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Sunday, September 30, 2012

More Safekeeping

My plan was to wait for a signed copy of Karen Hesse's Safekeeping. But after seeing the familiar cover on the bookshop shelf yesterday, I had to get it then. What do I love about it, this story with such dire circumstances and a country in trauma? I keep asking myself. Is it Radley's voice, honest with both certainty and uncertainty? The photographs interspersed with the text so thoughtfully to make me pause as a reader and see more of what my mind has imagined? The many times Radley reaches into her backpack to touch the knitted bear her mom sent to the children at the Haitian orphanage (and that was stowed in that backpack by an orphan named Jethro)? The incredible way Karen's writing makes me a partner with Radley as she travels the long miles of Route 101 in New Hampshire and Route 5 in Vermont?

With wonder and tears, I have read and viewed this book again, grateful that Karen's insights as a writer and observances as a photographer have come together perfectly. For her thoughts about the selection of photographs, see this post:

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Story to Tell

Even the cover of Philip Stead's new book hinted to me I would love it. A thoughtful-looking bear rests on a log, clearly engaged in discussion with a mallard. The title - Bear Has a Story to Tell - perfectly summarizes the plot: a sleepy bear wants to share a story with one of the forest creatures before a long winter's nap. The mouse is too busy gathering seeds. The duck is preparing to fly south. The frog is searching for a warm place to sleep. Bear assists each one before checking on the mole, who is already asleep. When Bear rolls in the green grasses of spring, he still has that story to tell, but not before he properly greets his friends again. The story he tells - at the suggestion of his friends - just happens to include a mouse, a duck, a frog, and a mole. Heartwarming. Perfect for reading aloud in the coming weeks as children learn about hibernation.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Family Reading Night Again

Stephen Shashkan visited  last evening for the school year's first Family Reading Night. Earlier in the day, the custodian asked if we really needed 100 chairs, and it turned out we really did! The eager audience loved his stickered guitar (and were welcome to add stickers of their own). Steve traced his journey to becoming a children's author and illustrator from the books read to him by his dad to the cartoons he watched on Saturday mornings to the comics he bought and read to his formal education at the Rhode Island School of Design. Along the way, we sang songs, shared our own favorites, participated in a squiggle drawing exercise, wrote new words for "Down By the Bay", listened to him read A Dog is a Dog, and laughed a great deal. He did a fabulous job of demonstrating how the things he did and loved as a child and young person have shaped what he does as an adult. All the children departed with dog masks and minds filled with possibilities.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Out of the Egg

In the library world, we are always a bit surprised to learn how many young readers do not know some of the basic stories and rhymes. This week we are reading aloud Out of the Egg by Tina Matthews. It is a "Little Red Hen" sort of story without the baking of bread, and only about half the children seem to know the original version. In this version, the Red Hen asks for help as she tends to a seedling, and Fat Cat, Dirty Rat, and Greedy Pig have no interest in helping. And it is not those three who want to play under the tree's shade many years later; their children do. Though Red Hen denies their request, her chick tells her it would be mean to do so, and they all play together. Red Hen sends the three little ones home with a seed each.

With woodcut illustrations and just two colors, the visual impact is striking, but the words are what engage the children. As the three lazy creatures utter, "Not I," repeatedly, one page shows them with two signs. One reads, "Not I. Not I." Another reads "Knot Eye." Discussions about homophones have been abundant, and the younger readers always seem to tie an imaginary knot with their hands as they explain that word's meaning. For some, the distinction between a rooster and a hen is eye-opening. Regardless, attention is high, and suggestions to read other versions are welcomed!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

In Another World

I stood at the kitchen island this evening, eating Chocolate Therapy, an ice cream flavor I thought would never make it to the store. We first ate it three years ago on a factory tour of Ben and Jerry's; it felt like we were in another world as we witnessed enormous vats of churning ice cream. I loved it so much that I have been tempted to call the company to suggest it be sold to the public. Mmm.

While I savored each spoonful, I also savored the other-worldliness of Gary Schmidt's latest book What Came From the Stars. The book arrived yesterday, and though I struggled initially with the names and terminology of the Valorim and the Ethelim, I soon found myself understanding more and looking at the glossary less. It is the story of good and evil, and it begins on a planet far from earth where the evil O'Mondim have obliterated most of the Valorim and are bringing ruin to the Ethelim. One valiant man transfers the Art of Valorim to chains and a medallion of sorts and flings it across the universe. It lands in the lunch box of a sixth grader named Tommy Pepper in Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts and immediately changes his life.

The chapters alternate between the events in Ethelim and those in Plymouth Rock. As the stories become intertwined, Tommy Pepper find courage and understanding he never imagined. A world I could never imagine became real to me. In the hope that readers will also savor that place and Tommy's wisdom, I will write no more about the events.

Friday, September 21, 2012


Two fourth grade teachers invited me to their classrooms this morning to share how I PICK books to read. The students have been learning the acronym I PICK, and they reiterated its message: I look at a book; Purpose; Interest; Comprehend; Know all the words. I also shared Daniel Pennac's Rights of the Reader to complement the choosing strategies. Then I began to talk about the stack of books I'd brought with me.

