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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What to Take

A pile of books sits next to me. I must decide which ones I should take with me on a journey tomorrow. My husband's solution was to download books to his Kindle and take that. No, thank you. What if one book does not hold my interest, despite the reviews I have read about it? What if I get through one (or two or three) so quickly I have nothing else to read? The latter will most likely not be a problem as there are several independent bookstores and one wonderful used bookshop in the town I will be visiting. Alice Ozma's The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared will be in my carry-on bag. I know I will love Kirby Larson's The Friendship Doll, so that might not be a good choice. Maybe I will stay awake reading tonight (and worrying slightly about traveling). I am one-third done with Diane Ackerman's One Hundred Names for Love and am engrossed in the account of her work with her husband's cognitive functioning after a stroke. I have a few hours to decide the final selections.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tops and Bottoms

The first delivery from our CSA (community supported agriculture) arrived yesterday afternoon. I was giddy as I opened the box of kale, Swiss chard, radishes, pac choy, arugula, butterhead lettuce, green onions, and garlic scapes. As I prepared the Swiss chard for inclusion in a Proven├žal Caramelized Onion and Greens Tart (from New Vegetarian by Robin Asbell), I could not help but think of Hare's methods of tricking Bear in Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens. I love reading that story aloud. I can even do a fairly good Bear voice. Children love so many things about that book: Bear's laziness, the way the book opens like a calendar, the repetition, the clothing, and of course, Hare's ingenious way of getting more vegetables for his family and for sale.

Take a break from sorting out tops and bottoms of produce this summer and revisit that 1996 Caldecott Honor Book. And try that recipe as well. It was a keeper in our collection. For more information about CSAs, visit the website for ours:

Monday, June 27, 2011

Coming Soon: The Haunted Hamburger!

What could be scarier than a ghost? For one ghost, it would be a human baby in need of a diaper change! What could be scarier than a hot dog? Why, a haunted hamburger, of course! And what is scary about a doting relative wearing red lipstick? I think everyone knows the answer to that one. The very non-tired ghosts in David LaRochelle's soon-to-be-released book The Haunted Hamburger and Other Ghostly Stories want only a few bedtime stories from Father Ghost. He obliges with three tales about family members and their unique interactions with humans, something in the forest, and affection.

David's first copy arrived on Friday, and I eagerly looked at the final versions of the stories and illustrations this morning, anxious to purchase copies for young readers I love. Each story has a twist to make readers smile. My favorite line (and David's too) comes after that haunted hamburger is revealed on a tree stump in the woods. The ghost children say, "And we thought hot dogs were scary!"

Join David (and me) at the Red Balloon on Saturday, August 13th, at 2:00 p.m. for the publication party.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Library Talk

I stopped at the library today for what I assumed would be a quick pick-up of requests. Thirty minutes later I walked out the door with my four titles. The ensuing time was spent with one of my colleagues and her daughter, trying to find things the latter might want to read. She's gone from princess books to the WARRIORS series, her mom told me. And having never met me, she was reluctant to agree to reading some of the titles I mentioned: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, and The Capture (Guardians of Ga'hoole series). In the end, her mom took Lynne Jonell's The Secret of Zoom.

After waving to my colleague at the reference desk, I greeted two boys and their mom who love is now in 7th grade and one is in 4th. Their summer reading charts were in their hands, so I inquired about how many hours they have logged so far. The younger brother beamed as he showed me the 20 hours completed on his log sheet. "And I read three hours and twenty minutes this morning to get it done," he proclaimed proudly. His older brother told me he had also logged 20 hours. I then asked if there were any favorite books so far. "None," said the younger. "I just love reading anything." He eyed my stack of books. I told him I would need at least three hours and twenty minutes to finish them. I plan to start now.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

How Clean is Your House?

At lunch today, a friend asked what she deemed a personal question: How do you deal with house cleaning? My family lives in what appears to be a clean house, but upon closer inspection, one would notice accumulated dust (my least-favorite chore), a few cobwebs by the fireplace bricks, and some fuzz in the corners of the library. Another friend mentioned Lucy Cousins's book Maisy Cleans Up in which Maisy's friend Charley helps with her house cleaning. His original intention, of course, was not to clean. He smelled something wonderful coming from her kitchen, but because her floor was not yet dry, he had to wait to enjoy the treat. In the meantime, he helps wash windows and pick up toys. What a wonderful invite friends over to clean and enjoy treats! Some of mine just might agree to that arrangement!

