I’m making my way through the pile of picture books above. I haven’t read them all yet but there are three in particular I would highly recommend.
Good Rosie! (Candlewick Press) by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Harry Bliss is a great introduction to the graphic novel format for young readers. Rosie is a little dog who wants a friend but is fearful of new situations and dogs she doesn’t know. It would be a perfect read for preschoolers or kindergartners (or anyone, actually) who find themselves in new situations where they don’t know anyone. It’s a delightful twist on how to make friends and deal with differences.
Kitten and the Night Watchman (Simon & Schuster) by John Sullivan and illustrated by Taeeun Yoo is another friendship story, but this one is about a kitten who needs a home. I particularly liked seeing how the illustrations supported the text.
In The Field (North South Books) written by Baptiste Paul and illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara we learn not only about the universally popular sport of soccer (futbol), but also have the opportunity to learn a few Creole words and experience the beauty of the island setting. Baptiste Paul’s text is sparse, but his authentic voice relays the excitement of the game, the importance of teamwork, and the pride of his culture.
I’m also rereading via audio the adult novel The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah – a troubled-family saga that takes place in Alaska in the 1970’s. Definitely worth the read (or listen) not only for the story, but also for the beautiful descriptions of the Alaskan wild.
What are you reading?
What do you do when the baby things aren’t needed anymore, when the toddler toys are outgrown, when the sports equipment is no longer being used? Like us, you probably have a garage sale or pass them on to family members. But there are those special items that stay in the attic, waiting for grandchildren…maybe.
What we have been learning in the past few months with our grandson is that many of the treasures we saved and hoped to pass along are not up to today’s safety standards. First up was the wooden cradle handmade by my father-in-law. Both of my newborns spent many happy sleeping hours snuggled in that cradle. A few months before my grandson, Alex, was born I brought it down from the attic and purchased a new mattress. My son suggested that we keep it at our house because, well, who has room for a wooden cradle in a NYC apartment? But it was more than that – it just wasn’t up to code anymore, so it was doubtful that the baby would ever use it for sleeping. It now sits in our living room and has become more of a decorative item – used to store books and toys.
This past weekend we got down the large plastic Duplo blocks we had been saving. I washed them in warm soapy water and spread them out on Alex’s blanket. But they didn’t go back to New York with Alex when he left. I learned (from Alex’s parents) that the plastic used to make toys in the 70’s and 80’s can be toxic to children. Better to buy new than risk a serious problem. Guess we will have to dispose of the action figures and transformer cars taking up space in the attic, too.
But the old wooden high chair is OK and the wooden blocks are fine. Apparently wood is an acceptable material for heirloom items.
Progress, especially in the area of safety, is important. I remember my parents marveling at disposable diapers and infant car seats and now I understand. We can say our kids did fine with or without those things, but think of how much better and safer things are today. And there are always books that never seem to go out of style (we have lots of old and new favorites). Maybe we’ll just stick with those.
I recently had the pleasure of reading two outstanding middle grade novels that I would highly recommend.
Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard tells the story of 11-year-old Robinson Hart who is having a difficult time in school dealing with anger issues. She is being raised by her grandfather who is the only family she has ever really known, but lately she has noticed that he is forgetful, sometimes can’t finish his sentences, and has even forgotten her name on occasion. The Kirkus review states:
Stoddard debuts with a quiet but powerful narrative that gently unpacks Alzheimer’s, centers mental health, and moves through the intimate and intense emotional landscape of family—what seems to break one and what can remake it.
In Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson, we meet six classmates who are placed in an experimental classroom to help them work through some learning difficulties. Most of them are also facing challenges at home. Their teacher provides the space and time they need to talk freely, find their voices, and support each other.
Over the years I’ve had many battles with squirrels getting into the birdfeeders. No matter what I try, they always figure out a way in, or up, or over. It’s always just a matter of time.
Once, I had one of those feeders marketed as a squirrel buster. The bottom was motorized so that when the heavier-than-a-bird squirrel grabbed the perch, it would start to spin. Supposedly the squirrels would be knocked off. That might have happened a few times – until they learned to grab on tight and just enjoy the ride. Of course, all the while they were spinning, the birdseed was flying. When the fun ended, there was a party on the ground.
I know placement is important. Our feeders are now freestanding instead of hanging from a tree branch where I originally placed them. The addition of a baffle kept the feeders squirrel-free…for a time. Eventually they learned to leap from the farthest outstretched limb they could find. I was amazed watching them practically flying through the air to land on the top of the feeder and shimmy down to grab a meal.
