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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.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Going Home

It seems strange to me sometimes that 26 years after leaving my hometown, I still tell others I am going home when I visit there. My home is the home in which I live, but that home in my heart is the home in which I was raised. It looks a bit different now...an enclosed porch, my dad's inflatables in the front yard on holidays. But it is still home.

Upstairs in that childhood home are shelves of books that I love for various reasons: the Tom & Jerry Golden Book my youngest son loved listening to as much I as did, the Ian Fleming books my oldest son reads and rereads each time he is there, the copy of Jane Eyre I first read, the picture book Too Much Noise I got from a book club order (and which is read often as a pattern book now at my school). I love to stand in front of those shelves and remember.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Searching the Catalog

Surprisingly, second and third graders in information literacy classes love searching the online library catalog for books. Even the more restless students listen carefully when we talk about ways to look for the titles, authors, subjects, and series they want. They love the idea that a keyword search of just two words brings up the book title they were hoping to find. They challenge themselves to locate books with the fewest search terms...and then beg me for free time the next class session so they can search the online catalog some more. It is like a puzzle game for them, and the relevance to real-world experiences is enormous.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Wonderstruck Again

Listening to Brian Selznick read from the first pages of Wonderstruck last night (and watching the ASL interpreter sign Brian's words), I was wonderstruck again by the amazing book he created. He spoke about wanting the reader's brain to be quiet during the stretches of illustrations, to stop that inner voice that readers bring to the text. Certainly the auditorium filled with people was silent. Like me, everyone was amazed by the images and touched by the words.

I always love to know the stories behind a story (or in the case of Wonderstruck, that would be three stories: the story in words, the story in illustrations, and the story the combination of the two make). Brian provided so many details to help me understand his working process. He begins by writing a basic outline in present tense. Then he works on only the words (which he says are the most difficult for him). Then he works on only the illustrations (first creating sketches -1/4 the size of the trim size, then thumbnails, then tiny dummies of each of those thumbnails in each illustration sequence). He was able to walk (wearing special booties) in the NYC model in the Queens Museum of Art to take photographs from which to draw it. He located photographs from 1927 of the American Museum of Natural History and drew illustrations to correspond to those. I left the auditorium mesmerized - and dreamed about the wolves on Gunflint Lake during the night.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Story-Filled Day

Our family and friends were immersed in stories yesterday. From the morning family story hour with David LaRochelle at the public library (hosted by my mom and me) to shared stories of Turkish and American engagements and marriages to an afternoon of stories in my mom and dad's foyer, the day overflowed with words, images, sounds (and intense silence as the audiences watched David draw), tastes (like sundaes and toppings from our favorite hometown ice cream shop for all the guests), and scents. David capped off the afternoon by drawing special pictures for my nieces of nephews of themselves doing things they love. It was a magical day.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sidewalk Art

On my morning walk around my hometown, I remembered how much I loved the sidewalk art created by the leaves printed on the concrete after they have been wet. With only asphalt on the paths around my own home, we miss out on this art! All the sights and scents of the places I have known all my life flooded my senses: the smoky air around the bowling alley, the rubbery/metallic scent by the hardware store, the damp earthy smell of autumn.

In Season to Taste, Molly Birnbaum shares her rediscovery of scents after losing her sense of smell in an accident. Once on the path to being a chef, her world becomes void of the scents that so defined her life. Filled with scientific explanations and interviews, the text engrossed me as I tried to understand the things she was experiencing. The description of her slow acquisition of smell has heightened my own appreciation for the scents that comprise the important and ordinary things in my life.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sharing Stories

My friend from Turkey is visiting our country for six weeks, and I so enjoy all the things we do together. Though she dislikes cooking, she said she would teach me to make something during this visit. That thing was Turkish coffee, and she also brought the most lovely coffee set for us to use when she departs.

Last night after dinner, she showed me the steps in the preparation process, and tonight I will try them myself. It is traditional, she said, for the people waiting for the coffee to converse, often forgetting the coffee until it boils over! We laughed that there is an expression like "a watched pot never boils" in her country also.

From this one cultural lesson, I learned never to hand a scissors (or knife) to another person (when she was opening the coffee); instead, the sharp item should be set on the counter for the other to pick up. Handing it off foretells an argument. I learned how the prospective groom's family comes to the prospective bride's family so that parents can discuss the engagement, all of which is done over a serving of Turkish coffee prepared by the young woman (who slips salt into her beloved's coffee instead of sugar). I learned that if there was not a dessert prepared, her family would enjoy fruit after dinner with their tea (or coffee). I savored again how much I appreciate learning about another person's world.

Monday, October 10, 2011

One and a Half Shelves

My teenage niece wanted to talk with me tonight. I had called to speak with her mom, but the sweet girl engaged in a long conversation with me about books. Her birthday was last week, and she always gets books from me. From her parents this year, she got to move her room to the basement and paint it the colors she likes. I had to move all my books, she told me, so I counted them. Apparently there are more than 200! Yours take up a shelf and a half, she continued. Those were my favorite words of the day.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

One Amazing Thing on One Amazing Morning

Autumn weather is generally crisp, brisk, and tinted with unique scents. This amazing morning was sunny, exceptionally warm, and unbelievably colorful. Intending to read-walk with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's One Amazing Thing, I found myself unable to focus on the story! The scenery was too bright. I walked back home, deposited the book on the counter, and went out again with my camera. I felt like Frederick (the mouse made famous by Leo Lionni), savoring images that will bring warmth in the winter.

