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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Unusual Present

As a birthday gift for Karen, I offered to construct readers theatre scripts for some of her books. Though they will be performed at an upcoming event, I think they would be great for students in my school to use as well. Beginning with A Time of Angels, I strove to pull threads of Vermont life together while giving enough information about the historical context to performers and listeners. I love the characters in that book so much, so choosing scenes became difficult, especially since I wanted to show Uncle Klaus Gerhard's deep concern for Hannah in numerous ways. Next I worked with Just Juice, and the challenge was how to convey Juice's concern for her little sister Lulu and the secret of her own inability to read. Now I'm working on Witness. It is such a serious story, but I find myself smiling every time I read a passage from Esther Hirsh's voice.

"i did first meet sara chickering
when i had comings here last year
to be a fresh air girl in vermont.

vermont is a nice place.
they have wiggle fish.
that is what i did tell daddy in new york
when i had comings back to him.
i did ask daddy
to have our livings in vermont with sara chickering

for keeps.:

Her observations of the world and her slightly odd sentence constructions charm me. I know I need to include her in this script.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Since returning from a visit with my dear friend Karen (and her wonderfully dear husband), I have worn this necklace almost every day. It was a gift from her. One afternoon, she selected the beads carefully (3 Dogons and 2 Venetian eye and trail beads) from the locked antique bead cabinet at the shop and watched as I strung them. Now, when I finger them, she feels somehow closer than across the country. It seems strange even to me, but it is like she is nearby. Keeping me safe and connected to her. Happy Birthday to Karen today! 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tree Knowledge

I love how the expertise of one person becomes apparent to others through connections and experiences. Last week I met a wonderful arborist named Jason, and he has taught me so much about the trees in our yard. Sadly, one of our favorite maples has experienced a stunted growth season. I have hugged it many times, reminding it how much we love its shade the orange leaves that make our library gleam golden in the autumn. Yet it remains distressed. Jason taught us to uncover the roots, certain the problem was something called stem girdling roots (see for more information - it is an increasingly common problem). He was correct. Many of the roots are wrapping around the trunk, compressing it and causing stress to the tree. We will follow his guidance and hope to save this tree. He also taught us about unions and tree wounds.

As we walked around the yard together last night, I had the brilliant idea of creating a tree bibliography for him to share with families and teach young readers and would-be arborists about trees. I've started with these titles:

  • A Log's Life by Wendy Pfeffer
  • A Tree is Nice by Janet May Udry
  • Tell Me, Tree: All About Trees for Kids by Gail Gibbons
Any other ideas?

Monday, August 27, 2012

His and Hers

In our home library, one side is his and one side is hers. Visitors immediately notice how different the content is on one side versus the other. Her side (mine, of course) is filled with autographed picture books, chapter books for young people, books about teaching, and two shelves of traditional literature. His shelves are filled with thrillers, mysteries, and spy novels, with bowls and collections of agates intermingled. I love the blending of our collections and our lives. Today marks 24 years of marriage, and I am ever-grateful for his love of me and his passion for reading. We have shaped three young men with the same love of books and reading.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Caps for Sale

Yesterday we met the two-month-old son of some friends, and as usual, we brought books as a gift. One of them was the board book version of Esphyr Slobodkina's 1940 classic Caps For Sale. Our friends did not know of the book, but the three-year-old big brother quickly made it a family favorite. "Read it again," he told me - three times. 

I read this book again and again and again when our sons were young, and I found it was still committed to memory. The board book text is slightly altered from the original. Some of my favorite parts were omitted, and I found myself ready to say the non-existent phrases, like "But nobody wanted any caps that morning. Nobody wanted even a red cap." My young friend, however, was more concerned about the cap colors. The original text reads like this:

"First he had on his own checked cap, then a bunch of gray caps, then a bunch of brown caps, then a bunch of blue caps, and on the very top a bunch of red caps."

Because of the color reproduction, there doesn't appear to be any brown caps on the page, only goldish-yellow caps. So, he would add, "And a bunch of yellow caps." When I got home, I checked our copy of the book, and the caps are a cross between brown and tan, certainly not yellow.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bon Appetit!

