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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Marvels Ahead



I marvel at the people I have met via the blog world and the ways my reading has been positively affected by their art, words, and responses. A lovely book arrived from one such talented and insightful blogger - Sketchbook Wandering - and I look forward to using it in the coming year to record some of the marvels I observe as I read and work with readers. Taking careful note of readers' ways of thinking and responding allows us to record anecdotal information about their habits and abilities. It also gives us a chance to reflect on our own reading processes as we model for them how readers think. The things we do automatically as adult readers are not so intuitive for inexperienced readers, and it is delightful to encounter their enthusiasm as they learn about themselves. Happy Reading! Happy New Year's Eve!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Memory #2

  

Each of my grandmas had books I enjoyed, but my dad's mom kept books from his childhood for us. I so loved two sturdy, spiral-bound books that had layered pages. They open like calendars, and each wish from one of the characters results in an important visual addition to the story, like the swing in the farm story and the candy counter in the store story. They are called build-up books, and the titles foretell the actions of each story: Let's Have a Farm and Let's Have a Store.

I must have memorized the text of each because when I found them on the shelves to read with my niece last week, the words were so familiar. She even spied the copyright date (almost hidden by the spiral binding) of 1945. On the back sides of each first page are the words "To Gary From Mary Kay" (one of his cousins). Almost 70 years later, they are still charming, delightful books!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Book Memory #1


Though I think I have a strong memory, I am sometimes surprised when what I remember is not quite the same as the reality. Like many elementary school children, I loved it when I could order a book from the monthly book order form. I circled books of interest to me, saved my money, and occasionally was able to purchase a book for myself. That is how my mind remembers getting Rumer Godden's book The Story of Holly and Ivy. I searched for the copy on my mom's library shelves this week and found it, just as I had remembered it to look. The reds and greens of Holly's clothes and Ivy's coat matched my memory (artwork done by Adrienne Adams). When I opened the front cover, expecting to see my name written in a younger signature, I was surprised to find I had not purchased it at all. It was a gift from my kindergarten teacher at Christmas in 1972! I reread the story of a doll who refuses to believe the awful owl's prediction that she will go unsold and be put in storage and the determined orphan girl who just knows she will find her grandmother. It is a book about wishing, writes the narrator.

I am going to write to that dear teacher and tell her my story about the book she gave to me 41 years ago. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Songbook


The nieces (ages 6 and 9) joined me on the piano bench at my parents' house today to sing and play Christmas songs. The Reader's Digest Merry Christmas Songbook was our guide. They used the index to find songs, locating their favorites. Both were intrigued that two page numbers were listed for each song. One guided the musicians to the actual music. The other went to the page where historical notes about the song were found. We learned, for example, that "Jingle Bells" was originally composed for a Thanksgiving program in 1857 and was called "The One Horse Open Sleigh." We had to sing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (introduced in 1949 at Madison Square Garden by Johnny Marks) twice. What a holiday treat to be surrounded by sweet young voices at the piano on which I learned to play!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Night Before Christmas


When the boys were little, the last thing we did each Christmas Eve before bed was read aloud from their favorite Christmas picture books while snuggled in our bed. The last book was always one of our copies of The Night Before Christmas. This morning I started the day with Holly Hobbie's new version of the book (also known as "A Visit From St. Nicholas" as the end note reminds readers). Her notes about reinterpreting the classic poem and about her own artwork (which I read first) help explain some of her artistic creativity.

Four children are snuggled soundly in their bed, their cat asleep atop their pillows. When Papa hears the clatter on the roof and throws open the sash, snow swirls into the room. The toddler and cat are also awakened. They creep downstairs, each in wonder at the jolly old elf whose belly shakes like a bowl full of jelly when he laughs. Nestled between siblings on the last page, the toddler's reaction to the exclamation from St. Nicholas is bright-eyed delight.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!


Friday, December 20, 2013

Drawing Conclusions


When children discover how much they love to read (and realize they are good at it), I just love witnessing the palpable enthusiasm. I know these same readers will be forced to take standardized tests to demonstrate to higher powers that they can identify a metaphor or determine the main idea. And so, when I guide them through a mini-lesson with a book, I intentionally name things I know they will encounter on such tests. Today the term was drawing conclusions, and the book was Yoon and the Jade Bracelet by Helen Recorvits. After explaining a brief definition (and reiterating that it is not a summary), I asked them to focus on one specific character as I read aloud and to draw a conclusion about her. 

They were immediately engaged in the story of Yoon's birthday. Her wish for a jump rope was not granted by her mother, yet Yoon gratefully acknowledges the book she is given, a Korean story about a trickster tiger and a silly girl. Then her mother gives her the jade bracelet that was her own mother's. Yoon's own name is engraved in it in Korean letters. Enter the mean girl. She invites Yoon to jump rope at lunch recess, but she also tells her American children share things if they are friends. Then she demands Yoon's jade bracelet. Fierce looks appeared on the faces in front of me as I read about how the mean tiger girl would not return the bracelet to Yoon. Eventually, her teacher and her own determination come to the rescue. 

The readers in my audience had much to say about the mean girl. They drew many conclusions and perfectly articulated them. And, as always, they begged me to leave the book in the classroom for them to reread later. I love it when that happens.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Perfect Tree


Each year we drive north a few miles to our friends' tree farm. Walking amongst the varieties of trees, I always seek a balsam, the perfect tree. So do Ruthie and her father in Gloria Houston's book The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree. The two ride up to the high cliffs and rocky Craig's where they find that tree, all alone atop Grandfather Mountain. Ruthie's father takes a red ribbon from her hair and lifts her to tie that ribbon as a marker on the tree. The seasons pass, and he is called away to the Great War. The tree stands tall and grows even more perfectly, ready to be the tree in Pine Grove Church. 

I adore this story. A girl's hope for her father's return and belief that St. Nicholas will bring her "a doll with a beautiful dress, the color or cream, all trimmed with ribbons and lace" resonates with her parents' love for her. Barbara Cooney's illustrations make it an even more beautiful book.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Animal Book


Whenever I see Steve Jenkins listed in book reviews, I immediately add my name to the reserve list at the library. This time it was for his most comprehensive book yet: The Animal Book. And check out this subtitle: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest - and Most Surprising - Animals on Earth. What an incredible collection it is! 

