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Sunday, June 30, 2013


Being a teacher, I follow a fairly strict daily routine for 9 months of the year. In the summers, I still follow a routine, but the times are more flexible. A walk or run takes up an hour or two first thing in the morning. Reading and writing consume a few hours each day. I drink tea, knit, sew, converse with friends, read some more.

This week I am following my other summer routine while visiting friends. I still walk each morning, but these streets and sidewalks are a bit uneven, meaning I cannot read-walk. The days are filled with conversations, book talk, walking, cooking, and interesting excursions. In the evening, I read aloud to my friends in the cool living room, their cat leaping up to join us, even when he is reprimanded for doing so. This summer the book is LIAR AND SPY by Rebecca Stead. As this is my third time reading it, I am finding clues I missed, wording that could be understood in more than one way. I wonder if my listeners are catching the clues, or if they, like me the first time I read it, are so completely engaged with Georges, the narrator, that they will be surprised in a few chapters.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Same River Twice?

When someone I love leaves this earth, I grieve the loss of the characteristics I appreciated in that person and the potential for things experienced together. But I also celebrate in my mind and heart all the things that made me love him or her. One shelf in my library has photos of those who have left my life physically but who remain with me in memory. I still feel sad sometimes, but I take comfort in remembering.

Daniel Anderson, the narrator or Rebecca Rupp's book After Eli, deals with his brother's death in a far different manner. He creates Daniel (E.) Anderson's Book of the Dead in which he lists deceased persons, their years of life, and the causes of their deaths. Each chapter of the book begins with one of those entries. Some are famous people, like Napoleon Bonaparte or Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha or Jim Morrison. Some are people from his own life. But in all cases, the narrator connects an aspect of the person's life or death with his own situation, making perfect sense of it all. The book grates on his father's patience, but Walter, who becomes Dan's trusted friend, rightly assesses it as a way to deal with grief.

This is one of those books I want to recommend to everyone I know. Ms. Rupp created a credible narrator whose voice makes his struggles with friendship, identity, family, and acceptance real for the reader. His discoveries about relationships are ferreted along by the twins who move into the old Sowers house (and who speak in humorous and thought-provoking analogies), their beautiful older sister named Isabelle, his brother Eli's friend Jim (an organic farmer), Jim's wise girlfriend Emma, and Walter, an incredible gifted peer who previously had been unappreciated by Dan.

Walter fills the narrative with interesting thoughts, all shared by Dan at the best moments. I especially loved when he asked, "Can a person step into the same river twice?" Dan and Isabelle listen and ponder this question. A bit later in the discussion, Dan says this:

"What Walter thinks is that people are like rivers. We never stay in the same place but just keep flowing along, learning new stuff and picking up new experiences and changing all the time. So today's you isn't the same as yesterday's you and won't be the same as tomorrow's you. 

"But Walter also thinks that there's a real perfect you that you're always trying to get to, and the better you are at living your life, the closer you come to it." pp. 162-163

I hope that is true. It is what I believe about my life.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Research for All

At an appointment yesterday, the other person and I discussed our casually careers and what they entail. She said, "Well as the librarian, you must teach computer." I tried to explain how being a librarian means so much more than "teaching computer." I read aloud from books that engage listeners. I help readers find the right books for their needs and wants. I teach them how to find information. "Oh, you mean they do research in elementary school?" Yes. They love to find information about interesting topics. So do I.

Last week I joined my friend Joyce for a walk and was elated to discover that one of the Cecropia moths she was tending had emerged just prior to my arrival. I had so many questions about the moths and was fascinated by the one I observed. I came home and did research about them.

Joyce posted this lovely journal about the process at her website:

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sneak Peak


This morning's work session stretched into the afternoon hours as three teachers and one author/illustrator worked to photograph a book and create a slide show of its pages. The goal was to display the double-page spreads without having to splice them together while also showing each of the flaps and what was underneath it. Thankfully, four brains came up with creative ways to solve problems, capture images, and assemble them. So, we used an iPad mini on a music stand to photographs the spreads (that were resting on the piano bench) and a camera to zoom in on the flaps. Photoshop was the tool for sizing the spreads to perfectly span the PowerPoint slides. It is turning out to be just as we imagined!

Thanks to David LaRochelle for trusting three of his teacher friends to help with this project! Arlo's ARTrageous Adventure! is the first book for which he is both the author and illustrator!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Kate DiCamillo delivered her Kerlan Award acceptance speech last week at the U of M. Entitled "Storks, Work, and Better Health Through Better Plumbing," it was the story of her own journey as a reader and writer. Upon moving to Minnesota, she accepted a job as a picker on the third floor at the Bookmen in Minneapolis. A picker went among the shelves, filling customer orders by picking the desired books. It was here Kate began reading children's books, all of which were housed on the third floor. Her first was The Watsons Go to Burmingham 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. 

I love the idea of a picker doing her (or his) picking. It is what we do when we go to the library. Often times, we know just the book we want. Other times, we wander, scanning the shelves for something that appeals to our senses. Allowing readers that freedom to pick what they want is essential to reading success. Picking books for which we have passion stimulates even greater interest. 

Today my young neighbor friends picked Mercy Watson books for me to read aloud. We giggled together at the adventures of a porcine wonder whose love of toast with a great deal of butter on it surpasses all other things on her mind.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

In the Kitchen

I love baking and cooking for others. It is a gift of time and effort that provides delight. Sometimes I think my gifts even provide healing in one form or another. Today, though, I am baking and cooking to celebrate my neighbor's retirement from a career as a university professor and researcher. I began with artisan bread (in my really cool Emile Henry crock and the dough I prepared last night) and sourdough cinnamon raisin (which I realized did not get the cinnamon added - only after I'd rolled and pinched the loaves shut). Then I started the yellow cake layers for a Primrose Cake (with raspberry mousse and lemon curd to go in between those layers), and because the bananas were so ripe and the oven was on, I mixed up a double batch of banana chocolate chip bread for my appreciative son. In a few hours, I will chop vegetables and marinate chicken breasts, but for now, I'm going to read and savor my tea.

In her graphic novel Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, Lucy Knisley says, "But baking became my way to engage while disengaging. It was a comforting ritual to occupy my nervous energy and fill my belly. Nicely independent and satisfyingly dangerous." I suppose one of the reasons I bake is to separate myself from life's busy demands and engage in something that brings me and others happiness. The only dangerous part is wanting to eat everything I have made!

In addition to being a memoir of Lucy's life in and out of the kitchen, recipes that have shaped her experiences are sprinkled amidst the drawings and text: Chai tea (made by chopping cardamom pods and spices), pesto, chocolate chip cookies, carbonara, huevos rancheros, sushi rolls, pickles, sangria, Shepard pie.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Being a Booktalker

Our household experienced a loss of internet connection for an extended period of time, and it sure made me rethink the amount of time I spend online...and how dependent I am on my iPad and computer. Things are back to normal with the home network, but I am continuing to limit my own screen time.

I spent today talking with teachers and librarians about good books as part of St. Cloud State University's 34th Annual Children's Literature Workshop. Making a book list for K-5 readers is a pleasant task. I select books on a variety of topics and try to balance the list with poetry, nonfiction, picture books, early chapter books, and novels. The most difficult thing is not being able to add to the list after I submit it for printing and for book ordering!

One librarian asked how to talk about books like I do, and I decided these would be my guidelines (not very different from what I choose to write about via this blog, actually):

  • Choose books you really like! It is nearly impossible to display enthusiasm for books for which you are not passionate. 
  • Be specific about what you like. Selecting a short passage to read aloud (or illustrations to view) conveys that to the audience.
  • Consider how it could be used with readers and share that with the audience. Sometimes, a book's possibilities make it all-the-more intriguing to others.
  • Look for additional connections (a website, related books, author or illustrator information) and share those with the audience, too. 
Though the quiet/introverted side of me must prepare for being in front a crowd, I do love knowing that others will carry the books I discuss to their readers and colleagues, spreading the words.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Reading Music

My husband and I took the Nooks & Crannies tour at one of my favorite places tonight: the Hill House at 240 Summit Avenue in St. Paul. Completed in 1891, it is the state's largest residence and is filled with so many intriguing innovations for the time period. James J. Hill, the Empire Builder, built this mansion on the bluff overlooking the city, and it is still a magnificent place.

In the art gallery, there is a beautiful pipe organ, and because the tour guide wanted to demonstrate its sound, he asked for someone who could play it to do so. Well, I was not prepared for this moment, but I certainly could not resist. And so I read the piece of music perched on the ledge and played "Greensleeves" in the gallery tonight. Down below, in the basement near the boilers, is the large bellows that used to be the source of air for the organ.

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Little Late

Books by Kate and Sarah Klise are back on the library shelves, now that everything is due. Their creative mysteries are so popular with our readers that the titles are usually on reserve. This weekend I read Hollywood Dead Ahead, the latest novel in their 43 Old Cemetery Road series. Olive C. Spense, I.B. Grumply, and their adopted son Seymour Hope have been offered a movie contract, and Ignatius signs on the dotted line before reading the lengthy missive. Things are not quite as they seem out in Tinseltown, and soon, the three are faced with some threatening circumstances.

I like how the sisters structure their novels with letters, notes, newspaper articles, and advertisements making up the text, but their choices for character names really make me smile. When I read, I have pronunciations for names in my head. With this book, I struggled to figure out why one person's name was so appropriate for the series. I understood Moe Block Buster, the producer, and Phillip D. Rubbish, the director. Luke Ahtmee is the perfect name for the makeover artist. Ivana Oscar has been cast as the femme fatale instead of Olive herself. Not until I said this character's name out loud this morning did it make sense. Say it to should not take a day to appreciate the humor of this secretary's name. Myra Manes. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Running Stories

Yesterday morning I talked about books while running a 5K route with kids and parents to raise funds for a new school playground. As we ran through the neighborhoods connected to our school, we chatted about what to read this summer, books borrowed from the public library (since the school library is closed for inventory), and what we love about summertime reading. One fabulous dad was the finish-line announcer, and he called out each person's name as they ran under the sparkly, blue banner. Children and adults high-fived each other under a blue sky (that had been gray and rainy all week). It was a glorious day to run and talk about books.

On my way home, I passed this red-winged blackbird who seems to be telling stories every day from the same dried cattail stalk!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Chocolatey Cookbook

In our library workspace, dark chocolate is a favorite, so the present from one library friend is one all of us will enjoy: Deep Dark Chocolate: Decadent Recipes for the Serious Chocolate Lover by Sara Perry and Jane Zwinger. I love reading the introduction to each recipe and the chapter headings (like "I'll Have My Cake and Eat Yours, Too"). Chocolate Cookies With All the Chips are ready to go in the oven.