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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Eggs


Many friends have posted photos of the nests and eggs in the planters on their porches, and I am in awe of the beauty in their colors and patterns. It was good timing, then, that Egg: Nature's Perfect Package by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page arrived on my library reserve list. I like being the first person to check out a new book, and this one is beautiful and filled with incredible facts. Organized by topics, the text can be savored fact-by-fact or read in its entirety (and then reread, as I have done). It is perfect for reading aloud to cause astonishment or to foster further reading. I learned so many fascinating things that I could list almost the whole book! The illustrations, of course, make the book shine even brighter. As with all his work, I am awestruck that the art is made from cut paper. Steve Jenkins is a master of that medium.

On another note, I offer thanks to the fan club member who presented me with How to Bake a Book by Ella Burfoot. Perhaps someday I will be able to do just that!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Voicing Blame


For dinner tonight I made one of our favorite sandwich recipes: prosciutto, medjool date, & arugula (with Gruyere on sourdough). The recipe comes from Scott Graden's NEW SCENIC CAFE COOKBOOK. If I were to choose favorite places to eat, the Scenic Cafe would be in the top five. Though I only get to eat there one or two times a year (it is located on Lake Superior's shore north of Duluth), I get to reminisce about meals by cooking recipes at home. If there were fiddlehead ferns in my yard, I would try to replicate a tomato soup we enjoyed there a few years ago. But sandwiches have been on my mind this week.

We are reading aloud Julia Sarcone Roach's new book THE BEAR ATE YOUR SANDWICH to all classes during library time. Reading the same book to all students provides me the opportunity to hear the range of comments and observations from children ages 6-11. They immediately notice the (unseen) narrator's voice, telling the sandwich owner how the bear ended up in the San Francisco park where it then smelled and devoured her delicious and excellent sandwich, leaving only a bit of lettuce. That narrator, however, somehow does not sound trustworthy; suspicions swirl as the bear's story unfurls. I will not give away the ending by telling why.

Readers ask me to turn back to the Golden Gate Bridge page, noting that the author/illustrator was smart to make the red truck the only red vehicle on the road. They like the shift in perspective as the bear makes his way from the Marin Headlands to the cliffs (city buildings). They appreciate how the bear uses things in the city (a telephone pole for scratching it's back, for instance) like he would in the forest. They find it interesting that the bear seems to take on the appearance of another creature as the story progresses. But most of all, they appreciate that narrator's voice - and its change in voice and language - at the end of the book. Oh...and they love the end papers, filled with sandwiches at the front and crumbs at the back. 

This book is a gem. The acrylic artwork is varied and beautiful. The children even noticed how the artwork tells stories apart from the text, telling me that made the book even better. I completely agree. It is my favorite picture book of the year (so far). 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Echoes in Life


A morning symphony greets me as I walk and run these spring days. Red-winged blackbirds trill from dried cattail heads. Cardinals call from tree branches. Woodpeckers tap into bark. Chickadees sing in rhythm. Even loons laugh in pairs as they fly to another lake. Their echoes abound and resonate throughout the day. 

Pam Muñoz Ryan’s latest book Echo has been resounding in my thoughts as well, filling my mind with four interconnected stories, harmonica songs, personal struggles, and the joy of finding one’s passions. The story begins with a boy’s encounter with three mysterious sisters, destined to live with an evil witch yet hopeful in their quest to be released. From the forest, readers travel to October of 1933 in Trossingen, Baden-Württemberg, to June of 1935 in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, to December of 1942 in Southern Californina, and finally to April of 1951 in New York City. 

In each time and place, I became so engrossed with the characters and their situations that I felt certain I could not enjoy the next section. Yet those same connections occurred again, echoing with deeds and lessons and songs. And then, almost every magically, the book ended in the most amazing possible way. I loved it. I know readers who have echoed my sentiments about it, and I know young readers will engage with this book just as strongly.

By the way, each section begins with the harmonica music for a song, and those songs play an essential role in the section. 
Brahms’ Lullaby
America the Beautiful
Auld Lang Syne
Some Enchanted Evening
The music and the harmonica made one friend seek out her childhood harmonica to look carefully at its markings and try to play it! Savor this phenomenal book!





Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Batty Growing Up


How comforting it is to read about a familiar character and her family! The past few days Batty Penderwick, her sisters and brother, her parents, the neighbors, and her sort-of-adopted brother Jeffrey have inhabited my mind, much as the real people in my life do. When I tell people I am reading Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks in Spring and that beloved Batty is in fifth grade, those in the know gasp and say, "Batty? In fifth grade? How can she be so old already?" It is as if they, too, love and know this quirky girl as I feel I do.

