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Mrs. Spitzer's Garden

Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden

I’ve been reading gardening books these last few weeks. They’ve kept me entertained and inspired while the temperatures warm in my own garden so that I can begin planting the flats of flowers I have under lights in my laundry room.
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And the People Stayed Home

And the People Stayed Home

Per­haps you saw it. On social media, or in a chain email. A poem that seemed like a hope­ful sigh went out into the world very ear­ly in the pan­dem­ic last spring and made its rounds as quick­ly as the virus. And the peo­ple stayed home.
And they lis­tened, and read books,
and rest­ed, and exer­cised, and made art,
and played games, and learned new ways of being,
and were still….
more
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Mary Oliver Devotions

Reading Mary Oliver with Kids

Sun­day morn­ings find me on zoom with a gath­er­ing of kids ages 3 – 10. We call this time Songs & Sto­ries. It is a high­light in my week. They come in their paja­mas, often eat­ing break­fast, and usu­al­ly with some “stuffies” they want to intro­duce to the group. They are full of ener­gy and good cheer.
more
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The Very First & Last Page

Last week I zoom-vis­it­ed a kinder­garten class to read my own pic­ture book. The class was ter­rif­ic and at the end we had a time for Q & A. They are work­ing on the dif­fer­ence between ask­ing a ques­tion and “shar­ing.” It’s an impor­tant and dif­fi­cult skill. One lit­tle girl, who might’ve been a stringer for the New York Times, or per­haps an after-school pros­e­cu­tor, so mature and earnest in her ques­tion­ing was she, asked to see “the very first page of the book.”… more
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Shall I Knit You a Hat?

I’ve received a won­der­ful ear­ly Christ­mas gift this year — two new reg­u­lar sto­ry­times to con­duct. Both inter­est­ed in the season’s books — and do I have Christ­mas books to share! The only down­side — and I can live with it — is that it’s via the tech­nolo­gies with which we see peo­ple these days. I’m so grate­ful for the Zooms, the Face­Times, the Face­book Lives…it’s the only way to safe­ly see folks and it makes things like sto­ry­time pos­si­ble.… more
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Poetry Teatime

On Halloween morning, Pooh Bear came for a visit on our porch. There was coffee for her parents and hot chocolate with whipped cream and sprinkles for her, as well as a round of pastries for all. A lovely morning, however distanced and masked we had to remain.
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Enola Holmes

I sent the email as a joke, real­ly. Net­flix sent me the announce­ment that the much antic­i­pat­ed Eno­la Holmes movie would pre­mier on the upcom­ing Wednes­day, and so I sent our (grown-up) kids an email with words I cer­tain­ly nev­er thought I’d utter and don’t real­ly under­stand: We should have a Net­flix Party! (For those of you who also don’t under­stand this — though I rec­og­nize I’m like­ly part of a dimin­ish­ing group of peo­ple — a Net­flix Par­ty is a new fea­ture of Net­flix in which Net­flix syn­chro­nizes your video watch­ing on your sep­a­rate devices in your sep­a­rate places and adds a group chat to the screen.… more
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Thanks for the Memories, Miss Rumphius!

Today, the day I am writ­ing this col­umn, has been a long one. It start­ed with a 4 a.m. alarm. It is the day Dar­ling Daugh­ter moves to col­lege. In Boston. Which is far from Min­neso­ta and so neces­si­tates a plane ride. Dur­ing a pan­dem­ic. Alone, as her uni­ver­si­ty is not allow­ing par­ents on cam­pus dur­ing this chal­leng­ing time. Tell me you think I’m very brave.… more
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Almost Time

I’ve been wait­ing for Eliz­a­beth Stick­ney and Gary D. Schmidt’s Almost Time for quite awhile. Seems appro­pri­ate — it’s a book about wait­ing, after all. I read very ear­ly drafts of it years ago, so long ago that I can hard­ly recall details — only that it’s about the mak­ing of maple syrup. What I dis­cov­ered upon read­ing it in pub­lished form is that in addi­tion to being about the mak­ing of maple syrup, this book is also about the solace found in wait­ing and work­ing together.… more
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Storytime in the Time of Coronavirus