Now I am back to the book, and I must stay awake until I finish it tonight. It is the story of nine people who are literally thrown together in the Indian consulate when an earthquake strikes. When their situation seems most dire, Uma, the story's narrator, declares they should each share a story about one amazing thing that has happened in their lives. Despite the initial protests, each person reveals a story that causes the others to consider him or her in a totally new light. From the Chinese grandmother whom everyone assumed could not speak English to the upper-class husband whose unlikely past sobers even his wife, their stories are filled with joy, light, angst, and perspective.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Those Beautiful Books

First grade teachers have been guiding children to discover details in illustrations, photographs, and text. Each chooses different types of books to model for the students what they need to learn. One teacher checked out I Spy book, Where's Waldo? books, and Walter Wick's Can You See What I See? books. Another asked for books that led readers to see details and books for which the illustrations were essential for understanding the text. We provided some of each, and the first graders loved them all. After storytime yesterday, one girl asked me for "one of those beautiful books." I knew exactly what she meant because I think they are beautiful as well. Frank Serafini's Looking Closely series features the telephoto version of an image on the right-hand side of the page, and when the page is turned, the wider version of the image is revealed. Readers can look closely at the desert, a pond, the forest, the seashore, a garden, and the rain forest. It was Looking Closely in the Rain Forest she most wanted, and she left, smiling, with her beautiful book.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Those Darn Squirrels

From a distance, they look like the fluorescent yellow-green tennis balls. Up close, the black walnut spheres are pocked and marred. The neighborhood squirrels horde them, storing them in our hockey net, the landscaping rocks, along the house. They had five lined up in the gutter when I came home from work. Imagining their adventures in retrieving them and hiding them is as rewarding as actually watching them try to get to the precious nutmeat!

Old Man Fookwire in Adam Rubin's Those Darn Squirrels would not enjoy watching my neighborhood squirrels. In fact, he only wants to protect his bird feeders from the crafty creatures. The first and second graders love this book. They point and giggle, whisper and chant. They laugh at the full-bellied squirrels resting on tree branches. When Old Man Fookwire thinks his favorite birds have returned early from migration, they say, "Those aren't birds. They're squirrels." They glance occasionally at the squirrel puppet on my right hand that nods, points, cheers, and shows them details in the artwork. After Old Man Fookwire lifts his fist at the end and says, "Those darn squirrels!" in a friendlier manner, the children ask if they can have the book.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mile Long Letters

David LaRochelle mesmerized the audience at Family Reading Night last evening. It began with his reading of the brief first letter from Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary, David's favorite chapter book. He proceeded to tell about the letters he has received and written over the years:


  • an itsy bitsy letter from a friend in college

  • a gigantic letter on newsprint in return to that friend

  • an extra long letter formed by taping together the cut-up lines of a regular letter

  • letters on leaves

  • the letter he sent me in a plastic bottle last week

  • messages written on huge sheets of cardboard and then cut into postcard sizes to mail separately, forming a large puzzle

  • letters on creatively constructed stationery, using a copy machine to reproduce things like leaves

  • a letter from his sister when she went to summer camp

  • a letter from his mom when he was in college

  • letters written in code (backwards, upside down)

  • letters folded into their own envelopes (which he taught everyone to do, including all the adults)

The way he decorates his envelopes inspired guests to try their own! Inspired describes each child and adult in attendance. There were gasps for each new thing David showed and shared. They gladly grabbed large newsprint sheets, postcards, ready-made turtle stationery, and envelopes to begin writing letters at home.


The thank you letter my teaching partner and I sent him today is one of my favorite creations. I'm ready to write a mile-long letter to my nephew.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Pen Names

The third graders are listening to the last chapters of The SOS File this week. They laugh hysterically when "Pumpkin Man" (who has been stung by yellow jackets and has an incredibly swollen and red face) bursts from the girls' bathroom stall, scaring the female inhabitants. They sigh in understanding when the author of "Held Back" is revealed to be their teacher. But it is the story of "White Lightning" that draws the most commentary. The story's author is Ima Writer, and she explains to her teacher that she is really Brianna Thompson and is using a pen name. The children love to discuss this. We talk about Lemony Snicket, Carolyn Keene, and somebody named Ima Reader (whose name appeared in their readers' notebooks. As the story progresses, Ima Writer confesses that her horse is not really named White Lightning (which really would be a stretch, given the horse's slow manners and movements); his name is Bob. One astute listener noted, "The horse has a pen name, too!"

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fall Reading

Though I glanced up frequently to enjoy the incredible autumn colors on the route to Duluth for a cross country meet today, my thoughts were in France, living and reliving Marshall Stone's experiences as an airman who was hidden by various brave souls during World War II in Bobbie Ann Mason's The Girl in the Blue Beret. He is a fictional character whose experiences are based loosely on her father-in-law's real experiences. Once again, I am dismayed at what I did not know about history and am grateful for the author's care in telling this intriguing story.