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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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The Awards

  In the children’s lit­er­a­ture world, awards hap­pened this week. They don’t receive quite the press or air­time (which is unfor­tu­nate) as The Tonys and Oscars, but they’re impor­tant and excit­ing all the same. Dar­ling Daugh­ter and I have just dis­cussed them at some length over supper. I love the awards. I love feel­ing like I pre­dict­ed a few of them.… more
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The Velveteen Rabbit

Meryl Streep is in the news this week for her speech at the Gold­en Globes. It’s a pow­er­ful piece — though, truth be told, I think she could read out a phone direc­to­ry and it would be pow­er­ful. She began by apol­o­giz­ing because she’d lost her voice. It was loud enough to hear, but cer­tain­ly rough. I was over­come by an urge to make tea with hon­ey while watching.… more
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The Girl Who Drank the Moon

I con­fess, I’m a bit of a tough sell when it comes to fan­ta­sy books (unless they are for real­ly young kids). I don’t do vam­pires, I’m not thrilled with dystopic set­tings, and although I love drag­ons and fairies, oth­er fan­tas­tic beasts tend to make my eyes roll, and I…well, I lose inter­est. I believe in mag­ic, but it has to be real­ly well writ­ten to keep my inter­est, and frankly, I’ve not fin­ished a lot of real­ly well done fan­ta­sy novels.… more
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Santa’s Favorite Story

Ver­i­ly, as if on cue, I have field­ed the year’s first parental ques­tion about San­ta Claus. It is the whis­pered earnest­ness of the askers that keeps me from rolling my eyes. What role, if any, should San­ta have in a Chris­t­ian fam­i­ly….? they whis­per lean­ing away from the baby on their hip, lest that babe be tipped off.… more
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Wish

I did not grow up in the south, but my par­ents did, so I like to claim a lit­tle south­ern her­itage. When my kids were younger, I loved read­ing them books set in the south — will­ing into their souls the humid­i­ty, bar­be­cue, iced tea with lemon, and accents that have the rhythm of rock­ing chairs found on great big porch­es.… more
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The Tapper Twins Run For President

My own flesh and blood accused me of steal­ing the oth­er day. When it was I, not she, who pro­cured the book, and I, not she, who was part way through it…and then she stole it from me! Hid it, real­ly, inten­tion­al­ly or un- beneath her bed. I prac­ti­cal­ly had to clean her room to find it.… more
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Thomas the Tank Engine: The Complete Collection

Once upon a time, we had a lit­tle boy who was com­plete­ly enthralled with all things hav­ing to do with trains. When he fell for Thomas the Tank Engine, he fell hard, and he was not yet two. We have an exten­sive col­lec­tion of Thomas and friends (thanks to the grand­par­ents) com­plete with a liv­ing room’s miles worth of track, cor­re­spond­ing sta­tions, bridges, and assort­ed oth­er props.… more
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Kingfisher Treasuries

There was a time — although it seems like it’s becom­ing a tiny dot in the rearview mir­ror — in which one birth­day child or the oth­er received the birth­day-appro­pri­ate book in the King­fish­er Trea­sury series of Sto­ries for Five/Six/Seven/Eight Year Olds. Those beloved paper­backs reside on my office shelves now, but it was not so long ago that they were opened on the appro­pri­ate birth­day to big smiles — there was some­thing sort of mile­stone-like about receiv­ing them.… more
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Raymie Nightingale

Dar­ling Daugh­ter and I host/participate in an occa­sion­al par­ent-child book­group for mid­dle-grade read­ers and their par­ents. We call it Books & Bagels and we meet at the bagel shop down the street from church and nosh on bagels while talk­ing about books. I think we can safe­ly say the bagel aspect of things increas­es par­tic­i­pa­tion — but all the kids who come are great read­ers and we love talk­ing with them and their par­ents about books.… more
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Calvin Can’t Fly

When I was doing sto­ry­time week­ly, a book about a book­worm star­ling was in my reg­u­lar rota­tion. Yes, you read that right — a Book­worm Star­ling. That’s exact­ly what Calvin (the star­ling) is — a book­worm. And that is his shame — his cousins call him “nerdie birdie,” “geeky beaky,” and “book­worm.” Unusu­al (gen­tly deroga­to­ry) labels for a star­ling. Not that it deters Calvin — he most­ly shrugs and turns the page.… more
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Cook-A-Doodle-Do!

