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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Summer Reading

Many folks think librarians (and teachers) have the summer off. When school ends in mid-June, we are free from all duties and do nothing but fun things until the end of August. Not so for me. I read every day, usually multiple books each day. Sure, people tell me, but you love to read. I certainly do, but I also know I need to read so that there are many new titles to share with teachers and kids in the fall. Truly, it is one of the best things about my career choice. I am lucky I love my work and love doing it on summer days.

I began reading Barbara Else's new book The Traveling Restaurant the other morning, and I wished so much I had no other activities on my schedule for the rest of the morning. Immediately immersed in the City of Spires and the oddities of the Provisional Monarch appropriately called Lady Gall, I sensed something was amiss in the kingdom and knew the feisty Jasper Ludlow was going to play a role in setting things right. Though he is certain he is twelve years old, his parents deny that to Lady Gall. They do not answer his questions directly. The entire kingdom avoids saying the m-word (I'll leave that one for you to read). When Uncle Trump appears at the family's door, certain events come to light, forcing the family to flee and setting in motion a series of events that will put the rightful ruler on the throne.

I love this book! I especially love the idea of a traveling restaurant (though I cannot imagine hauling all the necessary ingredients aboard and the frustration of forgetting one item). The description of that unique eatery and the two who sail her make me wish it sailed around the nearest lake.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Flight Dilemma

In a few hours I will be on an airplane. Right now I am debating which book(s) to bring with me. One is already in my carry-on bag: Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. I have intended to read it for so many years, and this must be the summer...all 1,400+ pages. The dilemma rests in the book I started last night: The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey. In many ways, it is an updated version of Jane Eyre. Gemma wonders if she has been cursed to experience so much loss and disregard. Mental toughness allows her to persevere in all things, and when her boarding school closes, she accept a position as an au pair on a remote Scottish island. It is there where she guides the instruction and well-being of young Nell, who has been left the charge of her uncle, Mr. Sinclair.

Being a puzzle lover, I could relate to Gemma's first method of luring her young pupil to her side:
"I cleared the largest of tables, chose a puzzle of Edinburgh Castle, and began to sort the edges." - p. 162

Her second trick is to bring out Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking:
"When I was Nell's age I had loved the story of the adventurous girl who slept with her feet on the pillow and could lift a horse over her head. I carried it down to the library, left the door ajar, and began to read aloud. I stopped after twenty minutes, when Pippi was making pancakes." - p. 166
Nell commands her to continue, and the two make a deal that involves reading aloud in exchange for lessons.

The dilemma, of course, is whether I should pack this book as well. I'm over half-done and would finish it before arriving at my destination, in which case I would just be lugging it back home again. I know there are surprises to come because of this line:
"Whereas I had scarcely a dozen who knew I was Gemma Hardy and no one who knew I had once been someone other than Gemma Hardy." - p.194

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Knit, Read, Walk, Cook

Tomorrow begins my annual week with Mr. and Mrs. Brattcat. In preparation, I have have gathered a few books to guide our creative knitting hands (like Knitted Wild Animals by Sarah Keen and Knitted Toy Tales by Laura Long), books to share aloud at night (like The Other Side of the Dale by Gervase Phinn), and books to discuss on our walks and while we cook together (too many to list). How fortunate I am to spend this time with people I cherish in a place I love to be!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Reading, Giggling, Munching

The neighbor kids (aged 2 and 4) joined me for books, puzzles, dominoes (not the traditional game, rather the one where they are set in a line and tipped in sequence), and treats yesterday. After last week's visit, I realized how much I like my books in order, and I how important it is for me to take good care of them. So, instead of having them pull random books from the shelves this week, I pre-selected books for us to share. They loved Derek Anderson's Gladys Goes to Lunch and commented on the zookeepers on each page. They had never heard Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and were shaking their heads, saying "No" whenever the pigeon begged to be the driver. But Laura Numeroff's books were the biggest hit this week. We read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, If You Take a Mouse to School, and If You Give a Moose a Muffin in succession. They giggled at the mouse and moose and gladly ate chocolate chip cookies on the deck for a snack in the sun. I am blessed to spend time with developing readers who adore books so much!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Writing Tool

Yesterday at St. Cloud State University's 33rd Annual Children's Literature Workshop, I was privileged to sit with Jackie Briggs Martin. "I love talking about writing stories," she said, as she began her first presentation. Her books, she hopes, provide fodder for wonder as they tap a child's imagination and remind him of amazing facts. Writers have an obligation to story, she believes, and for her that means researching, writing a strong story, and presenting the book (along with the illustrator). To get the facts for her stories, she reads and visits the places and people who might provide information. When writing The Chiru of the High Tibet, she consulted George Schaller and got dimensions for a chiru in order to keep that image in her mind. That paper chiru joined the presentation. "I choose to tell the stories I love, the stories that sustain me when I think of them," she concluded.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Post Office

When guests visit my friends' home, they must check the tiny mailbox in the lower bathroom. No doubt there will be a tiny piece of mail for each person, courtesy of Frog and Toad. I treasure each of these miniature missives, written on Frog and Toad stationery, tailored to events in my life, and addressed to me in care of the lower bathroom.

