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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Books Appreciated

My nieces and nephew called yesterday. I love to hear their young, enthusiastic voices on the other end, telling me what they are doing and what they love. They had just unwrapped the books we got for their Christmas gifts. They know before opening the packages that books are contained inside the paper, but they still appreciate the surprise of the new titles. The oldest was thrilled to get The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and Darth Paper Strikes Back and noticed right away how Tom Angleberger drew Origami Yoda and Darth Paper on the title pages with his personalized signature. The ever-sincere middle child loved all her books, but she especially adored Tiny Treasures (out-of-print, unfortunately, but I snagged a good used copy), a terrific American Girl publication that features itty-bitty craft projects made from common objects. And the littlest liked everything: Can't Sleep Without Sheep, My Heart is Like a Zoo, and two more. I love imaging them reading.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Necessary E

Imagine a world without E. It would b difficult to spll in usual ways. Common things would b missing thr parts. In Tom Lichtenheld's new book E-mergency (created with Ezra Fields-Meyer), E gets a bit too much speed coming down the stairs and is out of commission for a while. The other letters in the alphabet house try to work without the essential letter and decide that noble O will take E's place.

A tells the other letters: "That's right. Starting right NOW, it's O instead of E. That's it, poriod."

Things go awry after that. Though the other letters try to be helpful - speaking on talk shows, spreading the word about E in their travels - E does not seem to get well. The narrator is eventually told by the other letters to stop using their "bod-riddon buddy" in the book's text, and suddenly, E is "out of bod and roady to go back to work. Just in timo for...ThE End."

Lichtenheld's ever-comical side speeches and speech bubbles, along with the detailed illustrations, add humor and connections for readers (like the Targot bag!).

Monday, December 26, 2011

Reading Day

Though I had many things to do today, reading seemed the best option. I've been savoring Kevin Kling's autobiographical pieces in The Dog Says How and alternately laugh and cry as I ponder his insights into humanity. I have loved best two things:
* From "Perception" - Perception, deception, refraction, distraction. We see it when we believe it. We are all so worried about being deceived. Take a day off. Stand in front of a mirror and have your loved one tell you how great you look. Believe me, you look hot.
* From "Racing Toward Solace" - I believe each of us is drawn to a geography whether it's mountains, the desert, or an ocean. There lives in a particular nature that which provides us solace but also awakens our muse.
What brings you solace? For me, it is home or the mountains.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Word Play

The wooden NOEL blocks on our mantel sometimes read LONE or LEON. The WELCOME blocks near the front door are currently missing LCO, and the M is inverted to spell WE WE. My husband loves playing with the words...and seeing how long it takes me to notice his latest movements (he also plays Words With Friends for an hour each day). 
In  Max's Castle by Kate Banks, Max pulls alphabet blocks from under his bed, trying to create excitement from his older brothers. They are the ones, should you have read Max's Words and Max's Dragon, who are never very willing to share, yet they always find Max's word discoveries interesting. In this latest installment, Max builds a castle with rooms for each brother (featuring the things each loves) and continues to tell a story using his blocks to spell out the characters, places, and activities. When things get tenuous or just need to be changed up a bit, Max moves around the blocks. The PIRATES become RAT PIES, for example. It is ingeniously organized and boldly illustrated by Boris Kulikov.  A perfect gift for one who loves word play or those who need inspiration in that area.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Full Mailbox

The boys beat me home each day, and I miss out on one of my favorite sights: a mailbox filled with holiday greetings. Yes, they courteously put them on the kitchen counter for me to open, but the thrill of  retrieving them myself is gone - for a few years anyway. Still, the delight I take in reading cards and letters, seeing familiar faces just a bit older and changed, and  imagining the people I love is extreme. It is a great pleasure of life to keep close the people we hold dear through our correspondence. And then there are the weekly letters from my mom that feature some funny story from her past or recent experiences. I do love a full mailbox.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Paddling, Rowing, Reading

As I get older, I read things that never would have appealed to me at a younger age. Nonfiction, most surprising to me, has become a frequent choice.

My friend Jan, an avid paddler, recommended Jill Fredston's book Rowing to Latitude, and even she is a bit surprised I have enjoyed it so much. Jill describes the thousands of miles she has rowed with her husband Doug along coasts and rivers of the world. Though not an experienced paddler, I have explored the sea caves of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, a bit of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, and an even smaller bit of Kabetogama Lake in Voyageurs National Park. I have never rowed in the sliding seat boats Jill describes and uses. None of that made reading her book any less intriguing. In fact, I was mesmerized, not only by the technical things she describes, but also by her observations of scenery and people they encountered on these long journeys.

Though our lives have entirely different paths and surroundings, what she wrote about the lessons she learned from the Yukon River resonate with me. I keep relearning these things in my life:

"Keep moving but find places to slow down. Don't go straight at the expense of meandering. Nurture others; accommodate both change and tradition. Savor the element of surprise. Be gracious, accepting, resilient."