Last spring Allan built a beautiful large feeder for my side garden. The pole was too slippery and fat for the squirrels, and for several months I thought they were finally busted. That is, until a few weeks ago when I started seeing those furry rodents sitting on the platform of the feeder. I also noticed that the short garden flag next to the feeder was getting all bunched up. It didn’t take a lot of detective work to figure out that jumping from the flag frame to the platform was doable for my “friends.”
I truly think the squirrels enjoy the challenge! I imagine them practicing their leaps, communicating new ideas to each other, drawing up plans, and celebrating each victory.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
Periodically I hope to contribute to the It’s Monday What Are You Reading (#IMWAYR) community.
I recently finished a haunting new middle grade novel by Samantha M. Clark titled The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast. This story grabbed me from the beginning and filled me with a mixture of emotions as I read, ultimately leaving me fulfilled, hopeful, and somehow changed. While it may not be for every middle grade reader, it is definitely a book that will be just right for the right reader.
Three picture books about amazing women also grabbed my attention recently.
Title: Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird Author: Bethany Hegedus Illustrator: Erin McGuire (2018, Balzer+Bray)
Title: Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story (2018, Sleeping Bear Press) Author: Lindsey McDivitt Illustrator: Eileen Ryan Ewen
Title: How to Build a Hug: Temple Grandin and Her Amazing Squeeze Machine (2018, Atheneum) Authors: Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville Illustrator: Giselle Potter
All three of these books tell the stories of strong, persistent women, who overcame obstacles in life to follow their dreams and help make the world a better place. They would all be welcome additions to classroom libraries.
Before I turned onto the gravelly driveway and spotted The Barn, before I wound my way down those back country roads for the last few miles, before I packed my books and manuscripts and pens and notebooks, I was filled with anticipation. I couldn’t wait to make my way to the Highlights Foundation for another outstanding workshop.
I’ve been to Highlights for workshops, unworkshops, and EPA SCBWI Conferences. Nine times, to be exact. Each experience is a little different, yet has commonalities. There is always wonderful food, comfortable accommodations and surroundings, and the opportunity to meet new colleagues. Perhaps most importantly, there is an energy that is almost tangible – a creative spirit that swirls and twirls and magically abounds. (You can read about a couple of my experiences here and here).
Last week I attended “The Ins and Outs of a Picture Book and Its Many Forms” with Bethany Hegedus, Carmen Oliver, and Salina Yoon. I learned about creating compelling characters and scenes, new structures, picture book biographies, the important work of revision, and much, much more. These three outstanding workshop leaders delivered fresh, new ideas to my ever-expanding knowledge of writing for children. I came away with a wealth of resources and new-found friends, and most importantly, a little bit more confidence in my work as a writer.
I feel so fortunate that I am able to take advantage of what the Highlights Foundation has to offer writers in all stages of their journey. And while I understand that not everyone has this opportunity, I do believe writers can create their own energy and magic. I’ve found it in the critique groups I work with and the authors I read who serve as mentors. It’s in the sharing of our creative spirit as writers, teachers, and students that confidence grows and success is born.
After an unusually rainy and humid August, the morning air has just a hint of coolness about it – a promise of change. It has that end of summer smell where humidity finally gives in, reluctantly. The cone flowers are fading, allowing the black-eyed susans their time to shine, while the roses have one last hurrah. The bird houses have been vacated, the squirrels are on the lookout for treasures to store, the geese are on the move. Soon I will be able to mark time with the rhythm of the school buses.
Yesterday I ran into a former colleague and her two children while out running errands. They looked like summer – tanned from a final trip to the beach, dressed in shorts and T-shirts, relaxed. While the kids said they weren’t ready for school to start next week, I sensed a certain excitement about them. And I remembered…
…finding that just-right backpack and lunch box
…scouring magazines for new after-school treat recipes
…picking out the perfect outfit for the first day back
…mornings with a hint of chill in the air, waiting for the bus
…discovering the best new read aloud
…new schedules, activities, routines
…new pens and pencils and crayons
…awake at night, too excited to sleep
In the district where I spent most of my teaching career, teachers are reporting to school today. Maybe that’s why I’m up early. Maybe that’s why I had a bit of trouble sleeping last night. Maybe that’s why I’ll always think of myself as a teacher. Some things never change.