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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Written in Stone

"Mind your quelans," Pearl's grandmother tells her. Having just complained about the injustices of being female, Pearl wonders if she had been disrespectful. Has she minded her manners and taken into consideration her role in the Makah culture in which she lives?

Pearl is the narrator of Rosanne Parry's latest book Written in Stone. Set in the 1920s in the Pacific Northwest, the story focuses on the village's trials after the whalers return without a whale...and without Pearl's beloved father, Victor. Having lost her mother and baby sister five years earlier, Pearl's grief is extreme. She longs to find something at which she can succeed. Basket weaving certainly is not a talent. Girls are not allowed to do the things she would really like to do. If only Pearl had watched more carefully when her mother wove the beautiful blankets.

I loved many things about this work of historical fiction. Pearl's relationship with her grandmother and her aunt Susi helped define her character. She spoke and acted in believable ways, all the while minding her quelans. Yet she surprised me at times with the things she did to look ahead and see what might be best for more than herself. I also felt a connection to her because the story is set in the areas around Lake Quinault near Olympic National Park, one of my favorite places. I imagined that Pearl might have seen sea stars along the shore at low tide, just like I did at Rialto Beach.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Book a Day

In Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the omniscient narrator shares this about Francie Nolan early in the book:

"Francie thought that all the books in the world were in that library and she had a plan about reading all the books in the world. She was reading a book a day in alphabetical order and not skipping the dry ones. She remembered that the first author had been Abbott. She had been reading a book a day for a long time now and she was still in the B's. already she had read about bees and buffaloes, Bermuda vacations and Byzantine architecture. For all of her enthusiasm, she had to admit that some of the B's had been hard going. But Francie was a reader. She read everything she could find: trash, classics, time tables and the grocer's price list. Some of the reading had been wonderful: the Louisa May Alcott books for example. She planned to read all the books over again her she had finished with the Z's."

I am a reader, too. I have read a variety of things these past 16 days on vacation: the Undergound map, descriptions of artworks, memorials, menus in different languages, signs, poetry, people's and statues' expressions, information about events in museums. Not a book a day but some pages from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to keep me content. 

When I arrive at home much later today, that usual immersion in books will commence again. When I am back in the book-a-day routine, I will enjoy that same satisfaction Francie savors.

The photo is of part of The King's Library in the British Library, six stories of 65,000 books and 19,000 pamphlets of King Geogre III's collection. 

Drawn to a Memorial

In the Crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral, there are memorials to many beloved people. Admiral Lord Nelson's tomb dominates the center of the Crypt, surrounded by a beautiful mosaic floor. On the far end, under the high altar of the cathedral, is the OBE Chapel (Chapel of the Order of the British Empire), and the memorials there are to people like Alexander Fleming (the discoverer of pencillin), poet Walter de la Mare, Christopher Wren (architect of St. Paul's), and William Blake. I was somehow drawn to a small corner to the right of the altar and there found a lovely memorial featuring a child in a blue robe who was holding a medallion. Upon reading the inscription, tears flowed from my eyes. It was for Randolph Caldecott, British illustrator of children's books after whom the American Library Association's Caldecott Medal is named. The inscription reads as follows:

Randolph Caldecott
Born in Chester 1846 
Died in Florida and buried there in 1886
An artist whose sweet & dainty grace; has not been in its kind surpassed: whose humor was as quaint as it was inexhaustible

Photography is not permitted in the building, but a staff member agreed to let me capture the image to preserve that memory.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Riding the Underground

Not one for crowded spaces and jostling, London's Underground transportation system is not my favorite method of getting from one place to another. Since I last visited the city, one thing has made the rides a bit better. In addition to the tube maps and odd advertising, Poems on the Underground are displayed. I find myself looking up expectantly when I board a train, hoping to find a poem I have not yet seen. Predicting which fellow riders will pull a book out of their bags for the journey has also been a personal challenge. Reading makes everything better.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Excellent Visual Dictionary

Today at the Louvre in Paris, we completely enjoyed the Egyptian Antiquaries. From vases to boxes to beads to sarcophagi, we were entranced by the items. Imagining their history and observing their physical details kept us engrossed for hours...which was far preferable to the extreme heat outdoors. My son, an avid reader and a fan of Rick Riordan, especially liked this visual dictionary of Egyptian gods. It covered four panels of a display and would be a perfect complement to The Kane Chronicles.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Love Locks

Some of my favorite questions to ask couples are these:
"How did you meet?"
"What was your first date?"
"What do you love about him/her?"
Looking at the thousands of love locks on the Pont des Arts in Paris this evening, I wondered those things about the people whose names adorned the locks. Love stories pass under the bridge and somehow swirl in the air.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Learning About Berlin

I acquired a German sister when I was 15 years old. She came to live with our family and shared stories of her own experiences with East Berlin and East Germany. In World History, I got a further introduction to Berlin, but over the past two days, I walked in the places about which I had read. My husband and son and I stood with that sister (who has been a wonderful tourguide this week) in locations that brought joy and sadness. This morning, I was reminded again of the power of enthusiasm in teaching others about something important.

We boarded a sight-seeing bus to get an overview of Berlin's important sites. It was a "live" tour, meaning the guide would speak in both German and English. How fortunate we were to be led by the Berlinfluesterer ( His knowledge of the city and it history was obvious in his words. His willingness to answer questions from the crowd made me think of conducting inquiry lessons with students. We were all so engrossed in his stories and facts that we decided to stay on the bus for the entire tour instead of getting off to see and do things (like climbing the steps of the Victory Column (Siegessaelle). 

