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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Poetry Meets Photographs

The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry has been my companion as I eat my morning oatmeal and drink my after school tea. I knew I'd love this book. A companion to the National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry, it is filled with beautiful images captured from around the world by obviously talented photographers and perfectly paired with exceptional poems by the world's best poets. I looked many times to the photo credits to see if by chance the photographer might also have been the poet! I knew, of course, that Robert Louis Stevenson did not take the photo of the blue origami boat that floats alongside his poem "Where Go the Boats?" and that neither Robert Frost nor Henry David Thoreau captured the image of Lopez Island in Washington State. But Joyce Sidman has stood upon a Moeraki Boulder in New Zealand, so it is possible her own photograph might be the backdrop for her words (in concrete form), and Naomi Shihab Nye must have visited the Badlands to write "Fossil Beds at the Badlands." No matter. All the pairings are engagingly beautiful.

Grouped into ten sections, the old and new poems reflect nature's wonders in the sky and sea, on the land and in action, in brightness and shade, in distress and through the seasons. J. Patrick Lewis's curation of this volume must have provided him and the many who helped organize it with delight and gratitude. Both his introduction and his closing words (in a thoughtful and encouraging piece entitled "Who is Mother Nature?") frame the choices included in the book. His photograph on the dust jacket shows him with a stack of books from which he selected poems. 

This book is a gem. I hate to return it to the library!

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Sun

There is something glorious about strong sunshine on a chilly autumn day. Stepping outside at lunch for a quick walk, I savored the clear sky and the bright light. Energy filled me. A sense of calm did, too.

When I got to the public library after school, I was delighted to find Bob Graham's new book waiting on the interlibrary loan shelf for me. The sun was almost on the horizon, setting for the night, when I brought the book home. Ahh. How the Sun Got to Coco's House was the perfect book for me today.

The sun stars as the main character, lightly buttering the pages as it touches random objects on its way to Coco's window. "It had to start somewhere," begins the text. From the Arctic to a fisherman's cap, the sun touched places large and small, created shadows, balances, waits patiently when window coverings are closed, crosses streets, and woke creatures along the way. It "took passing glances at itself in office towers" (one of my favorite lines) and eventually "had time on its hands" to spend with Coco and her friends. 

Graham's text is lovely, surprising at times, and filled with active language. It makes me want to personify something I love. The watercolor artwork is soft, brushed with gentle yellow rays, patches, and lines. This will be the perfect book for sharing aloud when the winter snow and chillier air is warmed by sunshine.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Emu Dads

Two facts surface when I consider emus: they are the second largest birds after ostriches and they cannot fly. I also know the word emu is used often in crossword puzzles, perhaps because the unusual letter combination fits with others. And so I have learned a lot from reading Claire Saxby's book simply titled Emu. Emu dads raise the chicks. When the first chick starts to cheep in the egg, the other chicks development is hastened so they will all arrive within a few days of each other. They sprint in zigzag formations to confuse their predators, like eagles, that would not relish the severe pecking of the dad's beak or the tearing from his sharp claws.

The book is a perfect combination of narrative nonfiction and facts. The former are displayed in Adobe Garamond Pro type, and the latter are in in Providence Sans, making it easy for the reader to notice the difference. A note after the index, in fact, encourages readers to look at both types of fonts to discover all there is to know in the text. The author's use of wonderful word sequences most definitely encourages appreciation for sounds and images. Here are a few of my favorites:

"honey-pale sunshine"
"eight granite-green eggs"
"blink-eyed chicks crack their way into their new world"
"the breeze bustles, green and sweet"

The word images are complemented by digital artwork (by Graham Byrne) that shows the adult emus' feathers and the striped feathers that camouflage the young birds. Not until they are 18 months old do the young birds live away from their dads. My favorite fact about them is that they are very inquisitive!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Ask Me

Ask me why I like Glacier National Park.

Why do you like Glacier National Park?

I like Glacier National Park because it has cerulean colored mountain lakes, a multitude of mountain goats, reflections unmatched, and layers of peaks. 