I’ve had the great joy these last few weeks of pulling togeth­er “dis­tanced” sto­ry­times for a few fam­i­lies who could use a half hour of sit­ting on the couch and let­ting some­one else enter­tain and inter­act with the kids. This has been a stretch for me. Though I’m grate­ful for all of the apps and plat­forms that allow us to see and talk vir­tu­al­ly — dur­ing this time, espe­cial­ly — I would not choose to do sto­ry­time this way.… more
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The Rabbit Listened

In my cur­rent reg­u­lar sto­ry­time group, I have a lit­tle one who insists he has what­ev­er book I’m read­ing at his house, too. I hold up a book and he jumps in excite­ment. “I have that book at my house!” he says, while his par­ents shake their head behind him. I tease him say­ing, “We must have exact­ly the same book­shelves.”… more
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Heidi Bread

I real­ized (again) over the win­ter hol­i­days this year that much of hol­i­day friv­o­li­ty cen­ters on food. I’d have it no oth­er way, myself, but I must say that after a couple/few weeks of eat­ing grand meals, too many sweets, and grab­bing tea/coffee more often than usu­al, I crave sim­plic­i­ty when I sit down for lunch in the mid­dle of a writ­ing day.… more
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The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Hey! Unto you a child is born!” I think of this line each and every Christ­mas Eve when the Christ­mas sto­ry accord­ing to Luke’s Gospel is read. If I’m the one doing the read­ing, and you were to pay close atten­tion, you’d prob­a­bly notice that I have to take a nano-sec­ond pause so as to drop the “Hey!” and read it “straight.”… more
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Bee-bim Bop

I’ve been on the sto­ry­time cir­cuit this last month as I have a new pic­ture book of my very own. Read­ers of this col­umn know how much I adore sto­ry­time, so wher­ev­er I’ve gone to read my book, I’ve asked if I can do a whole sto­ry­time, the bet­ter to read oth­er pic­ture books, as well. Usu­al­ly the reg­u­lar belea­guered sto­ry­time read­ers are hap­py to have this happen.… more
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Moving Books

Many momen­tous things have gone down in our house this sum­mer. #1 Son grad­u­at­ed from col­lege in May, is gain­ful­ly employed (local­ly!) as a soft­ware engi­neer, and has recent­ly moved to an apart­ment. Dar­ling Daugh­ter start­ed her senior year of high school last week and is busy work­ing on col­lege appli­ca­tionsIt makes me a lit­tle light head­ed to think of it.… more
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Strictly No Elephants

  It had been one of those news days…. Actu­al­ly, there had been a string of such news days — hate-filled head­lines, bom­bas­tic egos, dan­ger­ous threats. The world seemed extra prick­ly and dan­ger­ous. It’s at these times that I espe­cial­ly like read­ing with kids. For­tu­nate­ly, I had a read­ing gig all lined up at an ele­men­tary school — it was the week lead­ing up to Read Across Amer­i­ca.more
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Kids & Books…Books & Kids

Last week I was a teacher-pre­sen­ter at a young authors and artists con­fer­ence for a cou­ple of days. Tremen­dous fun — the kids who come to these things want to be there and want to learn. They’re read­ers, writ­ers, artists! They are an engaged, engaging, and exu­ber­ant lot, which I enjoy immensely. I taught six ses­sions on bring­ing con­flict to your sto­ries — “Mak­ing It Even Worse” was the title of my ses­sion.… more
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The Season Of Styx Malone

Our Books & Bagels book group met a cou­ple of weeks ago to dis­cuss The Sea­son of Styx Mal­one by Kekla Magoon. When I pick the books for this par­ent-child book­club, I’ve usu­al­ly read them in advance and know they will be good for dis­cus­sion. This one I picked before I’d read it. I’d read reviews and what­not, of course, but I think it was actu­al­ly the cov­er that made me sure this would be a great book for our group.… more
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Bim Bam Bop ... and Oona

Bim, Bam, Bop … and Oona, an Interview

Poor Oona — she’s always the last duck to the pond…. But then her frog friend Roy reminds her: you’re good with giz­mos… And so Oona the duck goes to work in the barn on her giz­mos, pour­ing her cre­ative and deter­mined self into get­ting to the pond before the faster ducks. Along the way, she learns there is more to life than just being fast and get­ting some­where first.… more
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The Quiltmaker’s Journey

