Paris, Mystery Boxes, Cherry Blossoms, and Jenny Kroik…

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It’s a rainy Sunday, a perfect day for reading – and writing about reading. My current book is The Mistress of Paris by Catherine Hewitt.  I know – it sounds like the title of a paperback romance, the kind I used to find stacked in my grandmother’s bookcase. But it’s not. Hewitt’s book is a biography of Comtesse Valtesse de la Bigne who was among other things: the subject of a painting by Manet, the inspiration for a novel by Zola, and made a countess by Napoleon III.

There are many other books in my “to read” pile, and arguably some that I should have chosen before this one. But I needed something different, a break from my reading list. I purchased Hewitt’s book about a year ago after reading a good review, but it has been sitting on the shelf since then. The other day, feeling the need to leave the contemporary world behind and enter a different time and place, I picked it up, and I’m now happily reading about the Paris theater world in the late 19th century.

Back in this world, one of my students did a cool project this week. Inspired by the novel Fish In a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Jake asked if he could plan something for our writing class based on an activity in Hunt’s novel. “Each group will be given a shoe box wrapped in elastic bands with a mystery object inside,” the teacher in the novel tells his class. “Your job is to guess what the mystery object is.” Jake certainly knew I could never turn down a book-based project, so the next day, he brought in four boxes, put us in groups, and explained our task. It was great. The other students really enjoyed it, and there were some awesome guesses about what turned out to be a cork, an egg, a bar of soap, and a pencil.

It’s grey and cold outside, but beautiful with a hint of springtime in the Library. Thanks to Inly’s art teacher, our students made carp fish and origami cherry blossoms for the Library. This was part of our collaborative project during which we read Japanese stories during Library visits and the kids made brightly colored fish during art class.

I’ve become a bit obsessed with Instagram, not about posting my own pictures, but in following others. Facebook has never been a temptation, but I love the quick scroll of Instagram, especially while I’m waiting in a long line at the CVS pharmacy or while taking a 15-minute lunch break at school. It’s fun to see what my friends are reading and celebrating, but Instagram has actually become a tool of my work. Publishers use it to promote new books and authors share pieces of their work, but it’s the bookstores that are my favorites. It’s a great way to (quickly) see what’s being read and talked about. I now follow over 50 bookstores around the world, and those pics give me good ideas and a wider picture of the reading world.

One of my happiest discoveries was the artist, Jenny Kroik. She doesn’t promote specific titles, but her illustrations of people browsing in bookstores, visiting art museums, and walking around New York City are wonderful. In fact, this illustration of a woman shopping in the Strand Bookstore was the cover of The New Yorker’s November 13, 2017 issue:

Recently, scrolling through Kroik’s Instagram feed, I saw this one of a little girl at Books of Wonder, the children’s bookstore in New York City. I’m sharing it here with the artist’s permission.  If you are an Instagrammer, add her to your list:

Happy Reading!


New York, Kipling, and Midnight at the Electric…

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We were in New York last weekend, but although it was a short visit, there was still time to go to the Strand. We arrived at 10:55 a.m. on Sunday for the bookstore’s 11:00 a.m. opening, and there were people lining up outside.  It was a wonderful moment – to see a line at a bookstore. I should have taken a picture, but instead we hurried into line. One of the best things about the Strand is the display signs. This was one of our favorites:

I purchased a copy of Midnight at the Electric, a young adult novel by Jodi Lynn Anderson, to read on the train ride home.  The starred Kirkus review sparked my interest, but I didn’t expect the novel to be so powerful.

This is a really good book and definitely one to add to your list for anyone ages 12 and over.  It opens in the year 2065 and a sixteen-year-old named Adri is preparing to move to Mars. To train for the launch and life on Mars, Adri goes to Kansas to stay with her 107-year-old cousin, Lily. At Lily’s house, Adri finds letters that lead her to the story of Catherine, who lived during the Dust Bowl and then to Lenore, who lived in England during WWI. It sounds confusing, but all of the stories are connected in a way that left me tearful at the end of the book. This is my favorite kind of reading experience – a book that was not on my “list,” but ended up being one of my favorites of this year.

Speaking of the Strand, this week’s The New Yorker cover is awesome – an illustration by Jenny Kroik of a woman shopping at New York’s go-to independent bookstore. This one will find a place on our walls.

While we were in New York, we saw an exhibit at the Bard Graduate Center. John Lockwood Kipling: Arts & Crafts in the Punjab and London focuses on Kipling’s work as an illustrator and designer in British India. He was also the father of Rudyard Kipling, the author of The Jungle Book and Kim.  I read about the exhibit when it was at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, but it would have been a challenging day trip.

Kipling spent ten years teaching at the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art in Bombay (now Mumbai) and eighteen years as the curator of the  Lahore Museum in Pakistan. His influence on both cities was remarkable. As part of the exhibit, there are videos about the buildings he helped to design, but his illustrations are the stars.

This one is interesting. It’s a menu for Rudyard Kipling’s twenty-fifth birthday celebration. Designed and drawn by John Lockwood Kipling, the illustration shows Rudyard as a baby being carried and below that, Lockwood and his wife looking into Rudyard’s crib. The adult Rudyard is the man smoking a pipe.  It’s hard to read the menu, but it includes turbot and oyster sauce and plum pudding.

This is an 1884 illustration of Rudyard’s sister, Trix, that reads: “An unlessoned girl, unschooled, unpracticed, happy in this — she is not yet so old, but she may learn.” Not sure what to make of that, but a beautiful picture.

I’ve also been working with Nancy Perry, my friend and colleague at the Norwell Public Library, to prepare for our annual presentation of our favorite children’s books of the year.  This year’s program will be on Thursday, November 30 at the James Library in Norwell at 7:00 p.m. It is a free and fun evening of conversation about books. An added bonus is that Buttonwood Books and Toys will be there to sell books. Please join us if you can.

At school, I’m reading Countdown by Deborah Wiles with our middle school students as part of our focus on life in post-WWII life in America. Inly’s 6th graders are learning how to be responsible and smart news consumers. Yes, we are talking about how to spot fake news!  We are looking at how to navigate the wild world of the internet and who to trust – no easy task in this divisive climate, but the kids are having fun.

I’ve been somewhat obsessed with book covers recently.  Given all of the “noise” in our ears and eyes, a book cover that causes you to stop and look is powerful.  Books may be old technology, but seeing someone’s art as a billboard for a story, is one of the greatest pleasures of book shopping.

Here are a few that caught my attention this week:

A friend saw this copy of Brave New World at her parent’s house –

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of RBG vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter has a wonderful dust jacket, but….

This is what’s under the jacket –

And the end pages are worth the price of the book –

All of the sudden, it’s really cold and windy and there is no denying that winter is almost here. My response was to buy these:

Happy Reading!