Ask me why else I like Glacier National Park.

Why else do you like Glacier National Park?

I like Glacier because of its hundreds of miles of trails, its many wildflowers, its unique chalets and lodges, and its incredible geologic and human history. I like it because I can hike on trails and hardly see other people all day.

I could elaborate about my favorite park. Suffice it to say, I love this place. I also love Ask Me, a book written by Bernard Waber and illustrated by Suzy Lee. Bernard Waber was an author who never failed to see things from a child's perspective, and this book, published post-humously, is another example of his understanding of young minds, 

The book is a dialogue between a girl and her dad. She asks him to ask her what she likes and loves as they move through an autumn day of strolling, eating ice cream (which she loves, loves, loves), remembering, kicking leaves, wondering, and getting ready for bed. Her passion for the things she loves and her convictions bring to mind the many children I love and their enthusiasm for life. Her dad's model of genuine interest, patience, and complete absorption of her endearing personality is stellar (making me wish I had been that good as a mom). 

Readers will, no doubt, think about the things they love, recognize the unique way the book is structured, and comprehend the concept of voice easier with this book. It is a gem. Suzy Lee's pencil illustrations are the perfect accompaniment. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Curious World

When a sequel seamlessly takes the reader to the character's wiser and more thoughtful world, it is a pleasure to read. All the while bringing bits of past events and people to the story (sometimes with help from carefully placed reminders), Jacqueline Kelly did this so well with The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate. Calpurnia remains a plucky, inquisitive young girl, perhaps, as the book's title suggests, even more curious than she was in the Newbery Honor Book The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Her connection to her often cantankerous ("Enter if you must") grandfather continues to bring her opportunities for scientific discovery. His gift to her of Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle provides fodder for her observations of the natural world, and his willingness to guide her in making objects to measure (a barometer) and notice (a navigator's astrolabe) solidifies his role as the most trusted adult in her life. Each chapter begins with a relevant quote from Darwin's book.

What I admire most about Calpurnia is her determination. As her younger brother Travis acquires unlikely and inappropriate pets, she seeks information about the creatures in an effort to dissuade him or make it easier to keep the animals. When her cousin Aggie comes to live in her room after the Galveston flood of 1900, she makes the best of it and even acquires a new skill that allows her to make some money. Most important, she realizes the injustices of her world, specifically the discrimination against females, and finds ways to learn, to save, to seek the future she wants. 

As I choose books for the readers at our school, I must ask myself who might read certain titles. Some are easy to place in the right reader's hands. Others, like this book, will appeal to certain readers who would love Calpurnia's curiosity and resolve. I know the names and preferences of those readers. They, in turn, will recommend it to friends, getting the book to a wider audience. I am willing to bet some of those readers will want to make their own barometers or astrolabes, inspired by Calpurnia.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Many friends have posted photos of the nests and eggs in the planters on their porches, and I am in awe of the beauty in their colors and patterns. It was good timing, then, that Egg: Nature's Perfect Package by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page arrived on my library reserve list. I like being the first person to check out a new book, and this one is beautiful and filled with incredible facts. Organized by topics, the text can be savored fact-by-fact or read in its entirety (and then reread, as I have done). It is perfect for reading aloud to cause astonishment or to foster further reading. I learned so many fascinating things that I could list almost the whole book! The illustrations, of course, make the book shine even brighter. As with all his work, I am awestruck that the art is made from cut paper. Steve Jenkins is a master of that medium.

On another note, I offer thanks to the fan club member who presented me with How to Bake a Book by Ella Burfoot. Perhaps someday I will be able to do just that!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Voicing Blame

For dinner tonight I made one of our favorite sandwich recipes: prosciutto, medjool date, & arugula (with Gruyere on sourdough). The recipe comes from Scott Graden's NEW SCENIC CAFE COOKBOOK. If I were to choose favorite places to eat, the Scenic Cafe would be in the top five. Though I only get to eat there one or two times a year (it is located on Lake Superior's shore north of Duluth), I get to reminisce about meals by cooking recipes at home. If there were fiddlehead ferns in my yard, I would try to replicate a tomato soup we enjoyed there a few years ago. But sandwiches have been on my mind this week.

We are reading aloud Julia Sarcone Roach's new book THE BEAR ATE YOUR SANDWICH to all classes during library time. Reading the same book to all students provides me the opportunity to hear the range of comments and observations from children ages 6-11. They immediately notice the (unseen) narrator's voice, telling the sandwich owner how the bear ended up in the San Francisco park where it then smelled and devoured her delicious and excellent sandwich, leaving only a bit of lettuce. That narrator, however, somehow does not sound trustworthy; suspicions swirl as the bear's story unfurls. I will not give away the ending by telling why.

Readers ask me to turn back to the Golden Gate Bridge page, noting that the author/illustrator was smart to make the red truck the only red vehicle on the road. They like the shift in perspective as the bear makes his way from the Marin Headlands to the cliffs (city buildings). They appreciate how the bear uses things in the city (a telephone pole for scratching it's back, for instance) like he would in the forest. They find it interesting that the bear seems to take on the appearance of another creature as the story progresses. But most of all, they appreciate that narrator's voice - and its change in voice and language - at the end of the book. Oh...and they love the end papers, filled with sandwiches at the front and crumbs at the back. 

This book is a gem. The acrylic artwork is varied and beautiful. The children even noticed how the artwork tells stories apart from the text, telling me that made the book even better. I completely agree. It is my favorite picture book of the year (so far). 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Echoes in Life

A morning symphony greets me as I walk and run these spring days. Red-winged blackbirds trill from dried cattail heads. Cardinals call from tree branches. Woodpeckers tap into bark. Chickadees sing in rhythm. Even loons laugh in pairs as they fly to another lake. Their echoes abound and resonate throughout the day. 

Pam Muñoz Ryan’s latest book Echo has been resounding in my thoughts as well, filling my mind with four interconnected stories, harmonica songs, personal struggles, and the joy of finding one’s passions. The story begins with a boy’s encounter with three mysterious sisters, destined to live with an evil witch yet hopeful in their quest to be released. From the forest, readers travel to October of 1933 in Trossingen, Baden-Württemberg, to June of 1935 in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, to December of 1942 in Southern Californina, and finally to April of 1951 in New York City. 

In each time and place, I became so engrossed with the characters and their situations that I felt certain I could not enjoy the next section. Yet those same connections occurred again, echoing with deeds and lessons and songs. And then, almost every magically, the book ended in the most amazing possible way. I loved it. I know readers who have echoed my sentiments about it, and I know young readers will engage with this book just as strongly.

By the way, each section begins with the harmonica music for a song, and those songs play an essential role in the section. 
Brahms’ Lullaby
America the Beautiful
Auld Lang Syne
Some Enchanted Evening
The music and the harmonica made one friend seek out her childhood harmonica to look carefully at its markings and try to play it! Savor this phenomenal book!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Batty Growing Up

How comforting it is to read about a familiar character and her family! The past few days Batty Penderwick, her sisters and brother, her parents, the neighbors, and her sort-of-adopted brother Jeffrey have inhabited my mind, much as the real people in my life do. When I tell people I am reading Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks in Spring and that beloved Batty is in fifth grade, those in the know gasp and say, "Batty? In fifth grade? How can she be so old already?" It is as if they, too, love and know this quirky girl as I feel I do.

Batty is still musically inclined, still opposed to participating in sports, still needing reassurance from Jeffrey, and still inclined to snuggling Funty (though now she listens to music on the old record player bought for her by Iantha while doing so). Yet she is changing, growing to be a wise big sister to Ben and Lydia and starting her own business: Penderwick Willing to Work. With growing up comes knowledge of things heartbreaking and difficult to comprehend. So sad are some of these things that I had to be by myself to read at times! But those Penderwicks are nothing but supportive. They carefully seek to tell the truth and bring Batty to light and love again. 

I loved this fourth book in the series. I especially liked Batty's aversion to book reports. 

