Two More Book Recommendations

stories_of_my_lifeKatherine Paterson has been a long-time favorite author of many ‘tween and young adult fiction readers. In her latest book, Stories of My Life (2014), Ms. Paterson shares her own life story and shares how she has woven the people, places, and events in her life into her novels. At the American Library Association (ALA) Conference in San Francisco in June, I picked up a “Special Librarian Preview.”

In the book, Katherine answers three most frequently asked questions of authors: How did you become a writer? Where do you get your ideas? How does it feel to be famous? When educators guide student inquiry centered on author studies, these are some of the first questions youth want to investigate. Inquirers will be delighted to find her answers and may be surprised that even though a college professor encouraged her to write, Katherine, who considered herself a mediocre writer, had no intention of pursuing writing as a career. Later, she learned that “if you don’t dare to be a mediocre writer, you’ll never be a writer at all.”

Katherine Paterson’s book Jacob Have I Loved (1980) was the first of hers I read and remains an all-time favorite. To illustrate how Katherine’s own mother influenced the character of Susan Bradshaw, Louise and Caroline’s mother in that book, Katherine tells about her own mother’s reaction when she broke her mother’s precious antique Chinese tea service: “Are you all right, darling?” Katherine claims she could not have created a character like Susan Bradshaw had she not had the example of her own mother.

Heather_MommiesAt ALA, I stood in line to ask Lesléa Newman to autograph a copy of her just released edition of Heather Has Two Mommies (2015). This ground-breaking story, originally published in 1989, about a child with two mothers has weathered many storms—from censorship challenges and inflammatory reviews—to acclaim by being read into the Congressional Record and parodied by Jon Stewart. (See the downloadable author’s note available from the Candlewick Web site.)

With the June, 2015, Supreme Court ruling in favor of the freedom to marry for same sex couples nationwide, this new edition of Heather Has Two Mommies will speak to a new generation with bright new illustrations by Laura Cornell. Librarians and teachers who are committed to children’s access to literature with diverse characters will want to be sure to add this seminal story, this new publication, to their collections.

Stories of My Life cover image courtesy of Dial Books

Heather Has Two Mommies cover image courtesy of Candlewick Press

The Marvels – A Preview

marvelsA room bursting with librarians waited with baited breath for the appearance of an amazing children’s literature hero—Brian Selznick. When he flew up the center aisle, arrived at the podium, and faced the screen, the live (!) piano music began, the curtain went up, and all eyes turned to the images from Brian’s forthcoming book The Marvels. Readers who have come to expect great works of art from Mr. Selznick will not be disappointed. (There are no spoilers in this post.)

The Marvels begins in 1766 with more than two hundred images that tell the mysterious story of a theatrical family. Spanning several generations, Brian’s drawings portray the ships and their rigging, theater stages and scenery, and tell of  sea-going adventures and land-based dramas. (Did you know that theater terms such as “crew” and “boards” were derived from sailing terminology? I didn’t. Brian taught me that during his presentation.)

When the images end, readers find themselves in 1990 reading a story based in print only. A boy named Joseph has run away from boarding school and is searching for the address of an uncle he has never met. When he arrives at his uncle’s home at 18 Folgate Street, Joseph learns family secrets and more. Finally, an illustrated-only conclusion brings the first two parts of the book together in a satisfying present-day conclusion.

During this Scholastic-sponsored book launch at the American Library Association Annual Conference in San Francisco (June, 2015), Brian shared his finely drawn art, read from the print in the book, and shared bits of his writing and illustrating process. We were privileged to peek inside his studio to see hundreds of thumbnail sketches and then more than two hundred final illustrations displayed in sequence on his studio wall. We also had the opportunity to travel to London where Brian researched and worked on the book. He shared photographs of his apartment in Piccadilly and the marvelous home of Dennis Severs at 18 Folgate Street.

We who serve the literature needs of young people (and feed our own imaginations and love of story with children’s books) are once again thankful for the wonder that is Brian Selznick. Pre-order a copy today and kick off your fall reading with an awe-inspiring book.

Image courtesy of Scholastic Books, Inc.