In addition to talking generally about animals, he writes about animal families, senses, predators, and defenses. One chapter is devoted to animal extremes, featuring the blue whale (largest animal), the narwhal (longest tooth), the howler monkey (loudest land animal), and the sperm whale (deepest diver). The last chapter  discusses the history of life on earth. 

Though I love reading astonishing facts, I am more intrigued by his incredible cut-paper artwork. Some things look so life like...furry, detailed, colorful, or camouflaged. Imagine the man's paper stores! As an added bonus for the reader, he  share the process of his own book-making processes in the final pages of the books. From getting ideas to conducting research to creating sketches, thumbnails, and dummies, he explains in words and artifacts just how his work becomes a finished book. This finished book is a gem.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

At Night


Like the little girl in Jonathan Bean's book At Night, I am often awake at night. Too hot. Too cold. Too many thoughts about tomorrow. Too many things I did not get done. Too many night noises. No one is awake worrying about me like her mom is about her, but I worry about my sons. I read the book to third graders yesterday in a lesson about setting, and it was perfect for how setting is more than place and time and season. The children sensed the girl's restlessness, the peace of the rooftop, the calm of her cat, and her mom's concern...all things that added to the feeling tone of the book. Even the book's smaller size adds to its setting and makes it perfect for poring over again by oneself.

Another reason I cannot sleep this week is a book. The images that remain in my mind and heart from Elizabeth Wein's newest book Rose Under Fire, a companion to Code Name Verity kept surfacing in my dreams and mixing history with my reality. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Butter


A package arrived last week from some dear friends. I could open it, they said, but I should give myself an hour to enjoy it. So, I waited till this weekend, and I spent that hour with it...and more time since then. Rosie Daykin's book Butter Baked Goods: Nostalgic Recipes from a Little Neighborhood Bakery is delightfully organized and wonderfully written. It feels like I have visited one of her Vancouver shops and even baked with her! Though I wanted to try so many of the recipes in one day, I opted for Orange Pecan Biscotti today. In the introduction, she says the bakers in her shop kitchen know she has a weakness for this cookie, so "they tuck aside all the end bits when they are cutting the biscotti for me to nibble on." I did the same for myself today, savoring the blended favors with my tea (as I read more recipes).

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Reading Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree


My neighbor kids are frequent visitors to our home, seeking our sons' old toys and some of mine, too. Last weekend, they were quickly entranced by Robert Barry's class story Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree, laughing as the tree top was picked up one character after another. When we finished, they had to go back and trace the path again. I had to go out and buy the book for them for Christmas!

Friday, December 13, 2013

In Need of a Solutioneer

Each night I think to myself...you should really write a blog post. Then, somehow, the time passes with other duties, and I am too tired to write. It is not that I lack subject matter. There are plenty of books and reading stories to share. Like Max, the title character in Cynthia Voigt's latest chapter book (Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things), I am, perhaps, seeking to define my role as someone who writes about books. Do I write as a record of my own reading? Do I write to prompt others to read certain books? Do I write to create awareness of important ideas about reading? Yes, yes, yes. But I know that others do this far better than me, and so I thought perhaps I should just let this Library Jewel thing go. And yet...I am here again, at least for now.

Mister Max must find a way to exert his independence, manage a household, convince others of his competence, and somehow make a meager living in an English city. Faced with a house full of costumes and a librarian grandmother who only wants what is best for him, Max is fortunate to acquire small jobs that pay enough for him to maintain his art lessons and buy what he needs for food. As word spreads of his work, he sees that he is more than a detective or a problem-solver or spy. He decides he finds solutions for those who seek his services and thus calls himself a Solutioneer. 

Intermingled with his cases are personal matters of great importance, mistaken identities, larger-than-life characters, and a baker whose pastries make my mouth water! Max's story ends with several solutions, but the case most essential for his well-being remains without one, prompting a sequel (to be released in 2014).

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Big Snow


Ever since I was a little girl, I have waited for the big snow to come in the late fall, hoping each year it would arrive earlier. Skating, building snow creatures, sledding. I loved winter. I still do. Like David, the young boy in Jonathan Bean's new book Big Snow, I found things to do while I waited. This boy, however, does not wait patiently. His mom suggests he help her make cookies. "But then the flour, white and fine, made David think of snow." His mom uses a dustpan and broom to clean the snow from the kitchen floor. Yet when he goes outside to check the weather, fine, white snowflakes were falling. He runs across the yard jubilantly. Later, he helps his mom clean the bathroom (think white and fluffy snow) and put clean sheets on the guest bed (think white and cool snow). His mother's expression with each cleaning effort appears more frustrated. Outdoors, however, the white, fluffy, cool snow changes the landscape. The artwork on each page adds details to the story, making it he perfect book to read aloud this week as we look forward to big snow.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Favorite Books


This week I began reading aloud two books on my all-time favorites list. Third graders are listening to Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. Second graders are listening to Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. I just love the voice of each story. India Opal Buloni is forthright, funny, honest, and insightful. Her narration resonates with subtle humor, careful observations, and thoughtfulness. The omniscient narrator of Charlotte's Web portrays the wonder of the Zuckerman's barn in such a way that I truly believe I have sat there with Fern, listening to Charlotte reassure Wilbur, hearing the goose's stuttering, cringing at Templeton's crass suggestions. The hour I spend each day reading those books carries me through all monotonous duties. 

The children so obviously know how much I adore these books and characters. There is never a behavior problem. All eyes watch me as I read. Giggled and smiles appear when I read about how Winn-Dixie smiled at the preacher. Several students whispered "salutations" after Charlotte said it to Wilbur today. The kids tell me how they can see the story in their minds, like a mental movie. Sometimes important discussions ensue...like why a mom would leave her daughter and why Mr. Zuckerman would butcher Wilbur.

