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Monday, June 30, 2014

Three Bird Summer

Sara St. Antoine's book Three Bird Summer was the perfect book to read on this idyllic summer day. Adam and his new friend Alice spend their days on Three Bird Lake in northern Minnesota paddling, swimming, creating games, reading, and trying to solve a mystery. Having spent time at places like Adam's grandma's cabin, it was almost like being on familiar trails and waterways with them. What I especially liked about this quiet novel for middle grade readers was the surprising and realistic friendship between Adam and Alice and the connections they built with the natural world. The mystery that allows Adam to better understand his grandma added an excellent intergenerational element to the story. I wish I had read the book prior to creating summer reading lists!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Tuscan Sun

Earlier in the month while visiting the North Shore, we came across a Little Free Library in a most unusual (but convenient) place: inside the lakeside "fish house" of the lodge. The mix of choices offered something for all ages of guests, and because the book I had selected for the trip was not as stellar as I expected, I chose Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes, a book I always intended to read but never quite did. Today, in my favorite reading chair and on my padded windowseat, I finished her account of restoring Bramasole, the estate on the Tuscan hillside.

I am struck by the amount of work required to finish the many projects and can only imagine the sums of money needed to fund the work. But I loved meeting the people in and around Cortona who offered advice, became friends, and thought enough of the place to work carefully. I loved the descriptions of food and flowers and stones. Mostly, I loved imagining the light at various times of day and night, shining through trees and gates, reflected on water, illuminating the people. It was an excellent book to finish on this steamy summer afternoon. And now I want a cooler day so I can bake her lemon cake!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Prairie Seeds

Phyllis Root's latest book - Plant a Pocket of Prairie - opens with words of reminiscence: "Once prairie stretched for thousands of ocean of flowers and grasses, a sea of sky..." The book's lyrical text encourages readers to imagine who and what might come if even a pocket of prairie was planted. Plant things like foxglove beardtongue, butterfly weed, rough blazing star, asters, purple coneflowers, goldenrod, cup plants, big bluestem and Indian grasses, and numerous others. Birds like the ruby-throated hummingbird, chickadee, and dickcissel might come to nest. Monarchs, swallowtails, great spangled fritillaries, and checkerspot butterflies might flit amongst the blooms and grasses. One plant or being attracts others, widening the prairie's reach. Betsy Bowen's block prints and watercolors complement the words with lovely colors, often extending the story beyond the text.

Those prairies (which covered about 40% of the United States) have been transformed into farms and towns and citified, reducing their coverage to a mere one percent of the land. The author's note offers ideas for planting pockets of prairies wherever there is soil...a windowbox, a backyard plot. All the flora and fauna mentioned in the text are explained in greater detail at the end of the book. I plan to scatter my own seeds!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Parallel Worlds

When Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary was released in 2007, I delighted in the friendship between a young girl named Mary and a mouse living in Mary's house. The title hints at what readers find inside the book: a parallel world of humans and mice, living quite amiably together. Or at least those two members of each species do. Beverly Donofrio's story is charming, and Barbara McClintock's detailed illustrations add tidbits of information and intrigue to the story. Mary and Mouse grow up together, and their children encounter each other, too.

That relationship continues in Where's Mommy? Reminiscent of Mary Norton's The Borrowers in how big characters co-exist with little characters, it is the story of Maria and Mouse Mouse. McClintock's illustrations run horizontally across the pages, showing each character's lives and actions. What Maria does in her world, Mouse Mouse does in miniature. While Maria sits on a stool, Mouse Mouse sits on a tiny jam jar. The combined work of the author and illustrator mesh so beautifully, creating another delightful picture book. Reading aloud both to primary readers in the fall is in my plan.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Not Working = Reading

Teachers have the summers off. A common misconception. We are not at school every day. We are not grading or managing classrooms. We can meet a friend for tea or attend a conference without finding a substitute. But we really do work in the summers. We work to prepare for what we will teach and learn with another group of students.

For me, much of the summer work involves reading...and reading and reading. No complaining voice accompanies those repetitions. Not working in the summers in the formal sense means I have time to read for my work with students, families, and staff members during the school year. And that is how I have occupied many hours of the past week (the first away from school).

Numerous titles await their return to the public library (including the hilarious This is a Moose by Richard T, Morris and The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc). Mostly, I have been savoring Revolution by Deborah Wiles. The second book in her 60s trilogy, it is designed like Countdown, filled with photographs, speeches, advertisements, and articles from the time period. This historical evidence is intermingled with the historical fiction, transporting me to Mississippi in 1964 to experience Freedom Summer through the eyes of Sunny Fairchild, her stepbrother Gillette, and Raymond Bullis, a black about their age. So thoroughly immersed am I in their world that I have even been dreaming of them! I love the voices of those three young people and how the author seamlessly moves from one voice to another to show all sides of an encounter or issue. My emotions rage as I read in disbelief of the actions and statements of Americans against their fellow Americans. Through it all, I am carried by the tide of hope and the gratitude for those brave people who worked to bring freedom to all.

Early on, Sunny proclaims, "Sometimes you just need a book near you and you can't explain why." I can explain why I need a book closeby, but I could not help but admire this character who learns that lessons at a young age.

Another Note: The author's fabulous picture book (Freedom Summer) has long been a favorite for introducing civil rights to upper elementary students. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Scenic Cookbook

Years ago, our family visited the New Scenic Cafe, located on Minnnesota's "old" Highway 61 along the North Shore. We loved the grilled gruyere, apple, and avocado sandwich so much that we created our own version...and made it part of our dinner meal rotation.

We visited the cafe just last week with friends from Vermont (who also make that grilled sandwich), and the meal was fabulous again. Though I wanted these friends to experience the cafe, then view of Lake Superior, and the excellent food, I also wanted to stop there to purchase a copy of their cookbook, assembled by owner and chef Scott Graden. Mmm. The photographs of the food and North Shore places are stunning, and the recipes abound with the goodness of the things I have enjoyed eating there. The recipe introductions are poetic and intriguing, like the one for the sandwich my friend and I split last week.

"I mix the tempeh, which is made from fermented soybeans and other grains, together with onions, garlic, soy sauce, and white pepper. Then I bring the tempeh together with the deep flavor of dark raisin rye bread, the sour taste of sauerkraut, the earthy tang of Gruyere cheese, and the zest of Russion dressing. The slice of ripe tomato I layer on as well bring in a flavor that helps merge the concept of a Reuben with the fresh flavors of vegetarian cuisine." 

I continue to meander through this thick, thorough cookbook (405 pages), savoring ideas and planning when to make the next recipe.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fan Club Jewelry

What a lucky jewel I am to wear my favorite book as a locket! A package from the fan club arrived prior to my birthday, and held a brightly wrapped gift. I loved wearing it to school on the last few days and will keep it with me tomorrow as I talk about books at St. Cloud State University's Children's Literature Workshop. Thanks to the fan club for such a lovely gift!

In preparation for tomorrow, I reviewed each title this afternoon, considering what I like and what curriculum connections teachers might appreciate. I have never been one to speak with notes, so the 60 or so books I selected must be memorable in some manner that triggers my appreciation for each one. The problem is always cutting off the list in time for printing. Today, I read a few that begged to be added in one and shared with the participants: Revolution by Deborah Wiles and This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris.