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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Reflections Galore

Whenever we passed one of Glacier's lakes by car, my husband knew I would want to stop if the reflection was just right. I love seeing the mountains and shorelines in the water. Walking near Many Glacier Hotel, Mount Gould and Mount Henry were frequent reflections captured on my camera.

My reflections stretched to the people I met, wondering how the folks seated next to us at a restaurant could have the same interests and mutual connections, how one woman by the fireplace could share my thoughts about the environment and ecology, how a couple on the Iceberg Lake trail could be from the suburb next to ours, how the Lithuanian young people we came to know at an East Glacier store chose to come here for the summer.

All coincidences? Perhaps. But the last one echoed in my reflections. Something about Lithuania intrigued me. Then I came home and got the books on my reserve list from the library. One was Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, and it is told by a fifteen-year-old Lithuania girl who is deported from her country on June 14, 1941 by the Soviets. The horrors she witnesses along with her mother and younger brother are atrocious. All the while, she draws and records information in hopes of notifying her father (in a prison camp) of their whereabouts. Interspersed with Lina's experiences and observations are memories of events that relate to her 1941 thoughts, all of which help her understand how her family came to be in this circumstance with thousands of others.

Despite the horrible actions of the Soviet soldiers and the awful conditions, Lina and her companions fought for their dignity as humans and strove to give nothing to their captors, not even their fear. She is a credible, conscientious narrator, and I loved her for her honesty and determination.

Take time to read this book. I finished it this morning. I immediately turned on the computer to learn more about the Soviet occupation of Lithuania and its renewed independence in the early 1990s. How could I have missed all of this important information as a young person? It is another reminder to pay careful attention to world events and the people affected by them.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fire Bench

Last week as the rain fell on the lake and mountains on a 45 degree day, I sat on this bench next to the gigantic fireplace of Lake McDonald and read. The stone walls around the hearth are filled with pictographs. I like to think the suns above the bench are representative of the 50-mile long Going-to-the-Sun Road that crosses the park from Apgar to St. Mary.

I am not much good at just sitting. My travel journal and favorite pen were in my knitting bag (which contained several projects). I chatted with cold folks from around the country. Most of the time, though, I read, and the book of choice was Richard Mosher's Zazoo, recommended by two friends who their paperback copy of the book with me.

Zazoo begins like this:
"The boy on the bike came and went. And he was like the gray cat in one way: when he was gone, I remembered everything about him, yet I couldn't be sure, absolutely sure, he had been there at all." He asks questions about the mustached pharmacist, Monsieur Klein, especially wanting to know if he is married. Thirteen-year-old Zazoo is enchanted with the boy and explains to him how she came to live with Grand-Pierre on the canal in France from her native Vietnam.

This boy, whom she learns is named Marius, does return, but not as soon as Zazoo hoped. For a while, the two exchange postcard communication, the first being a reprint of a Chagall painting with a Paris postmark. It arrives not at the Mill of a Thousand Years/Mill of Milan but at Monsieur Klein's pharmacy. It is he who finds beautiful postcards for her to send to Marius.

Mysteries surround Zazoo's life with gentle Grand-Pierre. At 78 years, he is growing old, sullen, quiet, and forgetful. Zazoo lovingly calls him Old Boulder (one of his many nicknames, not all of which are pleasant). She assumes the role of caregiver, seeks to find stories, asks for answers, mends his spirit, and bridges gaps. The questions Marius asks lead Zazoo to more questions. Stories are revealed by Monsieur Klein and Grand-Pierre that tie the characters' lives together and bring about healing. Throughout the narrative are poems composed often by Grand-Pierre, sometimes by him with Zazoo's help, and eventually just by her.

Take time to read this poignant book. Read it on a bench if possible. Not until I reached its end did I understand why I had chosen to read it on the fire bench.

Friday, July 29, 2011


Despite the snow-covered mountains and trails we hiked in Glacier National Park, there were plenty of blooming wildflowers. I can identify many traditional flowers: columbine, forget-me-not, paintbrush, lupine, low larkspur, bunch berry. Along the trail to Iceberg Lake (which was still covered in ice), I saw this lovely five-petaled purplish flower (only a few others were nearby). With the sunlight streaming through its petals, the yellow stamen glimmered. I captured the image on two photographs.