And sometimes, the discussion gets humorous. Like when one person asked what meat came from a pig. "Bacon," said one boy. "Ham," said another. "Lamb chops," said a third. The child next to him gave him a strange look and said, "Seriously? Those come from a lamb." Then one person asked, "Where does chicken come from?" The rest of the children chorused, "Chicken!" And that is where I brought the discussion back to the story. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

In the Little Chair


I have the good fortune of collaborating with my third grade colleagues during their reading workshop hour each day (though I only have 17 minutes to be in their classrooms before I have to teach second graders). I get the privilege of presenting mini-lessons before the students go off to read independently (or enter the reading zone, as we all like to say). This week I have shared these lessons with the readers:

* asking questions as you read (using Yoshi's Feast by Kimiko Kajikawa)
* looking for details that make a book historical fiction (using Michael O. Tunnel's Mailing May)
* what it means to be a good group member (with the help of my colleague and three students who comically portrayed an interrupter, a daydreamer, and an off-task speaker)
* making connections (using Cari Best's lovely story Goose's Story)

I love this part of my day. I am in a different person's room most days, and I love the things I learn with these readers. I love the feeling of gathering together on the carpet to share and talk about books. In on classroom, though, I especially love sitting in the little chair. My friend keeps it in the corner of her room, and it is the sturdiest, most comfortable little chair. Just another reason these 17 minutes brighten my school days. Tomorrow's mini-lesson is a book talk about ten historical fiction novels.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Great American Dust Bowl


Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust brought the despair of the Dust Bowl to me through the eyes of 14-year-old Billie Jo. Grains of dust blew into every aspect of life! In Don Brown's latest graphic novel, The Great American Dust Bowl, that same despair is echoed in the text and artwork, accompanied by speech bubbles that convey the actual words of folks who lived through the time period. He provides background information about how the plain bordering the Rocky Mountains was formed and describes how so many pioneers came to live there. Eventually, the plain dried up to "dry, pulverized earth." His descriptions of the conditions are gripping, like this about a dust storm in 1932:

"In January 1932, wind blew dirt ten thousand feet into the air, nearly twenty times higher than the Washington Monument. The sky turned brownish gray, sixty-mile-per-hour, dirt-filled winds lashed Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. People called it "awe-inspiring." - p. 21

The variation of panel size, the color palette, the arrangement of text on the pages, and the inclusion of incredible details (like how desperate people believed dead snakes hanging from fence posts would bring rain) make this such a successful book. Despite the grim topic, it is sure to hold readers' interest.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Buster Keaton in BLUFFTON


Matt Phelan's artwork first captivated me in Betty Birney's The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs. I loved the bear in Alice Schertle's Very Hairy Bear and the panels in his own graphic novel  Around the World. His latest book, set in 1908, features the same style as the latter title: soft watercolor panels with speech bubbles and occasional narration in textboxes.

I think I expected Bluffton to be more about vaudeville and The Three Keatons, in which case I probably would not have enjoyed it so much. Instead, it was the story of three summers of Buster's teenage years as told through the eyes of Henry Harrison, a fictional boy who lived in Muskegon, Michigan, and who visited Bluffton and the Actors' Colony. Henry's fascination with the members of the colony draws him there each day (when his own father does not need his help at their store). The young people engage in games of baseball, skip stones, and participate in Buster's ingenious practical jokes and schemes. Though Henry begs Buster to teach him how to fall, how to land, how to avoid getting hurt, the young Keaton clearly just wants to be seen as a person aside from the acts. The author's note tells more of Buster's story and encourages readers to view the man's movies. 

The story of how the author acquired the photograph at the end of the book is fascinating: http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2013/07/23/research-gold-by-matt-phelan/

Now I need to watch Phelan's recommendation: The General, starring Buster Keaton (http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ilPk-SCHv30&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DilPk-SCHv30).

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Codices


The Science Museum of Minnesota is hosting Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed, an exhibit featuring what archaeologists know about one the most civilized of ancient cultures. I appreciated many things about the exhibit, especially their number system (which I want to practice - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_numerals). They built extraordinary pyramids without machinery and commonly used implements. Their glyphs have been studied and interpreted by archaeologists and can be found all over their structures and artwork. And, they created codices, few of which survive due to decisions made by Spanish monks in the 1500s to burn them because of their promotion of the devil and evil spirits. Two are on display, and they are both fragile and intricate. If you live in the area, take time to visit the exhibit...and be sure to create your own name Maya name (and then your personal Stela based on your Gregorian birth date).

Friday, November 1, 2013

Open!


A zombie and a fairy princess rushed across the yard to greet me last night after yoga. After getting candy from my husband at the front door, they dashed to our newly installed Little Free Library. The zombie asked, "Are there any Jack and Annie books?" There was one, but it wasn't a Magic Tree House chapter book as he had hoped. Still, the zombie gladly snatched Mummies and Pyramids, the nonfiction companion to Mary Pope Osborne's Mummies in the Morning from our library shelf and went on his way trick-or-treating with delight.

Later, I rang the doorbell at their spookily decorated house, and after declining the candy bars they tried to stuff in my pockets, the zombie settled himself in my lap, the fairy princess snuggled against my side, and we started reading about ancient Egypt. The author cleverly assembled the research gathered for the fiction book into these ingeniously designed nonfiction books for readers. Sal Murdocca's illustrations accompany the text, and Jack and Annie present additional information and definitions in sidebars. Potentially unknown words are defined in context without interrupting the flow of the text. The readers with whom I shared the book groaned when their mom declared it was time for bed.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

When Reviews are Wrong #2


A crowd gathered this afternoon at the Red Balloon Bookshop to celebrate the publication of Spike: Ugliest Dog in the Universe. It is the story of a dog whose awful owner abandons him after the dog wins the Ugliest Dog in the Universe contest. Joe, the boy who lives next door, befriends Spike and tries to convince his mother they should adopt the dog. Spike does all he can to be the best dog possible, even taking lessons from Evangeline, the cat next door. When his doggy skills save her life, Joe's mom acknowledges his beauty, calling him the most beloved dog in the world. Having watched this book evolve from idea to completion, it was a pleasure to observe the awe of audience members as she read the story and showed the unique illustrations (created from well-worn denim, a wedding dress, and Canson paper, mounted on garage door insulation).