I’ve got dessert on my mind — berry short­cake, to be pre­cise. I’ve already done the straw­ber­ry short­cake dur­ing straw­ber­ry sea­son. My rasp­ber­ry bush­es are pro­duc­ing at a rate that might call for short­cake in the near future, how­ev­er. And when­ev­er I make short­cake — or even think of it — I think of Cook-a-doo­dle-doo by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crum­mel (who are sis­ters, I believe).… more
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Bink & Gollie

Bink and Gollie

Ear­ly this morn­ing I read Bink and Gol­lie books to my nieces. We were killing time while their par­ents picked up the rental car for their Great Amer­i­can Sum­mer Road­trip. To say that the lev­el of excite­ment was pal­pa­ble is an under­state­ment — it was a wave that near­ly knocked me down when they opened their door. They talked — both of them — non­stop for an hour while we sipped our break­fast smoothies.… more
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How To Make An Apple Pie and See The World

How To Make An Apple Pie and See The World

A cou­ple of years ago, I decid­ed I want­ed to learn how to make a real­ly good pie. I asked around — bak­ers, cater­ers, cook­ing store own­ers etc. and the book The Pie and Pas­try Bible by Rose Levy Beran­baum came up con­sis­tent­ly. One per­son men­tioned How to Make An Apple Pie and See The World  by Mar­jorie Price­man.more
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The Sandwich Swap

The Sandwich Swap

Nor­mal­ly, I spurn pic­ture books writ­ten by celebri­ties, be they actors or roy­al­ty or what have you. If it’s a per­son in the head­lines, I quite assume they could not pos­si­bly write a wor­thy pic­ture book. The only excep­tion on my shelves, I believe (and I real­ize there are oth­er excep­tions! Feel free to leave titles in the com­ments.) is The Sand­wich Swap by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdul­lah with Kel­ly Depuc­chio, illus­trat­ed by Tri­cia Tusa.… more
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One Day at the Farmers Market

Sat­ur­day was gor­geous, and (Oh joy! Oh rap­ture!) the open­ing day of the Mill City Farm­ers Mar­ket, one of my favorite mar­kets here in the Twin Cities. I got up and out the door in such a hur­ry I for­got my mar­ket bas­ket, but no mat­ter — there were just the ear­li­est of crops avail­able: aspara­gus, spinach, rhubarb….… more
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The Odious Ogre

The Odious Ogre

I’m a big fan of Phan­tom Toll­booth by Nor­ton Juster, illus­trat­ed by Jules Feif­fer. I can remem­ber read­ing it as a kid and think­ing it both hilar­i­ous and clever. And I loved the words! So many words! So when the Juster-Feif­fer team came out with The Odi­ous Ogre a few years back, I leapt at it. A pic­ture book! A long pic­ture book! My favorite kind!… more
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Books as Therapy

I con­fess to using books ther­a­peu­ti­cal­ly. When my kids were lit­tle and the day had gone wonky and none of us were at our best, a pile of pic­ture books was a sure-fire way to reset us all. It was part­ly the snug­gles, but most­ly the shared expe­ri­ence of read­ing the sto­ries we loved. As they’ve grown, I’ve been known to read them hap­py books when they are sad (and some­times sad books, just to help us lean into it) and sil­ly books when anger and tears have had their way with us.… more
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Beverly Cleary, 1971

Beverly Cleary

For the last month I have been read­ing arti­cles, toasts, essays, and inter­views with one of my favorite authors of all time: Bev­er­ly Cleary. She turned 100 years old this week. Every­thing I read about her makes me misty-eyed — the birth­day plans in her home state of Ore­gon … her mem­o­ries of being in the low­est read­ing group, the Black­birds, in ele­men­tary school … that she writes while bak­ing bread … how she named her char­ac­ters … that she was a “well-behaved girl” but she often thought like Ramona (me, too!!!)… more
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Rose Meets Mr. Wintergarten

Rose Meets Mr. Wintergarten

Rose meets Mr. Win­ter­garten by Bob Gra­ham has been around for awhile. I’ve been read­ing it to kids for almost as long as it’s been on this side of the pond. But I’ve read it two dif­fer­ent ways, and I’m ready to con­fess that now. I love most every­thing about this sweet pic­ture book. I adore the Sum­mers­es — what a great hip­pie-like fam­i­ly! … more
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Caps for Sale

Caps for Sale

My col­lege boy is home this week. So far his spring break has been spent fight­ing a doozy of a virus, lying about fever­ish and wan. Per­haps there is slight com­fort in Mom mak­ing tea and soup, vers­es the non-homi­ness of the dorm, I don’t know. He seems grate­ful. I asked if he want­ed some­thing to read and went to his book­shelves to see if there was some­thing light a98nd fun — an old favorite, per­haps — to while away the lan­guish­ing hours on the couch.… more
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Worm Loves Worm