Summer Conversations with Kids


For the past few years as a library educator, I have concentrated on developing courses that prepare teachers to take on roles for leading a school library in contemporary educational communities. I have enjoyed this challenge tremendously, and I have been immersed in professional reading and research to guide the framework for knowledge and best practices for successful implementation of school library programs. As we all know, the dynamics of the profession change constantly, and courses need to be revised yearly. New publications and concepts have to be explored to keep current with the shifting sands in education and library service, and that is very time consuming. There is nothing static about our world! Exciting times, but I have to make sure that I take time to go back to the reading roots that brought me to this field.

One of the things I miss most in my present position is the opportunity to connect with kids about their reading tastes and interests on a daily basis in the school library. There are so many wonderful new titles and formats for enjoying adventures in reading, that I can’t stay ahead of the curve.  Therefore, I have to access my built in sounding boards, and summer is a great time to have conversations about what my experts are reading.  I have six grandchildren who range in ages 7-18, and they have divergent reading tastes and recommendations for my “to read” list.  It’s great to listen to their reasons why I should choose to read books that interest them, and I head to the public library to eagerly follow their ideas, so that we can continue the conversations. It is also fun when they have discovered some of the classics in children’s literature, and they are all Harry Potter fans. I am amazed how easily they shift between between print, audio, and digital formats.  Listening to a story, or reading an ebook adds another dimension to comprehension. Times sure have changed since I was a kid!

There is always lots to chat about on long car rides and leisurely times at the beach as summer drifts along. I appreciate their perceptions, their wisdom, and their company.

So here are a few recommended titles on my summer reading list this year:

  • From a seven year old:

“I like stories that make me laugh and are funny.  I also like exciting adventures with interesting characters.”

Ping Pong Pig by Caroline Jayne Church (Holiday House, 2008)

Henry and Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant (Simon spotlight, 1996)

Lightning Thief series by Rick Riordan (in print, digital, and audio editions) (Disney Hyperion, 2005)

Wonder by R.J. Palacio (Knopf, 2012)

  • From ten year olds:

“We love mysteries, fantasy and sci-fi, too. We like it when characters are believable, but have incredible experiences and challenges. Anything that’s funny is also great.”

Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart (Little, Brown, 2008)

Seven Wonders series by Peter Lerangis (HarperCollins, 2013)

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (Athenum, 1970)

Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (Puffin, 2004)

The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger (Harry N. Abrams, 2010)

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate  (HarperCollins, 2012)

Kingdom Keepers series by Ridley Pearson (Disney Hyperion, 2009)

  •  From a twelve year old:

“I enjoy dystopian fiction, and fantasy, especially when characters are well developed.”

Keeper of the Lost Cities series by Shannon Messenger (2013)

Cinder: Book One of the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer (Square Fish, 2013)

Maze Runner series by James Dashner (Delacorte, 2010)

Unwanteds series by Lisa McMann (Aladdin, 2011)

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Brabenstein (n.b. fun, even though the characters are one dimensional-maybe more suitable for younger kids) (Random, 2013)

  • From a high schooler (who rereads the Harry Potter series in a marathon each summer):

“During the school year, there is not much time for leisure reading. So summer is my time to find some new sci fi and fantasy-escape literature. Take me to another world!”

Pathfinder series by Orson Scott Card (Simon Pulse, 2010)

Divergent series by Veronica Roth (Katerine Tegan Books, Reprint, 2014))

Legend series by Marie Lu (Speak, Reprint, 2013)

What’s on your list?

Image: Microsoft Clipart


Children’s Books for Summer Reading, Part 2

Earlier this week, I introduced a couple of fun picture books that I found at the ALA conference in San Francisco. Today I will highlight a few more children’s books that have a direct curriculum covers

First, some science: Like many people, I have fond memories of laying in the grass on a warm summer day watching the clouds turn into recognizable shapes. Cloud Country, by Bonny Becker, brings us back to those summer days. Gale is a young cloud who loves to gaze down from the sky and watch humans. It turns out (spoiler alert!) this is a rare trait in clouds – not many of them have the imagination needed to watch humans and make shapes humans can identify. Gale is indeed special! This fun picture book with illustrations by Noah Klocek, a Pixar animator, if full of meteorological words. This would be a fun addition to a primary grade weather unit. The perfect companion book would be It Looked Like Spilt Milk, by Charles Shaw. An oldie but goodie!

