Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Archive | Reading Ahead

Going to Camp

Mother Daughter Book CampAs sum­mer begins, it’s pos­si­ble there is no more ubiq­ui­tous expe­ri­ence for Amer­i­can chil­dren than sum­mer camp. Whether it’s a day camp or a sleep­away camp, an art or music camp, a Girl Scout or church camp, there are some things that most camps have in com­mon: the out­doors, get­ting along with oth­er kids and coun­selors, and new expe­ri­ences.

Or, as Heather Vogel Fred­er­ick writes in her lat­est Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Club book, Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Camp, the mot­to of Camp Love­joy is “Broad­en­ing Hori­zons for Over a Cen­tu­ry.” Girls are encour­aged to stretch out­side their com­fort zones.

When the sub­ject of sum­mer camp comes up among my friends, the dis­cus­sion turns to crafts learned (mac­a­roni-adorned some­thing), songs sung, injuries sus­tained, fam­i­ly week­ends, and unfor­get­table coun­selors.

Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Camp cap­tures this expe­ri­ence with spot-on details, the emo­tions of being away at camp (remem­ber that feel­ing of home­sick­ness? who were these strangers? how would you make it through [how­ev­er long you were slat­ed to be there]? how could you ever leave?), the food, the one most mem­o­rable expe­ri­ence, and those won­der­ful friend­ships.

Mother Daughter Book Club Series

I’m a big fan of this series of books which began with The Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Club, con­tin­ued with Much Ado about Anne, and con­tin­ued through to the recent, sev­enth book, Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Camp. We’ve grown to care about these five girls, Emma (the most ded­i­cat­ed read­er and writer), Jess (the farm girl and musi­cian), Bec­ca (first a bul­ly, then a friend, high­ly orga­nized, quil­ter), Megan (fash­ion­ista, blog­ger, whose moth­er is obsessed with green and healthy liv­ing), and Cas­sidy (sports, sports, and great love of fam­i­ly). Their moth­ers are famil­iar, too, because of Book Club meet­ings and trips they’ve tak­en. There are even grand­moth­ers with­in these sto­ries. I love it when all of the gen­er­a­tions are drawn into the sto­ry, don’t you? These are five girls who for the most part didn’t know each oth­er before the book club began — and now they’re for­ev­er friends.

In each part of the series, the book club dis­cuss­es a clas­sic book, from Lit­tle Women to Anne of Green Gables to the Bet­sy-Tacy books to the book fea­tured in Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Camp, Under­stood Bet­sy by Dorothy Can­field Fish­er. The book club shares Fun Facts about the book and the author and so, of course, read­ers are drawn inevitably to read­ing the fea­tured book — how can curios­i­ty not engen­der this result? And the book club is woven skill­ful­ly into the larg­er sto­ry, which pro­vides plen­ty of laughs, a lot of gasps of sur­prise, and heart­warm­ing tears.

I’ve come to care about these girls, their fam­i­lies, their boyfriends. Each of them is head­ing off to a dif­fer­ent col­lege after being coun­selors at Camp Love­joy. The series is done with book sev­en but I know they’ll stay in touch. Their lives are inter­twined. I’m going to miss know­ing what hap­pens next.

Heather Vogel Fred­er­ick has writ­ten char­ac­ters so vivid that I expect them to walk through my front door, plop down on the couch, and tell me all about their lives. I wish they would.

These books are that good. I high­ly rec­om­mend them for fourth grade read­ers and old­er. The char­ac­ters are in sixth grade when their book club is formed. We watch them grow up, grad­u­ate from high school, and spend a spe­cial sum­mer togeth­er at camp before they head off to the rest of their lives.

I’m grate­ful that their sto­ries are a part of my life.

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Summer Adventures

 

Adventures in Cartooning: Characters in ActionThe oth­er day, a pub­lic librar­i­an asked on social media for graph­ic nov­el rec­om­men­da­tions for read­ers aged 6 to 12. I imme­di­ate­ly rec­om­mend­ed the Adven­tures in Car­toon­ing series by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alex­is Fred­er­ick-Frost.

The first book was Adven­tures in Car­toon­ing: How to Turn Your Doo­dles into Comics, intro­duc­ing us to The Knight, Edward the chub­by horse, and the Mag­ic Car­toon­ing Elf. With humor and breath­less sto­ry­telling, this sto­ry cap­tures both atten­tion and imag­i­na­tion. I can­not envi­sion a read­er who wouldn’t want to pull out a pen­cil and give car­toon­ing a try.

Since then, there have been three more Adven­tures in Car­toon­ing sto­ry/how-to books and four pic­ture books fea­tur­ing the beloved char­ac­ters.

The book I’ve fall­en in love with now is Adven­tures in Car­toon­ing: Char­ac­ters in Action, first pub­lished in 2013. An afford­able paper­back, this is a stealthy way to buy an activ­i­ty book that also encour­ages sto­ry­telling, writ­ing, spa­tial think­ing, and math (yes, math, while fig­ur­ing out how to lay out the sto­ry).

These books are clever because they tell a sto­ry while show­ing how to write a sto­ry. And the sto­ry is good, not didac­tic.

In this vol­ume, many char­ac­ters are intro­duced as a way of show­ing how you can make dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters out of a few shapes and how you describe a char­ac­ter with a min­i­mum of words, cloth­ing, facial expres­sions, and place­ment on the page. And they all move the sto­ry for­ward! With each page turn, some­thing unpre­dictable hap­pens — that’s great sto­ry­telling. I admire the authors’ skill­ful­ness.

Read­ing these books as an adult cracks me up. The jokes are clever, but they’re lay­ered — and they, too, move the sto­ry for­ward, so they also teach while tick­ling the reader’s fun­ny bone.

Summer’s near­ly here. Are you gear­ing up with things to do? Buy the series of Adven­tures in Car­toon­ing books and pull them out of your bore­dom-reliev­er bag at oppor­tune times. They’re a can’t miss for any kids who like to tell sto­ries and draw.

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Light vs Dark

The Dark is Rising

A recent paper­back cov­er, I quite like this. It’s as ele­gant as the sto­ry itself.

Do you have a book that you re-read peri­od­i­cal­ly? At least every few years? Some­times more often?

For me, it’s The Dark is Ris­ing by Susan Coop­er. I have read thou­sands of books in my life­time, but this book stands out as the one that cap­tured my full heart, mind, and imag­i­na­tion. When I think of it, a hush falls over me. I respect this book on many lev­els.

Each time I read about Will Stan­ton, met with chal­lenges that threat­en his fam­i­ly, his vil­lage, not to men­tion his life, I am filled with won­der. How did the author write about such dire cir­cum­stances while keep­ing the read­er assured that good would find a way to defeat evil?

That’s what I notice most about The Dark is Ris­ing, even more than the oth­er books in this series. Coop­er writes about a sky laden with snow, the heav­i­ness of it, the blan­ket­ing of feel­ing and sound. Sur­round­ed by the men­ace of weath­er that shouldn’t be that way, the read­er finds places of com­fort. Fam­i­ly, the church, tra­di­tions, many of the vil­lagers … these are peo­ple and parts of life that we can count on to sup­port us, defend us, and sur­round us with love and secu­ri­ty.

The Dark is Rising

This is the orig­i­nal hard­cov­er dust jack­et.

We’re liv­ing in a time where we’re aware of how much Dark there is in the world. This book is need­ed. Our movies and tele­vi­sion shows and many books are filled with anti-heroes and prob­lems that go unre­solved because that is “real life.” We can change that.

I like to think there are real­ly Old Ones out there, like Mer­ri­man Lyon and Miss Greythorne, who are look­ing out for world, lead­ing the fight against the Dark. We can’t rely on Old Ones: we need to be remind­ed that it’s up to us to push the Dark back so the Light can shine bright­ly.

I enjoyed the romp of the first few Har­ry Pot­ter books, but they are sim­ply not as cap­ti­vat­ing and reas­sur­ing as The Dark is Ris­ing. Susan Coop­er writes with pow­er, ele­gance, and a deep under­stand­ing of the human psy­che. Each time I fin­ish the book, I am con­vinced Ms. Coop­er must be one of the Old Ones her­self, fight­ing for the Light to pre­vail. We need her. Read this book your­self and give it to a young read­er. Walk on the side of the Light.

(A side note: Do not be tempt­ed to watch the movie The Seek­er instead, which was pur­port­ed­ly based on The Dark is Ris­ing. It is noth­ing like the book.)

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The Jungle Book

The Jungle BookThe word exquis­ite once won the game for me while play­ing Pass­word. I have been fond of that word since that time and look for instances where it applies. That is sure­ly the illus­trat­ed edi­tion of The Jun­gle Book, writ­ten by Rud­yard Kipling all of those years ago, and new­ly illus­trat­ed by Nico­la Bay­ley. Can­dlewick pub­lished this edi­tion of the clas­sic sto­ries and their clas­sics are worth col­lect­ing, read­ing, and trea­sur­ing. They should be well-worn on the book­shelves in your home.

I first read The Jun­gle Book when I was ten. I don’t remem­ber any illus­tra­tions in the Reader’s Digest Con­densed Books ver­sion but I remem­ber that this book made a big impres­sion on me. It was so “oth­er.” It was not the world I knew and it was larg­er than the farm dogs and pet cats I observed. It gave me a sense of the world beyond my vision. I believe it can still do that for read­ers today.

Bagheera and Mowgli by Nicola BayleyThe sto­ry of Mowgli and his wolf-pack, of Shere Khan, the tiger who believes Mowgli is his to dis­pose of as he wish­es, of Baloo and Kaa and Bagheera … is as cap­ti­vat­ing now as I remem­ber read­ing it as a child. There is such dig­ni­ty and grace in the words that Kipling wrote, the sto­ries he weaves with fierce­ness and humor and respect, that The Jun­gle Book tran­scends time. Who would not be fas­ci­nat­ed by this sto­ry of a young boy (cub) who is adopt­ed by a wolf pack, grows up believ­ing he is a wolf, and then must re-join the world of man when the ani­mals judge it is time. He lives in the jun­gle, is accus­tomed to the ways of the ani­mal tribes, and this nev­er leaves him, espe­cial­ly in his deal­ing with humans.

Midday Nap by Nicola BayleyThe book is such a treat to read because the visu­al expe­ri­ence is so reward­ing. There are rich­ly-col­ored bor­ders and sump­tu­ous sto­ry-divid­ing pages with pat­terns evoca­tive of India, where The Jun­gle Book takes place. Every spread has some illus­tra­tion it, done in col­ored pen­cil, that set the scene or enhance the sto­ry­telling or give us a glimpse of Mowgli and the ani­mals. The full-page illus­tra­tions are riv­et­ing.

You’ve read before of my fond­ness for “but­ter cov­ers,” dust jack­ets fin­ished with a smooth and tan­gi­bly soft cov­er that invites hold­ing and read­ing. This book has such a cov­er and it is irre­sistible. (I made that term up, by the way. Don’t try Googling it.)

In the “Word” at the begin­ning of the book, Nico­la Bay­ley writes, “I’d been to India and vis­it­ed all sorts of places you wouldn’t nor­mal­ly see, and I went to libraries in Lon­don to find out what the coun­try was like in Kipling’s time.”

In the author’s bio on the jack­et flap, we learn that “Rud­yard Kipling (1865−1936) was born in India and spent his ear­ly child­hood there. He lived a migra­to­ry life: edu­cat­ed in Eng­land, he returned to India in 1882, then met his wife in Lon­don and spent the ear­ly years of their mar­riage in Ver­mont, even­tu­al­ly set­tling in Eng­land. The most famous writer of his time, Rud­yard Kipling was award­ed the Nobel Prize in lit­er­a­ture in 1907, thir­teen years after the pub­li­ca­tion of The Jun­gle Book.” His writ­ing is a look into his world and his time, his expe­ri­ence, his feel­ings about life.

