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Monday, December 31, 2012

Daily Words

Yesterday three of the most creative women I know sat around our library table, transforming journal pages with clipped words and images. We talked about resolutions and words to shape our daily lives. I like the idea of choosing a word, as many people do, to guide one's life throughout a year, but I do not think that would suffice for me. I decided to take the worldly journal given to each of us and select a word each day. Those immediately in my mind are grace, stillness, calm, peace, transforming, learn, create, secret, walk, sunshine, sorrow, morning, night, justice, need, desire, serve, service. My plan is to find a quote from someone wise for each word, to add a bit of collage to each page, and to search for how that word plays out in my day. Any word ideas are welcome!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Island In Depth

It was a chilly Minnesota morning, and though winter is my favorite season, I waited a few hours before heading out for a walk. Later, I visited the warm Galapagos Islands, thanks to the book Island. I love how author and illustrator Jason Chin so adeptly tells a story filled with scientific details in an incredibly engaging manner, accompanied by his fabulous artwork. In Island, I especially appreciated how he uses small squares to show the progression of a species on the island and the evolution of creatures' features. I imagine them as mosaic tiles in a stunning mural! There are so many things to appreciate about this book: the end papers (endemic species at the front and a map at the back), the organization in mini-chapters, the explanation for the islands and the seamounts (submerged islands), the information about Charles Darwin and endemic species, and the striking dust jacket. Readers will savor this book along with Redwoods and Coral Reefs.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Two Sides

Winter Break has not been relaxing in the way I had hoped. A virus invaded my body and has forced me to stay home, keeping warm under quilts and drinking many mugs of tea. Reading, writing thank-you notes, and knitting the right side of a sweater have occupied by waking moments. Being sick necessitates a stillness I do not usually allow myself to enjoy.

One of the books I read - reluctantly at first - captivated me from the beginning.

"I AM A COWARD. I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending."

I continued to read the words of the two narrators in Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity until I finished just minutes ago, alternately horrified at the unimaginable things the women experienced and entranced by the way their story was revealed. It was not the story I expected from the jacket flap. It was not a story I would normally want to read with its violence and honesty. But I heartily recommend it.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Another Remarkable Voice

"Even on the worst day you ever had - a day when your favorite shirt's in the wash and you almost miss the bus because you spent so much time looking for it, a day when your best friend misses school because she's got the flu - it's hard not to get a kick out of a chicken," says Prairie Evers about her flock of Rhode Island Reds, Australorps, and Wyandottes. She is an amazing girl whose years of homeschooling end when her parents move to her mother's family farm in New York, and her chicken-raising/egg-selling venture begins with the selection of chick breeds from the Agway. At the public school, she knows she will be at the bottom of the pile in regard to social acceptance, but eventually, she befriends Ivy, another girl whose presence is barely noticed by most of the classmates. Together, they discover ways to keep the coyotes at bay on the farm, share RC Cola, kick each other's toes in recognition of shared emotions, and come to an understanding about friendship and being loved. Add to the narrative Prairie's quirky - but well-intentioned - parents, her loving Grammy (whose letters sustain her when Grammy goes back to North Carolina), and chickens with the ability to put life in perspective, and the resulting Praire Evers by Ellen Airgood is a novel not-to-be-missed.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

True Colors

I love many things about Natalie Kinsey-Warnock's latest novel - the narrator's voice, the many ways the people of her town love her, the descriptions of the things Hannah (the woman who found her and is raising her) bakes. But I especially like the first lines and the last lines.

The Beginning
"On a cold, clear December day in 1941, when I was but two days old, on the very same Sunday the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, I was found stuffed into the copper kettle Hannah Spooner grew her marigolds in. Even though I was wrapped in a tattered quilt, my skin was blue, bluer than a robin's egg, as blue as the tears I imagined in my mother's eyes when she left me there, with not even a note pinned to my diaper to give a clue as to who I was or where I'd come from."

The End
"One thing I've learned this summer is that the smallest words are the most powerful, like home and mama. And love."

Remembering a Dear Lady

When I imagine growing old, I lament losing the physical abilities so important to me now. Walking and running every day bring me peace and strength. Cooking allows for creative expression and service to those I love. Knitting brings me comfort. But reading is what I know I would miss the most. Reading transports me to other places, transforms characters into friends, offers perspective on challenging situations, teaches me about intriguing topics, and supplies solace amidst the world's chaos.

My great aunt Enola died this morning at age 91. She volunteered countless hours at her church, drove herself and others various places, managed to take down her swing (with the assistance of a wagon) every autumn and hang it again in the spring, maintained a neat home, and graciously greeted guests. She had no biological children of her own but mothered many. She kept an unbelievable collection of salt-and-pepper shakers and could tell the stories behind getting most of them. And she read voraciously up until three weeks ago. My mother shared many of our favorite YA titles with her, and she kept up on what was popular, even reading THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy. A model for good living, she will be sadly missed and fondly remembered.