Worm Loves Worm

final­ly had a chance to read one of my new favorite pic­ture books—Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Aus­tri­an, illus­trat­ed by Mike Cura­to — to a group of kids. It was Valentine’s Day — the kids were mak­ing valen­tines, learn­ing origa­mi, and lis­ten­ing to love sto­ries read by moi. My mis­take was try­ing to call them away from the origa­mi and stick­ers and scraps by say­ing: Hey kids!more
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A Walk in the Woods

I tend to win things. Not always, of course…but if there’s an “enter to win” offer that shows up on Face­book and I don’t mind the spon­sor­ing par­ty hav­ing my email or mail­ing address (usu­al­ly they already do), I enter. I’ve won con­cert and play tick­ets, music, din­ner, and books this way. I think maybe not many oth­er peo­ple enter.… more
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Little Peggy Ann McKay

I might have insta­mat­ic flu,” said the young girl as her moth­er checked her in at the doctor’s office. Let’s hope not,” her moth­er replied. Insta­mat­ic flu. Instamatic…flu…. The words bounced around in my head. My mouth is wet, my throat is dry…” the girl said in half-heart­ed sing-songy voice as they took a chair in the wait­ing room.… more
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Bambi

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill When I was 16, my aunt gave birth to twin boys. We did not see them near­ly often enough as they were grow­ing up (we were sep­a­rat­ed by sev­er­al states), but the mem­o­ries I have of those boys when they were lit­tle are clear in a way they are not with regard to my oth­er cousins.… more
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Tales from Shakespeare

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill One of my favorite class­es in col­lege was a Shake­speare class. It was well-known, well-loved, hard to get into, and manda­to­ry for all Eng­lish majors. It orga­nized my life the semes­ter I took it. The rhythm it dic­tat­ed was this: Arrive at class on Mon­day hav­ing read the assigned play and accom­pa­ny­ing crit­i­cal lit­er­a­ture. Inspir­ing lec­tures on Mon­day and Wednes­day on the week’s play.… more
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The Nativity

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill It was my job to read to the chil­dren. There were many oth­er sta­tions — crafts and col­or­ing, games and songs — all built around the most impor­tant task of the morn­ing: The Try­ing On of the Cos­tumes for the Christ­mas Pro­gram, which was to be held lat­er that afternoon. I had my own lit­tle nook.… more
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Red Reading Boots: Lucia Morning in Sweden

This week is full of prepa­ra­tions at our house. Lucia Day comes on Sun­day and our household’s Lucia wish­es to make the Lussekat­ter buns this year. I’ve learned not to stand in her way — she can­not be deterred. The mag­ic of St. Lucia was intro­duced to our fam­i­ly four­teen years ago. It was a dif­fi­cult Decem­ber for us and our dark days were in need of some light and love, which was pro­vid­ed by some dear friends who arrived on our doorstep in the very ear­ly morn­ing, wak­ing us with song, can­dle­light, and a scrump­tious Swedish break­fast feast.… more
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Red Reading Boots: The Tapper Twins

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill I’m gen­er­al­ly a read­er of “tra­di­tion­al nov­els,” by which I mean nov­els that have chap­ters with titles, para­graphs with gram­mat­i­cal­ly cor­rect sen­tences, and per­haps the occa­sion­al com­ple­men­tary art under the chap­ter num­ber. I’m inten­tion­al about expand­ing my hori­zons and read­ing graph­ic nov­els, hybrids, and the like…but I still have to be inten­tion­al about it, I’m afraid.… more
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Judy Blume

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill I had the extra­or­di­nary for­tune of see­ing Judy Blume a few weeks ago. I was going to say “see­ing Judy Blume in con­cert” — that’s sort of what it felt like, actu­al­ly. She’s a rock-star in my world. And she was inter­viewed by Nan­cy Pearl, no less, so the whole event felt like I’d won a prize and been dropped in A Dream Come True.… more
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Keeping Track

I’ve not kept track. Not real­ly. I mean, I can peruse our many book­shelves and make a sort of list, but it would be miss­ing things. What about all the library books we’ve read together? I was in a book dis­cus­sion ear­li­er this week with a woman who keeps A Read­ing Jour­nal. She writes as she reads — notes and quotes, ques­tions and lists, impres­sions and rec­om­men­da­tions, etc.… more
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Mouse and Bear Books

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill When I plan a sto­ry­time, I always plan for the kid­dos first and fore­most. But I do like to give a nod to the grownups who have brought them when I can — some­thing they’ll “get” at a dif­fer­ent lev­el than the kids, a trea­sure they might remem­ber from their own child­hood, a book that will make them smile or laugh. The Mouse and Bear Books by Bon­ny Beck­er, illus­trat­ed by Kady Mac­Don­ald Den­ton, are always an inspired fit.… more
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The Berenstain Bears

