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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Lost and Searching

I feel lost. All the books I checked out have been read. All the things I still want to read have not arrived for me yet. I do not feel like rereading some past favorite, yet I keep searching for something on my shelves that will captivate me. What do other readers do when this happens?

Monday, August 29, 2011

In My House

In my house...a library. In the library...bookshelves. On one bookshelf...a wooden box. Inside the wooden box...a heart-shaped bracelet. On the heart-shaped bracelet...the name Lucille. In the name Lucille...the memories of a beloved grandmother.

After reading Marianne Dubuc's picture book In Front of My House, my mind has been composing shorter versions like the one above in a form similar to the book's text. Each prepositional phrase begins with the object that ended the last one. Once inside the house, the reader is transported under the bed, into a book of fairy tales, through some tales, into outer space, inside a whale's belly, to a zoo, and eventually back to that house on a little hill.

I love the simple illustrations! I love the way the text flows from some random and some sensible things to others. I love thinking about things in my own world and how I can bring them in a circular fashion as Ms. Dubuc does in her book. I look forward to sharing it with kids...and encouraging them to write something like she did.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Have You Read? #19

I live less than a mile from Snail Lake, located on Snail Lake Boulevard. Neither appear to be snail-shaped. In the past the boys have found rather odorous snails on Snail Lake beach, and I insisted the snails stay in their lakeside home instead of ours. Still, I never pondered snails much, except to consider their slow progress and to know I did not want to eat them.

When Joyce recommended Elisabeth Tova Bailey's The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, I reserved it not because I felt particularly interested, but because we generally like to read similar things. It has captivated me for the past two days, so much so that I read-walked with it around Snail Lake this morning. I mentally marked pages and passages I wanted to recall and record when I got home (pages 57, 61, 101) and even stopped to read aloud the passage on page 57 (about the author's imaginings of what humans would be like if our arms possessed the same scent-detection skills as a snail's tentacles do) to my friend Sheri and her walking partner.

The author contracted a rare disease, eventually diagnosed as autoimmune dysautonomia and later mitochondrial disease, that left her unable to stand, sit, or care for herself in any meaningful way. While she convalesces, a friend brings her a snail and a wild violet, both transplanted to a pot that rests on a chest by her bed. Her observations of the snail's habits and preferences led her to read volumes about snails. The two are merged in this wonderfully written narrative that spans a year of her twenty-year illness. Facts abound. I found myself reading and re-reading so my brain could absorb the incredible things she discovered and uncovered about snails.

I must keep it a few days before returning it to the library.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Taking a Book Break

In the Alphabet Forest yesterday, I kept my camera with me in case I needed to capture a moment in literacy. Not surprising, it was out of its case most of the day! I lost count of the children and parents taking a book break under the shady trees. Debra would glimpse a child and whisper to me, "Look at that lovely child in the __ shirt. Did you get that one?" I did. Amid the general crowd noise, the music of the afternoon parade, and the spinning of the alphabet wheel, readers were quietly engrossed in books. Magical. It affirmed all the reasons we have worked so hard to bring the Alphabet Forest to life at the State Fair.

On another family (all wearing yellow shirts to keep themselves together and visible to one another) spent about TWO HOURS in the Alphabet Forest. The grandma, moms, and daughters took great photos with the large alphabet letters, they read books, they made mini-banners, they wrote letters to someone else at Debra Frasier's author table, they bought books and had them signed, and they won blue ribbons for completing the vocabulary game card. Both moms asked to write comments on the Alphabet Forest's guest clipboard.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

In Its Place

The letters swayed in the breeze. The red-roofed cabin was festooned with red strips and yellow dots (imagine painted theatre lights). The fence was anchored on the street corner. And at 9:00 a.m. today the Alphabet Forest opened for the second year to Minnesota State Fair visitors.

The perfectly sunny day yielded lots of eager word-seekers who brought completed game cards and received blue ribbons! Illustrator Mike Wohnoutka was featured as the Minnesota Homegrown Author, and his coloring and lettering activities delighted the young folks who gathered around the table. It was a FAIR DAY, as some guests spelled out in the photo area!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mercy Watson to the CTC

When Kate DiCamillo published Mercy Watson to the Rescue in 2005, I could hardly wait to share the book with children - and adults. I read it aloud to fifth graders (some of whom tried not to laugh, even though I knew they wanted to do so) and first graders (who all laughed uproariously). My mom bought a set. My dad read them. My aunt, a fan of pigs (and now porcine wonders), loves her copies. So, even though the books are considered early readers, they have age-wide appeal.

