19 August 2010

Bear Dreams

For nearly sixty years, he walked around alone
and bearlike in his cumbersome fur coat.
Rain dripped off the brim of his hat
and trickled down his neck.
He was cold, sometimes,
and damp, and more
than a little
blue.
Then
the sun
shone in the trees
and the bear looked up,
and learned to play the piano
and began to sing in his gruff bear voice
and everyone laughed with delight. Then he slipped
out of his worn fur coat and danced away out of our ken.

16 August 2010

Two Thousand One Hundred Ninety-One Days!

Six years ago today I began my wonderful job at the library. How can it have been that long? How can it have only been that long? So much has happened since that hot August day that I first met the staff by the secret door and was inducted into the hallowed halls of book dust and camaraderie. Here, using that fancy and wonderful widget that tells me what the number of the day is in SQL calculations and then doing some clever subtracting with the handy calculator, I will give you some other figures.

2191 days ago I had 467 more days of marriage left, 1079 more days until I wrote that first note to Roger (we had 776 days together), and I would have 246 more days to endure before things came to a head in the home situation.

Interestingly, I had spent 1949 days in the bakery in the years preceding the move to the hall of books, and exactly 1900 as an editor in the years before that. Well, I believe I will stay in this present profession approximately 9496 more days, and then live another 13100 days after that when I finally kick the bucket at age 100 (plus one day).

Now my head is tired from so much math. I think I’ll go read.

10 August 2010

Tra-La-La!

Module 10
Pilkey, D. (2000). Captain Underpants and Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants. New York: Scholastic.

Poor, poor Professor Poopypants. He has been saddled with a terrible name. Even though he is very smart, no one takes him seriously. Will innocent children treat him with more kindness? You’ve got to be kidding! When he becomes a science teacher, the children’s taunts drive him to the brink of madness, then push him over the edge. This is a job for . . . Captain Underpants!

My View:
Say this three times fast: Pippy Peepee Poopypants, Pippy Peepee Poopypants, Pippy Peepee Poopypants. Now, wasn’t that fun? Hey, you can stop now!

I think that any parents who refuse to let their children’s innocent minds be exposed to Captain Underpants should be made to sit for an hour or so on a hot day in an unventilated room that has a poopy diaper in the garbage can. What’s not to like? There’s a refreshingly irreverent look at a stuffy principal, hilarious silliness, boys who might be incorrigible but are good at heart, and a Superhero! The Harry Potter books have similar mischief makers in Fred and George Weasley. Who else would come up with: “Forget You-Know-Who—get You-No-Poo, our exclusive constipation candy!” Such things bring needed comic relief to terrible ordeals, and for some kids, school itself is as hideous as a face-to-face encounter with Voldy. Why not let them fantasize about their own troubles disappearing with the snap of the fingers? It sure beats putting squishies on real toilet seats, or effectively blowing up property. Let the kids read!

“With its bathroom humor, madcap pranks, gross adventures, mini-comic strips, and flip-book pages, this rollicking laugh-out-loud cartoon story is certain to be a hit, especially with reluctant readers.”
McNeil, S. (2000). Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants (Book Review). School Library Journal 46(5), 151.

Ideas for the library: Howell Library had a Captain Underpants day. Why not do something similar. Judy sent me the clipping about it: there was a beanbag toss through a toilet seat, a diaper race, a mad lib with potty words. Ugh, but I know lots of boys who would really groove on the idea. I don’t know if I could do the mad lib unless I had a bowl of adjectives, a cup of nouns, etc. that the kids would draw from. What about treats? Ketchup packets? No! How about No-Bake Cookies—yeah— petrified throw-up, perfect!

Life Goes On

Module 10
Smith, J. (2005). Bone: Out from Boneville. New York: Graphix/Scholastic.

Fone Bone and his cousins, Phoney and Smiley have been run out of town. They are lost in the desert and become separated by a storm of locusts. Fone Bone eventually meets and falls in love with the beautiful Thorn. His feelings are not reciprocated, but he stays happily with Thorn until rat creatures and fears for his cousins drive him to the town where he meets up with them again. Complex plot twists foretell many additions to the series.