"She was reading Masterpiece, about a boys named James and his friend Marvin, who happens to be a beetle. It was high on her list of books she refused to ruin by writing about in a book report." p. 132

"The Phantom Tollbooth was yet another book much too wonderful to wreck with a book report." p. 146

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Black Dove, White Raven

Traveling through the last few days, Elizabeth Wein's latest novel Black Dove, White Raven lingered in the background of my thoughts. Emilia Menotti and her brother Teodros Dupre are "in the soup together" as Italian forces invade Ethiopia in 1935. Strapped into the same cockpit seat at age five, the children of flying partners Cordelia Dupre (Black Dove) and Rhoda Menotti (White Raven) have grown up together, despite the "Delia-sized hole" created when Teo's mother was killed in a bird strike. They instinctively reach for each other's hands when frightened, squeezing three times to communicate "Are you scared?" and feel the returned four squeezes, meaning "I am not scared."

The novel begins, however, with Em's declaration of acknowledgement that she is the only person who can help her and her brother. And so she writes to the emperor of Ethiopia, begging for forgiveness for Teo and a passport to help him leave the country. As evidence of his goodness and innocence, she sends the essays, stories, and flight plans the two have composed for their teacher and their mother. The book, then, is a chronological record of their experiences, joint and single, that go from their arrival from Bucks Country,Pennsylvania to the Beehive Hill Cooperative Coffee Farm in Tazma Meda. The people who love them in Ethiopia range from the clinic doctor and his wife to Teo's biological uncle to Habte Sadek, the priest at the nearby church who teaches them to throw spears and is guarding ancient treasures. Yet Teo and Em are eventually thrust into war, defense, and secrecy. They must work to make right a terrible debt owed while learning that "spiderwebs joined together can catch a lion". 

Gripping in the descriptions of events and in emotion, the story is told so well in the young people's voices that their fictional nature is in question in my mind. The author's notes separate the real events and people with those of her imagination. But once again, my interaction with a book enlightened my mind about a period in history I had not previously know. Read this book. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Huzza, huzza

Yesterday afternoon my mind and heart were gloriously filled with beautiful words as I listened to Sharon Creech's acceptance speech for the 2015 Kerlan Award at the University of Minnesota and later contemplated her words in some of my favorite books. Listening to the story of her own journey into writerhood, I savored the snippets of background information that shaped the books she has written and explain her writing process. Like all journeys in life, there was not straight course, she said, to becoming a writer. Most of my life's journeys have taken curved paths, too. Salamanca Tree Hiddle noted early in Walk Two Moons, "...if people expect you to be brave, sometimes you pretend that you are, even when you are frightened down to your very bones." Insert numerous other adjectives for brave, and finish the sentence to correspond to them. That sums up many lessons I have learned in life. My three favorite books by Sharon Creech sit apart from the other on my shelf now, waiting for my to reread and appreciate more of her wisdom and compassion.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Forest Feast

This morning my youngest son and I walked around the lake east of our home. Trees are budding, pussy willows look like large dew drops on their branches, loons and a trumpeter swan floated with the mallards on the small patches of open water, and seed pods fluttered in the breeze. The surrounding forest echoed with birds calling to each other and woodpeckers tapping on tree trunks. It was a feast for the senses.

Back at home Erin Gleeson's The Forest Feast rests on our table. It, too, is a feast for the senses. Organized into appetizers, cocktails, salads, vegetable dishes, and sweets, it contains basic - yet somehow inventive - vegetarian recipes. Each is featured on a double-page spread with step-by-step instructions and photographs (taken by the author) of the ingredients and finished product. Her choice of Traveling Typewriter and Vintage Typewriter as the fonts is perfect, as is the occasional use of her own handwriting in the directions. Each section is prefaced by a list of the recipes in it, annotated with some notes about flavors, serving, and recipe history. It is a beautiful book, and the recipes are intriguing enough that I just might have to buy this book.

