Category Archives: Children’s literature


Last night, as Jim and I were out enjoying the gorgeous night on our evening walk, he gave me the coolest bit of musical and children’s literature trivia:  the song “The Cover of the Rolling Stone” was written by Shel Silverstein.  Way cool.  And, how did I not know that already?!?!?

Study break

I’ve been working hard all day at more book ordering, this time making my way through issues of School Library Journal.  It’s fantastically fun, really, though maybe not my first choice of a way to spend my Sunday [yes, yes, yes, it’s off the clock…I do that a lot!].  Fun because I love seeing which series have a new title – sometimes it will be several years from one entry in a book series to the publication of the next, sometimes it will only be months – and which of my favorite authors have come out with a new book.  And I also love seeing what unusual nonfiction topics have now been addressed in a children’s book.  Sometimes those nonfiction books aren’t worth buying, but lately there have been a ton of great nonfiction children’s books on cool topics.

And I’ve enjoyed ordering today because it’s given me a chance to spend some quality time with Ophy as she (hopefully) recovers.  I’m sitting in the middle of the couch with my laptop and the review journals, and Ophy alternates between napping curled up to my left leg and then my right leg – with water drinking breaks in between.

Study break is over, though – I still have more ordering to do, and I suppose it might be wise to eat some dinner, too.  My goal is to go on my vacation next week having absolutely no loose ends at work, and I think I can achieve the tying of those loose ends this evening.  Yahoo!!!

New Books

Since Jim works every Saturday, and since he had a gig last Saturday night, I spent this past Saturday doing a LOT of book ordering at home.  Hours and hours and hours of book ordering, interrupted only by moving the laundry along and occasional chocolate breaks.  (Nipping the perpetual question in the bud – this was on my own time, not on the clock…)

At this point in my career, I am looking at what I spend most of my working hours doing, and comparing it to the reasons for choosing this career.  I love the library’s patrons, young and old, I love running storytimes, and I love things like the summer reading program.  They’re all good things, and happy things.  But the reason that I took this job, the reason that this career makes me HAPPY, is what librarians call “collection development.”  Not being one for buzz words, I prefer to call this part of that process simply “ordering books” (and I do also love the other parts of the process, including weeding).

There’s a reason that I got my master’s degree in children’s literature, and that reason is that I am and always have been a passionate fan of children’s books.  And there is nothing more exciting than reading reviews of newly published children’s books (and, sometimes, republished older books), ordering the best of the best which fit into my budget, and then seeing those books come in on the UPS truck a day or two later.  This afternoon I went down to tech services and gathered up a very full book cart of gorgeous brand new books to bring back to my office for sorting tomorrow.  (Sorting, for those of you who are interested, involves labelling the fiction books as JJ, JE, J, AR, and YA – and putting genre stickers on the spine where appropriate, and also labelling the nonfiction books as J+correct call number or JJ+correct call number.)

Without a doubt, picking up that cartful of brand new books was the highlight of my week.  All that lovely new book smell, all those crisp pages, all those enticing covers.  One book in particular got my attention, probably because it looks like a great summer read, is Drink, Slay, Love by Sarah Beth Durst; definitely one I’ll be indulging in soon – a little guiltily, but that’s ok.  Also exciting for me to see is a book from one of my Simmons College gal pals, Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby.  It’s been too many years since I’ve seen Hannah (twelve years since we all graduated from the children’s lit program!), and it will be so cool to read her book.  Maybe it will be even appropriate for one of my book groups to read…hmmmmmm…

So tomorrow at work will be heaven for me, handling all those lovely new books and getting them ready to go down to tech services for their final processing before they get into the hands of some eager young readers.  Books, really, are what it’s all about.

Reading, reading, reading

On my weekends lately, I’ve been doing a LOT of reading, mostly for book groups, but also for fun (not that book group reading isn’t fun, because it is), and I’ve also been creating a lot of new storytime lesson plans.  I’ll talk about the storytime lesson plans in an upcoming post, but meanwhile, here is an update on the books that I’ve read this fall for the various book groups at the library:

  • For the 3rd grade book group:  Dying to Meet You by Kate Klise, The Talented Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, and The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin.  All great books for this age group, and all were quite successful with the 3rd graders in the group.  I love each of these books, and for quite different reasons.  The Klise book is approachable and funny; the Pennypacker book has a wonderful, true-to-life main character, and the Lin book is poignant and lovely.
  • For the 4th grade group:  Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief by Wendelin van Draanen, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, and Dominic by William Steig.  DiCamillo’s book remains one of my all-time favorites, but I very much enjoyed the Sammy Keyes book and was glad to have finally read Dominic, though I’m not sure that I’d want to use Dominic again for a book group (the kids were a bit baffled by it, and it didn’t make for the best discussion we’ve ever had, despite this being a group of Readers who love to Discuss).
  • For the 5th grade group:  White Sands, Red Menace by Ellen Klages, The White Giraffe by Lauren St. John, and Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison.  I enjoyed The Green Glass Sea much more than its sequel, which disappointed me, and I was a bit taken aback by the Gilda Joyce book, having expected it to be more juvenile than it was.  And I enjoyed my re-reading of The White Giraffe, of course, a book that is unique today in its brevity, considering its intended audience of upper grade readers.
  • For the 6th grade group:  Whales on Stilts by M.T. Anderson, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, and The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen by M.T. Anderson.  After having connected with M.T. Anderson at the Simmons College Children’s Literature Summer Institute this year (see my posts on the Institute here, here, here, and here), I was delighted to be able to bring two of his books to the 6th grade book group this fall.  I’ve also been reading The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing (Volume I – The Pox Party) in my free time – it’s a terrific book, one of the best I’ve read in a long time.
  • For the Teen Book Group: Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin, Uglies by Michael Scott, and The Alchemyst by Michael Scott.  This group is still quite large, which means that we can’t read the hottest new young adult books, since we wouldn’t be able to get enough copies of the books for everyone in the group.  But I presented the group with one of my favorite books, Elsewhere, and they all loved it (and none of them had yet read it, even better), and with a book that had been a success with this group in past years, Uglies.   Surprisingly, none of the group members had read Uglies yet, and it too was a huge hit.  As for The Alchemyst – I had very high hopes for this book, and it didn’t quite live up to those hopes.  But, once again, none of the teens had read the book, and many of them have gone on to read the rest of the series (or, at least, what’s been published so far in the series).

It’s been a good fall and early winter for reading, and I’m now looking forward to the next batch of book group books that are sitting next to me, waiting to be read:  Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins (3rd grade), The Fairy-Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley (4th grade), Spy Mice: The Black Paw by Heather Vogel Frederick (5th grade), Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism by Georgia Byng (6th grade), and The Prophecy of the Stones by Flavia Bujor (teen book group).  The last three of these books were all chosen by kids in the book groups, which makes the whole process – reading and discussion – that much more fun.  Happy reading to me!!

Merry Christmas!

I had plans to take another look through my book collection this year to find more books that have been given to me as Christmas gifts – but last winter’s ice dam which caused a roof leak which made us take out the sagging damp ceiling in the porch which means that most of our bookshelves are currently under tarps…all of that means that I can’t access a large portion of my book collection at the moment.  (Ah, home repairs!)

But here is the link to last year’s Christmas post on books that I’ve received as gifts over the years.  And please, in the comments section do share any books that you received yourself this year (or in years past)!!

E-book webinar

Today several of us on the library staff were able to attend parts of the Library Journal/School Library Journal webinar on e-books and libraries.  There were a lot of good statistics about current e-book usage in libraries, and lots of good ideas and lots of questions.  But not many answers.

Many of the questions were questions that I’ve been thinking of myself:  with the rise of e-books, what happens to people who can’t afford e-readers?  What about the different formats of e-readers that don’t talk to each other?  How can libraries incorporate e-books into their budgets and their collections?  How is the advent of e-books going to affect the structure and existence of libraries?  What about the long waiting lists for popular e-books at libraries, when the e-book medium is perceived by the public as being an instant one – instant gratification?  How can libraries explain the need to wait on a list for a certain e-book title, even though that is the way it works for a popular, recently published print version of a book?  And, more specifically for library staff, how to decide which titles to spend limited available funds on?  And which e-book formats are worth investing in?

I had two favorite parts of this e-book summit: several speakers mentioned that libraries will need to change their focus from being solely book-based, and these speakers mentioned that libraries can pump up their programming (storytimes, book groups, etc.) in order to retain a wholly relevant place in the community.  As a programming-ambitious children’s librarian, that’s a lot of what I do.

And the other favorite part for me of the webinar was M.T. Anderson’s closing address.  It was very similar to the closing address that I heard him present at the children’s literature summer institute at Simmons this summer, but I was glad to hear it again.  Anderson is an intelligent, wise speaker, and his talk on e-books is dense and packed with information and meaty thoughts to digest; a second hearing only helped my understanding.  I won’t attempt to summarize his nearly one hour talk in a few sentences here, but I will say that I left both hearings of Anderson’s address feeling hopeful about the future for books and libraries and authors and literature.  Change is nothing new, and change could bring great things to our culture.  It could also bring unpleasantness, but despite Anderson’s balanced presentation (both hopeful and pessimistic), I came away feeling good about my career and my passion for books.  A good way to end an enlightening day.