I started with a book recommended to me by staff at the Red Balloon and from reviews: Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms. Though I knew it had been positively reviewed, I just couldn't get interested in it. I showed them the very thick classic The Swiss Family Robinson and told how though I thought I should read it, I found myself rereading too many lines, thus indicating I probably was not comprehending it as well as I could. I showed them the eerie cover of the first Animorphs book and read the first paragraph; science fiction is my least favorite genre. Then I held up four different covers of A Wrinkle in Time, the 1963 Newbery Medal Winner. Again, I knew I should read this book, but it has never been one that keeps my interest. Finally, I read the jacket flap and beginning of Touching Stars by Erin Moulton. It has received good reviews, and the character name and summary appeal to me. That's the one I finally selected in my demonstration.

Interestingly, several readers wanted the books I did not choose!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What an Idea!

Fourth graders have been writing friendly letters to me as practice and review in MS Word. One young friend told me he spent so many hours reading this summer that he is crazy about it. He also said his friends agree with him that we should have more reading time at school. They think we should have another specialist block (in addition to PE, music, art, science, and information literacy) called "reading no teachers" in which kids could just read whatever they wanted for 55 minutes.

I would be happy to add that to the schedule. Every day and night I wish for more reading time! So many times parents and education critics see reading time during the school day as a waste of instructional time. What a wonderful thing that this idea came from some boys talking about reading!

p.s. This older photo is of the boys and me when David Small and Sarah Stewart visited the Red Balloon!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Goose's Story

As we support the newly-adopted English and language arts standards in our state (in conjunction with the Common Core), my teaching partner and I have found ourselves in great demand by our classroom teaching staff. They need books that teach perspective and point-of-view. They need books with strong characters. They need informational texts about historical events. They need books that provide anti-bullying examples. We are glad to provide titles and resources to support teachers' requests, making us both even more fervent believers in a changing role for librarians. Instead of the old model of shushing readers to keep a quiet library and checking out books behind a desk, librarians need to be reading and information resource experts. They need flexible schedules that allow them to collaborate with teachers and students in authentic learning experiences.

My favorite request last week came from a third grade colleague and friend who asked for a picture book she could read without showing the illustrations. She wanted a book with strong imagery, one that would create mental pictures in the listeners' minds. Sometimes I need to "walk the shelves" to find the perfect title, meaning I start at the A section and work my way toward Z, searching for titles that reflect what the teacher wants. I got to the Bs and found what I wanted: Goose's Story by Cari Best. It is a heartfelt story (with wonderful illustrations by Holly Meade) about a girl who finds an injured goose and helps it gain strength and mobility.

My friend and I often arrive at school simultaneously, and the next day, she greeted me with this: "That was the perfect book! It worked exactly as I wanted." The students listened the first time through, but one student interrupted after a few pages by saying, "Wait. Henry is a dog?" Later, the students talked about how they envisioned Henry (all different) and what they thought the area looked like. Most of all, though, they loved the tender story!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Liar & Spy

I hesitate to provide too much information about Rebecca Stead's latest book Liar & Spy. As the story unfolded, I loved how she craftily provided hints about the characters' truths and fictions. I would not want to spoil that discovery process for other readers.

I loved the narrator and main character, Georges, named for the artist Seurat. A copy of the artist's painting hangs in the living room of the apartment Georges and his family recently acquired after having to vacate their home due to financial difficulties. Sir Ott, as Georges calls the painting, is his companion when he watches taped episodes of America's Funniest Home Videos. Georges is teased mercilessly by the cool crowd at school yet he ignores everything, attempting to see the big picture, just as he sees the whole of the Seurat, not the tiny dots of color.

I loved how Georges and his mom, an ICU nurse, leave messages for each other with Scrabble tiles, some of which result in locating more information. Georges provided just enough information about his mom's hospital life to keep me wondering and to give me ideas about her real story.

I loved the intensity with which Safer, another boy living in the apartment building, took to making Georges part of the Spy Club. He studied the parrot nest from the window of their apartment building and the lobbycam to spy on incoming residents and visitors. He noted and observed things Georges had not even considered.

I loved the way like-minded young people - just as I have observed in real life - came together to help one another. I can imagine reading this book aloud to 5th graders and seeing recognition in many faces.

And I loved Candy, the younger sister and assistant of Safer, who lives up to her name in her desire for candy. Starbursts are a favorite, as are giant SweeTarts. She once mentions to Georges that Mr. Orange will not care if they have anything in their teeth for their wedding photos.

"Mr. Orange. That's who I'm going to marry. Someone who likes orange."

"You're going to marry someone because you both like orange?"

"No!" She makes a face. "I hate orange. The color and the flavor. It's the only flavor I don't like, actually. That's the whole point. I hate it, he loves it. That way we can always share the pack."

"Pack of what?"