Once again, I was disappointed to read the review of the book in School Library Journal. The reviewer completely missed the point of the book! He noted that "the background is made from torn old jeans, and although the artist uses them creatively, it's questionable whether they add anything to the piece." He contradicted himself earlier by saying, "Characters are crafted from fabric and paper with mixed results." The whole idea of well-loved, well-worn jeans is that they are still beautiful to the wearer (as shown by the pair of jeans that inspired her, shown on the jacket flap). Debra craftily combined the best holes in the denim with images of Spike and key words. The message that it is what is inside a person (or canine) is beautiful shines through in Spike. The reviewer wrote that "the story feels overcomplicated and convoluted" but apparently missed the ideas of friendship, fitting in, and finding one's own worth.

At the beginning of the story, Spike says, "If you could see inside my heart, you'd say...beautiful." I do say that...about Spike, Joe, and Debra's work on this book.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Wild Boy


Most people hold a fascination for the stories about humans who have been raised in the wild and then introduced to civilized life. For example, Karen Hesse's The Music of Dolphins, about a young girl named Mila who was raised by dolphins, is one of the most popular books in our library. Mary Losure's latest book, Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron, is certain to intrigue readers as well. In it, she follows the life of the wild boy discovered in 1797 when he was about nine years old in the mountains of southern France. People from the village of Lacaune capture the boy (twice!). He was treated as a scientific specimen by some who believed there was a species of homo ferus or wild man. Others showered him with compassion, including a kind gardener, a lovely woman who perhaps became like a mother to him, and Dr. Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard, who tried to teach the boy to communicate and who believed the boy should be happy. This telling of the boy's life story is respectful and poignant, and the text is accompanied by charcoal sketches by Timothy Basil Ewing that convey the emotions the wild one was certain to have experienced. 

When he once escaped as a young adult, it is believed he made his way toward Notre Dame, unnoticed by the crowds around him, and eventually arrested by the police. This photo was taken from atop the cathedral.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Moo? Moo! Moo.


As I scrunched into the only floor space left at the Red Balloon Bookshop yesterday afternoon, I beamed in wonder as Mike Wohnoutka and David LaRochelle talked about their book Moo! Besides being friends and members of the same writing critique group, the two are also excellent at presenting together. David began with the idea for a one word story and how LONG he waited for a response from an editor who initially wanted to publish the book. Mike talked about how he had decided to try a different style in 2010 and was approached by David about creating the artwork for Moo! Seeing all the color labels for his paint shades for the artwork made me smile, thinking of treasures like that in the form of color studies in the Kerlan Collection (my favorite being Don Freeman's work on Corduroy). Mike and David told stories of their joint work, relayed a few little-known secrets about the book, and delighted the audience with the humor of the cow's expression and the complementary artwork. David ended by asking if Moo! really was a one-word book. Observant audience members noted there are actually six words!  I am glad I get to hear the presentation again when they team up for a Family Reading Night event at school in November!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Revisiting Paris


Another book intersection occurred in my reading this week. This time it was in Paris, the City of Light. In Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell, twelve-year-old Sophie comes to Paris with her guardian (though not her legal guardian) Charlie in search of the mother she knows must be alive, despite all evidence to the contrary. Mothers are a thing you need, like air, she thought, and water. Even paper mothers were better than nothing-even imaginary ones. Mothers were a place to put down your heart. They were a resting stop to recover your breath. (p.32). Found by Charlie in a cello case after the wreck of the Queen Mary, Sophie has led an extraordinary life, but the lives of the Rooftoppers - children without homes who live on the roofs of Paris sometime around 1890 - are almost unfathomable to her. Yet she, whose hair is the color of lightning, is drawn to the rooftops, seeking the sound of Fauré's Requiem played in double time.

The End of Light: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artifical Light by Paul Bogard has taken me to Paris as an observer of how light has forced the redefinition of night. I did not walk the streets in the dark, out of fear, I suppose. After reading the chapter "Tales From Two Cities" (the other city being London), I wish I had walked the same streets as the author and Francois Jousse, the man who for more than 30 years has been responsible for lighting the monuments and bridges of Paris. The books is so much more than a portrait of Paris, of course, and I encourage people to evaluate the use of lighting in the world through this book. The Notes section is especially entertaining.

As Charlie tells Sophie, "Books crowbar the world open for you." 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

When Reviews Are Wrong


Librarians read reviews to learn about new books. Most use those reviews to select the titles to be purchased for their library collections. They rely on reviews in reputable sources to provide honest assessments of books. Some librarians, like me, go beyond the reviews, using them as tools, as one perspective about books. Only after reading books myself do I make a collection addition decision. Though I review books here (and at various speaking engagements) and can hardly stop myself from sharing oral reviews in bookshops, I have not attempted to become a reviewer for one of the national review publications. But I have been tempted. Especially when reviewers completely misunderstand or misrepresent books in their reviews. 

Take a recent SLJ review of David LaRochelle's Arlo's ARTrageous Adventure. The reviewer wrongly claims that "the art in the book is based on the unfortunate premise that art museums are stuffy and boring." The reviewer goes on to claim that kids will believe the artwork comes alive just for Arlo. It ends with the suggestion that readers who understand the myth that culture is boring are the best audience for the book, rather than tainting the enthusiastic minds of those unexposed to that idea. The reviewer did not understand the book at all!

David LaRochelle noted this in a recent interview: “The book is a reflection that there are lots of ways to approach art. It doesn’t have to be a serious chore; it can be a joyful experience.” He spent many hours at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts while making the art for the book. The intention was clearly not to perpetuate a myth about boring culture but to encourage readers to marvel at art, to wonder about those who create art, to view ourselves and our world with open eyes. I have yet to share this book with a child who believed art to be boring. Readers young and old love the idea that Arlo's grandmother appears to be an art expert, yet her pronouncements are quickly turned around by the artwork and the boy's imagination. I hope readers of the review will go beyond the reviewers wrong assessment and get this book in the hands of all readers.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Scraps


My friend David brought me a wonderful gift from the Heartland Fall Forum: Lois Ehlert's soon-to-be released The Scraps Book: Notes From a Colorful Life (in F&G format). Having loved her work as a librarian and as a mom and as a book-giver, I am thrilled to have this glimpse into her studio life and personal experiences. The book begins with these words:
"Don't read this book (unless you love books and art)"

Each page is a mixture of her own story, an piece or two from one of her published books, a photograph from her life, and often photographs of the tools she uses to create her art. Asparagus from Eating the Alphabet accompanies a photograph of her parents and the words, "I was lucky; I grew up with parents who made things with their hands." Her mom's love of sewing resulted in the sharing of scraps and scissors. Her dad's workshop allowed her to use tools and art supplies. They provided a space for her to dream and create. 

