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Saturday, August 31, 2013


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!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Three Mentions

When teaching children about research, we stress triangulation of sources. Find the information in three sources to confirm its validity. A similar sort of thing happened with a book recommendation this summer. The Brattcats recommended the book in June. Another friend recommended it in July. While navigating my way through the London Underground, I saw it advertised several times. And so, I came to read Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple this week.

It is a quirky mystery of sorts about an incredibly innovative architect named Bernadette, her insightful and witty daughter Bee, her driven and slightly obsessed husband Elgie, and their almost unbelievable trip to Antarctica. Some of the story is narrated by Bee, but much of it is revealed in the messages, transcripts, and letters that Bee presents chronologically. I loved being in her world and wished I could have prolonged my summer break instead of heading to school some mornings! I'll add my recommendation to those I received.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Little Guy

For my last birthday, a friend gave me a precious gift. It makes me smile every time I look at it. It even makes me giggle! It is a color study by Vera Williams from "More More More," Said the Baby. My friend purchased it at an auction and wanted me to care for it and display it. So, I had it framed and will hang it where Little Guy (searching for his belly button) can bring joy to our days.

In the book, Little Guy runs from his daddy, and his daddy catches him, throws him high, and swings him all around. Then he gives Little Guy's belly button a kiss. Little Guy, just like my three sons used to do with their dad, begs for more. Love abounds. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Arlo's Artrageous Adventure Party

With a large crowd in attendance at the Red Balloon Bookshop, David LaRochelle celebrated the release of the first book he both wrote and illustrated. Arlo's Artrageous Adventure was a huge hit with the adults and children who listened as David described how much he enjoyed looking at artwork at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, how much joy he experienced in creating the flaps and artwork for the book, and how much frustration he experienced measuring the pages and flaps to make everything fit. Everyone really loved his animated slide show that showed how art affects each person differently, all observed through an open-minded boy named Arlo. The book is ingenious!

Guests could also have their photos taken with famous works of art, enjoy fruit from a still life created by David, and create their own lift-the-flap artwork. My favorite photo of the day was this one of my friend Mona Lucy and David.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Getting Ready

Librarians do not really have summers "off" as many people like to think. We read. We consider information sources. We fulfill requests from teachers (who also do not have summers "off") for curriculum needs and ideas. We think about ways to collaborate with our colleagues. We plan the books we will read aloud to classes during library time.

But since this is my last official day "off" before workshop begins tomorrow, I am allowing myself to do non-school things. Sort of. I finished the Z is for Moose book bag I plan to use every day when I go to school. Thanks to my mom for getting me fabric and to Paul Zelinsky for making it available at And I am trying to finish the three adult books I started this week: The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin, The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel, and The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman. The first has a few compassionate characters who have filled me with gratitude for how they interact with others. The second opened my eyes to what a group of strong women endured as they supported their husbands and the country during the space race. And the third weaves the lives of unlikely people together in a captivating manner. Tomorrow - and for the next nine months - my adult reading will be limited. But today I am getting ready for school.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Frog and Toad at the Fair

We spent much of the day at the Alphabet Forest, getting ready for the many visitors who will come there to celebrate words. The Minnesota State Fair can be a busy place, but the Alphabet Forest is a haven, a quiet place under the trees where guests read books, meet Minnesota authors and illustrators, have a photograph taken with the letters from State Fair signs, cook up some words in the word kitchen, play word toss, make the ever-popular mini-banners, pick a word duck, and more. Most important are the blue ribbons visitors get for completing a game card with two things found at the Fair for every letter of the alphabet.

When we took a break for lunch, I noticed this small bowl atop the windowsill. Ahh. Frog and Toad sent currant tomatoes (about the size of my pinky tip) with our librarian friend Kim. So glad they thought of us! I can imagine the things they would love if they visited the State Fair and even some of the words they might want to add to their game cards: ice cream for I or tadpole for T. Maybe I will get them started when I visit the Alphabet Forest again next week.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Welcoming Letters

When I moved to the university 28 years ago this fall, I loved the name tags on the dorm doors. The resident assistants each had a different design for their floors, but all were handmade. That bit of comfort made me smile every time I put my key in the door.

Tomorrow night I will be helping my son make name tags for the doors of the residents on his floor at the same university. Being that his residents are part of living and learning community centered around environmental science, he chose to stamp them with owls and trees from my rubber stamp collection. He might want to letter the names himself, but just in case, I found the box of rubber stamp letters, numbers, and symbols (even the British Pound) I used to use at my grandmother's house. With each tag we make, we can infuse some warm thoughts and wishes.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Sifting Stories

In Paris and London, we enjoyed macarons, not to be confused with macaroons, the American cookie with coconut. Since returning home, I have read dozens of macaron recipes, each with slightly different techniques and recommendations. Tonight I gathered my ingredients and tools and set to work. The first step involved sifting the powdered sugar and almond meal. As I turned the handle, I thought of the baking stories my grandmother, the sifter's original owner, would tell of her experiences with it. For whom did she bake bread? Which cookies were enjoyed most by which of her children? I love feeling her spirit with me as I bake. The macarons are not yet ready to eat, but they look like what we saw at the boulangerie!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Art Interviews

While hundreds of people rushed to view the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, I made my way to the Dutch paintings to see The Lacemaker and The Astronomer, displayed companionably next to each other

One of my favorite artists - Pierre Auguste Renoir - reportedly believed The Lacemaker, painted between 1669-1670, was the most beautiful painting in the world! This is the smallest of Johannes Vermeer's paintings at just 24 cm x 21 cm. Yet her lovely yellow dress brightens the room in which she works. I love how she is carefully bent over her work but how that work is somehow hidden by objects in the foreground.

In another of Bob Raczka's books entitled The Vermeer Interviews: Conversations With Seven Works of Art, he deftly "interviews" the subjects of seven Vermeer paintings. With wit and insight, he coaxes answers from the subjects about Vermeer's style, their own roles in life, historical information from the time period, and additional details about the subjects of other paintings. Once again, I plan to share the photos and the book with students during the coming school year, helping them to choose a painting and construct interview questions to ask of its subject. Giving a voice to the subject's answers will require insightful research.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Looking at Oneself

Bob Raczka has created several unique books about art and artists that I love to use with children. At the Louvre, I was reminded of one of my favorites: Here's Looking at Me: How Artists See Themselves.  I like the stories Bob uses to accompany each portrait, providing glimpses into the personal and creative lives of each of the artists. For Henri Rousseau's self-portrait from 1890, the author writes about the names that can be read upside down on the Rousseau's palette. For Norman Rockwell's self-portrait of 1960, he encourages the reader to look at the variety of faces the artist included of himself. For the self-portrait of Albrecht Duerer from 1484 (the first known self-portrait in art history), he shares the artist's signature and note about the portrait. 

Though the self-portrait of Albrecht Duerer displayed in the Louvre was painted in 1493, my astonishment at seeing it in the museum is still great. I look forward to sharing this and the book with third graders in the fall.