"Stabursts. Lifesavers. Jolly Ranchers. Whatever."

Believe it or not, I have not written too much. I really loved this book. I am anxious to talk about it with anyone else who has read it!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Where's Miri?

After school today, my trusted teaching partner bid me farewell in the parking lot, wished me happy reading, and asked, "Where's Miri?" She finished Shannon Hale's newest book - Palace of Stone - and brought it for me to read prior to its due date at the public library. One of our jobs is to read books, but we could never do that during the school day, so I am left with few hours at night to complete the books on my list. This one has captivated me! Shannon brought readers easily to the continued saga of Miri and the other girls from Mount Eskel who are going to live in Asland and attend their fellow Princess Academy member Britta as she prepares to marry Prince Steffan.

The depth of Miri's character has been so established throughout the two books that I feel I could talk with her. She has continued to display wisdom and consideration while adding information to her opinions and understanding of the political climate and social standings. I must finish tonight, not because it is due tomorrow, but because I must know what heroism Miri is going to display in the last third of the book. She is, by the way, just riding in the carriage to the chapel.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Explaining a Few Things

Awww. Each class of second graders has moaned each time I stop reading from Beverly Cleary's Henry Huggins. Their gasps and giggles resound as they contemplate a boy not much older than them whose determination to have a dog drives him to figure out how to get that dog home. Carrying Ribsy onto the bus did not work. The hair tonic box did not work. A 5-cent paper bag, some paper and string seems to work - but that is where I stopped reading.

Along the way, I have needed to stop and explain a few things. Published in 1950, the story is still humorous and engaging, and the children clearly relate to Henry. Yet they wonder. How could he ride the city bus downtown to swim at the Y.M.C.A. and then ride it home again - by himself? How could he buy an ice cream cone for only 5 cents? How could he get on the bus for a dime? What is a telephone booth?

They listen intently as I explain each thing, eager to build on that knowledge as Henry and Ribsy's story continues.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Courage is...

Bernard Waber's book Courage is our read-aloud selection for the first week of school. The children provide so many definitions for courage, mentioning how it requires encouragement from others and how a person must do things unexpected and often difficult to be deemed courageous. They love the examples Waber provides, especially ones to which they can easily relate (going to bed without a nightlight, for example). I love this one:

"Courage is not peeking at the last page of your whodunit book to find out who did it."

I might classify that more as self-restraint, but I am waiting till the end of my latest Commissario Brunetti mystery (Death and Judgment) to discover who did it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Starting School

Tomorrow begins another year of school and more reading adventures with young people. The book I read this weekend has been perfect for this time of year. In Laugh With the Moon, Shana Burg introduces Clare Silver, a young girl who is starting school in a completely different place: a village school in Malawi. Having grown up in Boston, this adventure with her father (a physician giving his time to a global health organization) is not especially what she desires, especially since she is mourning the death of her mother. The silent treatment does not work on her dad; he remains caring and optimistic. Only when she meets a girl much like herself - named Memory - does she begin to feel comfortable in this new place. Add to the mix an opportunity to teach English to the primary students, a housekeeper named Mrs. Bwanali whose love shines on Clare, and a mother's voice that reaches Clare just at the right times. The result is a novel that rises above the dire circumstances to demonstrate how it is possible to laugh with the moon, even when things are at their lowest.

While watching a ceremony after the mourning period for a friend, Clare notes this:

"I used to think that happy people dance and sad people cry. But now I see that people aren't like stiches on a hem. They don't always follow a pattern. They don't always weave in and out, holding the pieces of their lives together in the way you might expect. Sad people can laugh and dance, and that doesn't mean they're suddenly fine. And happy people can cry, and that doesn't mean they're not okay." - p. 218

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Word Kitchen

At the Alphabet Forest, visitors are encouraged to leave with more words than they came. The Word Kitchen offers a unique way to add words to their game cards and vocabularies...pick a sweet, sour, spicy, secret, special, simmering, or special pot, stir carefully (with one of a host of utensils), and select a word!

During the hours I took photographs yesterday, visitors used the giant, laminated Fair letters and pool noodles to spell their first or last names (ANDERSON three times), the word FAMILY, a holiday greeting, and MN FAIR. But my son, doing that job on the previous shift, had the best words from one man: MARRY ME. He captured the moment and the kiss on film for the couple!

Saturday, September 1, 2012


The Who...friends, Alphabet Forest visitors, sons, husband

The What...running, taking hundreds of photos at the AF, wandering around the State Fair

The Why...because all these things are important to me

The way the whole wild day came together has made me especially tired this evening, but at bedtime, I am elated to read and reread Tell Me About Your Day Today, written by Mem Fox and extraordinarily illustrated by my dear friend Lauren Stringer. As a young girl, I used to tell my orangish stuffed dog about my day each evening at bedtime. Lauren makes me wish I remember more of what I said to that dog that I so carefully tucked in next to me. Her ingenious way of telling a story with artwork makes me want to know more of how she conceived of the plan to extend the text so wonderfully. Good night.