Last night, I was remind­ed of our family’s love of The Beren­stain Bears books. (Hap­py Sigh.) Before I go any fur­ther in my homage, please under­stand — I’m not claim­ing these books are stel­lar lit­er­a­ture. I’m just say­ing that we read a lot of Beren­stain Bear books at our house once upon a time, and we loved, loved, loved them.… more
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Brambly Hedge

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill 
When they were lit­tle, both of our kids had a fas­ci­na­tion with anthro­po­mor­phic mice. One actu­al­ly had a set of imag­i­nary mice friends who pre­ced­ed us into anx­i­ety pro­duc­ing sit­u­a­tions, of which there are many when you are a small child. These benev­o­lent mice (who had names, spe­cif­ic jobs, and amaz­ing vehi­cles of trans­porta­tion) went ahead and checked out wed­dings, Mom­my-and-Me music class, doctor’s offices, camp­sites, kinder­garten, etc.… more
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Enola Holmes Mysteries

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill The summer’s road­trip is behind us — a won­der­ful vaca­tion had by all. We were in two cars this year due to dif­fer­ent des­ti­na­tions at the start, but we met up for the sec­ond half of the week. The car my daugh­ter and I drove was equipped with sev­er­al audio­books. The boys neglect­ed this detail, prob­a­bly because they were pack­ing for sur­vival in the wilder­ness.… more
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Mockingbird…

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill We are talk­ing a lot these days at our house about Harp­er Lee’s To Kill a Mock­ing­bird and Go Set A Watch­man. As a fam­i­ly we lis­tened to To Kill A Mock­ing­bird, nar­rat­ed by Sis­sy Spacek, last sum­mer on our vaca­tion. Every­one in the car was riv­et­ed to the story…but both of the kids will tell you they real­ly didn’t like it.… more
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In Which the Boy Cleans His Room …

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill We’re at the one-month mark before #1 Son leaves for his first year of col­lege. This is big for our fam­i­ly. (I real­ize it’s a big thing for every fam­i­ly, but it’s feel­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly per­son­al for us right now — indulge me.) It’s entire­ly right, he’s absolute­ly ready, and he’s going to a place that’s a good fit for him.… more
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Anne of Green Gables

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill I received Anne of Green Gables for my tenth birth­day. I fell in love imme­di­ate­ly. Absolute­ly In Love — that’s the only way I can describe it. For the next sev­er­al years, I received the next book in the Anne series each birth­day and Christ­mas. I could spot the book in my pile of wrapped gifts — I have the Ban­tam Stare­fire Col­lec­tion, small mass mar­ket paper­backs not quite sev­en inch­es tall — the very size and shape of those books made my heart beat faster.… more
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How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen 

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill I have writ­ten before about the need for longer pic­ture books in addi­tion to the short­er ones mak­ing up the cur­rent trend in pic­ture book pub­lish­ing. I want to stay on the record as say­ing there’s plen­ty of rea­son to keep pub­lish­ing pic­ture books that are longer than 300 – 500 words. I’m an advo­cate for 3000 – 5000 words — a sto­ry with details!… more
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The Betsy Books

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill My daugh­ter and I are fin­ish­ing what we call “The Bet­sy Books” — the won­der­ful series of books by Maud Hart Lovelace that fol­lows Bet­sy Ray and her friends as they grow up in Deep Val­ley, Minnesota. When I first read the Bet­sy Series, I start­ed with Bet­sy and the Great World and Betsy’s Wed­ding and did not dis­cov­er the ear­li­er books until we moved to Min­neso­ta, where they were all gath­ered togeth­er on a shelf in the library.… more
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How to Paint the Portrait of a Bird

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill Our house­hold has been patient­ly (and not so patient­ly) stuck in a long sea­son of wait­ing for deci­sions around some impor­tant and excit­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties. Every­one has some­thing up in the air. Appli­ca­tions, inter­views, tests, hopes, and dreams are all out there, and now we watch for the mail, check mes­sages com­pul­sive­ly, and try to make friends with the sus­pense….… more
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Princess of the Midnight Ball

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill My twelve-year-old daugh­ter is inhal­ing books these days — a stack at a time out of the library, every book­shelf in the house pil­laged, major insid­er trad­ing at school, etc. There’s no way I can keep up, but when I move a book from here to there I often flip through or ask her opin­ion. When she start­ed read­ing Princess of the Mid­night Ball, I assumed, based on the PBS Mas­ter­piece The­ater-like attire on the cover’s princess, that it was “just-anoth­er-princess book.”… more
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