We came down from the mountain and lake several hours later and headed to the ranger station. My sons had found the remains of an animal and brought samples of the fur to the rangers for identification (a moose). I brought photographs. One ranger thought it was a sticky geranium and showed me a photograph of that. No. The color was too light, and the stamen was not yellow. Another ranger suggested the red monkey flower. Did it grow by water? she asked. Yes! That was it.

The rangers are like librarians, helping visitors discern differences, asking questions to get at details, and guiding them to sources (like Wildflowers of Glacier National Park by Shannon Fitzpatrick Kimball and Peter Lesica, which I used often). They promote discovery while fulfilling a desire to find the answer.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Magical Wand Maker

I am not one to be snagged by most tourist traps. We passed Wall Drug. We would pass the World's Largest Ball of Twine. I thought about passing the World's Largest Wooden Spoon Store in East Glacier, Montana (also known as The Spiral Spoon -, but something drew we inside the tiny shop. Thank goodness.

We were met by an incredible artist named Jo whose beautifully-crafted spoons hung all around us. Though she obviously works hours to shape the many-hued spoons, she was quick to tell stories, and we were happy to listen. She told of how she does not know just how many hours one spoon takes her to create because she stops to talk or trades one spoon project for something else. She told of her days as an English teacher (no wonder she is a good storyteller). She told of some of the more interesting woods she likes to use. She told us the supposed history of the surrounding buildings.

I departed with a black walnut spoon and the adoption papers for it (which are entertaining to read!), and my son purchased a wand crafted from purple heart. The latter led to a wand ceremony during which she gave him the information about when it was completed, told him about the wood's properties, and relayed things he might like to know about what magic the wand could impart.

Go there if you ever visit the area. I went twice, just to hear more stories.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Three Billy Goats

As we departed from the Sperry Chalet Dining Room on July 21st, my husband hushed us just above the wooden bridge across Sprague Creek. On the other side a mountain goat inched down the cliff and approached the bridge. Just behind him were a baby and another mountain goat (presumably the mama goat). They trip-trapped across the bridge, fully aware of our presence. That protective papa goat waited for his mate to cross. Their baby goat followed, and he took up the lead into the snow field to our left.

As I trekked down the Sperry Trail to Lake McDonald Lodge, thoughts of Lise Lunge-Larsen's version of "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" in The Troll With No Heart in His Body echoed in my mind. Margie Palatini's funnier, non-traditional version in The Three Silly Billies (humorously illustrated by Barry Moser) joined in as we neared the warmer temperatures and motor traffic on Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Checking under the bridge for the troll was not on my mind, due to the rushing creek water, but I imagine he might have been part of the scene too.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Junior Rangers

We arrived home today with new titles: Junior Rangers of Glacier National Park. Ranger Christiane conducted our swearing-in ceremony at the Apgar Visitor Center and talked with us about the things we foresee for the park in the future.

Though the three of us were older the twelve-year-old age recommendation, we happily completed the activities in the Junior Ranger Activity Guide, went to several ranger programs, and read signs throughout the park to learn beyond the activities. For my sons, it was their 20th Junior Ranger badge. I joined them a few years ago and proudly keep my badges in my drawer of special things.

This is one of the many great things our National Park Service does to promote awareness of the natural world and history among young people. But there really is no age limit. I encourage everyone to go through the programs at the parks!

I look forward to sharing my badge and information about the park with students in the fall during library time. I hope some of them have badges they can bring to share also.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Summer Vacation

I love being the first patron to check out a new book from the library. Next to me as I write is Jeanne Birdsall's third novel about sisters I have come to adore: Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty, the Penderwick girls. In The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, Skye is now the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick) while Rosalind is in New Jersey with a friend. Aunt Claire takes the younger three plus Hound to a tiny cabin called Birches along the Maine coast. All sorts of humorous, minor catastrophes occur, as well as something extraordinary for their friend Jeffrey, none of which I will expand upon so as to keep the surprises for other readers. The story is delightful, and I am glad I could enjoy their summer vacation during my summer break.