Today I will be spending time with Mercy, a pig who loves hot-buttered toast even more than I do, as I prepare activities and a discussion for 60 or so children. The Children's Theatre Company is starting a great thing in their 2011-12 season: Read & Play Book Clubs. Each of the season's plays is based on a book, and at one special performance of each, playgoers will get a copy of the book. They are invited to stay after the show to participate in the book club, and I feel fortunate to be the person who gets to talk with them.

What is not to love about a pig who invites trouble at every opportunity yet is considered a darling and dear by her doting parents?

Monday, August 22, 2011


At this year's Alphabet Forest, guests are invited to take a break from the hubbub of the fair and enjoy a book. A sturdy shelf has been repainted with The Fabulous Fair Alphabet red stripes and yellow dots to hold the books written and illustrated by the 12 Minnesota authors and illustrators who will meet guests each of 12 days of the fair (one per day).

As we worked on covering books and labeling them, conversations kept returning to whether guests would misinterpret the name for the shelf in the shady area and literally take a book from the shelf - and leave with it. Debra Frasier decided each should have a message to encourage guests to keep the books in the Alphabet Forest: Borrow! Read! Return to Shelf! Holding a colorful book in one's hand and seeing that book's creator through the trees might make it tempting to take the book. We are hoping thousands of readers visit the Take-a-Book-Break shelf in the coming days and allow others to repeat the process.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Alphabet Forest volunteers

Until last year's inaugural season with the Alphabet Forest, I never imagined the people who visited the State Fair prior to its opening day. The grounds streets are filled with cars, and folks are busy hanging banners, assembling structures, and organizing supplies.

This afternoon's breezy, partly-cloudy weather made it the perfect day to prepare the Alphabet Forest for visitors on Thursday. We collectively assembled teacher bags, retouched paint on some of the decor, hung shelves, organized materials, and completed numerous other smaller duties. My favorite visual from the day is the bulletin board of volunteer name tags (all created by using Debra Frasier's photographs of letters, reset into the sequence of each volunteer's name with Adobe InDesign). They hang next to the red aprons each person will wear, just inside the door of the Alphabet Forest cabin.

If you have not seen the summary of the work we did last year, visit and click on the Alphabet Forest at the 2010 Minnesota State Fair to view the video.

Get your own game card, search for words from each letter of the alphabet, and bring it to the Alphabet Forest to get a blue ribbon!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Little Red Hen

Sometimes at home I feel like the Little Red Hen. When all the cookies are baked, the members of my household are happy to eat the finished product. Getting others to help with the stirring, baking, and clean-up is usually not successful.

Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel deliver a twist to the story in The Little Red Pen. Filled with their characteristic wit and puns, the story features a red pen who must scritch-scratch her way through a stack of papers (as Janet is noted for her use of scanned objects included in artwork, teachers might notice some Everyday Math papers among the piles). Stapler, Pencil Stub, Pushpin, Scissors, Eraser, and Highlighter are no help...until the Little Red Pen's inadvertent fall from the desktop into the Pit. The desk drawer colleagues work together to rescue her and a few of their other friends from that dark Pit. The zany class hamster gets involved with his wheel, creating a frenzy of activity.

Young readers will laugh at the rescue, and older readers will appreciate the puns.

Note: I did not help bake the butterfly cupcakes and Frog and Toad size chocolate chip cookies. Kim and Brad created those lovely items together!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jars Full of Flight

At least 50 jars like this one are lined up along my librarian friend's living room railing from June through early September. The jars contain either a soft green chrysalis or a monarch caterpillar. Though each chrysalis hangs serenely from a twig or branch (like Kim's necklace of the same shade and shape), the caterpillars are of various lengths and widths, depending upon their stages of development. They munch milkweed leaves at an amazing rate! I love the jars hold these future fliers until their release to the outside world.

What is more miraculous - their migration across the United States to Mexico or Kim's dedication to their survival?

For more reading about monarchs, I recommend:
Monarch and Milkweed by Helen Frost
Monarchs by Kathryn Lasky
An Extraordinary Life by Laurence Pringle
A Butterfly is Patient by Diana Hutts Aston (and other butterflies as well)

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Message in the Mailbox

Imagine taking a literary tour of someone's house. Each room features story-based switchplate covers, artwork, and accessories that invite exploration. This real house belongs to my sweet friend (who is also a librarian), and I was delighted to finally use the bathroom at her house. Odd? Perhaps, but this bathroom is inhabited by Frog and Toad and features a tiny red mailbox on one wall.