Monday, December 24, 2012


Snail Lake was dotted with ice houses and fisher people yesterday, and today's chilly sunshine will certainly draw more folks to the ice. Though I do not know if it was ever used for harvesting, other metropolitan lakes were used for that purpose. Laurence Pringle's latest book tells about "the amazing history of the ice business" and is filled with fascinating facts and photographs. From the food storage alternatives people employed to keep foods cool to the cutters used in the early 1800s to the railroad cars of the later 1800s that allowed food to be transported coolly, I learned so many "cool" facts. Imagine 600 men harvesting ice on New York's Rockland Lake (and one female exception) or Thoreau's annoyance at the ice harvesters interrupting his peace on Waldon Pond. The images of ice cards and ice tongs are intriguing, taking readers to a not-so-distant past they almost cannot imagine.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


My grandma Helen taught me to knit when I was 16. I was a reluctant learner and did it out of respect for her talent and obligation to her as an important influence on my life. Almost 30 years later, I knit every day, if even for 15 minutes, and I am grateful for this direct influence on my life.

Our sons grew up hiking in National Parks - and monuments, historic sites, and recreation areas - for our summer vacations. They were usually agreeable (though sometimes the promised ice cream got them higher on a mountain peak or to yet another rock formation), and we wondered if perhaps the many hikes and the weeks spent in nature would somehow influence their life choices. With two young men in environmental science programs, the answer is clearly yes.

Kids and families will be well-guided in the National Parks with the new book by Erin McHugh. NATIONAL PARKS: A KID'S GUIDE TO AMERICA'S PARKS, MONUMENTS, ANS LANDMARKS is organized alphabetically by state and features at least one destination for each (in addition to mentioning others). Many of the National Park posters created between 1938 and 1941 are included, and the other artwork follows a similar style and color palette. For each destination, there are ranger facts, birdwatch ideas, statistics, and "amazing but true" textboxes. It is a excellent resource, and I hope it will influence others to explore the nation's parks.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


This week the second graders are listening to Ted and Betsy Lewin's GORILLA WALK, published in 1999. From the opening lines about Oscar Von Beringe's 1905 shooting of the first mountain gorillas seen by western scientists, they are enthralled with the narrative. I confess to being a bit apprehensive as a librarian about their reactions (and what they will talk about at the dinner table) to the descriptions of what poachers and hunters wanted to do with the gorillas and their parts. In one class, as a result, a discussion ensued about wearing furs! They were not in support of the practice.

The best (?) thing happened at the end of the book as I read about gorilla facts. When I asked what it meant to walk quadrupedally, they were stumped. Until I asked the meaning of the prefix quad-. A tiny girl in the front row (who was extremely against furs, emphatically stating, "I can't go there", suddenly said, "Four!" She then told how gorillas walk on their knuckles and proceeded to demonstrate the quadrupedic walk! In seconds the other 24 children were down from the story steps and walking like gorillas on the rug. Expect the unexpected in the library.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How Many Times?

On a gray day like this day, first graders could relate to Leo Lionni's Frederick in multiple ways. They understood the frustration expressed by the other field mice as they gathered food in preparation for the winter, but they also appreciated how Frederick gathered the sun's rays, savored the colors, and absorbed words. When the mice ran out of their food, those three things sustained them.

What most intrigued my listeners, though, was the end papers. The same script with which the title Frederick is written on the cover is used repeatedly - sometimes overlapping - on the end papers. They estimate aloud just how many times the author wrote the mouse's name. Then they count the letters in FREDERICK and imagine how many of their names would fit on a page, given the number of letters. We might have to try this.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Historical Research

My favorite fourth grade reading class began a study of historical fiction last week, and today I had the responsibility of introducing them to novels of that genre.

But before I talked about their choices, I reminded them of the extensive research authors undertake in preparation for a book. Thanks to a dear friend, I have the best resource for teaching students about that: a copy of OUT OF THE DUST Karen Hesse used when she spoke to students about her work. The book is stuffed with copies of the Boise City News of Cimarron County Oklahoma from 1934. Highlighted passages directly relate to pieces in the book. I read to the children from the September 27th issue about the "rare cereus plant" that bloomed at the home of Mrs. J.H. Cook. Then I read "Night Bloomer" on pages 81-82 to show how it sounded in Billie Jo's voice. They were silent. After several other examples, I shared how important it is for authors and readers to understand the social and historical context and events of the stories they write and read. Having this particular book at my fingertips is such a gift!

The selections were

BAT 6 by Virginia Euwer Wolff
BLACK RADISHES by Susan Lynn Meyer
THE KLIPFISH CODE by Mary Casanova
MOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpol
OUR ONLY MAY AMELIA by Jennifer Holm
A SINGLE SHARD by Linda Sue Park

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Engaged Listeners

Second graders are listening to Puffling Patrol by Ted & Betsy Lewin. The husband and wife team have traveled so many places to learn about the natural world, and they share their experiences so wonderfully in word and art with readers. This 2012 book is based on their 2008 visit to Heimaey, an island off the coast of Iceland where thousands of puffins nest each year. Because the lights of the town confuse the young birds (the pufflings) as they take off from the high cliff, the townspeople rescue them from the streets and transport them to the ocean (where they will live for two years).