My View:
Bone has been part of our lives for several years now. Even before Will had learned to read beyond his Title 1 books, he enjoyed poring over Bone. As each new book came out, he would save his money to buy it, and now, at nine years old, he is a Bone aficionado. Tom, too.

What makes Bone so appealing? Maybe it is the sense that these little folk are involved in something larger than life. They don’t know how things will turn out, but they (especially Granny Ben, Fone Bone, Lucius, and Thorn) are going to try their darndest to make sure their loved ones are protected. I love how even in the middle of the rat creatures incidents or the incursion of the “invisible” dragons, life goes on. That is a good lesson.


“A whimsical journey, cunningly told. It combines fable with American legend in a tale of greed, friendship, and struggle. . . . The story is well paced with smooth transitions. It is dark, witty, mysterious, and exciting. The full-color art reflects that of classic comic books . . . . However, the animation and fresh story line put Smith in a league of his own.”
La Counte, S.; Jones, T. E.; Toth, L.; Charnizon, M.; Grabarek, D.; Raben, D. (2005). Out from Boneville. School Library Journal 51(5), 164.

Ideas for the library: I think one of the best things I can do to promote this book is order multiple copies often. Jamie’s book group was going to read this, so I supplemented our three copies with four more, and now I just looked in the catalog and all but one is checked out!

Everything Is Stitched with Its Color

Module 9
Howe, J. (2001). The Color of Absence. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

The introductory quote is a line from a poem by W. S. Merwin about grief drawing the color of absence through everything as a needle draws thread. Everything takes on the tinge of what is missing. These stories range from a vampire tale to realistic stories of love and life and death. Some end with utter tragedy, others have a hint of hope.

My View:
Here is the poem by W. S. Merwin:

Separation

Your absence has gone through me  
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

In the past, regime changes or dynastic evolutions have been the stimulus for the renumbering of the year. How the ancient Sumerians numbered the years I don’t know, but I do know that after historically important events, there have been civilizations that have said, in essence, “Life is completely different now than it was. Here, then, begins a new numbering system.” I have a big thick binder filled with heavy, creamy blank paper. For several years now I have been listing in order all the books I read, along with the bibliographic information and a brief impression of the story. In a way, those entries are rather like this blog, though these blog entries are far more extensive. I write just enough in that binder to trigger memories and put down certain crucial information. It is a completely private thing, and my cryptic notes probably wouldn’t mean much to anyone but my own self.

But because it is so personal, when Roger died I turned to my binder and saw how the pages were filled with books we had shared, journeys he and I took together or separately but that followed a similar contour to shape our lives. For years I would keep track of how many books I had read over the course of the year by beginning again at One every January. But last September I drew a thick line across the page and started my numbering all over again. This renumbering acknowledges in a very small way how his absence has colored every aspect of my life.

“Young adult readers will appreciate that while some of the stories end with the bleakness of loss, others end with the suggestion that healing is possible, offering a sense of hope and renewal.”
McCaffrey, B. (2001). The Color of Absence. Horn Book Magazine 77(5), 586.



Ideas for the library: The first story in here is a vampire tale. That alone should help this book find a ready audience. But of course not everyone would persevere through the other stories. I think instead of taking the easy way—the vampire way, I will talk about this book to teens after a breakup, after a loss, at a time of grief. Better yet, I’ll share this book with Kath Ann, who has a great rapport with the teens and can approach them more easily. Actually, they come to her with their troubles, and this could be a bandage for some. Yes, she should know about this. It’s not bibliotherapy so much as a careful look at what absence is, or is not.

Double Gift

Module 9
Sidman, J. (2007). This Is Just to Say. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

There are many ways to say “I’m sorry” and also many ways to forgive. A fictional class writes poems to apologize and then responses in forgiveness to a whole range of situations. Some are very touching, others hilarious.

