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July 2011

Beach Reads (for Nature Loving Kids)

9780736820646 On Saturday I got to be the Story Lady at the beach. The "friends" group of the nearby state park, Sherwood Island, sponsors several summer read-alouds, and as the day's pinch hitter, I took over when the regular reader had to be out of town. 

I had two requirements for each book I chose: 1. Natured-themed in some way., 2. Not too long or wordy.

Nic Bishop Frogs (Scholastic 2008). Mostly we looked at (and exclaimed over) the fantastic, close-up photographs of frogs. I kept the text short and sweet, leaving out most of it, since one of the listeners was only three. It was very exciting to look at all the fwogs!

Sea, Sand, Me!, written by Patricia Hubbell and illustrated by Lisa Campbell Ernst. (HarperCollins, 2001) Fun for the littles: "Flippy-floppy sun hat./Wiggly-waggly toes./Mommy rubbing lotion/On my nose, nose, nose."

Actual Size, by Steve Jenkins. (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) Recommended by Adrienne at the blog What Adrienne Thinks About That, this collection of colorful, cut-paper illustrations of real-life-sized animals (and parts of animals), like bear, squid, and great white shark teeth. Everyone thought my hand would be as big as a gorilla's (um, thanks?). But it wasn't, and neither were theirs! We all held up our hands to the illustration. A keeper for my list of good second-grade books for next fall. (I'm a volunteer reader in a second-grade classroom.)

Jellies, by Twig C. George. (Millbrook, 2000) I love this book for its odd, second-person point of view. "If you were a jellyfish you would have two choices—to go up or down. That's it. Two. You would not have a brain, so you could not decide what to have for breakfast or where to go for lunch." The seven year olds in the group got it right away. We talked about the cool photos of jellyfish, too.

Herons, by Margaret Hall. (Capstone, 2004) A beginning reader from a series called "Wetland Animals," this was a good selection for the park because of all the herons that can be found there. I learned something, too. "Herons eat during the day. They sleep standing in water at night." A couple of kids imitated how a heron might sleep standing on one leg.

Whale in the Sky, by Anne Siberell. (E.P. Dutton, 1982) Relatively short for a folk tale, this "Reading Rainbow" selection is a re-telling of a Native American legend from the Pacific Northwest.  Siberell's wood-block illustrations show well to a group. 

I also had on deck, in case story time ran long:

Crab Moon, written by Ruth Horowitz and illustrated by Kate Kiesler. (Candlewick, 2000) A story about horseshoe crabs and a boy at the beach, with a dash of educational information.

A Beach Tail, written by Karen Lynn Williams and illustrated by Floyd Cooper. (Boyds Mill Press, 2010) Beautiful, realistic illustrations depict a boy drawing in the sand and getting farther and farther away from his dad. "A gentle story for young readers [that] touches on independence and problem-solving..," writes Pam at MotherReader.

"Diversify Your Reading!"

Here's a fun summer reading challenge: Diversify Your Reading!, sponsored by Diversity in YA Fiction. From that blog, 

This summer, we’re challenging readers to read books that feature a diverse world, to read beyond their comfort zones, and to just plain dive into some wonderful stories. Our challenge will have two components: one for libraries, one for readers and book bloggers. At the end of the summer we’ll be giving away some wonderful book prizes donated by publishers.

For more information, click here.

via Crazy Quilts

Booked at the Beach: Read-Aloud at CT's Sherwood Island

Hey, friends! If you're in southwestern Connecticut on Saturday, come on by. I'll be reading beach and nature-themed picture books under a white tent at Sherwood Island State Park on the East Beach (if it's sunny) and in the Nature Center (in case of rain). No charge beyond the usual parking fees.

Sherwood Island State Park, Westport, CT. Saturday, June 25 at 2.


The Latest Book: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading
by Nina Sankovitch
HarperCollins, 2011

I admire Nina Sankovitch, although I've never met her. Every day for an entire year, she sat down and read a book, and blogged about it all.  She even wrote her own book, afterward. I just finished the resulting Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, a lovely collection of personal-and-literary essays. The author began her year as an antidote to the overwhelming sadness she was still feeling three years after the death of a beloved sister, and her conclusions about the value of memory and the backward glance inform every chapter.

Books like Sankovitch's always give me additions to my wish list. I wrote down these titles: The Open Door, by Elizabeth Maguire; The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon; A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest J. Gaines; Hannah Coulter, by Wendell Berry; Little Bee, by Chris Cleve; Indignation, by Philip Roth; The Sunday Philosophy Club, by Alexander McCall Smith; and Pastoralia, by George Saunders.

Not surprisingly, Sankovitch was an avid reader as a child—Harriet the Spy was especially beloved—and she does include some children's and YA books on her list of 365. Among the titles are American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang; Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card; Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke; The Picts and the Martyrs, by Arthur Ransome; Silverwing, by Kenneth Oppel; Twenty Boy Summer, by Sarah Ockler; Wizard's Hall, by Jane Yolen; and The Wright 3, by Blue Balliett. 

If you need some lit-blogging inspiration, or just like to read about reading, don't miss Tolstoy and the Purple Chair.

Where the Wild Things Are Not

I'm winding down this year's stint as a volunteer reader for a second-grade public school class. Earlier this week I took in Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak's classic picture book. 

Usually this group is bouncing with enthusiasm but not this time around. It was hot in the classroom (the school has no a.c.), the kids were finishing their breakfast, and energy was flagging. Very few except the reliably talkative Charlotte* wanted to make a related comment when I closed the book, although Alex* took the opportunity to announce that it was his birthday.

Finally Viviana*, a girl in pink glasses and pigtails, raised her hand. She has never spoken during read-aloud. I was happy that she was going to participate.

"Yes?" I said.

"That is NOT like the movie," she said.

"No, it isn't, is it?" I said, sounding hopeful. (A guess on my part since I never actually saw the film.)

Her eyes narrowed.

"It is not AT ALL like the movie," she said, folding her arms across her chest and staring me down.

She did not care to elaborate. Neither did anyone else.

Our discussion came to a close.

I totally bombed. I have to laugh, though, remembering it. 


*not their real names

Love That "Man with a Pan"

Donohue_spine_FINAL170 Back in December, I talked a bit about the book my friend John Donohue edited, Man with a Pan, which is now out. Featuring essays by Stephen King, Sean Wilsey, Mario Batali, Jim Harrison, and others, it's all about dads who cook for their families. I loved it, and look forward to making the Tofu Bolognese and other recipes that are included. Great Father's Day gift, obviously.

When I was growing up, my father often made pancakes on Saturday mornings. I would keep him company in the kitchen as he "used up every dish in the house," as my mother would say. Buckwheat pancakes with chopped pecans were favorites of mine. Because Dad traveled around the state a good bit in those days, he was always bringing home one local specialty or another; for the pancakes, we used cane syrup from some little Mississippi town. Delicious!

From Stay At Stove Dad, John's excellent blog, here is an announcement of a reading in NYC tonight. I wish I could go.

On June 2, at 7 p.m. at Housing Works Used Books Café, Tom Beller, Mark Kurlansky, and Sean Wilsey will join me in reading from their contributions to "Man with a Pan." The café is at 126 Crosby Street, and the reading is free. Details here. If you're in town, I hope you can make it. Stop by and say hello.

Dwight Garner's New York Times review

Saveur review