This edi­tion of The Jun­gle Book is exquis­ite. I rec­om­mend it high­ly for your fam­i­ly read-aloud time, for young and old­er. Don’t skip over the poet­ry. Its rhythm and words are part of the expe­ri­ence. It will give you much to dis­cuss and a world to explore.

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Fashion Studio

Fashion Studio Oh. my good­ness. When I opened up this box, I was imme­di­ate­ly trans­port­ed to my grand­par­ents’ back yard, on the blue blan­ket under the elm tree, when a gag­gle of friends brought their Bar­bi­es and Kens togeth­er and we sewed clothes out of fab­ric scraps and held fash­ion shows. Those days are some of my best mem­o­ries of child­hood.

If we had had this Fash­ion Stu­dio from Can­dlewick Press, I’m con­vinced it would have altered lives. This would have amped up the cre­ativ­i­ty lev­el and built con­fi­dence.

You see, we often became frus­trat­ed because we lacked new ideas or didn’t quite know how to con­struct a gar­ment. Fash­ion Stu­dio will crack that dis­ap­point­ment wide open. There are card­board tem­plates to help you make paper gar­ments.

For those who are chal­lenged by spa­tial rela­tion­ships, this will pro­vide many an Aha! Moment as design­ers fash­ion their cloth­ing.

First of all, the Fash­ion Stu­dio itself is chic (and pur­ple!). Well-designed to have wide appeal, it’s made from stur­dy card­board that folds open to reveal a beau­ti­ful shop with its own type of run­way. There are dress stands and a dis­play rail. When design­ing is done for the day, it all folds up into an easy-to-car­ry box that is rough­ly the size of a Har­ry Pot­ter book.

Fashion Studio

Want to make a Skater Dress? Pages 8 and 9 in the Fash­ion Hand­book by author Helen Moslin take you step by step, with a draw­ing for every direc­tion, cut­ting out, glu­ing (no stitch­ing here but there are seam allowances and one can eas­i­ly make the leap between a line of stitch­ing and the glue).

When the dress is assem­bled and the glue is dry­ing, it’s time to make the adorable lit­tle pol­ka dot mules and the small bag.

At the end of each set of instruc­tions, there are ideas for oth­er com­bi­na­tions of paper and trim, just enough to spur the imag­i­na­tion into mak­ing its own designs using these tem­plates and papers found around the house or designed with cray­on or water­col­or. The papers and stick­ers includ­ed with the Fash­ion Stu­dio will appeal to a wide vari­ety of tastes.

Fashion Studio

A glos­sary of Dress­mak­er Words is includ­ed — and the text uses them — so that the design and assem­bly process­es are akin to the world of fab­ric and sewing.  

Like the out­stand­ing Can­dlewick Press Ani­ma­tion Stu­dio before it, this Fash­ion Stu­dio will bring big smiles and hap­py hearts to the fash­ion­istas in your life. Lucky kids!

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Perspective

Pippi LongstockingAt Bookol­o­gy, we believe the adage about “the right book for the right read­er.” Those are not nec­es­sar­i­ly the books that we see in adver­tise­ments, in the blog­gers’ buzz, or on award lists. Only by lis­ten­ing to each oth­er, and espe­cial­ly to kids, talk about books do we find those gems our hearts were look­ing for but didn’t know exist­ed.

When you think about your favorite books, what’s your per­spec­tive? Do you remem­ber the sto­ry first? The char­ac­ters? The cov­er? The illus­tra­tions?

For many of us, it’s the book cov­er. Yes­ter­day, I was look­ing for books about cats. I want­ed to rec­om­mend some clas­sics. I remem­ber a book from the 1960s that had a boy and a cat on the cov­er. Both of them were fac­ing away from me, look­ing at a neigh­bor­hood. I remem­ber that the cov­er is yel­low. Do you know the book I’m talk­ing about? I asked Steve, because he fre­quent­ly talks about this book. When I described the cov­er, he knew right away: It’s Like This, Cat by Emi­ly Cheney Neville. (I’m not pub­lish­ing the cov­er here because I don’t want to give it away. Take a look at the bot­tom of this arti­cle.)

Often it’s the illus­tra­tions. Who can for­get the thick black out­lines of My Friend Rab­bit? Or the clear, bright col­ors of My Heart is Like a Zoo? Or the pen and ink draw­ings of Lois Lens­ki?

gr_myheart

Some­times it’s the char­ac­ters. The book with the spi­der and the pig. That one with the adven­tur­ous red-haired girl with pig­tails. That book where the high-school kids share their poet­ry in class. That auto­bi­og­ra­phy of the author grow­ing up in Cuba and the USA. Those char­ac­ters are so mem­o­rable that, once read, we can’t for­get them. (The book cov­ers are post­ed at the end of this arti­cle.)

When we’re meet­ing with the Chap­ter & Verse book club each month, the last half-hour is a time to rec­om­mend books we’ve enjoyed. I always add to my read­ing list. Do you have an inten­tion­al, set-aside time for talk­ing with oth­er adults about the children’s books they’re read­ing and are thrilled to rec­om­mend? I par­tic­u­lar­ly love it when they’re books that aren’t on the buzzers’ radar. I feel as though we’ve shared a secret.

Chapter & Verse Book Club, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin

Chap­ter & Verse Book Club, Red­bery Books, Cable, Wis­con­sin

I also hunt through the state lists. These are books that edu­ca­tors and librar­i­ans are choos­ing because they know they have kid appeal. So often, these are not books that have been on award lists … but they’re passed along, buzzed about among child read­ers, rec­om­mend­ed by the adults in their lives.

State Choice Awards

Not all books need to be new. There are fab­u­lous books hid­ing on the library shelves and in used book­stores. Do a sub­ject search. It’s amaz­ing what you can find by look­ing at a library cat­a­log or doing an online search.

Everyone’s pub­lish­ing book­lists these days. How do you know which ones to fol­low? Do the titles res­onate with you? Do you find your­self eager­ly adding their sug­ges­tions to your TBR pile? Then book­mark those lists! Vis­it them fre­quent­ly or sign up to receive noti­fi­ca­tions when they pub­lish their next list.

The award books and books with stars are one way to find good books but don’t rely sole­ly on those sources. Don’t for­get the wealth of fab­u­lous books that fly under the radar.

Talk to each oth­er. Adult to adult. Child to adult. Child to child. Adult to child. Old or new. Hid­den trea­sure or best­seller. We learn about the best books when we hear rec­om­men­da­tions from anoth­er read­er, anoth­er per­spec­tive.

books described in the article

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Libraries in the USA are at Mission Critical

There is not such a cra­dle of democ­ra­cy upon the earth as the Free Pub­lic Library, this repub­lic of let­ters, where nei­ther rank, office, nor wealth receives the slight­est con­sid­er­a­tion.” —Andrew Carnegie

Hamel Public Library, Minnesota

Hamel Pub­lic Library, Min­neso­ta

Libraries in the USA are at mis­sion crit­i­cal. Those who went before us worked hard to estab­lish free pub­lic libraries so we could have access to what we need to know. How can we let their lega­cy erode?

We’ve already seen our pub­lic school libraries dam­aged by bud­get short­falls in which libraries are deemed non-essen­tial and degreed librar­i­ans are con­sid­ered eas­i­ly replaced by a vol­un­teer.

Pub­lic libraries have suf­fered as well via con­sol­i­da­tion, replaced by pick-up-your-book kiosks, and out­right clo­sure.

For read­ers, it is under­stood how vital libraries are as a free source of edu­ca­tion, essen­tial ser­vices, and enter­tain­ment that might oth­er­wise be too expen­sive for fam­i­lies and indi­vid­u­als. Beyond books, pub­lic libraries offer free pro­gram­ming in edu­ca­tion, craft­ing, music and dance, cit­i­zen­ry, and busi­ness. Some libraries have become a place to check out sel­dom-need­ed but impor­tant items like fish­ing rods, elec­tric drills, sewing machines, and gar­den­ing tools.

gardening tools library

Read­ing is still at the heart of the library. The abil­i­ty to learn, whether by fic­tion or non­fic­tion, and the priv­i­lege of ask­ing a librar­i­an who can help you find what you need and what you don’t yet know that you need — that is a library. No com­put­er algo­rithm, no mat­ter how well-mean­ing, can take a librarian’s place.

Many of us take our pub­lic library for grant­ed. We walk a few blocks, ride our bikes, dri­ve a few miles or 30 miles to check out books and mag­a­zines. We can call the staff on the phone to make sure they know what we’re look­ing for and have it. If they don’t have it, they can order it from a library far, far away. This is one of the most reli­able ser­vices of being an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen.

This access to infor­ma­tion and resources was hard-won. The gen­er­a­tions before us rec­og­nized how vital books and read­ing are to a healthy, cit­i­zen-engaged coun­try.

Down Cut Shin CreekIn Down Cut Shin Creek: the Pack Horse Librar­i­ans of Ken­tucky by Kathi Appelt and Jeanne Can­nel­la Schmitzer (Harp­er Collins, 2001), we learn the riv­et­ing true sto­ry of women, pri­mar­i­ly, who were hired by the Work Projects Admin­is­tra­tion (WPA) in 1935, dur­ing the height of the Depres­sion, to ride hors­es or pack mules to the often inac­ces­si­ble small com­mu­ni­ties and indi­vid­u­als of east­ern Ken­tucky. Even­tu­al­ly these librar­i­ans would serve more 100,000 peo­ple in 30 coun­ties as part of the Pack Horse Library Project. It’s an inspir­ing book. Read­ing the account of how impor­tant these librar­i­ans were because they knew their com­mu­ni­ties, their read­ers’ tastes, and felt a sense of duty … it’s eas­i­er to under­stand why libraries have been so vital in Amer­i­ca.

A con­gress­man from Ken­tucky, Carl D. Perkins, spon­sored the Library Ser­vices Act in 1956 “that made the first fed­er­al appro­pri­a­tions for library ser­vice.” More than like­ly, he was influ­enced by a Pack Horse Librar­i­an while he taught in rur­al Ken­tucky.

That Book WomanFor a pic­ture book about the Pack Horse Librar­i­ans, read Heather Henson’s That Book Woman, illus­trat­ed by David Small (Atheneum, 2008). Writ­ten by a Ken­tucky native, this sto­ry of Cal, liv­ing high in the Appalachi­an hills, depicts a young boy who wants noth­ing to do with read­ing until he real­izes the extra­or­di­nary lengths his Pack Horse Librar­i­an is achiev­ing to bring him books.

Books in a BoxIn north­ern climes, Stu­art Stotts wrote the mar­velous Books in a Box: Lutie Stearns and the Trav­el­ing Libraries of Wis­con­sin (Big Val­ley Press, 2005). Lutie Stearns grew up near Mil­wau­kee, read­ing all the time. She is drawn to library ser­vice where, thank­ful­ly, she has big ideas. She teams up with Frank Hutchins (anoth­er big idea per­son, he start­ed the Wis­con­sin State For­est Depart­ment, and intro­duced East­er Seals to the Anti-Tuber­cu­lo­sis Asso­ci­a­tion) to cre­ate trav­el­ing libraries.

Melvil Dewey (he of the Dewey Dec­i­mal Sys­tem) intro­duced pub­licly-fund­ed trav­el­ing libraries in New York State in 1893. (The first trav­el­ing libraries were like­ly those in Scot­land and Wales in the ear­ly 1800s, but they were part of a school­ing sys­tem.)

The next year, Lutie and Frank peti­tioned lum­ber baron and Wis­con­sin state sen­a­tor James Stout to fund trav­el­ing libraries in Dunn Coun­ty. They want­ed him to intro­duce a bill in the leg­is­la­ture to fun the Wis­con­sin Free Library Com­mis­sion. You must read this book for the engross­ing expe­ri­ences Lutie encoun­tered as she tried to estab­lish trav­el­ing libraries, books in a box, around the state in post offices and stores.