Julia Child would have been 100 years old last week. Two recent picture books have celebrated her life and work: Minette's Feast: A Delicious Story about Julia Child and Her Cat by Susanna Reich and Bon Appetit!: The Delicious Life of Julia Child by Jessie Hartland. Though I do not think stories and lives are delicious, I do find it interesting that both books share that word in their subtitles. The first presents a more abbreviated version of her life and career, centered mostly around the cat she adopted while living in Paris. The second is more comprehensive, but the present tense verb choice and busy pages might be distracting for readers. Each book concludes with a bit of dessert: additional resources and facts about the famous chef.  For young readers and would-be chefs, the details about her life might motivate visits to Julia Child's cookbooks.

My good friend Julie prepared this beautiful salad for me!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


A colleague recommended Kelly Gallagher's 2009 book Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It, and I have been taking notes and rereading phrases so much that my progress is slow. My blood pressure is high, however (at least it was at the doctor's office today, and I had been reading the book while waiting). I agree so strongly with Mr. Gallagher's statements and research that I almost cannot keep myself from talking about it with my family (none of whom really want to have this discussion; they know what good reading instruction looks like).

Essentially, the book is based on the definition of readicide: "systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools." (p.2) Instead of promoting reading, schools increasingly value test-taking and limit the authentic experiences readers should have. By preparing students to take multiple-choice tests, the curriculum has become shallow, continuing the challenges faced by struggling readers and creating aliterates, people who can read but have no desire to do so.

As a reading teacher and librarian, I strive to provide positive reading experiences for students (and adults), and this book has completely reinforced my thoughts about what is important.

For more information about the national movement to curb standardized testing, view this document:

For fun activities that promote reading, vocabulary development, and literacy, visit the Alphabet Forest at the Minnesota State Fair, beginning August 23rd:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Unlikely Reading

Murder mysteries have never been on my list of favorite genres, yet after two people I trust recommended Donna Leon's series set in Venice, I decided to spend some time with Detective Guido Brunetti. And quite unexpectedly, I am enjoying these books. Having visited Venice for a day, I can track some of his routes through the city, know where I am when he gets to the Rialto Bridge, and can easily imagine the places he eats. Most amazing for me is the lack of urge to check the ending. Instead, I savor the clues Brunetti uncovers and attempt to figure out the murder mystery for myself. In Death at La Fenice, I came pretty close to solving it before he submitted his report to his pesky superior. Now halfway through Death in a Strange Country, I am determining motives in the murder of a young American found floating in the canal. Buona Notte!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Living Vicariously

I have accompanied Ted and Betsy Lewin to so many places around the world: Machu Picchu, Mongolia, Uganda, Botswana. Appropriately, I journeyed to Heimaey, one of the Westman Islands off the coast of Iceland, this August, the same month the children of the island have served in the Puffling Patrol, rescuing young puffins who have landed accidentally in the town and cannot take off from the flat streets. The artwork is superb, as always, and their description of a visit to Heimaey easily transports me there with them. This will be one of the books I share with second graders in the coming school year.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

State Fair Revisited

We (along with many other book lovers) spent the day preparing the Alphabet Forest for visitors to the State Fair. As I imagined people finding words to fill their Alphabet Game Cards, I could picture Bink and Gollie, the two friends created by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, finding words on their State Fair journey. In their latest book - Two for One - the complementary pair makes their way to things that should delight each one: Whack a Duck! for Bink and the Amateur Talent Show for Gollie. Neither experience ends like the girls hoped, yet they make the best of the situation. When they enter Madame Prunely's booth to have their fortunes told, the only important thing is that they remain friends. I hope readers will laugh at their antics like I did, try some new things at the State Fair, and add words like winner, recite, donut, and fortune to their lists.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Perspective Through Young Eyes

The neighbor kids are on vacation this week, and I missed having them here to read with me. The feeling of a warm head tucked under my arm and small hands grasping my hands or resting on my leg as giggles erupt from them is treasured. What I love most, though, is their understanding of what we read.