Many children were visiting yesterday, so the mailbox was filled with miniature letters to any who might open the door seeking a piece of mail for themselves. I was also a lucky recipient of a letter.

"Dear Julie,
We were so please to learn that you would be visiting today, as we have considered you an intimate friend for many years. Thank you so much for all of your efforts in introducing the two of us and our literary compatriots to the many children and families in your life. We of course still think of you as the age when we first met you, but we are so proud of who you grew up to be.
Your friends,
Frog and Toad"

I keep opening it to read and reread and will keep it safe in my special box. Did you ever get a piece of mail you treasured so much?

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Going to the circus as a child was never one of my favorite things to do. I would not say I was afraid of the clowns, but I did not appreciate their antics. The animals seemed sad in their forced acts. As an adult, however, the single Cirque du Soleil performance I have witnessed left me breathless.

So did the Circus Juventas performance of Grimm I attended on Friday evening. Lauren Stringer masterfully wove together six Grimm fairytales to create the script for the show, and I found myself so engrossed in the stories that the words, artistry, costumes, and actions mingled perfectly to tell the tales. I unknowingly held my breath during physically challenging feats. My hands were clasped and jaw was clenched when characters struggled for independence, emotions evident in their faces and bodies. I laughed at expressions and wit.

The young performers exhibited an even greater degree of fortitude and endurance than their more famous counterparts, participating in act after act with strength of body and character.

As my son and I and our dear friend Joyce exited the show, a cloudy night-sky partially hid the almost-full moon. It felt mystical, an extension of the three hours of magic we had witnessed under the circus tent. We hugged Joyce in farewell, and my son exclaimed, "We have to do this every year." Indeed. I will go again eagerly.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

An Afternoon of Books

My youngest son and I could see Tall Dave standing on the steps of the Red Balloon Bookshop from the corner. His bony tie stood out starkly against the black shirt. He quickly explained the "Boo Ball" game (three ghostly socks each weighted with a tennis ball that were tossed into a bucket - to win a Boo Pop, two of the three must end up in the bucket) to my son who would direct it for the next 90 minutes. Inside the store, guests were already waiting to have their copies of The Haunted Hamburger and Other Ghostly Stories signed by David LaRochelle.

Some of my favorite afternoons have been spent in this store. In addition to enjoying David's reading of the three stories and having him sign copies for children I love, I was fortunate to talk with Debra Frasier about details for the Alphabet Forest, meet the bookshop's new owners and talk about ways we will work together, take photos of David interacting with guests and of the children who entered the scary face contest, and peruse new books. The afternoon is drawing to a close now, and my heart and mind and filled with stories and memories.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Getting in Line

Yesterday afternoon I brought home a bag of books from school (from a newly-arrived order) and a pile of books from the public library (from newly-arrived requests). I looked at them repeatedly before getting them in line, the deciding factor being which I wanted to read first. It began with the story of a boy named Elwyn and later nicknamed Andy.

The Story of Charlotte's Web: E. B. White's Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic by Michael Sims is the title that topped the list, and I have been engrossed in it all morning. From his family's Summit Avenue home in Mount Vernon, New York, to the summer months spent at Great Pond, Maine, Elwyn's love of the natural world shaped his actions, words, and artwork.

Having loved Charlotte's Web since my elementary school years, it feels good to read about how his life experiences shaped that story. I wish I could stay home all day and remain in that world.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


"You can make frosting?" my niece asked me last night at SuperTarget in the baking aisle. I assured her we did not need to buy a can of frosting. I did, however, get the Funfetti cake mix because she was set on having something with sprinkles in it. We spent a great deal of time in the candy aisle, looking for just the right things to decorate the butterfly cake she imagined.

She mixed well (though her arm got sore, she said), licked the beaters with a smile, and waited for the cake to bake. While it baked, we read Cook-a-Doodle-Doo by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel (one of my favorites) on my library window seat. She loved how only Rooster knew the right ways to bake and measure and laughed at the oven mitt on Iguana's head, especially when it came in handy for extracting the cake from the oven.

Then we beat the real frosting, added the pink and violet gel coloring, and cut the candies she chose as decorations. The antennae were a favorite (strips of Twizzlers with a half piece of a Mike and Ike on the ends). The finished product generated pride and drawing in her art book. Her face will glow even more when the seven candles adorn the cake tonight.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fair Weather

When summer weather is hot and humid, I camp indoors with my books, knitting, journals, and other projects. Today's weather, though, is excellent for summer. It is mostly cloudy with a wonderful breeze that sweeps through the entire house. My son noted that he hardly got sweaty on his morning run.