Lat­er, Lutie would help cit­i­zens apply for funds from Andrew Carnegie to con­struct a library. These Carnegie libraries, some of which are still in use, brought edu­ca­tion and enter­tain­ment to gen­er­a­tions of cit­i­zens, tax­pay­er sup­port­ed but oth­er­wise free, through­out the Unit­ed States. Lutie Stearns could cel­e­brate the growth of books-in-a-box to full-fledged libraries through her per­sis­tent efforts and those of Frank Hutchins.

Dunn County

Demo­c­rat Print­ing Com­pa­ny — (1897) Free Trav­el­ing Libraries in Wis­con­sin: The Sto­ry of Their Growth, Pur­pos­es, and Devel­op­ment; with Accounts of a Few Kin­dred Move­ments

The desire to have a good influ­ence and a decent place to go, instead of the many saloons and dance halls, led me to vis­it one com­mu­ni­ty no less than twelve times before I could get the town pres­i­dent, also own­er of a dance hall, to appoint a library board.” (Lutie Stearns, Books in a Box, pg 49)

Twelve times? That’s deter­mi­na­tion.

Can we do less?

MORE RESOURCES

The ear­li­est libraries-on-wheels looked way cool­er than today’s book­mo­biles,” by Rose Eveleth, Smithsonian.com

Trav­el­ing libraries,” by Lar­ry T. Nix, Library His­to­ry Buff

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Telling a Story the Hard Way

Space Dumplinsby Vic­ki Palmquist

I’ve just fin­ished read­ing the graph­ic nov­el Space Dumplins by Craig Thomp­son, with col­or by Dave Stew­art (Graphix, 2015). I am over­whelmed by the work that went into this book. First off, it’s an engross­ing, turn-the-page sto­ry with an appeal­ing cast of char­ac­ters. As read­ers, we care about what will hap­pen. That’s a good start.

Now, imag­ine that you are sit­ting down with a pen­cil to sketch one of the spreads in this book. Per­haps you’ve picked the pages where Vio­let, our hero­ine, first gets a look at SHELL-TAR, the inte­ri­or of the space sta­tion. You start by draw­ing the intri­ca­cies of the gleam­ing steam­punk time clock and then you draw all of the activ­i­ty going on inside the trans­par­ent trans­port tubes, large enough to accom­mo­date per­son­al space­ships. Next you fill in the many habi­tats, the glob­u­lar trees, the peo­ple at the beach. Then you insert our cast of char­ac­ters into the scene along with the robot­ic Chaper­drone (a babysit­ter). Whew. That’s a lot of draw­ing for two pages.

Of course, you’re pro­vid­ing this as a back­drop for the fast-paced sto­ry of three new friends, quick-wit­ted, learn­ing to work as a team, doing their best to save the peo­ple they love and their cor­ner of the uni­verse. You’ve already writ­ten the sto­ry, the script, and worked through the sur­pris­es that will delight your read­ers, mak­ing it a tight and believ­able hero’s jour­ney set in the Mucky Way.

Vio­let, Zac­cha­eus, and Eliot are unlike­ly heroes except that Vio­let has a wel­com­ing heart, a brave out­look on adven­ture, and an opti­mism as big as out­er space. She can see qual­i­ties in her new friends that they can’t see them­selves. Eliot, the chick­en, is stu­dious, intro­vert­ed, wide­ly read, and some­what psy­chic. Zac­cha­eus, the last of the Lump­kins (well, almost the last, because space whales ate his plan­et) is chaot­ic, impul­sive, and ready for a fight. All three of the friends are good at prob­lem-solv­ing, espe­cial­ly when they work togeth­er. The mil­i­tary can’t defeat the space whales: they can only clean up after them. It’s these three who fig­ure out the true heart of the prob­lem.

Craig Thompson Space Dumplins ballpoint

from Craig Thomp­son’s web­site, copy­right Craig Thomp­son

Once you’ve sketched all of this, applied ball­point pen, then brushed ink, you ask some­one else to col­or every­thing in.  Togeth­er, you’re cre­at­ing a book full of these sto­ry-telling images, rich­ly col­ored, high­ly detailed, and ulti­mate­ly believ­able as a look at life that’s real­ly hap­pen­ing some­where “out there.”

The rest of the main cast of char­ac­ters include Violet’s par­ents, the reformed felon Gar and the fash­ion design­er Cera, Gar’s fish­ing bud­dies Mr. Tin­der and crew, Cera’s boss at the Fash­ion Fac­to­ry, Mas­ter Adam Arnold, and the most inven­tive space vehi­cles I’ve ever seen. Every being (they’re not all human) in this book has a unique look. No cook­ie-cut­ter, repet­i­tive char­ac­ters to save on draw­ing time.

It’s a movie set on paper, except that you’ve had to con­ceive of, write, draw, and col­or every bit of it. There are no cam­eras and crew to bring your vision to life. Exhaust­ed yet?

Even the end­pa­pers are atten­tion-riv­et­ing. The con­stel­la­tions fill the skies of Space Dumplins and they often make an appear­ance, remind­ing us that we share the same space even though the set­ting feels alien and won­drous.

early concept

ear­ly con­cept of space­ship, copy­right Craig Thomp­son

You know those kids who are con­stant­ly doo­dling in class? They’ll love this book. And the kids who stay up long past their bed­times try­ing to fin­ish a chap­ter? They’ll love this book. And the kids who don’t know what to read next but they don’t want it to be bor­ing? Yup, they’re gonna love it. Space Dumplins reads like a TV series, a movie, a video game, and a sol­id, excit­ing sto­ry all between book cov­ers. Bril­liant.

Asides:

Be sure to notice the homage to a num­ber of cul­tur­al icons in this book. H.A. Rey’s The Con­stel­la­tions? Strange Brew? Space­balls? And the real Trike (it exists!).

Be sure to read Craig Thomp­son’s answers to Five Ques­tions on The Book Rat’s blog. You’ll find out how long it took him to cre­ate Space Dumplins.

For a look at what Craig Thomp­son is work­ing on and where he’s appear­ing, vis­it his web­site.

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Rolling the Storytelling Blocks

by Vic­ki Palmquist

How to tell a storyLook­ing for hours of fun with a book the whole fam­i­ly can enjoy … or one per­son can eas­i­ly study to learn to write or tell a sto­ry … bet­ter? Then you’ll want to give this a try: How to Tell a Sto­ry, writ­ten by Daniel Nay­eri, illus­trat­ed by Bri­an Won, and pub­lished by Work­man Pub­lish­ing in 2015.

This book comes in a box. Inside the box there’s a small-for­mat book (5−1÷4” x 5−1÷4”, 143 pages) with lots of illus­tra­tions and visu­al cues to help under­stand the many ways telling a sto­ry can be not only fun but inter­est­ing and chal­leng­ing.

To help you “get ideas,” which kids often feel is the tough­est part of writ­ing or sto­ry­telling, there are 20 cubes. Each face of the cube con­tains a char­ac­ter, object, place, adjec­tive (descrip­tion or emo­tion), action, or rela­tion­ship. They’re col­or-cod­ed so you can set par­tic­u­lar para­me­ters for your “game play” or the chal­lenge you’ve made for your­self.

How to Tell a Story

 

With chap­ters on con­flict, moti­va­tion, dia­logue, char­ac­ter, plot, and theme, the basics of sto­ry­telling are packed into this guide.

The author has includ­ed a num­ber of games that can be played with two, up to 20, blocks. For instance, in “Debate,” we’ll roll 10 blocks. We’ll choose two blue blocks and one red block. Nay­eri writes, “Oh, no! There’s a dead­ly storm on the hori­zon and Cap­tain Lark has to decide what to do with a ship full of pre­cious (blue block), the crew of (red block), and the mag­i­cal (oth­er blue block), which can only be used to save one per­son or thing. What should Cap­tain Lark save first? Why? Come up with enough sto­ries to argue for sav­ing either the pre­cious (blue block), the crew of (red block), or him­self.” My fin­gers are itch­ing to roll the blocks, aren’t yours?

How to Tell a Story

The blocks can be used in sim­ple ways with young chil­dren or they can be engross­ing for adults. The author is very instruc­tive in the text:

 “As our sto­ry­teller, if you start in the mid­dle, then you’re going to have to intro­duce us to the impor­tant bits of the back­sto­ry as they become nec­es­sary.

The ancient Roman poet Horace called this method IN MEDIA RES, which means “in the mid­dle of things.”  He rec­om­mend­ed telling sto­ries this way so you can jump straight into the action and fill out the details as you go.”

The illus­tra­tions by Bri­an Won are appeal­ing to chil­dren, teens, and adults. They’re the same style as those used on the blocks (and often the same images) so we feel a con­nec­tion. They’re descrip­tive enough so that our brains begin mak­ing sto­ries out of them imme­di­ate­ly, but not so reduc­tive that they only con­vey one pos­si­bil­i­ty.

How to Tell a Story

That’s the beau­ty of this set of sto­ry starters. There’s a myr­i­ad of ways to use them, to learn from them, to play games with them, and to have fun. This is a per­fect gift for the sto­ry­tellers in your fam­i­ly.

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Looking inside

by Vic­ki Palmquist

Today I WillFor sev­er­al years, I have been dip­ping into a book that I keep beside my desk. It’s called Today I Will: a Year of Quotes, Notes, and Promis­es to Myself (Knopf, 2009). Two acknowl­edged mas­ters of children’s lit­er­a­ture, Eileen Spinel­li and Jer­ry Spinel­li, wrote it. They are par­ents and grand­par­ents and one can feel their love and con­cern for future gen­er­a­tions in this book.

When I was grow­ing up, I often received the gift of a day-by-day book that had word def­i­n­i­tions or devo­tions or super-short sto­ries in it. I didn’t have enough patience to read each page on the des­ig­nat­ed day, but I read sev­er­al pages at once, return­ing often for just a few, sat­is­fy­ing min­utes.

This book’s for­mat finds each page with a quote from a children’s book, a thought- and dis­cus­sion-pro­vok­ing state­ment or ques­tions, an illus­tra­tion by Julie Roth­man, and an exam­ple of a promise you could make to your­self (or as a fam­i­ly).

I love books of quo­ta­tions. Do you? This book looks more deeply into the thoughts inspired by the quote.

Once in awhile, the book feels a lit­tle heavy-hand­ed, but I remind myself that I am an adult with many years of expe­ri­ence in my brain. For some­one still in the first decade or two of their life, these are ideas worth con­sid­er­ing. There’s no shy­ing away from the moral com­pass in Today I Will. I find that refresh­ing. Espe­cial­ly now, when all of our wor­ry meters are turned to HIGH, I feel that a book like this is ground­ing.

bk_todayiwill2Eight to 12-year-olds will enjoy Today I Will on their own, but a class­room or home­school or fam­i­ly could use this for a short, dai­ly dis­cus­sion or a writ­ing prompt.

If you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you — you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quiet­ness.” —The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

I hes­i­tat­ed before writ­ing about this book, even though it’s a favorite of mine. It’s no longer in print (and that’s a rant for anoth­er day) but it is avail­able as an e‑book. That won’t be near­ly as sat­is­fy­ing as hold­ing this book in your hands (it’s a good size, a good weight, and the paper is real­ly nice) but you can eas­i­ly find this at a used book­seller (I know this — I looked it up).

Not every­thing we read has to be enter­tain­ing. Some­times we want to think and feel and learn to know our­selves bet­ter. This book is a good fit.

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Don’t get took! Read a book!”

by Vic­ki Palmquist

bk_bookitchI go crazy when I hear that Vaun­da Michaux Nel­son has anoth­er book com­ing out. I’m a fan. For my own read­ing life, No Crys­tal Stair: a doc­u­men­tary nov­el of the life and work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem book­seller, is one of my top ten books in the last ten years. I found every aspect of that book sat­is­fy­ing. I learned a great deal. Ms. Nel­son’s writ­ing style is well suit­ed to nar­ra­tive non­fic­tion: she makes it excit­ing. 