Today I read letters written by Ignatius B. Grunply, Olive C. Spense, and Seymour Hope (and a few other characters) in the fourth installment of the 43 Old Cemetery Road series book entitled The Phantom of the Post Office by Kate Klise and illustrated by M. Sarah Klise. Iggy and Olive adopted Seymour, and the three cooperatively write a mystery that is delivered in three-chapter installments. When their latest story begins, the three have received a warning letter from a fan! These books epitomize the epistolary book genre and are filled with word play that readers love.

Being an enormous supporter of the U.S. Postal Service with my letter-writing, I love the quote the author chose to use at the beginning of the book:
"As long as there are postmen, life will have zest." - William James

Friday, June 22, 2012


I love book beginnings. Debra Frasier always introduces "the opening of a book, ladies and gentlemen" with a flourish, repeating it again for emphasis. Whether I am opening a picture book for the first or umpteenth (a word my mom says a lot) time, I love the anticipation of seeing artwork and how it works with the text. When I open novels, I savor the beginning phrases. Today is sunny, not humid, and not too hot, yet I am in my reading chair, enjoying library books and these first lines:

"The earth spins at a thousand miles an hour. Sometimes when I remember this, it's all I can do to stay upright - the urge to flatten myself to the ground and clutch hold is that strong. Because, gravity? Oh, gravity is no match for a force that equals ten simultaneous hurricanes." - The Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker

"When it was new, the house stood alone on a bare square of earth. There was a newly planted lawn around it, but not a single tree to give shade in summer or to rattle its bare twigs in the winter cold." - House Held Up By Trees by Ted Kooser

"On Thursday morning, May 2, 1963, nine-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks woke up with freedom on her mind. But, before she could be free, there was something important she had to do. 'I want to go to jail,' Audrey had told her mother." - We've Got a Job: the 1963 Birmingham Children's March by Cynthia Levinson

As I cannot decide which to complete first, I am giving each a little time before savoring a different one again.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Looking Up

The treehouse in our backyard is impressive. Whenever children visit, they want to climb the rope ladder and enter that tiny house in the branches. Lately, older children have visited, kids who climbed up to it in their earlier years, and they express surprise at how small it looks now. Still, I do ascend every so often, just for perspective.

In Dana Jensen's book A Meal of the Stars, he examines the ups and downs of experiences, objects, and thoughts in ingenious vertical poems. I love the idea. I love reading them in the direction they take (like from the bottom to the top when a ladybug ascends a dandelion stem). I look forward to sharing the book with students in the fall and with teachers and librarians at a children's literature workshop next Monday. I just had to try one for myself...


Wednesday, June 20, 2012


I have never had much of an imagination. At least I don't think I have. In my childhood, I do not recall pretending much of anything. Mud pies were mud pies, certainly not pretend chocolate cream pies. When my sons were little, it was my mom who effortlessly pretended to be Princess Leia in their Star Wars adventures.   As a librarian, I fill requests all the time for fantasy novels, books about mermaids, books with mythical creatures, books that feature fairies. I read these books to be a credible and informed resource for readers, but I still cannot engage in the imaginative part much.

It was with hesitation, then, that I read Mary Losure's new book The Fairy Ring or Elsie and Frances Fool the World. It is a wonderful story about two cousins in England who take photographs of fairies. Though Frances sees little gnome-like men in the woods, Elsie beautifully illustrates paper fairies that the two girls prop up among the foliage. Their parents silently accept their stories and photographs. When the Theosophical Society requests the information and images, the girls admit the truth, but they uphold their stories. The entire scenario ensnares even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bird Talk in the Neighborhood

Last week we awoke too early to the raucous caws of a large number of crows. They were perched in our large elm tree. When my husband did yard work later in the day, he discovered what could have been the reason for their loud conversations: a dead crow in the backyard.

Lita Judge's new book Bird Talk: What Birds are Saying and Why ( is perfect for helping readers understand what some bird calls, sounds, and songs might mean. Many of the species frequent my backyard each day. An American Goldfinch pair ate together this morning. An American Robin often visits our yard; it has unusual white spots on its head and neck that help me know it is the same bird. Wild turkeys sometimes strut through the neighborhood; they are skittish and appear to be quite proud. A North American Killdeer mama used to nest in the park behind our neighbor's house, and she did exactly what Lita indicated to protect her eggs. She made a screaming sound and faked an injury to distract us.

Whether it is to call their young, attract a mate, signal a feeding site, or stake out territory, bird sounds and songs provide insights into their intricate communication networks. An excellent glossary provides more details about the birds mentioned in the book.