She addresses all the questions children want to know about authors and illustrators, like where book ideas are born, how to keep track of those ideas, what happens when an author revises an idea, how an illustrator organizes the artwork for a story. Interspersed with her story are ideas for readers to use in creating their own art. The collage art genius describes her process of cutting out pieces like a puzzle in a messy way to form her illustrations, integrating objects she adores and those nearby. Near the end she writes, "You might ask: why did I choose to be an artist? I think it's the other way around. Art chose me." 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Book Delivery


During my senior year of high school, I took pre-calculus. My homeroom teacher was the excellent instructor. Most Monday nights, my friend Greg came over to study with me. Our exams were on Tuesdays, and we could make one notecard to use during the each test. They were graded and returned to us in Thursdays with a number in the upper left corner, the rank of your score in comparison to that of the other 80+ students. The guys in my class (who generally did not study much) joked that the person with the highest number would be president of the math club for the coming week. Greg and I were always quiet about our single-digit scores, glad to be numbers one and two most of the time.

Yesterday, two books arrived in the mail, taking me back to those days of ranked scores. My friend Bernard (who took calculus at the university that year from his professor father) has written calculus textbooks and sent our family the latest edition. He is also the author of climbing guides for Rocky Mountain Natuonal Park and now this latest for St. Vrain Canyons. He is an engaging writer and excellent at description. So, this afternoon I began reading Calculus for Scientists and Engineers: Early Transcendentals. Armed with a composition book, I am motivated to restart my own calculus journey (halted 28 years ago when I did not need it for graduation). Interspersed between pages are notes from Bernard about things we should know, making me smile as much as the letters he and I exchanged every summer while their family lived in Estes Park during middle school. 

I love the definition in the first page.

"Calculus is the study of functions, and because we use functions to describe the world around us, calculus is a universal language for human inquiry." 


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Comforting Words


Tonight's publication party for Joyce Sidman and her new book What the Heart Knows was a celebration of comfort. Those in attendance brought poems to share, held rocks specially selected by our friend Debra Frasier for the occasion, and enjoyed cookies and milk (probably the best pair of comfort foods). Most important, we listened to choice tell the stories behind the origins of several of the books blessings, charms, and chants, marveling at her gift of choosing and arranging words in just the right ways. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Trees


Katherine (Kate) Olivia Sessions transformed the city of San Diego through her dedication to finding trees that could endure the climate and then planting them. Reading her story in The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins made me marvel at her determination and foresight. It is the illustrations, though, done  by Jill McElmurry, that I adore. The gouache paintings invite a walk in the woods. Green hues prevail. Bark, twigs, leaves, needles, buds, veins, and soil come alive with textured detail. Tree species are carefully labeled and magnified on pages to emphasize Kate's thoughtful decisions of tree placement. Especially lovely are the envelopes she sent to gardeners like herself all over the world, asking for seeds. Kate lived from 1857-1940 and was awarded the Meyer Medal for her horticultural service in 1939.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Monuments Men


When learning, reading, and experiences spiral together, I feel the incredible connections of our world. Such has been the case as I read The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel. While walking through the galleries of the Louvre this summer, I was aware of the unfortunate experiences of some pieces of art housed there. Until reading this book, I had no idea the extent of the seizures of artwork by the Nazis and their attempts to return seized pieces to the Fatherland. Having walked through the Jardin de Tuileries each day during my stay, I cannot imagine it filled with tanks and troops and even a prisoner camp. The men of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section (many of whom were curators before becoming soldiers) worked under the direction of General Eisenhower to assist the European countries in recovering stolen and restoring pieces and protecting historic places and objects. Their work, and the risks they and the people of those countries took, makes what has been saved even more precious. I marvel that the carefully displayed items have had incredible journeys.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Someday Lists


Yesterday's discussion about book logs prompted today's mini-lesson with third graders: the someday list. The books you want to read someday, sooner or later. My someday list is several pieces. Part of it is housed on My Account on the public library's website. This was a fascinating thing to the children, especially when I told them they could do the same thing! Another part of my list is in my small, ruled Moleskine. Those titles get added when a friend shares a book title or when I find something interesting at the bookshop. Still another part of my list does not even take a list form. The reviews in professional magazines (some starred, others marked with a question mark) prompt me to make reading decisions.

My friend and teaching collaborator took photos of the piles of books on her bedside table and explained the hierarchy of the stacks. She revealed something that made me consider my lists and piles. Some books always get moved to the bottom, those we just cannot seem to start for whatever reason. 

What methods do you use to keep a someday list?

Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Log

  

Third graders in my friend's class have been learning about fake reading versus real reading, what distracts us when we read (and what we can do about it), how to choose the best books for ourselves, and what it looks like to work hard. Today I was privileged to talk about four titles (Dear Max by Sally Grindley, Dexter the Tough by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Summertime House by Eileen Spinelli, and Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot by Anna Branford). We discussed briefly what makes a good book talk in preparation for a more in-depth conversation we will have on Thursday.

Then I shared my book log. It is quite messy actually, but I have kept it for more than 15 years (and wish I had started before that). When writing about a book, I indicate it with a star in my journal. It will either say "Book Finished" or "Book Abandoned" (these readers have also been taught that is okay not to finish a book). Following that will be my notes about things I appreciated, quotes I enjoyed, brief plot snippets I might want to remember, and perhaps a sentence about why I chose not to finish a title. Their book logs this year will be more organized, but their enthusiasm about keeping notes was palpable.

The painting is entitled "Back From the Library" and was done by my friend Mike Wohnoutka. It just came back from the framer!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Real Boy


I love autumn for many reasons: the change back to cooler weather, the anticipation of winter (my favorite season), the busyness of squirrels, the color of leaves, the release of so many new books.