So, when I heard that a pic­ture book form of No Crys­tal Stair was on the hori­zon, my expec­ta­tions were high. It would be illus­trat­ed by R. Gre­go­ry Christie, whose work I have loved ever since his Stars in the Dark­ness (writ­ten by Bar­bara M. Joosse) found me sob­bing. But how would they com­press all of the great true sto­ries in No Crys­tal Stair into a pic­ture book?

They’ve done it. Even the title appeals to younger read­ers: The Book Itch: Free­dom, Truth & Harlem’s Great­est Book­store (Car­ol­rho­da, 2015).

The book is nar­rat­ed by Michaux’s son, Lewis H. Michaux, Jr., who is just­ly proud of his father. It opens with Muham­mad Ali’s vis­it to the store. Jump right in!

With the longer text in No Crys­tal Stair, Nel­son builds a depth of under­stand­ing for Michaux’s com­mit­ment to books. In The Book Itch, she knows this is not need­ed for young read­ers. We learn the parts that will inter­est this crowd. Michaux start­ed with five books, sell­ing his read­ing mate­ri­als out of a push­cart. He could­n’t get financ­ing from a bank because the banker said “Black peo­ple don’t read.” Michaux believed oth­er­wise. His store became a place to find, and read, books by and about black peo­ple.

Lewis Michaux was a good friend to Mal­colm X. They were both polit­i­cal and believed “Nobody can give you free­dom. Nobody can give you equal­i­ty or jus­tice or any­thing. If you’re a man, you take it.” Nel­son includes the heart­break­ing scene that recounts Michaux’s reac­tion to the assas­si­na­tion of Mal­colm X. His son had nev­er seen his father cry before that day.

bk_bookitch_illus

This book keeps his­to­ry alive and vital by con­nect­ing us to The Nation­al Memo­r­i­al African Book­store, a place which was, in Michaux’s words, “The House of Com­mon Sense and Prop­er Pro­pa­gan­da.” Christie’s illus­tra­tions are at once a record and a rib­bon reach­ing from the past, show­ing us how peo­ple felt. We often for­get about this in our look back … and it’s essen­tial to remem­ber that impor­tant his­tor­i­cal fig­ures were just like us, think­ing, act­ing, laugh­ing, hurt­ing.

Ms. Nel­son’s place in my list of Best Non­fic­tion Authors is firm. This is a book that belongs in every library, class­room, and on fam­i­ly book­shelves. Books bring us free­dom.

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Collecting your observations

Welcome to New Zealandby Vic­ki Palmquist

I nev­er kept a jour­nal. Why? It nev­er occurred to me. It wasn’t with­in my realm of famil­iar­i­ty. I start­ed writ­ing many sto­ries on note­book paper and stuffed them into fold­ers. But how sat­is­fy­ing to have a jour­nal, specif­i­cal­ly an obser­va­tion jour­nal to keep track of what you see, hear, and think.

As a child, I was a hunter-gath­er­er. Were you? Did you have a col­lec­tion of rocks? Leaves? Agates? Ani­mals? Per­haps you still do. Or per­haps you know a child who has these ten­den­cies.

I think of Rhoda’s Rock Hunt by Mol­ly Beth Grif­fith and Jen­nifer A. Bell (Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety Press). Rho­da col­lect­ed so many rocks on her family’s camp­ing trip that she couldn’t walk — they weighed her down.

Adding to Rhoda’s sto­ry, I think of Lois Ehlert’s The Scraps Book and Leaf Man. Author and illus­tra­tor Lois Ehlert is renowned for her col­lec­tions, her “scraps,” and how she puts them to use. A con­sum­mate hunter-gath­er­er.

Then there’s a brand new, absolute­ly amaz­ing book about cre­at­ing a nature jour­nal, Wel­come to New Zealand by San­dra Mor­ris (Can­dlewick Press). This pic­ture book com­bines the record-keep­ing, visu­al art sat­is­fac­tion, and exam­ples of dif­fer­ent things to observe in nature that will keep a hunter-gath­er­er busy for years. I admire this book on so many dif­fer­ent lev­els.

Welcome to New Zealand

Very clev­er­ly designed as a jour­nal, this book shows exam­ples of dif­fer­ent types of art, ways to arrange things on pages, labels, and note-tak­ing. There’s advice on press­ing leaves, observ­ing clouds and phas­es of the moon, and mak­ing a land­scape study. Every turn of the page brings a new sur­prise and some­thing to try on your own. (And you can do this — none of these excus­es about not being an artist — you are!)

Mor­ris writes, “Cre­ate a lay­ered map of the birds on the shore­line as the tide changes, like my high-tide jour­nal page here. Work­ing from the top of the page down­wards, draw the dif­fer­ent flocks as they advance clos­er.” Much bet­ter than ANY video game (and I like play­ing video games).

Welcome to New Zealand

Exam­ples of cray­on, pen­cil, water­col­or, and char­coal draw­ing will inspire each read­er. Plen­ti­ful sam­ples of cre­ative hand-let­ter­ing encour­age the free­dom to make your jour­nal quite per­son­al. Mor­ris pro­vides ideas, but unless you’re sit­ting on a beach in New Zealand as you read this, your jour­nal will be all your own.

And that’ just it. If you’re not in New Zealand, read­ing this book will teach you a lot about the land­scape, the mam­mals, the trees, the insects, and the sea­sons.

This book is great for any young hunter-gath­er­er and observ­er but any old per­son will like it, too! It’s a trea­sure.

Oth­er Resources

Smith­son­ian Kids has a site devot­ed to col­lect­ing.

Kids Love Rocks Fun Club

Dr. Patri­cia Nan Ander­son, Advantage4Parents, writes “Why Kids Love to Col­lect Stuff.

Now that you know about this book (you’re wel­come), and you try out some of the sug­gest­ed activ­i­ties, send me a sam­ple in the com­ments. Most of all, enjoy the time you spend with nature and your jour­nal.

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Is It a Classic?

by Vic­ki Palmquist

Loretta Mason PottsWhen I was in my twen­ties, I worked at an archi­tec­ture firm. Sev­er­al of the archi­tects were fas­ci­nat­ed by my deep con­nec­tion to children’s books. One day, one of them asked me, “Which books, being pub­lished now, will become clas­sics?” That ques­tion has stuck with me, hold­ing up a sign­post every now and then. How does one pre­dict a clas­sic?

When­ev­er some­one asks which books were favorites from my own child­hood (#book­sthathooked), sev­er­al books push them­selves to the fore­front—A Wrin­kle in Time, Lord of the Rings, and Loret­ta Mason Potts. That last title always caus­es a “huh?” Peo­ple, gen­er­al­ly, are unfa­mil­iar with this book.

The next ques­tion is always, “what’s it about?” Here’s the thing: I couldn’t answer that ques­tion. I didn’t remem­ber a thing about the book except its title. What I remem­bered was the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the read­ing of that book, the way it made me feel.

In sixth grade, I had a teacher, Gor­don Rausch, who changed my life. He showed me pos­si­bil­i­ties. He believed in me. He made learn­ing and research fun. I was often bored in school, but nev­er in his class. Every day was a new adven­ture. What I remem­ber most is that he read books out loud to the whole class. I remem­ber Pip­pi Long­stock­ing. I remem­ber A Wrin­kle in Time. But he also read Loret­ta Mason Potts to us.

As far as I can recall, he was the only teacher I had who ever read books out loud. Our class had its share of bul­lies and atten­tion-get­ters. No one inter­rupt­ed his read­ing of a book. His choic­es were good, his read­ing skills were exem­plary, and he always knew where to end, leav­ing us crav­ing more.

Loret­ta Mason Potts was writ­ten by Mary Chase and pub­lished in 1958. Thanks to The New York Review Children’s Col­lec­tion, you can read this fine book, too. They reprint­ed it in 2014. I’ve just re-read it and once again I under­stand why it springs to mind as my favorite.

Mary Chase lived in Den­ver. She died in 1981. You may know her because of anoth­er one of her books, Har­vey, which won a Pulitzer Prize and became a movie star­ring Jim­my Stew­art. If you know Har­vey, you will under­stand that the writer has a fan­tas­ti­cal imag­i­na­tion and a good wit. Both of those are evi­dent in Loret­ta Mason Potts.

It’s a charm­ing mix­ture of a Tam Lin sto­ry and a Snow Queen sto­ry, cen­ter­ing on a fam­i­ly of chil­dren, their moth­er, and their long-lost eldest sis­ter, told in a way that will reach into the heart and mind of a child. It has naughty chil­dren, ensor­celled chil­dren, a car­ing but some­what clue­less moth­er, a mys­te­ri­ous bridge, and a cas­tle occu­pied by the bored Count­ess and Gen­er­al, who hov­er on the precipice of dan­ger.

I am so glad that this book is illus­trat­ed. It was the first book pub­lished with Harold Berson’s black-and-white line draw­ings. He would go on to illus­trate anoth­er 90 books.

There are a grow­ing num­ber of titles in the New York Review Children’s Col­lec­tion. I have sev­er­al of them and would put every one of them on my book­shelves if I could. The selec­tion of these books is enchant­i­ng. Do you remem­ber read­ing Esther Averill’s Jen­ny and the Cat Club? How about Dino Buzzati’s The Bears’ Famous Inva­sion of Sici­ly? Or Lucre­tia P. Hale’s The Peterkin Papers? (I had for­got­ten all about this book until I saw it on their book­list — I loved that book.) Or Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf and Robert Law­son?

New York Review of Books Children's Collection

Are these books clas­sics? This, I think, is the inter­est­ing ques­tion. What is a clas­sic? These books are being pub­lished once again … so they’ve with­stood the test of time. Although the writ­ing is some­what quaint, they still hold up as sto­ries that will inter­est a mod­ern read­er. Loret­ta Mason Potts is a book that has lived on in my mind for decades. I won­der if the oth­er stu­dents in my sixth grade class remem­ber it in the same way.

Which books pub­lished today will become clas­sics? It’s a ques­tion worth dis­cussing, isn’t it?

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Museum Feast

HistoriumHis­to­ri­um
curat­ed by Richard Wilkin­son and Jo Nel­son
Big Pic­ture Press, 2015

by Vic­ki Palmquist

In a large, folio-sized book, the cura­tors of His­to­ri­um present a print­ed-page trip through a muse­um, grouped by cul­tures and described in detail so you can under­stand what you are see­ing with­out being rushed along by the crowd. Much like those rentable muse­um audio tapes or the plac­ards on the wall, it’s an enhanced expe­ri­ence of the arti­facts. Unless you are a well-trav­eled muse­um habitué, many of these items will be unfa­mil­iar to you.

There are arti­cles from cul­tures all over the world over a great length of time, rep­re­sent­ed for con­text by a time­line. From one mil­lion years ago, a Stone Age hand ax to the ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, a stone stat­ue from Poly­ne­sia, trav­el­ing to Melane­sia, The Lev­ant, Ancient Islam, The Hopewell, and the realm of the Vikings.

This muse­um is open 247, with­out the need for sign­ing a field trip per­mis­sion slip or pay­ing for park­ing.

Historium Ancient Egypt

On page 35, a beau­ti­ful­ly dec­o­rat­ed jug from the Pueblo is explained in this way: “pot­tery skills and designs were passed from moth­er to daugh­ter. Each Pueblo set­tle­ment would try to keep the loca­tion of its clay deposit a secret, to pre­vent it from being plun­dered … they often refer to the clay as female.” This kind of detail pro­vides depth for our under­stand­ing of the world.