As a read-walker, I loved how she accomplishes her two favorite things at once:

"I became so desperate to amuse my parboiled brain that I bungee-corded Wallace Stegner's Angles of Repose to my feet and read while I rowed, not an easy task."

Jill's incorporation of history, geology (she is an avalanche expert), anthropology, culture, and nature in her travels and her thoughtful voice make it a pleasure to row along with her.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Have You Read? #20

Sometimes I read a book that brings me so deeply into a character's mind and circumstance that it takes me a long time to resurface. Eugene Yelchin's Breaking Stalin's Nose has done that to me this week. Knowing from reviews how vividly young Sasha's life experience would be portrayed, I began the book hesitantly. Instantly, I was hooked.

"My dad is a hero and a Communist and, more than anything, I want to be like him. I can never be like Comrade Stalin, of course. He's our great Leader and Teacher."

Sasha proceeds to write Comrade Stalin a letter, detailing his commitment to joining the Young Soviet Pioneers and training his vigilant character. Within hours, the young boy's life is in upheaval, yet he maintains the belief that with Comrade Stalin's help, all will be made right, never wavering in his faithfulness to the Communist ideals. The depth of brainwashing and use of propaganda to reinforce twisted ideas and supposed facts is incredible. Without giving away too much of the plot, just know that the plaster bust of Stalin in the elementary school hallway plays into a fateful accident that shapes Sasha's destiny.

In the end he is waiting in a long line in Lubyanka Square, suddenly befriended by an older woman who shares a warm scarf, hopeful and looking toward his future.

Yelchin's stark monochromatic illustrations provide intensity, action, and insight amidst the tension of the text. The stunning dust jacket shows St. Basil's and the Kremlin in the distance with the young boy marching across the icy streets through thick snow. Yelchin's Author's Note ends with these words:

"I set this story in the past, but the main issue in it transcends time and place. To this day, there are places in the world where innocent people face persecution and death for making a choice about what they believe to be right."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Book Connection

Last week's chapter in Little House in the Big Woods was entitled "Christmas". The second graders loved thinking about the molasses candy Laura and Mary got to pour in squiggles in clean pans of snow, the pictures they made falling flat in the snow, and the stories they listened to their parents tell when the children were supposed to be sleeping. This morning one sweet girl brought her personal copy of the picture book entitled Christmas in the Big Woods to show me how many of the things from the chapter were illustrated there! She was so proud of the connection to her personal book collection. I looked at each page and let her point out the similarities. She will be an excellent book club member soon!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Be a Book Character

A second grade teacher left her class with me for specialist time saying, "What a bunch of characters!" This teacher faithfully reads aloud to her class and favors the books Emily Jenkins and Paul Zelinsky wrote and illustrated about Stingray, Lumphy (the buffalo), and Plastic, and The Doll People series by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin. One usually quiet boy followed up on the word character, telling the class, "If I could be a book character, I'd be Sleeping Billy from The Meanest Doll in the World." This boy's reason? "That is just the coolest name."

That started a conversation in my head about book characters and who I might like to be...Caddie Woodlawn, perhaps. How about you?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lighthouse Perspective

Imagine celebrating Christmas with an almost-empty larder (what a great vocabulary word to promote word consciousness and the use of context clues!) on a rocky island in Penobscot Bay. Add to that the memories of holidays spent on the mainland with family members who played piano and made delicious food.

In Toni Buzzeo's latest book, Lighthouse Christmas, two young siblings, whose father is the lighthouse keeper, spend their first Christmas as a lighthouse family in just that manner. Their hopes were high about going ashore in a dory sent by their aunt. Peter even plans their celebrations in drawings, enticing his big sister Frances to dream about what things could be like. An overturned fishing boat changes their plans, and the lighthouse family spends the holiday with their rescued guest.

The readers in my library loved the ending of this book when the Ledge Light family gets a surprise visit from Santa who drops a package from his plane! They especially liked the author's information about the Flying Santa organization (

Sunday, December 11, 2011

O Christmas Tree

We set off this morning for our favorite tree farm to find that perfect tree for our holiday celebration. This tree farm has been our destination for 19 Christmases now! I love to hang back and watch the boys as they weave in and out among the trees, looking for straight trunks and well-rounded branches. They love walking to the garage/barn with me to greet our friend Bruce who kindly tells them each how they've grown and remembers what they told him last year. They find our family photograph amidst the hundreds of other family photographs on the boards around the woodstove.

As they hung their cherished ornaments on its lit branches tonight, I marveled at the how they each appreciate these traditions. Tomorrow night I will start reading some of our favorite tree and holiday stories during and after dinner:

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston
Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert Barry
The Race of the Birkebeiners by Lise Lunge-Larsen
and, their all-time favorite
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

How do you find just the right tree for you?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Book Angels

Each year the Red Balloon Bookshop offers the community the opportunity to purchase books for children in local shelters - and they match the dollars spent. Our sons like choosing their favorites, hoping another reader will love the books as much as they do. They always pick The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (in hardcover, just like we have it), The Wednesday Wars (one of our all-time favorite books), and Each Peach Pear Plum (which all of us memorized when they were little).