This afternoon the feeders have been void of visitors. I think the absence of birds might mean they are trying to stay out of the heat on this intensely hot day!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Somebody's Birthday

In Aleutian Sparrow by Karen Hesse, young Vera notes, "Perhaps in every town, in every village, in every place people live together, in every part of this world, it is someone's birthday and someone else is baking them a cake and singing." Many birthdays were celebrated this week among our family and friends, most notably my sweet husband, who loves a homemade blueberry angel food cake. It cooled on the Coca-Cola bottle I saved for that purpose from my great aunt Lorraine's stashes of stuff and was served on the ruffled cake stand from our dear friend Debra (given in honor of the publication of A Birthday Cake is No Ordinary Cake). Happy Birthday to all those celebrating life!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Butterflies Hatching

Three friends joined me yesterday morning to make some simple books. While folding and gluing, we talked about new releases, old favorites, colors, book design, and their work on books that will be released in the coming months. We reflected on where we are in our lives and careers and how grateful we are to have the people and opportunities in them. Nearby (in a lizard cage purchased at Goodwill), twelve monarch chrysalises hung, their green color absorbed into the developing butterflies. The monarch patterns shone through the transparent, almost black chrysalises. Every so often, one of us would check on them, hoping to see them emerge and stretch their wings. Just prior to the butterfly's exit, the chrysalis get a bit wrinkled. We were able to observe the process twice, all of us beaming in celebration. Thanks to Kim, the monarch expert for providing us with the experience!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

It's a...

Giggles and shouts echoed in my library last night as my second kids (as my sons call the young neighbor kids who have captured our hearts with their love of stories) listened to David LaRochelle's soon-to-be-released book It's a Tiger! Jeremy Tankard's jewel-like illustrations give just a hint of the tiger who invades a young boy's explorations, but the kids noticed the orange-and-black tail (or body) every time, even when the tiger is donned in a sea captain's garb. They chorused, "A Tiger!" every time, too. I laughed at their giggles and savored the sparkles in their eyes. Thanks to David for bringing me a copy! From this first read-aloud experience, I know it will be a favorite selection when I share it with students in September.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Creativity Shared

At Brad and Kim's Butterfly Birthday Party on Sunday, numerous opportunities for creative expression engaged attendees. Children in the basement were writing messages to the monarchs that could only be seen with ultra-violet light. Other children were planning and performing puppet shows in the front yard. At a table under the trees, people of all ages were fashioning monarch crowns (see one modeled above). On the deck, several adults alternately chatted and concentrated while designing scratchboard butterflies. Later, we agreed that the need for creative expression feeds our souls, just as the milkweed leaves nourishes the caterpillars. All the jars behind us held caterpillars, milkweed leaves, and chrysalises.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Making Lists

I spend a lot of time making lists of books for others to read. Last week I shared my adult summer reading list with colleagues and friends. The students all received summer reading lists with their report cards on Friday. I finished a list for a children's literature workshop presentation just this morning. The most difficult thing for me is finishing the lists. Each time I think a list is complete, I think of or read another book that would be perfect for that specific list. The trouble becomes remembering those titles until the next list is requested. I have learned to start the new one immediately after printing the former.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Have You Read? #22

My teaching partner passed Juliet Bell's new book Kepler's Dream on to me last week. I love so many things about this book: Ella's voice as the main character, the many references to children's literature, the description of Ella's grandmother's incredibly odd adobe home (the House of Mud), the letters Ella writes to her mother (in Seattle for a stem cell transplant for leukemia), the mystery of a stolen valuable book by Johannes Kepler from her grandmother's library, the scientific connections about the moon landing and Kepler's theories, and Ella's map of the House of Mud and grounds. Her grandmother, Mrs. Violet Von Stern, is referred to as the GM because of her strict adherence to rules of etiquette, grammar, and rise-and-shine times; later, the reader learns the letters mean the General Major. Though Ella begins writing letters at her mother's request for staying in touch, they become the outlet she needs to connect with someone outside her grandmother's home; they are witty and filled with some of the rules she learns. It will make a wonderful read-aloud selection for middle-grade students!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Birthday Prints

My sweet husband insisted we purchase a giclee print last week when visiting Rick Allen at Kenspeckle Letterpress. I told him which I liked from Rick's illustrations of The Dark Emperor, and he chose two! We now have beautifully framed prints hanging above the piano and reflecting the images of our library. The book jacket print of The Dark Emperor looks out over our books, making us wonder, "What fills the cool moons of your mesmerizing eyes?", and Night Spider's Advice reminds me to "Use what you have. Rest when you need to." Thank you, Joyce Sidman, for the words that resonate in my thoughts when I gaze at these birthday prints - and Happy Birthday!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Quick Access

Never did I imagine myself keeping a recipe close by on an electronic device, but it worked incredibly well today. I have loved the hand-written recipes in the cursive writing of my aunts, grandmothers, great aunts, great grandmothers, friends, and mom. Yet once again today I went to to access that strawberry rhubarb pie we love so much. It was convenient, I admit, to switch back and forth between the crust and pie recipe. My sweet youngest son cut the rhubarb stalks and was so amazed at the size of the leaves that he took a photo with the iPad to send to the Brattcats! The kitchen smells so fruity now that the starry baked product is cooling on the counter.