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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


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 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).