My View: Several years ago I made two tiny books filled with 40 haiku each. I gave one to Keith for his birthday and our anniversary, the other to Kathy for her birthday and to celebrate our friendship. In a way, the gifts made my own awareness of our relationships ever so much deeper. I realized then that part of the gift was really to my own self. These dear folk could respond with thanks, or not, but it wouldn’t change the inner good that putting things down in words did for me. Then after reading this book I started thinking about different apologies I have made over the course of my life. Most of those have been after days or nights of a troubled conscience or other stark realization of my error. Never have I thought to write a poem! Maybe that option never crossed my mind because the strain and stress of a shredded conscience doesn’t feel like poetry to me. Also, maybe I don’t know if the person I offend would appreciate the gesture. Well, there is one lady at work whom I have both offended and who is a poet herself. Maybe a carefully worded poem would heal something there. Now I have to examine my conscience and see if I am actually sorry for my stubborn ways. Or, maybe that stubbornness itself can be the topic of the poem. In any case, I have a chance now to put Joyce Sidman’s example to the test. Wish me luck.

“The author . . . uses a variety of poetic forms, including haiku, pantoums. and concrete poetry, to say ‘sorry’ and then ‘I forgive you.’. . . Inspired by a ‘sorry’ poem she wrote and sent to her own mother. Sidman's collection could help young poets both express themselves and learn from their mistakes.”
Tillotson, L. (2008). This Is Just to Say: Poems of apology and forgiveness. Book Links 17(3), 22.


Ideas for the library: We haven’t done much poetry in Write On! This is a sad lack on my part, and I will remedy the situation as quickly as I can. After we publish the upcoming chapbook, I’d like to turn to poetry, and this book is a wonderful example of ways to make common, everyday situations into a forum for poetry. I don’t want to force my own ideas onto the kids, so this will be a way that they can think of a situation and make something poetic from it. Their poetry can take the form of concrete poems, haiku, or anything. This book shows so many different forms. Oh, just for laughs I think I’ll bring in Math Curse as well. It’s okay to be irreverent as well as earnest.

Hints from the Universe

Module 8
Balliett, B. (2004). Chasing Vermeer. New York: Scholastic.


Sixth graders Petra and Calder find themselves drawn together by several factors: a love of art, blue m&ms, and the terrible disappearance of a painting by Vermeer. They explore clues together, decipher messages using the cryptic coincidence of Calder’s pentominoes, and meet amazing and strange people as they try to figure out the thief’s hiding place and save the painting.

My View:
Two things: Vermeer and Perception. I remember running to the university library from the Orson Spencer Hall to look up then pore over large tomes of Vermeer’s paintings. How had I lived 23 years without an awareness of Art? Maybe one of the reasons for my friendship with Paul was to awaken my mind to an appreciation of art. I certainly didn’t seem to be getting there on my own. (And now, what about music?) I think it’s interesting that Vermeer was the first artist I studied to any extent, and he is the one more children know than maybe any other—due to Blue Balliet’s book. Yes, Vermeer is an entry point to art, but he isn’t a namby-pamby blue and pink flowers kind of artist to appeal to the home decor, eucalyptus, frosted mirror crowd. His excellence has lasted for a reason.

Now perception. When Calder would reach into his bag of pentominoes, how would he figure out the hidden meaning behind whatever letter emerged? It’s that kind of perception that so easily can be blocked by cynicism or over rationalization. How do I read an I Ching throw, for example, or how did Lyra know what the Aelethiometer was saying? Maybe it is the suspension of rational thought and going with the first impression. I think these types of intuitive guesses are a way to tap into hints from the Universe.

“A fast-paced, exciting mystery with a host of quirky characters, puzzles, and plot twists.”
— (2005). Chasing Vermeer. School Library Journal 51(Supplement), 54.

Ideas for the library: Art, of course! We’re approaching the end of our weekly Summer Art Institute activities, and I know we’ll do more next summer. One thing we haven’t done so far is introduce different styles of classical art like Dawn does with her kindergarteners. In fact, next year maybe we can follow her curriculum and actually make a Jackson Pollack and a Georgia O’Keefe and others. For Vermeer, we could have the kids draw interior scenes of their own homes. Of course I will promote this book at the same time, and maybe even bring out our Pentominoes as a prop.