This year my husband's colleagues joined in the experience, and we purchased a whole table of books for kids to read and cherish. We chose books we love to give (The Best Pet of All, Mercy Watson to the Rescue, Because of Winn-Dixie), funny books (The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, Rrralph, Monkey With a Tool Belt), classic stories (The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel), and so many others we love, all the while imagining them being held in another's hands and read again and again.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Snowy Day Influence

After we read The Snowy Day, we tell the children about the other books Ezra Jack Keats wrote and illustrated that feature Peter. The normally full KEA shelf in the picture book section is down to just a few titles. I love how much impact a read-aloud selection can have on readers' independent book choices.

Our library office door features two snow angels, like those made by Peter, and numerous snowflakes. Some of the flakes were cut by me with a scissors, and some were created by the two of us using the very cool Make-a-Flake website (

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Awake All Night?

At the beginning of each month, several teachers request booktalks for their classes. Based on genre, the books are read in conjunction with a project the students will do independently. I love to watch the children as I do a brief commercial for each of the 40 or so titles I select. They watch and listen intently. Slowly, they inch closer to the book cart and me, obviously hoping they can just snatch their desired title before anyone else chooses it.

After talking about historical fiction book choices to a group of third graders this afternoon, the teacher commented that they were lucky to hear about so many good books in such a short time. One student asked, "Were you awake all night reading?"

Monday, December 5, 2011

Snowy Day Doors

The Snowy Day marks its 50th anniversary in 2012, and we are reading it aloud to students this week. They tell us how much they love this book, oblivious to the controversy originally surrounding the book in 1962. It was the first book to feature a non-white main character. They love the collage artwork, the snowy endpapers, and the expression in Peter's one eye when snow plops on his head.

Around the building, snowy doors are being created. Some are very much like scenes from the book. Some display similar elements but unique interpretations. The one in this photograph seems to have more snowflakes each day, cut by the kindergarten students who learn inside the door.

For more information about the book's anniversary, here is a good blog entry:

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Poring Over Recipes

In Boston 2 1/2 years ago, I realized a dream I have had for 16+ years: going to Rosie's Bakery. While pregnant with each child, my body slipped into the gestational diabetes mode, and I ate and exercised so carefully to avoid insulin injections and complications. My survival skill was to read recipes of the luscious things I wished I could have been eating. Judy Rosenberg's two cookbooks topped the list. Her humorous introductions (and recipe names) kept me smiling while I wished for the actual treats.

This weekend I have been poring over Rosie's Bakery Chocolate-Packed, Jam-Filled, Butter-Rich, No-Holds-Barred Cookie Book in anticipation of baking numerous things for an upcoming holiday event. Chocolate Babycakes top the list, and I am going to try them this afternoon, just to be certain they will be delightful later this month. I wonder as I others take as much pleasure as me in reading recipes?

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Christmas Memory

James J. Hill, founder of the Great Northern Railway, lived on Summit Avenue in St. Paul, and the Hill House is now a Minnesota Historical Society site. Our family has enjoyed many Hill House experiences, but tonight might just be my favorite. Two fabulous readers and a musician brought guests back in time to rural Alabama where Sook and Buddy, two friends of like interests, find ways to make money all year (hiding the money in a bead purse under the chamber pot under the floor boards under Sook's bed) in order to make fruitcakes in November.

I love this story. Their interpretation was perfect. Really. Sook's vocal expressions and fitting looks and glances (especially when Mr. Ha Ha Jones comes to the door to sell them whiskey) made me feel like I was standing next to the buggy with her. When she cries after allowing Buddy to drink the remaining whiskey - and getting caught by the adults - I cried, too. My sweet husband found a tissue for me. But when Buddy is taken from her love and friendship and placed in military school, my heart ached for them both. I'm still sniffling.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Chocolate Cake

A confession: I have eaten chocolate cake for breakfast. I always have something more nutritious with it, of course. But after I bake a chocolate cake, something about it calls to me after my morning walk or run.

Betty Bunny, the main character in our read-aloud this week, loves chocolate cake so much she decides to marry it. Her siblings point out the impossibility of this idea, but Betty Bunny's strong feelings for her cake prevail. When her mom tells her at bedtime that she loves her, Betty Bunny responds with, "I love chocolate cake." She goes to great lengths to extend that love throughout the day, even putting a piece in her pocket before going to school. Imagine that mess at dinnertime.

Betty Bunny's perceptions are a bit skewed beyond chocolate cake. Her mom has told her she is a handful. The children have many good definitions for what it means to be a handful: causing trouble for other people, not behaving well. Betty Bunny, however, think it must be very good to be a handful because she knows her parents love her. She tells her mother affectionately one night, "Mommy, you are a handful."