My students are enchanted with the book, most notably by three things. The first is the artwork. Both Ted's and Betsy's work illustrates the text, and the children quickly notice which were created by him and which by her. The second is the collective noun for puffins: raft. Before reading the book, I ask the students the terms that describe a group of cows, geese, fish, and sheep and then share the term raft. The final thing is the back matter that describes puffin characteristics, a volcanic eruption on the island, and the decline in the puffling population (most notably due to the decline in sand eels, due to the rising ocean temperature). The children sigh and make disappointed sounds when I read the statistics.

Next on the list to read to them: either Gorilla Walk or Elephant Quest by the Lewins.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Smiling Because

Not being a great artist, I feel most confident in my crayon and colored pencil skills. Maybe that is why the illustrations in BECAUSE AMELIA SMILED by David Ezra Stein appeal to me.

According to the copyright page, "The illustrations were done in pencil, water soluble crayon, and watercolor." The young readers on the story steps always like to know that information, if it is available.

The story begins with a close-up of young girl and her family. "Because Amelia smiled, coming down the street...Mrs. Higgins smiled, too." The plot progresses with cause-and-effect circumstances. Mrs. Higgins bakes cookies for her grandson who shares them with his class in which one student decides to teach others kickboxing...and through numerous events, a man in New York City releases his pigeons from the rooftop. Amelia sees them and smiles.

Most interesting to me has been how the phrase "old flame" is unknown to the children. When an ex-clown riding under a Parisian bridge hears a rumba band, he is transported in time. "Their love song "Con Corazon Intacto" reminded him of his old flame, the Amazing Phyllis, who lived in Positano, Italy." Many listeners thought it meant a fire that had burned for some time!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

More and More Snow

Weather forecasters predicted snow for the area last night and into the morning, so I was not surprised to see a few inches blanketing the ground and trees. The cardinal seemed to have a difficult time locating suitable seed in the feeder, and he did not return once after I took this photograph! But all day I have been thinking of Katy of Katy and the Big Snow fame, plowing the streets of the city of Geopolis. I'm wishing for a snow day tomorrow!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Tree Chopping

We have enjoyed MR. WILLOWBY'S CHRISTMAS TREE by Robert Barry for many years. I thought about that story today when we brought our freshly cut tree into the house and had to chop off the top. I wonder if any other creatures will use that for their own tree.

A wonderful new story by Birdie Black presents a similar idea. In JUST RIGHT FOR CHRISTMAS, a king purchases "a huge roll of beautiful bright-red cloth" to make a cloak for his daughter. When the sewing maids inquire about what should happen to the scraps, he tells them to place the bundle on the back steps. The kitchen maid discovers them and makes a warm jacket for her mother. The process continues with a badger who makes a hat for her father, a squirrel who makes a pair of gloves for his wife, and a mouse who makes a scarf for her son.

The mixed media illustrations include so many unique papers and textures and even a piece of a pattern. The last two pages show all the characters and all the red clothing articles that are just right and "just how Christmas should feel."

Friday, December 7, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Today my sweet mom was in my thoughts as I moved through my school activities. With books all around me, how could I not think of her? She, who loved THE STORY ABOUT PING as a child, now names TOPS AND BOTTOMS by Janet Stevens as her favorite picture book. She works every Thursday at the public library. She buys books for many children she knows. Her own shelves are filled with books for all ages.

Tonight we sat side by side holding hands at the base of the grand staircase in the James J. Hill House in St. Paul, rapt with emotion and interest in the performance of her favorite Christmas story: Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory." What a gift for me to have a mom like her and to spend such wonderful time together!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Mill City Connection

One of my favorite things to do on Saturday mornings in Minneapolis is to visit the Mill City Farmers Market ( I cannot resist photographing - and purchasing - the vegetables, fruits, breads, honey, candles, and other organic products for sale. I love the banter of growers, sellers, and buyers, the stories of what to do with various products, and the scents milling in the train shed and on the patio area between the Guthrie Theatre and the Mill City Museum. With a glance down to the Mississippi River, a visitor can see one of the incredible Stone Arch Bridge.

The market is the brain child of Brenda Langton, a local chef and restauranteer, whose Spoonriver is a cafe not to be missed. Its location alongside the Mill City Museum and across from the Guthrie, makes it a destination of choice for theatre-goers. Everything there is excellent! And so, I highly recommend Brenda Langton's latest publication: The Spoonriver Cookbook. The photographs that accompany the recipes bring the spirit of the market to the ingredients. Each recipe is prefaced by words that encourage the cook to try recreating it! Though right now I am using the library's copy, I need this book for my own library!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


In Under the Snow, the hearty waterboatmen are shown mingling with the bluegills under the pond ice. My book brain immediately thought of my buddy Joyce Sidman's book Song of the Waterboatman & Other Pond Poems, winner of a Caldecott Honor Medal in 2006. I revisited it today to refresh my memory about the featured insect.