Books (for passing the hours of driving and for reading aloud to the family at night), yarn (for knitting more rabbits and lambs for those Haitian children), my journal (for taking lengthy notes and observations), and my camera (for capturing the images I want to revisit) are also next to me as we prepare for a family adventure in Glacier National Park. My computer will not be making the trip, but I look forward to sharing stories toward the end of the month.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Comparing Notes

Local librarians from various institutions gathered at my home last night to hear stories shared by children's author Anne Rockwell. She regaled us with amazing tales of her past experiences, and all in attendance felt honored to spend time with her.

Around the tables, conversations inevitably focused on book budgets, the use of eBooks by patrons, how to handle eBook circulation, programming for children and families, the increased use of libraries by the public, and the importance of literacy. Though technology skills are essential for getting through society's information avenues, overwhelming agreement echoed that we must continue to read aloud to our users, must recommend the best books for the readers, and must take time to make eye contact, listen, and share.

As we finished the meal with Kim's beautiful fruit cups, Maggie's shortbread cookies, and my condo cake, sighs of pleasure resonated in my library. The perfect end to a night of compared notes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

In the Shadows

My favorite feline curled on my lap and snuggled next to my leg when I was knitting or reading last week. When he wanted a treat, he craftily curled his tailed around my leg as he passed me. And when he slept on the black leather couch, much of his body was in its shadow.

Shadow, the feline in Kate Klise's and M. Sarah Klise's latest book in the 43 Old Cemetery Road series, seems hidden for much of the story - until a litter of kittens at the end reveals the reason for her absence. For those not familiar with the sisters' books (including Regarding the Fountain, Letters from Camp, and two others in this series), be prepared for constant puns and a different format. Their novels are told through messages, letters, newspaper articles, stories, memos, and other interesting word-filled correspondence. Till Death Do Us Bark kept me giggling as their use of invented names and ghostly language flowed over the pages.

Consider the main characters Olive C. Spence, the ghost who inhabits the Spense Mansion at 43 Old Cemetery Road, Ignatius (aka I.B.) Grumply, the writer who buys the house and forms a writing partnership with Olive, and Seymour Hope, the young boy whose parents abandoned him and who has been recently adopted by the former two. Add to these folks the town sheriff, Mike Ondolences, the lawyer Rita O'Bitt, the banker Fay Tality, and the librarian M. Balm. With more pun-filled language, the mystery of the town's deceased millionaire's fortune unfolds through limericks (with a short guide for writing them included on the inside back cover) and research. It was the perfect book to complement the seriousness of One Hundred Names for Love, finished yesterday as well.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Open Wide

Eleven years ago the boys and I visited with Laurie Keller when she signed books at the Red Balloon Bookshop. We all loved her humor in The Scrambled States of America and were eager to buy Open Wide: Tooth School Inside. They loved talking with her, loved how she signed their books, and were astounded that she looked nothing like the photo of herself on the jacket flap (taken when she was in elementary school) - and told her so!

When she returned several years later to sign The Scrambled States of America Talent Show, I purchased Open Wide for my dentist. That book belongs in every dental office, and I wanted him to enjoy it. I was surprised, though, that he kept that personally signed copy in the book basket for kids! I always wondered if anyone actually read it.

When I returned from Vermont, I got the answer. My dentist's receptionist is also his wife and is a friend of mine as well. My husband had an appointment just prior to my departure and took along my adult summer reading list and a mega-brownie for her. A letter told me how "sweet" it was to receive "that big, heavy, yummy-looking brownie," and how after having her portion, almost immediately her "mood and alertness level perked up." I sent her the recipe!

But she also told me this:
"I think of you every time someone picks up Open Wide: Tooth School Inside, and that's happened a lot lately. I especially enjoy observing a youngish father (tattooed, grizzled, smiley, and a great dad) with his eight-year-old twins. They love coming to the dentist (!) and always seem to read that book, even staying after their appointments if they haven't had a chance to read it yet. Dad reads out loud, with a bit of grown-up commentary explaining how it's funny. You would love watching this!"