I giggle inside the whole time I read this book. The kids giggle and groan (especially at the end, which is too funny to write here). Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake was written by Michael Kaplan.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Connecting With My Favorite

I have been savoring the images in Robert McCloskey: A Private Life in Words and Pictures the past few days. Written by his younger daughter Jane, it is really more a collection of her interpretations and observations of his life and her role as the daughter than it is entirely about my favorite picture book author and illustrator. Still. I keep rereading passages that reveal things I never knew.

"Sometimes my mother sent Sal and me to visit my father at his studio in the boathouse. The studio often had paintings we had never seen before, and sometimes never saw again until after he died. After we looked around for a few minutes, Bob arranged us on the floor with chalk or pencils or paint, and we all settled down to work."

I love that image. I love the descriptions of his friendship with Marc Simont and how they supposedly would eat a pound of spaghetti at a time in college. I love the descriptions of island activities and hazards. Mostly, I love the glimpses into his work, prompting me to revisit my favorite books with new eyes and insights.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Voice in Person

Kevin Kling's picture book Big Little Brother is a perfect example of how voice can be associated with a person. Hearing him read the book at the Red Balloon Bookshop on Sunday was fantastic. Seated next to illustrator Chris Monroe (who expertly showed the pictures), Kevin's expressive voice illuminated the voice of the words on the pages. Even the years of age difference between his adult self and his child self faded as he read about putting the perfect plastic turkey into the oven at daycare and being tired of his big little brother's constant presence when he just wanted to be alone. Listeners applauded when the little brother came to his rescue, just in time to save that pretend Thanksgiving dinner. I just loved hearing him read his own work, so perfectly complemented by Chris's insightful illustrations.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Just Not the Same

When I was a little girl, my maternal grandmother cared for me while my parents were at work. There were things I would eat at her house (like braunschweiger!) that I would never touch at home. It just was not the same.

All of our sons love James Bond, but the eldest reads my dad's collection of Ian Fleming books whenever we visit my parents' home. He read three over the course of the three days! My mom offered to send them home with him, knowing how much he loves them. No, thanks, he told her. It just would not be the same.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

In Thanksgiving

Each night before I fall asleep, I record at least five things in my journal for which I am grateful. I used to record only three, but I increased that number as it got easier. So far today I am grateful for color, for the friends who came to run our informal Turkey Trot (and eat my cinnamon rolls), for the freedom to wake up without an alarm clock, and for my family's health. I anticipate being grateful for the familiar drive across Wisconsin, for time with my parents in the afternoon, and for my sons' contented sighs after enjoying their grandma's cooking. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reading Recommendations

I love talking about books with people who are passionate about reading. Sometimes I discover books I never expected to like about topics I would never have considered reading if someone else had not loved the book (Ahab's Wife comes to mind). Generally, though, my friends read many of the same things I like to read, and we exchange book titles and topics freely. My dear friend Gloria (who lives in Washington and loves Mt. Rainier National Park just as our family did when visiting her 6 years ago) always sends a book title or two in her letters. My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira was her latest recommendation, and I have been engrossed in Mary's story for the past two days. I love it when a book so captures my attention that I have a hard time leaving the setting and characters to participate in real life. So, now that the Thanksgiving baking is finished, I am going back to 1861 and the makeshift hospital where she is caring for soldiers.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Just a Second

How many times have I uttered these phrases? Just a second or Just a minute. They are poor substitutes for what I really mean, usually I will be there when I finish whatever I am doing now. The older I get, the more careful I am with my speech, and I have tried to eliminate those pat responses.

Steve Jenkins's newest book Just a Second makes me ponder the meaning to even greater lengths. In a second, I learned, woodpeckers can hammer a tree trunk 20 times, and a human can blink 7 times. In a minute, a human heart beats about 70 times while a hamster's heart beats 450 times! In an hour, baby blue whales gain 10 pounds when drinking their mothers' milk. In a day, the worldwide chicken population lays 2,000,000,000 eggs. In a week, moose antlers can grow by 6 inches. Not one to usually memorize facts, I found myself fixated on the incredible statistics in the book.

Of course, his incredible cut-paper illustrations astound me! The crushed aluminum can (with accompanying facts about the landfill accumulation in a month) looks real! The details of eyes, tails, and teeth on the mice offspring (with a horrifying fact about what the worldwide population would be is all the original pair's offspring survived) are amazing. He is noted for his fabulous, fact-filled glossaries, and this book also includes terrific timelines and graphs. Students will love it as a book to peruse alone or to hear read aloud.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Story-Filled Afternoon