They adore Chico Bon Bon, the crafty monkey with an incredible tool belt in Chris Monroe's Monkey With a Tool Belt. We read one of the books about him each week. Each time, they express frustration that, after he is trapped in a box by the evil organ grinder (lured in by a fake banana split), Chico Bon Bon does not just get out of the box. The kids can plainly see him in there. Why doesn't he just walk out? they ask. I try to explain our omniscient perspective as readers, that we can see in the box as if the side were cut away, but it is not. And each week, they ask again, not able to grasp the idea from the last reading.

What they do remember each week is the hysterical scenario in Monkey With a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem in which Chico Bon Bon is trying to discover the cause of a loud noise. We all make the onomatopoeic noises and laugh uproariously when an elephant named Clark is found to be stuck in the laundry chute. Since then, we have used flashlights and stuffed animals in our own laundry chute (minus the banana peels Chico Bon Bon used to slide Clark from his laundry chute), trekking up and down the steps and giggling as the animals drop into waiting arms.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Shared Book History

"I like that library books have secret lives. All those hands that have held them. All those eyes that have read them." - Meena Joshi in Same Sun Here by Silas House & Neela Vaswani

Written in an epistolary structure, this new novel intrigued me on the shelf, and I was fortunate to get it from the library this week. Two authors. Two voices. Two genders. Two cities. Two ethnic backgrounds. I loved how Meena (living in NYC after growing up in India) and River (her chosen penpal who lives in Kentucky) feel free to share details of their lives and secret thoughts in their handwritten letters that they would certainly keep safe had they interacted in person. The ways they come to understand each other through honest comments and thoughtful questions occur naturally through their correspondence. They discover similar tastes and interests, suggest ways for handling tough situations, and demonstrate empathy through their comments to each other. They also share book ideas!

I've added it to my epistolary book list and already can think of readers to whom I will suggest it in the fall.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Rereading Letters

In last week's mail, a tiger-striped envelope arrived, and I knew exactly who sent it. A fellow letter-writer and faithful USPS supporter who devises all sorts of interesting ways to send greetings. With a newly released book called It's a Tiger!, David LaRochelle sent the perfect card, decorated the envelope splendidly, and used the best possible stamp! I love getting real mail (not bills and unsolicited items), and I especially love rereading letters. My sweet mom writes weekly. My aunts frequently send notes. Some like-minded friends only correspond using hand-written mail. Passing on that tradition to younger writers is one of my goals for the coming school year.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Girl Reading

It has taken me a while to become engrossed by Katie Ward's Girl Reading. Surprising, given the topic is one I love: art history. I think the lack of dialogue punctuation has taken some adjustment as a reader, but now in the fourth chapter, I am used to her style.

Each chapter focuses on a painting of a female reading something, and almost all are based on real portraits, dating from 1333 to 2060. Sometimes, she gets to the subject of the portrait quickly, and other times it takes a while to reveal who that "girl reading" will be. Sometimes, the girl is a significant player in the narrative; other times she is just passing through the story.

"A Note" at the narrative's conclusion provides detailed information about the portraits used as the story's base. Viewing them online (her website has links: - and looking at her suggestions of "women and girls reading" via Flickr - brings the fictional characters closer in my mind.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Remembering a Special Man

A friend's father died in mid-July at the age of 85, and I have spent the day rereading A Hiking Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park, his tribute to the place he loved so well. Philip Gillett climbed Longs Peak 37 times! The book features 109 hiking suggestions to places that would make lovely lunch spots, is peppered with photographs of the family on some of the many hikes taken in the park, and is occasionally interrupted with relevant discussions between Auctor and Lector. Our family used this book extensively when we visited for a week in 2006 and loved the suggested routes and the tidbits and hints that made each of us laugh.

  • "Harden your candy bar in the cold water, submerge your beverage, and settle down for lunch." - about Dream Lake
  • "Don't allow the marmots to steal your food." - about Chasm Lake
Tucked in the pages of my book was a letter he sent me after that 2006 visit. "It's good to hear from folks who are doing what I used to do."