Monday, June 20, 2011

P is for Planning

My nieces and nephews love getting books for their birthdays and other occasions, but their favorite gift from me is the annual Alphabet Book all about them. When all their other gifts have been opened, this is the one they open again and share with others. "Look at me doing..." or "Remember when I did..." repeatedly come from their lips. I love watching their joy in seeing themselves over the past year of life and recalling what they did.

On my kitchen floor this afternoon are photos of one niece with Post-it notes to remind me which ones go with which letter. A is for Artwork (a snowman picture she made in kindergarten). B is for Buddy (their new puppy) and Birds (at the zoo). C is for Cut-out Cookies (made with Grandma and her little sister) and Christmas. As I take stock, I struggle with J, N, U, and X (which usually ends up be eXcellent ______ or eXtraordinary). But Y is easy. This book is all about her, so it will be You in many different photographs.

Will she love these ABC books as much when she is 18? I hope so. For now, I must keep Searching for More Photos and Matching Words and Phrases with her Past Year.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Have You Read? #17

Librarians would certainly love a book about libraries, but this gem from photographer Doug Ohman (part of the Minnesota Byways series) holds appeal for library users of all occupations and ages. In his photographer's note, he tells of the observations made in photographing 70 of the state's libraries. Though the images he captured are both inspired and lovely, the spirit of the libraries and the enormous role they play in our communities shines through those pictures. Some libraries stand tall with traditional columns. Some are tiny cabins. Some are modern glass and stone edifices. All bring readers and seekers of information together.

Drawing the images together are essays by seven Minnesota authors. Will Weaver tells the history of libraries in the United States, from Benjamin Franklin's lending library (from which one could borrow only with a paid subscription) to Horace Mann's revolutionary idea that schools provide books for students' common good to my personal library hero Andrew Carnegie's funding of free libraries (65 of which were built in Minnesota alone). Pete Hautman tells of how he was not much of a reader yet one summer became enamored with Jim Kjelgaard's dog stories. John Coy takes readers along his own journey of libraries that shaped his reading life, from the bookmobile visits to his Falcon Heights neighborhood to the beautiful and dignified St. Anthony Park library he frequents most often today. Nancy Carlson writes about how well she came to know her Edina Public Library through the "Summer Reading Carnival" of 1963. Marsha Chall brings readers to 1963 also with her memories of the Webber Park Library. David LaRochelle embarked on the path to Pirate's Treasure Hunt during the summer between elementary school and junior high school, adding From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to his reading log first...and was later disappointed that he could only add two of the twelve titles he had read to his quest for the treasure. Kao Kalia Yang provides a glimpse of the immigrant's perspective of library visits.

As I read their words, I could not help but visit the Marathon County Public Library in my own mind. I can describe that place accurately still. I imagine the lighting in the yellow stairwell, the drinking fountain, the coat hooks, the bath tub where lucky kids could read. Magic stirs minds at the library. I feel it still.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Weeding at Home

It has been a rainy day, perfect for reading, drinking tea, quilting, and weeding (books, not troublesome, take-over-the-flower-bed weeds). I, however, was not the weeder today. My middle son reviewed his full shelves and chose several titles he no longer wanted. Some I could understand. The boys often desperately wanted a book that I knew would not be a cherished favorite. But hose titles were in a pile with books I hoped they would always love, like Marguerite Henry's King of the Wind. I took the pile from his room and stashed my own favorites in a place for someday, just in case he changes his mind.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Stack of Books

Beside my bed, beside the couch, on the small table by my favorite reading chair, on our dining room table (really)...stack of books reside. My stacks include:
  • Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney - Wonderfully woven stories from three young narrators told in 1936 and 1937 and centered on the hope sparked by Joe Louis in the African American community
  • The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen by Geraldine McCaughrean - Supposed to be a humorous account of a girl's journey downstream about a paddle steamer in the 1890s...I get to start this one tomorrow
  • The Complete Works of William Shakespeare - I'm working through "The Tempest" again, thanks to Holling Hoodhood in The Wednesday Wars.
  • The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean - One of my former high school colleagues recommended this historical fiction novel two weeks ago. Its the story of an incredible museum tour guide's descriptions of the paintings that have been removed from the frames in 1941.
The talk among teachers in the summer often turns to books and what we are reading. After the graduation party I attended tonight, I reserved three more books! The stacks never seem to diminish, just change in colors and titles.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Recycled Book Art