Tikkun Olam

Module 8
Greene, J. D. (2009). Changes for Rebecca. Middleton, Wisconsin: American Girl Publishing.

Rebecca is a budding actress who is appalled at the terrible treatment of workers in the textile industry. She speaks out at a rally and tries to help her cousin. In this simplistic story, all the problems are solved and there is a happy ending for everyone.

My View:
After recommending these books, to many girls, I figured I ought to read one of the series. I probably discovered these 38 years too late. But the faults I find now are nothing I would have grasped back then. As Joan Aiken said, books written for children should be even more carefully wrought because children have read so many fewer books than adults. These are good springboards into more detailed stories, and I know they add a dimension of awareness these young gals who throng my library would not have otherwise. About Rebecca in particular: she is a typical ten year old, the center of her own universe. I think her conscience and disobedience are both true to her age. But WHY are all the loose ends tied up so neatly? That is the source of my underlying sense of irritation with the whole series, I think. It is earnestness winning over realism, and maybe I am so bothered by it because that has been my approach for far too long. Well, I’ll try to heal the world in a slightly different way.


“American Girl often tackles difficult topics from history, attempting to make them more accessible for children. While labor issues are a dark historical truth, this issue is an important one and is presented in an age-appropriate way, though some children may be frightened by some of the events. This is the most educational title in Rebecca's series, placing Rebecca right in the middle of history and showing her hoping to help shape it.”
Honeybee, S. (2009) Labor issues and working for change. Amazon reviews. URL: http://www.amazon.com/Changes-Rebecca-American-Girls-Collection/product-reviews/1593695306/ref=cm_cr_dp_all_summary?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending


Ideas for the library: It’s been four years since our last American Girl tea. I can hardly believe how quickly time flies. Well it is high time for another! Girls (and of course boys, too, but I doubt any will come) will come in period clothes, chosen for whichever girl is their favorite. I’m sure Grace will wear her pioneer dress for Kirsten. For me, a party like this is a chance for a new costume. Last time I wore Nineties (1890s) clothing, maybe this time I can make a Depression-era housedress or wear a lovely wool suit and fedora for the 40s. I had better start walking more so I will fit it well and not look like a waddling librarian. I think spring would be a good time for this tea. April, maybe.

Imagine

Module 7
Partridge, E. (2005). John Lennon: All I want is the truth. New York: Viking.

A carefully documented biography of John Lennon with photographs throughout. Elizabeth Partridge portrays Lennon as the complex human being he was, including the hard facts about some of his choices and the way his life and then death impacted so many millions of people. The book discusses the relationship with Yoko Ono and the powerful effect each had on the other. Most of the information was taken from John’s own writings and interviews, so much of the speculation and false rumors were put to rest. The photos add a dimension of reality and depth.

My View:
At the bakery we played a LOT of Beatles. I kneaded bread to the strains of the White Album, scooped scones to Abbey Road, and cut off slabs of warm slices while bouncing to Yellow Submarine. So in my mind, the atmosphere that is set as soon as I hear those familiar voices includes the hint of yeast in the air and a sense of both gemutlichkeit and a bit of tension. The bakery was difficult but good, and it was the entity around which our lives revolved for some years. Similarly, the Beatles’ history was patchy in places, especially John Lennon’s life and role, but the group was at the center of many people’s lives for many years. They set the tone for an entire generation. I liked learning more of John’s story so I could see motivations that seemed irrational or at least confusing at the time. Maybe knowing that there were reasons behind those actions gives hope that there were also reasons behind some of the choices WE made. Life is always getting better, so much better all the time.


“There are many Beatle books on the market, but this photographic biography by Elizabeth Partridge is one of the best for pleasure reading and research reports. . . . The quantity of large black and white pictures of the Beatles make this book a collector’s item.”
Johnson, S. S. (2008) John Lennon: All I want is the truth. Florida Media Quarterly 33(4), 19.