This afternoon at the Red Balloon, I sat with many others (a standing room only crowd!) to celebrate the release of Anne Ursu's new book The Real Boy (currently on the long list for the National Book Award). Anne read aloud most of chapter two, and all eyes were focused on her as we took in the details about Oscar, the book's main character. She stopped periodically to add details, saying, "And you should know that..." A reader does not get that experience with an author very often! Her choice of chapters was perfectly chosen. Readers were left wondering about one important character.

In the question and answer session, one person asked about the book's inspiration. It came from a marionette performance of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and her imagining a world where trees were dead wizards. Another reader asked how long she had wanted to be a writer. Anne looked at her mother in the back row and asked, "Mom, have I always wanted to be a writer?" Her mom confirmed that Anne had never wanted to be anything but a writer. Yet another reader asked if she wrote parts of herself into her characters. Anne indicated there are things about Hazel (from Breadcrumbs) and Oscar that are quite like her, but Charlotte (from the Cronus Chronicles) is a bit too lippy to be like her. It was a perfect introduction to the book for me. 

Like many others, I now have long-anticipated having this book in hand. I am grateful for leftovers so I can read longer instead of preparing food for the family!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Locomotive


As a girl, one of the thrills of the warm weather months was riding the train in Marathon Park near my home. The open-air cars were just the right size for two small people, and they were pulled by an engineer in his engine. The train made two loops around a shallow pool, and my loved ones always waited at the depot and waved as we cruised by on the first lap. Years later, my sons rode that same train, and it is still running today.

My fascination with trains, sparked 40+ years ago, settled in comfortably with Brian Floca's new book Locomotive. Beginning with a road of rails, the book takes readers on the journey of how the road was built - with all sorts of onomatopoeic sounds along the route - and then follows a family from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California. As they travel, bits of information about explain everything from the duties of the many workers who make the trip possible to the detailed workings of the engine. The illustrations vary from close-ups of the rods and pistons to small glimpses of things like "the convenience" (which, it is noted, should only be used when "the train is rolling, running, lurching, leaning left and right") and the sites viewed from the train windows. The actual route is that one which was completed in 1869 by the joint efforts of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads. 

The end papers are filled with information about the transcontinental railroad, steam power (and a hand-drawn timetable). Though it would make an excellent read-aloud selection, I know readers will enjoy poring over the details in the artwork, making connections with the family's experiences and railroad history.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Volcano Rising


Monday mornings in the library office are my favorite. My teaching partner and I talk about books. Both of us bring the books we have read over the weekend and discuss the merits and shortfalls of each, trading titles and generally reaching the same conclusions. One of our favorites from yesterday is Volcano Rising by Elizabeth Rusch.

It is a book that can be read on multiple levels. One is the basic text across the top of most pages, telling how volcanoes work. The processes of a volcano rising form a narrative on each page. The second involves the more-detailed descriptions found below those first lines. Smaller type face provides details about each process, as well as specific volcano facts from around the world. A creative eruption, for example, occurs when the vents open and gases escape. Lava oozes or sprays, causing the lava dome to expand. These are more likely to occur than violent (destructive) eruptions by three times. A destructive eruption, on the other hand, occurs when gases trapped or blocked in vents lead to a build-up of pressure...and then an explosion! Bold text shows the onomatopoeic words that volcanoes make as they bubble and sputter. The book is so well-organized and intriguing! Readers (and listeners) will be engrossed.

The final way to read the book is visually, through Susan Swan's incredible illustrations. The copyright page lists this excellent description of them: "Illustrations created by manipulating found objects, hand-painted papers, and scans of objects and textures in Adobe Photoshop to create new patterns; adding digital paintings; and then collaging the two together."

Add to all this greatness a powerful Volcano Vocabulary (+ excellent pronunciation guidelines), and the result is a fascinating book about one of children's favorite topics!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sevens


I could hardly imagine reading Holly Goldberg Sloan's novel Counting by 7s. The main character's parents die in the first chapter! But Willow Chance, the twelve-year-old whose life has been transformed with the tragic death of both parents, seeks any semblance of acceptance and understanding, all the while reflecting on her life in ways both witty and wise. With no viable family or friends to care for her, she is suddenly and surprisingly taken in by people who have very little themselves.

At one point, she asks, 
"Does saying good-bye matter?
Does it really end something?"

This is another of those books about which I do not want to say too much. Just know that while reading it, your perceptions will be altered. Your thoughts about family will be extended. You might have to reevaluate what is best for a child. You will definitely laugh and cry and shake your head in wonder. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Comfort Poems


I carried a new book with me today and paused several times to read poems to myself and to my colleagues. It is next to me now. Joyce Sidman's soon-to-be-released book What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms & Blessings came into my hands yesterday, and I have been savoring the poems since then. I think Joyce's note to readers is thought-provoking and excellent. She writes about how humans have used language to influence the world throughout time and how she wrote these poems are "for comfort, for understanding, for hope." Each of the four sections begins with definitions of the things included: chant, charm, spell, invocation, lament, remembrance, praise song, and blessing. Pamela Zagarenski's unique mixed media paintings perfectly complement Joyce's words, making this book a beautiful union of images.

To a like-minded fifth grade colleague, I read a chant entitled "A List of Things That Will Set You Free." To colleagues discussing a book about the power of individual talents, I read "Starting Now." I also showed them the hand dropping stars down the opposite page. To my son (who wishes for his own vehicle), I read "Gift Spell." To myself, numerous times during the day, I read "Come, Happiness." And now, as bedtime approaches, I will read "Sleep Charm" again.

I wish all of my reader friends could be with me to listen to a poem or two this evening. For now, watch this book trailer, narrated by Joyce's niece: http://www.joycesidman.com/books/what-the-heart-knows-chants/

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Library Escape


Though not a fan of video games (and not good at them either), I hesitated to read Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein because video games are the passion of one main character. Then again, it is about a state-of-the-art library. I began yesterday afternoon and have read in all my spare minutes today...appropriate because the book's characters have about that much time to escape from that incredible library.

I won't write much about the story and the exceptional special effects. Just be prepared for astonishment. The technological displays and the extraordinary puzzles kept me guessing and deducing along with the characters, sometimes taking notes to solve puzzle clues they might have missed. Imagining a library like this one was not as preposterous as I expected! Oh, and I could almost smell lemon along with the characters. Readers (or listeners) will love this book!