The book has been weeded. Its circulation was zero. Some of the pages were loose. Some had markings done by a younger sibling. Yet, scissors in hand, it felt strange to do as I planned. Instead of recycling the book, I recycled the art, creating a note of thanks for a friend from Nancy Willard's The Mountain of Quilts, illustrated by Tomie de Paola. I carefully cut images to use in a collage, noting which side of the pages had the artwork I most wanted to reuse. The new creation has echoes of the old. The recipient will, I hope, appreciate the design and the sentiment.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


My friend Joanne tells me I live in a man cave. Talk around the dinner table is not always what I would wish. The movies they want to see do not generally rank high on my list of must-see films. And there are other things, of course.

May Amelia Jackson lived in much the same way back in 1900 in Washington State along the Nasel River. This fictitious young girl suffered the taunts of seven brothers (only a few of whom were ever nice to her) and a father who saw no need for girls. The boys mercilessly called her names, yet May Amelia finds trouble for herself, all the while looking for her sisu, her Finnish guts and courage. The Trouble With May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm is a worthy sequel to her Newbery Honor book of 2000.

Some friends completely understand that gender bias in my household and bring me plants or flowers or blood orange blossoms (thanks to another former man cave dweller for bringing me this B.T. McElrath Chocolatier product yesterday).

Monday, June 13, 2011

Woven Words

Throughout my days in London last year, words wove themselves into the places I saw and the things I experienced. Most apparent were the words about books and reading along the walls leading to the British Library's entrance. Even at the pub where I had potato leek pie one afternoon, words about the pub's history greeted me, and phrases laden with wisdom were carved on beams above the tables.

First-time novelist Gretchen Woelfle weaves words from William Shakespeare and Elizabethan England throughout her historical fiction novel told in five acts. Kit Buckles is the ruffian narrator whose career as a cutpurse is cut short at the Theatre when he is caught by an apple-selling girl. He must work off his sentence spreading nut shells on the dirt floor and doing odd jobs at his master's whim. Kit's passion for language blooms as he listens to rehearsals and practices lines with other young people. But his interactions with Will Shakespeare are the keys to Kit's discovery of his life's calling, what Will calls his dance of life.

The playwright's words woven effortlessly amidst the narrative keep the historical connections foremost in the reader's mind. The author manages to link Kit's eventual decision to be a carpenter with the first play Shakespeare writes for the new Globe Theatre: Julius Caesar. So many readers expressed interest in Shakespeare over the past school year, thanks to one motivating teacher. There will be an audience for this book when school begins again.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sonorous Stories

Songs and melodies evoke memories and stories. This morning I observed high school hand bell ringers at a local care center as they shared music with the residents. The young people read inspirational pieces between the songs and at one point spoke about the things for which they are grateful. It was the elderly residents whom I most enjoyed watching. As the rhythms resonated in the small gathering space, feet tapped, heads nodded, eyes brightened. The familiar songs brought out a youthfulness not present just minutes prior.

When the students finished ringing, they brought the bells (even these enormous bass bells) to the older people for them to hold and try ringing. More important, they shared stories about their own musical experiences and the instruments and songs that had impacted their lives.

Too many times in our current society, young people shy away from older people. The interactions I observed today remind me how essential it is to foster inter-generational experiences to spark sonorous stories.

Friday, June 10, 2011


Today I retrieved my signed copies of Catherine Thimmesh's latest book Friends: True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships at the Red Balloon Bookshop. The front window still sports Michael Hall's square designs. Inside, two of my dear friends were talking to the shop owners. Those two friends were with me all morning at another meeting - part work session, part friendship connection.

Friends comfort, connect, snuggle (or give needed hugs), help, play (or talk about books), and protect, according to Catherine. The photographs and narrative show almost unbelievable connections. One might exclaim, "Ohhh!" at the photographs, but upon reading, the rest of the story is revealed. A snuggling orangutan and tabby cat became friends after the former lost her mate; they remained companions for four more years. A basset hound and tawny owl snuggle together as the former watches television. They have joined each other on the couch for more than five years now. A scraggly Asiatic bear has protected a black cat for than 12 years now in a Berlin zoo.