I waited in anxious anticipation this afternoon at St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theater for three chairs on the stage to be occupied by some of my favorite people. The middle chair was for Cathy Wurzer, host of MPR's Morning Edition. The other two were for Chris Van Allsburg and Kate DiCamillo. They chatted about Harris Burdick, that incredibly talented, elusive, mysterious stranger made famous by Mr. Van Allsburg back in 1984. They shared the story of how The Chronicles of Harris Burdick came into being. Kate and Chris each read parts of the stories they contributed to the volume. Kate's epistolary story, told from the perspective of a young girl named Pearlie, accompanies "The Third Floor Bedroom" for which Harris Burdick's caption reads as follows: It all began when someone left the window open. I love that illustration and wrote my own version many years ago. Chris's story, based on the illustration for "Oscar and Alphonse", introduces readers to a little-known scientific theory called "The Farkas Conjecture" and provides quite an entertaining view of just how those caterpillars in her hand could spell. They followed the reading with more stories about their stories, giving me lots of things to share with the students when we return from Thanksgiving break.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Snow Queen & Breadcrumbs

Science fiction and fantasy are my least favorite genres. Whenever teachers request for a booktalk featuring the genre or when students ask for recommendations, I refer to those I have read and rely on reviews. That said, I eagerly read Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs. The beautiful cover art (by Erin McGuire) pulled me in, much as the main character Hazel is pulled into the woods (and the Snow Queen's palace) to rescue her long-time friend Jack.

I love the relationship Hazel and Jack shared through much of their childhood: playing imaginatively as only uninhibited young people can do, creating worlds and scenarios wholeheartedly. Jack even puts aside his guy friends to play with Hazel (a true loner) during recess sometimes. Yet one day in the snow, he is stricken by something in his eye (and, unbeknownst to Hazel and other, his heart). He changes, disregarding her and others, suddenly disappearing one day when he should have been sledding.

If the story sounds a bit like one familiar, it is because the author shaped her modern day version after Hans Christian Andersen's classic tale (which I read again as soon as I finished Breadcrumbs). I love the way the Hazel and Jack's story that of Gerda and Kai (in some versions Kay), yet the Minneapolis setting makes everything seem real for this Twin Cities resident.

Children at the book festival this week asked for my recommendations, and by the close of sales, there were no copies of Breadcrumbs remaining. I eagerly await their thoughts.

Friday, November 18, 2011

As Creative As a Paintbrush

Second graders have been writing similes to describe friends or family members in preparation for their portrait project. The art teacher and I collaborated to teach them about famous portraits and self-portraits, deciding finally that they could not bring in all the object they would need to adorn their paintings (as did Hanoch Piven in My Dog is as Smelly as Dirty Socks). So, I taught them the necessary skill of clicking (right-clicking, to be exact) on an image to copy it and then pasting it into a Word document. They will cut out their objects and add them to the paintings.

They love my example (which looks like a second-grader's piece of art) about my teaching partner who is

as smart as a dictionary full of words (hair)
as flexible as a macaroni noodle (eyebrows)
as sweet as chocolate chip cookies (eyes)
as happy as a clam (nose)
as creative as a paintbrush (mouth)

Next I'll work on my principal's portrait!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

To the Dogs

Last night at the book festival, Micki and Morgan (and their owners) were on hand to provide listening ears to young readers. Called Paws to Read at our public library, the program allows a safe opportunity to read aloud to a non-judgmental listeners: dogs. Watching the readers select one of the many dog-related books from the library and settling in next to the dogs was delightful. The dogs hardly had a break during their hour of volunteer time! Readers kept lining up for a turn, some coming back three or four times to read. Micki and Morgan enjoyed Laura Numeroff's new book If You Give a Dog a Donut, Sit, Truman! by Dan Harper, Arthur's New Puppy by Marc Brown, Maya Gottfried's Good Dog, and many other titles.

p.s. This kind listener, my brother's dog Sam, is no longer with us, but gosh, was he a good dog!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Finding a Voice

Two third graders pushed the cozy chairs leg-to-leg this morning, silently reading in close proximity. I had just finished reading aloud Jon Scieszka's The Frog Prince Continued, and I asked if their teacher had talked about voice. A thoughtful young man was certain he knew. "It's how when you read something, you know who wrote it." Wow. That is the perfect definition. Hearing the author's voice in the narration and the Frog Prince's words solidified their understanding of the concept.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Author's Chair

Each time an author or illustrator visits the Red Balloon Bookshop, the talented person leaves a drawing or inscription on a chair. I have no idea what the bookshop does with these pieces of collaborative art, but I think they should be auctioned off to school libraries. I can only imagine the thrill it would give a young, would-be author or illustrator to sit in such a chair. Young people could share their own words and artwork, inspired by the words and art adorning the chair and by the beloved authors and illustrators who enhanced its appearance. I must ask about this idea sometime.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bringing an Author Home for Dinner

My boys enjoyed the dinnertime conversation on Friday evening immensely as Chris Monroe came home with me for the meal. She had just finished signing many copies of her books at the book festival, sharing her career path with Family Reading Night attendees, and teaching the participants how to draw Chico Bon Bon. Number three son was pleased to get signed copies of her newest books, Monkey With a Tool Belt and the Seaside Shenanigans and Big Little Brother (written by Kevin Kling). Do they all realize how lucky they are to have interesting guests sitting at the table and sharing stories? I think so.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

In a Dog Suit

Stephen Shashkan appeared in a dog suit for his first-ever bookstore event this morning! The bookshop was so filled with children and their parents that I viewed the festivities from above in the Red Balloon's loft. Stephen read aloud from his playful book A Dog is a Dog, and the audience tried to fill in the correct rhyming animal when appropriate. His ingenious text tells of the dog's qualities - until the dog costume is unzipped, revealing a cat underneath. The same thing happens with the cat's characteristics - until its costume is shed to feature a purplish squid. The moose easily slips off the squid guise, and the text takes the reader back to the beginning with these lines:

A moose is a moose, in the clear...or the fog.
A moose is a moose, unless it's!

