morning, Mary and I met at school to experience Christmas in July by opening the boxes that have arrived over the past few weeks. So many good ones, but two that I would encourage my colleagues in other school libraries and classrooms to consider adding to their collections:
Life by Cynthia Rylant and Brendan Wenzel
I love this book even though I’m not sure exactly who it’s for. It’s a tribute to the world, to life itself. The book celebrates the glories of the natural world and, like poetry, encourages reflection. It opens with an illustration of a seedling surrounded by mountains and the text reads: “Life begins small.” On the next page there is an illustration of elephants gathered around a baby elephant, and it continues: “Even for the elephants. Then it grows.” The message is one children have heard before, but the illustrations and words work together so beautifully that it manages to feel fresh. It’s a book teachers could read at the start of a conversation about the life cycle. I would read it to a group of older students to show them that more words are not always better. It would also be a lovely gift for a child (or adult) who needs a reminder that “it is worth waking up in the morning to see what might happen.”
A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices by Sally Derby and Mika Song
Six children, between kindergarten and fifth grade, get ready for a new school year. Through 24 free verse poems, we meet Ethan, Zach, Katie, Jackie, Carlos, and Mia as they share their excitement and worries. The book is divided into four sections: “The Night Before,” “In the Morning,” “At School,” and “After School” and each child has a poem in each section. The kids are different in how they look and their anxieties about school. For example, Katie is concerned that: “Miss Kring won’t be my teacher for second grade like I wanted. Instead I’ll have a new teacher, someone I don’t even know. The letter said his name is Mr. Patterson. Teachers at my school aren’t called Mr. Their names begin Miss or Mrs., like they’re supposed to.” There are countless possibilities for using this book in a classroom: a read aloud on the first day, a starting point for writing poetry about first day jitters, and, because the kids here are so distinct, an introduction to inventing a character. No classroom should be without this one!
During a visit to Newburyport earlier this week, I visited the Jabberwocky Bookshop. It was a lovely surprise. Spacious and well-stocked, Jabberwocky is a must-visit for bookstore collectors. It’s definitely a store I will visit again….
My personal reading has not gone as planned – but that’s okay. I read “on a plan” all school year so digressions from the “to read” pile are welcome. The other evening, reaching to pick up the next book on my summer list, I was instead drawn to Hisham Matar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, The Return.
Matar is the son of a well-known Libyan dissident who disappeared in 1990. After many years away, he returned to Libya to learn the truth of what happened to his father and to reconnect with the place of his birth. Moving between the present and the past, The Return is also a meditation on the passage of time and the story of a revolution. I am so happy that the “reading god” reached down and put this one in my hands. In addition to teaching me about a part of the world I knew very little about, it is so beautiful that I find myself re-reading sentences on every page. I’m leaving my next book choice to fate!