Whether friendships are comfortable and comforting (like those I savored today) or unlikely and unusual like those in the book, the messages for life ring true. These books will soon be shared with some of my younger friends.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Through No Fault of My Own

Through no fault of my own, I came home from the last teacher work day (after shopping for groceries and getting laundry started, of course) and read on the window seat. The chosen book is so charming I laugh aloud, so charming I read parts aloud to my family at dinner last night.

Through No Fault of My Own is the diary of thirteen-year-old Coco (Clotilde) Irvine, penned in 1927 in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is unbelievably precocious, usually oblivious to the true opinions of the adults in her world, and daring beyond imagination. Coco believes she is no longer a child and is mortified each time her parents associate her with one. She believes HE, the boy she likes, is giving other signals each time he avoids her or says something derogatory. She dresses in her mother's clothing and shoes (tied on her smaller feet) to go dancing with her brother in her parents' absence, drives her sister's car alone around Manitou Island, and convinces her mother it is fine for boating on White Bear Lake despite strong winds.

The diary was found by journalist Peg Meier in the Minnesota Historical Society's archives and is an amusing and honest account of a young girl's life in the Jazz Age. Read it to experience the timelessness of a teenager's thoughts and experiences. But read it also to visit a past era that feels like it could be yesterday.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Last Day

A cat-shaped truffle from a favorite fifth-grader sweetened my afternoon. Two fourth graders tried to sneak into our office to leave a surprise. Student brought yearbooks for my signature. Amidst the bustle of farewells, I weeded more books, fixed some computer problems, and helped teachers store or locate information.

At 3:20 p.m., students streamed from the building chanting, "Last Day of School!" Teachers (all clad in royal blue shirts proclaiming our school spirit) waited till their rooms were clear and streamed to the sidewalk to wave as 17 buses departed. Hands waved from half-open bus windows. Faces pressed against other windows. Voices yelled, "Goodbye!" and "Have a great summer!" Obliging bus drivers honked rhythmically. As the last bus turned from the playground gate, teachers clapped, wiped away tears, and hugged each other. Another school year is history.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dear Dragon

Due to an odd quirk of our automated library software, I discovered a previously unknown 1962 book by Sesyle Joslin entitled Dear Dragon...and Other Useful Letter Forms for Young Ladies and Gentlemen Engaged in Everyday Correspondence. Not only is it another wonderful addition to my epistolary books list, but it is filled with ironic situations that play out in the illustrations.

A business letter is crafted by a rich woman who discovers an ad for "lovely crocodile shoes" while reading the newspaper with her lorgnette (a word I learned). She politely requests two pairs a friend, and the accompanying illustration shows her crocodile friend wearing rather elegant shoes. A bread-and-butter-letter is composed by one friends after another takes her ballooning for the weekend...and drops her an an island with savage beasts where she is seen dropping a letter in a bottle. Other letters express congratulations, social situations, thanks, regret, apology, acceptance, and get-well wishes. The book concludes with a letter from the author herself bidding the reader adieu.

What a treat to find such a treasure to share with children!

Monday, June 6, 2011


I love Busytown. I would love to visit this place, especially if animals could talk, have human occupations, and interact with each other in human ways. My sons and I visited Busytown so many times when they were children. We went on adventures with Huckle Cat and Lowly Worm, laughed at Wrong Way Roger's piloting mistakes, applauded Sergeant Murphy's success in catching Bananas Gorilla, gasped every time Mr. Rabbit proved his absent-mindedness, (especially when he got stuck in the hardening pavement), and tried to count all the rabbits in the Stitches family. We really loved "The Talking Bread" story (which my husband read aloud to us at dinner this evening). Was the bread haunted? Of course not! It just so happened that Humperdink the baker did not notice when Flossie's talking doll fell into the baking trough.