Now let’s look at a couple history titles. I freely admit that I should have paid better attention in history class as a student, but these two books introduced me to history that I had never thought about. They look at moments in history from lenses that are not often used in history books and provide something new for students to consider.

Let’s go to New Orleans in Freedom in Congo Square, by Carole Boston Weatherford with lively illustrations by R. Gregory Christie. In 18th century New Orleans, Sundays were holy and even slaves were given Sunday afternoons off of work. Slaves and free people of African descent would gather in Congo Square to share stories, traditions, music, and dance. In Congo Square, they could temporarily put aside their struggles and celebrate their culture. “Congo Square kept African music and dance alive in New Orleans, never really dying out.” (Branley). A foreword by historian Freddi Williams Evans provides additional information about Congo Square. This is a great addition to the study of African American history and culture or the roots of jazz music.

How many times have we read about and taught lessons related to World War 2 and the Holocaust? There are so many great books that describe this horrendous time in world history. However, I do not remember reading a book about a child in East Berlin as the Berlin Wall was being built. A Night Divided, by Jennifer Nielson is that book. 12-year old Gerta lives with her family in East Berlin. She knows tensions are high, but she is shocked to wake up one morning to a new fence on the border between East and West Berlin. She is even more saddened when the fence is replaced by a wall, and her father and brother are one the other side. As I read this book, I found myself wanting to know more about this time in world history. I remember the wall coming down in 1989, but I had never given thought to when it went up and the lives of the people living behind the wall at that time.

I would have done so much better in high school history if it had been told through these and the many other amazing children’s books that are out there now!

The books:

Becker, Bonny. Cloud Country. New York: Disney Pr, 2015. Print.

Nielsen, Jennifer A. A Night Divided. New York: Scholastic, 2015. Print.

Weatherford, Carole Boston. Freedom in Congo Square. New York: Little Bee, 2016. Print.


Sources of additional information:

“Berlin Wall.” A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 16 July 2015. <>.

Branley, Edward. “NOLA History: Congo Square and the Roots of New Orleans Music –” GoNOLAcom. New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, 02 July 2012. Web. 16 July 2015. <>.


Children’s Books for Fun Summer Reading

One of my favorite parts of the American Library Association conferences is browsing through the seemingly never-ending aisles of vendors. I often skip right to the book vendors to see what treasures they are giving away. I usually mail home boxes of free books and my suitcase still tips dangerously close to 50 pounds!book-112117_1280
This week I will review a few of my favorite finds in new children’s literature.
Each ALA conference, I seek out the author Kathryn Otoshi who wrote Zero, One, and Two. These simple and beautiful picture books use numbers to introduce young children to ideas themes like bullying, friendship, and the importance of every individual. Her newest book is titled Beautiful Hands. This book was a collaborative effort between Otoshi and her friend Bret Baumgarten. It honors a tradition in Bret’s family, asking, “What will your beautiful hands do today?” The colorful illustrations are made entirely of the handprints of Otoshi’s and Baumgarten’s family members. It is a beautiful tribute and labor of love. Otoshi’s works and ideas for using some of her books can be found on her website at
I have a new favorite picture book character: Max the Brave. This book was first published in 2014, but it was new to me. Max is a brave, mouse-chasing kitten with a problem. He is not quite sure what a mouse looks like. This is a great story for predictions: what animal do you think Max will find next. It would also be fun to have a class create an animal picture encyclopedia to help Max. Or, tell the story using a different animal as the brave one: what if Max was a cat? What animals would be in his story. This would be a great story to act out. Have the students be different animals and put on a play. While you are at it, have them make simple masks or costumes. This is a fun read-aloud that your young students will surely love. Be on the lookout this September for a new book about Max!
That is just a taste of the hundreds of advanced reader copies of books that were given out at the ALA conference. It is so fun to have a sneak peak of great books coming out later this year!
Check back on this blog in a few days. I will review a few new curriculum-related picture books and give you ideas for using them with your students.