As I write this, a box of envelopes, maps, letters, multi-colored pens, and State Fair tickets sits next to me. With every volunteer response, I add fill another slot on our schedule in the Alphabet Forest and then address an envelope and fill it with the other necessities.

This year the Alphabet Forest will look much the same with the popular photo tent, mini-banners, vocabulary game cards, and ferris wheel coloring sheets. The new features are sure to delight the crowds: a different guest author/illustrator for each day of the Fair, a fabulous Minnesota Home Grown Author booklet, and an incredible spinning wheel for winning a word from our State Fair Dictionary. Fair-goers can also purchase books by those authors and illustrators and have them signed in the Alphabet Forest, thanks to the wonderful folks at Mackin (my favorite book vendor).

I love how projects come together with help from so many sources and willing volunteers. Fair weather is only two weeks away!

Monday, August 8, 2011


Today my maternal grandmother would have been 97 years old. For much of my childhood, she cared for me while my parents were at work. Summers were spent at her house, helping with the day's chores. Monday was washing day with the wringer washing machine and tubs. Friday was deep cleaning day. In between, she taught me to scramble eggs, make pancakes, set a perfect table, and bake cookies.

I baked Caramel Cream Sandwich Cookies today in memory of Grandma. I always thought they were her recipe. As a high school senior going off to college, I copied this recipe into a book I received as a graduation gift. Only when I purchased The Complete Book of Baking from Pillsbury almost 20 years ago did I discover the recipe was actually a Bake-Off winner back in 1955. That book has been a mainstay for recipes in my kitchen.

I still like to clip recipes from magazines and catalogs, and I imagine my grandma cutting out this one to save. She baked it many times in my childhood, and I hope my mom will enjoy a sweet bite of her mom's cookies when she visits tomorrow. It feels good to keep someone you love close in one's heart and kitchen!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Wondering About a Book

I have written books. They are recipe books for dear friends as gifts of thanks or in honor of marriages. Some of the recipes are my own concoctions, but most are revised from another source.

I wonder, though, if I could write a real book. The thought has been echoing in my mind intensely over the past month. This morning as I read-walked with Geraldine Brooks's newest novel Caleb's Crossing, I marveled at the research she did to take one piece of history and create a story about Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk's life. See for an interview with her.

I would not be a good science fiction or fantasy writer...I have a hard enough time reading those genres. I love historical fiction, art, music, photography, and baking. There are so many tidbits I have written in journals through the years that I would love to incorporate in a novel. Could I do it? The ideas are cooking.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Where the Wild Things Are

The National Park Service provides excellent learning opportunities at Evening Programs throughout the parks, and we took advantage of several at the Lake McDonald Lodge Auditoruium while in Glacier National Park. One featured a local actress portraying Josephine Doody, the "Bootleg Lady of Glacier National Park," another focused on characteristics of glaciers, and a third put the spotlight on an endangered tree (the whitebark pine) and a bird species (Clark's Nutcracker) whose caches of seeds (pinenuts) help the tree replenish.

The latter was also featured in a documentary we viewed prior to visiting the park, so we were especially interested in Ranger Becky's presentation. What I really loved, though, was how she integrated just the right illustrations from Where the Wild Things Are to introduce the main points of her program. It was her favorite book growing up, she said. When I watch children read and reread their favorite books, I can only imagine the impact those books will have in their grown-up lives. I could imagine a younger Ranger Becky reading about Max and the Wild Things as I listened to her connect the book to a topic of great importance to her and the environment.

For more information about Whitebark Pine, go to:
For more information about the Clark's Nutcracker, go to:

Monday, August 1, 2011

National Park Lodges

When folks find out our family is going to visit a National Park, they inevitably ask, "Are you camping?" My husband chuckles. I shake my head. No, I prefer to have a bed and indoor shower after a long day of hiking. Besides that, we love the history and beauty of the National Park Lodges. A calm settles over me when I enter the lobbies of these buildings.

The trip to Glacier National Park found us staying at four such places: Many Glacier Hotel (1915), Glacier Park Lodge (1913), Lake McDonald Lodge (1914), and Belton Chalet (1910). The craftsmanship and foresight involved in their creations is clearly evident. Each has charm and architectural uniqueness and a notable sense of character. I marvel that a century has passed since these opened to the public, and I often wonder about those who have come before me. If the walls could speak, I would love to know their stories.

Great Lodges of the National Parks (and its sequel) by Christine Barnes provides the history behind many of the notable dwellings, and I have returned to it this week to reinforce and add to the things I learned about the four places we stayed. Not only does the text inform, but the accompanying photographs vividly bring each place to life.