The waterboatman is similar to the backswimmer, and their bodies and legs do, indeed, look like boats and oars (see for a detailed image). I like to imagine the bubbles they carry on the sides of their bodies to help them breathe. Joyce describes that better in verse:

"Of plunging deep, I have no fear.
To breathe, I keep some bubbles near,
trapped on my chest in a silver sphere
...on a sunny summer's morning."
- from "Song of the Water Boatman and Backswimmer's Refrain"

Monday, December 3, 2012

Under the Snow

Winter's presence has yet to be realized here. I, like many children, am waiting for snow. Until then, I can think about what the snow and ice mean for creatures in the winter. In Under the Snow, written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Constance R. Bergum, animal activities in a field, in a forest, on a pond, and in a wetland are given special attention. The young readers on the library's story steps are fascinated with the facts All have gasped when they hear this: 

"A wood frog nestles in scattered leaves on the forest floor. It can freeze solid and still survive."

My favorite response, though, came from this line:

"A carp rests quietly on the muddy bottom. It isn't even tempted by the water striders lying just a few inches away."

As we talked about water striders in the summer, one listener described them as "raindrops on the lake surface, making drops, circles, and ripples."

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Christmas Quiet

"Christmas is a quiet time," begins Deborah Underwood's The Christmas Quiet Book. Her quiet examples (like those in The Quiet Book) are so creative and so wonderfully illustrated (by Renata Liwska) that I read this sweet book every day! Today was a quiet day, and as I moved through baking bread and cookies, assembling the holiday village, reading, and listening to holiday music, I contemplated the quiet things in her lovely book and the quiet things in our lives.

The author's "mistletoe quiet" reminds me of how I had to explain the significance of mistletoe to my four-year-old friend. Her "breathing clouds quiet" reminds me of the white clouds my walking friend and I made on our morning walk. I have experienced these quiet moments also today:

  • watching birds at the feeder quiet
  • remembering favorite people quiet
  • keeping an eye on the cookies quiet
  • wrapping gifts quiet

What quiet moments have others savored?

Friday, November 30, 2012


My talented friend Kim is the most excellent storyteller, a passionate champion of books for children, a tireless foster butterfly for hundreds of monarch caterpillars each year, a fantastic event-planner, and one of the most gifted seamstresses I have ever known. And she is kind, thoughtful, and witty!

As a gift for her friend, the illustrator Elisa Kleven, Kim made the most wonderful doll: a beautiful recreation of Abuela, the grandmother in the book Abuela by Arthur Dorros. Her attention to detail makes it feel like the doll has leaped from the pages of the book (where she flies all over New York City with her granddaughter Rosalba). Every possible bit of her is a replica of what the reader sees in the artwork: her braided white hair, the beads that make her earrings, the hand-painted skirt, her purse. Abuela's hand-painted face looks just like her adventurous character's face in the sweet inter-generational story.

Rosalba was manufactured by MerryMakers several years ago.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Too Tall Houses

We are fortunate to have neighbors who are also our friends. We take care of each other's homes and needs. We enjoy dining together. We share treats and stories. Not all are so lucky.

Take Rabbit and Owl in Gianna Marino's book TOO TALL HOUSES. Their houses on top of a hill allow Owl a view of the forest and Rabbit sunshine for his vegetable garden. Until the garden blocks the forest view. Rabbit makes his house taller and plants vegetables on top. The higher building goes back and forth until a fierce wind blows away both homes, leaving the two a mess - but just the right things to make a house for them to share.

It is a wonderfully told story with warm gouache illustrations. Reading it aloud to children will certainly bring laughter and gasps...and ideas for the perfect homes.

By the way, my neighbor shared her hosta varieties several years ago, and now they flourish in my yard, too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Three Copies Needed

A fourth grader brought me crossword and word find puzzles she had created. She watched, along with three of her classmates, as I completed them successfully. They offered hints about word locations and practically joined me in the rocking chair! Then one asked, "Will you help us find a book to read that has at least three copies?" They wanted to have another mini book club.