Her description brought me to the waiting room - and made me glad I shared the book with my beloved dentist and other patients.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Cairn Glade

On the Black Mountain trail last week, I delighted in seeing mountain laurel for the first time, sampling some of the season's first wild blueberries, and coming upon this magical glade of cairns. The photo does not do justice to the careful structures there. Reverently, I captured the image and have since reflected on the etymology of the word. Of course, the first source to appear when I search online is Wikipedia ( It does give a detailed history of the word cairn and reinforces the purpose of cairns as markers along trails. But I love the Scottish tradition of carrying a stone from the bottom and adding it to a cairn at the top. As we trek up the peaks in Glacier National Park next week, I might move a stone from the bottom to the top in that way.

Looking at Wikipedia also reminded me of a contested word during a heated game of Quiddler with my mom and sons not long ago. Our family games of Quiddler and Bananagrams get quite competitive and spirited. On this occasion, my middle son wanted to use the word ower. The rest of us protested, asking about its definition. He pulled out his iPod Touch and looked up the word, reporting that it means "a person who owes money." The librarian in me asked, "What is your source?" He told us it was Well. We demanded that he check the word in other dictionary sources, and indeed, it was not listed.

Does that mean it will never be an accepted word in the lexicon? Will ower ever be in common dictionaries? It might. But it did not get counted among accepted words in the game...and caused us to discuss again the accuracy of sources and the need for ethical choices when posting information for public use.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Have You Read? #18

One notable difference between Brattleboro and home is the way folks use their yards. There, almost every yard space is used for beauty and productivity. Flowers, shrubs, fruit trees, and vegetables flourish. Here, yards are grassy with trees dotting the spaces (still lovely), and flowers and vegetables grow in pots or plots. In one Brattleboro park, however, grassy space spanned the entirety, and trees enclosed it. A lone mulberry tree in one corner yielded berries of various ripeness, the dark ones sweet and juicy. No one else seemed to know about it, so I was the single picker early one morning, filling a jar and purpling my fingers, to bring fruit back to my friends for a breakfast treat.

As I finished Joanne Rocklin's One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street, I wondered what that mulberry tree has witnessed. The orange tree in the novel speaks to readers in its own chapter, telling about how Valencia orange trees came to the neighborhood, how it became the lone tree on the block, and providing a list of all the things that have occurred underneath and within its branches. The children and adults on Orange Street share their words and thoughts as well. Three girls form the Girls With Long Hair Club (which potentially changes names due to changing circumstances), one boy desperately seeks to perfect a magic trick and attract the attention of a girl, a baby brother struggles to find joy and speech after a traumatic brain surgery, an elderly resident searches for her memories among the people and events of the present, a long-ago resident returns to remember - and sketches the tree and folks underneath it, and their stories are all told along with the house/lot numbers of Orange Street.

Add to their narration Ethel Finneymaker's recipe for ambrosia, the rescue of a baby hummingbird, a creative set of grandparents, the need to look up words in Ethel's print copy of the OED, and historical references to important events. It all adds up to an infrangible (a word Ethel uses) tale! In her memoir, Ethel says, "The street I lived on was like a book of stories, all different, but bound together." I like to think my street, the people familiar to me, the yard, and the trees are like that as well.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Illustrations Rule

On Tuesday I visited the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, the place where illustrations truly rule the exhibits. My faithful friend was willing to travel the distance despite having been there several other times.

The lobby features four incredible 8' x 16' panels created on Tyvek with things like brooms doing the job his usual paintbrushes do. The blue one reminds me of fish swimming together upstream or in a bright ocean. Someday I need to try painting with acrylics to get the feel for his work in my own hands.

The library was filled with picture books, all organized by the illustrator's last name. It took me a minute to get that organization system. But thankfully, it led me to John Rocco's latest book Blackout. I have been wanting to see this one, and the illustrations and story combined create a wonderful evening (and extended family time) when the power goes out. Though the dark prevails, light from candles, flashlights. and warm human interaction illuminates the darkness. We both loved the book.

