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Friday, December 26, 2014

Connecting with Characters

My friend and reading workshop collaborator often laments how difficult it is to teach readers to make true connections with characters. "I'm tall, and so is my character" is not an example of what we hope readers will share about their books! As I read Heather Vogel Frederick's new novel Absolutely Truly, I thought about why l loved the main character Truly Lovejoy so much. She's tall, and I'm short. She likes books, but they do not hold the same passion for her as they do for her younger sister Lauren (or for me). She often feels like no one in her family truly listens to her (not so much for me). She loves swimming (not me). But her deep interest in birds - and her life list of those she has seen - fascinated me. Truly even classifies the people she meets into bird species! She says, "Mom I've always thought of as a robin. They're such cheery, dependable birds. And Dad's an eagle for sure, what with his strong jaw, piercing gaze, and prominent nose." (p. 37)

As a narrator, Truly lays out both the faults of others and herself. She accepts her lot in life, learns to adjust to the town of Pumpkin Falls, New Hampshire, embraces a mystery presented to her in the pages of a first-edition copy of Charlotte's Web, and is open-minded enough to accept the classmates in her new, small school. Because the Lovejoys are there to run the family bookshop with Truly's namesake, Aunt True, literary references abound, especially at story time (which I would love to attend!) in the shop.

The book's subtitle - a Pumpkin Falls Mystery - leads me to believe I will get to join Truly and her family and friends in another adventure. Until then, I will content myself with making a batch or two of Aunt True's Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pies (served every afternoon, recipe provided on the final pages of the book).

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Reusing and Retelling

There are certain articles of clothing I like so much I find ways to keep them in use despite decades of wear. That said, I am not quite as resourceful as the grandfather in Jim Aylesworth's new book My Grandfather's Coat. As a young immigrant, "on the luckiest day of his life," he fell in love. A skilled tailor, he fashioned a handsome coat to wear on his wedding day. With rhythm, rhymes, alliteration, and repetition, the storyteller freshly retells the Yiddish folk song "I Had a Little Overcoat." Barbara McClintock's detailed watercolor illustrations add to the text as grandfather ages along with the blue cloth he adores, showing the passing fashions and family events along the way. It is a perfect picture book, combining entrancing words with supporting artwork and tied together with wonderful notes by the author and illustrator that encourage readers to reuse things in their world and seek stories retold in their families.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Making a Unique Book

One of the joys in my life is watching my friends' books transform from idea to draft to final copy...and come to the hands of readers. Brother Hugo in Katy Beebe's new book Brother Hugo and the Bear has a slightly different path involving the creation of a book. When the copy of St. Augustine's letters is due at the abbey's library, he must confess to the Abbot that the words were "as sweet as honey" to him, they were much sweeter to the bear who devoured them. As penance, he must make the trek to the Grand Chartreuse, borrow their copy, and recreate a book for his own abbey, all before the season of Lent has passed.

Without giving away too much of the plot here, readers should expect humor and helpfulness as the beautifully named brothers of the abbey (Caedon, Aelred, Hildebert, Eadmer, Anselm and others) assist their friend in the process. Supplies are generously shared, and Brother Hugo works with dedication to copy the book perfectly, all the while hearing the rumblings of a bear's hunger for words. His return trip to the Grand Chartreuse offers readers a surprise. 

S. D. Schindler's illustrator's note explains the process of creating a book in the Middle Ages, and an historical note tells about the origin of manuscripts, as well as the scrap of paper that served as the idea for this book. 

The book is a wonderful blend of text and artwork that brings the mood of the monastery and Brother Hugo's dilemma to readers. It is one of those books I have resisted returning to the library because I want to keep holding it and gazing at the intricate artwork. When I return it, I will imagine a bear, rumbling behind me, longing for its sweet words.