If you visit Berlin, do contact this interesting and knowledgeable man, and if you work with students, remember how it feels to love learning!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

How to Best Read

Yesterday I had the pleasure of sitting in the afternoon shade with three of my former students (siblings) and talking about books. They are embarking with their mom on a year-long homeschool journey around the country, and I had a few books I thought they would all enjoy that are set in the northeast. It felt like a book club of sorts. Questions overlapped comments. Positive responses balanced negative ones. Titles uttered by one person were filed in another person's mind for later use at the library.

Since I am leaving for a few weeks, they asked what books I was bringing with me (only A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I have not read since high school). I asked how they would decide which books to bring with them on their first excursion along the Lewis and Clark Trail in the fall. One sister said she had several downloaded on her Kindle (though, she noted, it is often difficult to get what she wants at the library because of the long reserve lists). The other two siblings will be taking real books; they love the feel of books in their hands and being able to pull another title from their bags or backpacks. One said, "Packing a bag of just books is the best part of traveling!"

For me, the real book in hand is the best way to read, even if I what I have to carry is heavier than an electronic device. I like that my preference is not generational.

Many of the people on this M5 bus (a walk-through sculpture created by Red Grooms in 1994 and on display at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center) are reading. The installation was designed before electronic readers were readily available.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Being With Bo at Ballard Creek

Over the past day, I have been back in the 1920s living in an Alaskan gold mining camp with a young girl named Bo. Her charming and forthright mannerisms and ways of seeing her world engaged me from the start.
            "Of course Bo figured out when she wasn't too old that her family as not like any other 
family in Ballard Creek." (p.2)
Orphaned as an infant, Bo was taken in by Jack and Arvid, the camp blacksmiths (and a cook and a tailor). She called both men Papa and was beloved by all the folks in Ballard Creek: the "boys" who mined for gold, the Eskimos, the roadhouse man, the telegraph operator, and her best friend Oscar. The narrator's way of telling Bo's story from her own unique perspective made me alternately laugh, nod in understanding, and shed a tear in empathy. I especially liked how her papas did not shield her from difficult things; instead, they respectfully explained situations and helped her carefully consider what she observed and encountered. 

Like Kirkpatrick Hill's book The Year of Miss Agnes (one of my favorites to read aloud), Bo at Ballard Creek is a warm story about people who care deeply for each other and whose lives are intertwined by their skills and needs. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Bird Listening and Watching

One pleasure about our daily life is listening to and watching the birds that frequent the woodsy areas near our home and the feeders in our backyard. Says author Annette LeBlanc Cate in her latest book Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard, "Some people think that nature is something experienced by other people - people who live out in the country." We do not live in the country, but numerous birds provide a welcome connection to the natural world.

Look Up! is formatted like an ideal sketchbook, just what the bird-watching (read the excellent interview with her at to see her distinction between being a bird-watcher, not a birder) author and illustrator promotes in her book. A guide (presumably the author/illustrator) takes readers along on a bird-watching expedition, all the while conversing in speech bubbles with humans and animals. From the basic of observation to sketching techniques to notable colors and shapes to listening closely, the pages are filled with essential things to consider when becoming a bird-watcher.

Some pages feature a "wing tip," advising readers to look in all sorts of locations for birds, to notice the familiar birds around them, to learn about birds' lives in depth, to use a field guide when looking at birds, and to look for birds at zoos, aquariums, and museums. Other fact boxes feature tips in these creative categories: "Be a birdbrain," "Foot note," and "Look closely."

The ink and watercolor illustrations are the perfect complement to the observations, conversations, and suggestions. I will definitely be sharing this book as a read-aloud selection when school starts in September.

p.s. The birds in this photo were in the front yard of my friends' neighbors' home in Vermont. They have a deluxe chicken coop with a great chalkboard egg chart on the side, and they made excellent chicken sounds when I walked past them each morning.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Following Directions

Last night my friend and I began a small knitting project, one that was designed to use up the tiny bits of leftover yarn (of which we have many). We thought these tiny bunnies would be quick to make. As we began reading the pattern, both of us became skeptical. The directions made no sense. Something was certainly missing. We tried a few rows. Still uncertain. So, we sought more information from others. Interestingly, many knitters expressed the same concern on blogs. All were assured to just follow the directions; things would work out right. And they did...just not as speedily as we anticipated.

The lesson, of course, is to stay on track, to follow those directions as they are written, and to trust that the final product will match the pattern.

The pattern can be found at

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Reading Songs

Brattleboro Sings brought together people of many generations last night in town. Though I had hoped it would take place on the town common, rain prevented it, driving the singers to the American Legion instead (which actually proved quite appropriate when singing patriotic songs like "Yankee Doodle" and  "You're a Grand Old Flag"). Song sheets helped prompt my memory on certain songs, but others are so engrained in my memory that I could join in easily. I especially loved remembering the descant to "This Land is Your Land" and singing it along with one of the song leaders, a delightful elementary music teacher. Thanks to my elementary music teacher, Mrs. McGowan, for exposing us to so many songs back in the 1970s. And thanks to Becky Graber ( and Alki Steriopoulos ( for guiding the singers last night.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Book Choices

For this trip, I took only one book with me (Albro Martin's James J. Hill and the Opening of the Northwest), knowing there are plenty of choices on the shelves in my friends' home which I can read. I sought out the advanced reader's copy of Sharon Creech's new book The Boy on the Porch (and am almost done with that) but have enjoyed two books on the coffee table. A book entitled Wisdom contains thoughts from Indian Masters and is held open to the correct day by the magnificent turquoise snail. Beneath Cold Seas by David Hall contains incredible images of things found in the Pacific Northwest's underwater places.

Today's wisdom comes from Rabindranath Tagore:
"It is necessary that this be the aim of our entire life. In all of our thoughts and actions, we must be conscious of the infinite."