We walked along the shelves, stopping at every book with multiple copies. First they wanted something funny. Then they wanted a story with letters. Next they asked for something scary. "No mysteries though," I was told. I offered THREE GOOD DEEDS by Vivian Vande Velde, LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER by Deborah Wiles, EMMY AND THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING RAT by Lynne Jonnell...and many others. Then I left them to decide. They clustered together, telling me, "We need to discuss this." Later, I caught a glimpse of them in the alcove, each engrossed in one of my favorites: PICTURES OF HOLLIS WOODS by Patricia Reilly Giff. Good choice.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Kinds of Ice

In Ellen Bryan Obed's book Twelve Kinds of Ice, the various stages of winter ice are intricately explained (and wonderfully illustrated with Barbara McClintock's scratch art) in twenty vignettes. Though slight in size, this book is filled with description and images that trigger memories and moments in my own ice history. As I walked near the lake this morning, I thought of the some of the kinds of ice I experience:

  • cracking ice - named by me for the thin, whitish ice that forms at the end of the driveway or on the edge of the road in early winter or late spring; it makes the best crack-shattering noise when stepped upon by my boots
  • new ice outdoor - that thin layer on the lake (gaining depth quickly in chill of the past few days) at the beginning of winter
  • new ice indoor- the best rink ice, formed just after the Zamboni has resurfaced
  • icicles - the kind just the perfect size for a hand to hold
  • add-on ice - like the kind stuck to my mailbox flag this morning

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Lemonade in Winter

Winter blew in on Thanksgiving night, adding snow to the lawns and ice to the paths. Though I prefer tea on cold days like these, Pauline and John-John, the children in Lemonade in Winter: A Book About Two Kids Counting Money, decide to sell lemonade, limeade, and lemon-limeade when the icicles are hanging from their windowsills. Their dad and mom discourages the idea, for obvious reasons, but the two pool their piggy bank funds and go to the store for lemons, limes, sugar, and cups. The intrepid siblings advertise with shouting cheers, cartwheels, and drumming. They add a sale and decorations. Despite their enthusiasm, the pair ends up with fewer quarters than when they began, but the lemon and lime popsicles they purchase make them shout again.

Emily Jenkins created this swirly story, and G. Brian Karas added fabulous artwork. The explanations Pauline gives to her little brother are further noted at the end of the story, making it an excellent book for math extension, as well as a terrific winter story.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Home Again

There are so many things I love about home, both the home we have created for our children and the home my parents created for us. Walking through the backyard gate this afternoon at my parents' home, I was met by the familiar things that bring comfort: the clothesline with whites blowing in the breeze, the creak of the backdoor, the Thanksgiving scents of the kitchen, the bench in the foyer, the artwork we love, and most important, my steady parents. Oh, and the doggie mug from which I love drinking tea!

Home for Sugar Mae in Joan Bauer's latest book ALMOST HOME is not so certain. Her father has never been reliable, preferring to gamble instead of caring for his family. Her mother, Reba, faithfully awaits his return and help, and she never trusts in the right things. Sugar tries to understand the actions of those who are supposed to be adults, but she is sorely disappointed each time. When their house is taken by the bank, Sugar and Reba move to Chicago in hopes of more fortunate circumstances.

Sugar copes unbelievably well with her lot in life, ever wishing for home, always hoping there will be a permanent circumstance for her. She is supported by caring adults who want her to remember how strong she is and how she needs to keep herself positive about how important she is. Writing poems helps her uncover her fears and feelings, and sharing them with others, including the best teacher she could have ever had, Mr. B.

Give thanks for your home and all those who support you in life today!

Sunday, November 18, 2012


When I got out the jalapeƱo/cheddar bread and cutting board, I noticed two small chunks missing from the top. Neither my husband or son confessed to picking off some of the baked cheddar, so it could only mean one thing: mice! Ugh. I detest mice. I have no idea how they get in the house and clean furiously after we find evidence of them (and capture them). Peanut butter does the trick within minutes of turning out the lights at night.

Lois Ehlert's artwork in Rose Fyleman's book Mice is so crafty that I know she has experienced mice in her home. The craftily constructed mice with their crimped tails and string appendages hang in plants, stand on things like paint tubes and glue bottles, use tools to make their own cut-paper art, groom themselves, "run about the house at night", and, of course, nibble things (like the incredibly real-looking saltine crackers and look-alike Cheerios). When they nibble cupcakes, the textured paper of their pointy noses is white with frosting and confetti sprinkles!

The jacket flap provides this information about the poet:

"Rose Fyleman's (1877-1957) was a prolific English writer of fiction, poetry, and plays for children, as well as a singer, singing instructor, and schoolteacher. She began writing in earnest when she was unable to find enough engaging new poems to share with her students, and she was first published in 1917 after a fellow teacher encouraged her to submit her work to PUNCH, a prominent English magazine."

She must have known mice well, too. And cats, perhaps. The last line, interpreted by Ms. Ehlert, features a smiling cat: "But I think mice are nice."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Historic Horse

My fourth grade teacher read aloud Misty of Chincoteague, and I have loved the story since that experience. I read all of Marguerite Henry's other books (some not until I read them to my sons) and love reading them to children as a librarian. Fourth graders are listening to the 1949 Newbery Medal book King of the Wind. They listen carefully to the story of Man o' War's race against Sir Barton, but they especially like the journey back in time to the story of Agba, the stable boy who faithfully attends the bay mare who gives birth to Sham, the Godolphin Arabian.