Yesterday's Google Doodle honored Richard Scarry (,2817,2386426,00.asp). He would have been 92 years old yesterday, and his books continue to be a mainstay in children's literature. From Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever, first published in 1963, children have integrated many of the 1,400 words into their vocabularies. This talented man's work built a foundation for reading and love of language, all the while making us smile.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Seeing Red

In my dream life, I often visit our other house. I do not know the city in which it is located. My husband and sons have never been there. Yet this magnificent octagonal house comes to me several times a year in my dreams. I love this place, but I usually only stay on the first two floors.

Last night guests were visiting the octagonal house, and I wanted to show them some of the old games in one of the fourth-floor bedrooms. The games were the same games I played at my grandmother's house! The twin beds in that room have the same white chenille bedspreads that covered beds in homes from my past. As the children were playing, I went across to a door I never opened in our house (those lower levels being sufficient for our living needs). It was a grim, dark red room with a large master bed, and it felt uncomfortably strange to me. I left it quickly and awoke wondering.

In daylight, I wonder why that red room felt odd. I always try to link my dream life to things in reality. Could it have been the beautiful red of the strawberry rhubarb pie we baked yesterday? Probably not. Most likely, I have internalized Jane Eyre's feeling about the room where Uncle Reed died at Gateshead Hall. My rereading of the novel is due to its inclusion in Gary Schmidt's Okay for Now. Though I have baked bread, walked around a lake, and attended a graduation open house, my thoughts are with Miss Jane Eyre today.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Delight in Books

Our young friend turned two yesterday, and my husband and I delivered his birthday gifts on this sunny morning. His mom told me she reads Monkey With a Tool Belt every day to him. When the wrapping freed one of his gifts, he said, "Chico Bon Bon" and immediately opened the book (Monkey With a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem). We read together on the steps, him pointing to the tools Chico Bon Bon used to fix various things and laughing at what Chico found in the laundry chute (an elephant!). He then opened his other book (Otis by Loren Long) and quietly looked at by himself in a patio chair.

When parents prioritize reading aloud to their children like his do, children benefit in so many ways. Their vocabularies soar. Their comprehension grows quickly. Their display excellent verbal skills. Their attention spans lengthen. Most of all - and most importantly - they take visible delight in books!

Friday, June 3, 2011

I Love This Place

A fifth-grade mom stopped in the library this afternoon. Her last child will be done in a few days. She sighed as she looked out on the library. "I love this place," she told me. "It's so quiet right now though." A group of students listened to a story in the reading alcove, and another group worked on math problems at the computer lab. I asked if she felt sad about the upcoming move to the middle school. "A bit. But I will still be back for reading buddies every week."

Her sentiments about our library are echoed daily. Children resonate a sense of calm when they come to the library space. They sigh contentedly when they sit on the story steps or in the alcove. Their teachers do as well. Some children come every day just to look for a new book or to greet us. Some teachers come to sit in our rocking chair and share concerns (and have a piece of chocolate from the nearby cup of Dove Dark Chocolates). It is a place for feeling still and tranquil.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Composing Thoughts and Music

Lunch time was musical today. The specialists and our principal ate together and listened to a new drumming group called Stix in Motion. Made up of nine fifth grade girls, the group members have spent their own lunch recess time composing rhythms and music using the school's Orff instruments. Their compositions were incredible! One mimicked the sounds in a factory. As each instrument added new tones to the rhythm, the listeners were transported to imagined places.

Not only did their work provide lunchtime enjoyment, but the compositions helped me compose my own thoughts for a few more hours of weeding and resource selection.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

More Weeding

My colleagues and friends talk about weeding their gardens. I share stories of weeding the library collection's nonfiction section. Weeding is a dreaded task among most librarians. They avoid it. They lament having to remove books from the collection. They rationalize why some titles are not weeded.

Weeding is good for a library collection. It helps keep information sources current and accurate. It eliminates books that are in poor physical condition. It allows for contemplation of a collection's holes and abundances. Most of all, it keeps the librarian knowledgeable about the titles and subjects in the collection.

This week I have pondered science fair experiments, the planets, holidays, manners, language dictionaries, and social relationships. Many replacement titles were ordered for readers. They will have a more diverse selection of science fair options next year (but gosh, I wish that Mythbusters book was available in hardcover, not just paperback). They will read about the solar system that includes eight official planets, not nine. They will be able to select first language dictionaries that reflect their interests in learning new and foreign words.

It feels good to weed the collection, and my back does not hurt like it would were I bending over in the dirt!