Will I ever remember some of her flavor combinations or ideas if I just try to keep them in my mind? How about Curried Crispy Carrots or Guacamole Deviled Eggs? The Green Salad, the Yellow Salad, and the Red Salad all look delicious, as do the savory Polenta Portabellos. Mmm. Treat your body and mind by pursuing and using this excellent cookbook!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Passing Quickly

One morning this week, I returned to the library with a third grader who was returning a book. "Sometimes books pass too quickly," he told me thoughtfully. I agree completely (though I might not have felt the same about the book in his hand: a Captain Underpants volume). It is happening to me today. In fact, I left The War That Saved My Life (written by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley) to write this, knowing I will finish it when I return to my sunny chair.

I have spent part of the last day in the English countryside during the early years of World War II with Ada Smith, her younger brother Jamie, and their unlikely caretaker, Miss Susan Smith. Though not related to the children, she accepts the evacuees and provides for their well-being. The two live in fear, having been mistreated, neglected, and malnourished by their biological mother. Ada, in fact, had never been allowed out of their third floor apartment, constantly told by her mother it was her fault she had a deformed foot. But Ada is a determined girl. Alone in their apartment, she teaches herself to walk - however painfully - in order to escape the prison imposed on her by her bullying mother. 

And then she meets Susan Smith, the pony named Butter in Susan's field, a stable caretaker named Fred Grimes, and numerous other kind and compassionate folks whose generosity and concern slowly turn her mistrust into hope. With Susan, I discovered how terribly sheltered the children had been. Words they should know need explanations and modeling. Their assumptions about people and meanness must be wore down with reassurance, bedtime reading (The Swiss Family Robinson), baths, three meals a day, and attention. 

I have been laughing, pondering, celebrating, and shaking my head as the pages of this book pass too quickly. May you feel the same way about it.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Naming Nail Polish

Though I have never been good at keeping my nails evenly shaped, the polished nails of others look so pretty. So colorful. The names of those colors are like a game for me. What would I call each one? When I turn over a bottle, I often sigh, feeling a connection with the person who named a color the same thing I would have chosen.

Melody Bishop, the main character in Honey by Sarah Weeks, has a knack for naming colors, and the owner of a new salon lets her name all one hundred original colors at the Bee Hive. What joy! Not one to get a manicure herself, Melody originally comes to the Bee Hive on a mission with her best friend Nick Woo. It seems someone overhead at the salon that Henry has been bitten by the love bug. With her dad behaving strangely (putting a copy of The Red Badge of Courage in the freezer, for example), Melody assumes her dad is that Henry! Coincidences do not always align with facts, of course, and through the course of this compactly told story, Melody discovers things about her dad, the mother she never knew, and a dog named Wolgang Amadeus Mozart. 

Readers will delight in the wonderful friendship between Melody and Nick, wishing they could have friends like those two. They will relate to the antics of Teeny Nelson (polish #54 is named Teeny's Tutu) and laugh at her description of the flavor of Dum Dum mystery suckers. And perhaps they will carry colors in their hearts and heads, accurately putting words to the colors that bring them happiness, thoughtfulness, and pondering. Some of Melody's nail polish names bring an instant image to my brain: Sea Glass, Pillow Fight, Creamsicle, Midas Touch. Her #101 is named Honey, and I'll let you discover why.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Poor Doreen: A Fishy Tale

I could never imagined an Ample Roundy Fish - or any fish, for that matter - with such a distinctive voice as that of Miss Doreen Randolph-Potts. On her way "to visit her second cousin twice removed who's just had 157 babies," Doreen mistakes a fisherman's lure for a tasty dragonfly. Thus begins a harrowing journey that involves a Great Blue Heron, a remarkably speedy dash through the water, "a BIG BELLY-FISH-FLOP," a bit of a rest in a bucket, a swooping snap into the sky, a plummeting flight, and an introduction to those many babies.

Sally Lloyd-Jones has filled Doreen's adventure with wonderful language, imaginative swirls and shapes, incredible optimism, and asides that continually bring the reader closer to the tale. Watercolor illustrations by Alexandra Boiger fabulously paint the fish's journey with picturesque emotion and excitement.