On page 50, there is a dou­ble-head­ed ser­pent mosa­ic from the 15th or 16th cen­tu­ry, “intend­ed to both impress and ter­ri­fy the behold­er.” We learn that “the crafts­men best known for their turquoise mosaics were not Aztecs but Mix­tecs …” which results in a tan­gen­tial search to find out more about the Mix­tecs, just as a bricks-and-mor­tar muse­um would do.

I’m not sure I under­stand why the arti­facts are pre­sent­ed against dark­ly-col­ored back­grounds … some­times the con­trast makes it hard­er to study the items, but over­all this is a book that will sat­is­fy the curi­ous in your fam­i­ly or class­room. Like all good muse­ums, it is the begin­ning to a jour­ney of dis­cov­ery.

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Laughter and Grief

by Vic­ki Palmquist

Dragons in the WatersThere are books we remem­ber all of our lives, even if we can’t remem­ber the details. Some­times we can’t even remem­ber the sto­ry, but we remem­ber the char­ac­ters and how they made us feel. We recall being trans­port­ed into the pages of the book, see­ing what the char­ac­ters see, hear­ing what they hear, and under­stand­ing the time and spaces and breath­ing in and out of the char­ac­ters. Do we become those char­ac­ters, at least for a lit­tle while, at least until we move on to the next book? Is this why we can remem­ber them long after we’ve fin­ished the book?

This col­umn is called Read­ing Ahead because I’m one of those peo­ple oth­ers revile: I read the end of the book before I’ve pro­gressed to that point in the sto­ry. I read straight through for as long as I can stand it and then I have to know how the sto­ry ends. I tell myself that I do this because then I can observe the writ­ing and how the author weaves the end­ing into the book long before the last pages. That’s par­tial­ly true. But I also admit that the ten­sion becomes unbear­able for me.

When I find a book that is so deli­cious that I don’t want to know the end until its prop­er time, then I know that I am read­ing a book whose char­ac­ters will live on in me. Their cells move from the pages of the book into my arms and shoul­ders, head­ing straight to my mind and my heart.

The Wednesday WarsFor me, those books are The Rid­dle­mas­ter of Hed by Patri­cia McKil­lip, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (but not The Hob­bit), The Wiz­ard of Earth­sea by Ursu­la K. LeGuin, The Dark is Ris­ing by Susan Coop­er, Drag­ons in the Waters and Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle, and every one of the Deep Val­ley books writ­ten by Maud Hart Lovelace. 

There are some new­er books that haven’t yet been test­ed by time. I could feel that I was absorb­ing The Wednes­day Wars by Gary D. Schmidt and Catch You Lat­er, Trai­tor by Avi and Absolute­ly, Tru­ly by Heather Vogel Fred­er­ick.  There are many, many oth­er books that I admire and enjoy read­ing but I don’t feel them becom­ing a part of me in quite the same way.

I sus­pect that you have a short list of books that make you feel like this. They are an unfor­get­table part of you.

Isabelle Day Refuses to Die of a Broken HeartI’ve just fin­ished read­ing Isabelle Day Refus­es to Die of a Bro­ken Heart by Jane St. Antho­ny (Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press). It is a fun­ny and absorb­ing book about learn­ing to deal with grief. That’s a place I’ve lived for the last four years in a way I hadn’t expe­ri­enced before. When my moth­er died, my all-my-life friend, an essen­tial part of me was trans­formed into some­thing else. I don’t yet know what that is.

Isabelle Day is learn­ing about this, too. Her father, her pal, her fun­ny man, her let-me-show-you-the-delights-of-life-kid par­ent has died short­ly before the book begins. Her moth­er is in the throes of grief, pulled inward, not com­mu­ni­cat­ing well. Isabelle and her moth­er have moved from Mil­wau­kee, where close friends and a famil­iar house stand strong, to Min­neapo­lis, where Isabelle’s mom grew up. They are liv­ing upstairs in a duplex owned by two elder­ly sis­ters who imme­di­ate­ly share friend­ship and food and wis­dom with Isabelle, some­thing she’s feel­ing too prick­ly to accept. There are new friends whom Isabelle does­n’t trust to be true.

But for any­one who has expe­ri­enced grief, this book will reach out and touch you gen­tly, soft­ly, let­ting you know that oth­ers under­stand what you are feel­ing. Isabelle comes to under­stand that she doesn’t have to feel alone … the world is wait­ing to be expe­ri­enced in oth­er, new ways.

It’s a beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten book in that the words fit togeth­er in love­ly, some­times sur­pris­ing, some­times star­tling ways. There is great care tak­en with the sto­ry and the char­ac­ters. And yet the unex­pect­ed is always around the cor­ner. Isabelle is a com­plex per­son. She does not act pre­dictably. There is no sense of “woe is me” in this book. There’s a whole class of what I call “whiny books” (most­ly adult) and this isn’t one of them. This book is filled with life, won­der, humor, and most­ly under­stand­ing.

Isabelle and Grace and Mar­garet, Miss Flo­ra and Miss Dora, they are all a part of me now. When I am feel­ing sad and miss­ing the peo­ple I have lost, I will re-read this book because I know it will pro­vide heal­ing. And I can laugh … it’s been hard to do that. Thank you, Jane.

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The Classics, Galdone-Style

by Vic­ki Palmquist

Folk Tale Classics Treasury GaldoneAre you look­ing for a show­er or baby gift that will be appre­ci­at­ed for a long time? A good birth­day present for a young child?

The Folk Tale Clas­sics Trea­sury, inter­pret­ed and illus­trat­ed by Paul Gal­done (HMH Books for Young Read­ers, 2013), is a good place for par­ents to start with retellings of west­ern Euro­pean folk tales. The sto­ries includ­ed here are impor­tant for cul­tur­al aware­ness. Through­out their lives, chil­dren will hear ref­er­ences to the Three Lit­tle Kit­tens (“and you shall have no pie”) and Goldilocks and the Three Bears (“that por­ridge was just right”) so it’s good to intro­duce them to these sto­ries ear­ly.

The Three Little Kittens

In his Lit­tle Red Hen, won­der­ful depic­tions of the cat, dog, mouse, and an alarmed and frus­trat­ed hen add insou­ciance to the sto­ry that both chil­dren and adults will enjoy. Deli­cious details in each draw­ing make it fun to read with some­one by your side.

Little Red Hen

In his ver­sion of The Three Lit­tle Pigs, the big, bad wolf is wily but Pig No. 3 is even smarter, in a sat­is­fy­ing way that will have you cheer­ing.

The bears in his Goldilocks tale are hand­some and smart. We see their tale from the point of view of a fam­i­ly who is wronged by a mis­chie­vous lit­tle girl with gold­en locks who is both unthink­ing and care­less. Where are her man­ners?!

The Three Bil­ly Goats Gruff and The Gin­ger­bread Boy round out the sto­ries includ­ed in this vol­ume. These are tales that have been passed down for gen­er­a­tions, remem­bered fond­ly, but also under­stood.

Pig No. 3 was cau­tious and clever, the lit­tle Red Hen indus­tri­ous and just, and the biggest Bil­ly Goat Gruff proves that you should be care­ful who you chal­lenge.

Paul Gal­done was born in Budapest, Hun­gary, in 1907, but after 1928 lived in New York and Ver­mont where he illus­trat­ed more than 300 books. His first illus­trat­ed book was Miss Pick­erell Goes to Mars in 1951. In the sec­ond half of the last cen­tu­ry, his work was ubiq­ui­tous, and much loved. Reis­su­ing this vol­ume will cre­ate a new gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren who pic­ture these sto­ries with his illus­tra­tions. Mr. Gal­done died in 1986. You can find more infor­ma­tion about him at the Ker­lan Col­lec­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta, where a good rep­re­sen­ta­tion of his orig­i­nal art and work­ing mate­ri­als is pre­served. You’ll also find a good deal of infor­ma­tion on his memo­r­i­al web­site.

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Fashion Forward and Backward

by Vic­ki Palmquist

Where Did My Clothes Come From?(A) If your kids are plugged in to Project Run­way or
(B) if you come from a tra­di­tion of sewing clothes in your fam­i­ly or
© if you’ve ever been asked about where jeans come from … 

this is the right book for your 5- to 8‑year-old. Where Did My Clothes Come From? by Chris But­ter­worth, with illus­tra­tions by Lucia Gag­giot­ti (Can­dlewick Press, 2015) is a nifty book with words and draw­ings that com­bine to give sat­is­fy­ing answers.

From jeans to fleece jack­ets to par­ty dress­es, from cot­ton to silk to poly­ester, each fab­ric is cre­at­ed from nat­ur­al fibers grown as plants or sheared from ani­mals or else it’s cre­at­ed from a “sticky syrup” made up of chem­i­cals. The author and illus­tra­tor walk us through the process from the cloth’s ori­gin to the clean­ing to the fac­to­ry to the fab­ric.

Where Did My Clothes Come From?

Ms. Butterworth’s lan­guage is clear in a straight­for­ward sto­ry that will answer ques­tions and stim­u­late inter­est. Ms. Gagliotti’s illus­tra­tions pro­vide vital infor­ma­tion. When the author, writ­ing about jeans, says that “the cloth is cut into shapes,” she gives us a draw­ing of some­one who is doing that cut­ting on a well-detailed table, fol­lowed by the cut pieces laid out in a before-you-sew-the-jeans dia­gram with labeled parts. For this read­er, every­thing makes sense.

I’ve nev­er want­ed to know too exact­ly where poly­ester and fleece come from but, thanks to this book, now I know. A sec­tion on recy­cling encour­ages us to recy­cle plas­tic bev­er­age bot­tles to be made into fleece jack­ets and cut down jeans for a skirt when the knees are worn.

From Rags to RichesAnoth­er book on this sub­ject is From Rags to Rich­es: a His­to­ry of Girls’ Cloth­ing in Amer­i­ca by Leslie Sills (Hol­i­day House, 2005). The book is out of print but you may find it in your library or as a used book. It’s worth track­ing down. Excel­lent pho­to choic­es and live­ly descrip­tions and facts will inform kids about the fash­ions that have come and gone and still inspire us. Even bet­ter, the author looks at his­to­ry through fash­ion, a par­tic­u­lar view­point that will find kids think­ing more deeply about their cur­rent expe­ri­ences.

History of Women's FashionThis just in: His­to­ry of Wom­en’s Fash­ion by San­na Man­der (Big Pic­ture Press, 2015). What an astound­ing book! It has just one page which folds out to 6−1÷2 feet! That one page is print­ed on both sides. On the front, there is a time­line of cloth­ing and acces­sories women have worn from 1900 to the present, with approx­i­mate­ly 15 draw­ings on each sec­tion of that page. It all folds down to fit with­in the pages of a folio-sized book.

We see women wear­ing the clothes so we get the idea of how bod­ies were affect­ed by the dress­es and pants and corsets! The first item on the time­line is a corset. We are shown a bathing suit from 1917 (mod­est­ly cov­er­ing the entire body), a Coco Chanel pleat­ed skirt and jack­et from 1924, a Land Girl Uni­form from 1939, a Chris­t­ian Dior Black Dress from 1955, a punk dress from 1980, and an Alexan­der McQueen ensem­ble, with plen­ty of styles in between. On the back side of that one page are sil­hou­ettes of the draw­ings on the front with text explain­ing what we’re see­ing and the sig­nif­i­cance of the style.

I love this book now but I would have espe­cial­ly loved it as a teen because I was end­less­ly design­ing clothes and draw­ing them on mod­els. Think how much fun your bud­ding design­er would have! This gets top marks from me for inven­tive­ness and a fun way to absorb infor­ma­tion. 

