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Thursday, July 31, 2014

I Am From

I am from the school library, always in search of the best books for readers.

In Andrea Cheng's The Year of the Fortune Cookie, the main character's teacher introduces the class to the George Ella Lyon poem "Where I'm From"The third in a series of books about Anna Wang, the story is a delightful mix of her adjustment to a new school, her continued learning of Chinese, and her desire to help others. Centered around all those things is the trip to China she will take with her former teacher and her husband when they adopt their daughter from China. As she contemplates the words of the poem, lines flow from her mind to express where she is from. 

Never one to believe in the fortunes wrapped inside cookies, I must admit to liking how the author integrated fortunes in this book. There is even a recipe at the end that looks tempting to try.

When I see readers in a few weeks, this will be one new book to recommend! For the full text of the poem (a great writing prompt for readers), go to 

I am from the comfortable chair where words from the pages swirl in my brain.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


Last week I left my house on the quiet street where I like to watch the birds and traveled to a new place: Crater Lake National Park. In the afternoons, after hiking to the tops of peaks and along the lake's rim, I would sit in the lodge - or on the veranda - and read. Far from home, I saw things I had never imagined (like a 45' log called the Old Man floating vertically in the clear blue lake) and found cozy spots. Still, I was glad to come home to my home and routines.

The brave chicken who goes on a big adventure in Anna Walker's book Peggy leaves her small house on a quiet street quite unexpectedly when a gust of wind carries her away with leaves and twigs. Going  for a walk in the big city, she saw things she had never before seen, tasted new things, and found a cozy spot. But she missed her home, and none of the people she asked for directions could understand her. In a lovely twist of fate, she is led how by sunflowers and pigeons, the very things she loves in her yard! 

The ink and photo collage illustrations are charming, especially the spreads of Peggy doing her everyday things in the yard (including bouncing on the trampoline). Readers will enjoy observing her shopping experiences and the ways she moved unobtrusively through the city and transportation system, as well as her delight in telling her friends of her adventures.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Reading Connections

This week I have been reading a variety of books. In my past reading life, I never read more than one book at the same time; focusing on a single topic was necessary for focus and engagement. Lately though, I have appreciated the opportunity to read a few chapters of a Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery, switch to an intermediate-grade novel (like Lisa Graff's Absolutely Almost), and spend some contemplative time with a more serious non-fiction book.

Today I finished Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath: Underdogd, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants and then opened to my bookmark in Jenny Lee's Elvis and the Underdogs: Secrets, Secret Service, and Room Service. The latter is a sequel and features a Newfoundland who acted as a service dog to the main character, Benji Barnsworth, but is now the First Dog. Amazingly, Elvis can talk and communicate, and he has sent a Morse Code message to Benji on a YouTube video, begging for help. So, Benji is in Washington, D.C., and Elvis calls Benji "a feisty little David" and explains how the expression is "used to describe the little guy going up against big odds."

The former is a fascinating look at a variety of case studies in which the powerful do not triumph in expected ways because the underdogs - or seemingly less powerful people - behave in unexpected ways that bring about incredible results. French people in Le Chambon during World War II embraced the opportunity to take in Jews, hiding them and guiding them to safety, and the government knew about it. The Catholics in Northern Ireland did not behave as the British army expected, and the attacks on the people resulted in devastation and violence that went beyond what was necessary. Students who choose the larger, more prestigious university programs often find being a little fish in a big pond is not desirable. The examples from education, law enforcement, civil rights, war, and medicine speak to the power of underdogs.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Like Carrot Juice

Knowing books to recommend for readers is a necessity in the library world. Readers trust their librarians, knowing she or he would not suggest a book for them unless it was really good. As I continue reading this summer, I am gathering titles to share with readers in a few months, books I know will capture their attention and bring them back for another recommendation. This morning, the book was Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake.

Julie Sternberg began a charming series in 2011 about a girl named Eleanor with the book Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie. Eleanor must cope with the move of her favorite babysitter Bibi to another state. In  Like Bug Juice on a Burger, Eleanor goes to summer camp, courtesy of her grandmother, and she copes with the challenges of living away from home and of doing things she does not do well (like swimming). In the latest book, Eleanor copes with having her best friend Pearl spend more time with a sparkly new student than with her. Each book is illustrated by Matthew Cordell, and each can stand alone from the series (though I like learning more about Eleanor in each book). Told in verse, they are perfect for readers who want something a little less daunting than a long chapter book.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Three Bird Summer

Sara St. Antoine's book Three Bird Summer was the perfect book to read on this idyllic summer day. Adam and his new friend Alice spend their days on Three Bird Lake in northern Minnesota paddling, swimming, creating games, reading, and trying to solve a mystery. Having spent time at places like Adam's grandma's cabin, it was almost like being on familiar trails and waterways with them. What I especially liked about this quiet novel for middle grade readers was the surprising and realistic friendship between Adam and Alice and the connections they built with the natural world. The mystery that allows Adam to better understand his grandma added an excellent intergenerational element to the story. I wish I had read the book prior to creating summer reading lists!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Tuscan Sun

Earlier in the month while visiting the North Shore, we came across a Little Free Library in a most unusual (but convenient) place: inside the lakeside "fish house" of the lodge. The mix of choices offered something for all ages of guests, and because the book I had selected for the trip was not as stellar as I expected, I chose Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes, a book I always intended to read but never quite did. Today, in my favorite reading chair and on my padded windowseat, I finished her account of restoring Bramasole, the estate on the Tuscan hillside.

I am struck by the amount of work required to finish the many projects and can only imagine the sums of money needed to fund the work. But I loved meeting the people in and around Cortona who offered advice, became friends, and thought enough of the place to work carefully. I loved the descriptions of food and flowers and stones. Mostly, I loved imagining the light at various times of day and night, shining through trees and gates, reflected on water, illuminating the people. It was an excellent book to finish on this steamy summer afternoon. And now I want a cooler day so I can bake her lemon cake!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Prairie Seeds

Phyllis Root's latest book - Plant a Pocket of Prairie - opens with words of reminiscence: "Once prairie stretched for thousands of ocean of flowers and grasses, a sea of sky..." The book's lyrical text encourages readers to imagine who and what might come if even a pocket of prairie was planted. Plant things like foxglove beardtongue, butterfly weed, rough blazing star, asters, purple coneflowers, goldenrod, cup plants, big bluestem and Indian grasses, and numerous others. Birds like the ruby-throated hummingbird, chickadee, and dickcissel might come to nest. Monarchs, swallowtails, great spangled fritillaries, and checkerspot butterflies might flit amongst the blooms and grasses. One plant or being attracts others, widening the prairie's reach. Betsy Bowen's block prints and watercolors complement the words with lovely colors, often extending the story beyond the text.

Those prairies (which covered about 40% of the United States) have been transformed into farms and towns and citified, reducing their coverage to a mere one percent of the land. The author's note offers ideas for planting pockets of prairies wherever there is soil...a windowbox, a backyard plot. All the flora and fauna mentioned in the text are explained in greater detail at the end of the book. I plan to scatter my own seeds!