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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?"