I love reading wordless picture books and picture books that are very busy (think Richard Scarry’s books) with small groups of kids. My latest favorite of this “genre” is Sophie Blackall’s If You Come to Earth.
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.
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….
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
In my storytime bag this past month I’ve been carrying The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. I don’t always use it, but I like having it with me — I know it will always work. When I pull this book out of the bag, there are smiles, clapping sometimes, and always a chorus of “I have that book!”
The Very Hungry Caterpillar is fifty years old this year.… more
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
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 applications. It makes me a little light headed to think of it.… more
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
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
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
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
I’m writing this on the birthday of my dear friend, Molly. She is one of my bestest friends from college days. It’s a big birthday — well worth celebrating, which she’ll do next week with a rollerskating party complete with musical hits from the 1980’s. This is very Molly — the kids immediately said, “Only Molly!”
Molly is, quite possibly, the coolest of our friends.… more
When our kids were small and we were building our Christmas book collection, the night on which we brought out the holiday books that had been in storage since the previous year was always a very special night.
With #1 Son, this was but a handful of books at first; but once we added Darling Daughter to the family, and St.… more
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Over the last month or so, my nieces and I have been reading Bless This Mouse by Lois Lowry. We started it on one scaryish night when I picked them up at the hospital emergency room. My brother-in-law had a mishap with a chisel in the garage resulting in a flesh wound that created an enormous amount of blood. (He’s fine — couple of stitches and thankful it didn’t hit the artery.)… more
I used to hate the night of the first day of school. I loved hearing about the first day details, new teachers, old and new friends…but The Forms nearly did me in. A whole packet for each kid filled with multi-colored papers, many of which asked for the very same information — so many emergency numbers, medical forms etc.… more
Fifteen years ago this summer, I stood weeping in our local public library while making copies of letters on the public photocopy machine, dimes in one hand, folded linen stationary in the other. I remember it was fifteen years ago because I was enormously pregnant with Darling Daughter. People walked a wide circle around me without making eye contact. Which was just as well.… more
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