Monday, August 17, 2020

Summer in Three Voices

Summer reading lists are always popular with readers. This year I took the terms literally and created lists of picture books set in summer, chapter books set in summer, and non-fiction books about summer or summery things. Amy Hest’s The Summer We Found the Baby is the next book I will add to the chapter book list, but I will be recommending it to readers all year long. 

Told in three voices (an 11-year-old girl, her 6-year-old sister, and their 12-year-old neighbor boy), the story moves between a moment during World War II when a baby in a basket is discovered on the steps of the soon-to-be-opened library and glimpses from the past that inform the reader of each narrator’s personal experiences that make known the importance of the baby to them. Julie says, “It’s true. I loved her. I loved everything about her. Kissing her cheek. Rubbing my nose on her soft little neck.” Her sister Martha says, “All my life I wanted a baby sister now she was finally here!” Martha wants to name the baby Nancy. Bruno says, “Usually I don’t even care that much about babies. But this was different. This one came in an actual basket. With actual instructions.” How did that baby get to those steps?  Who was watching to be certain she got to the right people?  Who was the tall lady in the clunky brown shoes who arrived to celebrate the library and ended up feeding the baby on the beach? All is revealed as the three voices fill in details and endear themselves to the reader. 

Amy Hest’s other chapter books are equally poignant and charming (Remembering Mrs. Rossi and Letters to Leo), but this one is my favorite. 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Really. You Matter.


Sometimes I talk to the birds that visit our backyard. I tell them how glad I am to see them, how much I like the colors they add to the landscape, how I hope their families are fine. Perhaps it is silly, but I do like the daily connection with these creatures. I like that all living things exist and depend on each other for well-being. 

As the new school year approaches, there are so many issues that threaten our well-being and the connections we have to each other. And so I am drawn back to this place for sharing books that speak to readers and contribute to the ways we can foster understanding, grace, and acceptance in this world. A good friend is reading books to neighborhood families in her front yard every week. I will soon be reading to a thousand students every week. I decided to begin by reminding readers that they matter.

Christian Robinson’s new book You Matter begins with a girl looking through a microscope to see “small stuff too small to see.” The text tells readers that whether you are like everyone else or not, whether you lead or follow, whether you must get through things on your own or with help, you matter. You might be feeling lost or be missing someone or be far from home, but you matter. With acrylic and collage illustrations that move from small objects and landscapes to the wide universe and back to a neighborhood, the text is enhanced and broadened through the art. It’s a beautiful book that addresses the many emotions readers might be experiencing. And the cover, with smiling children playing parachute, makes me smile in unison as I remember doing the same thing as a child. 

Take time to read it yourself. Read it to someone you love. You matter.

Visit Christian Robinson’s website to learn more about him and get inspired:

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.