Summer Reading…for Fostering Connections

The school librarian who is looking for professional development reading titles to add to his or her summer list has a plethora of books to choose from: titles written by other educators, fellow school librarians and leaders in the field. We may not always consider memoirs or even fiction as reading for professional development. However, titles in this genre can serve as amazing professional development resources. Let me give you a few examples.

1. This summer, my husband and his brother – both of whom are teaching in rural areas in South Georgia – decided to form a mini book club. They are reading The Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray. If you are interested in this title, the New York Times wrote a detailed review. The reason both Green boys decided to read this title is because it is a memoir written by an author that grew up in the same area (and under similar circumstances) as many of their students. By reading titles such as these, they hope to develop a deeper understanding and knowledge of their students’ background, cultural history, and experiences. Hopefully, this understanding will lead to deeper connections between themselves and their students, and will aid them in teaching their respective subjects in ways that relate better to their kids.

2. When I was 12 years old, my family immigrated to the United States. As many first generation immigrants will tell you, it was a challenging and difficult experience. Sadly, I made the mistake of assuming that my own immigration experience equipped me to understand and relate to the immigration experience of my students in West Texas. It was a mistake that cost me several student and teacher connections. Eventually, I read Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan and When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt. Reading these two different stories really helped me to see how immigrating from Mexico to work as a migrant worker in West Texas was a unique experience for my students. It helped me to learn to listen to them more openly, without attempting to layer my own preconceived ideas on top of their stories. It was a beneficial and humbling lesson that helped me become a better school librarian.

Most of us do not teach and serve in the schools we attended as children. We have very different backgrounds and different life stories than those of our students. Reading memoirs and tales written by local authors is a great way to begin exploring the context of where we teach – an insider’s perspective into the communities we serve and the students who live there. This summer, add diverse fiction and local authors to your reading list. Look for stories that will help you develop an empathy and understanding for your school. Here are great places to begin your search:

1. On Twitter: #WeNeedDiverseBooks

2. Curated Lists on

3. Local and Independent Book Stores (if you are lucky to have one near you, these often maintain close relationships with local authors and can give you great recommendations).

Happy reading!

Summer Reading… for Professional Development

professional_capital2Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan earned the 2015 Grawemeyer Award in Education for their book Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School. In an education environment that hones the national focus on educator quality as a predictor of student achievement on standardized tests, these authors provide concrete strategies for helping teachers improve their craft in order to build “professional capital” in every school.

It is no surprise to educators who have served in collaborative culture environments that collaboration is a cornerstone of their vision for transforming teaching.

“The most common state in teaching used to be one of professional isolation: of working alone, aside from one’s colleagues. This state of isolation still exists in more than a few schools today, where teaching is not the ‘Show Me’ state, but the ‘Only Me’ state. Isolation protects teachers (librarians) to exercise their discretionary judgment in classrooms (libraries), but it also cuts teachers (librarians) off from the valuable feedback that would help those judgments be wise and effective” (Hargreaves and Fullan 2012, 106). (Parentheses added.)

These authors challenge educators to develop “social capital” in schools built on trust and based on shared conversations and interactions related to instruction. By combining “human capital,” the credentials, experience, and teaching ability of faculty members, and “social capital” educators can create and sustain an effective learning environment.

As instructional partners, school librarians are perfectly positioned to be leaders in building human and social capital in our schools. Through coplanning, coteaching, and coassessing student learning outcomes, we break down the isolation that prevents innovations in teaching and learning from spreading throughout the school. When we coassess our instructional effectiveness with our coteaching partners, educators move toward Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan’s vision of schools with strong professional capital.

Read this book. Meet your principal for coffee this summer. Give it to her or him and make plans to be coleaders on a team that can transform your school.

Work Cited

Hargreaves, Andy, and Michael Fullan. Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School. New York: Teachers College Press, 2012. Print.