T.A. Barron

Just got home from a lovely author visit at Willow Books in Acton – we went to see T.A. Barron, who just happens to have lived for the first ten years of his life in the town in which I work.  A year and a half ago he graciously came to our library for an evening event, and it was such a fabulous evening, with many people coming to hear him speak who had grown up with him or known his parents.  Truly the most unique and special event we’ve had at the library, in my opinion.  And it was so nice to see him this evening: he’s an incredibly intelligent, well-spoken, kind, and gracious man, and it’s so neat to watch him interact with his younger fans.  He remembers their names, he references letters that they have written to him, and he encourages them in their love of reading and their dreams of becoming writers.  In this age of technology it’s heartening to witness old-fashioned human connection, especially with books, real books, as the backdrop.

It must be fall

I’ve been reading lots of book reviews the last two weeks – trying to catch up on my book ordering after a busy summer – and from those reviews it’s clear that it’s the fall season, and a good fall season at that.  I have found dozens of books that sound absolutely terrific, and I’m more excited about this order than I have been about an order in a very long time.  There are many additions to popular series (even a new adjunct entry to my favorite series, Ranger’s Apprentice), as well as new books by masters like Jerry Pinkney, and also books by some new authors that sound fabulous.  Some authors, like Gabrielle Zevin, are branching out into new genres (I just brought home her book All These Things I’ve Done – can’t wait to read it) and other authors and illustrators, like Maurice Sendak, sound like they’ve produced their best work in years.

Keep your eyes out for this batch of books to be on the library’s shelves in a couple of weeks – allowing time for me to finish my order, the books to be shipped, and the books to be processed.  And then it will be happy reading to all, and to all a good read.  (Or something like that…)

From vacationland

Today is the third day of my vacation – yay – and just a quick check-in from the land of projects and reading.

Projects scheduled for this vacation include filling the dumpster that arrives tomorrow (thus gaining much space in garage, yard, and basement); preparing for our upcoming yard sale; finish painting in our glorious new bathroom; and final coats of paint on the front and back doors.  And maybe we’ll be able to build those front steps that we’ve been procrastinating on – Jim dug and poured the cement footings last year, so it shouldn’t be too hard to complete the project.  Plenty of stuff to keep me very busy!

Reading that is planned for this vacation includes:  The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen by Geraldine McCaughrean; Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos; The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente; and a few books from that pile of to-be-read books that has been dejectedly glaring at me from the shelf in the living room for two years.  And if anyone has a suggestion of a *fabulous* book that I simply *must* read, please do list the title in the comments…

I’ll post reading and project updates as time allows!

Summer institute, final post, part two

The last event of the day on Saturday was the speaker’s reception in the Trustman Gallery, where there was a special installation of art by Karen LaFleur and Tommy Simpson.  Karen LaFleur gave a brief talk about their artwork before we had fifteen minutes of book signing downstairs prior to moving up to the gallery.  As I waited in the enormous line to have David Small sign my books, I had a chat with Sara Pennypacker who was right behind me.  We talked about how much the library’s third grade book group has consistently loved reading Clementine (we’ve used it several times over the last few years), and she very graciously and very sincerely thanked me for doing what I do.  Wow.  That made me feel good.

Susan had to cut off the line for David Small way in front of me, so I headed upstairs to the gallery to wait my next chance.  Twelve years ago, I remember having a fabulous time at the gallery reception, gossiping with my friends and eating the yummy food and getting a wee bit tipsy on the champagne.  This time, I felt like the awkward, friendless old lady, as I watched the current batch of students having all the fun.  It was actually good for me to be so anonymous and so, well, lonely, since I spend most of my days surrounded by children and parents who know and like me.  My daily life is so public that it’s almost impossible for me blow my nose without a child or adult coming up to talk to me mid-snort and sniffle.  Even when food shopping I run into folks that I know – even when I try to disguise myself in grubby clothes, sunglasses, and a baseball cap – and it was definitely healthy to be reminded that I’m “not all that.”  Although it didn’t feel particularly fabulous in that moment, I’ll admit.