Anna KareninaAnd then, because I can’t resist board books for adults, you might look at Anna Karen­i­na: a Fash­ion Primer the next time you’re in your favorite book­store. Writ­ten by Jen­nifer Adams, with evoca­tive art by Ali­son Oliv­er (Gibbs Smith, 2014), this book is part of the pub­lish­ers’ BabyLit series. I’m still puz­zling over this one. With quotes from Leo Tol­stoy and focus­ing on fash­ion words and images, per­haps instill­ing love of great adult lit­er­a­ture is start­ing (too) ear­ly? But it would be a great con­ver­sa­tion starter at your next lit­er­ary din­ner par­ty or book club.

Anna Karenina

 

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There’s Nothing to Dooooooooo

by Vic­ki Palmquist

By this point in the sum­mer when I was young, the charm of being out of school had worn off, I’d played every game on my grandma’s shelves, and I’d had a few fights with my friends in the neigh­bor­hood, so I’d retreat­ed to read­ing as many books as I could, con­sum­ing sto­ries like Ms. Pac­man swal­low­ing ener­gy pel­lets.

When your kids claim that there’s noth­ing to do, here are a few sug­ges­tions for books that inspire doing things, think­ing about things, and inves­ti­gat­ing more.

How Come? Every Kid's Science Questions ExplainedAs I was grow­ing up, I believed that I didn’t like sci­ence or math. Turns out it was text­books and work­sheets and tests I didn’t much care for. Give me a para­graph like these two:

One very big num­ber was named by nine-year-old Mil­ton Sirot­ta in 1938.

Milton’s math­e­mati­cian uncle, Edward Kas­ner, asked his nephew what he would call the num­ber one fol­lowed by a hun­dred zeroes. Mil­ton decid­ed it was a googol.”

And the num­ber nam­ing doesn’t stop there. This tid­bit is part of a chap­ter called “What is the last num­ber in the uni­verse”” found in How Come? Every Kid’s Sci­ence Ques­tions Explained (Work­man, 2014), writ­ten by Kathy Wol­lard and illus­trat­ed by Debra Solomon with won­der­ful­ly com­ic and live­ly depic­tions of the con­cepts in the text.

Oth­er chap­ters address must-know top­ics such as “How does a fin­ger on a straw keep liq­uid in?” and “Are ants real­ly stronger than humans?” and “Why do the leaves change col­or in the fall?”

I prob­a­bly don’t need to point out that kids aren’t the only ones who will find this book fas­ci­nat­ing. Read a few chap­ters to your­self at night and you’ll be able to answer those end­less­ly curi­ous chil­dren who pull on your sleeve.

PhotoplayFor the visu­al­ly curi­ous, and I believe that means Every Child, you’ll be inspired by Pho­to­play! Doo­dle. Design. Draw. by M.J. Bron­stein (Chron­i­cle, 2014).

Ms. Bron­stein pro­vides exam­ples and work­space for kids to draw on exist­ing pho­tos (print­ed in the book), telling a sto­ry with those draw­ings or even writ­ing a sto­ry. The book can be used in quite a few dif­fer­ent ways … and then you can take your own pho­tos and print them out for kids to con­tin­ue hav­ing fun and using their imag­i­na­tions.

Who Done It?A book that takes some inves­ti­ga­tion and one that looks like a book for very young chil­dren is actu­al­ly a sophis­ti­cat­ed guess­ing game. The humans and crit­ters line up on Olivi­er Tallec’s game pages in Who Done It? (Chron­i­cle, forth­com­ing in 2015).

A sim­ple ques­tion such as “Who played with that mean cat?” requires look­ing into. Can you spot the most like­ly sus­pect?

For kids who are learn­ing about facial expres­sions, body lan­guage, and tak­ing one’s time to rea­son through a puz­zle, this is an ide­al book that will engen­der good dis­cus­sions or occu­py a few of those “there’s noth­ing to doooooo” hours of sum­mer.

Who Done It?

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Give me a good mystery

Sum­mer­time is syn­ony­mous with read­ing for me.

My grand­moth­er kept a light blue blan­ket by the back door so I could spread it out under the elm tree and dis­solve into sto­ries. Some­times a lemon­ade, some­times a piece of water­mel­on … but always a book. Some­times a friend would sit next to me absorbed in a sto­ry of their own but most often it was just me, the birds, the sounds of sum­mer, and a hard­cov­er book.

I was remind­ed of that blan­ket under the tree this week­end when we were in Som­er­set, Wis­con­sin. We had to be some­where at 11 am but we were ear­ly. We had brought books with us — of course — and we sat under a tree read­ing.

Eddie Red UndercoverFor me, it was Eddie Red Under­cov­er: Mys­tery on Muse­um Mile. Read­ing mys­ter­ies is a pas­sion and a com­fort for me. This book by Mar­cia Wells, with inte­gral illus­tra­tions by Mar­cos Calo, swept me in and con­nect­ed me to the girl who read dur­ing her sum­mers, as many books as they’d let her check out of the library.

Eddie Red lives in New York City with a dad who’s been down­sized from the library and a moth­er who’s a real estate agent. Although he’s been attend­ing Sen­ate Acad­e­my, a school for gift­ed stu­dents, his family’s finan­cial duress puts him in a state of anx­i­ety over not being able to afford tuition next year. He likes his school but he real­izes he won’t see his best friend, Jon­ah, any­more. Jon­ah is bril­liant but he’s chal­lenged by hyper­ac­tiv­i­ty and a num­ber of med­ical con­di­tions … all of which make him a per­fect side­kick.

You see, Edmund Lon­nrot, our hero, is a 12-year-old with a pho­to­graph­ic mem­o­ry and a star­tling abil­i­ty to draw detailed, life­like por­traits of peo­ple he has seen recent­ly. When Edmund and his dad are drawn into a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion in an alley, Edmund is lat­er able to draw the crim­i­nals for the police. It turns out these par­tic­u­lar bad guys are part of the Picas­so Gang, inter­na­tion­al­ly-want­ed art thieves. The police hire Edmund as a police sketch artist, code name Eddie Red, to observe the com­ings and goings of peo­ple on Muse­um Mile in NYC, any of whom could be a dis­guised art thief.

Plau­si­bil­i­ty? Well, let’s just say that the phrase “will­ing sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief” is apro­pos. I was will­ing to over­look the NYPD hir­ing a twelve-year-old for a stake­out as far­fetched  and get com­plete­ly involved in Edmund’s and Jonah’s sto­ry, a chess game of a plot, and Edmund’s like­able sense of humor. The author does a good job of mak­ing Eddie’s tal­ents feel uni­ver­sal­ly adopt­able — if only we had a Jon­ah to give us that extra oomph in the mys­tery-solv­ing are­na.

Eddie Red Undercover - Marcos Calo illustratorCalo’s por­traits are a part of the plot, essen­tial to the sto­ry. They’re as full of char­ac­ter as the author’s sto­ry. At the end of the book Eddie Red offers advice on how to draw a por­trait. That’s per­fec­tion because I found myself itch­ing to pick up a pen­cil and draw the peo­ple around me while I was solv­ing the mys­tery along­side Edmund.

It’s an engag­ing sto­ry, per­fect for read­ing any time, but espe­cial­ly sat­is­fy­ing on a sum­mer after­noon.

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I’m not ready for school!”

Dad's First DayI minored in the­atre in col­lege, where I crossed the street from Augs­burg to attend Arthur Bal­let’s leg­endary his­to­ry of the­atre class at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta.

Lessons learned in that class came rush­ing back as I savored Mike Wohnout­ka’s Dad’s First Day because it struck me how well this book would play as the­atre of the absurd.

Mike is a keen observ­er of behav­ior, know­ing what will delight kids … and their par­ents. Turn­ing that first day of school on its ear, show­ing that, truth­ful­ly, par­ents are just as wor­ried as the child is, pro­vides good fun, dis­cuss­able emo­tions, and a nat­ur­al lead-in to con­ver­sa­tions.

The dad’s behav­ior is drawn in friend­ly, real­is­ti­cal­ly com­ic style with a var­ied palette of gouache paint. His reac­tions are absurd. Kids will rec­og­nize that and whoop with acknowl­edg­ment. Dad is endear­ing and so is the lit­tle boy who non­cha­lant­ly, even dis­play­ing con­fi­dence, can’t wait to expe­ri­ence his first day at school. 

Word choic­es make this a good read-aloud while the illus­tra­tions make this a good side-by-side book. And you must find the ref­er­ences to three of Mike’s pre­vi­ous books in the illus­tra­tions. I found six … can you find more?

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for par­ents, grand­par­ents, care­givers, and preschool edu­ca­tors.

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Epic felt

Three small board books … encom­pass­ing the first three Star Wars movies and a year-long craft project.

Star Wars Epic Felt

As I read each book, all 12 words, one word and one pho­to on each two-page spread, it slow­ly dawned on me just how inge­nious they are.

In those 12 care­ful­ly cho­sen words and scenes from the movie, Jack and Hol­man Wang, twin broth­ers and admirable artistes, man­age to evoke the entire saga of the first three movies. As a Star Wars-lov­ing par­ent , grand­par­ent (yes, the first fans are old enough to be read­ing to their grand­chil­dren), aunt or uncle, this is a clever way to com­mu­ni­cate across gen­er­a­tions, to bring your wee ones into the uni­verse of the Sky­walk­ers.

Each word in the books gives read­ers an oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk about ideas such as snow, friend, kiss, father … all of the tru­ly big con­cepts in a young person’s life … and how they weave into the Star Wars saga.

If we still had bards, they would be regal­ing us with the epic tales of Tatooine and Alde­baran, the Jedi, and the Force. These books are an unpar­al­leled way to encour­age sto­ry­telling of tales that are sure­ly as famil­iar to mod­ern bards as Beowulf or Gil­gamesh were to audi­ences of old.

Star Wars Epic Felt

For fur­ther aston­ish­ment, each pho­to on the page oppo­site those words is as heart­felt and con­cise in sto­ry­telling as are the words. Made by nee­dle felt­ing, con­sid­er as well the scale mod­el­ing of the char­ac­ters’ sur­round­ings and the excel­lent pho­tog­ra­phy. This is artis­tic skill at its finest.

Jack Wang is an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor teach­ing cre­ative writ­ing at Itha­ca Col­lege. Hol­man Wang left the life of a mid­dle school teacher and cor­po­rate lawyer to focus full­time on cre­at­ing children’s books. The boys grew up in Van­cou­ver, British Colum­bia. Today, they live on oppo­site coasts, Jack in Itha­ca, New York, and Hol­man in Van­cou­ver. Their web­site is a must-vis­it.

In their own words, here’s how the books are made: “The pri­ma­ry tech­nique for mak­ing the fig­ures in Star Wars Epic Yarns is nee­dle felt­ing, which is essen­tial­ly sculpt­ing with wool. This is a painstak­ing process which involves stab­bing loose wool thou­sands of times with a spe­cial­ized barbed nee­dle. This entan­gles the wool fibers, mak­ing the wool firmer and firmer. It took us near­ly a year to cre­ate all the Star Wars fig­ures and space­ships in wool, build all the scale-mod­el sets, and do all the in-stu­dio or on loca­tion pho­tog­ra­phy. We even flew to Cal­i­for­nia and Ari­zona to find real desert to recre­ate the scenes on Tatooine! As life­long Star Wars fans, it was impor­tant to us to get the books just right. Think of Star Wars Epic Yarns as the ulti­mate, year-long craft project! It was def­i­nite­ly a labor of love.”

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

Star Wars Epic Yarns: A New Hope
Jack Wang and Hol­man Wang
Chron­i­cle Books, 2015

Be sure to look for their oth­er clas­sic books, Cozy Clas­sics from Sim­ply Read Books, a cou­ple of which are pic­tured here.

Cozy Creations

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Outer Space Ambassador

alarm clockby Vic­ki Palmquist

Every once in a while I come across a book that wakes up that breath­less, eager, sense-of-won­der-at-every­thing-new feel­ing I had about read­ing as a child. I admit it, after 3,000 or so books the plots and char­ac­ters and res­o­lu­tions can feel sim­i­lar to some­thing I’ve read before.