Some listeners understand the fasting of Ramadan and feel Agba's frustration with Signor Achmet's enforcement of the Sultan's rule that the horses must also obey the fast from dawn to dusk. In each class (there are 7 sections of fourth graders), one person has come to the realization that fasting applies to the students' daily lives. The students nod when they, too, understand that the word breakfast is the breaking of the fast from dinner until the morning meal. Etymology is such an interesting thing, and I love it when the students are interested in a word origin and want to follow up with research. Breakfast is from a Latin verb meaning "to bite into" and has come to mean "an early bit" in the German word Fruhstuck.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Birds for Kids

Family Reading Night was released to the birds last night as Adele Porter visited to share her talents and interests with school families. Everyone learned that birds need food, water, shelter, and a place to best and raise their young. Ooohs and Aaahs of recognition echoed in the room as Adele showed photographs from her books Birds in Our Backyard and Wild About Minnesota Birds. But it was Cooking for the Birds that flew away with top honors. Attendees made a suetsicle pop, a thistle seed feeder, and a bird muffin (topped with yummy things like dried meal worms and various seeds) to attract birds in their backyards. Adele's informative website is

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Memories With Mem

Many years ago when I began realizing my passion for children's literature, my mom bought me the first picture book I received as an adult: Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox, with soft illustrations that add so wonderfully to the story's appeal by Julie Vivas. It is about a boy with four names who was familiar with the old people who lived in the home next door. Each of his friends has a distinguishing characteristic or passion, like Mrs. Jordan's organ-playing. His favorite, though, was a lovely lady named Miss Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper, and after her overheard his parents talking about how Miss Nancy had lost her memory, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge asks his other friends to define memories. I have read it so many times - and shared it with so many classes - the text is ingrained in my memory.

Tonight Mem Fox signed that book that was given to me so many years ago. Along with talented Lauren Stringer (who illustrated Mem's latest book Tell Me About Your Day Today and recently was named a McKnight Fellow), Mem was honored at a gathering of dozens of Minnesota authors and illustrators. Tomorrow night she will deliver the Book Week lecture at the University of Minnesota.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Birthday Call

A dear friend, Gloria Rand, celebrated her birthday this week. We met in person - after many phone calls - in May of 2005 when we celebrated the life and work of her husband Ted, winner of the 2005 Kerlan Award from the University of Minnesota. After a fabulous speech about Ted's career by his editor Laura Godwin, Gloria, my mom, and I headed out to do some sight-seeing in St. Paul before her flight home. It was a swell day, Gloria still reminisces.

I love Gloria's stories, especially Baby in a Basket and The Cabin Key, both illustrated by Ted. During our conversation, I heard so many good stories about the people in her life and people we both know. She said our conversation was the best part of her day. I think it was the best part of mine, too.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Listening Dogs

Children at the book festival on Thursday afternoon took advantage of the opportunity to read Micki and Morgan, two dogs trained as therapy dogs. The dogs and their kind and patient owners routinely listen to readers at our local library, and they have thoughtfully participate in our book festivals twice now! Readers chose dog-themed books from a basket and settled down on the carpet - amidst all the bustle of sales and searching - to share stories. Each reader was intent on showing the pictures, and the dogs were perfect listeners. Not surprisingly at a school where author/illustrator David LaRochelle has visited for 14 straight years, his book The Best Pet of All was read several times!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Time Lapse


Yesterday our fall book festival took shape, hour by hour, until everything was in place for visitors to wish, ponder, and shop today. What wonderful women help to make this possible!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Each year I read aloud at least one book by Dick King-Smith (who died in January of 2011), and this year I picked George Speaks, the humorous story of a girl named Laura and her baby brother George. Laura was not as pleased as everyone told her she would be about the arrival of the baby, but when, at four weeks old, he speaks to her in complete sentences, she is stunned and enchanted with George. The second-grade children were entranced by the story. When George furrowed his brow in a frown, brows furrowed up and down the story steps. Best of all, when George suggested that, should they ever be caught talking in front of their parents, Laura act as if she was pretending to be a ventriloquist with him, twenty-six children commenced to speaking with their mouths closed! Thus followed more information about ventriloquists and a quick peek at Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy on YouTube.

Note: My little brother did not surprise me by speaking English as an infant, but I was enchanted by him.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Trusted Source

There are a few cookbooks which I use on a weekly basis. Lora Brody's Basic Baking is one I love reading for pleasure, as well as for the excellent recipes, and I used it twice yesterday. Louise Rosenblatt's transactional theory of reading (see Literature as Exploration, 1938) posits that we read both aesthetically (for pleasure) and efferently (to find out information). What one person reads in one way, another might read in the opposite mindset. While my husband would never read a cookbook aesthetically, I find the text and the recipes filled with intrigue and pleasure. He, on the other hand, might have an aesthetic experience with a book about fish or fishing, and I would need to read that efferently, taking time to understand and process the text.

