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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?