Ideas for the library: We’re more than ready for another Music in the Library event. This time, why not highlight the Beatles! We have many books and other library materials about the Beatles, so I’ll have a display right by the circulation desk with these enticingly arranged for folks to take. And of course, there must be music! I’d like it right INSIDE the library like we do for classical concerts, but if the staff is worried, we can easily move it outside to Library Park or beside the Peace Statue. Hmmm. Wouldn’t September in the Rain be a nice time for an indoor concert?

The Benefits of Less

Module 7
D’Alusio, F. (2008). What the World Eats. Berkley, California: Tricycle Books.

Faith D’Alusio and her life companion Peter Menzel visited countries all over the world and photographed 25 families in those countries surrounded by the food that each family would typically eat in one week. The text gives a little glimpse of the life of each family. Interspersed are charts and facts and figures having to do with eating habits and caloric intake and other aspects of food throughout the world.

My View:
This was one of my favorite books this semester. Maybe it’s my social consciousness streak taking over, but I found much to love here. The 25 families represented in the book’s pages seemed so fresh and approachable and willing to be known. I loved the smiles of pure kindness that shone out of what could be, by our standards, situations of utter misery. It reminds me of the Nepali faces I love so well. Innocence, or at least openness doesn’t have to disappear when there is little to go around. In fact, it seems that when there is less, there is even more determination to share. Another thing I liked was the abundance of fresh food in some of the poorest areas and the stark example of processed food in the areas where the economic condition allows the people access to more variety. For me, I want to live more simply and on less. Of course I would rather this be voluntary than enforced by economic stricture, but these wonderful families show it can be done, and done cheerfully. Now to help the boys get on board as well . . .

“Adapted from last year's Hungry Planet, this brilliantly executed work visits 25 families in 21 countries around the world. . . . Engrossing and certain to stimulate.”
— (2008). Children’s Books.  Publishers Weekly 255(35), 55.

Ideas for the library: One of the suggestions for this year’s Summer Reading Program was that the kids choose one day and read every single label on the stuff they eat. In my family we don’t eat much that comes out of boxes and cans, but I know even so we have a whole pile of recycling every week. I’ll clip labels from those boxes and cans and ask my staff save labels from their food as well. I could paste them on a poster and have a whole display about our eating habits and ingredients—and the trends of our society. We have copies of Hungry Planet as well, and wouldn’t it be fascinating to have people think seriously about what they take into their bodies. I think I’ll add a few copies of Material World, Fast Food Nation, and Supersize Me as well. Interesting commentary and stimulus for discussion, eh? I hope it’s not TOO political.

My Dutch Uncle

Module 6
Borden, L. (2004). The Greatest Skating Race: A WWII story from the Netherlands. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

The Elfstedentocht, or Eleven Cities Race, can’t be held every year in the Netherlands because the canals don’t always freeze. But Pim Mulier, who was Piet’s hero, raced in record time. Then Piet, whose young Jewish neighbors must flee from the German soldiers. They need Piet to skate with them on a very long, cold winter afternoon across the border and to their aunt’s house and safety. Piet must call on his reserves of strength and courage as he takes his little neighbors out from under the watchful eyes of the soldiers. He carries the story of Pim Mulier in his heart, as well as a little red book that reminds him of the Elfstedentocht.

My View:
When I was in the middle of my student teaching and realized that the responsibilities I had would necessarily expand to fill all my available time, I decided to take a community education class so that there would be a little chunk of my life that was not governed by lesson plans of my own making, and the first growing pains of discipline issues. The class I wanted to take was Beginning Dutch. Uncle Darrel had lived in Holland for two years sometime after the war, and he was interested in taking the course with me. I had never spent much time with my uncle, but this class brought us together. He, with his bushy salt-and-pepper hair and his eagerness, and I with my German pronunciation and careful studying must have been an unlikely team. But we had a wonderful time and formed a bond with each other. He died not long afterward, and I get a little teary thinking of the sweet days we spent practicing our Dutch together. I had only an inkling then of what I know with deep certainty now, that language and communication are just vehicles for connection. Words are important to me, and it is through words that bonds are formed, even between an old Dutch uncle and his naive niece, and even between two little Jewish children and their brave but young neighbor. Connection matters.