His bold and large illustrations are the perfect companions for the text. Readers at the bookshop loved it, and the readers to whom I am giving this book will undoubtedly agree.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bring Home the Bacon

Some things occur several times within in a week and make me wonder about their appearance. This week it was the phrase "bring home the bacon". One of my colleagues told us about her husband's retirement and noted that she is now the one who has to bring home the bacon. Immediately, two of us began singing the Enjoli perfume commercial from 1980. A much younger colleague (who was not even born in 1980) thought so much of the singing that she needed to look for the video on YouTube! We all laughed about that ridiculous advertisement.

Today, though, the phrase came up in Little House in the Big Woods when Pa is telling Laura and Mary about how he came upon a bear in the woods ready to feast on a dead pig. One usually quiet boy's hand shot up, and he exclaimed, "That has two meanings, you know." He proceeded to tell his classmates and me that one meaning is the paycheck or money a person brings home, and the other meaning is when someone really does buy bacon meat to bring home. They looked at him in amazement! I did, too, knowing everyone would remember the two meanings and go home to tell their families.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ready for Visitors

The book boxes arrived this morning, all labeled by genre and age level. Book posters adorned the walls. Brightly covered tables waited for the books. Volunteers unpacked books, stacking and displaying them to attract readers. Items were moved from one place to another, anticipating readers' interests. The doors open tomorrow morning for our second independent book festival, putting sought-after books in readers' hands. We look forward to seeing if our sales predictions were correct!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chair Readers

For the past six school years, I have cringed at the sound of wood scraping against tile as children rushed to the reading alcove in hopes of getting one of the four coveted chairs that were set alongside the carpet. Inevitably, two bodies claimed to have been first, and the chaotic chatter about who should get the chairs took up too much time.

In August, we decided to move those four chairs to secluded spots in the library, and the result has been amazing. Obviously, arguments have ceased in the reading alcove as everybody sits on the carpet. Most pleasing, though, are the glimpses of readers, curled up in those chairs, completely absorbed in books. Oblivious to the book searching around them, they read, not even noticing the librarian with the camera who wants to capture the moment.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Surprising Discovery

Watson discovered a pink polka-dot balloon in the woods on Saturday and was baffled by its slight movements. He edged closer and closer, finally comfortable enough to nudge it with his nose. The unexpected discovery prompted understanding.

Today during library time the fourth graders were engrossed in the versions of The Frog Prince I read aloud. The retellings of the Grimm version each ended similarly, surprising the listeners (and the teacher) who thought the frog became a prince when he was kissed by the princess. Not so. Nothing so tender brought about his transformation! The distressed princess threw the frog against the wall, and he suddenly became the handsome prince. Amazing, isn't it? All those readers thought it happened a different way. Next week they will enjoy Jon Scieszka's alternate version, prompting more surprises.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Have You Read? #19

Do you ever wait for a favorite author's next book to be released? I do. Sometimes I wish for the next title just after finishing the newest. So it is with Naomi Shihab Nye's books. This week I was lucky enough to borrow her latest - There is No Long Distance Now: Very Short Stories - via interlibrary loan. Note the subtitle. This is not another collection of her incredible, insightful poems. In the introduction, she tells of the requests for short stories she had not written - yet. Slowly, she wrote some and some more, thanking the things in her life that helped her form them.

Thank you, everything we remember. Distance between thought and action. Distance betwen suggestion, intention, reality.

And then come the stories. There were those that surprised me, just as they surprised the characters (like "Stay True Hotel" in which a young girl learns things about her deceased mother and hence her father and herself). Some made me smile despite sadness (like "Thud" in which a girl loses her grandfather but strangely meets a boy she always imagined in her mind). Some made me wonder about the people and relationships in my life (like "Downhill" in which a girl learns something incredible about her grandmother and odd uncle, explaining everything about how her grandma and dad get along). Some made me sad, of course, and then I had to read another to wash away that sadness and grasp contentment again. Mostly, I have loved reading them bit by bit this week. I do not want to return the book.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Swirl of a Day

When people tell me to slow down, to be sure not to do too much, to take some time for myself, I assure them I do. Today I enjoyed three hours with my buddy Joyce and her dog Watson. We hiked through the woods around her house, talking about swirls in cinnamon rolls, shells, pumpkin tendrils, leaf stems, squirrels' tails, and more. We imagined what children would like to learn about swirls when she talks to a group. Leaves crunched under our hiking boots. Ripples spread in Bufflehead Pond when we dropped leaves into it. After lunch, I took home signed copies of Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature, Joyce's latest book, illustrated by Beth Krommes.