Yesterday I made Cranberry Orange Bread with fresh cranberries from a Wisconsin bog near a friend's cabin. My husband was intrigued by how lovely the cranberries look on the inside with their star-shaped centers and tiny seeds. In her chapter about quick breads, tea loaves, and coffee cakes, Lora says, 
"There is something intensely satisfying about these plain-looking but fancy-tasting desserts. I don't know whether it's their heft, their dense, sweet moistness, their comforting taste and texture, or their unintimidating appearance that makes me think of snowy days, warm, toasty kitchens, woven pot holders, and freshly brewed pots of coffee served with half-and-half instead of that anemic no-fat "blue" milk. They are the quintessentially old-fashioned dessert that never went out of style. Isn't it lovely that you can serve them at all three meals?"
Thank goodness someone else thinks it is okay to have dessert for breakfast!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Fortune Wookiee

Before I wrapped one of my nephews Christmas gifts, I just had to read it: Tom Angleberger's The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee. The third book in the "Origami Yoda" series, this one features a kirigami Chewbacca and a kirigami (paper-folding + cutting + additions) Han Solo (Han Foldo in the story), supposedly given to Sara by Dwight, the original creator of Origami Yoda. Told in case files with Tommy as the compiling editor, the story takes place in the middle school where Dwight was once a student. The advice Dwight's Origami Yoda gave to his classmates was surprisingly insightful, and all were appreciative except for Harvey. In a mean-spirited gesture, Harvey created Darth Paper (in the second book Darth Paper Strikes Back) to provide the dark side to Origami Yoda's advice. The resulting conflicts forced Dwight to attend a private school.

In this latest installment, Fortune Wookiee's responses (interpreted by Han Foldo) are similar to those offered by Origami Yoda and lead the young people to greater understandings of each other's characters and personalities. Readers at school are anxious for this title to arrive on our library shelves, and I know my nephew will enter the reading zone when he sits down with the book.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Reading Zone

I spent several hours this afternoon in the reading zone, that place in which my mind is completely immersed in the text of whatever book is in my hands. For most people, getting to the reading zone requires a few important things: a quiet place to read, time set aside for reading, and a book (or books) to captivate and engage the reader. Nancie Atwell writes about the reading zone in her 2007 book of the same title. It is the subtitle I most appreciate: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers.

I never could teach from a textbook. The mind-numbing questions were so contrary to the authentic discussions with others I appreciated that involved our reasons for reading books and why we would recommend the books to others. I never believed I could "teach" a novel or a story. I could teach students about various things as we all read, but my own interpretations and reactions would most certainly not be the only ways of thinking about a text. I raised three incredible male readers without the help of strategies and explicit instruction. Instead, I read aloud to them daily, talked about my own reading (as has their father), provided books and ideas for books, and talked with them about their own reading habits and preferences.  According to Atwell, the busywork of common reading instruction is what kills the joy of reading for most readers.

I do not know an adult reader who feels satisfaction after completing a study guide in connection with a book  (nor from finishing a book report, journal entry, or other artificial response assignment). Adults talk about books with each other. They choose books based on what other readers share with them. They enter the reading zone for enjoyment. Yet the majority of teachers do not provide time for students to enter the reading zone, thinking explicit instruction and methods that detract from the reading experience are necessary for comprehension and reading growth.

My role as a librarian and a reading specialist is to read reviews of books, stock the library shelves with quality books, and talk about those books with readers to increase the chances they will enter the reading zone every day. I need to know what the readers like, what they have enjoyed in the past, and ascertain what might appeal to them now. I need to "teach reading so that readers feel the enthusiasm of a trusted adult when we communicate to them one-to-one about literature - so they get that the teacher loves books, and that our advice about reading them is trustworthy." (p.93)

Friday, November 2, 2012

2nd Grade Connection

In second grade, I had the coolest magenta-colored pants with a bright mushroom patch on the knee that covered a hole. I contracted chicken pox that year. I remember a working in a math book with a ferris wheel on the cover. And I had a cool teacher whose hair and clothes I admired.

Two weeks ago at my art class, my second grade teacher sat on the other side of the table from me, and it was the my favorite thing about the class! We chatted about the other teachers I was privileged to have at Lincoln School, the various positions she had in the district before retiring a few years ago, and of course, books we loved. She shared that her favorite picture book to use in the classroom was The Snow Party by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, first published in 1959.

Though it is out of print, I was able to get a used copy (with the 1989 illustrations by Bernice Myers) and can imagine how much the second graders at my school will love it. It is the story of a man and woman living "way out in Dakota" who talk one day about the woman's wish: to have a party attended by many folks. Her husband asks if she is daft! But when a blizzard brings unexpected visitors to their house, her wish miraculously becomes reality. Kids will certainly love the unlikely events and will laugh at all the hilarious folks who visit. I will love telling the story of how I found the book and having them make snow removal machines for a mural, just as my teacher used to do.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Licious Characters

The first grade team showed up for Halloween ready to star in a new Victoria Kann picture book. What a way to brighten a library morning! With so many colors represented, the series could go on for quite a while. Note that Emeraldalicious is expected to be released in January of 2013. When I have mentioned this to any student looking to check out one of the other Kann books (which are always checked out), they always ask, "What is Emerald?"