“An exciting historical tale, fraught with suspense and illustrated with evocative watercolors.”
— (2005). School Library Journal 51(Supplement), 26.

Ideas for the library: Every year, Marcia teaches the storytime children to ice skate on paper plates. Wouldn’t it be fun to read this story aloud to the elementary aged Book Magic group and then let them skate a course through the library! I just love those windmill gingerbread cookies, and I think they sometimes appear at Costco. Here is the plan, we’ll read the story, then don our paper skates and maneuver through a course. We can do figure eights around the Children’s Fiction, weave in and out of the paperback racks, and cross the finish line by the Marshall Public Library rock. Then, heading back to the warmth and safety of the Kids’ Corner, we will eat hot cocoa and those delicious cookies. What fun!

An Angel in Hell

Module 6
Yolen, J. (1988). The Devil’s Arithmetic. New York: Viking Kestrel.

Hannah, who is a little tired of her grandfather’s tirades about the Holocaust, opens the door to bid Elijah the prophet welcome to the family’s seder meal. When she opens the apartment door she is immediately swept into the Polish countryside and is caught up in the events of World War II. Hannah finds herself as part of a family, and is called Chaya by everyone. She is torn between her memories of home and her awareness of what may come. The whole village is rounded up and taken to a concentration camp where Chaya has the opportunity to save the lives of the people who will become Hannah’s family.

My View:
There are times when it seems as if one is plopped down in the middle of an uncomfortable situation, or at least an unfamiliar one. Every beginning of a semester, for example, brings the need to become familiar with a new set of rules, a new gathering of people, a new formula for learning. Similarly, when I moved from Ogden to Pocatello twelve years ago I found myself completely removed from friends and family and thrust into a new neighborhood with different terrain and unfamiliar people. Somehow, time makes things more congenial. For Chaya, or Hannah, there was the added dimension of some foreknowledge of the utter misery of the situation she saw unfolding all around her. Yet, despite the unfathomable horror of the events surrounding the Holocaust, she was able to think clearly and act in love and give others a chance for life. In my much easier life, I hope I can reach out and make some slight difference on the side of good in the lives of those around me. I may never be in a situation like Chaya’s. Oh, I hope not! But even so, I would rather practice small ways of improving life than leaving that to some indeterminate future that I hope will never arrive.

“Through Hannah, with her memories of the present and the past, Yolen does a fine job of illustrating the importance of remembering. She adds much to children’s understanding of the effects of the Holocaust, which will reverberate throughout history, today and tomorrow.”
Harding, S. M. (1988). The Devil’s Arithmetic (book). School Library Journal 35(3), 114.

Ideas for the library: I have multiple copies of this book, and students will have access in their school libraries as well. After our wonderful discussion at the coffee shop with the ecumenical forum, I’m sure I could ask Rabbi Levinson to come to the library and join a book group discussion about the Holocaust. In fact, this would be an opportunity for many more people than children. What if we had a Holocaust Memorial Day event. In 2011, Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) falls on May 1, which is a Sunday. If we had an event at the library, a lecture or discussion or even a display, although I lean toward a combination of these ideas, it would be good to have in the week preceding the actual memorial day. Well, I’ll talk with Rabbi Levinson. If we start thinking about it now, we can do something significant when the time draws near.

The Power of Esperanza

Module 5
Farmer, N. (2002). The House of the Scorpion. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Matt has always lived on the Farm with Celia, who loves him. But when El Patron calls, everyone jumps, including Celia and Tam Lin, who is El Patron’s henchman. Young Matt doesn’t know where he fits into the whole system. Is he a favored son? It doesn’t seem like it. Is he a peon? Then why has El Patron taken such a fancy to him? Matt slowly comes to the realization that he is a clone of El Patron—built to be spare parts for the ancient man! After a very close call, Matt escapes and finds himself in one horrific situation after another. Is there nowhere in this Dystopia that he can be free? His only hope is to reach Esperanza.