So as I stood awkwardly in the small gallery, looking at a drawing for the third time while wondering whether I really needed to get my books signed (and Jean, if I hadn’t bought a copy of Stitches for you I might well have headed home), suddenly David Small and Sarah Stewart appeared and sat down a signing table almost directly in front of me.  And, suddenly, I was third in line to have my books signed.  O happy day, that ends with meeting an amazing author and illustrator, and then being able to get on the road and head home to my even more amazing husband!  I don’t even remember what David Small and I said to each other, but I was once again impressed by his grace and kindness.  And then I left, ducking by the so-young current grad students on my way out (and feeling once again a bit jealous of that graduate school bond and the joy of being in the middle of an intense educational experience).

Sunday morning it was tough to haul myself in to Boston for “just” one speaker, but Jim raised his eyebrow and suggested that I might regret it if I didn’t (wise, wise husband), so I did.  As I waited at my solitary table (the tables in the conference center sat three people), feeling once again like an old fuddy duddy, my old – or should I say “former”? – professor and independent study advisor Cathie Mercier sat down next to me to say hi, and I finally felt once again like maybe I’m not too stupid for this world of children’s literature stars.  Cathie is smart and cool, and it was really good to spend a few minutes catching up with her and hearing about how the children’s literature program at Simmons has grown and changed.  It’s much bigger now, she said, and the average age of the students is indeed much younger – an encouraging thought for me, leaving me feeling much less old.  Cathie didn’t say this, but I’m guessing that the lousy economy is driving this young women and men directly from college to graduate school, unlike when I attended all those years ago and 99% of my classmates and I had spent several years in the working world before coming back to school.  I do think there is a definite benefit to having spent time in the real working world before engaging in advanced study, but today’s twenty-somethings don’t really have much of a choice in that matter, if they are unable to find work.

M.T. Anderson was the speaker of the day on Sunday, and he gave a terrific and enlightening talk on books and ebooks.  I should have taken notes, but of course I didn’t, but what I took away from his talk was a renewed hopefulness for the world of books and publishing.  He pointed out that ebooks lend themselves to all kinds of innovation and experimentation, like non-linear plotlines in which readers can choose plot direction for themselves as they read.  But he did also talk about how any aspiring authors and illustrators in the audience might want to “keep that barista job,” as authors and illustrators are bound to suffer from lowered incomes due to the pricing of ebooks.  And I do wonder about something that neither Anderson nor any of the other speakers mentioned when discussing ebooks: that ebooks, for the most part, cost money, since publishers are not too friendly about making ebook copies available for library circulation.  I worry that this will cause a societal stratification – those who can’t afford to purchase ebooks might be pushed out of the reading world, and soon only those people with money will be able to read.  And with what appears to be the disintegration of the middle class, this could mean that only the very wealthy will be reading.  Please, let’s keep reading and books alive and viable through our public libraries, whether it be in traditional book format or ebook format or a combination of both; our country’s intellectual health depends upon it.

But back to the institute.  After a concise and intelligent closing by Cathie Mercier and Megan Lambert, in which they highlighted each speaker’s thoughts and contributions to the institute, we headed down to the cafeteria for a lovely brunch.  Being one of the first to head down, I got my food and sat a table alone, hoping against hope that I wouldn’t remain alone; but the two women with whom I’d forged some connection over the weekend were not in attendance at the brunch and I, again, felt like an extra wheel.  But then Susan Bloom, bless her lovely soul, called me over to her table and I re-met one of my former classmates (whom I hadn’t known very well at all, but it was good to talk to her), and Susan then asked me why it was that she knew that I had worn long white gloves at my wedding and been married at a church in Concord.  I finally figured it out: my sister’s friend Marie, who used to work at Simmons, had come to our wedding and taken lots of photos – she must have shown those photos to Susan and Cathie.  How small our world is!

And last, but certainly not least, I asked Susan whether it would be ok to for me to ask M.T. Anderson to sign my books, since I really needed to be heading home.  And with her blessing, I did.  I told him that all of the librarians in my library were jealous that I was meeting him, and he asked which library, and when I told him, he stopped, looked me in the eye, and said, “I used to live there!”  Yes, indeed, he lived in the town in which I work for a couple of years, and spoke quite fondly of the town and the old library, and told me that he even wrote a story about the time he spent in that town.  (A story which I have since found and read, and he does a lovely job describing the town in the first paragraph of the story.)  What a neat coincidence, and what a happy way to end this inspiring, humbling, and intellectually stimulating weekend.  I’m so glad that I went, and so glad that I have so much mental fodder to chew on and digest for a long time to come.  It’s good to step outside my “comfort zone,” and even better to step back and look at the larger view of children and books than I see in my daily life.