I love this book for its flowing words as well as the incredible artwork. Each stanza of the text begins by telling what a spiral is: a snuggling shape, a growing shape, a strong shape, a clever shape. Spirals explore the world, hold on to other things, move, twist and stretch. Even the copyright/dedication information is in a spiral! Readers will love looking closely at the illustrations, finding the creatures nestled in spirals underground, identifying the plants, insects, and sea creatures , and imagining the spirals they have witnessed in their worlds. Joyce's fabulous glossary (with Beth's tiny illustrations) provides even more wonderful information about each thing. I keep holding my copy and rereading it this evening, remembering the swirls of the day.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Practicing Restraint

At this afternoon's meeting regarding the upcoming fall book festival, I could not help but look around the bookshop at all the new books. By new, I mean those that were not there last week when I visited. I held one long-awaited book in my hands. I read it, savoring the onomatopoeic text and wonderful artwork. I laughed as the animal characters held on to each other's fur and quills as they zoomed down the hill. I wondered along with the human boy who noticed the bear tracks in the snow outside his cabin. I hoped, along with him, to see the animals from his window, borrowing the red sled for another ride down the hill. I love Lita Judge's newest book Red Sled, but I practiced restraint today. No doubt I will look at it again next week and take it home for my shelf.

p.s. This bear track was found near Sperry Chalet in Glacier National Park at the end of July of 2011!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Reading Prompts Knitting

I knit often. Not quite daily, but I usually pick up a project a few times a week. Knitting gets me through long meetings, band concerts (though I once dropped the yarn ball and it rolled to the front of the high school auditorium), and car rides. Thanks to my grandma, I have been knitting since I was 16, and many warm things have come from my needles.

Knowing how much I love knitting, my friend Debra got me the best book: A Knitter's Home Companion by Michelle Edwards. To make the book last, I read just a bit each night, and instead of feeling sleepy, I feel like buying more yarn and starting new projects! Michelle writes about knitting, shares favorite books in which knitting is part of the story, ,gives recipes for favorite foods, and provides patterns for a blanket, mittens, socks, a purse, and several other unique things (like a chicken egg warmer). Generally, the book lives up to its subtitle: A Heartwarming Collection of Stories, Patterns, and Recipes.

On another note...I finally like the eyes I gave my doll, so she and the brown, nubby rabbit are off to Brattcat's house this weekend for shipping to Bon Samaritan in Haiti to be loved by children.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Abandoning a Book

I absolutely hate having to do what I did today: abandon a read-aloud selection. In discussions about the Common Core Standards and the importance of challenging readers with texts, I attempted to read J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan to the second graders. After two chapters, there were far too many breaks in the reading to check understanding. Despite their attempts to stay connected, their attention strayed to things out the window, others passing through the library, or the box elder bugs that somehow fly around the room each autumn.

So, I put Peter Pan back on the shelf and picked up a tried and true selection: Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Their questions were many.

Did they have stairs to get up in the attic?
Do people still have trundle beds?
Why did they store their food in the attic?
How could Pa retrieve his gun if it was on the wall above the door?
How did Pa get the nails in the hollowed up log for smoking the meat?
Why could Pa use a net to catch fish? Did he need a license?

We had to stop just before the butchering of the pig (sounds of slaughter came from some of the boys), and they begged for more. Now I feel better about my selection.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Treats

I have always loved Halloween, not for the gruesome, scary side of it but for the simple pleasure of pretending to be something or someone else. At school, I love watching the children parade through the library in their costumes...some wanting to remain in character and some peeking through their masks to grin at me.

The day has been filled with treats: reading aloud One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street to third graders, reading aloud the second chapter of Peter Pan to second graders, helping students find books, savoring several chocolates. At the end of the day a student and his mom brought me a treat: the most delicious chocolate cookies I could imagine (and which I now want to figure out how to make myself). When I returned home, I walked a Halloween treat down the street to my young friends Conrad and Bettina, and then I had the pleasure of reading aloud The Haunted Hamburger and Other Ghostly Stories to that dinosaur and Tinkerbell. And now, as I write, I must pause for the doorbell every few minutes. Play-Doh has been the favorite thing from my treat bowl!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Breakfast Table Reading

Without a monthly issue, I have not tracked exactly when it arrives. The arrival of the King Arthur Flour Baking Catalogue always causes a giddiness and excitement in my day. I allow myself only to look at the front and back cover at first, savoring the entire thing while I eat breakfast the next morning. I even pull it out of my baking cupboard a few times each month, just to reread recipes or look at products I might like to try.