Well, I joy­ful­ly read a book that hit all the right notes and trans­port­ed me back to a bed­time read­ing expe­ri­ence where I couldn’t turn off the light, fell asleep, and then woke up in the morn­ing to fin­ish the book before my feet hit the floor.

AmbassadorAmbas­sador by William Alexan­der is just that good.

I’ve enjoyed sci­ence fic­tion since my sixth grade teacher read aloud A Wrin­kle in Time. Our entire class­room tried hard to tesser­act. Thank you, Mr. Rausch! Then our librar­i­an helped me find Eleanor Cameron’s Mush­room Plan­et books. There was­n’t much else in that genre for a sixth grade read­er so I moved on to fan­ta­sy … but today’s read­ers have a wider vari­ety of choic­es.

Will Alexan­der does what all good hero­ic jour­ney authors do. He starts us in a com­fort­able, right-at-home set­ting and then takes us to places unimag­in­able. Gabriel San­dro Fuentes, who recent­ly got into trou­ble for let­ting his friend Frankie set off a rock­et, is select­ed to be the next Ambas­sador from Earth to The Embassy, where sen­tient beings from all over the uni­verse gath­er for diplo­ma­cy. When the Envoy arrives, he tells Gabriel of his new respon­si­bil­i­ty. He should also give Gabe point­ers on how to trav­el through his dreams to reach the Embassy and what to do when he gets there. But some­one is try­ing to kill Gabe and the Envoy is busy defend­ing him … by cre­at­ing a black hole in the Fuentes’ dry­er. A small one.

Alexan­der plants clues through­out the book. When Gabe and Frankie argue over who has more pow­er, Zor­ro or Bat­man, the author is neat­ly set­ting up the theme in the book. I espe­cial­ly loved Gabe’s fas­ci­nat­ing, intre­pid, mul­ti-tal­ent­ed, and present par­ents … up until Gabe’s father faces depor­ta­tion. Alexander’s fresh descrip­tions, per­cep­tions, and actions keep the read­er upright, expec­tant, slight­ly ner­vous, and look­ing for­ward to turn­ing the page.

This is the per­fect book for most read­ers whether they have expe­ri­enced sci­ence fic­tion or not. It’s first and fore­most a rock­et-fueled sto­ry with intrigue, humor, and a very like­able hero. Read it!

 

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When a Prince Needs a Mechanic

by Vic­ki Palmquist

Interstellar CinderellaWith a deft sto­ry and oth­er­world­ly art, Deb­o­rah Under­wood and Meg Hunt bring us Inter­stel­lar Cin­derel­la, a fresh and wel­come take on the famil­iar fairy tale with a bit of Andro­cles and the Lion and The Jet­sons thrown into the mix.

In this ver­sion, Cin­derel­la loves fix­ing any­thing mechan­i­cal. She has her own set of spe­cial tools, all care­ful­ly drawn and named on the end­pa­pers for the kids who love iden­ti­fy­ing things. Her com­pan­ion is a robot mouse, small and seem­ing­ly insignif­i­cant but he saves the day when the wicked step­moth­er tries to keep the Prince from see­ing Cin­derel­la.

The illus­tra­tor used “gouache, brush and ink, graphite, rubylith, and dig­i­tal process” to cre­ate a world that is read­i­ly iden­ti­fi­able as being set in the future, with touch­es of Ara­bi­an Nights and super­cool space­ships, which Cin­derel­la dreams of fix­ing when they break down.

When her fairy godro­bot (don’t you think she’s a nod to Rosie on The Jet­sons?) gives her a brand new space­suit and a pow­er gem to join the Prince’s Roy­al Space Parade, the Prince’s space­ship springs a leak and Cin­derel­la is there to fix it.

I took a “Pow­der­puff Mechan­ics” class when I was in col­lege (I didn’t name the class, folks), and I was mighty proud to be able to work on my own car. I know the thrill of fix­ing a leak and fig­ur­ing out how to get bet­ter per­for­mance out of an engine, so Cin­derel­la is my kind of gal.

I’m espe­cial­ly fond of the way this book ends. No spoil­ers here. Let’s just say that this isn’t your grandmother’s Cin­derel­la sto­ry. In a rhyming pic­ture book, the author cre­ates a hero­ine who is tal­ent­ed and wise. The book sparkles and crack­les with the pow­er of the stars. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

Inter­stel­lar Cin­derel­la, writ­ten by Deb­o­rah Under­wood, illus­trat­ed by Meg Hunt, Chron­i­cle Books, 2015

 

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We Didn’t Always Know the Way

by Vic­ki Palmquist

How to Read a StoryA step-by-step, slight­ly tongue-in-cheek but most­ly sin­cere, guide to read­ing a book, How to Read a Sto­ry by Kate Mess­ner, illus­trat­ed by Mark Siegel (Chron­i­cle Books), will have you and your young read­ers feel­ing all warm and cozy and smart.

With advice in Step 2 to Find a Read­ing Bud­dy, we are cau­tioned “And make sure you both like the book.” That makes per­fect sense. Read­ing bud­dies, as drawn in a col­or­ful palette by illus­tra­tor and car­toon­ist Mark Siegel, can be old­er, younger, “or maybe not a per­son at all.” Per­haps a blue dog will wish to read with you.

In Step 6, the sug­ges­tion is to read the dia­logue by say­ing it “in a voice to match who’s talk­ing.” The ink-and-water­col­or illus­tra­tions take up the nar­ra­tive, giv­ing us irre­sistible words with which to prac­tice, a lion, a mouse who says “I am the most POWERFUL in all the land!” and a robot who mere­ly says “Beep.” It’s excel­lent prac­tice for inter­pret­ing pic­tures and putting mean­ing into the words.

We’re invit­ed to try our minds at pre­dic­tion in Step 8, as our read­er and his read­ing bud­dy, the blue dog, con­tem­plate what will hap­pen next.

It’s a book that will make you smile, a good match between well-cho­sen words and play­ful illus­tra­tions, yet it’s a use­ful book for home and school and sto­ry hour. How can chil­dren learn the way to read out loud? How to Read a Sto­ry will have them try­ing before you know it.

 

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That’s Some Egg

by Vic­ki Palmquist

Under the EggIn Under the Egg, Theodo­ra Ten­pen­ny begins her sto­ry when her beloved grand­fa­ther, Jack, is hit by a taxi … and dies. Out­side their 200-year-old Man­hat­tan town­home, Jack whis­pers to Theo to “look under the egg.” Deal­ing with her grief, but des­per­ate because she and her head-in-the-clouds moth­er have no income, Theo tries to fig­ure out what her grand­fa­ther meant. She’s fair­ly cer­tain he’s try­ing to pro­vide for them, but did he have to be so mys­te­ri­ous?

What unrav­els is a tense mys­tery of art “theft,” Jack’s sol­dier­ing in World War II, sus­pi­cious adults who become alto­geth­er too inter­est­ed, and a new best friend, Bod­hi, who aids and abets Theo’s hare­brained, but ulti­mate­ly bril­liant, schemes.

Under the Egg is a fast-paced, intel­li­gent, learn­ing-about-art-his­to­ry while sav­ing the world sort of book, not unlike Indi­ana Jones or Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. I stayed up all night to read it, unable to rest until the mys­tery was solved.

On Lau­ra Marx Fitzgerald’s web­site, there are won­der­ful resources. When I fin­ished Dan Brown’s The DaVin­ci Code, the first thing I did was find a paint­ing of The Lord’s Sup­per to see if he was right. Fitzger­ald saves us the hunt. There’s a map of all the places Theo vis­its in New York City. There’s more about Raphael, with thought­ful­ly pro­vid­ed paint­ings that link to fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries from the painter’s life. There’s a page devot­ed to sep­a­rat­ing fact from fic­tion. And more.

Read­ers who love adven­tur­ous romps, who like to puz­zle through a mys­tery, or enjoy vis­it­ing art muse­ums will adore this book.

 

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Hands-on History for Spatial Learners

Making HistoryWhen I was in ele­men­tary school, I was nev­er more excit­ed than when the teacher told us we could make a dio­ra­ma or a minia­ture scene of a pio­neer set­tle­ment. The con­cept, plan­ning, and build­ing were thrilling for me. Even though my fin­ished work sel­dom approached the daz­zling dis­play I could see in my head, I learned a great deal about his­to­ry, engi­neer­ing, sci­ence, and card­board from my for­ays into build­ing a small world in three dimen­sions.

We know that some kids learn best this way. They are not only hands-on, but they are spa­tial and visu­al learn­ers, peo­ple who learn best by see­ing and doing.

If you know chil­dren like this, they’ll be delight­ed with Mak­ing His­to­ry: Have a Blast with 15 Crafts (writ­ten by Wendy Fresh­man and Kristin Jans­son), pub­lished by the Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety Press.

With a short his­tor­i­cal les­son, thor­ough sup­plies list, excel­lent pho­tographs, and step-by-step instruc­tions that include a call-out for adult involve­ment (using scis­sors or a hot glue gun) your favorite kids can make a Makak Gen­er­a­tion Bas­ket or an Ice House (mod­el) or a Día de Los Muer­tos Nichos (a small shad­ow­box with skele­tons depict­ed on them for the Day hon­or­ing the Dead).

metal repousse pendant

Intro­duc­ing a Met­al Foil Repoussé Pen­dant, the authors share that Alice and Flo­rence LeDuc formed Hast­ings Needle­work in 1888 to cre­ate and sell embroi­dered house­hold items that were trea­sured by many as art­work. Bought by influ­en­tial fam­i­lies and fea­tured on mag­a­zine cov­ers, their needle­work was known world­wide. The Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety has more than 800 of their pat­terns in its archives.

With met­al foil, a foam sheet, and house­hold sup­plies such as a pen­cil, pen, and scis­sors, your stu­dents can make a neck­lace or box orna­ment from a Hast­ings Needle­work pat­tern, includ­ed in the book and thought­ful­ly sup­plied online.

Paul Bunyan Action FigureFor your visu­al and spa­tial learn­ers, build­ing a Twister Tor­na­do (did you know that the Mayo Clin­ic was found­ed as the result of a tor­na­do?) or a Paul Bun­yan Action Fig­ure is a sneaky but effec­tive way to make learn­ing mem­o­rable and engag­ing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reading Ahead: Levitate Your Brother!

Big Magic for Little Hands

by Vic­ki Palmquist

We recent­ly host­ed a Har­ry Pot­ter par­ty for adults for which every­one was asked to per­form a mag­ic trick. Some peo­ple fierce­ly addressed the chal­lenge. Some peo­ple pan­icked. Some peo­ple bought a trick off the inter­net. I turned to Joshua Jay’s Big Mag­ic for Lit­tle Hands (Work­man Pub­lish­ing Co).

Cit­ing all the ben­e­fits of learn­ing to per­form mag­ic, the author reveals that he was­n’t a read­er until he need­ed to know about mag­ic. Learn­ing mag­ic tricks and per­form­ing them gives a child con­fi­dence and helps with pub­lic speak­ing skills. “Oth­ers have inte­grat­ed mag­ic into their jobs, using effects to break the ice or com­plete a sale or relax a jury.”

There are dia­grams and ter­mi­nol­o­gy and sug­gest­ed stage setups. There are help­ful hints (over­com­ing stage fright). There are lists of mate­ri­als need­ed for each feat of pres­tidig­i­ta­tion.

With com­pelling black, white, and red illus­tra­tions, the dia­grams are easy to fol­low, con­vinc­ing even the most skep­ti­cal that they could make these tricks work.

The writ­ing is not just step-by-step instruc­tion­al – Jay writes with humor and an appre­ci­a­tion of what’s prac­ti­cal.

The mate­ri­als are items you prob­a­bly have on hand in your house­hold. When one list includes a top hat, Jay writes “A top hat works great, but you could also dec­o­rate an emp­ty tis­sue box and use that, or use your dad’s cow­boy hat. (Note: This only works if your dad is a cow­boy.)”