Ear­li­er this week I pulled out our small stash of Thanks­giv­ing pic­ture books. The kids are old­er now, but they seem to like it when the old favorites come out. I got lost, as I always do, in The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brum­beau, illus­trat­ed by Gail de Mar­ck­en. I’ve writ­ten about that book for Red Read­ing Boots — you can find that here.… more
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The Princess and Her Panther

Last week, I was work­ing on my WIP, a sprawl­ing mess of a nov­el. I’d hit a rough patch and I set myself the assign­ment to just type away for ten min­utes — ten min­utes of non­stop typ­ing just to Get Words Down — I wouldn’t let my fin­gers stop. I sim­ply need­ed some words to work with, I told myself.  I do not usu­al­ly resort to this, but it was not a par­tic­u­lar­ly good writ­ing day.… more
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The BIG Umbrella

I am extra­or­di­nar­i­ly lucky in that I have a group of wee ones who join me for sto­ry­time most weeks. They’re lit­tle — age three and under, with sev­er­al babies in the mix — so we don’t tell long sto­ries or read great doorstop­per books. But with pic­ture books, some of the best ones are pret­ty spare in terms of words.… more
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The Penderwicks

I have a mixed his­to­ry with The Pen­der­wicks books by Jeanne Bird­sall. The first book, The Pen­der­wicks: A Sum­mer Tale Of Four Sis­ters, Two Rab­bits, and a Very Inter­est­ing Boy came out in 2005 when #1 Son was eight and Dar­ling Daugh­ter was three. It won the Nation­al Book Award that year and there was much flur­ry over it.… more
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The Stuff of Stars

I’ve been anx­ious­ly await­ing the book birth of The Stuff of Stars by Mar­i­on Dane Bauer, illus­trat­ed by Ekua Holmes. I heard the text a year ago and for­got to breathe while the author read it out loud. And then I heard who the illus­tra­tor was. Let’s just say, what a pairing! When I opened my much antic­i­pat­ed copy — after oohing and aaahing over the cov­er — and read the first page, I heard cel­lo.… more
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Story Time for All

A cou­ple of weeks ago, Dar­ling Daugh­ter and I made our way to the Farm­ers Mar­ket. I’ve been recov­er­ing from a bit of surgery, and truth be told, I wasn’t feel­ing great that morn­ing, but need­ed to get out and about. We wan­dered the stalls, got our veg­gies, our goat cheese, our sunflowers…then some cof­fee and lemon­ade and car­damom donuts so as to sit down and rest a bit.… more
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Little Women

Dar­ling Daugh­ter and I watched the recent PBS ver­sion of Lit­tle Women last weekend.I was out of town when the first episode aired, but she wait­ed for me and we streamed it Fri­day night so we’d be caught up to watch the final two episodes Sun­day night. I liked Lit­tle Women just fine as a kid. I read it tucked between the ban­is­ters and “the old book cab­i­net” at the top of my grand­par­ents’ stairs when I was prob­a­bly nine or ten.… more
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The Giant Jam Sandwich

Recent­ly, I was invit­ed to a baby show­er. I love shop­ping for baby show­ers, because I almost always give books and knit a wee lit­tle hat — two of my most favorite things. I had the hat all done except for the top lit­tle curly-cues, but I was fresh out of board books and so went on a hap­py lit­tle jaunt to one of my local bookstores.… more
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Waiting

I had the plea­sure this past week­end of accom­pa­ny­ing an ener­getic eight-year-old boy down Wash­ing­ton Avenue on the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta cam­pus. We were on foot — his feet faster than the rest in our par­ty, but we eas­i­ly caught up at each of the pedes­tri­an inter­sec­tions because he stopped at the light at each and every one.… more
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Pablo and Birdy

  There are books I read with my eyes leak­ing begin­ning to end. Count­ing by Sevens…Swallows and Amazons…The View From Saturday…Because of Winn Dixie…Orbiting Jupiter…. I don’t mean to say these books make me cry — that’s anoth­er cat­e­go­ry, the ones that make you ugly cry so you can’t read it out­loud. Rather, these leaky-eye books are sto­ries read through a watery prism from the first page on.… more
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The Hate You Give