Book titles abound in the text, and careful, well-read individuals will chuckle at lines like these:

"Sorry, Yasmeen. That's where your sidewalk ends." - p. 90
"Did Joey Pigza lose control? Was Ella enchanted." - p. 125
"The other team's penalty gives you a wrinkle in time." - p. 196
"Keep working the puzzle but try to avoid Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler's files. They're all mixed up." - p. 196
"And there's no place I'd rather be on my birthday than inside a library, surrounded by books. Unless, of course, I could be on a bridge to Terabithia." -p. 229
"Just a brief flight of fancy, my mind sailing off past the phantom tollbooth." -p. 248


Friday, September 13, 2013

Making Faces


I love how Hanoch Piven makes faces! Children love them, too. Two years ago the second graders made self-portraits after reading his book My Dog is as Smelly as Dirty Socks (which contains such playful language as well as the creative portraits made out of objects). Their simile and object combinations led to pictures of themselves that were surprisingly accurate. 

His latest book, Let's Make Faces, sets limits on the found objects used in the portraits. Using fruits and vegetables only, for example, the colorful faces feature a zucchini nose or a corncob mouth. From the garden, the faces are constructed from seed pods, bark, nuts, and leaves. Other sets come from tools. Emotions expressed on faces add to their animation and intrigue. Tips for how to gather objects and make faces of your own are included at the end. The book encourages observation and imagination!

I can imagine spending a day making faces with little people I love. And maybe the older people, too.

The photo is of a cookie made by my Iibrarian friend Kim who loves to add googly eyes to her chocolate chip cookies. Its expression mirrors how I might have looked several times during this school week.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Everybody Needs a Rock


One obvious thing visitors to our home notice are the many rocks. On shelves, in wooden bowls, atop the mantle, they represent places we have been and experiences that have drawn us together. Most notable are the Lake Superior Agates. Each of my family members have special rocks, ones we have found ourselves or purchased at unique rock shops. Everybody needs a rock.

Everybody Needs a Rock. Author Byrd Baylor published a book by that title in 1974, and the first and second graders have been listening to it this week during library time. The narrator speaks to the reader in a second person voice, sharing the ten rules she believes are important for finding a special rock. Her words and Peter Parnall's illustrations capture the listeners' attention so completely that they are rapt. I have found myself lost on the page at times because my own attention is focused on watching the children. When I finish, after the narrator says she is going to play a game that involves just herself and a rock, the children start raising their hands...to tell about their own rocks, of course. 

Here are the ten rules in brief:
1. Find a good place (mountain is best)
2. Seek quiet and don't worry
3. Get close to the earth
4. Choose one not too big
5. Choose one not too small
6. Make sure it has the perfect feel
7. Make sure it has the perfect color
8. Look for a special shape
9. Sniff it (apparently kids are better at this one than adults)
10. Find it yourself

My favorite rocks are tiny, pea-sized Lake Superior Agate pieces that have been worn down by waves into almost perfect shapes. I get close to the earth when I sit on the shore to find them. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Storm Chaser


With over a thousand students visiting our library each week, the number of books that circulate is incredible! So are the varied requests for books and subjects. There is a consistent balance between fiction, nonfiction, and everybody books...with a minor wrinkle. Primary grade students are sometimes restricted from the Dewey section. Not by the library staff but by classroom teachers. This limitation is imposed even after the kindergarten specialist spent the second half of the school year teaching the children how to find books in the Dewey section. Self-selection of books is such an important literacy skill, and choosing books based on one's interests is essential. 

So, I loved it this afternoon when a second grade reader (whose teacher lets the class check out the books they want to read) came to me and asked for a book about storms. I led him first to the 363 shelf where the storm books have a focus on the disastrous effects on people and communities. He was quiet. Then I showed him the 551.55 shelf where the storm books focus on the meteorological reasons for them. "Those are the ones I meant," he said. "I am going to be a storm chaser, and I need to know more about tornadoes." The conviction in his tone assured me he believed he would do that, not that he might want to be a storm chaser. He will be my anecdotal evidence when I make the case for student choice yet again.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Shirts, Shoes, Homework


The third tale from Alcatraz by Gennifer Choldenko finally came up on my library reserve list! Al Capone Does My Shirts introduced Moose Flanagan and his family, all residents of 64 building on Alcatraz Island in 1935 where Moose's dad is an electrician. His sister Natalie has special needs, and Moose is often the one who can communicate best with her. Prisoner #85 worked in the island's laundry and slipped notes to Moose in his clean shirts. In Al Capone Shines My Shoes, the saga continues. I do not want to give away the story of the third book, Al Capone Does My Homework, so I will just reveal what I enjoyed about the book. Moose continues to grow in thoughtfulness and compassion. Natalie matures in interesting ways. Piper, the warden's daughter, succumbs to something incredible. Annie is an even better friend to Moose than she has been in the past. Bea and Darby Trixle behave in dastardly ways.  Their daughter Janet is enthralled by the lives of the pixies she believes are real. And the cons have a point system that results in a near tragedy. Mrs. Mattaman, the mother of Moose's best friend Jimmy, is always around to support others in time of need. Annie's mom, Mrs. Bomini, sometimes is a little too nice, according to Moose. "Talking to Mrs. Bomini is like eating too many sugar donuts. Every other word is dearie or sweetie or honey love." 

The author's notes add so much to the historical context of the book. Her website - www.gennifercholdenko.com - is filled with more information and photos that provide background to the books. The recipes are pretty sweet, too.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Interrupted Storytime


Just before the first graders arrived on the story steps this afternoon to listen to The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds, a retired teacher arrived with the service dog he has been training since December. Gauge is a handsome Golden Retriever, and he has been trained so well. With gentle words or hand commands, he does what he is asked, all in preparation for a new owner who needs him to help her in daily life. I could not resist the opportunity to introduce the first graders to Gauge.

There were gasps when he walked around the story steps. My friend talked to the children about what Gauge has learned to do and how they should behave when they encounter a service dog in public. The children watched in awe as the dog stayed in the same spot but carefully watched my friend walk around the library...and then immediately came to his side when given a hand command. He did not eat the treat placed in front of him until told it was okay to do so. The kids had many questions, like, "When he takes off his vest, is it okay to pet him?" Then it was time for Gauge to leave.