Per­haps most of all, I enjoyed the real-life sto­ries of mag­ic such as “Hou­dini’s Great Plane Escape.” When Hou­di­ni was film­ing the movie The Grim Game, a stunt required climb­ing by rope from one plane to the oth­er. Dur­ing the stunt, the two planes col­lid­ed and crashed to the ground. What hap­pened? Well, that would be telling. Accord­ing to Jay, a good magi­cian nev­er shares a secret or tells how it is done. Big Mag­ic for Lit­tle Hands will tell you but I won’t.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for kids aged 8 and old­er (and the adults in their lives who will be just as fas­ci­nat­ed). It’s a large for­mat book with a big heart and plen­ty of fas­ci­na­tion between its cov­ers. A great gift. A good, read­able, and hours-of-fun addi­tion to your library.

 

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Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming

There is a sil­ly debate tak­ing place about whether adults who read children’s books, includ­ing young adult books, are infan­tile and should have their driver’s licens­es revoked because they’re obvi­ous­ly not mature enough to play dodge ‘em cars on the free­way and text while their two thou­sand pound vehi­cle hur­tles down the road. Grown up, indeed!… more
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Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge

Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge

In down­town Min­neapo­lis, Min­neso­ta, span­ning the Mis­sis­sip­pi Riv­er, there is a “Stone Arch Bridge” that resem­bles a roman viaduct with its 23 arch­es. Built at a time when Min­neapo­lis was a pri­ma­ry grain-milling and wood-pro­duc­ing cen­ter for the Unit­ed States, Empire Builder James J. Hill want­ed the bridge built to help his rail­road reach the Pacif­ic Coast.… more
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Gravity

Gravity

What is grav­i­ty? I have a notion (after many years of school) that it keeps my feet touch­ing the ground. When I jump into the air, I am defy­ing grav­i­ty. What is Grav­i­ty? A book. Writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Jason Chin, who pre­vi­ous­ly gift­ed us with Red­woods and Coral Island and Gala­pa­gos. He has a way of tak­ing a BIG con­cept and explain­ing it so that it sticks in my brain.… more
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Mrs. Noodlekugel and Four Blind Mice

Mrs. Noodlekugel and Four Blind Mice

The woman who cuts my hair, Amy, had a par­tic­u­lar­ly hard sum­mer the year her boys had just learned to read. Their school asked that she keep them read­ing over the sum­mer, but there were only so many Mag­ic Tree­house books she want­ed them to read. What oth­er books would be suit­able? The min­utes flew by in the hair­cut­ting chair as I made sug­ges­tions and she lis­tened, appar­ent­ly hav­ing a prodi­gious mem­o­ry.… more
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I Am Cow, Hear Me MOO!

I Am Cow, Hear Me MOO!

There has been a lot writ­ten about the brav­ery of cows (no, there hasn’t). Some of it has star­tled us with the sheer audac­i­ty of amaz­ing feats of der­ring-do of which cows are capa­ble (News at 10!). Young chil­dren every­where are pin­ning up cow posters on their bed­room walls, hop­ing to one day be as brave as their cow heroes.… more
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All Different Now

All Different Now

Do you know how some­times your hands hov­er over a book, want­i­ng to open it, sens­ing that this will be an impor­tant book, and you hes­i­tate, want­i­ng to pro­long your inter­ac­tion? I did that, turn­ing All Dif­fer­ent Now this way and that, then exam­in­ing the title page, the jack­et flaps … and final­ly allow­ing myself to read the book.… more
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The Fourteenth Goldfish

The ver­sa­tile Jen­nifer L. Holm pens a fan­ta­sy this time around, but it’s a sto­ry suf­fused with humor and sci­ence, deft­ly ask­ing a mind-blow­ing ques­tion: is it a good thing to grow old? So what hap­pens when a 13-year-old boy shows up on your doorstep, argu­ing with your mom, who invites him in, and it turns out you’re relat­ed to this kid, only a much old­er ver­sion of him?… more
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Planet Kindergarten

Planet Kindergarten

Books about get­ting ready for kinder­garten and the first day in that Strange New Land are plen­ti­ful, but I can’t recall one that has drawn me into the expe­ri­ence as ful­ly as Plan­et Kinder­garten does. Every aspect of this book, from word choice to sto­ry to the detailed and clever draw­ings, puts this book at the top of my sug­ges­tion list for chil­dren (and par­ents) enter­ing that phase of life.… more
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The Scraps Book

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life

Some­times I want to walk right into the pages of a book, know every­thing the author knows, share their life­time of expe­ri­ences, and be able to emu­late their cre­ativ­i­ty. Scraps: Notes from a Col­or­ful Life makes me feel that way. I’ve even enjoyed the feel­ing and tex­ture of the paper because I want in! For you, your fam­i­ly mem­bers, and friends who like to col­lect, to cre­ate, to fid­dle with this and that as you make some­thing, this is the book to have.… more
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Return of Zita the Spacegirl

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl

Ben Hatke can’t con­ceive of, write, and draw these sto­ries fast enough for me — and a host of oth­er fans. Just released, this book fol­lows Zita the Space­girl (2010) and Leg­ends of Zita the Space­girl (2012). Doing the math, I know I won’t be read­ing the next install­ment until 2016. Whah­hh. I’ve read so many sto­ries “in my life and time,” pre­dict­ed the out­come of tele­vi­sion and movie plots with reg­u­lar­i­ty, that it’s a remark­able plea­sure when I don’t know what’s com­ing next.… more
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My New Hero

I am a fan of super­hero comics. After read­ing about talk­ing ducks, pre­co­cious teens at Riverdale High, and an equal­ly pre­co­cious rich kid, I want­ed some­thing with a real sto­ry, not a sit­u­a­tion. I wasn’t allowed to buy com­ic books, so I had to rely on the kind­ness of cousins. What­ev­er I could scrounge up in their rooms was irre­sistible for me.… more
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Space Taxi

Space Taxi: Archie Takes Flight
Wendy Mass and Michael Braw­er, illus by Elise Grav­el
Lit­tle, Brown Books for Young Read­ers What a hoot! When eight-year-old Archie Morn­ingstar gets up ear­ly in the morn­ing for his first Take Your Kid to Work Day, he nev­er imag­ines that his taxi-dri­ving dad in their rick­ety cab is actu­al­ly a taxi dri­ver for the stars.… more
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The Crossover

The Crossover
Kwame Alexan­der
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court From the moment I began read­ing this poet­ry col­lec­tion, I knew it was a dif­fer­ent type of book because the rhythms, the cadence, were infused with ener­gy and aware­ness. The Crossover is pri­mar­i­ly free verse, with a few hiphop, rhyth­mic poems that change up the action. The nar­ra­tor, Josh, or Filthy McNasty as his bas­ket­ball per­sona is proud to be called, is buoy­ant, obser­vant, filled with sports metaphors, and adept at word­play.… more
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A Time to Dance

A Time to Dance
Pad­ma Venka­tra­man
Nan­cy Paulsen Books / Pen­guin Put­nam Dis­claimer: I’m a fan of Pad­ma Venkatraman’s books. Each one has charmed me. I know I can always expect a read­ing expe­ri­ence unlike any I’ve had before. Her new book does not dis­ap­point. In A Time to Dance, teenaged Veda has already ded­i­cat­ed her life to dance, much to her mother’s frus­tra­tion.… more
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Gifted: Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac

Ani­ta Sil­vey writes, among oth­er things, books that help us find good books. And not only does she help us find more books that we or our chil­dren or our stu­dents will enjoy, but she tells us the sto­ry behind those books. Oh, what fun it is to know that Charles Dick­ens had to pub­lish A Christ­mas Car­ol him­self because his pub­lish­er did­n’t believe in it.… more
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Gifted: Up All Night

My moth­er had the knack of giv­ing me a book every Christ­mas that kept me up all night … after I had opened it on Christ­mas Eve. I par­tic­u­lar­ly remem­ber the “oh-boy-it’s-dark-out­side” year that I received The Lord of the Rings and accom­pa­nied the hob­bits into Woody End where they first meet the Nazgul, the Ring­wraiths.… more
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Gifted: So, You Want to Be a Chef?

So, You Want to Be a Chef?
How to Get Start­ed in the World of Culi­nary Arts
Be What You Want series
J.M. Bedell
Beyond Words/Aladdin, Octo­ber 2013 Intro­duc­tion
If your child or teen is often caught watch­ing cook­ing shows, they’re not alone. In 2010, Melis­sa Kossler Dut­ton on ParentDish.com wrote, “Every month, 12 mil­lion chil­dren ages 2 to 17 watch the Food Net­work.”… more
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Gifted: The Matchbox Diary

When a young girl vis­its her great-grand­fa­ther for the first time, her imag­i­na­tion swirls with every­thing she sees in his antique shop. He asks her to pick out her favorite item and he will tell her a sto­ry about it. She choos­es a cig­ar box filled with match box­es. As it turns out, this is her great-grandfather’s diary, assem­bled from items, each stored in a match box, that remind him of a cer­tain part of his life … cre­at­ed when he could nei­ther read nor write.… more
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Gifted: Under the North Light

Under the North Light
The Life and Times of Maud and Miska Peter­sham
writ­ten by Lawrence Web­ster
fore­word by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead
Wood­stock Arts, 2012
info@woodstockarts.com
ISBN 978−0−9679268−6−5 My hus­band, Steve, and I have worked togeth­er for the last 25 years. We have been mar­ried for 32 years, so it took us sev­en years to dis­cov­er that we would enjoy cre­at­ing and main­tain­ing a busi­ness, devel­op­ing it as our inter­ests and skills grew.… more
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Gifted: Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table

Farmer Will Allen and the Grow­ing Table
writ­ten by Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin
illus­trat­ed by Eric-Shabazz Larkin
after­word by Will Allen
Read­ers to Eaters, 2013 Intro­duc­tion
My sec­ond pas­sion in life after books and read­ing is sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture and organ­ic farm­ing. There are a few good books for chil­dren on this top­ic, but I’m always delight­ed when a new, inspir­ing true sto­ry finds its way to my library.… more
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Books Plus: The Goods by McSweeney’s

The Goods by McSweeney’s:
Games and Activ­i­ties for Big Kids,
Lit­tle Kids, and Medi­um-Size Kids

edit­ed by Mac Bar­nett and Bri­an McMullen
fea­tur­ing Adam Rex, Jon Sci­esz­ka, and more
Big Pic­ture Press, an imprint of Can­dlewick Press, 2013 For your hol­i­day gift-giv­ing con­sid­er­a­tion … An over­sized book filled with every imag­in­able dis­trac­tion, this should be on every family’s hol­i­day gift list.… more
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Gifted: Giving Thanks

Giv­ing Thanks:
Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs for Thanks­giv­ing

edit­ed and with reflec­tions by Kather­ine Pater­son
illus­tra­tions by Pamela Dal­ton
Hand­print Books / Chron­i­cle Books, 2013
ISBN: 978−1−4521−1339−5 The sea­son when we focus on giv­ing thanks will quick­ly be here. If you are look­ing for a gift to take to your hosts, to give to your fam­i­ly, or to give to your­self, this book is ide­al.… more
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Gifted: Walk This World

Walk This World: a Cel­e­bra­tion of Life in a Day
Lot­ta Niem­i­nen, a Finnish-born graph­ic design­er and art direc­tor
Big Pic­ture Press, an imprint of Can­dlewick Press, Novem­ber 2013 As you con­sid­er gifts for this hol­i­day sea­son, we sug­gest … (book #2 in our Gift­ed rec­om­men­da­tions) … Vis­it 10 coun­tries in one book! This styl­ish lift-the-flap book is a chal­leng­ing work of art in all the right ways.… more
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