I've been to Graceland a couple of times, and even wrote a little gift book about Elvis for a book packager years ago. The following passage, though, which comes from Darcey Steinke's memoir, Easter Everywhere, strikes me as about the truest thing I've ever read about E.P.

In Graceland light seems to come at you from all directions, as if the sun has liquefied and flowed into the floor, walls, and ceiling. I recognized in the glittery decor a longing for transcendence that is often labeled as tacky.

"A longing for transcendence." Beautiful.

Educational Bonus

9780553211801She [Rosamond Vincy] was admitted to be the flower of Mrs. Lemon's school, the chief school in the county, where the teaching included all that was demanded in the accomplished female—even to extras, such as the getting and and out of a carriage.

I laughed when I came across that passage in Middlemarch; "the getting in and out of a carriage" was just too delightful. I've recently begun George Eliot's novel for the fifth or sixth time, but this go-round feels like I'll read all the way through. My copy, a Bantam Classic paperback, features an introduction by Margaret Drabble, but I'd like to finish the book before reading Drabble's words. Sometimes authoritative opinions can color what I read. At any rate, a literary classic seems just right for the cold spring that usually constitutes April around southern New England.

Image courtesy of Powell's Books

Quoted: Wild

"I'd loved books in my regular, pre-PCT [Pacific Crest Trail] life, but on the trail, they'd taken on even greater meaning. They were the world I could lose myself in when the one I was actually in became too lonely or harsh or difficult to bear."

from Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed (Knopf, 2012). I highly recommend this new memoir/quest story.

Blog Break

Good morning, everyone. I am taking a bit of a blog break, but hope to return before too long. My father passed away recently. When I was a little girl, he read aloud every single one of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books to me. Dad would get so wrapped up in the stories that he would read ahead in the books after I went to sleep. During one of his trips up east, my father made sure to visit Malone, New York, childhood home of Wilder's husband, Alonzo. Farmer Boy is set there, and that was one of Dad's favorites in the series. I have such good memories of my father, and his reading aloud to me is one of them. A beautiful gift. 


Biographile, whose tagline is "Real Stories. Real People. Great Reading.," is a new Random House site devoted to biographies. While most of the recommendations are strictly for adults, I recently wrote about some children's books from a variety of publishers.

Reading picture books together is often the beginning of a grand conversation about all kinds of subjects, from racial tolerance to fossils. Some children will be able to read the following illustrated biographies themselves, but given their rich vocabularies and somewhat higher reading levels, the books make ideal read-alouds for moms to share with kids.

To read the rest, go here. You'll also find Biographile pieces on biographies of Harriet Tubman, last night's NBCC (National Book Critics Circle) Awards, and more.

"Library Lion," "Some Kind of Love" for Second Grade

On the day after I read Library Lion to the second graders, I got shushed at the library. For real. I was talking in a no-talking room, and someone complained. Oops. Library Lion is all about knowing the rules and knowing when it's okay to break them. I better read it again. To myself.

In second grade read-aloud time, things are flowing along smoothly. I am reading somewhat longer books. We are talking lots. We've gone back to basics. I read, and they listen and then share observations. Great observations! I had been letting whoever had written a story read hers to the class after I finished up. But only girls (and the same three or four) were reading and then sometimes just making up very silly things on the spot and while it was great fun for the storytellers, it was not as much fun for the audience. I am thrilled that they are creative and interested, but I had inadvertently set up something that left out some children. And I don't want that at all!

This week's selection for the class is Some Kind of Love, written by Traci Dant and illustrated by Eric Velasquez (Marshall Cavendish, 2010). I really like this book about a big African American family reunion with lots of cousins and food and good times, told through a series of poems. Reading it just now made me miss my own cousins and grandparents. I think the children will enjoy it, too.


Arf! Arf! Dog Memoirs


For some time now I've been reading one dog book after another. My strategy for getting an actual dog has involved an obsession with Petfinder, talking about getting a dog ad infinitum, and reading stacks of books. The training guides are fine, but I especially liked the dog memoirs, or, really, writers' books about their pets. You can read about some of my favorites over at Biographile. (Scroll down on the page to "The 5 'Best in Show' Dog Memoirs.") Our real-life pooch arrives soon, too.

P.S. The thirteen puppies in the photograph need homes! Contact CARA, a nonprofit animal shelter in Jackson, Mississippi, if you're interested.

Image courtesy of CARA's Facebook page

Children's Lit Blogger Awards, Science Books

The Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (the Cybils) were announced on February 14th. You'll lots of good reading in a variety of categories, from book apps to young adult fiction.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science recently announced the winners of  the AAAS/Suburu Science Books & Film Prize for Excellence in Science Books. The prize honors books for children. You'll see only the winners on the AAAS site. The list of finalists is accessible only to subscribers of Science magazine.

Thinking about Second Grade Read-Alouds

9780786819881Each week I read books to a class of second-grade students. Last year's group liked text-rich picture books (like Library Lion) and nonfiction about animals, even the dry "this is the leopard" kind. The current crew enjoys short and funny read-alouds, so last week I went in with Mo Willems' Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Several of the kids knew it already, but no matter. "That was the best book you've ever brought us," said one little guy. Someone else asked, "Where did the bus driver go?" and another, "Who is the pigeon talking to?" (F.Y.I., just in case you haven't seen this contemporary classic, Willems has the pigeon directly addressing the reader.) I try to get the other children to chime in with their answers to questions like these. It's fun to hear the ideas. Up next is The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! After that, maybe Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back. None of these books takes more than a few minutes to read out loud.

The children's book expert Anita Silvey has made the case for bringing back picture books with longer texts; she wrote in School Library Journal last fall, "So much of what we see, no matter how clever it is, can be described as a joke book. Some are very good jokes, but once you’ve read the text, you don’t really need to read it hundreds of times." I agree, but...

For example, Bill Peete's much wordier picture books are full of fanciful storylines, not to mention hilarious visual humor, but I worry that if I read one, I might lose half the class to thumb-twiddling and squirming. But, if I never read it, they'd miss Prewitt Peacock's ridiculous, guffaw-inducing tail. Do I share Judi and Ron Barrett's equally funny though much more succinct Animals Definitely Should Not Wear Clothing, instead?

I know that the connection I make with the children is the most important part of our weekly story times; connection is what literacy is all about. But I do wonder about these things. And I certainly don't have all the answers!

image borrowed from Powell's Books

Finding Good Children's Books

Over at What Do We Do All Day?, you'll find an excellent post about ways to locate good books for children. The blog kindly includes a nod to Chicken Spaghetti's love of book lists. So, yeah! Let's break out a couple of new kid-book lists that popped up recently.

Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, for kids 12-18 (via Bartography)

Charlotte Zolotow Award books, honoring writing for picture books

Edgar Award finalists, mysteries (books for grown-ups, too)

NAACP Image Award nominees for literature, featuring books in a number of categories, including ones for children and teens

APALA Asian/Pacific American Awards

Amelia Bloomer Project, feminist literature

Rainbow List, GLTBQ books

American Indian Youth Literature Awards, "created to identify and honor the very best writing and illustrations by and about American Indians, Alaska Natives, Canadian First Nations and Native Hawaiians"