My View:
Matt is certainly his own person. He has thoughts and feelings and dreams for himself. He wants to find Maria, for one thing. That is a huge motivator, as is the fact that El Patron has just tried to annihilate him. Survival is a very big motivator as well. He also hopes to reach Esperanza, which means Hope. Something about the very significant word and meaning makes me think of a poem by Rumi. It has a line that says, “When you ask the question, the answer will come.” Matt asked certain questions, and he thought about things hard enough that when the answers did come, he recognized them: for example, his organizing the orphan boys. They were without hope, he gave them Esperanza. Now, inevitably, the question comes around to the personal. What do I hope for? What is my life all about? Just as I can’t believe a clone’s life doesn’t have value, I believe my own also has value. Of course I’m not writing in any sort of despair or melancholy—I’m just stating that I recognize that everyone, clone or regular human, librarian or mom or both, each has value. As Roger said, questions trump answers. I think the hardest part is finding the correct words or images or thoughts or feelings or whatever it is, to mix together to formulate an effective question. And like the I Ching, an answer is something that can take a multiplicity of forms. Learn to ask, then to listen, then to act.


“The House of the Scorpion is a many layered, complicated novel about a clone becoming a man. Despite the science fiction aura of the tale, it is a coming-of-age story about a boy striving to find out who he is. Is he nothing more than a beast, a photograph of another human being, a repository of spare parts?”
Schneider, D. (2005). A clone becomes a man. Book Links 15(2), p23-26.


Ideas for the library: So often, when I recommend a book, I imagine the child or teenager embarking on a journey into another land. Because I have already taken that particular trip, I really want to know what they thought of it. Did they meet the same people, did they have similar impressions of the landscape and the activities? How were they affected by some situation or other? I often ask kids to tell me what they thought of a book I’ve recommended. In a way, those conversations become, as it were, an impromptu book group or community of the mind. This book is one that I especially wonder about. It would be a good book group selection—for a REAL book group, not just my little impromptu one-on-one ones. So, I’ll put this on the list as a potential candidate.

The Surest Way to Travel Back in Time

Module 5
Juster, N. (1961). The Phantom Tollbooth. New York: Epstein & Carroll.

Milo, who is never very happy to be where he is, but when he goes somewhere else is not happy to be there either, finds a mysterious package in his bedroom. It is a tollbooth that takes him to the Lands Beyond. Oh my! He travels through the Doldrums, Dictionopolis, Digitopolis and other places with his faithful Watchdog looking for Rhyme and Reason to put the messed up kingdoms straight. A book of many levels.

My View:
When I picked up this book and began to read it one afternoon at the farmers’ market, I was amazed to find myself transported back to my fifth grade classroom at Emerson School. I could recall my seat, the long waterfall of Kristine Nordstrom’s hair in front of me, and even the quality of light coming through the west windows of the class. Now all those things are gone. The school has been replaced these thirty years now with a brick and glass structure on the old field. I haven’t seen or thought about Kristine for years, and I’m pretty sure that my old teacher is no longer among the living. But somehow reading those words I read so many years ago brought back the experience as if I had been eating a madeleine. For me, words do evoke more than just images. They are a sort of memory bank that records more than just the plot but also all my surroundings at the time I read it. I turned back into a fifth grader as I mined numbers and threw away jewels in Digitopolis. Similarly, I can go back to the feeling I had of new love whenever I read A Ring of Endless Light—recalling my first and last lovely days with Jeff so many years ago. And I’m sure that when I revisit The Book of Ebenezer LePage in years to come, I will again be back in those lovely final days before my life changed so drastically and Rhyme and Reason fled. Like Milo, I still seek them. Maybe they will reappear in time.

“Since its publication, the book has delighted young and old with Juster's humorous writing style and his wonderful play on words. It's time for this book to be re-introduced to a new audience. Students and teachers alike will find wonderful sentences for motivational quotations.”
Burdbridge, C. A. (1996). The Phantom Tollbooth, Book Report 15(2), 39.