  This past week­end, Dar­ling Daugh­ter and I par­tic­i­pat­ed in a par­ent-teen book dis­cus­sion about The Hate You Give by Ang­ie Thomas. This book has won many awards, received fan­tas­tic reviews, and is a hot top­ic of dis­cus­sion in both the book and teen world — espe­cial­ly where those worlds over­lap. It’s about the after­math of a police shoot­ing of an unarmed black teen.… more
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A Porcupine Named Fluffy

It’s Read Across Amer­i­ca Week this week and I had the priv­i­lege of haul­ing a bag of books to a local ele­men­tary school and read­ing to five dif­fer­ent class­es — K‑2nd grade — last Tues­day. A tru­ly won­der­ful way to spend the after­noon, I must say. #1 Son’s 21st birth­day was Tues­day, which made me all nos­tal­gic for the days of pic­ture books, and so I’d packed a bag full of his long-ago favorites (and a cou­ple new­er ones, too).… more
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The Human Alphabet

At my local library, a cou­ple of weeks ago, I flipped through the books that were for sale by the Friends of the Library. These are most­ly books that have been removed from the shelves for one rea­son or anoth­er. The kids’ books cost $.50—fifty cents, peo­ple! I’ve found some great ones in these bins. The find this time: Pilobo­lus Dance Com­pa­ny’s The Human Alpha­bet.… more
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The Pushcart War

I first heard of  Jean Merrill’s The Push­cart War in grad school. I read it because a fel­low stu­dent spoke with absolute glee about it. I’ve not heard a book rec­om­mend­ed with such laugh­ter and vig­or before or since. And I fell into the book just as she insist­ed I would. Fell, I tell you. Lost my head, really. My kids did, too.… more
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A Wrinkle in Time

It was a dark and stormy night.  When I read this aloud one chilly fall evening on the porch to my kids, I laughed out loud. It was Banned Books week and we were “cel­e­brat­ing” by read­ing Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrin­kle in Time, one of the peren­ni­al repeaters on banned books lists. #1 Son was in fourth grade, which is when I’d been intro­duced to A Wrin­kle in Time.more
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The Grinch

I’m just going to say it. Go on the record. I do not like The Grinch. I do not like the book. I do not like the char­ac­ter. I do not like the sto­ry of How The Grinch Stole Christ­mas. I do not like the bril­liant the­ater pro­duc­tions of the sto­ry (though I acknowl­edge the bril­liance.) I do not like the TV spe­cial, which I grew up watch­ing, and which I did not let my kids watch.… more
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Thanksgiving Tea

The week before Thanks­giv­ing I was part of a won­der­ful Thanks­giv­ing-themed Sto­ry­time. Excel­lent books were read: Otis Gives Thanks by Loren Long and Thank­ful by Eileen Spinel­li. We sang through There Was An Old Lady Who Swal­lowed A Turkey by Lucille Colan­dro, and Sim­ple Gifts by Chris Rasch­ka. All was going swim­ming­ly — beau­ti­ful chil­dren, rapt and smil­ing. They were very young, but you could tell they were read to reg­u­lar­ly.… more
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Mouse Books

We have mice. Hope­ful­ly just one, but it’s a brash one, scut­tling around the kitchen dur­ing break­fast this morning. This hap­pens in the fall at our house. We’ve cer­tain­ly tried to find where they might be get­ting in, but they say a mouse only needs a dime-sized hole, and we obvi­ous­ly haven’t found it. Caught two a cou­ple of weeks ago.… more
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Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

I have had the plea­sure of enter­tain­ing a few young writ­ers in my office in the last cou­ple of months. They come with a Mom, usu­al­ly. (My office doesn’t real­ly hold more than three peo­ple at a time.) These Moms are so thank­ful that I would do this “gen­er­ous thing” of hav­ing them over that I feel almost guilty. Because I do it for me.… more
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E.B. White

A cou­ple of weeks ago I was in the base­ment of the Sci­ence and Engi­neer­ing Library at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta get­ting a lit­tle writ­ing in before work. It’s a good spot — there’s a nice cof­fee shop, noth­ing in the stacks is intel­li­gi­ble to me on that floor so I’m not dis­tract­ed, and it’s qui­et and out of the hordes of uni­ver­si­ty traf­fic.… more
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Pinkerton & Friends