Batty is still musically inclined, still opposed to participating in sports, still needing reassurance from Jeffrey, and still inclined to snuggling Funty (though now she listens to music on the old record player bought for her by Iantha while doing so). Yet she is changing, growing to be a wise big sister to Ben and Lydia and starting her own business: Penderwick Willing to Work. With growing up comes knowledge of things heartbreaking and difficult to comprehend. So sad are some of these things that I had to be by myself to read at times! But those Penderwicks are nothing but supportive. They carefully seek to tell the truth and bring Batty to light and love again. 

I loved this fourth book in the series. I especially liked Batty's aversion to book reports. 

"She was reading Masterpiece, about a boys named James and his friend Marvin, who happens to be a beetle. It was high on her list of books she refused to ruin by writing about in a book report." p. 132

"The Phantom Tollbooth was yet another book much too wonderful to wreck with a book report." p. 146

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Black Dove, White Raven


Traveling through the last few days, Elizabeth Wein's latest novel Black Dove, White Raven lingered in the background of my thoughts. Emilia Menotti and her brother Teodros Dupre are "in the soup together" as Italian forces invade Ethiopia in 1935. Strapped into the same cockpit seat at age five, the children of flying partners Cordelia Dupre (Black Dove) and Rhoda Menotti (White Raven) have grown up together, despite the "Delia-sized hole" created when Teo's mother was killed in a bird strike. They instinctively reach for each other's hands when frightened, squeezing three times to communicate "Are you scared?" and feel the returned four squeezes, meaning "I am not scared."

The novel begins, however, with Em's declaration of acknowledgement that she is the only person who can help her and her brother. And so she writes to the emperor of Ethiopia, begging for forgiveness for Teo and a passport to help him leave the country. As evidence of his goodness and innocence, she sends the essays, stories, and flight plans the two have composed for their teacher and their mother. The book, then, is a chronological record of their experiences, joint and single, that go from their arrival from Bucks Country,Pennsylvania to the Beehive Hill Cooperative Coffee Farm in Tazma Meda. The people who love them in Ethiopia range from the clinic doctor and his wife to Teo's biological uncle to Habte Sadek, the priest at the nearby church who teaches them to throw spears and is guarding ancient treasures. Yet Teo and Em are eventually thrust into war, defense, and secrecy. They must work to make right a terrible debt owed while learning that "spiderwebs joined together can catch a lion". 

Gripping in the descriptions of events and in emotion, the story is told so well in the young people's voices that their fictional nature is in question in my mind. The author's notes separate the real events and people with those of her imagination. But once again, my interaction with a book enlightened my mind about a period in history I had not previously know. Read this book. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Huzza, huzza


Yesterday afternoon my mind and heart were gloriously filled with beautiful words as I listened to Sharon Creech's acceptance speech for the 2015 Kerlan Award at the University of Minnesota and later contemplated her words in some of my favorite books. Listening to the story of her own journey into writerhood, I savored the snippets of background information that shaped the books she has written and explain her writing process. Like all journeys in life, there was not straight course, she said, to becoming a writer. Most of my life's journeys have taken curved paths, too. Salamanca Tree Hiddle noted early in Walk Two Moons, "...if people expect you to be brave, sometimes you pretend that you are, even when you are frightened down to your very bones." Insert numerous other adjectives for brave, and finish the sentence to correspond to them. That sums up many lessons I have learned in life. My three favorite books by Sharon Creech sit apart from the other on my shelf now, waiting for my to reread and appreciate more of her wisdom and compassion.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Forest Feast


This morning my youngest son and I walked around the lake east of our home. Trees are budding, pussy willows look like large dew drops on their branches, loons and a trumpeter swan floated with the mallards on the small patches of open water, and seed pods fluttered in the breeze. The surrounding forest echoed with birds calling to each other and woodpeckers tapping on tree trunks. It was a feast for the senses.

Back at home Erin Gleeson's The Forest Feast rests on our table. It, too, is a feast for the senses. Organized into appetizers, cocktails, salads, vegetable dishes, and sweets, it contains basic - yet somehow inventive - vegetarian recipes. Each is featured on a double-page spread with step-by-step instructions and photographs (taken by the author) of the ingredients and finished product. Her choice of Traveling Typewriter and Vintage Typewriter as the fonts is perfect, as is the occasional use of her own handwriting in the directions. Each section is prefaced by a list of the recipes in it, annotated with some notes about flavors, serving, and recipe history. It is a beautiful book, and the recipes are intriguing enough that I just might have to buy this book.

Will I ever remember some of her flavor combinations or ideas if I just try to keep them in my mind? How about Curried Crispy Carrots or Guacamole Deviled Eggs? The Green Salad, the Yellow Salad, and the Red Salad all look delicious, as do the savory Polenta Portabellos. Mmm. Treat your body and mind by pursuing and using this excellent cookbook!