Ideas for the library: Oh, this book has such potential! I can imagine an entire Phantom Tollbooth Party with different stations marked with the names of places Milo visited. In the Doldrums, kids would have to follow a maze or labyrinth, in the city of Dictionopolis, they could fill in a mad lib. Digitopolis could be a station where the kids could hunt for treasures (mine numbers) in a little wading pool filled with shredded paper. Oh, the ideas are limitless. I was thinking it would have to be done for a group of kids very familiar with the book, but now I’m not so sure. Plenty of newcomers came to the Narnia party and the Lemony Snicket day who just showed up for the fun. Those who know the story will get more out of it, but even those who just want something to do on a Saturday morning would have fun. Hmmm. I’ll see what the staff thinks.

Each One Different, Each One the Same

Module 4
Birdsall, J. (2008). The Penderwicks on Gardam Street. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

The Penderwick sisters are back. This time, they have to work together to thwart their father’s half-hearted attempts to date again. (I completely understand his reticence). But this book is more than just scheming. It is sisterly love and support and the odd sisterly violence as well. It also has an extremely satisfying end.

My View:
I don’t remember having this much fun as one of the three Luker sisters. Oh, we all had our areas of expertise: I was the writer, Mara the musician, and Willow was the artist. In a way we all developed in each other’s areas as well, but with less whole-heartedness. The Penderwick sisters are also brilliant individuals, but with enough heart and caring for one another to make them human. Mr. Penderwick is one of my favorite characters. He is smart, funny, and broken hearted. I loved how the girls grew so quietly accustomed to their next door neighbor.

“ Jeanne Birdsall's second book about the Penderwick family is even better than her first. . . .  Birdsall plans at least three more installments to this series.” Steele, L. (2008) The Penderwicks on Gardam Street (Review). School Library Journal, 54(9), p75-76.


Ideas for the library: In German, Hilary McKay’s Exiles book is titled Vier Verr├╝ckte Schwestern, or Four Crazy Sisters. Well, the Penderwicks are the closest characters I have found to an American approximation of McKay’s wonderful people. Over the years I have introduced many to McKay’s works, and now she has quite a following in Pocatello. The Penderwicks are just as enchanting and I will promote these books to the same folks.

The Greatest Treasure of All

Module 4
Barrows, A. (2006). Ivy + Bean. San Francisco, California: Chronicle Books.

Looking out from their own yards, neither Ivy nor Bean wants to get to know the other. But when circumstances bring them together, they immediately become best of friends. Neighborhood, look out!

My View:
It was my second day in Michigan and I was still reeling from the huge changes in my life. I had arrived home from a wonderful and life-enriching study abroad in England, then left to live in Michigan almost before the jet lag had worn off. I was still missing my friends in that green and pleasant land, and not quite ready to make new ones in a new, humid, rapid-paced place. But my roommate persuaded me to go to Ann Arbor to a meeting, and afterwards, a middle aged woman and her husband came up to us and asked us to join them for dinner. My roommate was pleased, I was quiet, and off we went. I don’t remember much about the dinner, just an impression of friendly country folk and a sense of welcome amid the strangeness of everything. Then we drove home to Howell and I went to sleep, still a bit askew in my directions and thoughts.

The next day we ran into the couple again, and as I was more awake and alert, we began to talk. Over the course of the next six months, my internal compass was completely realigned. I woke up to the realization that these fine folks were some of the best and most sincere friends I could ever have. I knew almost innately where their farm was, no matter where I moved throughout southeast Michigan. Even now I can point with precision to that center spot. Friendship is the greatest treasure of all.

“With echoes of Beverly Cleary's "Ramona" series, this easy chapter book will appeal to children who are graduating from beginning readers. The occasional black-and-white illustrations highlight the text and provide visual clues. The characters are appealing, the friendship is well portrayed, and the pranks and adventures are very much on grade level.”
Stone, E. O. (2006). Ivy and Bean (review). School Library Journal 52(7), 68.

Ideas for the library: Last year we made a Valentine’s Day display with the banner “Red any good books lately” hanging above it. This coming year, if I remember, I’d like to stock my children’s display shelf with books highlighting Great Literary Friendships: Anne and Diana; Ivy and Bean; Betsy and Tacey; Frances and Thelma; Henry and Mudge; Mr. Putter and Tabby; Nancy, George, and Bess; and of course, Arabel and Mortimer.