In the galleries, an exhibit of Eric Carle's works that speak to friendship transported me back in time a bit. My sons' voices reading A Very Quiet Cricket echoed in my ears. Barbara McClintock's detailed illustrations from The Heartaches of a French Cat (alas, out of print!) kept us enthralled. Displayed on the walls were sketches, notes, and final artwork, but not all pages were reproduced. Thus, we thought we understood the story, but paging through this wordless book revealed all. The final gallery contained numerous pieces of Tomi Ungerer's work. Remember Crictor? It is still a favorite among readers at my school.

The theater featured a Weston Woods production of Tomi Ungerer's The Hat ( The Very Hungry Caterpillar in the lobby is a great place for readers to share a story. The bookstore has more different picture book titles than I have seen for sale in one place. And a visit to the bathroom revealed Carle creature tiles intermingled with the gray ones. What a wonderful place to visit!

And then we headed to the biggest yarn shop I have ever seen...

Friday, July 8, 2011

Doll Talk

In one of Brattcat's baskets, there reside comfort dolls, rainbow dolls, an elephant, a lamb, and rabbits, all waiting to be loved by children in a Haitian orphanage. An ample supply of yarn in her stash allowed me to begin one such soft creature, a soft blue rabbit. As I knit his body parts (and removed and reknit some), I not only felt his spirit taking shape, but I imagined the conversations a little person might have with my completed rabbit. The things I wish for that little person are stitched into him as well.

It was easy, then, for me to finish Kirby Larson's latest novel, The Friendship Doll, and consider the doll talk. Miss Kanagawa is a main character, one of 58 Friendship Dolls created by Japanese dollmakers and given to the children of the United States in 1927. When she arrives in New York City, her influence on young Bunny Harnden prompts the girl to change course when she is part of a welcoming committee. At the Chicago World's Fair, the doll's positive spirit causes young Lois Brown to view her great aunt and her dear friend Mabel in a different light. That spirit of positive thinking works its magic with Willie Mae Marcum in 1937 and Lucy Turner in 1939-1941. Each of the girls encounter Miss Kanagawa and are enchanted by her eyes and spirit. The doll, meanwhile, strives to spread the positive thoughts of her maker to others.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I awoke this morning in my own bed, my head atop the symphony pillow case made by a friend (to promote sweet dreams). As I ran up and down my favorite hills on the usual morning route, organized things at home, and read books, trying to reacclimate myself to home, my thoughts drifted back to Vermont.

Over the past few years, my fascination with reflections has grown. I love the ones captured on film and digitally and especially the others kept in my mind (with some regret that no camera was available to capture them). The reflection of sky and trees on Ice Pond in the Brattleboro Retreat Trails was so perfect that it appears I am looking up, not down.

How wonderful it was to spend a relaxing week with my dear friends! I loved walking each morning up and down the hilly streets, sampling "black caps" (what we would call black raspberries) and mulberries (from a tree in the park). I loved looking at the unique gables of old homes. I loved visiting the hardware store on Main Street several times and looking at the countless unique kitchen gadgets. I loved walking by the library several times a day - and going inside it as well. I loved seeing Rudyard Kipling's home named Naulakha (now a Landmark Trust property). I loved watching the Independence Day Parade and seeing how so many diverse groups came together to celebrate our country's freedom. I loved reading aloud each night from The Wednesday Wars, a book my friends had never heard, and marveling together at the characters and how expertly Gary Schmidt weaves Shakespeare into the text. Most of all, I loved talking, analyzing, theorizing, wondering, understanding, and listening with my friends. I returned home more reflective, still seeking to know more of myself, but feeling confident that I am on the path.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Librarian Connections

Crouched between rows in a strawberry patch last weekend, I got acquainted with a fellow children's librarian in Vermont. While we picked berries with a mutual friend, book titles and opinions flowed freely. The skies were gray, but the berries were bright. She confidently dismissed the thunder claps as a truck trailer on the nearby road. Though we soon made a mad dash for the weighing station with the berry boxes, she offered dry clothes and book talk at her home - along with a delicious brunch of streusel muffins, fruit (including some of the berries), lemon mousse, deviled eggs, and brie with chutney.

What a delight to find another friend across the country who loves books and makes it a priority to connect young people with things they will love to read. I came home with sweet memories and a list of titles to order for my library!