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Related Settings

Last night I started The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. A recent review in BookPage moved me to reserve it from the library. Set on Janus Rock off the southwestern coast of Australia, it is the story of a light keeper and his wife and their decision to keep an infant girl who, along with her deceased father, washed ashore on the island in 1926.

Last week my thoughtful friend Joanne gave me a copy of a book she adores: A Fortunate Life by A. B. Facey. This memoir is set in almost the same place, only on the mainland of Western Australia. I began reading it this afternoon (with a cup of tea and a cat-shaped cut-out cookie) when I returned from school, contemplating what a fortunate life I have, and loving that the two stories are related in their settings and time periods.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


My passion for books that showcase art and art history led me to Jane Breskin Zalben's latest title called Mousterpiece. The delightful book features a mouse named Janson who lived in a museum and would explore the space after hours. When she discovers artwork on the walls, "her little world opened", and she created in the styles used by those famous painters whose works she observed. She imitates Georges Seurat with dots and Georges Braque with square, triangle, and circle shapes. Janson's Matisse-like collage features a mouse surrounded by bright yellow bursts, and her Pollack-like splatters and drips show a mouse-shaped blank in the painting's center. My favorites of Janson's works are a Starry Night painting with swirls that resemble a mouse head in the night sky and a Chuck Close inspired mouse head. For readers who are unfamiliar with the artists and artwork featured in the book, the author included an excellent glossary to explain a bit more about each person and creation. This book would pair well with Don Freeman's Norman the Doorman!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Family Reading Night #2


Nancy Carlson and about 130 children and adults joined celebrated Family Reading Night this week! So gifted in relating to children's experiences, Nancy wove the stories of her own childhood experiences and those of her children into the books and characters kids adore. She showed the audience how some characters look similar to real people in her world. She told about how and why she decided to write specific books. She even shared secrets of the mistakes she has made when illustrating her books. All the while, all eyes in the hall were on her, completely engaged in her words and projected artwork.

The best part, however, came at the end, when children scooted to the front of the hall, directly below her easel, to practice drawing with Nancy. After two lessons, they directed her in an imaginative piece set on Mars! Many of their parents and teachers, meanwhile, were practicing the same skills back in their chairs. It was yet another magical literacy event!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Too often, I assume children know things they do not know! This week it was the meaning of pedigree in Henry Huggins. The Woofies Dog Food Company sponsors a dog show in the park, and Mr. Pennycuff, the Lucky Dog Pet Shop owner, encourages Henry to enter Ribsy. The neighborhood children decide to enter the dog show as well, and some are certain to win because their dogs have pedigrees.

We talked about what that means. In most classes, the children have not a clue of the word's meaning. One child thought it meant a degree that dogs get after completing puppy school. One clever child described it well as "a dog paper that tells it is a breed." I wonder how they would have processed the rest of the chapter without that important information.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

In Love

The first graders are still listening to me read John Erickson's The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog. Up to this point, Hank has failed to determine the murderer of two hens, been caught with the remains of one dead hen, and been in trouble for various things. As a result, he decided to become an outlaw. He headed for the canyons where he rescued a coyote whose head was stuck in a Hawaiian Punch can. When her face was exposed to the light, Hank felt weak in the knees. His mind was swimming with unfamiliar thoughts. He was in love.

As we reviewed the previous chapters today, one student asked again how Hank knew he was in love. The others recounted his weak legs and demonstrated how Hank's eyes were probably glossy and how he had a goofy smile. I countered that with something like this: "But that's not exactly what it is like to be in love." Wrong thing to say in front of six- and seven-year-olds. The next question was, of course, "Well, how did you know you were in love?"

"That's a very good question," I replied, stalling for time. Then I told them how my husband makes me laugh, how I always know he is looking out for me, how we like to do things together, how considerate he is of situations and people. They all nodded, as if they knew exactly what I meant.

Monday, October 22, 2012


On Saturday I had the pleasure of taking a class with my mom and aunt (and my second grade teacher!) at the Woodson Art Museum. The museum has been one of my favorite places since taking field trips there during grade school, and my own children have fond memories of the sculpture garden and various children's literature exhibits over the years.

Our class was taught by Julie Bender, an artist-in-residence for the week, and the focus was pyrography - using burning tools to create images on various surfaces. Though the nuthatch I burned into a piece of maple was not stellar, I did love listening to Julie describe her artistic process. The piece on display for this year's Birds in Art exhibit is called Going My Way? and was created after her visit to a friend's farm and a rooster named Huey. She used 300 pound hot press watercolor paper and her burning tool. Most interesting as the the dirt (under her arm, unfortunately) was made by putting sand under the paper and burning around it. She urged the class members to touch the canvas! The museum staff shook their heads.

Julie was a delightful guide and interesting teacher - and she emphasized that getting books from the library is a great way to learn more about pyrography!