I had a “Why in the world….?” moment the oth­er day. It was unex­pect­ed and a lit­tle strange and it was this: When I imag­ine pic­ture books that I am writ­ing and/or think­ing about writ­ing, I imag­ine very spe­cif­ic illus­tra­tions. From a very spe­cif­ic illus­tra­tor. Even though I admire the work of many illus­tra­tors. (I admire this one, too, of course.)… more
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Following The Ducklings

We have just returned from a trip to the Boston/Concord area and Maine. It was a bit of a lit­er­ary trip. Three days in Con­cord, Mass­a­chu­setts set the stage as we toured Louisa May Alcott’s house and Ralph Wal­do Emerson’s, too. We fol­lowed The Amble, which became more of A Ram­ble, between Emerson’s home and Thoreau’s cot­tage at Walden Pond.… more
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The Reading Summer

A stressed moth­er of a first grad­er sought my coun­sel this week. The issue was read­ing. Her son wasn’t. And at the close of first grade he was expect­ed to. There was talk of test­ing, reme­di­al help over the sum­mer, read­ing logs, etc. She and her spouse were dread­ing it, wor­ried, and a lit­tle irked — not at the not-yet-read­er, but at the expec­ta­tions and the pres­sure.… more
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The Bluest Eye

  It’s been years since I could keep up with my kids read­ing. When they first began read­ing inde­pen­dent­ly, I’d often read (or at least skim) the books they were work­ing on so I could ask ques­tions and talk about it with them. Then for sev­er­al more years, they would sim­ply tell me about what­ev­er they were read­ing — often in great detail.… more
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Some Writer!

I had the won­der­ful good for­tune of hear­ing Melis­sa Sweet talk about her work last week. It was a fas­ci­nat­ing pre­sen­ta­tion about her process, her research, her art. I left inspired, and with a han­ker­ing to find scis­sors and a glue stick and do some col­lage myself. (Let’s be clear, things would not turn out at all like Sweet’s gor­geous works of art….)… more
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This Is Just To Say

April is Nation­al Poet­ry Month, which is as good an excuse as any to take some poet­ry books off the shelf and have a read. I’m quite method­i­cal in April — it’s the hint of spring in the air, I sup­pose. I clean my office and then I build a stack of won­der­ful poet­ry books — some Bil­ly Collins, a lit­tle Emi­ly Dick­in­son, a tome of Robert Frost, Shakespeare’s son­nets, Mary Oliv­er, naturally…..… more
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Pop-up Books

Our household’s fas­ci­na­tion with pop-up books came as a sur­prise to me. As a child I didn’t like them much. We had a few — one was Sleep­ing Beau­ty, I think. But they popped with bor­ing mod­esty and they always had these tabs that you pulled to make things move, only my broth­er pulled them too hard and so they didn’t do any­thing besides pull in and out.… more
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Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear?

Once there were two bears. Big Bear and Lit­tle Bear. Big Bear is the big bear, and Lit­tle Bear is the lit­tle bear. They played all day in the bright sun­light. When night came, and the sun went down, Big Bear took Lit­tle Bear home to the Bear Cave…. There was a time — and it doesn’t seem that long ago, I might add — that this gen­tle book was read in our own Bear Cave on a dai­ly basis.… more
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Hidden Figures

This week, my moth­er and I heard Mar­got Lee Shet­ter­ly, author of Hid­den Fig­ures, speak at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey Dis­tin­guished Carl­son Lec­ture Series. Shet­ter­ly’s book tells the true sto­ry of Mary Jack­son, Kather­ine John­son and Dorothy Vaugh­an — three of dozens of African-Amer­i­can women who worked in the 1950s and ‘60s for NASA in math, sci­ence and com­put­ing.… more
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Frog and Toad

This spring, Min­neapo­lis’ Children’s The­ater Com­pa­ny will put on A Year With Frog & Toad, which has stood as one of my top three the­ater expe­ri­ences for the last dozen years or so. We had three tick­ets the first time we saw it. Dar­ling Daugh­ter was still young enough for a “lap pass” at the time. Our house­hold had been hit with The Plague and for days/weeks/month/going on years (it seemed, any­way) and we’d been sick­ly and unfit to leave our home.… more
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