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Real Pirates

On this day I did not get to read much from the numerous books in progress (Girl Reading by Katie Ward, The Time in Between by Maria Duenas, and Every Day, Every Hour by Natasa Dragnic). Instead, I read a lot about pirates at the Science Museum of Minnesota. These pirates sailed on the Whydah in the early 1700s, and many of them went down with the ship and drowned in a storm in Cape Cod. From their weapons to their boarding customs to their shared profits to their everyday lives, all I read and saw was fascinating. Some of the place settings survived, and I found it interesting that each man's items were engraved. Arrrgh! Reading about pirates and seeing the artifacts from the Whydah made for an intense visual experience!

Saturday, August 4, 2012


The Wild West comes alive in the latest Circus Juventas performance, and it is not for the faint-hearted. Lauren Stringer (seen here in the sheriff's office) wrote the script for the show (and painted the sets), set in the small town of Tumbleweed. There are outlaws, suffragettes, painted ladies, prospectors, and some famous folks who frequent the circus floor, and all of them are incredibly talented performers. Imagine writing a script with the vision to see just how performers will entertain while juggling, balancing on the high wire, hanging and twisting on ropes, hoops, and bars, and walking fearlessly on the wheel of steel! Lauren did that and more, tying to together a story and characters into one entertaining event.

There are still many performances still to come. Go to for more information!

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Cat's Table

Memory is ever-changing and pliable, I believe. What I think I remember from my past is not always what another remembers about the same incident or experience. One piece of information or recollection alters my memory, making me wonder what else I might have mistaken or not completely understood.

Michael, the narrator in The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje, moves between many time periods as he describes the three-week sea voyage he made from Colombo in Ceylon to England as a young boy. He was assigned to table 76 for meals and shared this space with numerous colorful and intriguing characters. It was the least desirable place to sit, the furthest from the captain's table, called the cat's table. Michael tells of his exploits with two other young boys making the voyage: their early morning prowls on deck to watch an Australian roller-skater, their interactions with a botanist whose secret garden is preserved in the bowels of the ship, their speculations and observations.

The author takes readers back and forth between the ship's activities and the passengers' lives before and after the voyage, providing enlightenment and additional intrigue, all the while creating wonder in Michael's mind about what has happened in his life.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Writer Reads Aloud

Like my sons and the children I see on school days, I love having someone read to me. I can't think of anything better than when that someone is Katherine Paterson and she is reading chapters from her own books. Her vocal expressions, intonation, and gestures filled up the space in the Roseville Library this afternoon, and all eyes and ears in the room were attentive to her magical voice. She told the story of the idea for Preacher's Boy and reminded me of what a great story it is...perhaps it is the perfect read-aloud selection for fourth graders in September. All of us were giggling! "People think I only write sad stories!" she laughed. She told about reading aloud to a book club in the Vermont prison system who had read The Great Gilly Hopkins and how one of those book club members (an inmate) got her on track with The Same Stuff as Stars. After answering many questions and telling the audience, "Librarians get a good reputation in my books," she read aloud from the final pages of Bridge to Terabithia, leaving me with tears streaming down my cheeks. What a wonderful way to spend a summer afternoon!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Home for Bird

One of the pleasures of sitting in my library is the chance to watch the birds at our feeders. I have no appreciation for the mean grackles, or even for the bright bluejays, both of which are greedy and mean to the other birds. But I love to watch the cardinal couples and goldfinch pairs. I enjoy the acrobatic nuthatches' antics and the steadfast visits from chickadees and sparrows.

The bird in Philip C. Stead's new picture book is a quiet bird when a toad named Vernon discovers it. Vernon tries introducing Bird to friends, attempts to entertain Bird with cloud watching, and eventually, assuming Bird is lost and lonely, sets off in a tea cup to find Bird's home. After showing Bird numerous homes, Vernon is sad to discover none is the right place. Lost and tired, the two discover a house down the road, and they begin climbing some chains to a tiny house on the wall. When the hour chimes 6 o'clock, Bird is certainly in his perfect home, making Vernon smile.

Visual literacy is as important as the text in this charming picture book about faithful friends and intrepid investigators. Readers will want to go back to the copyright page to revisit an essential detail as they correctly predict the ending.