We settled in to read The Dot, a story about a girl named Vashti who does not think she is able to draw. I had to explain why it was funny that her teacher identified her blank piece of paper as a polar bear in a snow storm, but otherwise, they were captivated. Next week I know children will be bringing dots they have created for us to hang in the library. The book's illustrations are made with watercolor, ink, and tea (something I learned about Peter Reynolds in relation to his Judy Moody artwork). 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Related Books


In my search for the best macaron recipe, I reserved numerous titles from the library, one of which was Sugar Baby by Gesine Bullock-Pardo. I was immediately enchanted with her writing style and also the depth of explanation in the introduction and prequel. The end papers are covered with quotes from the recipe descriptions, like "For instance, if I could marry pastry cream, I would." It made me think of Betty Bunny wanting to marry chocolate cake. The chapters are a journey in the stages of sugar...thread stage (think candied citrus peek), soft-ball stage (Parisian Macaron Shells!), hard-ball stage (Babysitting Popcorn), soft-crack stage (Teetotaling Butterscotch), hard-crack stage  (Bullock Sisters' Spicy Brittle), and Put it All Together.

Reading the author information on the jacket flap, I discovered she had written a memoir entitled My Life From Scratch. Intrigued, I requested it and read it in a day. She tells her story of becoming a baker and confectioner by taking the reader through a day in her baking life when she owned a bakery in Montpelier, Vermont. The Hollywood life was not what made her happy. "I baked because it made me content and fulfilled and it brought happiness to others." Her pastries are how she decided to show her love for others. Each chapter ends with a recipe related to some aspect of the chapter. Yum.

Her latest book, Bake it Like You Mean it, is beautiful and tempting. Tonight I baked the Marble Pound Cake as a birthday breakfast treat for my youngest son. It will be his last birthday at home since next year at this time he will be living in a dorm and attending to university life. That is why I especially appreciated Gesine's last item in the list of what a baker needs: "Love - it's an essential ingredient, and you'll taste the difference when it's there. Put your heart and soul into your baking. Bake like you mean it." 

p.s. I am still waiting for her book Pie it Forward!

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Mighty Lalouche


I used to think my dream job would be a mail carrier (before the postal service became so in debt and embroiled in controversy). I would only want to have been the kind who gets to walk from house to house as they do in my mom's neighborhood. Knowing how much I love getting good mail, I think the job would have made me feel bubbly with the joy I delivered in the form of letters and packages.

That is how I imagine the French postman Lalouche must have felt about his work back in the late 1800s. When delivery vehicles took over for the walking postmen, he decided to try his luck at boxing. Low and behold, he was excellent against most opponents and became quite a success! "And yet stationery stores could make him sad, and envelopes, and, above all, stamps. He missed the cobbled streets of his old neighborhood and birthday parcels, and garret stairs, with all their twists and turns. In his heart, Lalouche was still a postman." He was mighty as well. This picture book is simply called The Mighty Lalouche.

In his author's note, Matthew Olshan explains some of the history behind the book. The note about Sophie Blackall's illustrations on this CIP page is also a good one: "The illustrations in this book were made with Chinese ink and watercolor on Arches hot press paper. They were cut out, arranged in layers, and photographed."

The lovely little object in the photograph is a postage stamp holder, displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Spike...Finally!

Several years ago, my friend Debra and I were eating lunch at a favorite restaurant. She presented the two books on which she was working and wanted me to tell her which one I felt had the most potential. There was not a doubt in my mind. It was Spike: Ugliest Dog in the Universe. I could imagine reading it aloud to children. I envisioned children checking it out and experiencing the emotions I had. I love the story wholeheartedly. I still cry at the same spot each time.

Spike is a dog with a message: "Get to know me! I'm good-hearted. Loyal. Smart. If you could see inside my heart, you'd say...beautiful." His awful owner sees only Spike's exterior and leaves him by the roadside one day. A boy named Joe finds Spike and recognizes the dog's beautiful qualities. He even takes him home to be his own dog. But, like in most families, Joe's desire to keep Spike did not align with his mom's reasons for not having a dog. Alas, there is conflict. Spike tries desperately to be more likable. I will end there so as not to spoil the beautiful ending for you.

As if the story were not enough, the artwork is ingenious.  Some of it is created from well-loved and worn denim (most of it donated by friends). Some is cut from the hanging sheets of Canson paper in her studio. The extravagant cat named Evangeline is cut from a wedding dress (purchased from Goodwill)! Ripped pockets hold words. Frayed edges form the borders for characters. Hems line the page gutters and mark scenes. There is not another book like it, and Spike definitely gets the prize for the best illustration description on the CIP page:
          "The illustrations for this book are collaged with Cansons papers, used clothing, and   
         worn blue jean pieces. The heans were fathered from friends, students, coffee shop 
        comrades, and thrift stores, as well as the author-illustrator's own collection. Bits and 
       pieces of paper, cloth, and denim were adhered to cut-to-size Styrofoam garage door 
       insulation with pins and repositionable glue, then photographed with a Hasselblad 501C 
       with a LEAF APTUS 65 digital back. The digital files were adjusted in Photoshop."

Though Spike does not officially appear in bookshops until October 1st, copies were available at the Alphabet Forest at the Minnesota State Fair. Mine is sitting on my lap as I type. I'm glad to finally have it in hand.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Alphabet Forest - Year Four


Amidst the crowds and noise of the Minnesota State Fair, the Alphabet Forest remains a haven of quietude and rest. Working there this afternoon, I talked with teachers and school support staff, encouraged word-gathering by those with vocabulary game cards, sold books by Minnesota authors and illustrators, stirred up words in the word kitchen, helped a few visitors make a cow clothespin with Phyllis Alsdurf (author of the day and writer of It's Milking Time), and took photographs of readers. I especially enjoyed watching the blue-ribbon winners (who had completed their game cards) carry them to show a family member. Mostly, I savored the feeling of community and purpose in this place dedicated to promoting family literacy.

Thanks to my mom and my aunt for letting me join their shift this year! Thanks to Debra Frasier for her continued dedication to this tremendous project!