It was a King Arthur day in my kitchen. I used their bread and whole wheat flours, vital wheat gluten, and instant yeast in wild rice bread (our weekly bread). The pumpkin and cat cut-out cookies were flavored by Nielsen-Massey vanilla. The gem of the day, though, was the pan of spiderweb brownies. The recipe came from last year's catalogue, and the brownies look almost like the picture! They will make a perfect dessert tomorrow night.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Along the Way

Along the way to becoming a librarian, I have been influenced by many amazing women. The past few days at the AASL (American Association of School Librarians) convention several of those lovely ladies have crossed my path. Though I attended some terrific sessions and look forward to trying new things when I return to school on Monday, I think I most valued my chance meetings with the people who have shaped my career path.

The presenter at a session about improving school library websites (and making them more interactive and more determined by student work) was my favorite collection development professor from UW-Whitewater. The quiet, determined librarian who oversaw my middle school student teaching experience talked with me about our current situations and our families. A friend from way back in our middle school English teaching days (who also became an elementary librarian) talked about the realities of day-to-day experiences and the things we wish we could do better with students. They have each shined brightly in my life.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cookies Shared

Today two of my friends celebrated their birthdays, and all of us were together at lunch for cake and tea. One brought lovely, decorated cookies for each of us in attendance. My family enjoyed bits and pieces of this after dinner. The other received 51 chocolate chip cookies in honor of his 51 years.

While the others finished cake, tea, and their chatting, I read aloud "Butterball" to the third graders in the reading alcove. The birthday boy came to join us at the end, and he told the children about his gift of 51 cookies. What do you think I should do with them? he asked. Responses ranged from sharing the cookies with them to sharing the cookies with teachers to putting them in his freezer. Most creative of all was the idea of writing a story about how they were eaten. I can envision about book like that...almost a map of the character's days until the last crumb has been enjoyed.

Monday, October 24, 2011

But You Have to Read It

Third graders clustered around my rocking chair on this autumn afternoon for Lise Lunge-Larsen's version of the Norwegian folktale "Butterball" from her book The Troll With No Heart in His Body. They groaned each time the round, sweet-loving boy popped from his hiding spot saying, "Pip! Pip! Here I am!" to the troll hag who carries her head under her left arm pit. They really groaned when he got smart enough to shove the troll hag's daughter into the cooking pot. Then they wanted to know what we were going to read next week.

I choose my read-aloud selections carefully, and I had been contemplating two of them: Joanne Rocklin's One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street and Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio. One students asked when I would be reading Because of Winn-Dixie. I asked how many students had read it already and was shocked to see only three hands raise. Actually, I was not going to read it aloud this year. What? But you have to read it, she told me. It is one of my favorite books to read aloud (though I always cry several times). Children love it. I told her I would think about it. Before she left class, she came back to me and repeated, But you have to read it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Just Kids

This afternoon I witnessed the marriage of two people I adore: a young man who has taught my sons to play their saxophones and trumpet well and a young woman who was a teacher in my building. Their relationship is my first successful attempt at matchmaking (a year ago already). Watching them fall in love has been a delight. Seeing them speak their vows confidently on this autumn day was a pleasure. I think about my own wedding 23 years ago and wonder about readiness for marriage. We were "just kids" at ages 21 and 22. These two are a bit older but still just kids.

My thoughts are influenced, no doubt, by what I am reading today: Patti Smith's Just Kids, in which she candidly writes of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. They were just kids, but living in New York City in the 1960s presented opportunities for discovery, artistic expression, and self-exploration like nothing I can imagine. Her life is such a stark contrast to that of my parents (who are the same age and married at young ages, also just kids), but she tells everything in such a matter-of-fact manner, causing me to be engrossed in her personal story. From those experiences, she became the artist, writer, and musician with whom many are familiar. Her memoir is worth reading for perspective and introspection.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Recipe Book

Though my thoughts about religion keep evolving, Father Tim of Mitford fame always brings me comfort. The life experiences described by author Jan Karon in the Mitford books have become so dear to me that I feel like those folks are people I know. Wisely, the author chose to publish recipes made by characters in the books (even Esther Bolick's famous orange marmalade cake). Each is set alongside the text from which readers learn of the recipe.

It is Father Tim's housekeeper, Puny Bradshaw, who most amazes me with her cooking skills in the novels, and Puny's Macaroni and Cheese has become a bi-weekly menu item in our house. Last night I made it with a pasta we had never seen: trottole. The curly noodles looked so lovely coated in white cheddar sauce and topped with buttered breadcrumbs...they even tasted better than elbow noodles! For this and other recipes from Mitford's fictitious cooks, check out Jan Karon's Mitford Cookbook & Kitchen Reader.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Wrapping Up the Words

On a cherished day off from school, I wrapped the books I have purchased during the year as gifts for my nieces, nephew, neighborhood children, and friends (while watching a movie and stopping to do household errands). It looks like I need to stop supporting the bookshop and focus more on the college funds! But the people getting these books will love them, I know. They are so good that they must be shared! When I imagine the readers turning the pages and taking in the words and artwork, I smile, knowing my well-intended gifts will bring hours of reading pleasure.